LET’S FISH: Fishing Hotspots on the First Coast

The First Coast is known around the world for its exceptional and diverse fishing hotspots. Whether you fish off-shore, in-shore or from-shore the water around here offer anglers a diverse variety of options.

The close proximity of the warm water of the Gulf Stream provide saltwater anglers everything from giant Grouper to Kingfish (See Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament). Fishing off-shore requires a major investment in the necessary equipment and boat to safely land the big ones. Most of the avid saltwater cowboys attack the Atlantic Ocean with a large sport fishing craft and usually make a day of it. There are saltwater fishing guides who’ll gladly take you out for a day, for a price.

Jacksonville’s St. Johns River and tributaries are abundant with a variety of both salt and freshwater species. In-shore fishing is a lot more affordable and smaller crafts are more adaptable to water depth and easier to navigate. Most prefer a vessel around 20 feet powered by an outboard motor, but many folks these days opt to employ manpower and paddle their kayak to their favorite fishing hole. Please remember to always wear a safety vest – it’s the law, and just makes good sense.

If owning and maintaining a boat just isn’t your thing the Freedom Boat Club is the world’s largest members-only boating club.  It is a simple alternative to boat ownership. Freedom Boat Club has locations locally in Julington Creek Marina and St. Augustine Marina. Members have unlimited access to the home club’s fleet from large offshore sport fishermen to a relaxed cruising aboard a pontoon craft.  For more information, visit www.freedomboatclub.com.

Don’t kill yourself. There are just too many fish to catch. The First Coast is known around the world for its exceptional and diverse fishing hotspots. Whether you fish from a boat (Mill Cove), kayak (Guana Lake) or bucket (Black Creek South Prong Bridge) folioweekly.com has you covered.

Mill Cove

First on our list is Mill Cove, located just south of the Dames Point Bridge; this expanse of shallow water and grassy islands offers a varied selection of red drums, trout and flounder along its sandbars, conspicuously accompanied by some ultra nice oyster beds. It is said that Ernest Hemingway competed in tarpon fishing tournaments there. Local fisherman Max Buchanan says when you enter the Cove from the river and make the turn toward the bridge the entire north bank, both east and west of the bridge, can be excellent, especially for redfish. “Personally, for that area I prefer a falling tide. You should be prepared to get shallow.” The reds are often right on the grass line, waiting on the bait to flush out. Red drum, also called redfish, channel bass, spottail, red bass or reds, are one of Florida’s most popular sport fish and the state’s most widespread estuarine fish. If the tide goes out and you are stuck, look at the pretty houses and hope you aren’t working on skin cancer.

Red drum are named after the “drumming” sound they make during spawning and when taken out of the water. According to Buchanan, mullet is the bait that has brought him the most success when fishing for reds. He recommends you throw it as close to the grass as you can. The west portion of Mill Cove is accessible via the Lonnie Wurn Ramp (COJ), and the eastern portion is accessible via the New Berlin Ramp (COJ) or a paddle from the Lonnie Wurn ramp.

Guana Lake

For our kayaking fisherman, Guana Lake (Lake Ponte Vedra) offers eight miles of beautiful, undisturbed dunes and coquina shell beach, which provides the perfect backdrop to some great trout, red and flounder fishing. Keith Martin, an experienced kayak fisherman and boat captain, says just before daybreak is the best time to venture down A1A just south of Ponte Vedra Beach and make sure to bring along a topwater fishing lure. A Topwater fishing lure is a type of fishing lure, usually floating, that may be moved about the surface of water in order to attract and cause fish to attempt to strike the lure. Trout fish and redfish can’t resist the walk-the-dog action of a topwater lure, and if you are lucky and find fingerling mullet moving out of the cover into the lake, it will just get wild with activity.

