2004 Fishing Report

2004 Archived Fishing Reports

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December

12-28-04
Lots of dedicated anglers planned to spend at least part of the Christmas weekend fishing. A nasty mix of cold, wind, and rain kept almost all of them off the water-and any fish the others did catch, they certainly earned. Fortunately by Monday, things had cleared up and folks could return to their fishing spots. Trout seekers were very pleased to find that the cold holiday weekend had finally pushed their favorite thin-skinned fish into deep holes in creeks, and even into rivers they hadn’t visited up to that point.

Tuesday’s reports put good numbers of trout in Suwannee area creeks including Barnett, Dan May, and Salt. And better yet, nice trout limits are finally being pulled from the big rivers’ West Pass—by fishers casting jigs with grub tails and slow-sinking Mirrolures. Extra-low New Moon tides over the last few days have severely hampered efforts to access creeks all along the Gulf Coast, so the presence of trout in deep rivers makesthem available to anglers in all kinds of boats. It seems that the winter-run trout are never in all of the West Coast creeks at once.

Along with the Suwannee, the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers presently host big numbers of fish-and the Crystal River trout are mostly small. The Homosassa, though, is a very good bet. Four Homosassa guides took parties out Monday. When they compared notes following the great fishing day, the total number of trout they released was impressive—but not as much so as the number of redfish. Casting shrimp and jigs, the four parties combined to boat 140 reds.

Like trout along the coasts, speckled perch in nearby lakes are often easiest to catch when the water is cold. Since Christmas, the best speck-producing area on Lochloosa has shifted to the 7-to-9-foot-deep zone off the north end. Along with quite a few 25-speck limits, the folks at Lochloosa Harbor have seen two anglers with 2 and 1/2-pound specks. Both of the slabs were taken with jig/minnow combinations. And stories from the very-diminished Rodman Pool are good as well. Both speck and bass anglers have reported very successful trips to the Reservoir. The Orange Springs stretch seems to be the hottest area on the pool.

We wish all our fishing friends a wonderful New Year—including, as always, good fishin’—from The Tackle Box.


12-07-04
Gulf anglers look forward to this season, when big speckled trout seeking warmer water move into deep tidal creeks and rivers. They know that the season’s first freeze often produces fast action and the biggest trout of the year.

Unseasonably warm weather this week threatens to postpone the backwater migration that had shown signs of building toward a serious trout-catching opportunity. Creeks near Suwannee have, off-and-on, held great numbers of big late-fall trout. One Steinhatchee angler casting TT11 Mirrolures in the Steinhatchee River late last week boated a limit of trout up to 6-pounds. Another pair of fishers trolling Mirrolures in the Waccasassa River took ten hefty trout to 22 ½ inches Monday. And a few Crystal River and Homosassa anglers have found nice-sized trout willing to bite lures and jigs in those rivers. If the warm spell does send these fish back out of the creeks and rivers, look for deeper areas around near-shore sand and shell bars to be key trout-holding spots.

Redfish reports indicate plenty of fish available-but almost everywhere along the gulf coast, fishers are finding them to be mostly small. Anglers working creek mouths and oyster bars near Suwannee say that you can get redfish bites all day. Most fish, though, range from14-to-16 inches.

The sole reports that include Spanish mackerel and bluefish came from Steinhatchee. Here, there are still trout to be found on the grass flats, and casters of jigs and spoons are hooking quite a few incidental blues and macks.

Fishing is excellent in the east coast’s inland waters. Both trout and redfish are present in huge numbers at Matanzas Inlet, and at the mouths of Matanzas River creeks. Jigs with colorful grub tails are accounting for the best numbers of both species. There is one little drawback, though. The reds are almost all short of the 18-inch minimum legal length, and most of the trout are a little short of the 15-inch mark. Still, if you like lots of bites, this should be your destination.

Freshwater fishing seems to have slowed a little, but the speckled perch bite on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes has been so good since October that it could diminish by half and still be good. Speck limits are still coming from both lakes every day, taken with minnows and small artificial lures like Beetle Spins and Hal Fly Jigs. Rodman Reservoir is very near its low winter pool, and temporary ramps at the Orange Springs and Kenwood accesses have just been finished up. We’re listening hard for the first good fishing stories from the pool.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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November

11-30-04
Another weekend cold front made fishing tough on Saturday, bringing a late-day rain that dampened scores of area fishers. Being caught by the rain didn’t seem to upset most folks on Orange and Lochloosa much at all. It’s easier to take minor discomforts in stride when you have a boxful of fish.

Several Lochloosa anglers docked with noteworthy speck catches Saturday. Johnny Harris’ unusually-thick 12-inch crappie weighted in at an amazing 2 pounds. And the rough weather failed to slow down Sarah Dandeneau’s fish-catching. The Titusville 12-year old hauled in a pair of 1 1/4 pound specks to anchor her good catch.

By Tuesday, the weather was beautiful again and fine catches were still seen at Lochloosa Harbor–but the most successful anglers were the ones that fished out in the mid-lake depths. Woodrow Willis and Bob Teston limited in just two hours Tuesday morning by drifting minnows just off the bottom in water 1- to 11 feet deep.

Rodman Reservoir is well on its way to low winter pool. By mid-December, the lake should be at 16 feet above sea level, which is about four feet lower than normal. To protect largemouth bass during the drawdown, the FWC has given them a release-only status, effective from December 1 through April 1. Bass anglers may still fish, but any bass caught must be released immediately. Temporary boat ramps will be made on the edge of the barge canal before the end of this calendar year.

Gulf action was notably slower over the weekend The brightest inshore spots were creeks and near-shore oyster bars near Suwannee, where small sheepshead, drum, and redfish kept fishers busy. A handful of anglers also reported good trout limits in the Crystal River Power Plant’s Discharge Canal and in the Homosassa River. Grouper reports were clearly best out of Crystal River and Homosassa where bottom fishers and anglers trolling Mann’s Stretch 18 and 25 lures pulled nice gags from 20 to 30 feet of water.

The word from the east coast’s island waters is very good–unless you only like big fish. Live shrimp and jigs with chartreuse or rootbeer-colored grubs fished in Matanzas River are producing fast trout and redfish action. More are under legal size, but anglers are getting plenty of bites.

Don’t miss the December edition of the Tackle Box’s “First Saturday of the Month Used Boat Sale? Saturday from 10 til 4 pm. Last month, there were mostly ‘bass’, ‘flats’, and offshore boats offered…but there’s no telling what might show up!

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


11-23-04
The season is trying to change a bit ore earnestly, as the annual parade of breezy cold fronts begins to make fish catching a little tougher. Presently, water temps are apparently still in the favorable range for fish like bluegill and Spanish mackerel–but these are species that will soon all but disappear from local fishers’ live wells until spring.

Most cane polers have already forsaken bream in favor of the speckled perch that are much more active. Most nearby fresh waters have produced specks well enough to make hundreds of local anglers dust off their boats and tackle. On Orange and Lochloosa alone, (the best of the crappie-producing lakes,) an army of anglers has hit the water almost daily for more than a month. It’s likely that this onslaught of fishing pressure is responsible for the slightly slower action we’re seeing now although the speck bite may not be quite as fast and furious as it was a couple of weeks back, it’s still plenty good Monday afternoon, Butch Riddell and Norman Merritt stopped by the store with a handsome 50speck limit they had just pulled from Lochloosa while drifting minnows And this season, small spinners and brightly colored crappie jigs might have accounted for as many fish as live bait.

