Visitors and newly relocated residents to Martin County frequently remark about how much they miss the change of seasons they experienced back home in northern climates. There may not be the cool, crisp air and turning of the leaves of fall. There isn’t the balmy breeze of spring’s arrival. And there certainly isn’t any snow here. However, there are plenty of indicators of seasonal change, as long as one knows where to look – the water.
Fishing patterns in Martin County cycle through seasonal changes almost as reliably as clockwork, or rather moon-work. Often, the lunar cycle is what drives the numerous popular fishing targets swimming in local waterways to migrate, spawn or feed more aggressively.
The best fishing action during the winter in Martin County waters involves targeting migrating bodies of several species of fish.
Stuart is known as the Sailfish Capital of the World, and for good reason. Each year between early December and late February, large schools of the speedy, colorful gamefish migrate north to south along the coast only a few miles offshore. Sometimes, the fish settle in to areas offshore for several days or two weeks at a time, giving charter fishing customers fantastic opportunities to enjoy the exciting fish fight sailfish provide, leaping, sounding and charging baits. Best of all, sailfish are pretty much all-release so they live to fight another day.
Spanish mackerel are a lot smaller than sailfish, but can be just as much fun to catch and can come home to the table for dinner. One of the worst kept secrets in saltwater fishing is where the Spanish mackerel winter between November and March each year – just off Hobe Sound Beach. Anglers fishing from beaches and boats can catch their limits easily with fast-reeled jigs and spoons.
Bluefish, whiting and pompano are three more popular catches often caught by anglers fishing in the surf. Cut baits and spoons for bluefish, or sand fleas and cut shrimp for whiting and pompano will result in a cool morning well spent on the sand.
All things bloom in spring, and the fish are no different. Spawning is on for many of the species local to Martin County waters. In the ponds, canals and Florida’s great Lake Okeechobee at Martin County’s back door, bass will be bedding from January through May peaking around March and April. Flipping topwater plugs or small lipless crank baits will draw reaction strikes from some of the largest bass an angler will catch all year.
Spotted seatrout spawn on the sea grass beds in the Indian River Lagoon, but can also be caught this time of year upriver in the South Fork and North Fork of the St. Lucie River. This part of Florida is known to be where the largest spotted seatrout can be caught as the IGFA All Tackle World Record of 17 pounds, 7 ounces was caught less than 10 miles north of the county line.
Snook, which are a year-round catch in Martin County waters, are caught upriver in Palm City and North River Shores in the spring time where they feed on young blue crabs moving down river. The bridges and spillways are great places to fish for them from shore.
Dolphin or mahi mahi make a great northward spring migration from the waters of eastern Mexico up to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Anglers fishing out of Stuart marinas can find them in large numbers up to 50 pounds sometimes along the edges of the Gulf Stream 10 miles offshore.
As the heat begins to climb, and the wind drops out, it’s time to go big or go home.
Tarpon, The Silver King, begin to move through Martin County waters. These 80-150 pound gamefish will take six weeks to explore the channels and creeks of the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. They will take live mullet, dead mullet or pilchards. Big schools will be found swimming parallel to the beaches, too, in about 20-30 feet of water. These fish can be sight cast to using flies and lures.
Jack crevalles can be caught in Martin County waters year-round in sizes ranging from half-pound to 12 pounds. But during the early summer, their big cousins move offshore and join together in large spawning daisy chains in 10-30 feet of water. These fish can be sight casted, but watch out – pound for pound there is no fish that fights harder, and all it takes is one 40-pound jack to send an angler to the resting chair when the battle is done.
Mutton snapper are one of the finest eating fish that swims. Each summer, they gather on the numerous reefs in 20-60 feet of water to feed and spawn. They have great eyesight and are very wary of hooks and fishing line, so use long fluorocarbon leaders, as long as 24 feet, to improve catch percentages of 14-15 pound muttons.
In Martin County, shortly after the first day of fall, a natural phenomenon like no other takes place. The beaches and Indian River Lagoon become a scene right out of Blue Planet as everything that swims feeds on the Fall Mullet Run. Silver mullet and finger mullet, or yearling mullet, migrate every year from the Carolinas to Mexico and everything with fins and feathers follows the movable feast. Snook, tarpon, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, snapper, redfish, jacks, sharks, dolphins, pelicans, herons, egrets, cormorants and anhingas can be observed filling their bellies when this event is underway.
By Ed Killer for the Martin County Office of Tourism & Marketing