On the grass flats of Biscayne Bay, there's been an uneasy balance between development and habitat for many years. Biscayne Bay's cloudier waters and developed shoreline pushed many trout anglers to the more undeveloped waters of the Florida Keys, the west coast and the Everglades, deep in pristine Florida. As these anglers continued their pursuit of the most popular inshore species (which is trout) elsewhere, the Bay's grass flats sat relatively untouched for many years, and some of the seatrout grew quite large for South Florida because of the lack of fisherman's pressure. This was especially true for North Biscayne Bay, which stretches from Government Cut to Haulover Cut on the inside. Some of the North Bay seatrout concentration surrounds the Julia Tuttle Causeway. North Biscayne Bay lights up when the water temperature lowers down into the mid 70s.
The two areas of greatest popularity are the flats to the north and south-southeast of the 36th Street Causeway (Julia Tuttle). These flats and, in fact, most trout flats are most productive with cloud cover and/or low light. Couple these conditions with a light easterly breeze, and one has perfect conditions for drifting and casting the flats.
Anglers can launch their boats at Watson Island, north of the beautiful downtown and Seaport area and run their skiff north, close to the "pilings" area south of the 36th Street Causeway. My suggestion would be to start at the pilings area south of the central portion of the east-west running Julia Tuttle Causeway. This easily seen area is a huge rectangle of pilings, once the outline of a huge dredging project which was mercifully stopped. If pelicans are diving on mullet schools in the pilings area, proceed directly to the action. It may take some time to find a way inside, yet the area is good because most boats avoid it. Fish this area on the high tide phases to avoid grounding.
If mullet are present, use one rod and cast a silver minnow spoon into the areas that reveal the most action. As a section tactic, plan on fishing large live and/or dead natural baits to catch the larger seatrout. One can easily catch live pinfish right under the boat on hair-hooks and peeled shrimp. If the mullet get close enough to the boat, cast a weighted treble hook at them and snag one. If the mullet are small, hook a 3/0 claw-style hook through the anal vent. Fish this live bait on a 10-pound spinning rig without a float. If the mullet are not reachable or are not present, the small live pinfish will certainly suffice.
At this juncture, it inessential to remind anglers that fishing for large trout on large natural baits will take much longer to produce fish than casting plastic baits for smaller trout. Patience is clearly called for in order to achieve any measure of success.
Naturally, the mullet and/or the pinfish must be kept alive in a livewell or overboard bucket. The popping cork must be rigged differently for the live bait; usually a popping cork is fixed to a stationary position on the line above the hook by means of a plastic dowel insert in the "cork" itself. A live bait rig consists of a 3/0 claw-style hook, two-and-a-half feet of 30-pound monofilament leader, a 50-pound test black swivel and the cork without the dowel. The major use of the cork is for depth manipulation of the live bait and visual access of the bait's location. Without the dowel insert, one can freespool the line through the cork after the strike without creating unnecessary pressure. For more standard usage of the popping cork, insert the plastic dowel in the cork and use it as a chugger to attract the more frequent medium and smaller seatrout to a live shrimp or four-inch mullet strip on the hook below. Whether the bait is alive or dead, the cork will initially wiggle or plunge downward as the strike occurs.
It will be necessary to hold the popping cork rig. When a strike comes, freespool the line through the cork for a five count and strike the fish. For a third fishing rig, I would suggest fishing a large eight-inch fresh mullet strip right on the bottom. The bait can be fished either under the mullet schools or anywhere close to the boat. Close to the boat means no more than 50 feet away, since effective hook-ups on bait don't seem viable much further than this.
The beauty of the mullet strip rig is that it can be laid down and fished in free spool. For this to be optimal, the tackle should be spinning so no line tension can be felt when the strip is picked up by a larger trout. The trout will pick the strip right off the bottom and run with it. One can cast the spoon amongst the mullet schools while waiting for a pick-up on the mullet strip rod. While fishing any natural bait, consider using low-stretch monofilament or cofilament line to ensure the best possible hook-up. Sharpen hooks with a stone and the hook-up rate will go up. Once the fight is on, back off on the drag to diminish chances of ripping the hook out of the trout's mouth.
For this reason, also consider using composite spinning rods rather than the stiffer pure graphite. Graphite rods are best reserved for detecting strikes on artificial lures and for making quick hook-ups on them. Natural baits will be swallowed by larger trout and the rapid snapping strike of the graphite rod will not be necessary. It will be necessary, however, on those lures where trout strikes are more subtle and tentative or need fast snubbing up, to use the more sensitive graphite rods. Those lure situations all include plastic and rubber shrimp, mirror-sided non- swimming plugs, surface disturbing plugs, dancing plugs, stick baits and bucktail or kiptail jigs. Smaller trout thump subsurface plastic shrimp and need a more rapid hook-up. This is also the case with the very narrow window of opportunity when a trout strike comes on a surface disturbing plug, such as a Devil's Horse.
As the sun rises on Biscayne Bay and as the water starts to fall off the grass flats on the falling tide, start to retreat to the drop-off points along the edges of the flats where the seatrout will position themselves to feed on the food being swept off the flats. When severe cold fronts come through during the middle of the winter, the trout normally stack up on the channel edges, being attracted to the temperature moderation that the deeper water offers. Therefore, these places during such extreme weather situations are always a good initial choice to start the fishing efforts.
During approaching cold fronts, start to fish the downwind channels off the flats, because the trout will face into the wind waiting for their next meal. Beware to position yourself so that the synergy of a northwest wind and a falling tide doesn't leave you high and dry. This means don't bother with the upwind side of the flats, because there will be no water to fish, the downwind channels receive the flow of the wind and water on an outgoing tide. Fish in these channels either with artificials bouncing along the bottom, or large, live baits as discussed above. You can use large shrimp; however, very often they will be eaten by the smaller and less desirable fish hanging around in the channels. Other benefits from the channels can come in the way of large mangrove snappers, an occasional Spanish mackerel, tarpon, ladyfish, and jacks. If a mild cold front comes through, and you are faced with a super high tide, the high water and low winds will not direct the trout to do anything special, such as stake out in the deeper channels. In this scenario, stay on top of the flats to fish for trout.
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Author/writer Jan S. Maizler is CyberAngler's Travel and Article Editor.
Jan is a past IGFA world record holder for bonefish on two-pound test line and permit on four-pound test line. He has caught and released over two thousand bonefish and one thousand tarpon in his angling career. Jan has been fishing in salt water since 1962.
In 1977 he published his first flats fishing book entitled Flats Fishing. Since then, he has written eight books and published hundreds of articles on angling in many leading websites and magazines. His newest book is Fishing Florida's Flats by University Press of Florida.
He has been a long-time angler and resource of Miami's Biscayne Bay, a fishery that offers some of the largest bonefish in the world. Jan has travelled the world over in his angling pursuits. For more information on Jan, search his name, Jan Maizler, on Yahoo.com or Google.com. Read more About Jan.