Photo: M. Rosato
Last weekend brought weather as gorgeous and inviting as the previous one had been cold, windy, and unappealing.
As you might expect, the fish-catching was much better.
For thirty years, Doug Stringfellow and I have taken a fishing trip to the gulf on New Year’s Day. It started off as a couple of young men taking advantage of a day off work. Some years later, we realized it had become a tradition. For one reason or another, things didn’t work out this year—until Sunday, when we finally made it to the gulf a couple of weeks late. Between Cedar Key and Waccasassa, we struggled with a very low tide early and were a bit surprised to find the water less than clear. Not muddy, but not as clear as we usually find it in January. The fish didn’t mind. Casting Slick lures and Live Target Bait Balls, we caught and released in the neighborhood of 50 trout. More were shorter than 15-inches than longer, but had we been keeping fish, we would have easily limited out. When the tide neared high later in the day, we moved in to tidal creeks and boated 9 redfish topped by a hard-fighting 31-inch brute. It was a daylight-to-dusk trip, because the bite and the conditions were just too perfect to leave earlier. Of the thirty, we have enjoyed a few great New Year’s trips. This one had to rank near the top.
Among speckled perch-producing local lakes, Lochloosa has, for decades, been at or near the top of the list. All of that crappie praise this season, though, has gone to its resurging sister lake at the opposite end of Cross Creek. For two months, Orange Lake has been the better speck-producer. The last few days have seen the Lochloosa fish finally start to fire up.
Last Friday, Cory Johnson fished grass shrimp and green crappie jigs in the Little Lochloosa lily pads. When he returned to Twin Lakes Fish Camp, the Gainesville angler would have a 45-fish mix of bream and specks. While Cory was still out fishing, his cousin (perhaps clued up by a phone call) showed up to rent a Twin Lakes boat, paddle out to the mouth of Cross Creek, and pull in 30 nice-sized panfish of his own.
Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes adds that his customers returning from Orange Lake after churning through a shallow Cross Creek seem to have averaged around 10-to-12 specks this week.
Just as every sports fan holds dear a particular team, every angler has a favorite fish.
Bass have a passionate contingent. Tons of folks have a soft spot for bream. But the largest subgroup in fresh water could well be ‘Crappie Nation’. The crappie, referred to as ‘speckled perch’ here in Florida, claims a particularly-reverent fan group in many states.
Other freshwater fish have a significant number of followers, too. I’ve known entire families of dedicated fishers whose passion was solely for catfish.
While some Floridians probably enjoyed the unseasonably warm Christmas weather, the lack of any night approaching a freeze apparently did no favors to speckled trout or speckled perch anglers. For two weeks, both kinds of ‘specks’ have been harder to find.
That’s not to say, though, that good results couldn’t be found.
Saturday, ‘four Bells’ fished the gulf out of seldom-visited Shired Island. Steven Bell, his brother, Chris, father, Gene, and son, David started out on the still-warm grass flats. The Gulp! shrimp they cast are a popular choice among trout seekers…but the Rat L Trap lures they also used are intended primarily for freshwater bass and are rarely thrown out on the salty flats. But both lures worked, and the Bell men hauled in lots of trout out in 3 to 4 feet of water. Later, with the tide higher, they eased into a tidal creek where the same lures drew strikes from generally-larger fish. At one point, Chris caught 7 trout on 7 consecutive casts. In all, they caught over 70 trout and a couple of flounder. Eleven of the larger fish went with the anglers to Gainesville.