Winter fishing at Amelia Island showcases some of the year's very best backcountry fishing for excellent-eating and hard-fighting redfish and sea trout. The Nassau and St. Mary's inlets and river systems play host to a variety of game fish, including black drum flounder, striped bass, flounder and whiting. Further up river, fishermen will find trophy-size largemouth bass, striped bass, bream and catfish where the mix of fresh and salt water affords for ideal fish habitat.
Sea trout will be schooling in deep dropoffs in both Cumberland and Nassau Sounds during the last portion of the incoming tide and first portion of the falling tide. Here, ultra-clear salt water floods popular sea trout habitats where game fish will have an easy time capturing their prey. Sea trout weighing from one to eight pounds typically feed over flooded oyster bars, jetty rocks, deep sides of river channels and at deep bridge passes. The "Little Jetties" located at the southern portion of Amelia Island is within casting distance from the beach, and is a well-known winter hot spot for sea trout!
Another key trout hot spot at Nassau Sound is the mouth of Sawpit Creek, where a shallow sandbar drops off into a deep hole at the Nassau Sound Bridge. Winter trout fishermen typically drift live shrimp deep under a trout float from an anchored fishing boat in water depths ranging from 5 to 20 feet of water.
The George Crady fishing pier at Nassau Sound is also an excellent winter fishing location while drifting live shrimp under a trout float during the last of the incoming tide. Some of the best trout fishing comes from the northwest corner of the popular fishing pier. The southwest corner of the pier also offers excellent winter trout and flounder fishing while wade fishing along the grassy shorelines during the last of the incoming and first portions of the falling tides.
These shallow, sandy grass flats also offer excellent fly fishing for wade fishermen. A 6-7 weight fly rod setup works just fine for sea trout weighing to four pounds. Employ a short six-foot leader with a 10-lb. tippet, with a white and chartreuse color pattern "Clouser" fly tied to the business end of the leader. Strip your fly slowly along the deep edges of the flooded grasses.
Also look for excellent flounder fishing to come at the northwest corner of the pier during the last of the falling and the first of the incoming tides. Bumping live finger mullet or bullhead minnows slowly along the bottom is key.
Cumberland Sound is located at the northern tip of Amelia Island and is fed by the St. Mary's River, the intracoastal waterway and several tidal rivers. Fishermen here have easy access while launching their boat from the Dee Dee Bartels public boat ramp. With so many tidal rivers feeding this fertile sound, winter fishing just doesn't get any better!
During late winter, jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel and bluefish stage a massive attack on schools of glass minnows schooling close to the surface. Casting or trolling small jigs or spoons offers fast fishing action.
Winter fishermen will also find a mixed bag of saltwater species holding at the St. Mary's jetty rocks, including sea trout, flounder, whiting, black drum and more. Drifting live shrimp deep under a trout float close to where low areas of the rocks produce a "Run-Out" is a deadly winter fishing tactic for trout, flounder and redfish. Fresh dead shrimp fished on the bottom attracts strikes from black drum, red drum, whiting, bluefish and more. Live fiddler crabs or barnacles fished close to jetty rocks nets sheepshead weighing to nine pounds.
Some of the best trophy largemouth bass fishing of the year comes during the cooler winter fishing season. Last winter, eight to ten-lb. largemouth bass were taken from nearby Florida freshwater lakes and rivers.
Fishing with wild shiners often produces the best big bass action in area rivers and lakes. During warming trends, largemouth will move onto the flats and can be taken with a variety of artificial lures including dark-colored plastic worms and rattle traps.
Lofton Creek is located only a few minutes west of Amelia Island and is overlooked by many local bass fishermen. However, it is considered to be one of the best freshwater bass rivers in the south. Fishermen have easy access to this narrow tidal river from a boat ramp and park located on AIA and Lofton Creek. You won't have to navigate too far down river, as some of the best trophy bass fishing in Lofton Creek begins right at the boat ramp and runs some two miles down river. Expect to catch striped bass and a mixed bag of saltwater game fish where salt and fresh water mix.
Offshore fishing is excellent during the winter fishing season for hard-fighting gag grouper, red snapper and black sea bass at many of the close-to-shore natural and artificial fish havens. Some of the best bottom fishing action can be enjoyed while fishing right on the bottom with local squid, cut baits and cigar minnows. Deep jigging with light tackle is also becoming very popular while tipping jigs with squid to entice a variety of bottom species.
Schultz's Fish Market is located about five miles offshore of the south end of Amelia Island and harbors some of northeast Florida's very best winter bottom fishing. Here, drift-fishing boats will find a natural lime rock bottom, numerous two to three-foot rock ledges and man-made reefs. Other popular fish havens for winter bottom fishing include East FC, HH, AH, RL FA and KBY. All these popular offshore fish havens are identified on the local offshore chart with coordinates. Be sure and pick up a copy of the Florida Wildlife Commissions fishing rules and regulations on fishing. There are currently several new regulations for current seasons and bag limits. Please visit www.myfwc.com for updated fishing regulations.
Northeast Florida's Gulf Stream harbors excellent fishing for fast-swimming wahoo that can weigh over the 90-lb. mark. Look for some of the best wahoo action to come while trolling in water depths from 200- 1,000 feet of water. High-speed trolling from 8-10 knots with red and black plastics including the "Wahoo Whacker" will produce the best results.
Surf fishing along the beaches of Amelia Island during the winter produces excellent catches of beach whiting and blues. Fresh shrimp is the bait of choice when fished right on the bottom with a "Fish Finder" setup. Look for the high falling tide to offer some of the best fishing on foot, particularly when a flood tide arrives at mid morning. Key areas to surf fish along Amelia Island's pristine beaches include the old "Pipe Line", the little jetty rocks located at Fort Clinch and the southern tip of Amelia Island.
Crabbing offers great family fun during the winter fishing season, and are delicious eating too! Fish right on the bottom with a chicken part or fish head tied to a long piece of string with a 4-oz. weight attached to the end of the string and bait. When a slight tug is detected, pull the crab to the surface slowly and net with a long-handled net. Place the live crabs in a boiling pot of water with crab seasoning added and cook until the crabs turn a bright pink color.
Non-Florida residents over the age of 16 will need to purchase a Florida saltwater fishing license when fishing from land or bridges. You may purchase a Florida saltwater fishing license over the phone by calling 1-888-347-4356. You can also visit www.myfwc.com for more fishing information.
For more information on fishing and fishing charters, call (904) 261-2870, visit our store at 111 Centre Street, or log on to www.ameliaangler.com.