2005 Fishing Report

2005 Archived Fishing Reports

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For freshwater anglers, significant December rainfall is almost always a very good thing—and the water that fell last Saturday gave avid area boaters and anglers reason to celebrate. The extended spell of very low water we endured not many years back taught many of us to really appreciate such times of plenty.

The wet weekend came during already-normal water levels in area lakes, and it practically insures that nice, high levels will remain into the spring season.

Of course, while the heavy rains were supplementing our liquid savings account, they were also keeping would-be-fishers off the water. When they did return to the spots that had been productive last week, most anglers found that more had changed than the three extra inches of water depth.At first, speckled perch fishers on Orange Lake thought that the big rain had messed their fishing up, altogether. A few fair catches were made out in deep, open water—including a 2-pound, 4-ounce slab that Joe Lyons enticed with a live minnow. The average catch, however, was way off—until someone located the fish. Unexplainably, a large number of crappie had moved under heavy cover—thick aquatic vegetation in Orange’s South End, and particularly, near Redbird Island. When the word got out, limits started coming in again. The speck’s vegetation of choice seems to be the viney growth known best as smartweed—or alligator weed. Cane-polers dropping chartreuse or green crappie jigs through openings in the ‘gator weed have scored very well since the rainy spell.

Another unexpected change greeted Gulf anglers looking to resume their trout-catching in the Steinhatchee River. After taking only a handful of fish, Al Lancaster and Keith Bailey decided to try the flats just south of the river mouth. And that’s where, with water temps in the fifties, they found the fish. Casting topwater lures and jigs with grub tails, the Huston, Georgia fishing buddies filled an impressive limit of thick trout.Nobody knows exactly what combination of conditions winter trout find acceptable in Gulf Coast rivers. Following the rains, something—possibly the reduced salinity in the river—caused many of the fish to apparently head back out onto the chilly flats. So far, no good trout stories have come from other shallow Gulf flats since the weekend—but it could be that nobody has tried.

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

It seems that the speckled perch ‘go off’ especially well only in one area lake each season.

With other nearby lakes extremely low, Santa Fe was the place to search for specks around the turn of the century. Then Lochloosa had a couple of years as, clearly, the top area pond for crappie. There are strong indications that Newnans could well be the choice of cool-weather cane-polers next year.This year, though, Orange Lake is producing specks like no other.The most impressive thing about the ongoing Orange crappie explosion is the size of the fish it continues to yield.

John Courtney walked into The Tackle Box Monday with a slab the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. The Grove Park angler had just come from Orange Lake where, slow-trolling a green Hal Fly with a minnow added; he had caught the crappie of a lifetime. On our State-certified scales, the super-slab weighed 3-pounds, 5-ounces. “They were biting in water 10-feet deep,” said Courtney, “and I had another one to the top that might have been bigger.” Considering that we have only seen and photographed two or three other specks of this size in 53 years of registering outstanding catches, it’s almost unimaginable that one man had hooked a pair of fish in this class in one morning. We knew that a really outstanding speck bite was going on in Orange—-but now, it seems that this may be one of the best of the modern era.

Luke Clukey of Cross Creek, Bill and Myrna Jones of Citra, Doris Sellers of Gainesville, and Sonny Redmon of Gainesville also registered fine Orange Lake speck catches Monday.

In salt water, Gulf grouper are biting well when fishers can make it offshore, and smallish redfish are plentiful in tidal creeks. Creating the biggest buzz, however, are speckled trout. Good trout catches have come from most Gulf ports, but Steinhatchee is the hottest spot of all. Sizable fish remain in the river itself, where Chris and Charles Gross limited both Saturday and Sunday. The shallower coves just outside the river are also loaded with fish. Monday, Cooter Reed cast pink Saltwater Assassin grubs and 52M28 Mirrolures in Biven’s Cove to fool a load of trout up to 6-pounds.East Coast trout seem equally inspired by the falling water temps. Roy Dillinger and his son and nephew cast grubs and Mirrolures in a creek off Matanzas River Monday to score a hefty 15-trout limit.

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

The annual one-two punch of holiday commitments and often-poor weather has taken its usual toll on anglers. Even the guides, camps, and marinas that said fishing was excellent also reported slim fishing activity.One bit of news that will inspire some anglers is the presence of speckled trout in a couple of Gulf rivers. Local fishermen continue to fool Steinhatchee River trout by slow-trolling red-and-silver Mirrolures just inside the river mouth. So far, none of the monstrous 6-to-8 pound examples for which this river is famous; but several fish measuring 23 and 24 inches have been seen.

The Suwannee, too, holds winter trout. Locals aren’t sure whether this batch of trout comes and goes with the tide—or whether they simply don’t bite for long stretches of time. Either way, the river fishing here has been a hit-or-miss proposition. Those that have found the fish in the mood have had success with live shrimp and casting grubtail jigs or Mirrolures. Creeks above and below the Suwannee’s mouth (where red and black drum, too, are abundant) also are good trout bets. And, the grass flats are not yet chilly enough to have run trout away altogether. Some continue to report fast action in favorite warm-weather spots—although these fish tend to be smaller. Out of Crystal River and Homosassa, the shallow flats remain the best zone to hunt for trout.

Suwannee grouper fishers sit ‘on ready’ for another window of weather nice enough to troll Stretch 25 or 30 lures. They know that sizable gags will be waiting in water at least 30-feet deep.

The freshwater report doesn’t change much this week—speckled perch are still the best target in nearby waters and those in Orange Lake are biting best. Several anglers using minnows and jigs took crappie limits Sunday and Monday. Fishers moving closer to shore in search of a wind break have been surprised to find lots of fish in water just 4-to-5 feet deep.

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


They’re not real big on average—and are nowhere near the hardest-fighting of the native North Florida panfish. So why do speckled perch claim such a huge army of angling fans?

Some say that folks get so fired up about crappie because of their physical beauty—but more attribute their great popularity to the fact that they offer incredibly fine table fare. The speck’s willingness to bite a variety of baits and lures, no doubt, plays a big part as well—they are a relatively easy fish to catch. And, too, while a very large bluegill, stumpknocker, or redbelly might touch the 1-pound mark, the crappie doesn’t attain the revered “slab” status until it approaches 2-pounds.

Come to think of it, the speckled perch is at the top of the light tackle anglers’ list for a lot of good reasons.

Prime speck season continues with good all-around results from most nearby lakes. Orange Lake, though, clearly holds claim to the fastest crappie action—and the biggest fish. Saturday, Orange’s specks fed exceptionally well, and some unreal fish were taken. Greg Mott and Mike Lucas were drifting minnows under floats in Orange’s open water while casting Beetle Spins when one of the floats went under. Mott worked the heavy fish in and, at the boat; the Gainesville men saw that they had a super-slab. Later, on The Tackle Box’s State-certified scales, the whopping speck weighed 2-pounds, 15-ounces. That’s the biggest speck we have seen at the store in a long, long while. But it wasn’t the biggest caught that day.Mike Baker of Ocala slow-trolled a curly tail grub tipped with a minnow. Making a slow turn in the south end of Orange, the dedicated crappie specialist hooked another of Orange’s outsize slabs. Later, on taxidermist Mike Hutto’s tested scales; this fish would weigh 3-pounds, even. That’s two of the largest specks seen in these parts in years—and taken from the same lake, on the same day.

Tidal creeks from Steinhatchee to Waccasassa are producing the largest numbers of Gulf trout. Anglers casting Mirrolures, jigs, and live shrimp are filling limits of these—and hooking lots of redfish, as well.Although catches of trout in the west coast rivers has been sporadic, at least one wave of trout has entered the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, and Waccasassa. None have been reported to date in the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers, to their south.

Saturday, John Williams and son, Heath fished with Robbie Rabell out of Cedar Key. Action was slow for redfish and trout, so Williams headed for a set of pilings off Snake Key. Here, with live shrimp, the three Gainesville fishers hauled in 30 good-sized sheepshead.

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

It happens every year. Hunting and holiday seasons arrive, cold fronts get a bit nastier, and thoughts of fishing go out the window for most sportsmen. It’s also a regular occurrence that the holiday season anglers score wonderful catches with little competition.

Bernie Schultz’s sons, Daniel and Trevor, were anxious to do some fish-catching Sunday. So around noon, the four of us headed out from Marjorie Rawlings Park’s boat ramp on Orange Lake. The weather forecast had not been promising, but conditions were not really unpleasant. As we clipped across the lake, we noted that very few boats were on the water. Casting Beetle Spins with gold spinner blades, the boys started catching fish right away—and the bite remained steady until, in failing light and under threatening skies, we ran back in. The afternoon trip had been fun and productive. We released quite a few small crappie and one yearling bass, and back at the park we counted 35 good-sized specks that had made our “keeper” standard.

It sounds like inshore Gulf fishers also had lots of weekend fun. At their first stop Sunday, Captain Jim Keith’s party of five fishermen found themselves on a mother lode of trout. One of the five, Perry G. McDonald, said “I think we might have set some kind of record.” McDonald noted that Capt. Jim shut down his big Honda outboard at 7:51 that morning on a Cedar Key grass flat. When the thirtieth speckled trout hit the ice, he glanced at his watch again, amazed that the six had filled a very nice limit by 8:19. “It was just chaos,” laughed McDonald. “We caught over 300 for the day, and 70-to-90 were of legal size.” Of course, everything taken after the early 28-minute flurry was carefully released. The Gainesville fishers employed Capt. Jim’s favorite technique, fishing Saltwater Assassin grubs under Cajun Thunder rattling floats.

The weekend parties of Suwannee Captain Jon Farmer reported similar success. Farmer’s clients caught sand trout and whiting until they were tired. “All of the deeper cuts and channels out of Suwannee were loaded with fish,” said Farmer. “You could just drop a jig over the side and one would grab it—and they’re as big as I’ve ever seen this year.” Sounds like a hard-to-resist combination…..

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

Very nice weather and great Fall fishing—the sweet combination continues.It seems that, in picking a fishing destination, there really isn’t a bad choice at present. Even so, Orange, Lochloosa, Newnans, and the Suwannee River have to remain at the top of the list for freshwater trips. Speckled perch action is very good on both Orange and Lochloosa. Twenty five-fish limits of sizable crappie are being pulled from each daily by fishers using minnows, jigs, Road Runners, and Beetle Spins.

While Newnans is not putting out many limits it, too, is well worth consideration. Gilbert Sellers docked at Powers Park Monday morning with 17 Newnans crappie up to 2-pounds, 4-ounces. He cast Beetle Spins on the Windsor side of the lake to make his good catch.

In Sunday’s Bass Champions Senior Tour event held out of Marjorie K. Rawlings Park, Keith Chapman and Don House proved that the bass fishing here is coming on strong as well. The Gainesville duo teamed up to easily win the tourney with a 5-bass limit weighing just over 26-pounds. Anchoring the eye-popping bag of fish was a 10.4-pound lunker.

And anglers casting plastic worms, spinnerbaits, and crankbaits on the lower Suwannee River say that the bass action there is outstanding.Trout and redfish fans are finding fast action in near-shore hangouts from Steinhatchee all the way south to Homosassa. Although most continue to seek trout on the grass flats, many of the top catches are already coming from tidal creeks. Strangely, a few Steinhatchee trout fishers are already catching lots of trout by trolling slow-sinking Mirrolures in the river—a technique usually effective only after a hard freeze or two.