Saltwater fishing has been an on and off proposition through recent weeks. Over the last few days, it has turned ‘on’ again. Speckled trout action has kicked up a notch, with good catches coming from the Cedar Key and Waccasassa flats, and the grass flats between Suwannee and Shired Island. Tidal creeks are also producing some good trout–and at least one gulf river, the Waccasassa, holds some early-season fish. The time is right for sand trout to gather on deeper sandy spots and along channels, and they appear to be right on schedule Great catches of these generally- smaller and spotless trout came from Steinhatchee, Suwannee, and Cedar Key last weekend. Shrimp, cut bait, and grubtail jigs are all top baits for these trout, whose numbers and size are unregulated. And the Spanish mackerel that had been scarce for several days were again caught in good numbers off Steinhatchee and Cedar Key Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Anglers fishing the East Coast inland waters say that the fishing is as good as its been in a long time. The folds at Devil’s elbow have seen great sheepshead, flounder, and trout catches over the last few days. They say the trout are small on average, but abundant and hungry–a good combination.

11-09-04
Anglers hit fresh and salt waters in droves Saturday and Sunday, and although lots of fishers had been reporting “can’t miss” action, results this sunny and breezy weekend were mixed. Out of Steinhatchee and Suwannee, speckled trout turned suddenly scarce-even for folks that had been finding them without much trouble. We know of only one two-man trout limit taken Saturday near Steinhatchee; and it took these guys all day to fill it. Gulf Coast sages think that a couple of windy days late last week stirred up the shallows enough to put the trout off. Redfish had no problem, though, with the water conditions. Fishers targeting spottails enjoyed fine action-some even releasing huge ‘bulls’ in the 20-pound class. And Spanish mackerel remain abundant on deep flats off Steinhatchee and Suwannee. Even though the water remains much darker than mackerel typically prefer, this was not the chief complaint from weekend mackerel trollers on Spotty Bottom, off Suwannee. Their biggest problem was the hoards of ladyfish that grabbed spoons and jigs ahead of the targeted species. One Spotty Bottom mackerel fisher said, “Plenty of big Spanish were around, but there were 20 ladyfish for every mackerel.” Seahorse Reef anglers apparently experienced a better mackerel-to-ladyfish ratio, many taking 15-fish limits in to the Cedar Key dock. And trout fishing was also notably better from this point, south.

East Coast fishers say that all-around action is very good on inland waters-but that no one fish is biting best. Trout fishing is decent and seems to be improving,) redfish are bundant–but small on average, sheepshead and drum are taking shrimp fished on the south side of Matanzas Inlet, and surf action for whiting and pompano is also worth trying. Actually sounds like a nice dilemma. With the word out about the excellent speckled perch bite, several area lakes were plumb crowded over the weekend. This fact alone probably shut the fish down to some degree. There were lots of 25-speck limits, but most folks said that it took longer to max out than usual. Folks fortunate enough to be able to fish on weekdays are certainly enjoying the best of the ongoing crappie bite. Fishing is good enough to allow anglers to release fish less than 10 or so inches long-and finish the day with nicer limits. Catches are still best on Orange and Lochloosa; and jigs, Beetle Spin-types, and mini jigs are all producing.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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October

10-26-04
It has been a season of unusual change and challenge in North Florida. The North Florida landscape is suddenly altered; residents are busy with cleanup and restorations, and the Gator football program is undergoing a huge shakeup. At least one cherished fall pastime, however, has emerged incredibly strong. Fishing is really good.

Anyone can catch fish right now! If you have never fished and thought it might be fun, now’s the time to head for the water. Occasional anglers are making impressive catches, and skilled fishers are really cleaning up.

The top freshwater target is the speckled perch, also known as ‘crappie’ (pronounced kroppy). When nights begin to turn chilly, the specks really come alive– and that has certainly happened. It has been long years since we have seen so many folks so excited about fishing in local lakes. Limit catches are daily being pulled from smaller lakes such as Wauburg, Alto, Crosby, and Sampson. But the the waters drawing the lion’s share of attention (and producing the most fish) are the major lakes–Santa Fe, Newnan’s, Orange, and Lochloosa. Lochloosa has attracted the biggest crowds. Last weekend, the lake was crowded with more boats than have been seen here in decades. And all are catching fish! Some are trolling, some drifting, and others parking in shoreline vegetation. Some are fishing live minnows, some casting small spinners, and others opting for crappie jigs. But they’re all catching fish. Here at the Tackle Box, we have, for many years, enjoyed taking pictures of fishers with their good catches. These days, it’s hard to keep enough film in the camera.

Although near-shore gulf waters remain far from clear, good fishing has recovered fast– and will continue to improve through the net few weeks. Redfish action remains great out of all ports– but the average size of these days is just sub-legal (not unusual for this season). Fin e trout reports have come from the flats off Cedar Keys, Suwannee, Horseshoe beach, and Steinhatchee. While a few very promising Spanish mackerel reports have come from Steinhatchee, Suwannee, and Cedar Key, local sages say the sharp-toothed slashers are scattered and not yet a really good bet. Farther offshore, though, in water from 25-50 feet deep, king mackerel numbers are excellent. And anglers are finally scoring well again trolling Mann’s Stretch lures for grouper. Some very good limits have been pulled from the water just 20-25 feet deep, within easy sight of Cedar key and Steinhatchee.

All-in-all, excellent fishing available just about everywhere– and possibly the most pleasant time of year to be on the water. that’s a hard combination to beat.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from THE TACKLE BOX!

10-12-04
Air and water temperatures are beginning to cool notic4eable, and some productive fishing zones along the gulf coast have a t least partially cleared following a memorably wet and stormy September.

Fans of outdoor sports are ready to settle into hunting season-and a fall that also promises to be an excellent one for both fresh and saltwater anglers.

East Coast fishers are still hooking lots of red and black drum and flounder in the inland waterway– and this week, trout have added their welcome presence to the ix. Several anglers soaking shrimp at Matanzas Inlet were pleased to snag good numbers of trout along with the dependable drum and flatfish.

Gulf anglers are having much less trouble finding at least reasonably clear shallows– and speckled trout. Some limits of trout to 26 inches were seen at Steinhatchee marinas. While redfish yet dominate fishing stories in the Suwannee/Cedar Key/Waccasassa stretch, more and more trout catches are now sprinkled into them. And fie Homosassa guides took members of the Atlanta Fishing Club to the clearer shallows near the Homosassa River mouth but they came in short of either a trout or a redfish limit.

The time is also right for the great grouper bite that occurs on shallow, rocky spots incredibly near shore along the Homosassa stretch. A few sizable gags were actually pulled from water less than 5 feet deep over the weekend.

Fresh high water has created some great bass fishing in area lakes– and speckled perch are downright frisky in the now-co9oler local waters. Twenty-fie speck limits are a fairly commonplace now on Lochloosa– but most anglers culling out smaller crappie say they are taking home from 10-to-20 good-sized slabs. Specks can be found now in near-shore but the old standby live minnow remains the top bait.

Good fishing from The Tackle Box.


10-05-04
More and more folks are getting back on the water, and finding the fishing to be pretty good in the wake of Florida’s “Hurricane September.”

As expected, all fresh waters whose levels are largely dependent upon runoff or run-in are extremely full. Even lakes whose levels are more aquifer (or groundwater) related are much higher than they were a few weeks back. Freshwater fishing is very good in almost all of the newly-risen lakes. Locally, Newnans and Lochloosa may offer the hottest fishing—but Santa Fe and several of the smaller area lakes are also good bets. On Newnans, countless bluegill, shellcracker, warmouth, speckled perch, and catfish have been pulled in over the last three weeks. No place on the lake is bad bet for fishing at present, but anywhere in Prairie Creek, the lake’s outflow at its south end, is probably the best. Live wigglers, grunt worms, and night crawlers are the favorite baits. As in the past few autumn seasons, speckled perch are the top angling target on Lochloosa. Fine crappie catches are being made in grass and pads near shore—and out in open water. Bass action has been pretty impressive on Lochloosa as well—better than it has been in years. There is a special bass limit on Lochloosa and Orange. Each angler may keep only three largemouths, and they must be either under 15 or over 24 inches. Little Orange, Alto, Sampson, and Crosby are four more lakes that have generated some post-storm fishing excitement.

