Last weekend, I took Jamie Elder and Sara Hall fishing up the north and south forks of the St. Lucie River in the Stuart area. These fly fishers hail from the Boston area, and were so excited just to be out in the warm sunshine. Thing was, it wasn't warm. Not by Florida standards.
Occasionally, between November and the end of March, cold fronts sweep through that knock temperatures into the low fifties, or even lower. A strong front had dropped air and water temperatures precipitiously the night before, so I knew that flyfishing would be tough, even into the afternoon as the sun warmed the water a few degrees.
Fortunately, Sara and Jamie are good casters, and keen observers of the natural world. Even though mangrove rivers are so different from the New England marshes they're used to fishing, they know the subtle and obvious signs that a gamefish may be present.
One of fishing's oldest and most accurate truisms is, "Find the bait and you'll find the fish." You have to know the signs, which include the twinkle of baitfish such as glass minnows, wading birds such as herons and egrets poised to strike on the shoreline or mangrove roots, as well as diving birds such as terns, gulls and pelicans.
More days than not, fishing in Florida is somewhere between good and red hot. But an experienced guide manages expectations, especially when the uncontrollable variables like wind and weather have you at a disadvantage. I told Jamie and Sara that catching any fish on a day that brisk, especially with fly tackle, could almost be considered a feat. But they caught fish, including a few small snook, jacks and mackerel.
For the most part, the birds pointed us to the bait, and the gamefish feeding on them. There were herons feeding in the vicinity of the snook, pelicans diving where we caught the jacks, and terns and gulls screeching over the mackerel. The couple remained alert and engaged in the hunt throughout the day. Rods were bent, encounters with wildlife including dolphins, manatees and the aforementioned birds were enjoyed, and they got plenty of great casting practice in, hitting the pockets in the tangles of overhanging mangrove roots and branches. The day flew by.
When you treat yourself to a day on Florida's great waters, stay alert, engaged and observant. Make sure you wear a good pair of polarized sunglasses, or you're basically fishing blind. Leave the cell phone someplace dry, and watch for the signs that put you on fish!