March is here, bringing warmer weather to the Treasure Coast. Slowly our water temperatures will rise from the chilly 62 degrees that we experienced early in the year. Look for inshore fishing to improve dramatically, especially for snook that have been struggling to just stay alive. Pay attention this month to wind direction, which will dictate your fishing strategy. If it blows from the east, surf fishing and offshore can get “sporty” to say the least. Fishing inshore offers plenty of protected areas. As the water warms up, you will also notice an increase in baitfish inshore. Early morning flats fishing will resume so get those topwater lures ready!
Let’s start with inshore and work our way out. If history repeats itself, March could be an east shore bit zone with strong winds at times out of the southeast. Shallow water early in the morning will pick up, throwing topwater lures for trout and snook. Try to get up close to docks on the west side or mangroves on the east side of the Indian River. By 9:00 a.m., drop to 3-4 feet with soft rubber baits in the flats. I mainly use DOA shrimp and CAL lures. Throwing both light and dark colors will produce a feeding pattern. Water clarity can dictate choice in colors. If the water is dark, throw rootbeer shrimp. In clean water I prefer a lighter color such as a glow shrimp. Live shrimp on a popping cork is another great option. The main thing is slowing down your bait presentation. Plenty of species also roaming in the flats include pompano, flounder, jacks, bluefish, redfish, baitfish and many others.
Area bridges will be holding plenty of mangrove snapper, sheephead, black drum, pompano and everyone’s favorite – snook. The snook will be an early morning or night bit along the bottom. Gulfstream’s flair hawks or red-tail hawks, dragging slowly along the bottom seems to produce the best result. If you can find mullet or pinfish, weigh them down with a 2 oz. egg sinker with 4 feet of leader. Its amazing, but a crushed mullet head planted on the bottom is very attractive to big snook.
In the St. Lucie north fork, look for deep holes around river bends. Bounce a 3/8 oz DOA rootbeer terrorize along the bottom and hold on. Some of these holes are quite deep, so work that bottom machine. Each year the St. Lucie produces some monster black drum. A few weeks ago a 60+ pounder was caught at Sandsprit Park off the bulkhead! Black drum regs are 14” minimum, one over 24”, with 5 fish maximum.
The largest pompano will be in the River, responding well to Gulfstream redfish and shrimp jigs in the grass flats of Sailfish Point and deeper in Hell’s Gate area. From the quarter bridge on the Stuart Causeway, look for the pompano brigade on the southwest section of the bridge, throwing bullethead nylure jigs. When targeting pompano you can expect to find ladyfish, jacks and blue runners as well.
Look for a strong trout bite with the early morning finally coming alive. Last month’s water temperatures all but shut down these fish until 10-11 a.m. Also look in deeper channels in the Indian River like the Dolphin Grill and Anchors Aweigh channels. Sheephead will be thick in the St. Lucie Inlet. Get your bait to the bottom in a rocky area near slack tide (after high tide is best) using a ¼ oz. trollrite and a small piece of shrimp. Before clearing the detached jetty just south of the channel is an excellent bet. This area was not disturbed during previous dredging. The water on the north side near Sailfish Point is now much deeper than before and less rocky. Remember sheephead must be 12” to the fork with a 15 per angler maximum. On Catch 22 we don’t keep anything under 14” and only what can be eaten in one sitting. Of course some people have a larger capacity than others in one sitting. If you’ve ever cleaned a sheephead you know that a 12” fish is not worth the effort.
Tarpon should begin to show up just south of the Stuart Causeway to the inlet as well as further north around Nettle’s Island and outside Big and Little Mud Creeks. Live bait on circle hooks or sightcasting topwater poppers, DOA baitbusters and terrorize will get their attention. As we progress into the summer, the tarpon will get better and better. Last week tarpon were rolling near Club Med in the North Fork.
Most of the redfish have been concentrated north of the powerlines in shallow water. Reds are easily spooked, so keep it stealthy. Soft Rubber and gold spoons top the list. Further north into Fort Pierce and Vero north to the Cape have always been the most productive areas for redfish.
