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Stuart Inshore Report
HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!! Cooler weather the past week has kept water temperatures in the mid 60’s. I’ve heard of scattered pompano catches in the surf from a few of my commercial fisherman friends that search for pompano in the surf during the winter months, and some other reports from people fishing the bridges and flats, but nothing much to get excited about. One of the best pompano-fisherman I know says sand fleas have been easy to find and is the bait of choice.

Speaking of the pompano fisherman, Ward Woodruff from Jensen Beach, is not only one of those commercial pompano guys, but he builds custom surf rods. These rods are beauties, one-piece 14’ lamiglass casting or spinning rods and can include your name, pompano decals or anything else you might want to include on your rod. The price of the rods at $185.00 is well worth the money. He also carries l-lb. spools of 15 or 20 lb. black mono to fill the reels with. Ward says that black line in the surf is a well-kept secret – oops, not so much of a secret anymore. His latest report is that the best fishing lately has been between North Hutchinson Island and Vero Beach. In the past month, his best daily catch was 26 pompano. At $5.00/lb. paid by local restaurants and fish houses, you can see why commercial fishing is not only a life-long dream but profitable too. You can contact Ward at (561) 334-1708 to order surf rods or line (or to just hear a good fish story). He’s got a great workshop and is always proud to show off his workmanship.

In the River last week, with trout season still closed, I’ve been running south, fishing different areas near the St. Lucie Inlet. At full high tide or dead low tide, I’ve been anchoring on the south side of the Channel about 100 yards west of the detached jetty. Water depth is around 9 feet with scattered rocks. This is the best time for bottom fishing using minimum weight (1/4 oz. Trollrites with frozen shrimp is the bait of choice). You can expect mangrove snapper, mutton snapper under 16”, sheephead to 4 lbs and an occasional pompano, black margate and lots of spots. Normally an hour in this spot is productive while the current is slack. Once the current starts cranking, it takes lots more weight, so Plan B comes into action (drifting the Inlet).

On the drift we hooked some snook, sheephead, mangrove snapper and big jacks. The Crossroads area has been holding large numbers of ladyfish and jacks, and one of my anglers was lucky enough to boat a 10 lb. permit in the same area.

Several of my charters last week were “non meat-mongers” and were just looking for bent rods and tight lines. Let me tell you, they got their wish. The wind remained down enabling the Catch 22 to wander outside the north jetty. The trips in that area averaged about 300 pounds of jack crevalle running 5-10 pounds each. One trip with 4 anglers on board was just non-stop jack action, releasing over 500 pounds! If you don’t think that will get your heart pumping and put a cramp in the arm, guess again. Great fun, great fishing. I estimated a staggering 2000 pounds of jacks released during charters last week. The anglers wanted action and “action” they got.

On two afternoon trips, while jack fishing, I spotted about a dozen tarpon cruising south like they were on a mission. The fish were all in the 80-100 pound class and didn’t seem interested in anything we tossed at them. These tarpon can be the finickiest eaters in the river, but once you get their attention, hang on. Next time, I hope.

Well, hoping paid off, on Tuesday’s trip, Mr. Anderson, down from Delaware, tossed a DOA baitbuster in front of a pair of tarpon we spotted. The fish inhaled it, so I had the remaining anglers reel up and the fight was on! There was no stopping this fish, so I just ran southward with Mr. Tarpon in the lead. Five wonderful jumps and half a mile southward, this 100+ pound tarpon leaped for the last time spitting the hook and wishing us a Happy New Year! Quite a fight on 11-pound test tournament line and a New Year’s wish I hope Mr. Anderson does not soon forget.

During the week, I cruised the Sailfish flats a few times when the water was high. The pompano action was non-existent even though lots of boats were drifting the area. Sooner or later the pompano action will pick up and with the impending cold front, it should be sooner than later. I can say that a firefighter who was fishing with his buddies caught the biggest lizard fish I have ever seen. It was about 20 inches long.

Spanish mackerel remain thick around Peck’s Lake (2 miles south of St. Lucie Inlet). They should be in the area for about 3 more months, hitting spoons, minnow jigs and various other shiny baits.

Yesterday was a recon day and we played around using the ultra-lights in the grass flats throwing DOA rootbeer and glow shrimp for a few hours getting ready for trout season. For trout, fish early and remember 15” minimum size, 1 over 20”, 4 per angler. Trout season will find me running northward to find the “hot” spots. A few trout and small flounder were released that day. Up near Walton Road in shallow water, trout and redfish running 24” can be found just off the docks.

Snook season re-opens in February, and March through October will be tripletail time. Looking forward to a great year of fishing and hope to hear from lots of you anglers soon. The water quality is incredibly improved and if we can keep the politicians on their toes, maybe we can look forward to water quality rivaling the Keys!

Capt. Bob Bushholz

(561) 225-6436