Thinking Fishing, Eyeing Irma

The approach of a terrible storm seems to have everyone’s mind scrambled. Understandable, considering the combination of Irma’s intensity and a path that suggests she is determined to visit us full of bad intent. If things go well, the most damaging winds will not come our way. But even if we are blessed in that regard, there’s sure to be lots of rain. Where it will all go? Following the wettest summer season on record, the ground must still be fairly saturated and our nearby lakes and rivers are brimming with water already. Having so recently witnessed the heart wrenching scenes of a flooded Houston does not ease the trepidation of folks in low-lying areas.

The ongoing run of saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River has become a good one. Most shrimpers I’ve talked to say they have filled 5-gallon limits in a few hours of cast-netting in the Palatka area. The shrimp, for the most part, are plenty large to harvest—averaging on the big side of ‘medium’. I should mention, though, that in past years the annual run has ended rather abruptly following major weather events bringing heavy rainfall. Apparently, the sudden decrease in the river’s salinity can cause the much-loved crustaceans to head back out to the Atlantic Ocean as fast as their swimmerets can carry them.

For a couple of months now, Newnan’s is the area lake that has received most of the visits from speckled perch fans—and rightly so. After going from inaccessibly low to extremely high in just two months, Newnan’s has lived up to their expectations, producing fine catches of crappies regularly.

But Newnan’s isn’t the only area lake putting out good specks.

Last Thursday, Orian Davis and Brian Roe launched at Lochloosa and headed out to mid lake. The men put out several poles rigged with colorful crappie jigs and trolled them slowly.  The bites came fast, and they pulled 45 good fish from water 8-to-9 feet deep. Roe returned alone on Sunday, again trolling jigs out deep, to pull in 40 more specks.  Then on Tuesday, Roe hauled in 50 Lochloosa specks. He harvested only a few of the largest—all over a pound and up to 1 ¾ pounds.  The Gainesville speck specialist said the fish showed a distinct preference for Crappie Slider jigs in two colors: a bright green and yellow commonly referred to as ‘John Deere’, and junebug/chartreuse.

In the Lochloosa lily pads, cane-polers armed with crickets and worms are still pulling in nice numbers of bluegills; with occasional warmouth, shellcrackers, and catfish thrown in.  The bedding activities of bluegill are winding down, though, and finding congregations of bream will become less likely as summer turns to fall.  On the other hand, in the coming cooler weather, speckled perch action should only improve.

If you haven’t been on Orange Lake this year, you should plan a visit.  The lake looks great… and lake managers want to keep it that way.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold a public meeting to provide an update on the management activities carried out on Orange Lake under last year’s work plan and to discuss the plan for the upcoming year.  FWC will also provide a progress report on its Habitat Management Plan at the meeting scheduled from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 12 at the Alachua County Public Library in downtown Gainesville.  The meeting going off as scheduled, of course, will depend upon the track of Hurricane Irma.  To confirm the meeting’s status, phone FWC’s Ryan Hamm 352-620-7341.



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Out-of-Place Fish, High Water, and River Shrimp

fishing reportIn our closest gulf waters, snook are no longer rare catches.  Out deeper, mahi mahi catches no longer raise eyebrows.  Just a few years ago, finding red snapper required a run offshore to at least 65 feet of water.  Now, the angler with decent GPS numbers for rocky spots in water more than 35 feet deep is likely to find swarms of snapper.  And this year, local anglers have caught fish almost unheard-of in these waters…including African pompano, tuna, and sailfish.

The latest of our fishing friends to bring in a photo of a species nearly unseen in its place of capture was Sonny Tillman, who walked in Tuesday with a phone picture of a yellowtail snapper.  Jason Rambo had pulled in the 4-pound ‘flag’ while fishing last Friday with Sonny in water 78 feet deep off Apalachicola.  The yellowtail snapper is commonly seen in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and South Florida.  Apparently, though, they’re rare visitors to panhandle waters.  Sonny said, “It was the first yellowtail anybody out there had seen”.

Red snapper, on the other hand, are seemingly everywhere…and this will be the final weekend of open red snapper season in the gulf.

At the tail end of the lengthened 2017 open season, snapper numbers remain excellent.  Last Friday, Richard McDavid and Blake Wright rode west about 40-miles from Steinhatchee to water 65 feet deep.  Anchored there over live bottom, they dropped down live baitfish they had caught earlier with Sabiki rigs.  In short order, the Lake City men had a four-fish combined limit of healthy red snappers.  To boot, they wrestled from the bottom a pair of big gag grouper over 30-inches long.

