Extended warm weather has kept baitfish schools thick along Florida’s Gulf Coast, but all that will change once the first serious cold fronts of fall arrive.

Predators like snook, trout, redfish, cobia, tarpon, Spanish mackerel and sharks make a good living on the massive schools of scaled sardines (“pilchards”), threadfin herring (“greenbacks”) and Spanish sardines that typically flourish throughout the bays and estuaries from early spring through right around Halloween. This forage buffet keeps the gamefish fat and happy throughout the warm season, until nature spurs them southward for winter.

The arrival of sustained cold weather sends any remaining baitfish migrating out the passes and this creates one of the year’s most frantic feeding scenarios. Realizing their easy food source will soon dwindle; predators stake out these coastal portals and ravage the schools of exiting baitfish.

Outgoing tides see the most active feeding, as the water stacks baitfish predictably along channel edges. In this scenario, topwater baits can offer some of the most exciting strikes you’ll ever see – if for no other reason than the tremendous feeding competition occurring below the surface. Work a Heddon Saltwater Spook, a Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper or a Badonk-A-Donk HP around the bait school’s perimeter and hang on!