Gulf waters remain very dark and murky in most places, but this hasn’t altogether ruined the fishing. Good weekend redfish catches were reported from Homosassa, Crystal River, Cedar Key, and Suwannee. While reds aren’t very bothered by dark water, trout don’t like it a bit. The best trout catches following the storms have been made in two of the learest gulf zones with the smallest amount of freshwater runoff. These zones are just south of Homosassa and north of Steinhatchee. Spanish mackerel don’t tolerate non-saline water well, either. Only the stretch north of Steinhatchee off the ‘Bird Rack’ produced any Spanish to speak of last weekend.

East Coast action remains very good—especially at Matanzas Inlet. Here, anglers using live shrimp continue to wear out black drum, sheepshead, and flounder.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box


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September

09-21-04
The effects of Hurricane Frances have, in general, been much more positive for fishing in our most nearby fresh waters than in our coastal or offshore waters. Choppy and coffee-colored grass flats along most of the gulf coast have attracted few anglers this week—and only one zone near Homosassa has really produced well. Even in wind strong enough to present anchoring problems on grassy points, several guides at Homosassa have released big numbers of redfish on the St. Martin’s Keys over recent days. Another Homosassa captain guided a pair of anglers to fine grouper limits out of Homosassa on a less-breezy day last Sunday. Anglers that have made it offshore from Suwannee and Cedar Key since the storm report that the water begins to clear noticeably at about the 50-foot-deep mark—and that the grouper are plentiful here as well.

East Coast anglers at Matanzas Inlet continue to report another exception to this report’s first sentence. Folks fishing shrimp near the inlet are still hooking plenty of black drum—most are on the small side at 2-to-5-pounds, but this is the size best for eating. And anglers fishing lighted docks near St. Augustine Inlet are pulling in some doormat-size flounder despite the tannin-stained water there.

Local panfishers have been out in force since the rapid rise in the water levels of nearby lakes. Live minnows, drifted or trolled in both Orange and Lochloosa, have accounted for good speckled perch catches. There is plenty of water to launch at any ramp on Orange—but be sure to watch the wind direction. Hundreds of floating islands and tussocks can cut off a boat’s return to its launching site. Newnans Lake has attracted the biggest crowd of opportunistic anglers that have found every feeder creek and outflow to be loaded with catfish, warmouth, and bluegill eager to bite a live wiggler. Prairie Creek, on Highway 20, is the largest of these moving-water fish magnets; and scores of folks are crowding the available bank and bridge space there every day.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


09-14-04
Never have things changed so much from one report to the next.

While most folks have put fishing on the back burner until life returns to normal, some have recognized the angling opportunities afforded by the suddenly-ultra high water–and they’re taking advantage. Driving on the Lake Road and along Highway 26 or 20 just east of town, you will probably see folks lined up to fish every small creek. And it’s a fairly good bet that you will see one of them pull in a fish during the short time you’re driving past. Every one of Newnans Lakes’ feeder creeks and runouts is holding lots of panfish and catfish. Years of experience have taught fishers without boats or fancy equipment that, following a very large rain event, the resulting high-water flow signals their time to catch fish as well as anyone.

We still haven’t been able to contact all of the area fish camps and marinas that we regularly call for reports, but most that we have reached escaped major damage from the storm. Most Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Waccasassa camps and marinas said that flooding and loss of power had been the toughest challenges—and that things were fast returning to normal. In fact, the few post-Frances anglers have said that redfish action is still excellent. One Suwannee guide even ventured out to Spotty Bottom, where Spanish mackerel and bluefish were in surprisingly-good supply. Crystal Rivers’ Pete’s Pier didn’t fare as well, suffering a lost roof and further substantial wind damage. They also lost all frozen bait and cannot get live shrimp at present. Thankfully, the boats in storage were not damaged. The marina is open again, and working fast to resume normal operation. Homosassa marinas were also flooded and lost power for a week—but the only devastating damage here was to the well-known Crump’s Restaurant, which burned down Thursday following a suspected power surge.

The most surprising report came from Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp on the East Coast’s Matanzas River. Instead of sad tales of hardship and damage, the Elbow folks were excited. It seems that black drum and redfish have gone wild at Matanzas Inlet—taking shrimp and Fishbites Strips about as fast as they hit the water. When I called Tuesday, a customer had just returned from “20 minutes at the bridge.” In that short time, he pulled in 7 drum. If you’re looking for a stress-relieving fishing trip, Matanzas Inlet sounds like the place.

Don’t miss the next free Tackle Box instructional seminar Saturday, September 18, beginning at 10:00. Pro baser, Dick Hale will offer tips for catching bass in nearby, North Florida waters in Fall.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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August

08-31-04
Fresh waters in North Florida are about to make the turn into the fall season. Soon, bass will gang up in search of shad schools, and speckled perch catches will also increase dramatically. When fishing again becomes attractive to more casual anglers that skip the hottest months on the water, they may be surprised to see how high, clear, and well-vegetated the area lakes have become during this wet summer. This week, Newnans and Lochloosa have produced good late-season bluegill for folks fishing grass shrimp or crickets in shallower vegetation. Warmouth are a ‘bonus’ catch on Lochloosa—taking live worms in lily pads. Both lakes have excellent populations of speckled perch, but those on Newnans are still mostly too small to keep. Lochloosa crappie seekers are drifting or slow-trolling live minnows in deep water to take scattered–but mostly large–fish.

In salt waters, the ‘fall shift’ should bring even better numbers of redfish to near shore haunts on both coasts, and Spanish mackerel numbers will soon begin to build noticeably as they gather on the top notch baitfish-ambushing areas off Suwannee and Cedar Keys. The reds are already fired up along the gulf coast. Anglers fishing grassy points and shell bars near Suwannee, Cedar Keys, Waccasassa, Yankeetown, Crystal River, and Homosassa are raving about the great redfish action. A Suwannee marina owner said, “It seems like reds are on every bar.” Homosassa guides reported outstanding redfish action last Friday. Capt. Dallas Willis treated customers to a 30-redfish afternoon. At the same time a short distance away, Capt. Charlie Harris was busy unhooking ‘nearly 50’ reds for excited clients. Trout are tougher to locate on Crystal River/Homosassa flats; but they, too, will begin to feed more aggressively as water temps ease downward.

Black drum are presently creating the most noise among East Coast inland anglers. Fishers on the beach, the Matanzas Inlet Bridge, and in the inland waterway are all hooking lots of drum ranging in size from 2-to-30 pounds. Live or dead shrimp are the top bait.

St. John’s River shrimping is still good, and the average size of the shrimp is now very pleasing to cast-netters. The best results are being seen farther upriver now, between Palatka and Welaka.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


08-24-04
Almost-daily thunderstorms might be annoying when they prevent or shorten fishing trips, but the wet summer weather has certainly improved freshwater fishing overall. Lake levels are good almost everywhere now, and water temps are cooler than usual for late August. The full moon coming up next Monday may bring one of the season’s final major gatherings of spawning bluegill. Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans—three of this area’s most popular lakes—are all still yielding good bream catches to folks cane-pole fishing with crickets and grass shrimp. The Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha Rivers are always good panfishing bets in hot weather as well. On the rivers, add live earthworms and tiny artificial lures like Teeny Craws and Beetle Spins to the list of top baits.

