Photo: Capt Rickie McDuffie
Two weeks ago, Jim Fleming took his annual tuna fishing trip to Orange Beach, Al. The Cedar Key angler enjoys deep offshore trips into the Gulf from this port, and this year he decided to go on the “Iron Man”—a 36-hour trip—aboard the Sea Hunter.
First, Capt. Ricky McDuffie took his anglers about thirty miles offshore to a snapper spot. There, they filled limits of red snapper averaging 25 pounds….a pretty fine start. From the snapper spot, Capt. McDuffie continued another 70 miles to the West Neptune oil rig. Floating over 5600 feet of water, the West Neptune is one of several oil rigs in that part of the gulf that hold tuna. And, there, Fleming made the catch of a lifetime.
Following an exceptionally productive spring season, an area lake has partially disappeared. The north basin of Alligator Lake, a top fishing spot in Lake City, began to lose water a couple of weeks back. Then last weekend a known sinkhole in the basin abruptly took the rest of the fine fishing lake. As Allen Martin of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission described early this week, “The pictures I am seeing from the weekend show just a trickle of water and a little puddle right at the sinkhole”.
Lake sinkholes often open up during dry spells that follow longer normal or wet periods.
Though thankfully uncommon, we have seen this play out before in other lakes that seem prone to such shocking dewaterings. In the seventies, Lake Jackson near Tallahassee was one of the country’s best big-bass-producing lakes. A sinkhole took it in a matter of hours. And a sinkhole under our own Orange Lake has sucked that well-loved water body down more than once in recent history.
Held last weekend at Steinhatchee, Doug Johnson’s Reeling for Kids Saltwater Challenge saw strong tides, light breezes, and plenty of big, hungry fish. The 97 teams entered took advantage of that scarce combination.
Anglers entered in both the inshore and offshore divisions brought in some of the most impressive catches seen in the event’s thirteen years. Consider the 58.95 pound kingfish, the 46.45 cobia, 25.35 grouper, and the 7.15 Spanish mackerel.
There were lots of paying categories and quite a long list of winners.
Here at the peak of panfishing time, local cane pole fishers are dropping grass shrimp into Orange and Lochloosa vegetation to take fine messes of bluegill and shellcracker. Eelgrass edges and boat docks along the St. John’s River are producing limits of big bream that seem to favor crickets. And the annual tales of big redbreasted sunfish (better known as ‘redbellies’) are starting to come in from the Suwannee River, where worms, crickets, and a variety of tiny artificial lures are all effective.
Bass tales are beginning to dwindle in our falling and warming lakes, but now and then we still hear a real doozy.
At sunrise Saturday morning, Wally Grant was fishing a favorite Lake Santa Fe point, looking for a holiday weekend lunker. What he found instead might have been even more exciting. An impossibly-huge school of bass suddenly erupted in open water, working over a larger school of shad. Grant kicked his trolling motor to ‘high’ and was out on the frenzied bigmouths in a flash. For a long while, every cast with his trusty Devil’s Horse topwater produced a nice, chunky 2-to-3 pound bass. Then, as is common with schoolers, the action stopped as abruptly as it had begun.