A few hours north of Bradenton on the west coast of Florida lies the Nature Coast. It's a place largely untouched by humans, leaving a beautiful and scenic coastline with fewer boats and anglers.
When anglers talk about the west coast of Florida, it's typically our area, Boca Grande and the Everglades that get the recognition. Sometimes it is the least populated areas that have the best fishing, and those that fish to the north can tell you that it is a hidden gem loaded with fish.
"It's the best trout fishing I've ever seen," Rob Chapman IV said. "We fish around Suwannee, which is about two to three hours north of Bradenton."
This month, his reports have impressed me with not only quantity, but also the quality of the fish. Most people know the Nature Coast during the fertile scallop season, but the fishing keeps Rob coming back. He makes the trek to fish every few weeks and for good reason.
For instance, this past Friday while fishing with Capt. Brent Lyons and Greg Dasher, they landed more than 150 trout by noon between the three anglers! Many fish were near or more than 20 inches, with the largest at 27 inches. When the tide rose, they targeted redfish in clear water near oyster beds and drop-offs. Capt. Lyons managed to land a 40-incher while fishing in 2 feet of water on a Zara Super Spook top water.
"We looked for waters similar to what we would fish in Bradenton: grass flats with mixed sand holes," Chapman said. "Water depth between 2 and 5 feet produced best. We would drift for miles while throwing top-water or hard plastic lures all day -- much different than sitting in one spot with a live well full of bait in Bradenton."
Throwing lures all day is a great way to cover water, especially when you're not familiar with the area you're fishing. The conditions Friday may have seemed dreary, but that is just what the fish wanted.
"It was overcast the entire day, and that made the top water effective. The 10 to 20 mph winds, mid-50s water temperature with a steady chop did nothing to slow down the bite," Chapman said.
The massive near-shore grass flats of the Nature Coast also have a lot to do with the success of the anglers. Five miles from shore, water depths are only between 5 and 10 feet and covered with healthy turtle grass. Compare that to 30 to 40 feet deep here. It is a pristine fishery.
Another reason for success Chapman credits to the use of scent on their hard plastic baits. "We used Procure and applied it to every lure we tried. I think that kept the fish interested, even when they missed striking the bait the first or second time."
Trout-fishing around Bradenton, Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay should be good during colder months. Fish will be schooling up and feeding aggressively with changing weather. Drifting flats around Longbar in Sarasota Bay, Marker 9 in Terra Ceia, or Key Royale near Anna Maria Island should produce good numbers of fish.
On cloudier days top-water lures can be effective, while on sunny days it's best to fish vertically with soft plastic baits and jigs. When you find a pattern and drift that works, repeat for further success. Don't be surprised if by the end of the day you've caught 50, 60 or even 100 fish!