Warm Days Bring Hot Fishing

big bassFor some, the short span of time that sends spawning speckled perch into our lakes’ shallows is the pinnacle of the fishing year.  These anglers know that time is now. 

Lochloosa lily pads have produced bunches of thick specks for weeks…and now, some say bluegills and shellcrackers have joined the specks in the skinny cover.  Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp saw as many bream in his customers’ coolers this week as he did specks.  The key for those catching both specks and bream, he said, is the bait.  Fishers using freshwater grass shrimp are pulling in the variety of panfish.

On the whole, though, it’s still the specks that have drawn so many cane pole and ultralight tackle fans to Lochloosa. 

Some crappie seekers have found lately that there’s another great option here.  A slow boatride from Lochloosa through Cross Creek has worked well for folks looking to check out new water.

I was talking with Allen “Cajun” Perry early this week.  He has been smoking the speckled slabs on Orange Lake, and he was trying to get across to me just how good the fishing there has been.  Finally, he came out and said it: “The speck fishing is as good as I’ve ever seen it”.  Now, I know that statement carries considerable weight, as I can personally recall that Perry was already a good Orange Lake angler 35 years ago.  Cajun went on to say that Orange’s north end, in particular, is seemingly swarming with specks.

Bass anglers might feel left out in all of this crappie hype…but their prime fishing time is also at hand.

An Xtreme Bass Series tournament held Saturday out of Lochloosa’s Highway 301 public launch gave us evidence of the steadily-improving bass bite.  It is spawning time for bass the same as for specks, and competing anglers found good shallow action.  The talented team of Joe Yarborough and Joe Mizerak took both First Place and Big Bass honors with a 20.97-pound limit and the 6.41 bass that anchored it.  James Tomlinson and Bryan Smith followed with a 16.75-pound limit, and Devan Marinello and Dewayne Moore scooped up third place with 14.94.

This is probably the very best time of year to hook a giant bass in our many smaller area lakes and ponds…and we’ve heard of several big trophy-size largemouths taken in small waters deemed best unspecified.  Major lakes seem to have come along a little more slowly.  Along with Lochloosa, Rodman Reservoir has begun to turn out bass limits topping twenty pounds.

Gulf action remains sporadic…but sporadically good.  Two weekends ago, impressive redfish catches were the rule.  Last weekend, the trout fishers shined brightest.

Held last weekend, the Annual Fiddler Crab Festival at Steinhatchee features an inshore fishing tournament.  This edition of the Fiddler Crab Tournament served up an odd challenge. A heavy sea fog limited visibility increasingly as the day went on.  Chad Hause weighed the best redfish of the day at 6.75-pounds while young Brock Hall of Lake City won the Junior Angler Division with a 4.25 red.    The tournament’s heaviest trout, a 3.9-pounder, was caught by Cameron Adams of Keystone Heights.

On that soupy day, Joey Landreneau and Elliott McDavid were practicing the same waters ahead of the upcoming Florida Pro Redfish Series opener.  Although the target species was redfish, it was decidedly trout that the men found off Grassy Island.  While they tried to seem disappointed that the reds had eluded them, the Gainesville anglers had to be mighty proud of the whopping trout they located, caught, and released.  Casting The Slick lures on the clear, shallow flat, they hauled in 18 big fish that included giants of 27.5 and 26-inches.  Amazingly, eight more of the trout they released measured at least 24 inches.

Late February should bring the start of another much-anticipated gulf bite … and sheepshead numbers are, indeed building on the offshore reefs where they spawn annually.  The Bozeman party from Georgia docked early this week at Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina with a dozen banded chunks.

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Posted in 2018, Gary Simpson's Fishing Report | Comments Off on Warm Days Bring Hot Fishing

Area Lakes ‘Busting Loose’

speckled perchWe used to call it the ‘bust loose’.

It came in late January or sometime in February, on the heels of a spell of poor fishing resulting from a very cold season. When the water temps finally reached a level to their liking, the fish—bass and speckled perch—suddenly fed as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks. At the old Tackle Box, we quickly went from playing cards to counting minnows and shiners as fast as we could go for lines of customers.

We haven’t seen this abrupt turnaround so often in recent years whose winters were not really cold enough to shut down the bite in the first place. But this year feels like the old times….and it’s looking more and more like the ‘bust loose’ is at hand. It arrives aided by nice, full lakes sporting nice coverage of aquatic vegetation. So far, the speck bite is better, but fast bassing can’t be far behind.

Again with two fine boat ramps available, Newnan’s Lake has produced good numbers of specks for fishers dropping minnows and crappie jigs around shallow woody cover. More than a couple of cane pole fishers have complained of line-breaking bass taking their crappie offerings away.