Soon, the attentions of panfish fans will shift from bream to speckled perch, which will become increasingly active as the cooler nights further drop water temperatures. Lochloosa has been the undisputed king of area crappie lakes for a few years, now, but we expect a booming speck population on Newnans to give it some competition this fall and winter.

The two “special North Florida seasons” are still going strong. Rain-darkened water on the Steinhatchee grass flats has hurt scallopers’ visibility, but is has not diminished the good number of shellfish available. As scalloping season winds down toward its Sept. 10th end, shellfish hunters should try to choose the most bright and sunny days possible to help them spot the bivalves. Shrimpers in the inland waterway and the St. John’s River are still cast-netting generally-good-sized shrimp in spite of the flood of new rainwater that sometimes sends the crustaceans back out to sea. Five-gallon limits remain pretty common for Palatka cast-netters. Gulf anglers are reporting lots of big redfish from Waccasassa Bay, north to Suwannee; and decent trout action out on the grass flats in the same zone. Several Steinhatchee trout fishers also docked last weekend with nice limits. Spanish mackerel numbers seem to be increasing on deep flats—and especially on Spotty Bottom, off Suwannee. A Jacksonville family fishing shrimp on Spotty last Friday boated limits of large Spanish that impressed everyone back at the dock.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


08-20-04
Although it’s a great relief that Hurricane Charley spared this area, we are left as possibly the only area in Florida whose lakes could use another foot or two of water. Gainesville area residents and anglers won’t complain, of course. It would have been tough to come through the Bonnie/Charley situation in better shape than we did. After it became evident that we would feel no significant effects from the storm, people again began thinking about fishing Saturday morning. Bream had gathered up in spawning spots around the New Moon phase, and cane polers using crickets and grass shrimp pulled in plenty of late-season bluegill from Newnans and Lochloosa Lakes. Wauburg and Little Orange also gave up a few pretty fair weekend catches. Some fishers have already begun to drift minnows and grass shrimp in Lochloosa’s deeper, open water. This technique (that usually works best after temperatures have begun to fall) is apparently already a good bet, producing attention-getting tallies of nice specks. While the bream bite is slowly declining, crappie fishing will only improve as the year goes on. The early leader in the first-ever rough fish roundup on Lochloosa islocal angler, Jamey Strickland. After the first two days, Strickland had tallied 30 pounds of gar and mudfish. The final weigh-in will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2:00, after which the top rough fish captor will collect the top prize—a used 14-foot fiberglass fishing boat.

Cedar Key and Suwannee residents not only managed to dodge the hurricane, they also continue to enjoy uninterrupted, good fishing. Redfish are causing the biggest stir, taking live baits and artificial lures on sand and shell bars, and along the grasslines of most islands near high tide. Line-stretching reds too big to keep are almost commonplace these days, and those soaking shrimp are also hooking a slew of big black drum. The equipment in place to dredge Cedar Key’s boat basin was dismantled ahead of the expected storm, and now must be reassembled. This delays the already-lengthy process that could limit boating access here all the way into fall. Crystal River anglers are finding their share of big redfish, too—especially those working the spoil banks along the outer reaches of the Barge Canal. Near-shore anglers here also report fast trout and Spanish mackerel action. Sunday, Capt. Mark Zorn and party docked at Pete’s Pier with fine redfish and trout limits, and several nice Spanish to boot.

Scallops are still easy to find near Pepperfish Keys, between Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee as open season for the prized bivalves winds down; but the cast-netting shrimp seekers trying their luck on the St. John’s River have not enjoyed catches nearly as good as before Hurricane Charley came through. We’ll keep a close eye on this situation—hopefully this season still holds lots of good shrimping ahead.

Any time I tell someone that I have worked at The Tackle Box for nearly thirty years, a certain coworker is always able to one-up me. In fact, she can ten-up me, having helped folks catch fish since 1966. Area anglers and friends following the plight of forty-year Tackle Box employee, Cookie Watson and her husband, Larry, will recall they lost their home to fire late last year. Their long road back to normalcy is finally near its end. Immensely appreciative of the outpouring of help and support, Cookie wrote and asked me to include the following open letter in this week’s space.“It has been eight months now, and I’m sure some of you are wondering. Yes, we do have a house now, and it is coming along nicely. None of this would have been possible without the wonderful support of this community. We received help from private individuals, clubs, churches, and merchants. When the house is finished we want to have an Open House on a Saturday so anyone that would like to may come and have a look. We’ll give notice of the date and hope all who have helped will come share our joy. Once again, thank you and God bless you all. Gratefully, Cookie and Larry.” There can’t be many things better than helping turn a tragedy into a blessing.

08-10-04
Most years by mid-July, and all the way through September, there is a clear dip in fishing interest. This, of course, makes for fewer catches. The ‘off season’ might be attributable to any of several events. Some say that heat is the culprit. Others cite back-to-school and the shift of some sportsmen’s attention to scallops or shrimp-or to the upcoming hunting season. Through it all, late summer has developed the reputation as a poor season locally for fishing. We have long doubted that fish really become harder to catch during the period known as “Dog Days,” believing instead that the lessened results were simply a reflection of the reduced number of anglers on the water.

Well, so far this year, for whatever reason, anglers have stuck with their sport-and have continued to find good results. Reports from most fresh and saltwater sources remain consistently positive every week.

The only thing that kept catches down last weekend was an unseasonably stiff breeze. Some captains tried to make it offshore with clients, but turned back in the unsafe seas. One group left out of Steinhatchee in a 17-foot vessel, determined to make it to fishing grounds offshore. Three were rescued later, but a fourth remains missing. Anglers staying around near-shore islands and sand and shell bars found redfish that seem suddenly plentiful along the entire Gulf Coast. Fish camps and marinas at Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Homosassa all saw lots of nice reds.

Parking is very limited these days at Cedar Key, where the major boat basin-dredging project is now well underway. If you choose to boat out of Cedar Key, be there early to get a parking spot.

Bream fishers have enjoyed a good season that shows no signs of slowing down. Lochloosa regulars again filled limits of bluegill over the weekend. The top areas mentioned were pad fields in the north end, and in the ‘little lake,’ near Cross Creek. The Ocklawaha and Suwannee Rivers also rank high on area panfishers’ lists. On the Suwannee, cane-polers are pushing boats into the pads along the river, then fishing crickets at the edge of the pads to fill coolers with varied bream.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


08-03-04
Abundant summer rain continues to fall, keeping area lakes in top fish-producing condition. Lochloosa remains the favorite among bluegill fishers, yielding 50-fish limits almost every day to cane pole fishers using grass shrimp. Last weekend, the best bream reports came from maidencane grass along the lake’s west side for a change. The top bream-producing vegetation has been ‘bonnets’ or lily pads at the north and south ends for most of this season.

Newnans Lake is also putting out bream limits, with most good stories originating on its east side, near Windsor. Here, the top bluegill-catching bait is a tossup between shrimp and crickets. Orange might be the best panfish lake of the bunch right now, but most anglers are avoiding it due to very challenging access.

Saltwater results are changing very little from week-to-week-as we would expect in mid summer. Trout are biting well out of most ports, with small fish most abundant on the shallow flats and bigger fish available (but more scattered) out deeper. Anglers reported slight changes regarding only two Gulf species this week. Redfish, unusually scarce through the season to date, have been biting much better out of Cedar Key and Suwannee over recent days. Cedar Key anglers casting jigs, spoons, and live bait reported lots of action around all of the surrounding islands over the weekend.