Spanish mackerel catches seem to be increasing again. Capt. Rick Spratt and his party fished cut mullet near Crystal River’s Number 1A channel marker to boat limits of Spanish up to a very impressive 29-inches.

Grouper fishing is excellent out of all Gulf ports. Fishing barely in sight of the Steinhatchee coastline, Capt. Jim Hooten and friend whipped 8 nice gags up to 15-pounds Monday while fishing frozen bait on the bottom. Off Homosassa, Capt. Bill Musser found good grouper limits for his three-man party Sunday. The Musser group’s success came while trolling Mann’s Stretch lures in water 20-feet deep off Homosassa.

Action is great in the East Coast’s inland waters. Trout, redfish, and flounder are all abundant (if on the small side.) Big sheepshead are showing up on Matanzas River shell bars, and both pompano and drum are standard fare in the surf.

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

Following a strangely-slow spell, early November fishing action is again excellent—in both fresh and salt waters.

This should be prime time to catch speckled perch in area lakes—and starting last weekend, the results finally started supporting that notion. Folks drifting the mid-lake depths of Orange and Lochloosa generally caught crappie very well using live minnows, crappie jigs, Beetle Spins, and Road Runner spinners. At Lochloosa Harbor Saturday, lots of anglers came in with impressive tallies. One successful pair of anglers, Jerry Cox and Eric Reynolds, fooled scores of crappie while drifting minnows on blue-and-chartreuse jigs. Keeping only the largest, the Keystone Heights friends still filled a combined 50-fish limit of slabby specks weighing from about a pound, up to 2 and a half pounds.

Newnans, Santa Fe, and Wauburg Lakes also received honorable mention from area fishers, but Orange and Loch remain the top nearby destination for crappie.

Bass anglers in the know all say that the Suwannee River deserves the top area billing for largemouths. Plastic worms and crankbaits are attracting lots of bites along the last twenty miles of the lower Suwannee.Nice, stable autumn weather also spells great saltwater fishing on the Gulf Coast.

Steinhatchee, Suwannee, and Cedar Key anglers have had little trouble finding redfish and trout; but it’s the folks a few miles to their south that are most excited. From all reports, the fishing out of Crystal River and Homosassa is on fire.

Redfish and trout are in good supply in the usual shallows near Crystal Rivers’ mouth, but inshore fishers seem much more taken with the finny fare available in King’s Bay—the headwaters of the clear river. It’s not unusual for redfish to gang up in the big bay. Now, though, they’re joined by an astonishing number of snook. Now, snook sightings occur pretty often here, but they have always been notoriously difficult to fool with hook-and-line. These snook are willing to bite. Local angler, Matt Beck has released several recently while casting both live and artificial lures.

It appears that here, more than anywhere else along the Big Bend, offshore anglers are reveling in their last-minute grouper season reprieve. Big limits of grouper are coming in to Crystal River and Homosassa marinas daily. Eye-popping catches include some impossibly-huge gags from incredibly-shallow water. Homosassa guide, William Toney and his party pulled up on the right rock Sunday. After anchoring a fair distance away from it, the group cast and pulled lures past the sweet spot. Eight legal gags ambushed the plugs and wound up on ice. The largest weighed in at a whopping twenty-pounds. The productive rock is in water just nine feet deep.

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

Without question, the biggest fishing news this week is the huge 11th hour reprieve granted everyone with any tie to offshore fishing in Florida. Federal Judge, John Steele overturned the impending and dreaded November/December grouper closure, ruling that the two-month closure for all grouper was too broad and did not comply with rule-making policy. Only the red grouper fishery, after all, was in question in the first place.

Now, along with charter captains, boat and tackle dealers and manufacturers, and countless others with livelihoods at stake, recreational anglers that typically enjoy good action during this season can feel very relieved. All red grouper will still be illegal to possess, but the limit for gags is back to 5 fish of legal size per person, per day.

In the days ahead of the expected November 1 closure, several anglers ran offshore for what they thought would be one final dose of grouper-catching. Windy conditions kept catches to a minimum, but a few did score nicely. Fishing out of Homosassa, Capt. Bill Musser and his party targeted structure in water 18-to-30-feet deep to whip 9 nice keepers by noon. All nine were gags.

The breezy conditions also limited catches from inshore waters on the Gulf. Soon, trout and redfish will be more abundant in wind-protected tidal creeks along the coast—but judging from recent reports, water temperatures are not quite cool enough yet to compel the fish to make that seasonal move.Freshwater action was also unusually-slow through the weekend. Crappie fishers complained of having a tough time slowing their drifts sufficiently to keep jigs and minnows down in the water column. Typical Lochloosa speckled perch catches ran in the 10-to-15 fish range, and Orange Lake results were only a little better. Peggy Posey of A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek beat the pesky breeze by concentrating close to home. She used dead minnows on red-flake crappie jigs to pull 10 specks from the creek itself, within eyesight of the fish camp.

Other light-tackle anglers found weekend success dunking crickets and wigglers in the shoreline cover on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes. This produced a few bluegill and quite a number of warmouth.

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


Fishing is foremost on the minds of few Floridians when a hurricane is approaching. Still, dedicated anglers know that action can be excellent just ahead of a storm’s arrival. Since Wilma’s projected path was not particularly threatening here in North Florida, quite a few did plan trips to the water. And all four days ahead of Wilma’s Monday morning landfall saw fine fresh and salt water catches.

Capt. Jim Keith and his party would agree that the fishing was great on the Cedar Key flats last Thursday. Things actually started a little slow, but the feed increased as the tide rose. Casting Salt Water Assassin jigs under Cajun Thunder rattling floats, the Marshes (visiting from Oklahoma and Tennessee) boated dozens of speckled and sand trout, several nice Spanish mackerel, a few small sharks, and redfish up to 28.5-inches.

At the bigbendsportsman.com Fall Splash held out of Steinhatchee over the weekend, Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club members fared well as usual. Rick Davidson’s 6.2-pound red, along with his 2.1 trout won him the “aggregate catch” prize. Tommy Thompson boated a 3.1-pound trout to win that division, and young Cody Blair won the “Kids Kahuna” award. Despite the cancellation of the offshore portion of the contest, Jerome and Juanita Biles ran offshore where their 10-year-old son, Sean wrestled in his largest grouper ever—a thick 14-pounder.

With the big storm looming, more anglers opted for waters closer to home, so weekend freshwater catches were more numerous than from the coasts.Tuffy Wheeler and his ever-present fishing buddy, Booder stopped by the store Saturday afternoon with a whopping 10.2-pound bass they had just pulled from a nearby lake. Floating shiners, Wheeler had also released bass of 9.1 and 8.2 earlier that day, but decided to show this biggest one around a bit. After receiving due admiration, he released the giant largemouth into Newnans Lake.

When Tuffy invited me to fish his secret spot the next day, I naturally jumped at the chance. Surprisingly, the weather was ideal for fishing—dark and damp. Given his success the day before, I figured Tuffy and his canine buddy would show me some really big bass. I wasn’t wrong. During a late-morning flurry of bites, the veteran big-fish specialist hauled in lunkers that weighed 9.6 and 9.8-pounds on his hand-held digital scales. Veeery impressive.

Weekend speckled perch results were also good, with Lochloosa and Orange Lakes again yielding the top creels. The specks here are still out in deeper water and taking crappie jigs and live minnows best. On Saturday alone, slab specks weighing 2-pounds 2-ounces, 2-04, and 2-05 were weighed at A family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek.

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

There are weeks when it’s not easy to find truly good fishing bets to pass on, but presently, that’s anything-but the case. Along with this beautiful stretch of fall weather have come far more good reports than we can fit into this space.

Excellent saltwater action has been the rule for a while now, and the good trout, redfish, and grouper stories from the gulf have not let up. Steinhatchee-to-Suwannee and Crystal River-to-Homosassa seem to be the most productive coastal zones for trout and reds that seem most abundant in unusually-shallow water. There are only a few days left to get in some grouper action before the recently-mandated November and December closure. The top spots for this appear to be Steinhatchee and Homosassa, where nice limits of gags can be found in water just 30-to-35 feet deep.

The freshwater action that sputtered over recent weeks has improved dramatically. Redbellies and bass are keeping Suwannee and Santa Fe River anglers happy, and crappie in nearby lakes appear to have finally realized that the water is cooling down and it’s time to feed.

Folks drifting minnows and chartreuse, green, and white Hal Fly Jigs in water from 6-to-9 feet deep are finding Lochloosa specks more than willing to bite. Still, the largest seen at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp—and from Newnan’s Lake—have been just a little over a pound. For ‘slab’ specks, Orange Lake is, hands down, the place to go. Outsize specks seen over and since the weekend at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek include Rae Guinn’s 2-pounder, Alfred Thomas’ 2-04, and Carl Young’s thick 2-pound, 9-ounce specimen. Young had 19 other big specks to go with his super-slab. John Isaac had 18 nice specks up to 2-02. And seven-year-old Richard Cobb used his trusty SpongeBob rod and reel to subdue the pound-and-a-quarter speck that has him on top in the youth division of the fish camp’s monthly ‘big speck’ contest.

While most thoughts here are on the suddenly-active big crappie, Randall Tate and his fishing buddy proved that warm-weather panfish can still be pulled from Orange as well. Monday, they docked with a fine 70-fish mix of bluegill, warmouth, and shellcracker they tempted with grass shrimp.

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

An unkind combination of circumstances has made things pretty deserted of late in offshore Big Bend waters. The newly-reduced grouper bag limit, recent outbreak of Red Tide, and the soaring price of gas have understandably caused most gulf anglers to place grouper fishing on the ‘back burner.’ Only one thing can cause an angler to forget these obstacles—and that thing is happening.

A few offshore anglers, realizing that they had better get a big dose of grouper-catching in before the recreational season closes for November and December, have reported very good action out of several gulf ports.

Take, for instance, Tommy and Jennifer Bullington. The Adel, Ga. couple fished Saturday out of Steinhatchee. Idling over a patch of live bottom only 12.5-miles off Marker One, their recorder suddenly showed lots of fish. They anchored and dropped squid to the bottom, just thirty feet below. In a short time, their fish box contained a six-fish grouper limit that included a pair of 30-inch gags—very impressive for a spot so near shore.

While the Bullingtons were scoring big offshore, many more inshore anglers were also finding success. George Hagan and Al Lancaster cast jigs in the shallows south of the Steinhatchee River to box nine good trout up to 26-inches, and a pair of 25-inch redfish. The Georgia buddies returned to the productive flat on Monday to repeat the good catch.

Impressive results from the weekend and early this week came also from Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa.On the East Coast, big ‘bull’ reds dominate the inshore report. Folks soaking live or cut mullet at Matanzas Inlet are hooking reds far too large to keep with great regularity. Big speckled trout are also a top bet in the inland waterway—but only at night. Savvy locals are busting very large trout while fishing live shrimp around the lighted boat docks in the wee hours.

The most important trick is to be stealthy and make the bait look natural. These guys use only a number six Kahle hook in the shrimp—no weight at all. Bass fishing continues to slowly improve in most area lakes and rivers as water temps move downward, but it’s the speckled perch that most freshwater fishers are eyeing with most anticipation. Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes are already producing pretty good numbers of specks from their deeper, open waters. Most anglers are releasing the smaller crappie. Even when taking only the better-than-hand-size fish, 20-to-30 fish catches are common.