Sporting the best redfishing waters in the world, Louisiana is the site of many of the most popular ‘big league’ redfish tournaments.  Along with tournament partner Justin Collison of Slidell, La., Newberry angler Danny Sheldon had been looking for a breakthrough win in the IFA Redfish Tour for some time.  Then as we reported earlier this month, the team finally did succeed in winning an IFA event in Houma, La.  But, as happens often in this sport, their wave of success continued.  Two weekends ago, Sheldon and Collison won the lucrative two-day Lucas Oil Redfish Open out of Empire, La., when their 4-fish total of 31.95 pounds narrowly topped the second place team’s 31.83-pounds.  The cherry on top, though, came when it was determined that they had, too, won “Team of the Year” honors in that series.

When Jeff Septer returned a week ago from a vacation trip to Kodiak, Alaska, he was happy to see that the water at his Twin Lakes Fish Camp had risen 8 inches during his week away.  Then this week, he said, the level at his Cross Creek camp eased up another few inches.  While the higher water will surely pay off for fishers, reports from Orange and Lochloosa Lakes over recent days have been generally unimpressive.  Newnan’s Lake remains the hottest area fishing lake, producing fine catches of both speckled perch and bream.

This has been a down year for freshwater fishing on the Suwannee River.  Last weekend, 91 teams competed in the annual Casting for Autism bass tournament held on the Suwannee out of Sandy Point.  If it had been a football game, analysts would have predicted a low scoring game.  And, as expected, bites were scarce and weights were low.  The team of William Barnett and David Courtemanche won by a large margin with a two-day total of 28.98.  The second place team of David and Philip Delgado bagged a 21.89 total.  Close behind were Bill and Jason Harry (21.60), Robin Shiver and Trevor Lamb (21.44), and Bryant and Dempsey Allen (20.22).  This tournament always raises lots of money for its cause.  This year’s event garnered a cool 20 grand.  

Several boats filled with members of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club participated in the club’s Shrimping Fellowship on Saturday.  Armed with the required webbed cast nets, the shrimpers launched at Crystal Cove Marina in Palatka.  While the Texas coast was being hammered, weather on the St. John’s River was fine….with a light wind and cloud cover.  Throwing their nets in spots productive in past years, most boats hauled in from 2-to-4 gallons of river shrimp for their half-day efforts.  The one carrying Tim and Linda Pederson and Virgil Cooper fared best, as they returned to Crystal Cove with a full five-gallon limit that included three gallons of shrimp they graded as ‘large’.


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Summertime Speckled Perch Great — Gulf Grouper Scarce

gary simpson fishing reportThe hottest part of summer and good Newnan’s Lake speckled perch fishing do not often go hand-in-hand.  This week, though, the speck stories came in steadily.

Tracy Smith launched onto Newnan’s early last Friday.  Along with his dog, Jake, the Newberry fisherman ran to a deeper zone off the east side, well outside the lake’s cypress tree edge.  He lowered his trolling motor and put out lines with minnows and crappie jigs.

To his delight, the bites came fast, and Smith filled a 25-fish limit of “fine specks” by 9:30.

Smith’s wife, Karen wanted to go the next day.  So they started early again—in the same area with the same technique and baits.  And, again, the Newnan’s Lake specks were present and hungry.  Tracy and Karen Smith hauled in a 50-fish double limit by 10:00.  Even better, one of their 50 crappies wore an FWC reward tag worth $100 bucks—their second hundred-dollar tagged speck since March.

Success of another kind came for Carlton Annis and Steve Weaver.  The longtime fishing buddies have had a few decent days on Newnan’s over recent weeks, but they had not seen a fish the likes of the one Steve caught on Sunday morning.  Easing a little black and pink tube jig along near the bottom using ultralight spinning tackle, Weaver hooked a fish that felt heavier than the ‘keeper size’ fish they had been catching.  It was definitely heavier.  Once they had the super slab in the boat, the men marveled at the biggest Newnan’s speckled perch they had seen.  The anglers were impressed enough with the 17-inch, two-and-a-half pound beauty that they released it.

And we heard yet another cool speck fishing tale when Jonathan Coron came into the store Wednesday afternoon.  The Gainesville angler had just come from Newnan’s Lake, where he and Anthony Pugliese had spent the morning fishing minnows and grass shrimp in the shade of its cypress trees.  Pugliese was trying to fish three lines at once when something pulled one of his spinning outfits overboard before he could stop it.  The men kept fishing, one rod and reel down.  About an hour later, Coron’s float went under and he reeled in a nice-sized speck, one of seventeen they would take.  But, upon pulling the fish into the boat, he noticed a second hook in the fish’s mouth, with line from it leading back into the water.  They hand-over-handed that line into the boat until a rod tip popped up at boatside.  A moment later, Pugliese had his favorite rod and reel back—along with the fish that had snatched it away for a while. 

