2006 Fishing Reports

2006 Archived Fishing Reports

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On Christmas Day came the sweet gift of much-needed rainfall that lifting area lake levels by a few centimeters. While that doesn’t seem like much, the two-inch-plus drenching did serve to provide the soak-in water needed before real accumulation, runoff, and level rise can occur. Now, if we can get another good dose of precipitation in the coming days, the result will be much more evident in water levels.

Launching anything but the smallest vessels remains a tricky deal on most area lakes. The folks that did access Orange and Lochloosa over the Christmas weekend reported the extra effort to have been worthwhile. Mr. Massey of Jacksonville drifted minnows in water 5-feet deep off Lochloosa’s North End Wednesday to pull in 15 good speckled perch. The next day, Mr. Cooper and his buddy, Willie struggled out onto Orange Lake through the shallows at Sportsman’s Cove to boat a full, 50-fish limit of specks. The Hawthorne fishermen concentrated around Bird Island and fished minnows on red-and-white crappie jigs.

Folks that believe manatees are seriously endangered should see what Becky Elliott of Pete’s Pier saw a few days ago. After hearing anglers say that their fishing efforts were actually hindered by the massive mammals—and noticing an extraordinary number of them around her Crystal River marina—Elliott went up in a little Cessna the day before Christmas to check things out from above. “There is a ridiculous number of manatee in King’s Bay right now,” she said, “more than I’ve ever seen. In the main spring alone, I counted 360 of ’em.”

Nancy Bushy of McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa has seen a sizable manatee migration heading upriver, as well. “I’d say there must be 60-to-100 up in the blue water,” she said. That adds up to a lot of sea cows, just in one little piece of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Although fairly solid trout results were reported from Homosassa and Crystal River, the inshore waters at the northern limit of our coverage zone seem to offer the best trout fishing at present. Carl Hodge of Gainesville and Tony Martin of Hahira, Ga. took a very quick spin to the mouth of the Steinhatchee River Monday evening at 5:15. Casting Gulp! Shrimp in the pearl white color, the men boated 18 legal trout, icing the first ten. At 6:00, they were back at the dock. Now, that’s fast fishing. Hope we can all enjoy that kind of action in the coming year.

Good fishin’ and Happy New Year from The Tackle Box.

The speckled perch of Orange and Lochloosa Lakes had been tough to tempt over recent weeks, but have suddenly have regained their holiday season appetite. Although they remain safe from anglers in the larger vessels unable to access the lakes, fishers in skiffs and jonboats are suddenly mopping up on the cool-weather favorites. Last Friday, Jimmy Ellis of Maclenny found a bunch of fish in Lochloosa’s south end maidencane. Dipping minnows in open pockets in the grass, he pulled out 20 specks to 1-1/4-pounds. The same day, John Isaac located fish on the opposite end of Lochloosa. The Ocala angler slow-trolled minnows in water six feet deep to fill an outstanding 25-fish limit of large specks.

Lori Pease of Lochloosa Harbor said that she has noticed this pattern to be generally-true over the last few days. “The biggest fish,” she said, “seem to be coming from the north end.” Folks choosing the lake at the other end of the now-non-navigable Cross Creek are finding crappie even faster.

Dr. Billy Evans and Cedell Fletcher stopped by A Family Tradition Fish Camp Thursday to show off a fine 50-speck double limit from Orange. Robbie Bishop of Citra and Kenny Racker of Belleview eased out of Marjorie Rawlings Park Saturday. They returned with 47 specks. Ted Elliott released all but the very large specks he caught on Orange Monday. The eighteen slabs he did keep made quite an eye-popping sight, all in the two-pound range. Vondell Cooper stopped by The Tackle Box Monday evening with a similarly-impressive box full of specks. We weighed what appeared to be the largest—at 2-pounds, 3-ounces. Cooper fished that day out of Heagy Burry Park with his brother, Fred, visiting from San Diego.

Grouper stories out of every gulf port have been uniformly excellent of late, and redfish remain dependable around inshore bars and creek mouths. The recent warm spell has not really helped the gulf trout fishing, but casters are still finding good numbers of the ever-shifting fish. What do guides do on their days off? They search for fresh fishing hotspots for future customers. Capt. Rick Mozina fished alone Sunday out of Suwannee.

