St. Augustine, FL is the nation’s oldest city and draws millions of visitors each year to learn about our rich history and enjoy our beautiful town. Over the last few years, fishing has become incredibly popular in this area, and we have witnessed an explosion of people out on the water chasing our fish.
As a lifelong resident of the city and a full-time fishing guide, I am very familiar with fishing the area. I am able to quickly spot when someone is newly trying to learn the area, and see quite a few mistakes made that hinder their ability to catch fish.
Below we will discuss finding areas to fish, things you should be aware of before heading out on the water, and what you can expect to catch. Additionally, I will review what gear you should bring when fishing, and whether or not hiring a guide is a good idea. Knowing these things will make for a successful day on the water.
Where can I go fishing in St. Augustine?
When I think of what the Spanish explorers may have encountered when discovering the area, the old Florida feel of St. Augustine comes to mind. Since the area is made up of vast mash land full of mazy creeks lined with oysters. The undeveloped banks are a jungle of palmetto trees and thick brush. Since this is the case, locating fishing spots can prove difficult, especially for someone wanting to fish from land.
The most common areas to fish are around the inlet jetties and bridges. The rocks and bridges provide structure for fish to hold to, making them home to an array of different species. These areas are accessible by boat and with a little effort, can be accessed from shore.
Although these are some of the most common places to fish, they are not always the best. Below we will discuss what to look for when venturing into the backcountry in search of fish.
Do I need a boat to fish St. Augustine?
The first advantage of finding great spots is to have access to a boat. Although fishing from a boat is not completely necessary, it will open up a lot more access to better fishing spots.
Even a kayak or a canoe will give you the versatility to get an area that may have good water flow or a piece of structure in the water. For more information, check out Can you fly-fish from a canoe?
Since the majority of the bottom is extremely soft mud and sharp oysters, you cannot simply walk around at will. Gaining access to creeks and holes along the main ICW will only be available by boat.
What to look for when finding fishing spots?
A common theme among all fish species is that they congregate in areas with good water flow and around structure. Predator fish tend to hold in these areas and let prey flush towards them. Therefore, the majority of the time, fish will be facing directly into the current.
St. Augustine offers a good source of water flow as there is an ocean inlet directly to the east of the town. Along the Intracoastal waterway are a series of creeks and outflows that will dump into the main waterway on a falling tide.
Fishing the mouths of small outflows along the Intracoastal waterway on a falling tide is a great way to locate fish. Using a fish finder unit to locate holes within these creeks, especially along oyster bars, is another prime way to get on the fish. Below is a list, based on tide, of what to look for:
- Small outflows of water that dump into the main ICW. Look to target the drop-off to deeper water.
- Holes along the corners of creeks. Set up down current of the hole and cast up current into the hole
- Fish troughs between oyster bars where predators are waiting for baitfish to swim through
- Fish along bridge pilings and docks along deeper water
- Set up along inlet jetties and cast towards rocks.
- Fish shallower to capture fish moving up with the tide. IE. Flats and back of creeks
- Look for gaps in grassy areas where fish hold up
- Locate tide lines along shell banks or oyster bars where cleaner water meets dirty water
Having a good fish finder unit will allow you to explore and find holes and sunken structure. It will also allow you to mark any areas you find, making it easier to locate again.
If you find an area that is productive, make note of the time of day and tide. More often than not, this spot will hold fish every time the conditions are the same.
Is the water clear in St. Augustine?
A common question I receive from charter guests, especially fly-fishermen, is whether or not the water is clear.
In late fall through early spring the water in St. Augustine will be clear. During periods of heavy wind and rain, the water will be dirty regardless of the season. In the summer, the water will be very tannic and resemble chocolate milk.
For the sight fishermen, the best months to fish St. Augustine will be during the winter, where the water is the clearest. As water temps rise above 70 degrees, the brown algae will begin to grow and water clarity will be diminished.
Water clarity will always be the best the closer you are to the inlet. Clean ocean water coming in during an incoming tide will help clear up the water. As you venture further from the inlet and back into creek systems, water quality will diminish.
The lack of visibility can affect your ability to navigate as well. When the water is dirty, it will be harder to see oyster bars under the surface or shallow shoals. This furthers the case for having good electronics with a mapping system.
What is the best time of year to fish St. Augustine?
Every fishing destination has a prime season. Anglers are always wanting to optimize their fishing trip and catch as many fish as possible.
The best time of year to fish in St. Augustine is in the fall. During the fall months, migratory species are still present and fish are eating excessively preparing for the winter months. The prime months of fishing will be the end of August through November.
