Finding the best Jacksonville fishing charters will be no small feat — but only because you’ll have so many options to choose from. With the St. Johns River providing inshore action and the Atlantic Ocean right at the city’s doorstep, charter fishing is incredibly popular here. Or, you can head upriver and enjoy red-hot freshwater fishing for largemouth bass and crappie species. Whichever variety of angling gets you pumped, whether you hire a pro or rent a fishing boat and set off on your own, there won’t be any shortage of choices. And on top of that, many will be found right in the city itself, so travel times and long cruises to the fishing grounds are minimized.
One of the best things about having such a broad range of opportunities is that in Jacksonville, you can find charters and rentals appropriate for everything from hardcore angling to taking the entire family out on the water for a relaxed day of fishing. Plus, the winding St. Johns and its tributaries ensure that no matter the season or weather, short of a hurricane moving up the coast, there will almost always be protected waters in one direction or another. That means fewer canceled trips, fewer experiences in rough conditions, and more quality time on the water.
Many saltwater fishing guides and charters will leave from marinas located right in the city, and freshwater fishing isn’t far off.
You’ll find an eclectic mix when it comes to finding freshwater fishing guides in and around Jacksonville. Many of the local pros take advantage of the area’s diverse fisheries and cast for bass one day, then hunt for redfish the next. As a result, you can find operations using bass boats (which only take out one or two anglers at a time), and others fishing from skiffs or bay-style boats that can hold up to four fishermen.View fishing boats
Most of the inshore guides targeting species like redfish and speckled sea trout will fish from relatively small open center console boats and bay boats in the 20- to 26-foot range. Both half-day and full-day fishing adventures will usually be on offer, with the crew generally being limited to four people but some of the larger boats taking up to six.View Fishing Boats
Full day “six-pack” charters for up to a half-dozen anglers are the norm when charter fishing in the Atlantic off of Jacksonville, FL. Some captains may offer half-day fishing trips as well, but due to the longer runs associated with fishing in the ocean, most anglers will want to opt for the complete deal. Besides, with oceanic predators like king mackerel and cobia swimming around out there, who wants to come back to the dock early?View Fishing Boats
Depending on whether you want to chase predators of the ocean, inshore saltwater species, or freshwater fish, one of these three fishing grounds will likely be your destination.
The lower St. Johns River runs right through the city of Jacksonville itself before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. And in doing so, it presents anglers with a phenomenal brackish and inshore saltwater fishery. Numerous bridges crisscrossing the river mean there’s plenty of structure just about everywhere you go, and as you get close to the river’s mouth, there are countless islands, creeks, and cuts in the marshes that are jammed with fish ranging from red drum to tarpon.View fishing boats
The St. Johns River is one of the few in America to flow from south to north. So heading upriver from town and into the middle St. Johns means heading south. As you do so, the water becomes fresher and fresher. In its middle portions, freshwater fish become dominant while saltier species thin out, and once you reach areas like Lake George and Crescent Lake, largemouth bass rule the roost.View fishing boats
Since Jacksonville sits right on Florida’s east coast, it won’t be any surprise that there are plenty of fishermen here heading for open waters. The main highlight is the wide variety of reef sites and wrecks. Florida has a strong artificial reef program supplementing their natural reefs, and the coastline is speckled with dozens of sites from just a few miles off the coast to 30-plus miles out. These hotspots are listed on the Florida Fish and Wildlife website Reef page.View fishing boats
As you prep for your Jacksonville fishing trip, remember:
Anglers fishing in Florida waters, both freshwater and saltwater, need a license. There are also some special permits you may need, such as snook permits and tarpon tags. However, these may not be required when the species is out of season or you don’t plan to harvest the fish. There are also some exemptions based on disabilities or age; visit the FWC License webpage for the details.
If there’s one thing Florida is not short on, it’s bait and tackle shops. In fact, there are over a dozen in Jacksonville alone. That said, if you’re fishing with a guide, remember that in most cases, bait and tackle will be provided as part of the deal.
When hiring a freshwater fishing guide, fish like bass will generally be released. You may want to take home some crappie, catfish, or other species, but cleaning and shipping the fish will be up to you in most cases. Some inshore and ocean charters will clean the fish, usually for an additional fee or a tip. Shipping will be your task, and UPS or Fedex will do the trick.
While there’s a very long list of species you may want to target, these three gamefish rank at the top.