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


Between storms and Red Tide in the Gulf, and over spraying of herbicide in local lakes, this has been a particularly challenging late summer season for anglers. Through it all, the fall season has arrived to surprisingly good all-around fishing. With almost no competition from fellow anglers, folks casting grub tail jigs and topwater lures are enjoying excellent trout and redfish action out of most Gulf ports. Casting Normark Skitter Pops off Rock Point near Steinhatchee, Jason and Janice Oliver limited on trout and redfish both Friday and Saturday. Friday was especially good to the Lula, Ga. couple, as their reds were stout 26-inchers and none of their ten trout measured under 18-inches.

Ten guides took 30 employees of the Caldwell Group to the Crystal River/Homosassa flats Monday and Tuesday. The workers represented part of the company’s top sales people in the Southeast, and were being rewarded with the trip to Crystal River’s Plantation Inn. They could choose golf, a health spa, or guided fishing trips. The majority picked ‘fishing,’ and were happy they did. Several said they had experienced the best fish-catching of their lives. Redfish, trout, mangrove snapper, and Spanish mackerel were the top targets.

Anglers working the inland waters of the Atlantic Coast say that tarpon suddenly seem to be everywhere. A few silver kings have been jumped with artificial plugs, but most have fallen for live mullet. Aside from the tackle-busting tarpon, flounder are the best bets in the Intracoastal Waterway.

While speckled perch action continues to build and bream catches to fade, a handful of fishers still manage to haul in big catches of bream. Fishing grass shrimp in Lochloosa Sunday, Billy Kidd and Randall Tate boxed a nice bluegill, shellcracker, and warmouth mix of 62 fish.

Plenty of crappie limits are being pulled from Lochloosa’s depths, but on average, the larger specks are coming from the lake at the other end of Cross Creek. Roberta Culbreath was drifting a minnow in Orange’s open water Sunday when a 2-pound, 1-ounce slab pounced on it.

Monday, Donnie Bauknight docked at A Family Tradition Fish Camp with 23 Orange Lake specks—pretty much an average number. This, though, was far from an average catch. The total weight of the stringer was 38-pounds.Bass anglers enjoyed good weekend action on both lakes, but unlike last weekend, no lunker fish were reported.

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

Football season is here, and the first slight twinges of fall can be felt.They might not be aware of the first fact, but speckled perch certainly have reacted to the second.

In fact, there may not be a better indication that the season is changing than by gauging the diminishing bream action against the increasing activity of crappie. That ‘changing of the panfish’ is clearly at hand. The bluegill that reigned through the hot months as the top target of light tackle and cane pole enthusiasts will soon cease to gather around trees, pads, and grass. Specks, on the other hand, will begin to feed like there’s no tomorrow out in mid-lake depths on North Florida lakes.Studious anglers that keep track of these things can mark the just-passed Labor Day weekend on their calendars as the time that the crappie first celebrated the fall of 2005.

In spite of a pesky wind and intermittent rain, fishers that spent the Labor Day weekend on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes were on hand for the specks’ initial cool-weather feed. Dale Schock and Mike Figler fished minnows and small jigs in water 6-to-8-feet deep on Lochloosa Saturday. At noon, the Jacksonville pair already had 25 good fish, so they took a break at Lochloosa Harbor. After the siesta, they bounced back through the chop to the lake’s north end. Only keeping the larger fish, they boxed 20 more. “The windier it got, the better they bit,” said Schock. Robbie and Rachel Smith docked with 49 Lochloosa specks, and the Goodwins finished with 22 nice-sized fish. The crappie bite will only improve as water temperatures ease downward over the coming months.

The less-than-ideal weekend weather was more damaging to saltwater angling. Gulf Coast fishers offered only a handful of trout and redfish reports, and even Steinhatchee and Homosassa scallopers found the shellfish-gathering tough. The last day of scallop season, by the way, is Saturday, September 10th.

The most noteworthy weekend saltwater catch was another of those out-of-place species—again out of Homosassa. A trout angler fishing shrimp within easy sight of land fooled instead a yellowtail snapper. The fish was on the small side at 13-inches, but is the second of these taken near Homosassa in recent weeks.

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


Remembering last year’s hurricane season, most North Central Florida residents feel fortunate these days to have been spared the nightmare that Florida Panhandle, Louisiana and Mississippi residents are going through. After watching storms and battling the worst of the summer heat, many locals are starting to think about heading back to the water—and they will likely be pleased at the late-summer action that waits.

Just a few days remain in this year’s scallop season—and these will probably offer the best shellfishing yet. The clear flats a few miles north of Steinhatchee and the long zone of spotty bottom off the St. Martin’s Keys (just above Homosassa) are the spots to head from now through September 10th.

Shrimping in the St. John’s River seems to be finally improving to the point of being a worthwhile pursuit. The shrimp run started late this year, and the crustaceans are still smaller on average than most folks would prefer. Also, a potentially-dangerous blue green algae bloom has some thinking twice about spending lots of cast-netting time on the big river.

Inshore saltwater action is good on both coasts. On the gulf side, redfish, trout, and Spanish mackerel stories have ranged from decent to excellent lately. Cedar Key fishers have found plenty of all three; with reds abundant on shell bars near high tide, trout loaded on the flats south of Snake Key, and Spanish tearing through baitfish on Seahorse Reef when the minnow schools are present.

Inland waterway anglers are finding nice numbers of redfish and flounder near Matanzas Inlet, and unusually-large numbers of gafftopsail catfish are in the river as well. While not a widely-sought species, these are a very edible and hard-fighting fish. One jumbo 12-pounder was boated over the weekend.

Fishing in local lakes is also good. Bluegill limits remain common on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes—with both crickets and grass shrimp producing. Lochloosa and Orange Lake speckled perch are already showing early signs of the activity that normally commences when the nights begin to cool noticeably. Fair numbers of near-slabs can be found by drifting minnows in the mid-lake depths.

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

As one ‘special season’ on the Gulf Coast winds down, another on the opposite side of Florida is gathering steam.

With lots of early-season rainfall and unusually-dark grass flats, the Steinhatchee scalloping season has been little better than a bust. Fortunately, the flats north of the river have cleared over recent weeks, and scalloping off Dallas Creek and Grassy Island will be excellent for shell fishers able to take late-season trips there before the season’s September 10 closure. The best Big Bend scallop area this season has been the large, sandy flat off the St. Martin’s Keys between the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers. In this area, the final two weeks of the season will also offer scallop fans plenty of jumbo bivalves.

Lots of folks were beginning to worry that saltwater shrimp had skipped this year’s spawning run up the St. John’s River. Happily, they have finally started to show up. They’re small and nearly a month late, but at least present. Cast-netters as far upriver as Palatka are gathering fair numbers of shrimp, but so far, they’re a bit small for eating.

Redfish continue to bite well on shell bars and grassy points all along the west coast—- good reports came in this week from Suwannee, Cedar Keys, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa. Considering the heat, speckled trout are being unusually cooperative this season. Surface lures are calling up nice-sized fish in water 5-to-8 feet deep off Cedar Key and Waccasassa during early morning hours; and grubtail jigs fished under Cajun Thunder rattling floats are working through the day. Often, August trout fishers have to move out into more than 15-feet of water to find sizable fish, but the deepest anyone has mentioned for trout catches this summer has been 12-feet.

Spanish mackerel catches have been consistently good on sandy humps off Crystal River, Seahorse Reef off Cedar Key, and Spotty Bottom off Suwannee. If they’re this plentiful in August, the upcoming fall run is likely to be a barn-burner.

Bass are generally tough to locate in nearby fresh waters these days, but bluegill action remains dependable for cane-pole fishers using grass shrimp and crickets—especially on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes.

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

On most local fresh waters that haven’t been wrecked by the DEP’s overwhelming application of herbicide, the bluegill bite is again gathering steam as the August full moon approaches. Newnans and Orange seem to have produced the top results this week—to cane pole fishers using grass shrimp and crickets for bait. In a month or two, the best panfishing bet will shift to speckled perch—but for now, bream remain this areas’ top fresh water target. Four Newnans Lake cane pole specialists popped in the store Tuesday to report filling bream limits, and Sonny Redmon maxed out on Orange Lake panfish both Monday and Tuesday..

Still, by far, the best fishing stories from the last several days have come from coastal waters.

Decades ago, when even seasoned redfishers believed that their favorite fish couldn’t be caught until fall, a couple of young anglers found that they could find large summertime spot tails by casting bass lures around certain Waccasassa Bay grassy points around high tide. Through the years, they would come to target the full moons during the hottest months as the best time to find bull reds with spoons and surface baits.

These days, none of this is any longer secret. But although lots of fishers chase hot-weather reds along the Gulf Coast, this year’s anything-but-banner redfishing has inspired less than the usual enthusiasm.

Sometimes things change quickly on the Gulf fishing scene, and redfish are suddenly in all the right spots from Homosassa to Horseshoe. Cedar Key and Waccasassa Bay anglers caught and released loads of reds over the weekend. The abrupt arrival of unusually-chunky reds prompted Spec Hayward of the Waccasassa Fishing Club to say, “I don’t know where they’ve been, but they sure had plenty to eat wherever it was.”

Dog Days speckled trout action is clearly above average; and shrimp and jigs fished under Cajun Thunder floats produced nice weekend limits out of Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, and Crystal River. Spanish mackerel remain active and under-pursued on Seahorse Reef.

The Steinhatchee grass flats are finally clearing, and producing better scalloping results with only a couple of weeks left in the season. Still, the large flat area off the St. Martin’s Keys near Homosassa remains the top Big Bend shellfishing choice. If a scallop-finding score had been kept between the Steinhatchee and Homosassa/Crystal River areas, the southern zone would have won this season in a rout.

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

Overall catches in salt water and some freshwaters continue to run well above average for mid-summer. However, a long-lasting and overwhelming DEP contract to eradicate water weeds has greatly reduced angling effort in most nearby lakes. If you were on hand to enjoy the excellent springtime fishing on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, but haven’t seen them since, then you would likely be appalled at the change that the chemicals have brought over the last two months. One fisher said he couldn’t believe he was on the same lake.

Hopefully, allotments for the weed-killing compounds will run out before there’s nothing left on the lakes vegetation-wise at all.Newnans Lake has, so far, escaped the full brunt of the chemical blanket, and bluegill fishing here is great. Dozens of bank fishers and boaters using crickets, grass shrimp, and worms have pulled in fine bluegill limits every day for a week.

Not as many anglers are planning trips to the gulf these days, and that’s fine with those that are. They have some top-notch fishing and scalloping all to themselves. Trout limits remain common—and it’s not necessary to seek them on the deepest flats like it often is during the summer heat. Surface lures, grubtail jigs, and live and cut baits are all accounting for lots of good trout out of every port from Horseshoe Beach to Homosassa.Redfish action has only improved as the shallows have heated up. Capt. John Leibach and friends hauled in around a hundred sizable reds Saturday near Pepperfish Keys. They also boated several nice trout and released three huge black drum.

Suwannee and Cedar Key anglers are finding large Spanish mackerel on Seahorse Reef and Spotty Bottom, and in water at least 40 feet deep, grouper limits are not hard to find. Of course, grouper limits are easier to fill starting today—with the new, stricter regulations in place.