And the new red grouper limit is already causing some offshore specialists mental anguish. Anglers fishing out of Steinhatchee and Crystal River said they pulled in what would have been limit catches of grouper a month ago. With the new two-red-grouper-only-per-day limit, though, they came home short of limits.

Both ‘special seasons’ are developing nicely-scallops out of Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach remain plentiful and large in certain zones. And more and more netters are finding that the St. John’s River is, indeed, loaded with good-sized shrimp this early-and as far upriver as Palatka. Looks like a very good shrimping season coming up.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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July

07-27-04
The onset of ‘Dog Days’ finds both fresh and saltwater fishing holding up admirably. Strong rainfall amounts so far this summer probably have had a lot to do with that.

Panfish seekers seem to be scoring best on the three area lakes best known for bream-Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans. On Orange, grass shrimp fished in lily pads on the northwest side are nearly automatic for big bluegill–and here, sizable speckled perch remain a possibility for open-water fishers. There are, however, hurdles to leap and cautions to heed if you choose Orange. The water level has risen here, but access onto the lake from the Alachua County side is somewhere between very difficult and impossible. While possible at least, it’s not much better on the Marion County side. Floating islands meander about the lake, plugging off one access point or another depending on the prevailing wind. If you do get your boat onto Orange, it’s a good idea to keep an eye in the direction of the boat ramp to make sure you can get back to it.

Lochloosa might not offer fishing quite as good, but at least it’s not a problem to access. Pads on the south end and west side have given up some bream limits this week to cane pole fishers using shrimp and crickets. Newnans is also easily accessible-and has produced nice bream catches daily for folks dipping crickets and shrimp around shallow vegetation. Gulf fishers continue to find success in the mid-summer heat. The off-and-on Spanish mackerel bite was definitely ‘on’ Sunday off Suwannee. Anglers casting and trolling jigs and spoons on Spotty Bottom filled coolers with giant mackerel. Trout fishing is good on grass flats off Cedar Keys, Suwannee, and Horseshoe-but many fishers say that only one-in-six or eight fish is big enough to keep. Redfish fans are faring best on shell bars off Suwannee and Homosassa. Tarpon remain abundant along the coast-but hookups seem less frequent. And cobia reports have diminished everywhere but near Homosassa, where groups of 10-to-15 big fish are said to be cruising the flats.

The beehive of scalloping activity near Steinhatchee has interrupted hook-and-line fishing near shore, but offshore anglers there are catching grouper as well as they have all season. Stout limits of the gag and red varieties are coming in daily from water only 30-to-40 feet deep.

And that’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


07-20-04
Stormy weather last weekend kept anglers off the water, and fishing reports scarce. A handful of dedicated panfishers were pulling bluegill and speckled perch from Orange Lake when the first heavy rain arrived Saturday morning. They all scrambled back to boat ramps at Mike’s Fish Camp and Heagy-Burry Park, but were totally drenched by the time they touched shore. Ron Klys, somewhat used to and prepared for angling in nasty conditions, fished through rainstorms on Rodman Pool Saturday. Casting spinnerbaits, the bass tournament angler boated and released ten bass to 7 ½ pounds.

The strong July rainfall has brought one very big ‘plus.’ Water levels on all local lakes are noticeably higher than they were a few weeks back. When summer began, these lakes were accessible-but with little water to spare. Fishers and boaters could only hope that levels would hang in there through the hot months. The recent wet spell will go a long way towards making that wish come true.

Determined saltwater anglers played the same “make a few casts between storms” game over the weekend. Capt. Dallas Willis and party managed several nice Homosassa redfish without getting totally drenched. Just before the weekend monsoons, some large speckled trout were seen at Homosassa marinas. An angler guided by Capt. Gary Cox was rightly proud of the 28-inch, 6 ½-pound trout he took with a live shrimp Friday.

Weekend scallop seekers were out of luck. Even those not worried about the incessant rain were handicapped by low light conditions and shellfish that were buried in the sea grasses. Before and since the weekend, scallops have been in good supply both north and south of the Steinhatchee River. Crystal River and Homosassa scallopers, however, are still struggling to find shellfish-even in ideal conditions.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


07-06-04
Most anglers will agree that the just-passed Independence Day weekend was far above average fishing-wise. Aside from the expected, spotty thunderstorms, nice weather and fish with healthy appetites were the rule.

Although Rodman Reservoir continues to produce big bites for bass fishers, panfish are now the primary targets of freshwater anglers. Redbellies and stumpknockers are biting crickets, earthworms, and small spinners on the Suwannee and Ocklawaha Rivers. And bluegill are the top ticket on area lakes such as Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans. Here, crickets and freshwater grass shrimp are the baits of choice. The just-passed full moon saw very good limit and near-limit catches on all of these waters.

Often, the folks on hand for the first few days of the gulf scallop season find scattered shellfish and less-than-ideal water conditions. The preseason predictions this year were little better than dismal, and many of us figured that this would be a good scallop-gathering holiday to miss. Turns out that the diehard shellfish lovers on hand for the start of the season had the last laugh this year. Steinhatchee-area scallop numbers were not only surprisingly good, they were also unusually large for early July bivalves. The nice weather added to the season-opening bivalve bonanza.

Gulf fishing is holding up fine in the summer heat. Mackerel, trout, and cobia reports from the weekend were impressive out of all ports. One veteran angler docked Saturday at Cedar Key with several nice speckled trout and big Spanish mackerel, a couple of stout gag grouper, and a 40-inch cobia.

A party from Texas fished in the Homosassa River Monday for speckled trout. Most likely, nobody told the visitors that they couldn’t find trout in the river during hot weather. And that was a good thing-since they came in later that day with a half-dozen sizable trout including a pair of 2 1/2 pound fish that were full of roe. The July river trout took live shrimp fished under floats.

East Coast anglers are suddenly fired up over the arrival of cobia. Big ling have been pulled from wrecks, bait pods, and from around manta rays over the last few days. The stretch from Flagler Beach to Matanzas has produced scores of tackle-testing bruisers.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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June

06-29-04
It has been a long wait for area fishers–in fact, so many years have passed since Newnans was a very productive fishing lake that young anglers sometimes seem skeptical when we old timers speak of the incredible catches it used to produce.

Over the just-passed spring, the old lake started to yield a few attention-getting catches to match its fishy new look (vegetation courtesy of recent drought.) Still, if two or three boats accessed the lake during a week, it was a busier week than most. In late May, some adventurous bream fishers began spending time on Newnan’s, and actually began catching good-sized bluegill and small speckled perch. By mid June, those catches became plumb impressive. The word got out, and finally last Saturday morning, no fewer than 27 empty boat trailers sat in the parking lot at Powers Park next to us on the lakes’ south end. And limit and near-limit panfish catches were common among these fishers. It is now safe to say that, given adequate rainfall and lake levels, Alachua County anglers can put Newnan’s Lake back on their list of productive bream and speck waters.

Orange and Lochloosa also gave up some fine stringers of bream over the weekend–making bream sages predict that the upcoming full moon on July 2 may well produce the best panfishing of the year.

July 1 will also produce many hundreds of scallop seekers at the sleepy towns of Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach, on the Gulf of Mexico Those that thoroughly scout the shellfish stocks just prior to the season’s start say that conditions are ideal–with nice, clear and saline scalloping waters all around. Most also say that there aren’t all that many scallops to be found. Opening-day scallopers may find the pickings to be a bit thin near Steinhatchee–and REALLY thin out of Crystal River and Homosassa.

Few follow it, but the best advice for shellfish fans is to wait until late July or August for larger and more plentiful bivalves.

