Finally, the hot and humid days of summer are behind us and, for the first time in a while, you can get out on the water in perfect comfort.
For me, fall brings to mind big smoker kings, grouper on the shallow reefs and reds that are way, way over the slot limit. I also think about the smell of smoked mullet and the taste of that first Florida stone crab claw of the season, which opened Oct. 15.
Now, if college football dominates every weekend you will be missing some of the hottest fishing action of the year.
As the water temperatures drop, gag grouper move back to the shallow water ledges and reefs. When this happens, they are generally hungry, and nothing tugs better than a grouper on a short string.
Gag season will close in the Gulf Nov. 1, for many of us, this will be the last opportunity to see a fresh one hit the plate for quite a while.
Cooling water also signals the kings to head back south for the winter. The first ones to come through are generally the big smokers, and nothing tops off a grouper trip like a 40-pound king on a spinning rod. If you're out there, free-line live bait, cigar minnow or menhaden down current and let him soak while you're bottom fishing. If a king doesn't see it first, you also stand a great chance of hooking into a cobia or an oversized red drum. Red drum travel offshore in large groups this time of year, and they aren't picky about what's for dinner.
On several occasions, I have seen four or five rods bend over almost simultaneously when they pass by. That will create some chaos in the boat, especially when everyone has their hands full and one red drum hits the free line, too!
On grass flats, trout fishing can also be phenomenal this time of year. If you prefer to fish artificial baits, trout can be caught on a fly, jig, spoon, top-water plug and just about any shallow-diving plug in your box. Live shrimp under a popping cork can also produce steady action, if the pinfish and grunts aren't stealing every shrimp you put out there.
For the patient fisherman who would rather sit back and watch a cork, a live pinfish or grunt is probably the best way to land a "gator" trout (spotted seatrout) of 5 pounds or better. Just remember: one fish over the 15- to 20-inch slot is the limit, and it's never a bad idea to put a big one back for next time.
October and November are also the best months of the year to catch a net full of mullet as they form massive schools and head out of rivers and creeks to spawn. Florida's recreational bag limit of 50 per person means you can smoke up a huge batch for the next tailgating opportunity. Just prior to spawning, mullet are also loaded with fat, which makes them perfect for smoking.
Throwing a cast net that is big enough and heavy enough to effectively catch mullet requires practice. I recommend starting with a lighter bait net and learning from a dock where elevation is on your side. Throwing a heavy cast net is a lot like hitting a golf ball. There are a lot more "wrong" ways to do it than there are "right" ways to do it. And, when you get it wrong, "bananas" will happen (when the net doesn't open up all the way), and that can be frustrating! If you have ever played golf or thrown a cast net, you know exactly what I'm talking about.