Sunday brought quite a memorable catch for Cade Billings. The High Springs 10-year old and his parents, Barry and Holly, had redfish and trout in mind when they launched at the Waccasassa River’s public boat ramp. But at the river’s mouth they saw that the wind was higher than forecast, and that the bay was much rougher than they had expected. Undeterred, the Billings family tried protected creeks off the river. Their efforts, though, had gone unrewarded until young Cade hooked a fish in the main river — a large, hard-pulling brute that took a jig with a paddletail grub. When the fish jumped, Cade and his parents were shocked; it was a huge bass. Cade finally wore down the whopper, and his dad measured it at 25 inches in length and more than 20 inches in girth. After admiring the brackish beauty, they released it back into the river.
And a few more local bass anglers have made the fishing news this week. Saturday, James Hatch fished the season’s second BFL Gator Division qualifier on Lake Okeechobee. On the heels of the coldest night of the year, the bass on the big lake were predictably out of sorts and most competitors found the fishing to be tough. But, competing as a co-angler, Hatch cast spinnerbaits to bag a fine five-bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 13 ounces. He beat out 198 others, and was bested only by Jason Pike of Greenacres, whose co-angler winning weight was 19-02. On the boater side of the ledger, Fred George of Okeechobee came out on top with a 22-07 limit.
Seemingly late this year, big bass season is apparently arriving in more area waters. Saturday’s Xtreme Bass tournament held on the St. Johns River saw no fewer than three giant bass weighed in. Not only double-digit fish, these all topped the 11-pound mark. Mark and Robby Shumate won with a five-bass limit weighing 24.24 pounds, their catch anchored by a huge 11.69-pounder. Frank Streeter and Donnie Hewitt’s second-place catch included an 11.27. But it was the fourth-place team, Lee Stalvey Jr. and Jason Caldwell, that lugged the contest’s biggest fish to the scales — an eye-popping 11.97-pounder.
Usually, mid-February sees gulf anglers looking to the structure out in water 20- to 35-or-so-feet deep that attracts spawning sheepshead, having seen speckled trout numbers in creeks and rivers decline for weeks. At the same time, freshwater results are generally on a clear rise, with both bass and speckled perch available in shallow cover.
This hasn’t been a usual February. Some salty creeks and rivers have continued to produce trout and redfish, while widespread freshwater catches have been a bit slow to crank up.
This week, of course, was a challenge just about everywhere, largely thanks to a spell of rain, wind, or cold — and sometimes, a combination of these.
For inshore anglers, the Big Bend stretch of the gulf is arguably less bountiful during February than in any other month. This year, the February fishing is still relatively good around Steinhatchee, as continued chilly water temperatures keep speckled trout holed up in deeper spots that are being learned by an increasing number of casters.
Along with two friends, Tommy Ballard of St. Simons Island, Ga., wore out the Dallus Creek trout on Sunday. Cold-weather trout fans know that when the winter trout are in one of these tidal cuts, they can be present in big numbers. On this day, the three anglers hauled in and released around 50 in just 45 minutes. And the river proper still sporadically attracts fish looking to escape the frigid shallows. The same day they whacked the Dallus specks, Ballard and his buds also bagged trout limits in the Steinhatchee River.
Fishing out of River Haven Marina, Capt. Brad Riddle of Fin Action Charters has put his clients on fish dependably. Visitors from afar, Rex and Joan Persons of Oregon and their young grandson Eyal, from Israel, fished with Capt. Brad three days over the last week-and-a-half. Casting Mirrolures, Fishbites shrimp strips and Saltwater Assassin Sea Shads in the Chicken-on-a-Chain color in creeks, the visitors fared well with trout, drum and sheepshead. Sandwiched between these trips, Capt. Brad’s Saturday party from Georgia, Brad and Shannon Johnson, hauled in trout limits ranging in length from 16.5 to 19 inches. And the Georgia couple added a flounder and a few drum and sheepshead to their nice take.
With winter winding down, inshore gulf action is holding up well.
Saturday, Dr. Ted Copeland of Gainesville fished a Suwannee creek with Suwannee local, Elmer Perry and Steve Smith of Lake City. Action was slow until the tide neared its high phase.
Then, in the two hours of the day’s highest water, the men hauled in 18 redfish while fishing shrimp on the bottom. Every red was a nice, slot-size fish from 20- and 25-inches long. Little, sub-legal reds have been common fare all along the gulf coast this season, but on this day and in this spot, not one fish was too small to harvest. Oddly, though, the same spot the next day produced only black drum.