While scalloping remains best between Homosassa and Crystal River, Steinhatchee shellfishers enjoyed their best weekend of the entire season. A rare combination of clearer water and bright sunshine enabled many to collect limits of the prized bivalves north of the river near Grassy Island and Piney Point.

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

With the arrival of the Dog Days of summer, angling activity on local waters has diminished. This, of course, is a normal and expected happening. Since water levels are in such nice shape this year, we had hoped that this might be an above-average season. At present, though, it appears that very hot weather has brought with it pretty standard fare.

In fresh waters, bass are largely inactive during the heat of the day, and not many bassers seem to fish at night any more. Following an outstanding mid-July flurry, hot-weather-loving bluegill and warmouth have lately been less than eager to jump on the crickets, grass shrimp, and wigglers offered by cane pole fishers.

Even the two special opportunities that are normally going on at this time of year, scalloping and shrimping, are not firing on all cylinders. The usually-clear flats between Steinhatchee and Pepperfish Keys are dark this season, and have yielded few of the popular shellfish. Steinhatchee scallop seekers have managed to locate one productive zone–a few miles north of the river near Grassy Island. This is, however, a relatively small area and said to be mighty crowded on weekends. Fortunately, there is one excellent stretch of gulf, where scallopers are picking up limits with great regularity. That’s the expanse of sand and grass off the St. Martin’s Keys, near the Homosassa Rivers’ mouth. Although there is a lot of competition here from other shellfishers, this area is large enough to accommodate everyone. Some folks are using ramps at Crystal River–then making the longer run south to the scalloping hotspot in an effort to avoid crowded-boat-ramp-headaches.

The second seasonal opportunity, and highly anticipated by many, has simply not happened at all as yet. The run of saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River is usually going strong by August—but locals that religiously keep track of their progress say that the river shrimp have not arrived in any kind of numbers.

That leaves only one fishing category to cover—and, thankfully, saltwater fishing has remained good this far into the summer heat. The best reports have come from south of Cedar Keys. Speckled trout are taking cut bait and grubs on deeper grass flats, and redfish can be found on grassy points near high tide. Spoons, shrimp, and cut bait are all accounting for reds near the upper end of the 18-to-27-inch legal range. Spanish mackerel are often mentioned by gulf fishers these days, and big cobia are still around to test tackle. Inland waters on the East Coast are also a good angling bet, producing nice catches of flounder, redfish, and increasing numbers of mangrove snapper.

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


Just ahead of last week’s full moon, every North Florida angling zone we cover was sporting at least one exceptional bite. Several area lakes produced consistent 50-bream stringers, hot-weather trout were unusually active on gulf flats, and anglers casting the East Coast inland waters were enjoying the fastest flounder bite in years. While things have settled into more standard mid-summer fare since the moon began to wane, action remains at least a little above par.

Anglers casting the strangely-deserted grass flats just south of Steinhatchee are finding good numbers of Spanish mackerel and bluefish chasing baitfish schools. Their primary targets, however have been scarce here. Some believe the trout, like the scallops, have slipped away into more saline haunts. Finally, a few Steinhatchee scallop-seekers have located a concentration of bivalves and filled limits this week. The productive area is the large sandy stretch off Grassy Island, about six miles north of the river.

Redfish and trout catches remain good on the flats off Suwannee and Cedar Key, but camps and marinas are hearing fewer Spanish and cobia stories.The clear flats between Crystal River and Homosassa hold this season’s motherlode of scallops. Last weekend, several scallopers returned to McRae’s at Homosassa complaining. Not that they hadn’t found plenty of shellfish—that they had filled their limits too quickly.

Last week’s bluegill outbreak was most unusual for mid-July, and it was surprising to see hundreds of area cane-polers ready to fall out in wilting heat to reap their share of the sudden bounty. Newnans and Orange Lakes continue to produce nice bunches of bluegill and warmouth—but for now, the all-out bite appears to be finished. Bream enthusiasts will, no doubt, again pay close attention to Newnans’ shady shallows as the August moon nears its ‘full’ stage.

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

The area fishing scene quickly returned to normal following another hurricane scare a little more than a week ago. Fresh water action actually never did really diminish—just the number of fishers.

Newnans has been the hottest of all local lakes in the bream department. Pat LeBlanc and William Bradshaw fished the cypress trees on Newnans’ north end late last week. With crickets set 18-to-24 inches under tiny floats, they pulled in a good mess of huge, two-hand bluegill. LeBlanc offered this advice to anyone looking to duplicate their success—“just keep a constant look out for wasp nests.”

Friday, Jimmy Johnson and Chris Allen came into the store with a 6-foot stringer nearly filled with bluegill, shellcracker, and catfish. The stringer was so heavy that Johnson had to tie a big stick on the end to pick it up. Amazingly, the fishermen had pulled all these in while fishing from shore at Palm Point. Word got out quickly, and Saturday morning, 18 vehicles were parked along Lakeshore Drive at the Palm Point Park entrance. Since then, the vehicle count at the city-owned park has numbered in the twenties each day, and countless fish have fallen to shorebound fishers using live worms and crickets for bait.

Orange Lake is another top panfishing bet. Fishing grass shrimp Thursday with Billy Evans, Rhesa Bostick hauled in a giant Orange Lake bluegill that would weigh 1-pound, 6-ounces on our certified scales.

Doris Sellers and Alberta Taylor rented a boat from Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek, and eased out into Orange. They decided to try one of the first beds of lily pads they came to. In this spot, the ladies pulled in 45 bream, 25 specks, and 6 catfish. They used grass shrimp for bait.The scalloping scene is very different this season. Instead of crowding the now-dark Steinhatchee grass flats, the masses of shellfish seekers are snorkeling the clear flats off the St. Martins Keys, near the Homosassa Rivers’ mouth. One report had 700+ boats in this zone last Saturday—and almost all of these boats filled scallop limits.

Saltwater fishing has held up well in the summer heat. Trout and Spanish mackerel catches have been great out of Cedar Key and Suwannee, and redfish and flounder are biting well at Matanzas Inlet, despite Matanzas River’s dark, tannin-stained water.

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

Every Tuesday, we call fish camps and marinas for the stories and reports later relayed to area anglers in this report. I really didn’t expect there to have been much fishing activity while checking with marinas along the Big Bend coast today, and sure enough, there wasn’t. I did learn, however, that gulf coast businesses received more damage from the effects of Hurricane Dennis that I had expected.

At Homosassa, Nancy Bushey of McRae’s said that the storm-pushed tide rose Sunday at the alarming rate of 4-inches per hour. After all, though, the biggest problem here in the aftermath was about three inches of river sludge standing in the bait house.

With the buffer of King’s Bay working in their favor, the Crystal River folks at Pete’s Pier watched water rise to within 6-inches of the store. Fortunately, that was as far as it got. Even with 2 ½ feet of water over the docks, the big vessels moored there caused and received only minor damage.The water, 3-feet above normal high tide, also failed to reach the store at the Waccasassa Fishing Club. Speck Hayward said there was one brief, fierce storm cell that took a number of limbs down, and minor damage from them was the worst that Dennis could send to the Gulf Hammock resort.

From Cedar Key northward, things got worse. Battering waves took out the Island Hopper boat docks. The sandwich shop at Fishbonz was flooded, but fortunately, the adjacent tackle store was built a little higher, and was spared inundation from the impressive storm surge. Cedar Key Marina also came out well. They had a few docks washed out—but these have already been repaired.

Steinhatchee marinas took the hardest hit in our coverage area. The storm surge at high tide Sunday pushed four extra feet of water up the river, flooding every one. At the Sea Hag, water was 22-inches up the tackle store wall, but the owners expected to be up and running again by Thursday. Ideal Marina’s Jody Peters said that their goal was to have the store and boat lift back in operation by the weekend. The motel rooms, though, will take a little longer. Henry Garcia of West Wind Fish Camp had 25-inches of water in his tackle shop—and rampant flooding in his hotel rooms. Garcia said this is the seventh time in his 20-years here that this kind of flooding has occurred. “Afraid I’ve got no fishing report this week,” he said, “I did see a mullet jump a few minutes ago.”

Glad these folks can keep a sense of humor in a tough time.

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

Heat and rain are companions of the summertime fisher in Florida. To be dependably successful, one must become pretty comfortable with both.Saturday had plenty of each element—but Dwayne Cole knew that the fish would bite between rain storms. Drifting minnows in Lochloosa, Cole managed 20 nice speckled perch before noon and had his boat back on the trailer before the most serious rain arrived.

Other holiday weekend fishers found lots of warmouth willing to bite crickets and wigglers around south-end trees and pads on Lochloosa.Orange and Newnans Lakes produced good messes of big bluegill, and folks casting small lures and spinners with ultra-light tackle pulled in cooler-full catches of Santa Fe River redbellies.

Saltwater fishing is holding up well despite high—and rising–water temperatures in the shallows.

The brutes that some gulf anglers love to chase during the warmest months were hooked pretty often over the weekend. At Cedar Key alone, several big cobia and black drum were boated, a couple of folks jumped tarpon, and sharks were seemingly everywhere.

While speckled trout can still be found on relatively shallow grass flats, many of the more serious trout fishers are now searching considerably deeper haunts. Steinhatchee guides are concentrating in water 8-to-15 feet deep and they’re finding sizable fish. Several of them have, however, reported an unsettling problem. Opportunistic sharks are taking their hooked trout completely or in part, while clients are pulling them in. This is happening often enough that a number of captains have lamented the situation.And this news, of course, will likely be quite disconcerting to the throngs of scallopers snorkeling about the nearby shallows.

Opening-week scallop reports, by the way, were pretty good—certainly better than last year—at Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Crystal River, and Homosassa. Out of Steinhatchee, the water is generally clearer north of the river, and many scallopers are heading in that direction. Those that do head south say they must make it past Rocky Creek before the water clears sufficiently to see the shellfish. Arguably, the best scalloping spot of all so far this season has been the “Birdrack” area off Homosassa and Crystal River.

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


Few season openings in the realm of outdoor sports draw as much enthusiasm as the one at hand. Most likely, scalloping season is attractive to so many folks because anyone can succeed at gathering the tasty shellfish. It’s not uncommon to see a family houseboat carrying three generations on the clear Steinhatchee or Crystal River grass flats. And all aboard will hit the water in search of the blue-eyed prizes.

As usual, preseason scouting trips indicate good numbers of scallops present near Steinhatchee, and Homosassa—but again as usual, their average early-season size leaves something to be desired. The big shark scare that’s presently in the minds of Floridians is another potential minus heading into the season. But don’t look for these drawbacks to discourage many in the army of hardcore scallop-seekers that views July first as the top on-the-water tradition of the year.

The mass of boats that will converge on the zones known to hold lots of scallops will create at least one big ‘minus’ for folks trying to catch hook-and-line fare. Most Steinhatchee inshore fishing guides dread the big shellfish-gathering season. Some shift their business waters to gulf stretches that are not good for scalloping, while others take a month or two break from guiding.

Earlier this year, anglers found far more trout and redfish near Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Crystal River, and Homosassa than on the darker flats off Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Waccasassa. Fortunately for hook-and-line fishers, the in-between stretch of coast has really come around over the last month, and fishers should have plenty of productive water free from the shellfishing masses.

