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Fish the Waters of St. Augustine and Its Beaches
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Fish the Waters of St. Augustine and Its Beaches

Fishermen in the Old City Can Catch Redfish, Tarpon, Kingfish, Cobia and More

By Terry Tomalin
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Wading through the shallow waters of Salt Run, fly rod in hand, I crouched down hoping to get as close as possible to the school of red drum.

Redfish, as these popular gamefish are sometimes called, spook easily. It takes both stealth and skill to hook one of these bruisers on an artificial fly. But on a low tide such as this morning's, an intrepid angler can see the tips of their tails as they root around for crustaceans in the sandy bottom.

A local who ties his own flies had recommended the crab pattern I was using. The water here, and everywhere else around America's first city, is exceptionally clear. That is one reason why the fishing's so good.
One look at a maritime chart and you can see why the Spanish explorers chose this spot to settle.

The pass at Vilano Point provided easy access to the open ocean. For those early sailors, it meant safe harbor. But if there were any anglers on those ships, they would have seen huge schools of baitfish arriving each day with the incoming tide.

Where you have bait, you have predators. Drum, trout and the silver king of sport fish, tarpon, wait in the shallows for the bait to drift by, and then strike. The action is so easy to predict, you could set your watch to it.

But the pass at Vilano Point isn't the only reason why St. Augustine is a haven for fishermen.
Just north of the city, you will find the Tolomato and Guana rivers. The shallow bays and inlets along these freshwater thoroughfares serve as a nursery ground for every species sought by recreational anglers.

South of the city, the Matanzas River carries on, catching the outfalls of Moultrie, Moses and Pelicer creeks. An angler in a flats boat, canoe or kayak, could easily lose a day fishing anyone of these waterways. And if you want to spend more than one day on the water here, there's no better place to tie-up for the night and check in at the Devil's Elbow Fishing Resort.

And then there's Salt Run. Protected by Anastasia Island to the west and Conch Island to the east, Salt Run is the ideal place for fly fishermen to come hunt tailing redfish. Nearby Anastasia State Park serves as an excellent base of operations and an ideal place to launch my fishing boat of choice, the sit-on-top sea kayak.

Because of its seemingly endless array of shallow-water fishing opportunities, St. Augustine has become a destination of choice for kayak fishermen from around the Southeast. But tourists are quickly catching on to what has been a tightly-held local secret.

The durable, light-weight, plastic boats have opened up inshore fishing to a host of anglers in recent years. Kayaks can be rented at the park or from other outfitters around the city. All you need is a spinning rod, some artificial lures and pair of old tennis shoes to catch fish like the pros on the professional redfish tour.

Inshore anglers don’t have a monopoly on the great fishing around the Old City. The St. Johns County Ocean Pier on St. Augustine Beach offers a great land-based ocean fishing opportunity. For a low $2 daily entry fee, anglers can catch everything from tarpon to king mackerel. This full-service fishing pier also has picnic tables and a playground for the kids. If you want to head offshore for bigger prey, the harbor is home to hundreds of boats, private and commercial, that regularly work the deep water off the beach.

In the summer months, the Atlantic Ocean off St. Augustine is a playground for kingfishermen. King mackerel, found from North Carolina to the Florida Keys and throughout the Gulf of Mexico, support the most lucrative saltwater tournament series in the United States. The Southern Kingfish Association, headquartered in St. Augustine, sanctions more than 100 tournaments through the southeast. With purses totaling more than $100,000, the kingfish tour now rivals the professional bass fishing circuit.

Anglers typically troll live bait for kings within in sight of the beach. These line busters can weigh more than 50 pounds and empty a spool of line off a reel in a matter of seconds.

Kingfish aren't the only tackle busters you'll find swimming along St. Augustine's beaches this summer. Thick-bodied cobia are also a favorite target of summer anglers working the surf. Tarpon, a bucket-mouthed bruiser that can weigh as much as 200 pounds, are also caught by light-tackle enthusiasts.

But on this cool November morning, I'd be happy to get one of the reds moving along the shoreline of Salt run to stop for a moment and at least examine my hand-tied fly said to resemble a fiddler crab.

After a half-hour of this unsuccessful cat and mouse game, a big red stops and looks. Its tail rises, then there's a swirl in the water. The line goes taut. Fish on!
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