But the Newnan’s specks have apparently not all migrated back into the flooded cypress. One group of four anglers motored to the lake’s north end on Sunday morning. They shut the boat’s engine off near a stand of lily pads well outside the treeline, intending to trolling motor the rest of the way in. On the way, one of the fishermen put out a minnow that was grabbed straight away by a speck. Another followed, and another. By now, the anglers knew that they wouldn’t need to fish the cypresses. Easing about in open water near the pads, the four filled a 100-speck combined limit by 11:00 a.m.

On Lochloosa, the same baits and techniques are producing around lilies, grass, and woody cover. Fishing out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp Saturday, Bryan Schaefer of Pensacola headed, armed with a few dozen minnows, for a stretch of cypress trees standing in a couple feet of water. From around the trees, he pulled 15 fine specks, 3 big bream, and a hefty catfish. Schaefer was particularly pleased with the hundred-dollar FWC reward tag that one of his specks carried.

Lamar Crosby and Clarence Stalnacker also fished Lochloosa Saturday. The High Springs and Newberry anglers fished minnows in near-shore grass and lily pads. While the bites didn’t come fast, the men did manage to ice 16 nice, roe-laden slabs.

After hearing fetching tales of good speck catches there, Randy and Neil West decided to give Lochloosa a try on Sunday. They tried a few spots before finding a bunch of fish around and under a mat of near-shore floating vegetation in three and a half feet of water. When they flipped minnows set under floats against the tussock, the floats soon popped under. The Gainesville father and son used up 4 dozen minnows in bagging 30 good specks.

Orange Lake has, rather quietly, become another top destination for area speck seekers. Steve Hooley and Ed Oehmig launched onto Orange Saturday morning. The Gainesville anglers headed to the lake’s south end and settled in near an edge of thick vegetation. With crappie tubes set under small floats, they worked along the edge of emergent weed. The specks were present and willing, and the men filled 25-fish limits of nice-sized crappies up to 15 inches.

Fishing is improving in the gulf shallows, and it can’t be long until the saltwater action also ‘busts loose’.

Bradley and Collin English headed north from Steinhatchee Saturday and rode a long way. The accomplished young fishermen didn’t stop until they were far north of Keaton Beach. Their targets were redfish and trout…but as it turned out, they would have to settle for just the latter. These trout, though, were worth the long trip.

The High Springs brothers’ topwater offerings were crushed repeatedly by giant trout. On the warm mid-February day, in fact, they boated and released five trout at least 24 inches long. The largest, a 26-inch beauty, weighed in at 5 ½-pounds.

Lots of impressive fish stories were told by weekend redfishers…especially those working creeks and bars between Suwannee and Steinhatchee. The good red and trout fishing was likely helped along by warm, sunny weather. In the darker, chillier days that followed, bites were said to be considerably scarcer.

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A Building Bite in Fresh and Saltwaters

sheeephead fishingSlow fishing was the rule through an unusually-cold January, and North Florida anglers were forced to be patient.  Now, finally-warming lakes, rivers, and flats are producing much better.

Moses and Joann Reese stopped by the store Monday, excited to tell us about all the Lochloosa speckled perch they have been catching.  Fishing lily pad beds with small crappie jigs and minnows, the Reeses took home 32 “big, thick” Lochloosa slabs late last week “before it got so windy over the weekend”.  Moses continued with an enthusiasm that made us all want to head for the lake immediately, “You gotta use a net to get these specks in the boat…they’re too heavy to stay on the hook if you try to lift ‘em in”.

After an outstanding trip a week earlier, the Elliott party kept its Lochloosa speck-catching roll going through the weekend.  Fishing shallow cover using fiberglass poles and crappie jigs, the speck specialists pulled in no fewer than 175 spawning slabs over Saturday and Sunday.  In on the crappie-catching were Russell, Mike, and Michael Elliott, and James Sullivan.    They also bagged five ‘incidental’ bass.  Incredibly, Mike declared that every one of the specks they harvested was better than a pound.

Orange Lake has again joined the list of productive area speck lakes.  Allen ‘Cajun’ Perry and fellow Orange Lake resident, Jackie Mullins have been using light spinning tackle to cast crappie jigs around the lake’s pads.  They fish a few mornings every week, typically from about 8:30 ‘til noon.  Keeping only the better fish, they have averaged 14-to-18 an outing.  Perry thinks the Orange specks are on the verge of spawning, as well.  “The roe looks about ready”, the veteran crappie catcher said.

While most of the top crappie catches these days are being made in pads, grass, or brush, some nice stringers are yet coming from deeper, open water.  Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek eased out into Lochloosa Wednesday morning.  He stopped just short of Allen’s Point and put out speck jigs.  Moving steadily with his trolling motor just outside the shoreline cover, Septer found lots of fish.  In an hour and a half, he bagged 17 keepers and released more than that many.