On Lone Cabbage Reef, he released 25-to-30 trout while casting shrimp threaded on a jig head. Then he ran inland to a back-bay hole. One thing about this spot that interested the guide was the big sand trout that it held. Of the thirty trout he caught there, about half were ‘sandies,’ running about 16-inches long. Those he kept for the skillet.

We wish everybody a very Merry Christmas and……. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

The idea of artificially maintained water levels might make some folks cringe, but at times like this it sure is nice to have at least one area lake easily accessible and looking ‘normal.’ Producing both bass and specks well, the crystal-clear waters of Rodman Pool presently offer local freshwater fishers a good shot at angling success. While Rodman bassers fishing live shiners are tempting better catches in both size and number, casters of minnow-imitating lures and soft plastics say their rods are bent pretty often as well. And, crappie fans fishing minnows and small jigs in the flooded river channel or the Barge Canal cut are picking up increasing numbers of slabbish specks.

While they’re just as well-populated with fish as before this painfully-dry year, most other area lakes are sufficiently low to pose access problems that anglers seem generally unwilling to deal with. Aside from Rodman and the Suwannee River (another top bassing destination,) North Florida anglers are focused squarely on the coastal gulf shallows, where both speckled trout and redfish offer the best holiday season angling action.

Fishing with Capt. Tommy Thompson, Rick Davidson hauled in his biggest-ever Gulf Coast trout last Sunday. The anglers started the day casting soft suspending lures on the shallow flats north of the Steinhatchee River. Although they boated limits of trout up to 20-inches, the strikes were scarce. The men thought they could find a faster bite; so they ran a few miles south to a rocky shoreline where Capt. Tommy had located big redfish a few weeks earlier. It was a good move. Thousands of mullet milled around in the 18-inch-deep water as a sea fog thickened. Skitter Walk surface lures produced three slot-size reds right away, and then the trout started biting. Along with a number of smaller fish, Thompson and Davidson released 5 trout over 20-inches long, including Davidson’s whopper that pulled the Boga Grip indicator down to the 6-pound mark. At the top of the tide, the fishermen ran back to the boat ramp at Steinhatchee on instruments in the grey, soupy mist.

The Suwannee River’s mouth and its nearby creeks continue to offer fishers casting jigs and Mirrolures fast trout and redfish action; and Crystal River’s King’s Bay also ranks as a top rod-bending spot. Along with a fair number of warmth-seeking trout, the bay presently holds loads of ladyfish and big schools of ravenous jack crevalle.

The gulf rivers in the southern portion of our coverage area are also producing an often-overlooked cold-weather treat. Folks fishing small shrimp in rocky-bottomed areas around the headwater springs of the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers are loading up on scrappy and tasty mangrove snapper. Often called “the smartest fish in the sea,” mangroves have a great dislike for cold water. Hence, the toothy little dudes gang up near coastal springs constantly pumping out 72-degree water during winter, and a stealthy approach with light line and small hook is essential. A five-fish limit of mangroves (they have to be at least ten-inches long) might not fill an ice chest, but with the proper tackle they are a fun and challenging target.

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

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Some weeks I have to pick and choose from abundant fishing stories to use in this report; actually forced to cull very good ones to stay within my time and space allotments. When the bite is that good, this fishing report-writing is an easy gig.

Right now, things aren’t like that. Out of all the lakes, rivers, coastal shallows and offshore waters; reasons to make you want to rush out and hook up the boat are scarce. Even the old standby speckled perch and speckled trout that usually bail me out during the holiday season are presently making themselves scarce.

Fortunately, no matter how tough things are, there’s always SOME fish biting well. And one species that most anglers don’t consider very seriously until after New Years appears to have gathered in big numbers on both coasts. Eric Wilson stopped by the store Friday with a large cooler full of big sheepshead. Along with young Justin Warrick, Wilson had iced 22 of the thick brawlers while fishing fiddler crabs around barnacle-laden pilings at Cedar Key-before noon. On our State-certified scales, a few of the fish topped the 6-pound mark. The day before, Wilson fished with Detron Neal of Archer to pull 27 fish from the same pilings.

