Seatrout around 15″ are plentiful in July over healthy live seagrass beds. Look for clean, flowing water with diving birds such as pelicans and terns. If you can cast net the baitfish in those areas, do so then use the baits under a popping cork. If you cannot catch the baitfish in the area, a live shrimp or topwater lure will work too. Snook and redfish are also eating well in July – they can often be found lying in shallow sand holes adjacent to mangrove shorelines or oyster beds. Live chumming with pilchards will get them excited and the surface will pop and boil when you really have them going. Jack crevalle will also frequently join the party when live bait chumming is involved and are a fight like no other. If you come across docks that are set up next to deep, flowing channels, be sure to test your luck on the bottom for flounder. Bouncing a live whitebait or shrimp on the bottom is the key here – try an 1/8 ounce jighead or knocker rig for this technique.
Nearshore structure within 9 miles of the beach is a way to catch a different set of species while often feeling the sea breezes and cooling down. Plenty of tarpon are still around and can be found on the beaches where they travel the length of the island in large schools. The surrounding channels and passes will also hold tarpon, especially as pass crabs (a favorite food) flush out during the strong outgoing tides – they lie just under the surface and gorge themselves as the crabs float by. Further out, look for nearshore reefs and areas of “live,” or “hard bottom”. Here you will often find a mix of smaller sharks (lemon, blacktip, nurse, etc.), mangrove snapper, gag grouper, bonito, and Spanish mackerel. Chumming with a mix of dead cut baits (sardines) and frozen chum blocks will really help get things fired up. When done right, “clouds” of mangrove snapper will rise from the bottom and come within sight of the surface.
If you continue offshore from the beaches to the 20-30 mile range, you can find artificial reefs, rocky bottom, or shipwrecks in deep water. This structure creates a meeting place for many different pelagic species and bottom-dwellers. Dropping a weighted line to the structure itself usually yields grouper (red and gag), snapper (red and mangrove), and amberjacks. A crab or large shrimp drifted over the structure can usually result in a permit and a freelined live whitebait or blue runner kept on the surface can very often come up with a king mackerel, cobia, barracuda, African pompano, or shark.