By Capt. Rick Grassett
Early fall months are among my favorite months. Reds should be schooling on shallow grass flats and you also might find big trout there at first light. Baitfish along beaches will attract Spanish mackerel, false albacore (little tunny), sharks, tarpon and more. You should find snook around docks and bridges in the Intracoastal Waterway. There should also be tarpon around bridges at night and in areas of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. Juvenile tarpon from 10 to 30 pounds should be a good option in creeks and canals.
Tarpon should still be a good option this month. Many have moved to inside waters, so you’ll find them around bridges, over deep grass flats or deeper areas. When tarpon move into these areas, they are in a feeding mode. After a long migration and with their spawning duties completed, they need to rest and eat to restore themselves. Ladyfish will feed in glass minnow schools and tarpon will gorge themselves on ladyfish. I have also seen tarpon, “ball” glass minnows into tight schools, and eat them by the bucket full!
Fly anglers should score with wide profile patterns, such as Lefty’s Deceiver or EP flies. Small flies, like my Grassett Snook Minnow, tied on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook, are a good choice for tarpon that are feeding on glass minnows.
You should find snook this month around docks and bridges close to passes. They will also start making their move towards shallow flats where you might find them staging along sand bars or in potholes. Fly poppers or Gurglers may draw some big strikes in shallow water at night or early in the day! I often fish lighted docks and bridges for snook before dawn before moving to the flats after daylight. My Grassett Snook Minnow fly is my go-to fly pattern for snook at night.
Reds are usually in large schools in September. You may find them in shallow water when the tide is high or along the edges of flats when the tide is low. Look for wakes, some as big as boat wakes, or “pushes” to locate them. If it is calm, a school of reds may look like a nervous patch of water or if there’s a ripple on the surface, the school may appear as a slick patch of water. Once you’ve located them, try to get in front of them and work around the edges of the school to avoid spooking the whole school. Fly anglers should score with fly poppers, Gurglers and wide profile baitfish fly patterns. I like to be as quiet as possible in shallow water, using a push pole to move my boat. It is great to find a big school of reds but remember, if you spook one fish you may spook the whole school. Running an outboard may make fish show themselves, but in the long run it will make them harder to catch. I sometimes also find big jacks and blues mixed with schools of big reds in shallow water. Not a bad problem!
Spotted trout fishing should also be good this month. Regulations have changed with a three-fish-per-person bag limit and a six-fish boat limit.
Look for big trout in skinny water in many of the same places that you find reds this month. They will be most active in low light, either first thing in the morning or at dusk, particularly if we’ve had an afternoon shower. Cloud cover in the afternoon will also reduce heating of shallow flats, which usually makes fish more active. The same flies that you use for reds will work well for big trout in shallow water.