The majority of our inshore species such as redfish, trout, and flounder can be caught year-round. The fall, however, is the easiest time to catch fish. In addition to our year-round fish, tarpon, jacks, and large breeder redfish are present during these months.
The fall also coincides with our annual mullet run. Mullet is a baitfish species that are always present but makes a large migration along the coast during the fall months. The influx of this bait also contributes to the heavy feeding patterns of predator fish.
Next we’ll look at what you can expect to catch when fishing St. Augustine.
What kind of fish can you catch in St. Augustine?
The rich marsh environment makes St. Augustine home to a variety of different fish species. Although our staple inshore fish species are redfish, trout, and flounder, there are quite a few different species that can be caught as well. Here are the species you can expect to catch based on the season:
- Black Drum
- Spanish Mackerel
- Cobia (along the beach)
- Pompano (along the beach)
- Jack Crevalle
- Mangrove snapper
- Kingfish (along the beach)
- False Albacore (along the beach)
- Sharks (along the beach)
- Redfish (including large breeders aka “ Bull Reds”)
- Jack Crevalle
- False Albacore (along the beach)
As you have probably already guessed, our staple fish is the redfish. The rich marsh environment of St. Augustine, FL makes this a prime habitat for redfish to thrive.
How do you catch redfish in St. Augustine?
The anatomy of redfish makes them primarily bottom-feeding fish. Redfish are known for their shallow water antics including tailing and swimming with their backs out of the water. How you target redfish will vary depending on the season.
In the spring months, redfish will be coming off of conservation mode from cold winters. They will begin to feed and fatten up while water temperatures are still not too hot.
Fish will begin to push shallow and feed primarily on shrimp and crabs. Fish shallow flats on the first of the incoming tide using a live shrimp, piece of blue crab, or jerk bait that imitates a shrimp.
Using a smaller diameter leader, such as 15lb, will increase your hook-up ratio. Fish these baits on a ⅛ jig head or a 1/0 hook with a split shot. For the fly fisherman, a shrimp pattern or crab imitation fly in natural colors such as tan or olive will work best.
As we transition to summer months, it becomes very hot. The same way you get sluggish in the heat, so do the redfish.
The best time of day will be fishing morning and evening. During the summer months, the primary food source will be baitfish. A small finger mullet or mud minnow on a jig head will work best. This is also a great time of year to throw topwater lures at first light.
Approaching mid-day during the summer, the fish will tend to go deeper to seek cooler water and eat less. Fish mid-day around deep drop-offs or docks.
Summer is also a great time of year to target the large breeder redfish along the inlet jetties or bridges. Use a large live mullet, menhaden, or blue crab fished on a Carolina rig with a 30lb leader for the best results.
In fall, fish will be feeding actively to prepare for winter. Live mullet will still be the bait of choice. Fish will be exceptionally shallow this time of year in search of easy meals. Fishing along oyster bars in creeks and flats will produce quite a few fish.
This is also a great time of the year for fly-fishermen as the full moons coupled with large tides create a unique opportunity to sight fishtailing reds. During these large tides, fish enter flooded grass flats in search of exposed crabs such as fiddler crabs.
They are so consumed with feeding on them, they will stick their heads in the grass and wave their tails in the air. This makes them easy to spot and makes for some exciting sight fishing. Using a small back crab fly with a heavy weed guard will rarely be refused.
Winter is all about staying warm for redfish. During winter months, the water becomes clear and the fish will school together. It is not uncommon to run into schools in excess of 100 fish!
These fish will be extremely spooky as they now have the visibility they don’t have during other months. Lowering your leader size to 15lb and fishing baits or lures that land softly in the water will increase your chances of a hook-up.
I personally like to use a live shrimp on a size 1 hook with a very small split shot about 8” above the hook. Fly fisherman should use small olive baitfish imitations or tan shrimp patterns with a bit of flash.
Initially, during the winter months, the redfish will be shallow. They will use mid-day sun to warm up, especially on mid-day incoming tides. As the mud is exposed to the sun, it will be the warmest area for fish to sun.
Move stealthily amongst the shallows. Since these fish are now in schools, it may take a while to find them. Once you have found a school, study their behavior as they will tend to follow the same pattern daily.
At the tail end of the winter, fish will go to deeper areas where the water is actually warmer. Fishing shrimp along deep drop-offs or along structures in 8’ feet of water will produce some nice fish.
Redfish are a hearty, hard fighting fish and extremely fun to catch. It is no wonder they are a local favorite to target.
What gear do I need for fishing St. Augustine?