Saturday, a group of friends headed offshore from Cedar Key, hoping primarily for grouper and snapper.  Haze Brown, Wyatt Jarvis, Tom McGinity, “Still Bill” Toreki, and 16-year old Scotty Tacinelli hit spots in water from 50 to 60 feet deep.  Fishing herring, squid, and cut bait, they easily filled limits of red snapper.  Trying hard to find legal grouper, they kept fishing.  And in water 55 feet deep, all five fishermen saw something that dumbfounded them.  A medium-sized sailfish cruised past the boat just under the surface.  But, as much as the out-of-place sail, they were struck by what was missing.  No grouper or sharks…little surface activity and few birds.  The snappers, grunts, and black sea bass were nice to catch, but the experienced anglers thought it strange that so much sea life they usually see…..was missing.

Similar offshore reports persisted through the week.

Steve Maynard and his dad, Danny trolled Mann’s Stretch 30 lures in water 55 feet deep off Cedar Key to take four nice, stout gag grouper.  But that was on August 5th…and we have heard of precious few legal grouper since then.  In fact, the Maynard men returned to the same area off Cedar Key on Sunday, looking for more grouper.  This time, they were with Steve’s wife Brenda and their sons, Caleb and Dalton.  Although they caught loads of nice red snapper, the Maynards found nary a keeper-size grouper.

The dearth of saltwater fishing tournaments that lasts through July and August will end on Saturday, September 9, when the Santa Fe Lady Raider Inshore Slam goes out of Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina.  This 5th Annual event features the usual Heaviest Trout, Heaviest Trout Bag Limit, and Heaviest Redfish categories.  But The Slam offers another interesting option—a separate division with cash prizes for the best red and the best trout taken from a paddleboard or a kayak.  For more information, phone 352-538-7575 or 386-882-4350.


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Plenty of Good Hot-Weather Choices

bass fishingWater has begun to recede a bit on some nearby lakes that, for almost three months, had only risen. All of the new water has put pretty much every public lake and pond back on the table for area anglers, and it has given us better than usual Dog Days fishing.

Fishing grass shrimp in the Lochloosa lily pads Saturday, James Taylor and Avery Shell hauled in a pretty 43-fish stringer of bluegill and shellcrackers. The Gainesville fishermen made their good catch early and were off the lake by noon. Lochloosa bass anglers, on the other hand, found the weekend to be a fickle one. Members of the Bassmasters of Gator Country were hopeful following a fairly strong Saturday practice day. But this club competes on Sundays. And the Sunday weigh-in featured considerable disappointment and head-shaking. The second-and third-place anglers had each bagged just one smallish fish. Mark Cox, competing as a guest, won with three little Lochloosa bass totaling 3.66 pounds.

Bass anglers fared considerably better on Rodman Reservoir. Saturday’s Xtreme Rodman Bass Tournament drew 47 teams and featured all-around good catches despite an explosion of floating water lettuce that some say has “choked out” their best fishing spots. Joe Yarborough and Dwayne Moore had the number one 5-bass limit at 19.92 pounds. Their big bag of fish also held the biggest single Rodman bass of the day at 5.55. Close behind in second place was the Mike Jackson/Dale Cohen team with 18.34.

Last Friday, Bassmaster Elite pro, Bernie Schultz of Gainesville took fellow Elite Tour angler, Keith Combs to the Santa Fe River along with Kurt Mazurek, a Shimano Marketing Director. Combs and Mazurek were here on a mission. They are chasing the Curado Bass Slam Challenge, whose objective is to catch all 9 subspecies of the black bass using the new Curado K reel and rods. One of the scarcer subspecies, the Suwannee bass lives almost exclusively in the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers, and Bernie has been very good at catching the little football-shaped ‘Suwannees’ since I met him in the 1970’s.

It turns out that Schultz was, indeed, the right guide to help Combs cross another target off his list. They tried spots ranging from the mouth of the Ichetucknee, all the way upriver to High Springs. And, on the day, Combs boated 5 Suwannee bass while casting Strike King squarebills. As a nice bonus, he also caught a 5-pound largemouth. The trip was well documented, and can be viewed on Shimano’s official Facebook page, “Fish Shimano”.

Inshore fishing on the gulf might presently fall short of stellar, but it’s as good as we can really expect in August. On Wednesday, Nathan and Wynston Kicklighter and Nick Allen fished out of Horseshoe Beach. They were heading back to port after a slow day with just one nice tripletail in the fish box when Nathan spotted redfish zipping across a clear flat. They spun around, cast artificials to the spot, and hooked up immediately. The trio was impressed with the size of the redfish school, as they caught and released big reds for the next half hour.

Offshore action remains good—but better for snapper than for grouper. Capt. Wiley Horton’s party had a ball last weekend when the Steinhatchee captain took them to some of his spots in water 90 to 100 feet deep on Friday. Large red and mangrove snapper were the principle fish present. The anglers were even able to chum the snappers to the surface where they plucked fish off with light tackle.