Although many are short of the 15-inch minimum length, speckled trout are abundant on Cedar Key flats. Many successful anglers are casting jigs with grub tails–some under Cajun Thunder rattling floats. Waccasassa Bay is likewise producing lots of trout—and Waccasassa anglers have come home with some of the top redfish tales from anywhere along the coast. Live shrimp, cut bait, and gold spoons are all redfish catchers when cast around grassy points and creek mouths near Waccasassa. Just make sure your shallow redfishing is done near high tide. The Bay is a well-known propeller destroyer for anglers unfamiliar with it.

Flounder are the top targets of East Coast anglers working inland waters. Most reports are similar, and include good numbers of flatfish taken in Matanzas River by anglers working jigheads with live mud minnows down sandy, sloping dropoffs. Most of the flounder are 13-to-17-inches long.Bluegill remain the stars of the freshwater scene. Most are congregated around shallow cover in Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes. Crickets, grass shrimp, and wigglers are the favorite baits.

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

Ah, summer…..long days, wicked heat, ‘skeeters, and those afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Along with these trials, local anglers know that this is a great season for fish-catching—especially during years like this, when our lakes and rivers have plenty of water.

Close to home, folks fishing ahead of the full moon that just passed pulled in plenty of Wauburg, Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lake bluegill and warmouth. And Lochloosa and Newnans continue to produce a handful of nice-sized specks for crappie diehards that drift out deep with minnows. David Hood and Steve Murray split their fishing day Sunday between Lochloosa’s deep open water and its shallower vegetation. The result was a mixed bag of 50 sizable specks, bluegill, shellcracker, and warmouth. The local anglers fooled the specks with live minnows, and the rest bit crickets.

The Suwannee River rose a few feet following heavy rains to our north, slowing its output of bass and panfish. Savvy river fishers simply took their crickets, earthworms, and small spinners around the corner to the much-clearer Santa Fe River for some fine Fathers Day Weekend redbelly tallies.

The hottest spot for gulf coast speckled trout fishing seems to have shifted southward from the Steinhatchee and Homosassa flats to the Cedar Key area. Live shrimp, cut bait, and grub tail jigs are all helping anglers fill limits around Snake, Seahorse, and North Keys. The cobia migration is at full speed, and lots of big fish are being spotted and hooked here, as well. Like cobia, tarpon are on hand. Many more are spotted than are hooked—and many more are hooked than landed. Add Spanish mackerel to the great fishing choices off Suwannee and Cedar Keys. Spotty Bottom and Seahorse Reef have held big numbers of the sharp-toothed predators of late.East Coast action is excellent. Impressive catches of flounder, whiting, and black drum are coming from inland waters near Matanzas Inlet, and offshore anglers are scoring with a wide variety of striking and bottom fish. Fred Miles, Frank Segui, and Jason Hadjis found an amazing array of sought-after species about 30 miles off Matanzas Sunday. The trio fished for a while on the bottom to box a bunch of grouper and snapper. Then, they were equally successful fishing for upper-water-column feeders—adding cobia, dolphin, and kingfish to their eye-popping catch.

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

This season’s first named storm churned up the Gulf of Mexico last weekend, pretty much nixing angling efforts throughout the state.

Although weekend reports were very scarce from most of the gulf coast, the 21st Annual Cobia Tournament held by the Homosassa Fish & Game Association went on as planned—and catches were surprisingly good. The 48.08-pound ling boated by Louis Bredice topped the 150-boat field, winning the happy angler a fat $5500.00 paycheck. In the grouper category, David Bozeman braved the sloppy seas to find the winning 15-pound gag; and Greg Accola’s 3.60-pound ‘speck’ topped the trout division.

Things should calm down and clear up along the coast this week—and good trout, redfish, grouper, and mackerel results should resume.

We enter storm season this year with area lakes and rivers in near-ideal shape. Another big dose of tropical storm rainfall could give us too-much-water fits—but for now, the freshwater situation is just right.Good bass catches are much harder to come by since the early-summer heat started bearing down, but anglers casting plastic worms in the Ocklawaha River just below Rodman Dam have been hooking lots of good-sized fish. Fishers in boats and casting from shore are reporting success here.Panfish, of course, are the freshwater kings during hot weather, and they are biting well. Newnans, Orange, and Lochloosa Lakes are good bets for bluegill and warmouth—with crickets, grass shrimp, and red worms all good baits. Fans of redbreasted sunfish (more commonly called ‘redbellies’) are even more excited than usual now that the prime time for their favorite fish is here. Some longtime redbelly fishers say that the colorful, tasty, and scrappy bream are bigger and more abundant than ever on the Suwannee River above Fanning Springs. Popping bugs, Beetle Spins, and tiny crawfish or grasshopper-imitating lures are all accounting for great catches of our most beautiful panfish.

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

Following an unusual spell of extended spring weather, fish are finally settling into their standard summertime patterns. Bass anglers are finding the midday bite to be increasingly tough to find, and are concentrating their efforts more during early morning and late evening hours. A few big bites can be found during the heat of the day, though. Saturday afternoon, big bass specialist, Tuffy Wheeler stopped by the store with a huge lunker he had just pulled from a smaller, nearby lake. On our tested scales, the beauty weighed 12-pounds, 2-ounces. We were all delighted when Wheeler then released the giant female into Newnan’s Lake.

Bluegill and warmouth are the most often-caught fish in area lakes, and will be for a few more months. The bream are congregated in grass and pads for a season-long spawning session that will increase around ‘new’ and ‘full’ moon phases. Lochloosa, Orange, and Newnans Lakes are the most popular bream lakes in this area, and crickets, grass shrimp, and worms are the top baits. Over the Memorial Day weekend, all three lakes produced panfish very well.They probably won’t be there for much longer, but gulf coast speckled trout can still be found on the shallowest flats. In fact, casters of grubs and shallow-running artificials are still locating most of the biggest fish in water less than 3-feet deep near Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach. Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Waccasassa Bay flats are also loaded with fish. One of the top trout-catching tricks is to cast a jighead adorned with a Saltwater Assassin grub and a Fishbites strip—set under Cajun Thunder rattling float.

Everyone likes to battle big fish, and this is a top time to expect one to find your bait. Early-season cobia are all over the deeper flats. Dozens were hooked by holiday weekend anglers—but the 54-inch behemoth taken off Cedar Key by Capt. Danny Allen’s party was the best fish we know of that was actually boated. It is said that the battle lasted for two full hours.

East coast anglers, too, are reporting lots of ling. Fishing only a couple hundred yards off the beach just outside Matanzas Inlet Sunday, Fred Miles whipped two cobia that weighed 25 and 45 pounds.

Spanish mackerel are hard to figure this year—seemingly everywhere one day, then scarce the next. Grouper action is excellent in water anywhere from 30-to 80-feet deep, and bottom fishers are trollers are both scoring great catches with pleasing consistency.

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

With the building summer heat, things are changing on the North Florida fishing front. Most of these changes are positive for saltwater anglers, but a few are not if you prefer fishing lakes and rivers.

In fresh water, count bass on the ‘not’ side of that ledger. Just in the last few days, action in the shallowest cover on most area lakes has diminished. Santa Fe and Lochloosa are the best largemouth-producing lakes right now, and soft plastics remain the most effective lures. Remember, Lochloosa and Orange bass from 15-to-24-inches long must be released immediately. Last week, I mistakenly reported that range as 14-to-24 inches. Good anglers will, of course, continue to find fish around deeper structure—but the ‘easy’ bite along the banks likely is finished for a few months. Speckled perch, too, have scattered into the open water depths. Occasional crappie will be pulled from the deeper haunts, but twenty five-fish limits will likely be scarce until fall.

Bluegill and warmouth are the hot weather-loving freshwater species that are biting best, and they’ll continue to through the summer. Lochloosa, Orange, and Newnans Lakes are all producing big numbers of bream, but at present, Newnans is the hottest panfishing spot of all. Crickets are the top bait for Newnans bream.

Salt water fishers are finding increasing numbers of their favorite targets—fish like trout, redfish, and grouper. And now, the migrating species are showing up wholeheartedly. Spanish and king mackerel are tearing through baitfish schools off the entire gulf coast, and cobia stories can be heard after each weekend. Most of these battles with the powerful ling end with the fish still swimming, but cobes measuring 43 ½ and 44 ½ inches did hit ice chests last Sunday. Tarpon, too, are arriving. On the clear flats off Homosassa, the arrival of the ‘Silver Kings’ is as heralded among hard-core fly fishers as is the start of football season to rabid pigskin fans. Already, a few Homosassa tarpon in the 100-pound class have been jumped by fly fishers.

East Coast action is heating up as well. Cobia are on hand a short distance off the beaches. Some are following huge manta rays, and others hanging with bait pods. Inland waters are producing reds, trout, mangrove snapper, and flounder. Two boats had big flounder catches last weekend at Devils Elbow Fish Camp. One group of fishers docked with 17 flatfish, and the other tallied fourteen.

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

With stable and nice May weather finally here, fishers in almost all North Florida waters are scoring excellent catches.

Although the traditional time to seek out speckled perch passed months ago, it seems that the hatchery-strain crappie in Lochloosa refuse to scatter and quit biting. Out of habit, cane pole fishers have mostly moved on to the shellcracker and bluegill that are beginning to spawn right on schedule. But a few trollers of colorful crappie jigs out in open water say that they can still pull in fifty or more specks a day….

Grass shrimp are the favorite bait here for bream, but they’re very hard to find this year. Fortunately, crickets have proved to be a good substitute, producing plenty of limit catches. And crickets are actually preferred by Newnans Lake bluegill fishers that are also finding 50-fish limits daily.Freshwater anglers are also pleased with the fast bass action in several area lakes. Santa Fe, Alto, Crosby, and Hampton are all producing bragging-size largemouths. The restrictive largemouth limit in place on Orange and Lochloosa makes bass fishing there all-but a catch-and-release affair. Only three fish may be kept per angler, per day—and none of these can be between 15″-24″ in length.

Very good fishing is now the rule all along the gulf coast stretch we call the “Big Bend.” Speckled trout are abundant on the grass flats, and Spanish mackerel are chasing baitfish on deeper flats and reefs. In water a little deeper, king mackerel are likewise following schools of baitfish; and deeper yet, anglers are finding plenty of grouper.

Just a few miles off Cedar Key lies Seahorse Reef—one of the Big Bend’s best-known Spanish producing spots. Only a couple of miles north of the reef, a zone that locals call ‘The Kingfish Hole” is a very hot spot. Here, in water from 22-to-26-feet deep, anglers trolling Stretch 25 lures are regularly hooking smallish kings and legal grouper. To the list of popular game fish present in this zone, add cobia. Some brutes have been hooked over the last few days, but few have been captured.

Among favorite angling targets, only redfish are curiously difficult to locate in the Suwannee/Cedar Key area. Redfish seekers would likely fare better in the shallows between Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee; and from Crystal River to Ozello.

East coast fishers are finally spotting some huge cobia following the Manta rays migrating along the beaches. Folks casting the inland waters say that ladyfish, jack crevalle, and bluefish up to 32-inches are tearing through baitfish schools near Matanzas Inlet. Any minnow-imitating lures will produce lots of bites.