Gulf hook-and-line anglers are faring very well, since big Spanish mackerel and numerous bluefish have reappeared on Seahorse Reef off Cedar Keys and on Spotty Bottom off Suwannee. Big speckled trout are harder to find these days since they moved out onto deeper flats, but good trout anglers still fill 5-fish limits every time out, in water 8-to-10 feet deep. And tarpon are unusually abundant this season. On the world-famous tarpon flats near Homosassa, ecstatic anglers are jumping fish around 100 pounds every day.

And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


06-22-04
Summer is officially here, and so are baking temperatures and daily thunderstorms. The rains are, of course, of great benefit to our not-too-full fresh waters; but they also keep the wise angler scanning the skies regularly for threatening black clouds. Fish often feed in a flurry just before and after the arrival of a rainstorm.

Several top Lochloosa bream fishermen have found a good way to avoid both storms and heat–and still catch more than plenty fish. Rev. Henderson, Dean Herring, and Sam Warner are among the panfish specialists that have succeeded in pulling mixed 50-fish limits of bluegill, shellcracker, and speckled perch from Lochloosa while fishing the early morning hours. All are concentrating in the lake’s south end lily pads, and are using grass shrimp for bait.

Gulf coast speckled trout seekers are nearly unanimous in the belief that their favorite targets have mostly moved out onto deeper grass flats. The advice from West Wind Fish Camp at Steinhatchee is to look in water 6-to-9 feet deep. The folks at Cedar Key’s Fishbonz say they have heard most successful trout fishers speaking of the 6-to-7 foot range, and McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa recommends searching for trout way out in water 12-to-15 feet deep.

Out on these deep flats, anglers are hooking the occasional cobia and big Spanish mackerel, along with trout. Donnie and Samantha Parker of Lakeland docked at Steinhatchee last Friday with a whopping 6 1/2-pound, 29-inch Spanish–to go along with a great double trout limit that included a 6-pound fish.

Grouper catches remain steady out of every gulf port–but the offshore fishers scoring best are running out to water 60 or more feet deep.

p> East Coast action is very good. Father’s Day weekend was a productive one for sizable pompano in the surf; and fair numbers of redfish, trout, and bluefish also found ice chests and livewells. Flounder, though, remain the top angling attraction in the inland waters. The average flatfish is not much to brag about size-wise, but plenty of fish 12-to-16-inches long are available on the shallower flats to take the mud minnows or shrimp offered by fishers.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


06-15-04
It appears that the serious summer rains have begun–and not a day too soon. Levels in area lakes, creeks, and rivers were falling daily; reminding us of the still-recent drought that all but did away with our freshwater fishing for a couple of years.

Following Sunday’s strong rains, the water was perceptibly higher in some lakes. Lochloosa, for example, had risen 4 inches by Tuesday morning.

In spite of the gain in water, fishing has slowed on Lochloosa. At the other end of Cross Creek, though, Orange Lake is really making some noise among the panfishing crowd. Mark and Margaret Cook fished Beetle Spins and minnows out in Orange’s mid-lake depths over the weekend. Saturday, the Cooks took home 28 nice crappie. Then Sunday, they added another 38 specks–some weighing as much as a pound-and-a-half. Cane pole fishers dipping grass shrimp and crickets around bream beds in grass and lily pads on Orange are also scoring well with bluegill and shellcracker. The good fishing on Orange is not without its risks. Large rafts of floating water weeds are still meandering about on Orange. Depending on wind direction, they can block passage back to any boat ramp. While the steep little ramp at Mike’s Fish Camp is still serving folks with small vessels, anglers with bigger boats should drive around to Heagy-Burry Park at the town of Orange Lake.

The much-needed rains can be a mixed blessing. Last year, early-season scallop seekers found the shallow flats near Steinhatchee to be freshwater stained–and the already-thin scallop population was hard for snorkellers to see. Given the great clarity on the same flats at present, it is unlikely that sufficient rain will fall between now and July first to create the same problem. Preseason scouts are seeing fair numbers of scallops on the Steinhatchee flats, but nobody has reported from the Crystal River/Homosassa area.

Following last week’s report that mentioned trout fishers scoring best on very deep flats, several fishermen called to say that they were still finding good trout on grass flats as shallow as 4-feet. Overall, anglers running far offshore are making the biggest catches. Grouper are feeding actively in water deeper than 50 feet, and several kingfish up to 50 pounds were seen at Suwannee marinas–taken also from waters well offshore. Cobia, too, are well represented out deep. A thick 58-pound ling won the 20th Annual Cobia Big Fish Tournament last weekend out of Homosassa and Crystal River, netting its captor $6500.00.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


06-08-04
Guides, fish camps, and marinas agree that the anglers able to postpone that Memorial Weekend fishing trip just one week made the right move. Last Saturday and Sunday brought much better results and no crowding problems at all.

Out of Steinhatchee, speckled trout limits were again the norm, grouper action was solid offshore, and several offshore fishers also docked with good-sized king mackerel.

With inshore grass flats heating up fast, some Suwannee guides have started concentrating out deeper. Capt. Jon Farmer and his parties pulled not only trout limits from the outer reaches of Spotty Bottom, they also added bunches of Spanish mackerel, bluefish, a nice king, and a legal cobia to the take. That’s not to mention the assorted ‘incidental’ catches like 15 sharks. Two more kings escaped by running all the line off the anglers’ reels. Capt. Farmer said the best action was over grass beds in water 18-to-20 feet deep.

Out of Cedar Key and Waccasassa, trout were also the top target. Live shrimp and grubtail jigs accounted for lots of good catches. And folks fishing the same baits pulled redfish from shallower shell and sandbars. In a recent tournament out of Cedar Keys, four reds within 1/4 inch of the maximum 27-inch mark were weighed. Their weights ranged from 7.70 to 8.54 pounds.

East Coast fishers pitching shrimp and Fishbites Strips into the outer breakers are still pulling plenty of whiting and pompano onto the beaches from Matanzas to St. Augustine Inlet. And folks fishing shrimp and mud minnows at the mouths of creeks and runouts in the inland waters celebrated the start of National Fishing Week by pulling in nice tallies of redfish and flounder.

The weekend moon phase was just past ‘full,” but still close enough for bluegill and shellcracker to still be gathered around beds. Saturday, Darrell Smith stopped by the store with a fine mess of bluegill and shellcracker he had pulled from Orange Lake while cane-poling with grass shrimp. These were unusually large bream, so we weighed the largest. It pulled the needle down to the 1-pound, 10-ounce mark. A manly shellcracker, for sure.

From Orange, through Cross Creek, and into Lochloosa, speckled perch are still biting well for fishers floating shrimp or minnows out in the mid-lake depths. Few 25-speck limits have been reported, but a good many folks have pushed that number.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


06-01-04
Like on most Memorial Day weekends, heavy non-angling boat traffic on many waters diminished the chances for serious fishing. Even so, a few fishers did manage good catches in the breezy confusion. Bream fishers dipping grass shrimp and crickets along grass and lily pad beds pulled decent panfish numbers from Little Orange, Wauburg, Lochloosa, Big Orange, and Newnans Lakes. The folks that frequent these lakes are nervously watching as lake levels continue to fall. Access is already becoming tricky on some, and unless major rainfall arrives soon, things could really get dicey for launching boats. Rodman Reservoir, with its artificially-maintained level, is one lake offering anglers no access problems. The water here is actually higher than normal, and bream and bass action on the pool has been very good. The Suwannee and Ocklawaha Rivers, too, are top-notch bets for hot-weather bream and bass fishing.