Most saltwater anglers wait impatiently for the prime times to seek out Florida’s sleek, voracious, and powerful species—the Florida Sportsman headliners. The late-spring arrival of tarpon and cobia. The spring and fall mackerel runs…or the big trout that bite best in spring and early winter. Eric Wilson is every bit as fired up by these banded, square-toothed bait bandits; waiting every year with great anticipation for them to gather. And he is a true sheepshead expert. Intrigued by his animated description of the apparently-exciting fishing, I decided to try it myself.

Eric had some fiddlers left over that he gave me. He also fixed me up with a few specially-made short leaders and advised me to pick up ¾-ounce egg weights and 1/0 style 85 Eagle Claw hooks. I was set. Tuesday morning, I poked around several sets of bridge and dock pilings in Cedar Key, trying to fish the little crabs just as he had described.

The fish are there, alright. Their bait-stealing talents, however, are apparently greater than my hook-setting abilities. Out of a couple dozen bites, I caught 4 sheepshead. Even though the short trip didn’t produce a load of fish, I could sure see how it could become addictive. Sizable fish on a short line in current with sharp obstacles all around—quite a fun challenge, and one that I hope to become a bit more adept at.

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

You would have to go back to the drought at the turn of the century to find a time in which less fishing was going on in North Florida. The season itself brings a fair amount of attrition every year. Many anglers are also hunters and football fanatics looking to make the most of the brief season at hand. Low water (again) is another major contributor.

Among the folks that retain the urge to angle, those with larger vessels have lately found a real mess in attempting to access area lakes at some nearby boat ramps. And now, with the fall winds feeling more like winter, yet another large bunch of would-be fishers will opt to stay off the water. On the bright side, there are no pesky crowds these days on lakes, rivers, or salt waters. Aside from a major rainy spell, there are two events capable of turning the somewhat-bleak fishing situation around.

First, if the speckled perch on Orange, Lochloosa, Santa Fe, or Rodman Lakes really go on a feed (and they’re due to do that,) fishers will find a way to get after them. The crappie bite has sputtered on-and-off for a few weeks. Last year at this time, the bite was already full-on. Specks are a cold-loving fish, and the chilly spell at hand may well flip their feeding switch.

Second, everybody loves fishing for ganged-up speckled trout. At the season’s first significant plunge in water temperature, the thin-skinned trout desert the coastal grass flats in favor of slightly deeper and warmer haunts. It’s time for that seasonal congregation to take place. Big trout can already be found fairly well in Gulf creeks, but the only anglers able to access these skinny-water haunts are those with skinny-water boats. The average fishing vessel just isn’t able to navigate such shallow water—at least, without considerable grief and propeller damage. There is an eventuality, however, that does allow anglers (even in offshore boats) to get after the warmth-seeking trout. Around this time of year if conditions are right, trout also crowd into the deeper gulf rivers. When this occurs and the word gets out, armadas of jig, shrimp, and Mirrolure casters can pack into the Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Crystal, and Homosassa Rivers.

With low rainfall this year, the salinity level in these rivers is high; and that’s one factor that usually promotes big winter ‘river trout’ runs. Already, a few trout fishers have located scattered fish in the Suwannee and Crystal Rivers. The serious invasion, however, has not occurred to date. So, stay tuned and stay ready. The big cold-weather ‘speck’ bite could commence at any time.

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

It must be tough to be a North Florida baitfish in autumn. By mid-fall, speckled perch in area lakes—and redfish and trout along the gulf coast—go on an all-out minnow-eating binge. Reds have gathered in their favorite inshore haunts, and are presently the fastest-biting fish in the salty west coast waters. Speckled perch own the same distinction among freshwater species, prowling the deeper waters in area lakes. Speck-seeking anglers with larger boats, however, are frustrated that, in order to reach the deepest spots, they must launch in annoyingly-skinny water. Greatly-deficient rainfall amounts this year have some area boat ramps nearly unusable. Lochloosa’s public ramp just off Highway 301 remains one good spot to launch, along with the long ramp at Heagy-Burry Park on Orange Lake’s south side. In spite of outboard motor trouble, Jessie Smith of Gainesville boxed an outstanding 25-crappie Orange Lake limit last Friday. She fished minnows in open water. Sue and Bob Mitchell showed off a nice, 37-speck catch at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek Sunday, and Joe Smith filled a 25-fish limit on Orange Monday.