In Saturday’s considerable wind, Ren Gallon returned to Rocky Creek and the Steinhatchee flats where he has lately found stacks of trout and redfish.  Casting a ‘Scaled Sardine’ lure by Live Target in the bluster, the Gainesville angler scored well again in the shallows south of the river.  It took him until 1 p.m. this time, but Gallon succeeded in putting 5 good trout and a 25-inch red on ice. 

Richard and Elliott McDavid fished Saturday at Steinhatchee, along with Elliott’s girlfriend, Cassidy Shannon.  A too-strong northeast wind kept most anglers in the relatively-protected river, where lots of trout have been caught recently.  It also kept the water effectively ‘blown out’.   With shell bars and long stretches of normally-inundated bank showing all around, the three filled limits of trout from 17 to 20-inches long that found green Saltwater Assassin jigs irresistible.

Rick Pena and James Lovvorn fished north of Steinhatchee on Monday—a day that offered much nicer conditions and water temps finally bumping 60 degrees.  The Gainesville anglers found a slightly deeper trough on a flat that was loaded with fish.  Casting Drum Roller jigs, they bagged limits of stout trout from 18 to 23-inches long, and released five nice ‘slot’ reds.

Sometime in late January, Big Bend shead usually begin to gather around structure out in water 15 to 40 feet deep.  Very cold water has delayed these spawning get-togethers this year, but finally, fishers scouting past-productive wrecks and reefs are returning with some encouraging stories.

Dale Reed needed to break in his engine’s new powerhead.  Along with fellow Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club member, Mike Sancome, he headed offshore from Cedar Key two Thursdays ago hoping to be among the first to find a congregation of sheepies.  The men checked several spots as they put time on the outboard.  But with water still in the low 50’s, the first six stops produced none of the square-toothed chunks.  Then, finally, on a wreck in water 30 feet deep, their shrimp produced fish.  Over the next hour or so, Reed and Sancome caught several sheepshead, keeping a half dozen big ones up to 6-pounds.  By the time the GOFC’s Sheepshead Shootout arrives on March 3, nearly every major bottom feature within the 15-to-40-foot depth range should be well-attended by spawning sheepshead.

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Water and Fishing Both Heating Up

bass fishingMembers of the Gainesville Bassmasters have long spent a week in Suwannee ahead of their annual bass tournament there.  Usually held in November, they wisely delayed the event up a couple of months this year.  Following their cool-weather getaway, club members always return to Gainesville with good fishing tales.  

As he has before, Don House returned with the best fish story again this year. 

House and his buddies had enjoyed outstanding trout and redfish action in Barnett Creek on Saturday, a full week ahead of the actual tournament.  But it was a single strike on Tuesday that the Gainesville fisherman will remember best.  Working a stretch of lily pads lining the river bank, House’s Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue was crushed while at rest on the surface.  The anglers’ light tackle was challenged, but finally he boated and released a 31 ¾-inch snook. 

A very cold January did take a toll on the snook looking to expand their Big Bend territory to the north, but the linesiders that settled in around the Suwannee River’s mouth have apparently fared just fine. 

When the Gainesville Bassmasters’ bass tournament did roll around, by the way, Wally Grant and Don Bunting bagged 5-bass limits weighing 8.04 and 6.57 pounds, respectively, to finish first and second.

Local lakes are finally awakening for bass fans.  Gainesville angler, Josh McClendon found a wad of Lake Santa Fe fish in water 14 feet deep last Tuesday.  Casting lipped crankbaits, Rat L Traps, and Carolina-rigged plastics, he released a dozen bass up to 4 pounds.

We’ve heard several stories this week that make us believe the speckled perch spawn on our lakes is at hand.  Saturday, Russell and Mike Elliott, James Sullivan, and Dakota Robertson found the specks shallow on Lochloosa.  Fishing little tinsel jigs in lily pads, the four bagged a 100-fish combined limit.  As good as the bite was, the men still knew that their timing could have been better.   Almost every fish was a male, and the peak of the relatively-brief crappie spawn occurs when the heavier females arrive in the cover.

Although some have filled limits, Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp says that his customers in the days since the weekend have averaged more like 8-to-10 fish a trip.  He explained that several fishers have found specks in Lochloosa’s south end pads, but the windy week has made it very difficult to drop very small baits precisely among the pad stems.

The salty inshore shallows of the Big Bend coast, and the fishing along with them, are heating up.

Mason and Sarah Galloway located redfish last Thursday in a Cedar Key “back creek”.  With their 18-month old son, Luke content in his playpen situated ahead of the boat’s console, the Ocala couple pulled in smaller redfish through the incoming tide.  As the tide neared ‘full’, though, the bigger reds became active.  With shrimp, they took several good-sized reds, plus a few sheepshead.