In freshwater venues, largemouth bass take the pole position. The most popular freshwater sportfish in the nation, bass, are known for their vicious strikes and acrobatic leaps. They also tend to grow quite big in Florida compared to other parts of the country, thanks to the extended growing season.
Red drum, also called redfish or “puppy drum” when small and “bull redfish” when large, are a top target for inshore anglers fishing in brackish and saltwater. Interestingly, they can tolerate fairly fresh water, and there will be some times and places on the St. Johns River when you’ll catch a largemouth bass on one cast and a red drum on the next.
For fishermen heading out into the Atlantic, there are numerous species to target, but few attract the attention of anglers, like king mackerel. Armed with a set of teeth that will slice through a baitfish like butter and backed up with dozens of pounds of muscle, the king mackerel (also simply called “kingfish”) is an apex predator in these coastal waters.
Just how will you fool those fish into biting? These three types of fishing are likely to lead to success.
Casting artificials will be the game plan for most freshwater anglers fishing in the area. But in the tannic-stained water of the St. Johns River some special considerations should be considered. Lures like spinnerbaits, which throw off vibrations the fish can home in on, are often a top pick. And remember to match your lure color of choice to water color; copper, root-beer, and brown are often top producers.
Few forms of angling will out-perform fishing with shrimp in the lower river and the creeks and cuts attached to it. Just about every finfish loves eating these small crustaceans — red drum, speckled trout, flounder, you name it. When they can be gathered or purchased live many anglers “freeline” them in the shallows, with just a hook and no additional hardware. At other times suspending fresh or live shrimp under a popping cork is the way to go.
In the open water of the Atlantic, many different forms of fishing are practiced, but one of the most widely applied methods is trolling with spoons. Virtually any species of gamefish will strike at a spoon when it’s towed along at the appropriate depth. So, while an angler targeting one specific species may opt for a different tactic, those seeking a mixed bag are well served by clipping trolling spoons to the ends of their lines.
Thanks to its southern location Jacksonville enjoys good fishing each and every month of the year. The available species may change with the seasons, but there’s never a “bad” time to fish here.
During the winter months, two migrating species provide a highlight for anglers heading out into the ocean: wahoo and cobia. Both of these big bruisers can be expected to show up in January and stick around for at least a month or two.
Some wahoo and cobia should still be around, and along with them, the snapper bite on the reefs often picks up steam at this time of year. Net result? Although the weather can be unpredictable, plenty of anglers will be running into the ocean in February.
Bass anglers have been waiting for March to arrive and with it, the pre-spawn bite. Since Jacksonville is at the northern end of Florida, the bass here tend to spawn slightly later than in other parts of the state, sometimes not until well into April, making March prime time for bassing.
This month is still topnotch for bass, but the saltwater scene is starting to see more diversity as the water warms. Red drum action should begin to pick up, and while the speckled trout numbers may still be relatively low, this is when the true lunker “gator” trout usually get caught.
At this point in the season, the redfish bite often begins to peak. If, that is, you can stick to saltwater fishing and resist the temptation of the final days of the best bass fishing. Once the water heats up in the summer weather, it drops off, so the temptation is strong.
This is a great month for anglers willing to make long runs out into the ocean because offshore pelagics will now pop up. Mahi-mahi, sailfish, and even marlin may be within shooting distance.
With the arrival of midsummer, king mackerel anglers are now shifting into high gear. The warmer months of the year are prime time for these toothy critters; from now through fall, they’ll command the attention of countless anglers.
August isn’t much different from July in this neck of the woods, and those kingfish will remain in the bullseye. But watch out for the barracuda — plenty of them will be around by now, too.
As the heat eases off, many anglers will be looking for one of the best dinners to ever swim in these waters: gag grouper. They’ll be thick on the wrecks and reefs, which will also be thick with anglers hunting for a meal.
It’s time to get in your last licks for kingfish while the bite is still hot. If, that is, you can resist the lure of those grouper. And the hot red drum bite. And the snapper action, which picks up in the fall as well. Decisions, decisions.
By this point in the season, most of the hottest action is winding down; however, there’s still a shot at just about any of the summer visitors. Added bonus: when water temperatures begin falling off, there’s usually an uptick in the bass action.
While there are plenty of other opportunities to consider, December marks the beginning of the season for a rather unique option in Florida: the striped bass. The St. Johns River is the southernmost waterway to get a run of this species, and though it is relatively modest, some anglers enjoy targeting them at this time of year.