While redfish are the best bet for gulf anglers, they’re far from the only good coastal target. Most pelagics have moved on to warmer climes, but it is still possible for gulf coast anglers to run across southward-bound fish bringing up the rear. Fishing the clear flats Saturday north of Steinhatchee, Joey Landreneau spotted a long band of migrating mullet. As the veteran angler approached the procession, he saw the fin of a shark. When he flipped a lure to the predator, it darted past his boat’s bow. It was then that Landreneau was surprised to see that the shark was traveling with another sizable fish—a cobia. The ling did not bite, but just getting a cast at a cobia in 68-degree water is an unusual treat. The Gainesville angler continued casting DOA Shrimp to open, sandy spots surrounded by grass to boat and release 20 trout of legal size, and four reds to 23-inches.

From Suwannee, south, the gulf report this week was dominated by redfish and grouper stories. The reds seem to be abundant around shell bars and in creeks all along the coast, while fine tallies of grouper are suddenly common in water less than 40-feet deep. Capt. Don Chancy’s party trolled Stretch 30 lures Saturday off Homosassa to haul ten nice gags from 35-feet of water.

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

Lots of the speculation leading up to the just-passed Crappie USA tournament on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes centered around how the local speck anglers would fare against the touring, full-of-secrets-and-tricks pros. We already knew from many national events over the years in Florida that professional bass anglers are a notch or two above—but, just how much better at catching specks can one be?

This question was answered at Saturday weigh-in at Lochloosa Harbor. A strong wind that day limited the spots contestants could effectively fish, and changed a lot of game plans. In the end, a couple of Alabama fishermen with no preconceived game plan at all came out on top with an impressive seven-speck limit weighing 10.58 pounds. The contest’s largest single crappie-a 2.68-pound slab–anchored the McElroys’ fine catch. When the father-and-son team launched at Orange Saturday morning, it was the first time that either had seen the lake. Yeah, I guess they’re that good. A local team did manage second place—the Registers. This father-and-son team from Williston tallied 8.76-pounds of crappie.

In the Amateur Division, yet another father/son duo prevailed—the Peytons, hailing from Leesburg. Their seven-speck limit weighed 7.35-pounds. Never before have we heard of an open fishing tournament whose winners all turned out to be father-and-son teams, but it’s pretty cool. The top catches were made with chartreuse jigs tipped with minnows; and we think they all came from Orange. Unusual and outstanding catches highlight this week’s Gulf Coast results. Capt. John Palmer of Gainesville and Jim McClung of Palatka fished the Steinhatchee shallows Sunday for trout and redfish. While they did find a few of each, it was the unexpected visitors to the shoreline shallows that they will remember best. Huge schools of bonito, or ‘little tunny,’ had baitfish corralled above and below the Rocky Creek mouth “as far as the eye could see,” said Palmer. The anglers cast dark-colored jigs on light trout spinning tackle to boat ten of the powerful speedsters weighing about 5-pounds each.

Tampa fisherman, David Pocock was looking for redfish, casting jigs with shrimp-imitating tails in a Waccasassa Bay creek Sunday. He, too, found himself battling a fish that he could not have expected. Following a tough battle, the visiting angler measured and admired a beautiful 34-inch snook. While still a rare catch so far north, snook catches have steadily increased in our nearby gulf waters over recent years. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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A breezy weekend ahead of the season’s first real cold blast produced some very good catches for some anglers that hit the water as the front approached.

John Moore and Bob Wells of Leesburg drifted live minnows in Orange Lake Saturday to bag 47 speckled perch. The same day, Doris Sellers of Gainesville pulled 20 good Orange Lake specks into a Family Tradition Fish Camp rental boat. David and Mary Johnson docked at the Cross Creek fish camp with the weekend’s best tally Sunday afternoon. The Gainesville couple’s live well contained 49 nice-sized crappie.