Ben Nelson brought a friend from college home for a visit last week.  Students at Elon University in North Carolina, Ben and Sam Jenkins of Massachusetts decided to spend part of their break on the water.  They slid Ben’s kayak into the Cedar Key backwaters and paddled to a creek, pausing to drop shrimp into the deeper spots.  The reds were biting very well, and they caught and released dozens.  At one point the young fishermen hauled in 5 reds on 5 casts.  Later in the day, they found more reds feeding on a shallower flat, where they took the largest two fish of the great day—a pair of 27-inchers.

The good gulf reports continued into this week.  The phone rang at Gary’s Tackle Box Wednesday morning … Ren Gallon calling from the water.  Fishing alone out of Rocky Creek near Steinhatchee, the Gainesville angler had already filled trout and redfish limits.  But, he said, he had experienced a little trouble with the trout.  “I had to change baits”, he explained, “because I couldn’t catch anything under 20 inches with the Paul Brown Soft Dine”.  After icing a 22-incher, Gallon had been forced by law to release five more trout over 20”.  Finally, a small Sebile Stick Shadd did attract several fish measuring in the high teens and Gallon succeeded in finishing his legal limit on the chilly, breezy morning.  Then he gave us the call, making us wish we were there with him.

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Icy Water Action Improving

Toward the end of a cold winter, there is often a rather sudden turnaround that takes the fishing from slow to great. Nicer weather last weekend promised to yield better action.  While it did that, the very low water temps that persist did not allow the fish-catching to really explode as some thought it might.

Fully aware of the water temperature, some hopeful local fishers visited reefs off Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee that always produce big numbers of sheepshead when their annual spawn cranks up.  Even armed with fresh shrimp and fiddlers, they have all returned saying “not yet”.

Redfish anglers say that their favorite fish, even as strong and thick-skinned as they are, have been inactive in the cold Big Bend shallows.  The best time to catch reds now, they say, is in the evening after the sun has warmed the shallows.  

The on-again, off-again run by trout into the Steinhatchee and Suwannee Rivers was closer to the “off-again” end last weekend to the surprise of many locals.  The river visits by cold-sensitive trout looking for water a degree of two warmer seem unpredictable this year.  Considering that water on the surrounding flats was under 50 degrees, one would think the trout would have little choice but to remain in the deeper river. 

Now, some trout were pulled from the Steinhatchee River…but catches were generally unimpressive, as most folks say their fish were on the small side.  In creeks and at creek mouths, most found the trout to be skittish and tentative.

But not everyone found the weekend speckled trout fishing to be tough.  Saturday, Capt. Brad Riddle proved that there are sizable and hungry Steinhatchee-area trout to be found.  Along with Steinhatchee’s Bob Jureit, Capt. Brad found lots of nice fish concentrated in one near-shore area north of the river.  In the apparently-warmer water there, the men filled limits of both trout and reds in two hours.  Two of the trout they took home were fine fish better than 20-inches long, and they released two more of that size.  Soft plastics produced best, topped by Saltwater Assassin Salty Snacks in the Pink Ghost color.

Four Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club members went out of Cedar Key last Friday, with amberjack their primary target.  Ken Knopf, Ross McElroy, Dale Reed, and Mike Saincome left that morning aboard Knopf’s 29 Everglades and tried first, unsuccessfully, to catch baitfish in spots that always produce in warmer weather.  So, armed with only artificial lures, they made a chilly run out to a spot in water 70 feet deep.  Once there, they dropped heavy vertical jigs to the bottom and quickly determined that hungry fish were present.  The four fishermen wrestled in around twenty amberjacks from 32 to 38 inches long.  As a bonus, Dale caught a 19-pound gag grouper and Mike followed with an 11-pounder.  The out-of-season fish, though, were dutifully released.

Most freshwater anglers have been similarly perplexed over generally-slow January fishing.  River bassers count the water color—still dark from the late-summer hurricane—as a major negative.  The culprit on many of our lakes is likely nothing more than the low water temperature.  The only positive area bass fishing reports we heard this week came from Rodman Reservoir.  And more good news from the reservoir holds that Rodman’s hydrilla problem seems to have been remedied for now by nature.  The cold winter, fishermen say, has killed the invasive water weed off quite effectively.

Panfishers on Lochloosa have reported unexpected success this week.  Fair numbers of speckled perch are being pulled from lily pads and from open water near them.   It’s no surprise that the cold-loving and roe-laden crappies should be eyeing the shallower cover… but panfishers dropping live worms or crickets down among the pad stems are also pulling out nice numbers of warmth-loving bream—bluegills and shellcrackers.  The best Lochloosa panfish catches have consisted of near-equal mixes of specks and bream taken with tiny jigs, minnows, and worms.

After clean up and repairs following September’s Hurricane Irma, Power’s Park at the south end of Newnan’s Lake re-opened last Thursday.  The park’s much-used boat ramp is in good shape…just in time for the soon-to-come speckled perch spawn amongst the lake’s flooded cypresses. 

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