One of the most common mistakes I see is anglers using rods that are too heavy. Large rods with a heavy line will not only make it harder to feel bites but also allows fish to see the line easier.
Rods need to have feel and a sufficient amount of bend to make casting further easier. For an in-depth look at why this is important, take a look at Why do fishing rods bend?
Most fish can be caught on a 7’ Medium Light rod with a 3000 series reel. I like to use 15lb braid main line and a leader material varying from 15lb to 25lb depending on where I am fishing.
If you are fishing deep areas with a lot of current, such as along the jetties, I will use a 7’ Heavy action rod on a 5000 series reel with 30lb braid mainline and 30-40lb leader material.
Within your tackle box it is a good idea to have ⅛ – ¼ oz jig heads, some hooks ranging from size 1 to 4/0, some top water lures, and paddle tail soft plastics. Additionally having lead varying from small split shots, up to 4oz (for fishing jetties) is a good idea. Your leader material should range from 15lb fluorocarbon up to 60lb fluorocarbon.
If you are a bait fisherman, I would recommend using a 7-8’ cast net for getting mullet or menhaden. Shrimp and mud minnows can be purchased from the local bait shops.
For an in depth review of how to organize your gear check out How to Organize Fly Fishing Gear.
How is offshore fishing in St. Augustine?
One of the most overlooked aspects of fishing in St. Augustine is our deep sea fishing. Unlike Southern Florida, access to the gulf stream is a lot further away. This limits access for fishermen and makes for less pressure on fish.
Bottom fishing for snapper, grouper, triggerfish, cobia, and jacks is excellent. Additionally, trolling for wahoo, dolphin, and large black fin tuna can be the best in the state. We also have a healthy population of sportfish such as sailfish.
If you can handle the long ride out to deeper water, about 50 miles, then you are in for some exciting fishing! Be sure to watch the weather closely, as there is no quick ride back into the dock.
Things to consider when out on the water
Before you rush out on the water, you need to be mindful of safety. As alluded to above, the lack of water clarity can cause you to run aground or hit something below the surface that may not be visible.
The two main things you should be aware of are tides and the environment that are present in St. Augustine.
St. Augustine has some very large tides. Areas that are full of water can be completely dry within a couple of hours. The most common mistake I see is boats failing to leave an area in time and becoming stuck in the mud or on a sandbar.
The average tide swing in the area is 4.5 feet and can be as large as 6.5 feet. This will make areas that are navigable at high tide, completely dry land at low tide. It is always advised to be aware of the tide cycle before heading out on the water.
Large tides not only increase the risks of getting stuck but can also create heavy moving water in deeper areas. As the vast amount of water from marshes and creeks flows in and out of our single inlet, water will be flowing like a river in areas near the inlet and bridges. When the wind is pushing the opposite direction of the water flow, this will cause waves to stack up and make navigation difficult. Smaller boats should avoid these areas when the tide is flowing.
What makes St. Augustine a beautiful place is also what makes it dangerous. The maze of creek systems is lined with oyster bars everywhere. Along the main ICW, there are navigation markers. Once you leave the main waterway and venture into a creek you are on your own. Oyster bars can be present and just below the surface even in the middle of a creek system.
In addition to oyster bars, there are a series of sand shoals that can be extremely shallow. With the large tide movement, these shoals can move and change shape.
The best way to explore the area when learning is to navigate at low tide. Take note of oyster bars that are above the water and shoals that become dry. A good rule of thumb is that where you can navigate at low tide, is safe to run at a high tide.
Should I use a guide to fish St. Augustine?
Whether you are a local resident or just visiting for a weekend, your chances of having a successful day on the water will be greatly increased when fishing with a guide.
It is always recommended to hire a guide when fishing in an unfamiliar area. Using a guide will be safer, allow you to learn about the area, and typically catch more fish.
If you have your own boat, hiring a guide can still be beneficial. It allows you to learn how to fish the area, what to look for when finding spots, and ways to navigate the waterways.
St. Augustine is home to a number of exceptional guides for inshore and offshore. I have been fishing these waters since I was a kid and have been making a living fishing as a guide for quite some time now.
If you are interested in learning more about booking a trip with me, please check out All Water Expeditions.
St. Augustine is an awesome place to visit! We have an incredible history, breathtaking beaches, and the fishing is outstanding.
The best time to enjoy fishing St. Augustine is in the fall months. Inshore, our primary targeted species are redfish, but there are many year-round species available.
St. Augustine also offers some incredible offshore fishing. If you are visiting the area or newly moved here, I strongly recommend hiring a guide and seeing what this fishery is all about!