Numerous fish species, unbeatable weather, and a healthy fishing infrastructure make the First Coast a fisherman’s paradise. Our state offers 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, 10,550 miles of rivers, 7,700 lakes, and countless ponds. The First Coast offers a multitude of options. From offshore saltwater fishing, surf fishing, bridge fishing, river fishing and plenty of freshwater ponds or lakes around, there are options far and wide.
Inspiration That Lasts a Lifetime
Former Jacksonville Beach Councilman and Mayor Rick Hale has been a fisherman in Florida’s waters for close to 70 years. The Jacksonville Beach native’s passion for fishing was largely influenced by his father. “My dad used to take me fishing all the time,” Hale says, “We used to do a lot of surf fishing and we used to fish the Intercoastal Waterways.” Their father-son adventures led to a lifelong passion for fishing.
Hale owns Rick’s Bait & Tackle, a weathered fisherman’s treasure trove tucked next to the Beach Blvd Boat Ramp in Jacksonville Beach. Rick’s seasoned crew welcomes fishing enthusiasts of all experience levels. They eagerly share their knowledge of local fishing conditions and will outfit you with exactly what you need for a successful day on the water.
For best success, fishermen should check out the bait and tackle shop nearest to their fishing destination. “I think our store is one of the most knowledgeable around the Beaches area, that’s what we do,” Hale says, “If you want to go fishing down in Palm Valley, you go to Palm Valley Outdoors. And there’s a little place out in Guana, Guana Outfitters. The stores all around the different areas of town can give you information on what’s going on in your area.”
With dozens of bait and tackle shops in NE Florida, you’re never far from experienced help.
Keep it Simple
“When someone’s just getting into fishing, we recommend that they don’t go buy the $9000 rod and reel,” Hale advises. The specific gear required will depend on the type of fishing you plan to do, but regardless of style you don’t need to break the bank.
Lifetime Jacksonville resident and fisherwoman Christina Scott agrees. “The best advice I have is not to spend too much money right off the bat,” Scott says, “It’s called fishing, not catching!”
Plan to invest in an inexpensive rod and reel, bait, and fishing license (ages of 16-65). “You can go to the bait and tackle shop and pick up a 5’-7’ fishing rod combo. That’s your rod and your reel. It’ll come with line already on it,” says Captain James Brown of Set da Hook Charters.
Another option is to hire a guide. “When you go out with a guide, you don’t have to bring any equipment,” Captain Brown says, “All of the guides here are pretty seasoned and they’ll teach you different techniques while they have you out. It’s usually a 4-hour trip. You learn a little bit about fishing and a little bit about the area. Get out there and enjoy it.”
Add some sunscreen, a hat, and plenty of water and you’re nearly ready to go. Keep careful watch for dangerous flora and fauna, read up on local fishing regulations (see below), and learn the laws of the water if you plan to boat. Lastly, a dose of patience and perseverance are recommended. “Don’t give up just because you’re having a slow day or not catching anything,” advises avid St. Johns fisherman Dave Strasser, “Tomorrow might be the day you catch the big one!”
The Fish Lowdown
In order to score a First Coast Slam—catching three different fish species on the same day—anglers must snag a spotted seatrout, a redfish, and a flounder. Triple Challenge Tournaments are popular in our area. But fishing exploits need not be limited to these three species. There are hundreds of fresh and saltwater fish varieties thriving in the Southeast. With the St. Johns River and its tributaries in our backyard, anglers have nearly unlimited opportunities for good fishing. Largemouth bass and crappie are popular freshwater fish in our areas.
Miles of shoreline offer great surf fishing too. Whiting, redfish, bluefish, and pompano make for a great catch. “The first time we went surf fishing was at Mickler’s Beach and Andy (husband) snagged a black tip shark and as he was reeling it in, it flipped out of the water and spun around to snap at the line,” says Christina Scott, “We never keep sharks, but they are fun to catch!”
Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach, the Mayport Jetties, the Jacksonville Beach Pier, St. Augustine’s Ocean Pier, and the Flagler Beach Pier are just a few places to try your hand at saltwater fishing.
“The Matanzas River, the Matanzas Inlet, Washington Oaks, Bings Landing, and Princess Place Preserve all offer great fishing opportunities,” says Adam Morley, owner of Genung’s Fish Camp in Crescent Beach, “Target redfish, trout, flounder, and black drum, but don’t be surprised if you reel in some small sharks, rays, catfish, or a blue crab now and again.”
Redfish is a local favorite. “It’s a big, muscular fish that fights like a bull and they grow to crazy, dinosaur sizes,” Captain Brown says, “They get very large and very heavy and twice a year they come into the river to breed and to spawn. You can catch the big, massive ones at the jetties.” Just be careful of size and bag limit regulations.
“We have such access to water through our community of parks, just get out there and go fishing!” Captain Brown says. The more you study and practice, the better success you’ll have. “Once you’ve been fishing for a while, you start to learn the pattern of the fish. You read up, you research what they do, how they breed, how they feed, the times they like to eat, and the times that they say, ‘I don’t want nothing to eat. You’re not catching me today.’ Those are really the challenges: finding them and then getting them to eat what you’re throwing at them.”
Tranquility, Community, and Connection With Nature
For many of Northeast Florida’s fishing enthusiasts, fishing is an enjoyable and relaxing pastime. For some, it’s also a chance to give back. For others, it offers healing.
“The most rewarding part about fishing in our area is the awesome community of fishermen. It’s a tight knit group of great people and most of the tournaments I fish support local charities,” says Jacksonville fisherman Matt Crews, “I joined the local chapter of Heroes on the Water two years ago and have been able to make an impact on the lives of our local veterans and first responders. We take them out for a day of kayak fishing and comradery, providing the kayaks, fishing gear, a guide, and lunch. It’s all free and run by volunteers. Many of the vets we serve are struggling with physical and mental scars; we help them rehabilitate and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors.”
“Fishing is such a tranquil sport,” Captain Brown contributes, “It will probably be one of the most tranquil sports you will ever do as long as you have patience. It will build patience if you don’t have it. Or you’ll quit. And you’ll meet some of the nicest people. It’s one of the most fun sports you can do and it gets you outdoors.”
“There are plenty of great and beautiful spots to fish in our area. The challenging part is just finding time to go,” lifelong fisherman Dave Strasser adds, “It’s rewarding being out in nature and having a good day catching any kind of fish.”
Fishing is a great opportunity to get outside, connect with nature, ditch technology, and reconnect as a family. It doesn’t require expensive equipment and is accessible to people of all abilities and ages. Whether you’re into cast netting, shrimping, crabbing, deepwater excursions, fresh or saltwater angling, or even just casting a line into your neighborhood lake with your kids, fishing is a fabulous way to pass time, build bonds, and make memories. It’s an opportunity to connect with neighbors and meet new people. The First Coast is an ideal place to fish for the first time or to pursue a passion a lifetime in the making.
Find information about all your outdoor activity needs at Globo Surf including how to choose a travel fishing rod: https://www.globosurfer.com/
Article originally published Aug 22, 2018.