The reasonable reader might be puzzled. Fly fishing in Jacksonville? Yes, there is fly fishing to be done in Jacksonville, and yes, it can be really good. Many different kinds of boats could be used, but in this piece, we’re sticking to paddle vessels, or in one case, just feet.
Jacksonville now has the largest urban park system- 84,000 acres- in the country. Hundreds of miles of salt creeks wind through tens of thousands of acres of protected Spartina grass salt marsh, spreading water and nutrients twice a day as the tides rise and fall. Need I remind you that Spartina grass marshes are the world’s most productive habitats?
Since my fishing bum income dictates where I stay when I visit someplace, and since Jacksonville is a three-hour-plus drive from my home, when I go there I usually camp at Little Talbot Island State Park. There’s a kayak launch right at the campground, and beach access is a five-minutes-drive away, so it’s hardly a hardship camping there unless the mosquitos are thick. I try to limit my camping to the winter months so the bugs aren’t a problem. As a bonus, that’s when the water is the cleanest, too.
If camping is not something you enjoy, there are plenty of conventional lodging places in Jacksonville. This link – https://jaxintracoastalpaddling.org/parks-launches/launch-sites – shows all the kayak launches in the Jacksonville area, so you can find launch sites near anywhere you’re staying.
Fly anglers in the marsh will encounter a number of species, but the most targeted ones are redfish, spotted seatrout, and flounder. This is the only place I’ve ever seen flounder go airborne through bait.
The water here tends to be murky, so lots of the fishing will be blind-casting in likely-looking places. However, sight-fishing for redfish can be a winning strategy, but it’s one of those right-time, right-place scenarios.
Some of Jacksonville’s waterways are quite large, suitable for large motor vessels. I avoid these, preferring to work smaller creeks where motor vessels tend not to go. Not only do I not have to worry about getting run over, but the fish here get less pressure – a good thing.
Jacksonville fly anglers keep an eye on the tides at all times. The biggest tides in Florida are found here, so yes, they will affect the fishing. We’re going to look at three (or maybe three-and-a-half) different scenarios for catching fish with flies here.
The first is a personal favorite – a low, outgoing tide at daybreak, great for all three species. Redfish will cruise the banks now, looking for crabs, shrimp and small fish. Frequently their backs will be out of the water. Because a lot of places that are covered at high tide are dry now, all the fish get concentrated into a much smaller area, making them easier to locate. If you’re in the right spot, you’ll see and hear the fish blowing up, right along the shoreline. You may see those flying flounders I mentioned earlier, too.
Determine the direction the redfish is moving, and silently (I can’t stress the silently part enough!) get ahead of it, in casting range. I like a small Seaducer or other unweighted fly for this work. There are lots of oysters, and weighted flies get hung up constantly in the shallow water. Lead the fish a foot or two, waiting until you think the fish will see the fly before you move it. If the fish does see it, you’ll either scare it to death or get a thrilling strike. Rarely, you’ll get a big surprise when your redfish turns out to be a trophy seatrout!
The seatrout will usually be in deeper holes on these tides, a deeper hole here being anything over two feet. Blind-casting with a Clouser Minnow or other weighted pattern will bring immediate results if anyone is home. Of course, reds and flounder might be in the hole, too. I like enough current to swing the streamer, but that’s not always necessary.
This fishing continues as the tide rises, until the oysters are covered with water. The fish are still there, but you can no longer see them, and they start to disperse as more areas flood. Time to take a break now.
Let’s come up for air here and discuss tackle briefly. I like small rods, between a four- and a six-weight, for this work. Most folks use a nine-foot eight-weight as their standard saltwater rod, though. Floating line. Ten-foot leader (at least), 20-pound tippet (remember those sharp oysters).
Flies- I already mentioned Clouser Minnows and Seaducers. I already mentioned crabs, shrimp, and small fish. You need flies that float, sink slowly, and sink quickly, and that imitate the preferred foods or are attractor patterns. For sanity’s sake, keep it simple. The fish aren’t fussy. Size 4 and 2 cover most needs here. Weedguards are in good taste!
In the fall the highest tides of the year happen. When the marsh floods, redfish get on top of it and search for crabs, leading to a unique fishery – fish tailing in the Spartina grass. Some secret spots have big sheepshead doing the same thing. A lightly weighted crab pattern with a good weedguard is your ticket to success, if you’re lucky enough to find some fish. Look for places where the fish have easy access from and to deeper water. They won’t risk getting stuck way up on the marsh. When the grass is thick, it’s like fishing in a hayfield.
Lastly, you can fish from the beach. Here, I would use an eight-weight (at least) with an intermediate line. You must have a stripping basket to keep the waves from tying your feet together with fly line. A bigger, light-colored Clouser Minnow, #1 or 1/0, is appropriate too. Lastly, this fishing is usually best in the summer when the surf is the smallest.
The beach is at Little Talbot State Island. Park in the parking lot and start hiking north. You want a medium-to-high, incoming tide (brings clean water in) after noon (sun is at your back) for this. As you walk, look for fish along the beach. They might be a long cast out, or right by the sand. They might be singles or in small pods. Walk all the way to the north end of the island, the best spot. John Bottko used to own the Salty Feather Fly Shop in Jacksonville. He told me he hooked a good red in the surf one day, and a shark chased it down and ate most of it. All John got was the head, which weighed more than eight pounds. Just the head. Yes, you might stick a good fish here.
That’s some of what’s available to fly anglers around Jacksonville. The local fly shops have all closed, sadly, but Jacksonville still has a fly fishing club, the First Coast Fly Fishers, http://fcff.org. Contact them if you need more information.
Kayak Rentals in Jacksonville:
For those people (and I know you’re out there) who don’t have their own kayak:
- Kayak Amelia, on Simpson Creek, 13030 Heckscher Dr. Jacksonville, (904) 251-0016; https://kayakamelia.com
- North Guana Outpost, two locations in the Guana River Preserve, 4415 Mickler Road, Ponte Vedra Beach, (904) 373-0306; 505 Guana River Rd. Ponte Vedra Beach, (904) 217-7388; https://northguanaoutpost.com
- Neat Livin Kayak Rentals- these folks deliver rental kayaks to various locations. (904) 327-3388; https://neatlivin.com/home