ST. JOHNS RIVER MINNOW SWARM
with Paul MacInnis
Paul MacInnis is catching all sorts of fish during the St. Johns River “Minnow Swarm.”
Minnows Swarm on the St. Johns River
I can’t think of a better name so I’ll call it the minnow swarm. It is an annual phenomenon on the St Johns River that has repeated itself for thousands of years. It kicks off a bounty for bass, bream, crappie and other predators and a unique fishing opportunity for anglers.
The stretch of St Johns that borders the Space Coast is a narrow river that winds through broad flat pastures. Water levels rise during the persistent rains of summer until the St Johns breaches its banks and floods into the surrounding meadows. Acres of newly formed shallows provide the optimum breeding grounds for gambusia minnows and the population explodes.
Water levels drop during the winter dry season. The river eventually falls back within its banks, flushing all those minnows into the main river channels. Crappie, bass, bream, catfish and more line up to feast on this bounty. Feeding frenzies ensue along with fantastic fishing for anglers who time it right.
When does it happen? It varies year to year, but it is happening right now. I saw it first hand last weekend. Gamefish were blasting fry minnows all over the river, even right next to the launch ramp. If you like to target nothing but trophy fish then you might want to go elsewhere, but if you like to bust out the light tackle and fly gear and enjoy almost non-stop action then this is for you.
A bluegill caught by the author on the St. John’s River during the “Minnow Swarm.”
Getting Rigged Up
The minnows are half an inch to an inch long so lures need to be tiny. For most spin anglers, the go to lure is panfish jigs. Curly tails, paddle tails, tubes, grubs, hair jigs, marabou – the selection of panfish jigs seems almost endless, and all of them work. The jigs typically sport 1/32 to 1/16 ounce jig heads and number 6 to 10 hooks. For the record, I am a big fan of tube jig that I fish in tandem for color variety and extra casting weight.
My way of making a tandem rig is pretty simple, but has worked well for me. I use about three feet of ten pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon. I double it over and tie a surgeons loop so that one leg is about a foot long and the other leg is two feet. Tie a jig to the end of each leg and you have a tandem rig. To connected the rig to my fishing line, I tie a surgeons loop in the end of my line and connect the tandem rig to the line with interconnecting loops.
Bass are getting in on the action, too!
Fly Fishing the Minnow Swarm
Where this fishery really shines is for fly anglers. Tiny streamers like the Glades Minnow, Myakka Minnow and Fry Fly from half an inch to one inch long imitate the St Johns’ gambusia minnows better than any other lures. On many days, fly fishermen will out fish everyone on the river. A weight forward floating line is all you need, but you can get away with an intermediate or sink tip line. Rod size is a matter of personal preference, but I opt for a four weight.
The fishing itself is pretty straightforward. Just look for fish busting minnows and then cast into the fray. The feeding frenzies can happen all day, but tend to be more pronounced mornings, evenings and during overcast conditions. Who knows how long this bounty will last so get out now and enjoy the St Johns River minnow swarm. If you like cooperative fish and non-stop action you won’t be disappointed.