The Fall Run
Late fall and winter bring many northern birds to Space Coast beaches – not just Snowbirds. This is my favorite time to fish our Atlantic beaches down here. Not just because of the amazing runs of fish, but also because of many familiar old friends who show up from New England.
In the fall, an amazing thing happens and it all starts with the Mullet run. These small, oily Herring-like fish began to migrate south from as far up the coast as Virginia and the Carolinas, all with one purpose, to spawn in their home estuaries. As they move towards Florida, they are joined by billions of their brethren and a vast army of predators take up the chase.
Redfish and Sea trout are probably the most numerous but, Spanish and King Mackerel join in too along with the local and transient Snook and Tarpon – all headed south to reproduce and dining on the lowly Mullet along the way.
Some of the best fishing along these beaches occurs in late November and December. This is my favorite time to fish the beach and I am seldom alone on the beach. Fortunately, Brevard County beaches provide full access for the public to enjoy. No beachfront owner can legally block others from our waterfront.
On every fishing trip in the fall, I meet many feathered visitors from the north. Many of the birds usual to New England beaches in spring and summer are now arriving on the space coast. Early on come the Piping Plovers, the Willets and the Sanderlings. They are shortly followed by Herring and Laughing Gulls and the Terns. Then Yellowlegs and the several Herons are joined by many White Pelicans from the west and mid-west.
I’ve never called myself a birdwatcher but, after a lifetime spent mucking around the beaches and estuaries of the northeast pursuing fish and shellfish, I’ve come to know many of the feathered species. Now, it’s neat to see many of the same birds arriving here on Florida’s right coast.
On my way home this morning, after four hours fishing Melbourne Beach, as I crossed the Indian River Lagoon from Indialantic into Melbourne, I saw the first big rafts of ducks on the water and many more arriving from the north. Coots, teal and Mergansers now mixing in with Coots and Canada Geese – the later much reduced in recent years as more and more become golf course geese in the northeast.
It was a great morning to be on the beach. Working my favorite stretch, from about a mile north of Sebastian Inlet and back, while I was prospecting for big migrant fish. Casting my fly into the swash for Snook rooting out Sand Fleas with one eye offshore looking for the first slashing attack of big Tarpon on a school of Mullet is the best way to start a day.
I did have one Tarpon of, maybe fifty pounds take my polar deceiver fly in a smashing strike, rocket skyward and land on my leader severing it just ahead of the fly. On the way back I released three small Snook, one of which was just under the legal length limit but, who cares? Tomorrow or the next day will be another day on the beach with a chance for something a little bigger for Friday’s fish dinner.
(originally written for Reel-Time journal)
Beach & Bay Inspector