Another method is fishing a live or freshly dead shrimp on the bottom. Look for points and edges where the depth transitions from one to three feet. Schools of reds and drum slowly cruise these areas, and when you get a bite on one rod, usually you’ll have another rod go down. Guana Lake is located within the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) and also includes the Guana River Wildlife Management Area just south of Ponte Vedra Beach along Highway A1A. The main entrance to the lake is on the south end of the preserve.

Black Creek

And for those who like to keep both feet on solid ground but still want the thrill of the catch, we have the Black Creek South Prong (Fork) under the bridge, off of County Road 218. The area around the bridge is open enough to allow for easy casts down and across Black Creek. According to residents, good size bream are caught here. “Bream” is a local term throughout the southeast that includes a variety of deep-bodied panfish belonging to the sunfish family. The most common of these are bluegill, redear sunfish (shellcracker), redbreast sunfish, spotted sunfish (stumpknocker) and warmouth. The bream seek out cool water during the summer months, and the deeply vegetated shorelines of Black Creek offer the perfect refuge.


Insider’s Tips

It  is also a great time of year to fish for largemouth bass according to Jim Baylor, a veteran fisherman of the St. Johns River. As bass transition to their post-spawn routines, bass anglers will want to fish over eel-grass beds, around ledges, and under floating vegetation in search of feeding fish. Docks, bridge pilings, and snags are also worth a look.

Common artificial baits are great for pulling in bass, while live bait, such as worms and crickets, is very effective for bream, especially redbreast sunfish. Artificial lures such as small spinners, crankbaits, jigs, and flies can also be effectively used for panfish (bream). We have given you a number of spots to try.

When all else fails, this is our secret: from downtown Jacksonville, take I-10 W toward Lake City. Take exit 356 to merge onto I-295 S. Take exit 12 to merge onto FL-21 S/Blanding Blvd. Drive past Orange Park Mall for about 13 miles until you come into Middleburg. The intersection to CR218 will come up (past Publix on the right). Turn left onto CR218 at the Walgreens. The turn-off for the bridge will be immediately after you cross it on the right. Good luck out there.



Before you go fishing in Florida, residents and visitors need a Florida freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing license. Fishing licenses come in all different types from short term or annual or saltwater fishing license to freshwater, but don’t worry, you don’t need to take a test to purchase a license. Florida fishing licenses can be purchased from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission online or at select sporting good stores or other retailers that sell hunting and fishing equipment. A fishing license is required to attempt to take fish. If you cast your line, catch nothing, catch and release, or catch and keep; you need a license.  A saltwater fishing license is also required to attempt to take any native or nonnative marine organisms, such as crabs, lobsters, and marine plants.

Recreational freshwater fishing licenses and fees

A fishing license is required to attempt to take native or nonnative freshwater fish. Before purchasing a recreational freshwater fishing license or permit, please make sure you understand what qualifies as Florida residency and that you really need a license or permit based on the exemptions. Annual recreational fishing licenses are valid for 12 months from the date of purchase or the alternate starting date if selected at the time of purchase, unless otherwise specified on the face of the license. Cost is $17.00

Recreational saltwater licenses and fees

A recreational saltwater fishing license is required for residents and nonresidents to take or attempt to take saltwater fish, crabs, clams, marine plants or other saltwater organisms (other than non-living seashells and lionfish with certain gear). Cost is $17.00.

Seniors and children

Children under the age of 16 and resident seniors who are 65 or older are not required to purchase recreational licenses. However, officers may ask exempt children and seniors for proof of age. Seniors should also be prepared to show proof of residency.

Food stamp, temporary cash assistance, or Medicaid recipients

The food stamp exemption only applies to Florida residents who are saltwater fishing from the shore or a structure attached to the shore. It does not apply to freshwater fishing or to saltwater fishing from a vessel or when swimming or diving.

Fishing laws help to manage fish species and our natural resources, so that we can ensure there are fish for the future. Did you know that freshwater and saltwater fishing license fees help pay for conservation? The monies from your Florida fishing license go towards fishery and hatchery management, habitat development and protection, fish stocking programs, fishing and conservation education and much more.

About Woody Powell