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

For two months, anglers had said, “If we could only get nice weather over a weekend, we’d kill the fish.” Last weekend brought ideal fishing weather, and hundreds of area fishers made good on their promise.

Bass, warmouth, and speckled perch all were caught in good numbers—but bluegill were the weekend’s freshwater stars. Cane polers dipping grass shrimp, wigglers, and crickets in shallower vegetation on Orange and Lochloosa iced loads of fat panfish.

And many hundreds of thick Newnans Lake bluegill fell for the top bait there—-crickets. Again, the parking lot at the Powers Park boat ramp was filled to near capacity for most of the weekend. As one customer said, “This is the perfect time to take kids fishing—when the cork is going under a lot.”

Gulf anglers also took advantage of the great weather, and fine trout, mackerel, and grouper catches were seen all along the coast. The big “gator” trout that had been seen only in the Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach areas showed that they were also present on the Cedar Key flats, and in Waccasassa Bay. Suspending Mirrolures, Saltwater Assassin grubs, and the usual live and natural baits all accounted for top-notch trout tallies.

Spanish mackerel are in good supply—and their numbers continue to grow on deep flats off Crystal River, Seahorse Reef off Cedar Key, and Spotty Bottom off Suwannee. King mackerel seem more abundant this year than in a very long time—and some giants are among them. The 41st Annual Saltwater Fishing Tournament of the Builder’s Association of North Central Florida was held at Crystal River Saturday. Of the hundreds of anglers and spectators at the tournament weigh-in, every one knew the kingfish division was sewn up when two big men struggled to lift and lug a large garbage can into the weigh line. Sticking out of the top of the can was nearly two feet of king mackerel tail. That fish would end up weighing better than 40-pounds, and the teams’ three-king aggregate weight would hit the 78-pound mark.Other impressive winners at this decades-old event included a 5-grouper catch that weighed 63-pounds, and a ten-trout limit that hit the 20-pound mark.

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

Somehow, weekends have managed to offer less-than-inviting fishing weather through most of this spring season. If not for the fortunate anglers able to hit the water on the ideal weekdays, we wouldn’t know just how good the fishing really is.

Freshwater action is excellent in pretty much all of the nearby, North Central Florida lakes. Right here behind the store, bluegill, warmouth, and catfish are all keeping cane pole fishers happy in Newnans Lake. Fishers dipping crickets around various kinds of near-shore cover are pulling cooler-full catches in daily, and it’s really good to see the parking lot full every day at the Newnans Lake boat ramp. That hasn’t happened in several years.

Orange and Lochloosa also rank highly with panfish lovers. Bluegill and shellcracker are now the most-sought fish here—and they are being caught very well. But it’s a panfish heard about less often that may be the fastest-biting of all. In both lakes, folks fishing grass shrimp, crickets, and red worms are really loading up on warmouth. This is drawing no complaints, as many consider warmouth to be the thickest and tastiest of the summer panfish.

Bass anglers are reporting good action in Orange and Lochloosa, Rodman, and Santa Fe Lakes; and bassers pitching soft plastics in smaller area lakes like Little Orange, Alto, Hampton, and Crosby are bragging with the best of ‘em.

The gulf grass flats are slowly warming and clearing—and every day the fishing seems to improve. Limits of big, roe-filled speckled trout are being taken out of every gulf port, but especially-fine catches have come from the Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Cedar Key, and Crystal River/Homosassa flats. Live shrimp and cut bait are staple trout-catching baits, and anglers casting artificial lures are doing their best damage with grubtail jigs in bright colors and suspending Mirrolures.

Spanish mackerel have arrived in force on their spring run, and almost everyone casting for trout has hooked at least one. Folks targeting Spanish are doing best on the deep flats off Crystal River and on Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Key. King mackerel seem to be everywhere in water a bit deeper. Anglers trolling Mann’s Stretch 25 and 30 lures for grouper are complaining that the abundant kings are not giving the grouper a chance to run down the big plugs. And so far this week, we have heard of more gulf kings than grouper.

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


Another rough weekend again made things tough on anglers that have only weekends to fish—-but May is here, and the weather is sure to settle down for at least a couple of months.

The folks that have been thwarted can take heart in the fact that, during pretty weekdays, fishers have scored very well in fresh and saltwaters. Good fish-catching times are coming for all you peeved 9-to-5 working fishers.

It is a fairly common occurrence that the Suwannee River floods in the spring. This is almost always bad for saltwater fishing on the shallower flats for several miles above and below the river mouth. So far, while the Suwannee present flood has reduced clarity and salinity as expected, the fishing near the river has held up surprisingly well. Just yesterday, Suwannee guide, Jon Farmer and his party easily found trout and reds near the river mouth, and then caught several big Spanish mackerel and bluefish on Spotty Bottom. Farmer reports that although the water is dark on the well-known mackerel zone, it’s “not as bad as usual during a Suwannee flood.”

Anglers working the top Spanish spot off Cedar Key, just north of Spotty Bottom are also finding mackerel. Fishers trolling and casting spoons and Floreo Jigs on Seahorse Reef have enjoyed fast action on the better days, wind and weather-wise.

Speckled trout are the most often-mentioned angling target from Cedar Key, south. Waccasassa Bay, Crystal River, and Homosassa grass flats are all loaded with trout—and jigs adorned with colorful grub tails and tipped with Fishbites strips are producing on the flats out of all these ports.

Freshwater action has been excellent for a few weeks—and just continues to improve.

Lakes Santa Fe and Rodman are giving up the top bass catches, with George, Little Orange, and Lochloosa not far behind. Live shiners and soft plastic baits are the top largemouth-producing baits.

Bluegill are biting crickets and European nightcrawlers fast on Newnans Lake—with speckled perch and warmouth common by-catches. Lochloosa and Orange also have yielded lots of good mixed panfish catches. The water levels of all nearby lakes are great, and any reasonable fishing boat can take you to the hot fish-catching spots. For fishers without boats, Rodman Dam is the top fishing spot. Bream, catfish, and striped bass are keeping folks on the bank and pier busy.

And that’s this week’s report.Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box—the folks you fish with since 1953.

Wind-weary saltwater anglers sang the same sad song following another blustery (but otherwise beautiful) weekend. Most offshore fishers were kept at port by the too-choppy seas, and the few that ventured out despite the rough conditions reported having little fun.

Even near-shore anglers struggled to fish effectively, as the roiled flats that had recently cleared a bit again turned dingy.

The inshore water temperatures finally hit the 70-degree mark just ahead of the latest stretch of chilly nights and wind; but now in most places it has again dropped below that key mark. A few weekend trout and Spanish mackerel catches were registered at Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Cedar Keys, and Crystal River—but for late April, the results were very sub par, thanks to the lingering chill and wind.

In the wind-protected inland waters of the east coast, sheepshead remain plentiful on shell bars and around pilings; and redfish numbers are good on the flats. Surf fishers are as pleased as any anglers, catching dependable whiting along the beaches. Near Marineland, red and black drum and pompano are also in good supply.

Freshwater fishers are, on the whole, a satisfied group. The wind has hurt catches here, too, but lake casters always have the wind-protected shore to fall back on. Bass action remains good on Lake Santa Fe and Alto Lakes. Rodman, Lochloosa, Orange, Little Orange, and George Lakes are also mentioned often these days in the ‘bassing buzz.’ Generally, the largemouths are being taken in shallower cover, with spinnerbaits and soft plastics.

Unlike saltwater enthusiasts, area panfishers are not unhappy that water temps are taking a long time to rise this season. Water in most lakes continues to hang in the ‘ideal’ range for speckled perch, and that’s fine with most cane-polers. Last Thursday, Robert Miller fished minnows in Lochloosa’s north end pads to fool 21 sizable specks. Amazingly, the female fish in that catch still held large roe. Warmouth are also biting well in Lochloosa’s shoreline cover for fishers using live worms, crickets, and hard-to-find grass shrimp.

Orange Lake has been mentioned less often by panfish specialists, but the catch we saw at noon today would make anybody want to head straight for the Marjorie Rawlings boat ramp. John Courtney of Hawthorne fished minnow/Hal Fly combinations in water 8-feet deep to take an amazing array of big panfish. His cooler contained bluegill, shellcracker, warmouths, and specks—all taken in only an hour and a half. We weighed the largest speck—-just one ounce under two pounds. It’s unusual to find such an array in relatively deep water, so Mr. Courtney must have located a very special spot.

Newnans Lake might just be the area’s top bluegill producer right now. Cane-pole fishers dipping crickets around north-end brush are pulling out good catches daily. And some big specks are still mixed in here as well. Late last week, we weighed a fine 1-pound, 9-ounce Newnans speck that took a cricket intended for a fat bluegill.

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

Whether you’re after big fish or small in salt or fresh waters, this is prime time to do some serious fish-catching.

Although bluegill have finally replaced speckled perch as the fastest-biting panfish in area lakes, pretty fair numbers of the never-say-die specks in Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes continue to show up in cane-polers’ ice chests. Those fishing grass shrimp are taking the majority of the mixed bags—and that makes perfect sense, since both panfish seem to relish the tiny crustaceans equally. It’s the Newnan’s fishers that have us scratching our heads. This has long been considered a ‘cricket lake’ when it comes to bream fishing, but the bugs are also accounting for continuing—and very decent—catches of specks.

Bass in this part of Florida are currently involved in some phase of the spawn. Most are in the post-spawn phase, some are in the act, and a smaller percentage is still pre-spawn. Nearly any lure designed to be fished shallow can be effective now, but as usual, the artificial bait that is producing the best catches we know about is the weedless soft plastic. Whether it’s a craw, a lizard, a tube, or a plain ol’ worm, the soft plastics are tough to beat in early spring.

Greg Cole was in the store last week to buy a baitcasting reel. Saturday morning, along with his Uncle Clay, he was able to use it for the first time. Casting a Texas-rigged worm in Lake Geneva’s clear water, the young angler hooked and landed a whopping 27-inch, ten-pound lunker—the first fish ever with his new reel.

Shallow grass flats along much of the ‘Big Bend’ coast remain tannin-stained from the generous rainfall of late. The suspended sand that further clouded the shallows following a very windy spell has cleared out, however, and anglers are reporting no fish-catching problems with the present clarity. Nice speckled trout limits are common daily out of all gulf ports, most taken with the standard favorite baits.

Spanish mackerel are scattered throughout the deeper flats, but not really ‘thick’ anywhere. The sheepshead bite is still good, with stout limits reported on natural and artificial reefs off Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee. Grouper action is excellent in water at least 35-feet deep. And out in 65-feet plus, red snapper are as abundant as anytime in recent memory. The season has been closed for them, and that’s forced a lot of heartbreaking releases—but the new red snapper season will reopen Friday. You can bet there are plenty of offshore enthusiasts ‘chomping at the bit’ to hit their top snapper spots next weekend.