While being tossed about by the wakes of pleasure boaters, a few weekend anglers fishing mud minnows and shrimp in the east coast’s inland waterway managed to pick up good messes of the nice flounder that are in good supply there. And one surf angler soaking a shrimp he cast from the beach near Matanzas Inlet last Friday got a big surprise. Instead of another little whiting, he hooked a very large snook. What’s more, the fisherman was able to wear down and actually beach the twenty-pound fish.

Although gulf waters are still producing the most impressive catches, rising water temperatures are changing the hangouts of some favorite targets. Many trout fishers are beginning to find better numbers and size on grass flats at least 8 feet deep. And some Spanish mackerel lovers say that they need to run out to water at least 20 feet deep to be certain of finding schools of feeding fish. Kingfish numbers remain solid in water from 20 to 40 feet deep, and grouper results are now best in water better than 50 feet deep.

Redfish fans are still finding good near-shore action around Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, and Homosassa. And the tarpon presence is strong on the shallow flats from Homosassa to Suwannee.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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May

05-25-04
Summer heat has arrived early, but it hasn’t hurt the good catches in nearby fresh and salt waters a bit. In fact, the warmer water seems to have perked some species up.

Several customers since the weekend have been excited to pull very good catches of good-sized bluegill from Newnans Lake, right here behind us at The Tackle Box. Bank fishers at Powers Park and Palm Point still are having to settle mainly for catfish, but folks in boats are learning fast that the old favorite lake has recovered quickly from severely low water a couple of years back. Crickets, European nitecrawlers, and grass shrimp have all worked for Newnans Lake bream. And pretty soon, bass anglers might want to give Newnans some attention. Monday, Eddie Fry came in with a very surprising 6 1/2 pound Newnans Lake largemouth bass.

Orange is another area lake that has recovered from recent low water woes. Access here remains tricky, and stands only to get worse as the level drops, but fishers cane-poling in Orange’s pads with grass shrimp and crickets are pulling in bunches of mighty big bream.

Saltwater anglers are scoring well on both coasts. Surf fishers casting shrimp or Fishbites Strips from the East Coast beaches are reporting fast whiting and pompano action. One especially hot spot has been the north point of the Matanzas Inlet. Here, sizable black drum are biting along with the usual surf targets. Up in the inland waterway, redfish and flounder action has picked up considerably.

Gulf Coats fishing remains outstanding, with speckled trout and redfish heading up the top inshore targets. Fast action for reds has been reported near Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Cedar Keys, and Waccasassa. These days, if you hear anglers complaining of non-legal reds, it’s more likely they’re speaking of oversize (longer than 27 inch) than undersize (shorter than 18 inch) fish.

Trout fishing is good on most gulf grass flats, but is particularly fine near Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach. Saltwater Assassin jigs and live shrimp fished under Cajun Thunder rattling floats are now the top trout producers.

Spanish mackerel limits are still common, although a few anglers have complained of having trouble finding feeding fish. King mackerel are in good supply in water deeper than 25 feet.

Tarpon and cobia are surprising trout fishers pretty often these days, offering challenges very tough for the under equipped angler to win. Offshore, grouper fishing is excellent in water from 45 to 70 feet deep. Limit catches of red and gag grouper averaging near ten pounds are not uncommon.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


05-18-04
The threats of oppressive heat and low water are looming, but to date, neither has done any damage to area fishing. In fact, many fish seem to be a little behind their normal schedule–possibly due to still-cool water temperatures.

Oddly, bluegill have not really wholeheartedly ganged up to spawn in the grass and pads on nearby lakes. A few good bream catches have been reported, but far fewer than we would expect in mid May. On Lochloosa, the panfish that normally bites best in chilly weather remains the best bet for cane pole fishers. Several anglers drifting minnows out in the lakes’ deeper water have pulled in attention-getting catches of big speckled perch over recent days.

Saltwater action is nothing short of stellar. The water is clear and sea grasses have reestablished themselves in abundance on the flats. Multitudes of pinfish are back on these grass flats–an important ingredient for top-notch speckled trout fishing. And fine trout limits are again coming from flats near Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa. In other words, you’re likely to find good trout fishing out of any Big Bend Gulf port. Most of the top trout tallies have been made by fishers casting grubtail jigs; or with live shrimp or Fishbites Strips set a couple of feet under popping or rattling floats. Although most of the annual trout spawn should be finished, many are yet full of roe.

Spanish mackerel action was inconsistent for a couple of weeks, but seems to have gotten back on track. Spotty Bottom and Seahorse Reef again gave up fast mackerel action over the weekend.

Big, tackle-busting fish have returned to near-shore waters. Cobia are cruising the flats and hanging around pilings and markers. Fish up to 75 pounds have already been weighed at gulf marinas. And tarpon are back. Hundred-plus pound fish are being jumped near the mouth of the Suwannee River and on the Homosassa flats.

Offshore anglers are very pleased, since grouper are abundant and hungry around bottom structure in water better than 40 feet deep, and kingfish are giving baitfish schools fits at the surface.

All in all, it’s a great time to head for the water nearly anywhere in North Florida.

That’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


05-11-04
Heat is building and rainfall remains scarce–a dangerous combination for local freshwater anglers with larger boats that are already finding access tricky on some lakes.

So far, though, very good fishing is the rule almost everywhere. Bass anglers are picking up yearling largemouths feeding on shad schools in Alto and Santa Fe Lakes. Action is best during early morning and evening hours, and Rat-L-Traps, small spinners, and soft plastic twitch or jerkbaits have been the favorite lures. Rodman Pool is yielding its usual good bass action as well, and Lochloosa has resurfaced as a pretty good bet for bassers.

Bluegill and shellcracker have become the fastest-biting freshwater targets. The Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha Rivers are all good panfishing spots, as are Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. And on Lochloosa, the few folks still fishing deeper, open water with minnows are having surprising success with nice-sized speckled perch. Saturday, Charlie and Kevin Walker picked up 32 semi-slabs while slow-trolling Lochloosa.

East Coast anglers concentrating on the inland waterway have been pleased over the last few days to enjoy the best flounder action in weeks. Several locals casting Saltwater Assassin Jigs and live shrimp on jigheads hauled in very good catches of flatfish last weekend. And some of the big bluefish that have been expected for weeks have finally shown up at Matanzas Inlet. One fisherman soaking a finger mullet at the bridge Saturday picked up a nice, 12 1/2-pound chopper, and several other fish just smaller have been reported.

Gulf fishing has been unusually off-and-on lately–probably due to unsettled weather. The best speckled trout reports again came from the Steinhatchee and Homosassa areas, Spanish mackerel are alternately best on Seahorse Reef off Cedar Keys and on Spotty Bottom off Suwannee, and redfish action seems best out of Waccasassa and Crystal River. The slimy, suspended stuff the locals call “gumbo” is making fishing tough–especially with treble-hooked lures. Some think, though, that the worst of the bloom is over. Possibly the best bets of all are grouper and king mackerel, out in water 50-to-60 feet deep off Cedar Keys and Suwannee. Big catches of large fish are common here, with trollers and bottom fishers both scoring about equally well.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


05-04-04
May started off great–with good reports from all around, and some much-needed rainfall.

Jimmy and Laurie Pease saw several limit catches of bluegill and shellcracker during their first couple of days as new owners of Finway/Yankee Landing on Lochloosa. The landmark fish camp will now be called “Lochloosa Harbor.” It’s a new chapter all around on Orange and Lochloosa, as almost every fish camp now has new or nearly new owners. Crickets and grass shrimp are the best bream baits here, fished in and around maidencane and lily pad beds.

