I know it doesn’t feel much like fall out there right now, what with the 96-degree afternoons, but we’re less than two weeks away from the autumnal equinox. By the calendar, at least, fall is almost here. We’re probably a long way from frosty mornings, and there won’t be a lot of leaf color, but there will be some changes nevertheless. And we’ll be seeing some of them out on the water.
End of the rains
This has been a pretty skimpy rainy season, with no real floods on the rivers. I don’t believe I’ve seen the Peace River over 10 feet this summer. Even so, by the end of September, we generally see our thunderstorms vanishing. The best chance for significant rainfall at this point is probably tropical systems, which are expected to continue developing throughout October.
The end of the rainy season usually heralds pompano showing up in the Gulf passes, but also along the lower end of the west wall. It’s possible that this year’s run will be reduced since we haven[t had as much rain. Alternatively, it’s possible we might have a really good pompano year. Figuring out how one thing will affect another can be tough.
School’s in session
Most local anglers have heard of Red October, so named because that’s when we expect to see redfish schooling up on the flats of the Harbor. We may have to change that to Red September, because schools have already begun gathering up. We’ll talk more about how to find and target these fish next week, but for now, treat every visible school of fish on the flats like they might be redfish — because they might!
Snook heading home
Every summer, the snook move out to the beaches to spawn. In fall, they move back into the Harbor, and many come a log way up into the river mouths. We’ve already seen some of this recently, with strong moon tides pulling some tilapia down the rivers and getting linesiders excited about moving up. Not all of them will come up at once, and there will be stragglers sticking around the passes for a few months (or maybe all winter, if it stays mild).
Tarpon bait party
Most of the big tarpon seem to have left after the spawning season, but we’ve had lots of smaller fish (30 to 80 pounds) hanging out all summer. Soon the rest of the breeders will be heading out for faraway lands for the winter, and the rest will gather up for a bait party. They’ll be in the Harbor slurping up the schools of small baitfish as well as the ladyfish that will be feeding on those schools.
The tarpon will be fattening up for a long, hungry winter. The fish that overwinter here spend that time in the rivers, and they don’t feed much if at all. So fall is the time for them to pack on as many calories as possible while they’re still available. As a result, they won’t be picky. You can use cut or whole ladyfish, mullet, pinfish, and even catfish. They’ll also slam many artificials, including slow-fished topwater lures.
As waters in the northern Gulf start to cool (right now they’re as hot as our local waters, but that’ll change soon enough), we’ll see a parade of migrating fish heading south along our coast. We already have some little tunny (bonita) and blackfin tuna out there, but more will probably show up. Spanish mackerel, which have been trickling in, will become a flood. King mackerel may or may not appear, since they’ve bypassed us in some recent years, but with a little luck we should see some cobia turn up.
These are just some of the many changes that will be happening out there. Of course, there are also the obvious things: Mornings cool enough to require two shirts and maybe even long pants, the sun setting earlier and earlier every day, being able to check the mail without breaking into a sweat. We may not have a spectacle of foliage, but fall in Florida is pretty awesome and I’m definitely looking forward to a different season.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing tips, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.