In the cooler months, I don't put such an emphasis on beginning my fishing trips before dawn.
Fish tend to feed longer when the summer heat is not a factor. With that in mind, I loaded the Green Peanut atop my SUV and headed south around 8 a.m.
The day had been forecast clear, but was off to a slow start with clouds all around. By the time I reached the natural ramp just south of the three bridges on U.S. 1, the sky was threatening. No matter, it was one of those warm winter mornings that made Florida famous.
A couple small trailers told me other anglers were already on the water. I paddled east and north to cast some of the oyster bars that dot the area. Living oyster bars are as good a fish attractant as you can find. There is always a swift current there due to the proximity to Ponce Inlet. Because of that, you can usually find a deeper side to each oyster reef.
Fishing with my chartreuse shrimp tail jig, I made a cast into a spot that was about four feet deep and had multiple light hits right away. That action would repeat with each cast and, after awhile, I began to lose confidence. Just then I had a hook up and landed a very feisty little sailors choice. I smiled at the tenacity of the little guy and thought that if one ever grew to three pounds, it would be a tough fish to catch. This one destroyed my jig as those toothy fish often tend to do.
I decided to move on from those bait snatchers. The tide was coming in and the water was clear and clean having only recently been out in the Atlantic.
Next I saw a fat little blow fish nipping at the jig near the surface. Puffer fish will eat your jigs given the chance and this one managed to cut the plastic tail right in half. If you have never noticed, those little guys have teeth similar to sheepshead and know how to use them.
At another oyster bar, I landed a pretty 16-inch red drum to release. Now I was in a deeper stream and began to get hits I couldn't identify. The Peanut washed to a stop on a downed mangrove bush and I kept getting the light hits. I could tell that whatever it was kept hitting short, so I bit off about an inch and a half of my four inch jig tail.
Sure enough, on the very next cast, I landed a grunt and a nice one at about 3/4 of a pound. These days you don't find grunts that large in our inshore, but there was a time when they were a staple. You might expect to find grunts that large in the Keys, but not here. After another few casts, I landed another one identical to the first. Now I knew I was on a tight school. Good fun and good eats.
Once, decades ago, I met a fellow at Big Pine Key who was down from Connecticut. He told me he comes down each winter for three months and had been doing it for years. He fished grunts from his jon boat and sold them, paying for his entire trip like that each year. Back in the '70s, I remember using a Sabiki Rig to catch a bucket full near Ponce, but those days are gone. On this day, I took home six and was happy to get them.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.