The Ocklawaha, Suwannee, and Santa Fe Rivers are also great places to seek panfish these days. Redbellies, shellcracker, and stumpknockers are smacking fly rodder’s popping bugs, Beetle Spins cast with ultralight spin tackle, and live worms and crickets dipped around shoreline cover by cane polers.

As good as the nearby lakes and rivers may be for bream fishing, lots of serious panfishers are making the drive to Harris, Eustis, and Griffin Lakes, near Leesburg. They say the huge panfish these lakes are producing are well worth the trip. Rodman Pool is the top spot locally for bass, but schooling activity on Lake Santa Fe also has bassers taking notice.

East Coast anglers are pulling plenty of whiting onto the beaches from Matanzas Inlet to St. Augustine. Folks fishing the Intracoastal Waterway have done best with redfish, with flounder and trout less abundant. Bluefish fans had just a few fair days with spring-run choppers, and things have been strangely slow since. This leaves the anglers to wonder whether the bluefish run has still not really begun—or whether it’s already finished.

Gulf action remains excellent, with big speckled trout biting well on the grass flats off Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, and Crystal River. Anglers casting shrimp under Cajun Thunder floats or bouncing grubtail jigs over the bottom are scoring dependably. Redfish are taking shrimp and gold spoons fished around shell bars or creek mouths near high tide. Spanish mackerel are chasing schools of baitfish on Seahorse Reef, Spotty Bottom, and deep flats all along the coast. And cobia have arrived to test the stoutest tackle of the gulf fisher. A 75-pound monster was weighed Saturday at Suwannee’s Millers Marina.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


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April

04-27-04
Area anglers enjoyed yet another nice weekend and fast fishing action. Folks fishing crickets and grass shrimp in Lochloosa’s maidencane and pads pulled in several limit and near-limit catches of bluegill and shellcracker. Cane polers willing to risk the chancy access onto Orange Lake filled coolers with big bream as well. As the moon grows toward its May 4th ‘full’ phase, area panfish action only stands to get better.

Rodman Dam offers easily the best freshwater shore fishing in this part of the state. Bream, catfish, and black and striped bass are all biting well just below the spillway. Sunday, Reggie and Donnell Thomas fished shiners in the swift water below the dam to fool a fine brace of fish. Donnell’s striper weighed 9 pounds, and Reggie’s largemouth pulled the scales down to the 7-pound mark.

Greg Culbreath and a 6-pound, 7-ounce bass surprised each other last Friday on Lake Santa Fe. Culbreath was fishing for bream with a wiggler when the big fish bit instead. Somehow, the little bream hook held.

Saltwater results have been equally impressive. Speckled trout numbers are building on the grass flats along the entire Gulf Coast. Redfish seem less widespread, but good red catches have been reported near Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee, and Waccasassa.

Lots of folks thought the sheepshead bite was finished for the season, but Hedemon Reef off Suwannee again gave up lots of fish over the weekend. Seahorse Reef off Cedar Keys is the top spot for Spanish mackerel, and kings have begun to show up in the “Kingfish Hole,” near the reef. At least two fish in the 30-pound class were taken here over the weekend. Cobia fans are fired up these days, since the first good wave of ling has arrived in Big Bend waters. Fish can be found all the way north to Steinhatchee, (where Butch Gentry fooled a nice 38-incher Sunday with a Top Dog lure.) But by far, the best cobia action to date has belonged to the Homosassa-area anglers. Several Homosassa guides have seen or hooked monstrous fish over the last few days–some pushing a hundred pounds. And grouper fishing remains great offshore. The biggest catches continue to come from water more than 60 feet deep, but shallow grouper spots are producing more and more good tallies. One limit of 20 grouper up to 19 pounds was pulled from water 17 feet deep, near Homosassa.

And that’s this week’s fishing report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


04-21-04
This is the busiest time of the year at the The Tackle Box. The weather is great, and no matter what your favorite fish is, it’s probably biting. Folks that go fishing just once or twice a year are bringing in dusty reels for us to fill with fresh line, and asking that annual question, “Where are they biting?”. Well, these occasional fishers might think we’re putting them off when we answer, “Everywhere!”, but it’s really pretty much true.

Freshwaters are a tad lower than we would like–but water levels are still acceptable in most lakes. Here, the bluegill and shell cracker are just beginning to bed, and catches made by anglers using crickets and grass shrimp are growing every week. We know of at least two fine bream limits that were pulled from Lochloosa Saturday. Orange, Little Orange, and Rodman Lakes are also good panfishingchoices–as are the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha Rivers.

Bass anglers are really pleased these days. Impressive catches have come from most area lakes, rivers, and ponds regularly. Soft plastics, hard lures, and live shiners have all accounted for plenty of bass-and some big ones too. The springtime bass spawn is still going on, so shallower shoreline cover is the best bet.

East Coast saltwater fishers are finding hungry sheepshead, lady fish, redfish, and bluefish in the inland waterway during the day–and locals are gigging flounder and casting to nice trout under dock lights at night. Of all these species, the blues may be causing the biggest stir. In April, the largest blues of the year arrive, and several big fish better than 8 pounds have been taken in the last week near Matanzas Inlet.

Gulf fishing remains excellent–although the Spanish mackerel that had been downright thick along the entire coast have been strangely scarce since the big blow early last week. Thankfully, trout fishing is still good on the shallow flats, and grouper action is outstanding in water more than 40 feet deep. King mackerel numbers are growing–a big 35 pounder was boated on Spotty Bottom off Suwannee Friday. And some big cobia have shown up. A Palatka angler pulled into the dock with a 71 pound whopper.


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February

02-24-04
Good, healthy winter rainfall has our nearby lakes (whose levels had dropped through December and early January) looking good again. This, along with good water quality and healthy amounts of vegetation has things looking good for the spring freshwater fishing season.

Speckled perch continue to bite well on Lochloosa and Orange Lakes with about equally good catches coming from vegetation along the shoreline and from deeper, offshore waters. Specks seem to be mostly in shallow, spawning cover on Wauburg Lake, where outboard motors are prohibited; but Rodman and Santa Fe Lake crappie are still being pulled from deep water best. Hal Fly jigs and Beetle Spins are top crappie-catching artificials, and grass shrimp have produced some of the best results on Lochloosa. Live Missouri minnows, though, are the very best all-around bait for speckled perch.

If you have missed the fine speck fishing so far this year, don’t wait much longer, as the best of this crappie-catching season is nearly finished.

Bass fishing is excellent in most of our top largemouth-producing waters—and some impressive catches have even come from lakes sub-par in that department for years. Saturday, an angler casting Creme plastic worms boated 6 good bass up to 5 pounds on Lochloosa. The March 13th bass tournament coming up on this once-top-notch bassing lake may just show that it has made a major comeback.

Lake Santa Fe, Little Orange, and Lake George are all producing great bass action–and Rodman is yielding the biggest fish of all. We heard about several lunker fish again last week–including a whopping twelve-pound fish that took a jig.

Saltwater results were again poor out of most ports, with a few exceptions. Folks scouting the speckled trout fishing that will reopen on Monday, March 1st, say that there are plenty of big fish waiting–especially in Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee waters.

And anglers casting gold spoons are finding lots of nice redfish out of Homosassa. One marina employee said that he had heard more buzz about reds in the last week than all winter up ‘til now.

Grouper may be the best gulf fishing bet of all-just catch a good day to get out to water 50 or more feet deep, and gags are abundant and hungry. Just a couple of weeks back, anglers had to travel all the way out to 70 feet of water to succeed. The water is warming, though, and gags have begun to feed a bit shallower.

That’s this week’s report.
Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


All fishing reports are written by Gary Simpson c) 2004