If you take a drive over Memorial Bridge in Palatka on a reasonably nice day this weekend or next week you’ll see a bunch of boats—most probably anchored on the edge of a dropoff into the St. John’s River channel—and cast nets flying. They are there because the shrimp on their annual river run have arrived in big numbers… and they’re no longer small. Folks with cast nets webbed above the lead line to hold it open down deep are taking advantage of this year’s seasonal seafood-catching opportunity.
And shrimp are not the only seafood the big river is presently offering up.
Ren Gallon headed to the St. John’s Monday morning to resume his harvest of mullet from the base of the Shands Bridge at Green Cove Springs. Along with him were friends and fellow Gainesville anglers, Gene Brooks and Anthony Pleas. Learned through extensive experience, Gallon employed his tried-and-true technique of first chumming the water with a mix of laying mash (chicken feed) and oatmeal. Then, the men cast past the chummed area with large treble hooks and swung. Ripped through the water column, the hooks made sudden impact with tasty and surprisingly strong-swimming grass eaters. Snatch-hooking through the falling tide, each of the three filled his 50-fish limit of medium to large mullet by 2:00 p.m. As a bonus, they also bagged 11 tilapia up to 7-pounds.
I received word Tuesday evening that dear friend, Cookie Watson, had passed away. As always seems to happen when such a shock wears off a bit, a million memories flooded back. In fact, I noticed this among all of her old friends that have happened into the store since her passing. As the look of sad shock wore off, a smile came to everyone’s face as they reflected on her special spirit. I worked with “Miss Cookie” for 34 years at the old Tackle Box. She had already been there for ten years when I started. Cookie knew her trade inside and out, was incredibly efficient and fun to be around. She was tough, too…you did not want to make Cookie mad. She and I always liked to relate the story of the morning in 1979 when we took a quick morning trip to Newnans Lake for some speckled perch fishing before work. When we made it to The Tackle Box on time at 10 a.m., we arrived with a full double limit (in those days limits were more generous) of 100 nice specks. Cookie was loved by not only her friends and family, but also by generations of Gainesville fishers—from the humblest cane polers to the best anglers of the day. So many of us will remember her fondly and miss her dearly.
The shrimp run on the St. John’s River seems to have turned into a great one. Not surprisingly, the legion of local shrimping fans is very excited. Saturday, Carlton Annis, Warren Crews, and Steve Weaver arrived to launch at the Palatka City Dock at 7:30 a.m. They were surprised to find only a few empty boat trailers in the parking lot. Throwing cast nets not far from the launch site, the Alachua and Hawthorne trio found shrimp quickly and filled a 5-gallon bucket in only an hour or so. When I asked Carlton about the size of the shrimp, he replied, “They called ‘em large…..I called ‘em medium”.
Fishing is coming around nicely in the Big Bend’s rain-darkened shallows, but the best salty fishing stories this week came from the east coast’s inland waterway.
When there aren’t a lot of good fishing stories being told by recreational anglers, tournament results can offer a solid idea of action that might be available. Two large end-of-summer bass tournaments held last weekend, each a two-day event, did that.
The annual Fishing for Autism bass tournament was held last weekend out of Ellie Ray’s R V Resort on the Santa Fe River. As usual, the event drew a giant field…this year, 104 teams. Competitors would have their choice of staying in the little Santa Fe or running out into the Suwannee where they could continue north toward Georgia or south toward the gulf. They knew that only the top 15 teams from Saturday would be allowed to compete again on Sunday. They also knew that fishing had been unusually tough in the river. But tournament anglers are a notoriously resourceful bunch. One team came up with an option that most would not have considered. B.J. Shirah and Tim Webb actually ran out of the Suwannee and over a long stretch of rough gulf to another body of freshwater more than 100-miles from the take-off point. Their Saturday catch of about 9 pounds hardly seemed to make the epic run worthwhile and was barely enough to keep them in the game for Sunday. But they duplicated the long haul on the second day. And, on this day, the Live Oak team bagged better than 15-pounds of bass in time to make the marathon boat ride back to weigh-in and win with a two day total of 24.05.
The event primarily benefited the Little Star Learning Center of Jacksonville. And this year, part of the $28,000 raised also went to facilities in Columbia, Gilchrist, Hamilton, and Suwannee Counties. Tournament director and organizer Donnie Feagle said, “I’m blown away and so appreciative of the support we always get from the fishing community at these Suwannee fundraisers”.
The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club is a fine group usually focused on the various game fish of the gulf. Club members, however, fully recognize and appreciate optional seafood-gathering opportunities. Earlier this summer, the club enjoyed a top-notch scallop outing. Then on Saturday, they took their annual trip to the St. John’s River for their “Shrimping Excursion”.
Several boats full of GOFC members, some shrimping for the first time, convened and launched at Crystal Cove Marina. Near the channel that runs near the shore across the river, they anchored and threw nets webbed to stay open while falling through the depths. The weather was nice, but hot enough that most boats came in at noon. Still, the shrimp came into the vessels at a pleasing rate. Most were small-to-medium, but one in every twenty or so, they said, was large.
The longer the shrimp on their tour of the St. John’s remain in the river, the larger they grow. And that progression seems to be moving along quickly. A couple of cast netting customers claimed that, by mid-week, they were able to net a 5-gallon bucket full of medium-to-large Palatka shrimp in water 20-to-25 feet deep.