Perhaps due to the rainy summer season, the annual run of saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River is progressing a bit slower than usual. The folks at Messer’s Westside Bait & Tackle in Palatka keep closer track of the run than just about anyone. And finally, they say that a cast-netting trip to the big river might now be worthwhile. The shrimp in the Palatka stretch are larger now, and some 5-gallon limits are being filled daily (and nightly).

Richard McDavid’s three-hour shrimping trip to Palatka two weeks ago yielded three gallons that, he estimated, included a half-gallon of large ones. His cast net throws each held anywhere from three to twenty shrimp, and even the smallest, he said, were big enough to take home. McDavid was pretty pleased with his shrimp take….and things have only improved since then.

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Dog Days Fish-Catching

fishing reportActivated by big rains and new water, the summertime speckled perch bite remains unseasonably good on Newnan’s Lake. Saturday, Brian Roe launched at daylight and headed to one of his favorite offshore areas where he put out crappie jigs in various colors, set at various depths. The accomplished crappie specialist quickly narrowed down the most productive combinations while pulling in 45 specks before 9:30. Of these, ten were big ones of around a pound and a half. The Gainesville angler said that the fish went for pink, green, and blue jigs best.

Newnan’s panfishers in smaller vessels are also picking up limits of fat bluegill as far back into the lake’s flooded cypress as they can get. Those willing to be a little more specific say they’re scoring best around the trees on the lake’s east side with worms, grass shrimp, and crickets. They also recommend watching closely for wasp nests and snakes.

While bass have generally been tougher for anglers to locate in our now-larger and deeper lakes, some bassers are finding fine fish. Sam Drake and Zack Weimar were picking up occasional bass while casting soft plastics Saturday morning on Little Orange Lake when Zack hooked and landed a much bigger fish. On digital scales, the hefty bigmouth would weigh 8.37-pounds. Weimar submitted the photo to FWC’s TrophyCatch angler recognition program.

Water is still slowly rising on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, where bream remain the fastest-biting fish. Although the water is plenty-high to traverse Cross Creek between the lakes, locals say large floating tussocks presently block the way into Orange at the mouths of ‘the creek’ and Marjorie K. Rawlings Park.

The 2017 Lake Santa Fe Opens, a series of Wednesday night tournaments held through the summer on Lake Santa Fe, came to a climax this week with its season-ending classic championship. Seventeen qualifying teams started out in the rain, casting on an evening that offered few bites. In the end, Derrick Manning and Andrew Higginbotham weighed in the top catch—three bass totaling 12.20 pounds. The winning catch was greatly bolstered by the heaviest single fish of the night, a fine 6.24-pounder that added a couple hundred more bucks to their impressive winners’ paycheck. Randal Alvarez finished in second place with three fish totaling 10.70. And, though Dwayne Moore and Devin Marinello returned to weigh in with the only five-bass limit of the night, they settled for third place with 10.02 pounds.

In our Big Bend shallows the redfish is one of the top prizes for sport fishers. For us, a nice, heavy-bodied, top-of-the-slot 27 incher will almost always weigh between 7 and 8 pounds. A legal fish topping the 8-pound mark is a rare specimen.

The handful of local anglers that regularly compete in the IFA Redfish Tour have always returned from tournament sites near the mouth of the Mississippi River with tales of reds heavy enough to boggle the collective mind of the Big Bend redfisher. The latest of these tales came this week from one of this area’s best redfish anglers, Danny Sheldon, who had just returned from a hundred-team IFA event held Saturday out of Houma, La. Along with partner, Justin Collison of Slidell, La., the Newberry angler won with a two-red tourney limit weighed in at 18.23. Their single-biggest fish (also the heaviest of the event) went 9.72. Good Grief. The anglers were well-compensated for their epic catch, winning a Ranger boat/Mercury engine rig—part of a thirty grand prize package.

Sunday, Elliott McDavid, Kyle McGriff, and Kyle Cronin fished out of Cedar Key. Casting soft swimbaits and spoons around sand and shell bars, the three young Gainesville anglers caught and released six good reds, topped by McDavid’s 33-inch whopper. They also bagged four good flounder. All of their fish-catching was done by noon.

Scallop season is still going strong in the salty Steinhatchee and Crystal River shallows. The would-be scallopers of Gulf County are not so fortunate. The Gulf County season was set to open on July 25, but was postponed just ahead of opening day due to a naturally-occurring algae bloom in St. Joseph Bay. This week, FWC announced the closure would continue, as the Pseudo-nitzschia organism persists in the bay. The postponement, of course, will continue until the scallop samples there test safe for human consumption

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