Martin County’s Fish Magnets
Content sponsored by Martin County Offrice of Tourism
By Terry Gibson
Geoffrey Smith’s sublime, 18-foot-tall bronze sailfish sculpture leaps out of a fountain in quaint downtown Stuart, a reminder to the initiated that Stuart is indeed the “Sailfishing Capital of the World” - and an invitation to those who haven’t experienced the thrill of chasing one of the ocean’s most beautiful and acrobatic predators.
This area is a magnet for sailfish and dozens of other migratory species. Along the Treasure Coast, a complex, interconnected series of estuaries, coral reefs and ocean currents creates some of the world’s richest waters. Migrating sailfish, and other pelagic (open-ocean) species including mahi, king mackerel and wahoo, return again and again, passing through what we call “sailfish alley.” This area affords anglers some of the most exciting and productive bluewater angling on earth.
The nearshore and waters in and around Martin County also offer unique and highly productive fishing fun for anglers of all ages and skill levels. Coral reefs, a teeming surf zone, and extensive backwaters offer great fishing for an enormous variety of species year-round, in almost any weather circumstance.
Here’s a rundown of some of Martin County’s most special places to fish:
Sailfish Alley roughly coincides with north/south contour lines that represent reefs and ridges on the chart in about 100 to 120 feet between Fort Pierce and Palm Beach. Sailfish and many other species seem to prefer these depths, probably because that’s often where the warm eddies off the Gulf Stream penetrate, and where swirling rips along it lift bait to the surface. It’s an underwater jungle out there. Bottom fishing for snapper, grouper and amberjack is also excellent on offshore natural and artificial reefs.
Pecks Lake Reef lies mostly within park waters running south about seven miles from the St. Lucie Inlet. It consists of shallow patch reefs and several rows of high-relief limestone out in deeper water to about 30 feet. This area is the northern terminus of the Florida Coral Reef Tract, the world’s third-largest coral barrier reef system and the only living coral reef in North America. It’s a great place to dive for lobsters, and for kids to catch reef fish such as snappers and grunts on calm days. In the winter, Spanish mackerel and bluefish move in by the millions. The reef is essentially a natural breakwater that block ocean swells, so even small boats can get in on the non-stop action unless it’s really rough. On nice days, a Spanish mackerel trip to Peck’s Lake is about the best imaginable way to introduce kids to fishing. They’ll catch one of those delicious drag-pullers just about every cast.
Martin County’s beaches offer several types of great fishing. The county’s many free, public access points attract anglers surf-fishing for pompano, bluefish and Spanish mackerel, which run from about October through about April, though the latter two species are caught year-round. Summer offers fly fishermen and light tackle angler sight-casting opportunities at snook and tarpon in clear, shallow water right off the beach. The bait runs of August and September attract virtually every predator under the sun, including snook, tarpon and false albacore, as well as bluefish, Spanish mackerel and red drum. The pompano brigade prefers the cast out to the sandy banks from Stuart Public Beach north to Jensen Beach. The shallow and intertidal reefs to the south tend to hold more snook and other ambushing species.
The St. Lucie Inlet offers access for boaters and many fish species coming and going from the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon. Many species including snook, most snappers and some groupers -- including the goliath grouper -- grow up in the estuaries and go outside into ocean waters at least for a little while to spawn. Some never come back. The inlet is either a staging or a spawning ground or both for these species. The edges of its sandy shoals are great places to intercept pompano, bluefish and Spanish mackerel heading into the estuaries to feed. In the late fall, pre-spawn flounder stage in ambush spots behind rocks and other submerged structure. During the late spring and summer months, snook gather by the thousands in the inlet to spawn or in preparation of the spawn. Anglers target them along the docks, seawalls and jetties, along with jumbo mangrove snapper.
The Southern Indian River Lagoon is relatively easy to navigate and boasts extensive flats, long mangrove shorelines and manmade structures such as docks and seawalls where anglers find predators such as snook, tarpon and jacks on the prowl. Other flats denizens include some of the world’s biggest spotted seatrout, flounder and pompano. Bridges, docks and rubble also hold tasty sheepshead, black drum and a variety of snapper species. It’s not uncommon to catch 10 or more hard-fighting species on the Indian River Lagoon in a single outing. The flats near Sailfish Point offer consistently good fishing, as does the west side of the lagoon in Jensen Beach.
The St. Lucie River consists of the North Fork, South Fork and main branch, which flows through downtown Stuart. The St. Lucie arguably offers the world’s best snook fishing. In the warmer months, most of the action is in the main branch, near bridges, docks and the inlet jetties. In the cooler months, most of the fish return up river to soak in the warmth of the dark flats and hide among the mangrove prop roots in the winding stretches of the South and North Forks. Summer brings great tarpon fishing upriver as well. In winter, pompano schools venture up into the lower reaches of the North Fork. The far upriver sections, including the winding South Fork Waterway Trail offer great fishing from canoes and kayaks beneath towering mangroves, palmettos and hardwoods. Expect to catch bass, snook and small tarpon. You can rent canoes and kayaks at South River Outfitters.
When you go…
For more destination information, visit discovermartin.com.
Excellent marina services are offered on area waters. The marinas in Manatee Pocket, in Port Salerno, are closest to the inlet. Jensen Beach marinas also keep you close to the fish. Marinas on the St. Lucie River provide easy access to the Okeechobee Waterway, which boaters use to cut across the state to Fort Myers.