Gulf anglers found both redfish and speckled trout in creeks near Suwannee, Cedar Keys, and Waccasassa. Keith Petteway of Williston and Floyd Graham of Ormond Beach fished shrimp and cut bait in a creek off Waccasassa Bay Monday, icing 7 very nice trout and two chunky reds. Capt. Todd Cornelius guided a party of four to an inshore combination of six trout and four reds. The trout were all nice-sized, topped by a 2 ½-pound fish, while two of the reds were maximum-size specimens measuring 27-inches and weighing almost 7-pounds.

As of Sunday, Spanish mackerel were still present off Cedar Key and Crystal River. And Suwannee Capt. Jon Farmer recently had an outstanding day for the Spanish’s big cousin, hooking six kingfish and boating three up to 50-inches long on Spotty Bottom. The cold snap early this week, however, might have nudged the kings—-and many of the Spanish—farther south. Farmer has been finding a pleasing mix of redfish, trout, black drum, and sheepshead in Suwannee area creeks for weeks now, and acknowledges that the creeks will hold even more fish now that water temperatures have taken a dive.

Some experienced anglers succeed by predicting how changing conditions affect the moods and movements of fish. The weekend’s most amazing catch, however, was not the result of such a bright angling deduction. Like many great catches, it was really pretty much an accident. Crystal River angler, Gary Lewis, was out casting for trout on the flats Saturday in his Gheenoe. When he happened to drift up on a small rocky spot in water four-feet deep, he cast his trout jig to it. Something much stouter than a trout took the lure. A few minutes later, the angler had a nice, legal grouper in his ice chest. Lewis anchored and cast again to the darker spot in the clear water. Another good grouper grabbed the bait. When he returned to Pete’s Pier on King’s Bay, Lewis’ small vessel was crowded with a full 5-grouper limit. He returned on Sunday in a larger boat and hauled in an even larger limit of shallow Crystal River gags. Even in the tossing weekend seas, offshore fishers out of nearly every Gulf port fared well. Homosassa Captain, Don Chancy also had success with grouper. Capt. Chancy and his party fished frozen Spanish sardines in water 40-feet deep to fool nine sizable fish Saturday.

Anglers that specialize in the East Coast flats off the Intracoastal Waterway are locating more and larger redfish schools in the cooling shallows. Trout, too, are on the increase—especially for nighttime casters working the lighted boat docks in the St. Augustine area.

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

If you don’t like fishing around a crowd, this is the perfect time to plan a trip to the water. Calls to several marinas, camps, and guides this morning turned up unusually-few fishing stories—and poor fishing is NOT the culprit. Most reports cited other interests reducing the number of anglers out trying their luck.

The relatively-few that did battle through football and hunting seasons and low water in most local lakes managed to return with decent catches. Drifting minnows in open water, Jerry Herrell filled a fine limit of Lochloosa crappie Sunday. His 25 fish all weighed between ¾ and 1 ¼-pounds. Clay and Charlie Register topped even that average Monday, releasing all but specks at least a pound. The Williston fishermen finished with 14 fish, all ranging from a pound to a pound-and-a-half. Sunday, Steve Ochsnert of Clearwater picked up ten Lochloosa specks and a few bream. Sharon Kennedy of Sanderson, Fl. fished minnows just outside a Lochloosa grass line to fool 19 specks Saturday. Herman Edwards of Williston equaled that catch on the lake at the other end of Cross Creek, hauling in 19 from Orange Lake. Walt Daniels and Arthur Gordon, though, iced the most impressive Orange Lake catch of the weekend. The Gainesville anglers didn’t arrive at Marjorie Rawlings boat ramp until Sunday afternoon, and then ran away from the cluster of boats off Sampson Point to open water at the lake’s North End. The anglers floated minnows to pull 30 good specks from the 8-foot-deep water before dark. The largest would later weigh a whopping 2-pounds, 14-ounces on The Tackle Box’s State-certified scales. Crappie fishers looking forward to the big, upcoming Crappie USA tournament on Orange and Lochloosa should take note of this outstanding catch.