I normally begin my assault on tripletail around this time of year. Channel markers and bridges will hold most of them. Soft rubber and live shrimp are the baits of choice. . Last year was a decent season ending with 105 Most of these fish until April will be under 6 pounds, with the summer catch averaging 8-12 lbs. Last year, on Catch 22, my anglers caught 8 fish over 20 lbs. Great rod-pulling action and super table fare. Remember the 15” minimum, and two per angler. I release all tripletail over 15 lbs which allows the big females to reproduce.
Let’s head to the surf, with bluefish and Spanish mackerel dominating the scene in close all day long. Cut bait (mackerel, mullet, ribbonfish) on the bottom attract the most attention. Normally 2 oz. will hold, but if the southeast wind picks up, 4 oz. may be necessary. Once you locate these fish, break out a small spinner, casting silver spoons or topwater lures for great fun. Don’t forget the steel leader for these toothy critters.
Look for large dark clouds in the water just outside the inlets and along the beaches. This is the time of year to play with monster jacks running 15 to 30 pounds. I ran a trip yesterday with one of my anglers hooking up to a 20 pounder on 12 lb test resulting in a half hour battle. Jigs, spoons and topwater poppers work great but nothing beats a live greenie. I would suggest beefing it up to 20 lb mainline or expect a good half hour battle on 12 lb.
Pompano will be out far, so break out the long rods. Double or triple kayle rigs with sandfleas, shrimp and clam strips is the prime choice for bait. When using these triple rigs, if you have a pompano on, let it set 30 seconds. Pompano run in schools, so why not catch 2 or 3 at a time! In the surf, expect a 2 lb. average, with the larger one inshore. There are plenty of sandfleas out there and it’s worth taking the time to get them. Nary a pompano can turn down a sandflea. For custom surf rods or any more information on pompano fishing, feel free to call my friend, Ward Woodruff, who is this area’s pompano guru. He can be reached at (772) 334-1708 and will be glad to answer any questions or build you that special rod.
Offshore should be great, with cobia topping the list. Last year’s bite was awesome. Large manta rays make their appearance this time of year and the cobia can be found cruising underneath them. It’s not uncommon to see a dozen cobia under a single ray. Keep your eyes peeled for these rays and have a Gulfstream cobia slayer ready to cast or add a chunk of cut bait or large grub tail to a large bullethead jig. If the cobia come to the top while anchored or drifting, toss them a DOA Baitbuster and hold on. When boating these fish, have a cobia club handy and a cooler open. I’ve seen some incredible damage from a thrashing 40 lb. cobia.
Dolphin should be in 120’ to 250’. Last year in March, there were plenty of dolphin in the 8-20 lb. class. There’s no sense in keeping any schoolies. At the rate of growth of these fish, by the end of summer they will be worth catching again and you’ll have yourself a “real” fish. It is really aggravating to see boats coming in with multiple school-sized fish. Down in the Keys (and some a little closer to our area), there are charter boats that pose with as many as forty 3-lb. dolphin. You’d think they would be embarrassed. There needs to be a legitimate limit on dolphin (say 28”) and watch the population skyrocket in one year.
Sailfish could be in really close, depending on the bait schools. Plenty of kingfish are still in the area, inside the 6-mile reef. On the bottom, large grouper and mutton snapper with some true red snapper have shown up north of the St. Lucie Inlet. South of the inlet to Pecks Lake, the Spanish mackerel are still in residence, hitting spoons, minnow jigs, tube lures, shrimp tipped jigs. In other words, just about everything!
Can hardly wait for my new offshore boat (25’ Parker Pilothouse) that I plan on ordering later on this year. I will be running both inshore trips with the pontoon and offshore with the new boat. I really do miss the offshore action.
Remember, with all fish limit your take, don’t take your limit !!!
Capt. Bob Bushholz http://www.catch22fish.com