Snapper, mackerel abundant in June
With Florida's coasts opening up to business as normal, June angling action looks promising throughout Panhandle waters.
Red snapper grab most of the headlines, with the brightly-colored and super-tasty reef fish again legal for harvest both in state and federal waters. The season for anglers fishing from their own boats in Gulf waters will be June 11- July 25, while charter and party boat customers can start keeping red snappers June 1, continuing through August 1.
There are new reporting requirements this year for reef fish catches; see info on them at State Reef Fish Survey at myfwc.com
Red snapper harvests have been strong in recent years thanks to very tight management of the species, allowing far more fish to reach spawning age. It's usually no problem for knowledgeable anglers to find a reef or wreck anywhere from depths of 30 feet on out to over 200 feet and haul up their daily limit of two fish 16 inches or greater per angler. (Follow these rules scrupulously; enforcement is heavy during the red snapper season.)
Cut bait of most any species is usually all that's required to fool red snapper, though fish on some nearshore reefs may get cagey and require smaller hooks and leaders testing as little as 20 pounds to fool them. Dropping a "chum bomb" made up of a paper bag loaded with chopped baitfish and weighted to sink sometimes turns on the bite, as does feeding a stream of fresh-cut sardines or menhaden over the side well uptide of the reef or wreck.
Average red snapper weigh 4 to 6 pounds these days, but fish over 20 pounds are caught regularly on reefs farther offshore.
Kings and Spanish
While the mackerels don't match the snapper family for table quality, they're good to eat and provide more sporting pursuits.
Spanish are abundant in Panhandle waters from late April through mid-October, and can be caught from the piers as well as by trolling around the inlets and anywhere from just outside the green bar to several miles offshore. They also enter the larger bays in good numbers to chase glass minnows.
Trolling a small Clark spoon, about 3 inches long, behind a 2 to 4 ounce trolling weight is usually all it takes to load up on them. They can also be caught around jetties, bars and nearshore wrecks drifting a live sardine or LY on light tackle. A fluorocarbon leader testing 50 pounds prevents cutoffs on their teeth
Kings are basically a larger version of Spanish; again, trolling a single-hook spoon like a Drone, about 6 inches long, behind a trolling weight, diving plane or downrigger gets them. They're also readily caught on live LY's and cigar minnows drifted around marker buoys, wrecks and jetties.
Average summer kings weight 7 to 9 pounds, but plenty of fish in the 15- to 20-pound class are caught regularly. A leader of number 4 to number 6 wire is a must to prevent cutoffs.
Both kings and Spanish often chase bait to the surface at dawn. Look for skyrocketing fish and diving birds and you'll hit the bonanza. A 1-ounce Rat-L-Trap cranked very fast through the bait is sure to get an immediate strike, and they also hit fast-moving topwaters like the Zara Spook.
At the piers, anglers cast upcurrent from the end of the structures and follow their drifting bait down as it swings past the pier. A frozen cigar minnow with a number 6 treble in the nose and another on a stinger aft of the dorsal is the usual rig for this fishing. Again, the wire leader is a must.
Redfish and trout in the flats
Both redfish and trout will be prowling the grass flats this month, particularly at dawn and dusk, but on the stronger tides around the new and full moons, good action might break out at any time of day.
Both trout and keeper-sized reds like to hang around mullet schools, even though the mullet are too big for them to eat. Maybe the feeding mullet stir up crabs and other bait that the gamefish like. In any case, look for big leaping mullet and you'll often find a whopper trout or a pod of reds right behind them.
A shallow-running jerkbait like the Mirrodine or the Livetarget Scaled Sardine is the can't miss lure for this action. Throw it into the murky water near the mullet schools and retrieve in a series of short, sharp jerks.
Both species also hang around docks stretching into deeper water. These locations are best fished with live shrimp under a popping cork, or with a DOA Shrimp imitation. Cast upcurrent and let the flow carry the bait past the pilings; the less you activate a DOA Shrimp, the more fish it catches.
June angling action is not quite a match for the April and May flurry, but it's still a great time to enjoy Panhandle coast action, and before the heat and storms of July and August make getting out on the water iffy.