I had a chance to fish the area around Amelia Island in Florida last week with an excellent captain, Jeff Crumpton who used to work at Snowshoe.
Crumpton is a guide out of Amelia Island and we got a chance to get on the water and spend the day fly-fishing and catching up. Jeff guided on the Elk River for a few years, and then ran the fly-fishing program at the Homestead in Virginia before heading to Florida where he has been a captain for about thirteen years guiding anglers for the various species of fish found in Florida. I had met him a few times when he was at Snowshoe but had not talked to him in years, despite this, we quickly renewed our friendship and I knew we would have a great day on the water; the only problem was nobody told the fish.
We started out in the marshes of the Amelia River on the inland side of the island looking for redfish leaving the grass flats and feeding around oyster bars and tidal creeks as the falling tide washed shrimp, crabs, and baitfish from the marsh grass. We caught a small speckled trout out of the pockets in the marsh grass but didn't see much action. We fired up the motor and headed to another marsh where we could use the trolling motor on Jeff's 24-foot bay boat to explore a small tidal creek that meandered through a large grass marsh and emptied onto a mud flat.
There was bait everywhere and we saw more fish activity here and caught another small trout and a 30-inch ladyfish, probably the largest one I've ever caught. Ladyfish are sometimes referred to as "poor man's tarpon" because of their tendency to jump like crazy when hooked and this one was no exception spending more time in the air than in the water. They are fun to catch and take flies readily but do not grow very big or fight very long or hard like a tarpon. Jeff thought the redfish had been feeding all night in the grass on the marshes with the full moon and its high tides. He had said the daytime bite had been off the last few days, so we decided to head out of the inlet and see if we could find some fish off Fernandina Beach on the front side of the island.
Once we were through the inlet we could see three shrimp boats working a mile or so off the beach so we thought we would see if we could find some cobia, mackerel, or jacks around the boats as they commonly feed on the by catch of the shrimpers. There was not much, a lot of bait but the only thing that seemed to be feeding was the dolphin and rays, there were hundreds of dolphin, jumping through the water following the boats playing with each other and gorging on pogies (a common saltwater baitfish). However, no game fish, Jeff had a client hookup with a 60-pound cobia a few days earlier but they are migratory and the majority had moved farther north while the tarpon had not made it this far north yet. One shrimp boat was even kind enough to throw some chum over board for us a few times and all that we saw eat it was the birds that were following the boats.
The bait was there and we looked at dozens of schools of pogies but could not find anything feeding on them as we moved north along the beach hoping something would show up in one of the bait pods but it never did. When the tide turned around and started moving back in, we moved to a nice long jetty at the north end of the island where we hoped to find something/anything along the rocks. I missed a couple small fish along the jetty but again not much action, by this time the tide was starting to cover the mud flats inside the inlet so we moved inside again hoping to spot some redfish moving onto the flats as the tide flooded them. We found a few small schools of reds but once again, they would not eat anything we threw at them and we ended the day at dark with not much to show for all Jeff's effort (he let me fish all day and wouldn't touch a rod).
Jeff worked his butt off trying to get me a few redfish on flies but it just did not happen that day, we tried everything but sometimes that's just the way it goes. I know Jeff felt a little bad for not getting me into fish but I really enjoyed just being on the water with him, he is an excellent captain and an even better person. Other than the fishing it wasn't a bad day, we didn't get stormed on (which usually happens to me in Florida), I got to see some beautiful shore birds like the roseate spoonbills, snowy egrets, and ibises that wade the shallows in search of food. I even saw a nuclear submarine as it left the navy base in Georgia and cruised toward the open ocean with the setting sun gleaming off its sleek dark body, it was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen, so what if the fishing was bad.