May is one of the best months of the year on the Panhandle coast, with the weather near perfect, the Spring Break crowds all gone, and the water temperature just right for a wide variety of coastal fish species to be at or near prime feeding time.
May is one of the best months of the year on the Panhandle coast, with the weather near perfect, the Spring Break crowds all gone, and the water temperature just right for a wide variety of coastal fish species to be at or near prime feeding time. Sea trout and redfish will both have great appetites and be easy to find this month. They’re hungry after the chill of winter has passed, baitfish abound and the last of the cold fronts is long gone.
Trout action is likely to be best around marsh edges and creek outflows as well as off the ends of deepwater boat docks in the back bays. It may take a bit of exploring to find productive locations, but once you find the fish, they will be there day after day on the same tide period.
Topwater lures are useful tools for finding trout, particularly in the first hour after dawn. The lures lead to big, noisy blow-ups that let you know the fish are there, even if they don’t get hooked.
Walkin’ the Dog type lures like the Zara Spook and the Sammy do very well on these fish, and the new Rapala Skitter V is a particularly effective and easy-to-use variation. The best action for trout is a slow, steady twitch with momentary hesitations between each zig and zag. Working the lure too fast may draw swirls without solid strikes; hesitate a bit and the fish will usually latch on.
After the sun gets up, switching to a plastic shrimp under a popping cork is a good strategy. The classic is the DOA 3-inch shrimp, and also good is the Vudu Shrimp from Egret Lures. The lure is suspended 18 inches to 2 feet under the cork on a length of 20-pound-test mono. Pop the lure and the bait jumps, then settles back to depth. It’s a very simply tactic, and it works great not only for expert anglers but for those new to fishing with artificial lures. (To make double sure of action, replace the plastic lures with the real thing — a tail-hooked live shrimp.)
Also good are the classic quarter-ounce plastic tailed jigs. The 4-inch DOA CAL in pearl color is a universal winner for this action. Lighter heads might be better in water under 3 feet deep, heavier in water more than 6 feet around docks. These are fished in the usual slow-hop motion.
The best areas to find trout usually have relatively clear water, baitfish action, and tidal movement. You may run miles of shoreline without seeing the right combination, then come on a quarter-mile that’s absolutely loaded — keep moving until you find action.
Redfish might show up in any of the locations where you find trout, but if there’s hard structure around like oyster bars, barnacled pilings, concrete rubble or riprap, the reds are much more likely to be there.
Reds will slam topwaters, but they’re much more subsurface feeders. A jig with a dark plastic tail to imitate crabs or shrimp may be a better bet than the lighter shade of tails if you’re after redfish.
And, reds sometimes just don’t want artificials, particularly if they’ve seen a few too many of them. However, a live shrimp, live pinfish or small crab will catch them every time, and if you don’t want to mess with the real thing, Berkley’s GULP crab is a close second. Cut mullet or pinfish also do well; fish the baits on 2/0 to 3/0 short shank Octopus style hooks for easy hookup.
If the reds don’t show up in these locations, slow-trolling the bridge pilings over the major bays with large diving plugs will usually locate a school. Once you catch one of these guys, it’s likely there are more on the same piling; anchor uptide and drift live or cut bait back near bottom to get action. These fish tend to be big ones, well over the slot, but they’re a lot of fun to catch. Larger hooks and gear are a good idea to get them away from the pilings.
By May, reds will also be prowling the shallow flats. Anywhere there’s clear water and depths from 1 to 3 feet, there may be sight-fishing opportunities. Tides don’t make as much difference here as they do in some parts of Florida because the range is minimal, but the fish are definitely more active when the water is moving, either in or out.