When it comes to lush inshore waters, Fort Pierce is clearly holding. With great redfishing to the north and fantastic snook to the south, Fort Pierce is the dividing line for Florida’s best flats fishing. But incredible opportunities with snook and redfish aren’t all that await shallow water anglers on the sun-drenched, mangrove-tangled shores of the Indian River. In fact, the current IGFA all-tackle world record seatrout of 17-pounds, 7-ounces was caught off the Little Jim Bridge in Fort Pierce.
Situated along one of North America’s most fertile ecosystems, prime geographic location of the Sunrise City offers anglers in-the-know incredible opportunities with world-class spotted seatrout. While the action can be gangbusters year-round, the spring thaw brings more bearable temperatures, which really turns on the bite. “March and April are the best months for big trout,” explains Captain JD DeBula, who has fished the inshore waters of Fort Pierce for over 30-years.
JD’s particular passion, call it an obsession, is to fool monster trout that haunt the southern stretches of the IRL. The expansive Indian River extends approximately 153-miles, with almost every nook and cranny worthy of consideration. That’s what separates good anglers from great anglers. You must be able to read the water and make decisions based on your predictions or prevaling conditions.
“With winds out of the east, you’ll find me fishing the east shore. Winds out of the west, I’ll fish the west shore. When winds are blowing out of the north or south the flats fishing is likely to be tougher and slower,” commented JD.
In addition to choosing your location based on the wind, to give yourself the best opportunity with chunky trout you’ll want to focus your efforts around dawn and dusk.
“The first and last light of day are when you should be giving it your best shot at your top spots. There’s simply more feeding activity on the flats during these hours. Sometimes I’ll have the boat back on the trailer by 9 o’clock in the morning and go out again for a few hours at dusk,” JD continued.
It’s also important you fish on the opportune tide. A low incoming tide is thought to be the most ideal, as it will congregate forage and predator fish. A new moon phase will also strengthen the tides and turn on the bite.
So now you’re in the general vicinity at feeding time. To further your chances you must look for more distinct features that offer these ambush predators ideal opportunities. Spoil islands are some of the most productive structures along the Indian River and were formed when the Intracoastal Waterway was originally dredged. The dredge tailings were deposited along the sides of the newly formed channels, resulting in mangrove-ringed spoil islands. In other cases the tailings do not emerge above water, which instead results in sandbars and oyster bars. A nautical chart or GPS will show both the emergent islands and submerged bars that are strung in lines north to south along the sides of the ICW. Fishing these structures, particularly where lush seagrass and baitfish are present, will result in quality catches. It seems that seatrout tend to favor the submerged bars whereas redfish and snook gravitate to the emergent islands. The textbook trout “sweet spots” on these islands and bars are the northern and southern tips.
While seatrout respond to a wide variety of tactics, tossing topwater plugs definitely offers the greatest adrenaline rush. For flats fishing, where water depth is measured in inches rather than feet, topwaters have one key advantage. Since they float and entice game fish on the surface, they have no contact with the dense weed beds that render flats fishing impossible with most other lures.
Captain JD’s favorite topwater plug is the Sebile Bonga Minnow. It’s beefy in size, shaped just like a mullet, and comes rigged for trophy saltwater game fish. Compared to most other topwaters that must be worked fast with frantic action, the Bonga Minnow has a slow “walk-the-dog” action. The lethargic movement that’s possible with the Bonga Minnow is very natural and unalarming to spooky flats predators.
While JD limits his topwater endeavors to the spring months, the jig and soft plastic combo is a year-round producer. “A jighead will prove surprisingly weedless–but only when fished by an attentive angler who concentrates on keeping the hook point positioned in an upright stance throughout the retrieve. If you’re sloppy with how you work a jig, it’s going to be a snag-plagued day,” says JD.
There are some sections where the grass can be too thick even for jigs. That’s where seasoned salts look to soft plastic shrimp imitations. Instead of a weighted jighead, the weight of the lure is buried in the body of the shrimp. This is the lure to use in the shallowest, weediest spots where jigs can’t go. In terms of giving action to a jig or soft plastic shrimp, JD likes to hold his rod tip high while imparting a short yet sharp jerk about every three seconds.
No matter what weapon you choose, part of the enjoyment of stalking the shallows comes with the ability to utilize light tackle outfits. Skilled anglers especially enjoy the challenge of using 10lb. braid in order to get the most excitement from fighting world-class fish on light tackle. If you’re looking for a great local destination this spring don’t overlook the fertile flats of Fort Pierce. Thanks to an incredibly rich forage base, coupled with a wide array of habitat, Fort Pierce is home to some of the largest seatrout in the world. The question is…do you have the skill and finesse to fool a gator?
JD’s Indian River Guide Service
Captain JD DeBula