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

The ideal springtime conditions on the heels of ample March rainfall has led to excellent fishing almost everywhere. The season has clearly changed, but we still can’t say that speckled perch have fully yielded to bluegill as the number one panfishing target. Folks fishing with the grass shrimp that each species seems to love equally now report taking mixed bags, with about equal numbers of bream and specks. Lochloosa, Orange, Newnans, Little Orange, Alto, and Hampton Lakes all are producing plenty of panfish; and shore bound anglers armed with earthworms are arriving early at Rodman Dam to claim a good spot for fast shellcracker, bluegill, and speck fishing. Every week nowadays, we see or hear about big bass catches. Lake Santa Fe and Rodman Reservoir lead the pack of good bass-producing lakes, but Lochloosa and several smaller ponds have yielded some eye-poppers as well. One homeowner on Lochloosa cast a shiner from his boat dock last Friday, and was rightly proud of the result—a 10-pound, 8-ounce beauty. Only the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers are not good freshwater fishing bets presently. At flood stage, nobody would expect them to be. If you must access either river now, both are under a “No Wake/Idle Only” order from the FWC. Early last week, we couldn’t find a single gulf angler to testify that Spanish mackerel were present in our closest gulf waters. This week, things are very different. Friday morning, six anglers called to say that the Spanish had arrived. In fact, we can pinpoint their arrival on Seahorse Reef to Wednesday, March 30th. The warm-water-loving Spanish might not be exactly ‘thick’ at this point, they’re apparently sizable. Capt. Bill Roberts’ party boated a pair of 6-pounders Thursday while trout fishing near Snake Key. By the weekend, even Steinhatchee trout fishers were catching a few—and experiencing occasional cutoffs.It’s finally safe to say that trout fishing is good all along the gulf coast. Recent windy conditions did stir up the grass flats—and that put the bite off for a few days—but fine trout catches have been the rule so far this week almost everywhere. Sheepshead action is also great on all of the usual west coast spawning spots. Steinhatchee Reef, Hedemon Reef off Suwannee, and the Steel Tower area off Cedar Key all hold loads of sheepies, and Matanzas River is giving up sheepshead just as well to anglers on the east coast. Capt. Jon Farmers’ party caught all they wanted to clean; then released another “hundred or so pounds” Monday on an artificial reef off Suwannee. Surprisingly, Farmer also hooked and landed a big, 40-pound cobia while fishing the reef—another testament to the fact that the prime gulf water temperature has arrived.

And that’s this week’s report.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box


March did bring the strong winds it’s famous for, and like always, they messed up lots of fishing trips. Happily, the windy month did bring a good dose of much-needed rain as well, setting up nearby fresh waters to produce great catches through the remainder of spring. And anglers can be hopeful that things will now begin to calm down. Almost amazingly, many speckled perch in area lakes have not spawned YET. Not sure we’ve ever seen them wait this long—but it’s probably a good thing they didn’t move shallow on one of those weeks that was rendered unfishable by the wind.

Chances are, the crappie will complete their final spawn unmolested anyway, since most anglers are conditioned to move on to other angling targets by April. Early this week, a handful of dedicated perch jerkers reported catching big female specks still full of roe on Lochloosa, Orange, and Santa Fe Lakes.

Bass fishing is very good, with the best action coming from around grass, pads, or brush in shallow water. A few large fish have been hooked by anglers drifting shiners out deep in Rodman and Little Orange Lakes, but shallow is the all-around best bet. Texas-rigged soft plastics are the number one choice in this situation, but it’s a great time to run spinnerbaits through the cover, as well.Water temperatures finally seem to be creeping upwards on the coastal flats.

I’ve heard some veteran Spanish mackerel fishers proclaim that by Easter Sunday, anglers may count on Spanish to be present on Seahorse Reef. Others use the safer standard of “tax day,” April 15th. Looks like the safer group will get it right this year. Not a single Spanish has been reported to us as of today. Out deeper in grouper country, however, anglers have taken a couple of king mackerel—so the mackerel invasion can’t be too far off. Speckled trout action is now pretty good on flats throughout the Big Bend Coast, and redfish are easier to find (but still mostly small.) Every year around this time, some magical point arrives at which the freshwater shallows and gulf flats “come alive” and the fish “go off.” It looks to us like that point is only days away—and maybe just hours. Don’t miss it!

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

Although water temperatures remain a few degrees lower than usual for late March, action for some favorite springtime targets is heating up nicely.In nearby fresh waters, speckled perch remain the most often-caught panfish.

Some of the bigger crappie we photographed this week were female fish still full of roe. The thick, 2-pound, 6-ounce speck that John Courtney pulled Monday from Big Orange Lake was one of these. Cool water temps are likely the reason for the extended crappie spawn—but, surely, Friday’s Full Moon will finish out the season for spawning specks.

Already, some fair bluegill results have come from Lochloosa and Newnan’s Lakes.Bedding season for bass seems near its peak, and will probably last for a few more weeks.

Good bass-catching stories have come from all around. Hampton Lake, the Suwannee River, Rodman Pool, and Lake Santa Fe have been mentioned most often this week by anglers in the store to restock their bass-catching supplies. The 13-pound, 8-ounce largemouth caught Saturday certainly owns big-bass honors for the season so far. A visiting northern fisherman boated the lunker while fishing live shiners with local guide, Sam Aversa on Rodman Reservoir.

Saltwater fishers took advantage of a rare, calm weekend to load up on Gulf Coast trout and grouper.

Cedar Key trout anglers again found plenty of fish willing to take their jigs and shrimp-but not so many of legal size. The best trout fishing waters are still the clearer flats out of Homosassa, Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee. One father-and-son teamed up to boat a Steinhatchee double trout limit anchored by a pair of 5-pound fish last Friday. The happy anglers had to release six fish that day——-all too big to keep. They used suspending Catch 2000 Mirrolures to fool the big trout in shallow water.

Offshore anglers finally had the ideal grouper-fishing weekend. Able to run out to deep water and back at full speed, there was plenty of time for fishing. Both at anchor with natural bait and trolling with “Stretch” lures, the grouper seekers enjoyed very good success. Catches were impressive out of most ports, but the top limits were reported from water 60-to-70-feet deep off Cedar Key and Suwannee.

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

Nice weather last weekend led to good catches in salt and fresh waters more typical of early spring.

The speckled trout whose season just reopened March first might not be easy to locate out of every West and East Coast port, but attention-getting catches were made in several areas. Trout anglers working shallow water between Steinhatchee and Pepperfish Keys came in with stories impressive in both size and numbers. Fishing alone in preparation for a charter, Capt. Sam LeNeave released eight big ‘specks’ ranging in length from 22 to nearly 28-inches. He made the good catch casting a very old favorite—the Johnson Silver Minnow. The trout reports from Suwannee, Cedar Keys, and Waccasassa, where the flats are far less clear, were much slimmer. Then again southward to Crystal River and Homosassa, good results resume. The folks at McRae’s Marina say that most weekend anglers fishing out of Homosassa scored trout limits.The weekend trout action was good, too, over in the inland waters of the East Coast. Live bait fishers, as well as folks casting and trolling minnow-imitating artificials, brought in good trout tallies. Roy and John Dillinger of North Carolina were among the anglers that docked each day at Devil’s Elbow with good trout limits.The friendly weather allowed anglers that fish out a bit deeper a scarce shot at their quarries—grouper and sheepshead. The grouper bit pretty well, and reports of 7-to-12-legal-fish catches were pretty much average. Sheepshead were present, but a little more finicky. Almost everyone boated at least a few fish, but the 15-fish limits that are common when the bite is “on,” were absent. Speckled perch remain the stars of the local freshwater fishing scene, but bass are just about to overtake the popular panfish. The largemouths are spawning in most area waters, and some great catches are being made. Just yesterday, we photographed a 9-pound, 7-ounce beauty taken in a nearby pond with a Tackle Box shiner.Specks seem to be spawning here and there. We’ve seen no big commitment to the shallow cover, though, and action remains just about as dependable out in deeper water. Still, overall speck action is good. Along with the outstanding speck bite on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, Wauburg, Little Orange, and Crescent Lakes have produced well. Rodman Pool is still filling, and access is difficult. Maybe by next week we can report boats ramping in at Kenwood with no problems.

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

Orange and Lochloosa Lakes have unquestionably offered up the best action for fans of speckled perch over the last few months. There was great anticipation as the late-February full moon approached. Through the years this event has triggered the speck’s largest movement into shallow cover to spawn. With these lakes holding such healthy populations of the popular panfish, surely this would be a bite not to miss. Well, a few fine full moon catches were registered, but to the surprise of most experts, the shallow action was not that great.The general consensus among experienced speckled perch fishers that have closely followed this year’s crappie bite on Lochloosa is that most fish have not spawned as yet–and the chilly winds of the last few days will further extend the delay. One thing is certain, however. Some lucky fishers will be on the scene with cane poles and minnows ready when the big migration to skinny water does occur—and the stories they tell will make us all wish we had been there, too.Crappie catches in the nasty weather over the weekend were understandably unimpressive, although several fair results-including Richard Hitchcock’s 1-pound, 13-ounce male fish-were seen at Lochloosa Harbor.Bass and shellcracker on Lake Santa Fe also deserve a mention as good freshwater fishing bets, and some very nice shellcracker catches have been pulled in by bank fishers at Rodman Dam.The big winds messed weekend saltwater fishing up even worse. Then Monday, the wind squelched the usually-well-attended reopening of speckled trout season in North Florida waters. Just before the season’s reopening, the best Gulf Coast bets were probably Steinhatchee and Homosassa. Out of these ports, anglers reported good catch-and-release action just ahead of the very windy spell.A group from Ashburn, Georgia scored very well in the Steinhatchee River last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The four men fished shrimp in deeper holes in the river to entice nice catches of sheepshead and croaker. Their most surprising result, though, was 30 speckled trout ranging from 16-to-28-inches long. Just a few days ahead of open season, the crew had to release all of the trout.

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


Gulf anglers don’t enjoy a lot of good options these days.Someone fishing for trout on the gulf flats sometime in May might happen across a patch of hard bottom loaded with redfish. Or a school of Spanish mackerel might show up to sidetrack him. Or a big cobia might happen by. Unfortunately, anglers fishing gulf waters in February are very unlikely to suffer from such distractions. With the water temperature just creeping back up to the 60 degree mark, the days of great variety on the flats are yet a month or so away.This is, however, prime time for sheepshead. The big, banded, square-toothed favorites gather during late winter on gulf spawning spots in water 10-to-25-feet deep. These hot spots are usually reefs-either natural or artificial. Sheepshead specialists anchor over such reefs and hold a tight line to a shrimp set on the bottom. When the fish are present and active, 15-fish limits are common and individual fish weighing up to 10-pounds are possible.The spawning sheepies are finally biting well. The best catches to date have come from Steinhatchee Reef, Hedemon Reef off Suwannee, the Steel Tower off Cedar Key, and the “Foul Area” off Crystal River and Homosassa.Sheepshead are also in the East Coast mix. Anglers fishing shell bar drops in Matanzas River with shrimp and oyster crabs have boxed nice catches for a couple of weeks running. Great numbers of whiting are also available from inshore Atlantic waters near St. Augustine and Matanzas.The same shortage of angling options exists now for freshwater fishers. Bass and bluegill are sputtering into gear, but only speckled perch are really fully active.Several smaller nearby lakes like Wauburg and Little Orange have started to produce great stringers of specks. The lakes turning out the biggest numbers of sizable specks, though, are still Orange and Lochloosa. February’s full moon arrives in the middle of this week. As is often the case, it looks like the season’s primary speck spawn will, too, fall this week. The biggest key to catching spawning crappie is to fish shallow and to fish with as much stealth as possible. Remember, the fish are more aware of your presence at close quarters and in shallow water. Live Missouri minnows fished around pads, grass, and laydowns under a small float always yield the best catches. There is no size limit, but remember, the daily bag limit is now 25-fish per person, per day. When they’re biting fast, it’s easy to inadvertently go over the limit—and cost yourself a stiff fine.

