Fishing the Rocks in Historic St. Marks, Florida

    By David A. Brown

    An often overlooked gem of the Big Bend region, historic St. Marks, Florida provides a portal into fantastic fishing steeped in old-Florida ambience.

    Just 30 minutes from Tallahassee, this modest town founded in 1528 offers convenient access into the Apalachee Bay region, where rocks, rocks and more rocks define much of the coastline.

    Its namesake river flows along St. Marks’ southeast side and joins the larger Wakulla River just past the city ramp, adjacent to the Fort San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. The Wakulla continues southward to the Gulf of Mexico, but inside the mouth, numerous oyster bars play host to redfish, speckled trout, black drum and sheepshead, while tarpon often gather in the deeper spots off the main channel.

    Here, and on the bars and rocks outside the river, lipless crankbaits, topwater plugs, gold spoons, DOA Shrimp and jigs with paddle tails tempt the reds and trout, while sheepshead and drum like live shrimp on light jig heads. In deeper areas, drift with the wind and work an artificial shrimp under a clacking cork rig for big trout. If you spot tarpon rolling, a well-placed MirrOlure 65M, Catch 2000 or a MirrOdine XL might appeal to one of the silver giants.

    Outside the river mouth, turn east and look for schools of redfish waking the surface as they push through the tall “rock grass” anchored throughout a treacherous minefield of random limestone outcroppings. Low water reveals many of these motor-munchers, so take note of the trouble spots. High tides bring redfish in close but they also hide the rocks, and you really don’t want to find them the hard way.

    If you’re new to the St. Marks, Florida area, idle into the shallows and use a trolling motor or push pole to dodge rocks and establish casting positions. Jigs with soft plastic jerkbaits or Berkley Gulp Shrimp will entice reds, but the bare hooks tends to catch a lot of grass, so try fishing these baits weedless style on a weighted swimbait hook in densely vegetated areas. In sparse grass, take advantage of the open areas to work topwater plugs — a bait option that’s also likely to draw the attention of a big trout or Spanish mackerel.

    When the latter invade an area in force, rapidly casting and retrieving silver spoons, bucktail jigs or Gotcha Plugs delivers intense action with these super-aggressive fish. The St. Marks rock fields also see the occasional cobia, so keep a large bucktail jig with a curly tail or plastic eel handy. Cobia rarely turn down a potential meal, so just get the jig near the fish, and swim it through the water with frequent pauses to make the bucktail flare.

    While in town, visit the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, where ospreys, otters, black bears and lots of alligators enjoy the unspoiled habitat.

    The main road terminates at the Gulf, next to the St. Marks Lighthouse — Florida’s second oldest (behind St. Augustine’s).

    Visitors also enjoy jogging, biking and skating the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad Trail, a recreational path along the course of the former train route linking the capitol and the coastal town.