And that’s this week’s report.

It’s beginning to feel like the worst of Winter is over.and folks spending lots of time on the water say that the fish are also behaving as if they feel general the warm up has begun.On this area’s top speckled perch lake, shoreline cover in the forms of pads, grass, and cabbage is now producing the top catches. Lochloosa fishers dipping minnows and crappie jigs in the cover are finding the big spawning slabs best during evening hours.Productive speck lakes to our south like Harris and Eustis are likewise yielding good numbers of shallow crappie.Bass are also shallow in some North Florida waters. The St. John’s River and Lake George have produced great fish-and the Harris Chain of lakes (particularly Griffin, Eustis, and Harris) gave hundreds of big catch-and-release largemouths to the pros during last week’s Bassmasters event. On day two, an 11-pound bruiser was brought in, only to be eclipsed later in the weigh-in by another lunker one ounce heavier.Activity in coastal waters is much-decreased since the February speckled trout closure began. A few anglers, though, have continued to enjoy catch-and-release trout action. A couple visiting Steinhatchee released 27 trout Sunday. Then on Monday morning before heading back home to Carrabelle, they eased another 31 would-be-keepers back into the Steinhatchee shallows.A similar story came from the Crystal River grass flats, where a boat returning from a so-so grouper trip stopped to cast grubs for a while. The anglers reported good trout action “just as if it was summer.” There has been little activity on the East Coast’s inland waters since the start of February, but savvy locals are making the most of the unusually-clear water in Matanzas River. The anglers are idling the river while looking for shell bars, rocks, and any other fish-holding structure. They then mark the good-looking spots with a GPS-or even just a landmark on shore. Right now, the bottom is clearly visible ten-feet down, but that won’t be the case for much longer. The most successful anglers are the ones willing to do this kind of ‘homework.’

And that’s this week’s report

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

February arrives with much promise for area freshwater anglers. Right on schedule, speckled perch are beginning to head into the shallow spawning zones in some nearby lakes—and the season’s first real impressive bass fishing reports are coming in.In Monday’s chilly breeze, Lochloosa Harbor customer, Paul Nardek worked shallow grass and brush in Lochloosa to fool 30 nice specks. He had located the fish on Sunday, when be bagged 23 fish while casting Road Runner lures and minnows just a few feet from shore. Several more crappie fishers on Orange and Lochloosa have also found specks in skinny water, signaling the start of the season most crappie fans enjoy most.At the Bassmaster Weekend Series tournament out of Palatka Sunday, several fine catches were weighed-topped by an eye-popping 27-plus pound, 5-bass limit. Rumor has it that the winner made the long boat ride from Palatka, all the way to the Astor area, south of Lake George; and fooled the big spawning fish with soft plastics. Bass action that had been on the slow side has picked up noticeably on waters like George, Rodman, Lochloosa, and the Suwannee River.Speckled trout season in North Florida ended with a bang last weekend-especially in the Steinhatchee area. Countless 5-trout limits were boxed by anglers casting various artificial lures on the shallow grass flats from Horseshoe beach to Keaton Beach. And these will be the last legally-kept trout until March first.The biggest Gulf Coast targets for the next month will likely be grouper and sheepshead. On nicer days, anglers trolling Mann’s Stretch lures in water as shallow as 25-feet deep have scored well with legal gags. Sheepshead, on the other hand, are starting slowly this year-much like they did last year. Any time now, gulf fishers tight-lining shrimp on the bottom in areas like Seahorse, Hedemon, and the Suwannee Regional Artificial Reefs will locate hundreds of the big banded brawlers.

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


Local freshwater anglers had long pointed to last weekend, anticipating that the roe-heavy speckled perch of Orange and Lochloosa Lakes would pick the late January full moon for a major spawn. Any long-time angler could have predicted what happened. Another windy cold front blew through just as the crappie would have headed shallow, pushing back the primary speck spawn. Nine years out of ten, the seasons biggest shallow crappie gathering occurs around the new or full moon in February, and it looks like this year will be no different.

The specks that fishers did manage to locate in the bluster were just off the grass and lily pads, poised to make the move into shoreline cover. Twenty-five fish limits were scarce, but fish camps did see respectable catches of from 8-15 slabs. During the warm up this week, action has slowly improved, and it just might be worthwhile for weekend speckers to dip a minnow into shallow grass, pads or brush now and then–just to check. Late last week before the arctic blast, Lochloosa speck catches were coming in to the Lochloosa Harbor regularly. Friday, Charlie Baggett of Georgia docked with ten slabs in the pound and a half range. He found the big specks drifting minnows off Allen’s Point. Stacy Carter also scored well Friday, hauling in a limit of nice-sized specks. Venus and William Epps of Gainesville fished lily pads in Little Lochloosa with minnows. Even though an airboat spraying herbicide drenched the pads they were fishing, Venus caught her first ‘keeper’ fish ever–nice specks weighing 1-pound, 3-oounces and 1-ound 10-ounces. Dozens of Lochloosa anglers were bothered by the incessant spraying last week. Many questioned why plant-killing chemicals were deemed necessary in mid-winter—particularly where no non-native weeds like hydrilla or hyacinth could be seen.

Area bass anglers are thinking they might see some of the first signs of spawning activity by largemouth this weekend. Some bedding has already occurred in area spring runs such as Rainbow and Salt–and water temps in lakes and rivers have rise—perhaps sufficiently to lure some bigmouths into the shallows. A list of good bassing possibilities should include Lochloosa, Little Orange, George and Rodman lakes, and the Suwannee and Crystal Rivers.

Capt. Steve McGovern and Brian Mather had fun fishing the Crystal River Power Plant’s warm water discharge canal last Thursday. When the tide began running out, redfish in the popular cold-weather spot went on a feed. The men cast rootbeer-colored Berkley tube lures and Saltwater Assassin jigs to boat around 75 redfish. Just four of the red were of legal size, but the anglers had no complaints.

McGovern fished again Friday, this time out of Shired Island with Capt Scott Crown. Again casting tubes and grubs just ahead of the cold snap, the new captains found fast action in creek mouths. Their trout limits included fish that measured 23 and 21 inches. For the second day running, the best feed occurred during the early part of the outgoing tide.

Weekend Gulf Coast reports were again scarce–although Saturday did see a few very nice catches on the Steinhatchee flats. Five guides split up a large party from Putnam County and worked water 4-5 deep, south of the river, with Mirrolures and pink and white grubs. Back at Ideal Marina that evening, the group kept the fish-cleaning lady busy with a total of 106 pounds of speckled trout.

John Palmer and Jason Reeves also eased out of the Steinhatchee River in Saturday morning’s fog. They headed south in the grey mist and shut down near the mouth of Sink Creek, where they intended to cast for redfish. Easing across the clear shallows near its mouth, Palmer spotted lots of fish spooking ahead of the boat, so they killed the engine and quietly stalked along, casting surface lures. The fish they had spotted were trout–and even inn the chilly shallows, willing to smack the topwater plugs. The bite only lasted thirty minutes or so, but in that time the Interlachen fishermen released 8 trout that averaged about 20 inches. they also missed several more strikes.

Sounds like Steinhatchee might be the top bet for trout fans on the final weekend f\before the February speckled trout closure in North Florida.

An unusually prolonged spell of warm weather has persisted since before New Year’s. This has put big numbers of winter anglers on the water—but it has also brought challenges for them.Dense fog has been a real problem for boaters on all North Florida waters. Most anglers without GPS units have spent a fair amount of time lost-even on lakes they are familiar with. The fish seem oblivious to the above-water situation, and disoriented folks confident that the pea soup would eventually lift have caught fish just fine.Most speckled perch remain in open water on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. Fishers there last weekend reported crowded-but-excellent fishing. Beetle Spins, various crappie jigs, and live minnows fished under floats all accounted for big speck catches. Again, several huge slabs better than 2-pounds were pulled from the season’s top perch lakes.And Tom Worsham put bass fans on alert Sunday when he wrestled a 9-and 1/2-pound fish from a Lochloosa grass bed. The big fish fell for a 6-inch watermelon/red flake plastic worm.There was a lot more oyster-bar-chewing by propellers last weekend than usual thanks to the thick fog that put many Gulf Coast fishers off track. As far as we can determine, only one man had to spend a night on the gulf. Trout and redfish catches were at least fair all along the coast-but best by far at each end of the zone we cover in this report. Steinhatchee and Homosassa flats are both loaded with trout. Most boats are filling limits in just a couple of hours. The average size is better out of Steinhatchee, where camps and marinas have seen so many 6-pounders they no longer take special note of them.Grouper fishing might not be great, but most experienced offshore fishers have managed good catches. Lots of grouper seekers are trolling Mann’s Stretch 30 lures in water around 30-feet-deep to take chunky reds and gags. Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Homosassa anglers have all found grouper pretty well. Sheepshead fans out of Suwannee and Cedar Key have been checking the offshore spawning spots regularly—and finally, some big fish are showing up on one of them. The Steel Tower, at the far end of Seahorse Reef has produced some big sheepshead for a few days now. It shouldn’t be long at all before fish show on Hedemon and the artificial Reefs off Suwannee as well.

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

The long warm spell on each side of New Year’s Day might have put cold weather fans in a bad mood, but it has done wonders for fishing.Although the warm temps have halted the fleeting appearances of speckled trout in west coast rivers, it has positioned them nonetheless. Almost all of the best trout tales in 2005 have come from deeper holes near creek mouths and shell bars–or from holes surrounded by shallow grass flats. Jigs with grub tails have accounted for many of the best catches, and minnow-imitating twitch baits are effective in these deeper spots as well. Reports from Steinhatchee and Suwannee have been most impressive; but as flats have warmed, better results have come from spots like Snake and North Keys, off Cedar Key.Redfish are mentioned often by gulf anglers these days. Most trout seekers have also taken incidental reds that are nearly all too small to keep. Even those targeting redfish have had a tough time locating fish better than 18-inches.Sheepshead specialists have been checking out their spawning haunts-places like Hedemon Reef and the Suwannee Regional Artificial Reefs. The big sheepies aren’t there yet. Big fish taken in creeks are said to hold nearly-mature roe, so it shouldn’t be long before some fish head for the spawning grounds.Grouper anglers have enjoyed fine weather to run offshore, and generally-good catches have been the rule. Most folks trolling Mann’s Stretch 30 lures are faring best in water 30-to-40-feet deep, while the top results among bottom fishers have come from water 50-to-70 feet deep.East Coast catches remain very good in inland waters. Backwater flats and shell bars are swarming with small redfish, and flounder numbers also are excellent from St. Augustine to Matanzas Inlet.Nice weather has sent hundreds of boats to the top area speckled perch lakes-and few anglers trying Rodman, Orange and Lochloosa have come home disappointed. Most fish remain in the deeper waters well off the shorelines; and minnows and crappie jigs still account for the best catches. Like in gulf sheepshead, the female specks are holding near-ready roe, and crappie sages believe that they might make the move into shallow spawning cover as soon as the full moon coming up late this month.And that’s this week’s report.Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

All fishing reports are written by Gary Simpson, (c)2005