Sixty-three top employees of the Cotton States Insurance Company from Marietta, Ga. qualified for the annual ‘reward’ fishing trip to Crystal River and Homosassa Monday and Tuesday. This year, they arrived to perfect weather and good fishing. Six guides from the Homosassa Captain’s Association treated the visitors to fast trout and redfish action. Numerous bluefish and sheepshead added color to the catch. Monday, a few maximum-size reds, a couple of three-pound trout, a 6-pound pompano, and a 100-pound tarpon that cleared the water before taking his its leave had the Georgia insurance folk abuzz.

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

Tuffy Wheeler anchored on his new favorite bassing spot on Rodman a couple of minutes after noon on Friday. The Gainesville shiner-fishing specialist put out a couple of lively baits and waited. By 3:00, most bass anglers would have been long gone in search of faster action; but Wheeler and his canine sidekick, Booder, sat and waited patiently. At 3:30, the proverbial ‘light switch’ flipped ‘on,’—as the veteran fisherman knew it eventually would. His first bite produced an 8 ½-pound beauty that he weighed and released. By 4:05, Tuffy and Booder had admired and released four more fine Rodman largemouths. Patience and perseverance and high qualities among anglers—and these are helped along greatly by confidence. “I knew the fish were there,” Wheeler explained.

Markedly cooler fall temperatures have, as expected, also turned that feeding light switch on for speckled perch in area lakes. Saturday, Sanker Miller and Sonny Redmon each docked at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek with 25-fish limits of nice-sized Orange Lake specks. Sunday, Walt Wisniewski of Jacksonville and Jim Craft of MacClenny hauled in 33 Orange Lake crappie, while Sara Boom, Phillip Wade, and Thomas Goff returned in their Family Tradition rental boat with 33 specks. Johnell Young followed with 18 specks—but these were of more impressive size, averaging around a pound-and-a-half. Each of these successes was made by drifting Orange’s depths while floating minnows set under floats. Folks looking to get in on the speck-catching action should know that water levels are low; and extra care is needed in easing out from boat ramps. Smaller vessels and outboards with trim and tilt capabilities are plusses.

Gulf Coast fishing remains very good overall, with redfish dominating the reports inside, and Spanish mackerel stealing the show out deeper. Friday, Aubrey Williams, Lou Garrish, Denny Smith, and Paul Hildebrand slipped out to Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Key. Conditions were ideal, with calm seas and an incoming tide. In just four hours of trolling silver Drone Spoons, the four Gainesville anglers had boxed a full, four-man, 60-fish limit of big Spanish. Several fish measured 28-inches-and those are big mackerel. Inshore action along the Atlantic Coast also remains solid. Able anglers, Ryan Appleby and Matt Wrann tried Friday night for the snook that occasionally show up at the Highway 206 Bridge to Crescent Beach. A baitwell full of finger mullet the young anglers cast-netted did a good job of enticing the fish, but not the kind of fish they had in mind. Appleby and Wrann didn’t hook a lineside, but they did enjoy battling 30 big ladyfish that took the live baits. To boot, several nice trout holding tight to the bridge pilings ambushed Saltwater Assassin jigs they cast when the mullet ran out.

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

Anglers that aren’t also avid hunters always look forward to the better fishing days that come as the sweltering days of late summer slip into cooler times in early fall.

So far, area freshwater fishers have seen only marginal improvement in the bass and panfish bites. For gulf anglers, on the other hand, the seasonal change has been dramatic. Offshore and inshore fans alike are currently enjoying first-rate fishing action in Big Bend waters.

Along with fair trout and excellent redfish and Spanish mackerel stories, we’re hearing a lot of great cobia reports these days. Capt. Steve McGovern and George DeLoach, fishing Sunday out of an undisclosed Big Bend port, easily had the most impressive. While anchored over rocky bottom structure in water 10 feet deep, the men noticed that a major pod of cobia had gathered around the boat. Over the next couple of hours, they saw about 30 fish, hooked 14 of them, and boated ten. That’s some amazing cobia action. Don Smith of Cedar Key Marina was looking to get into a cobia battle recently while anchored at the outermost channel marker of Cedar Key’s Main Shipping Channel. Floating cut bait, Smith soon hooked a large fish—but one that seemed too fast to be his target species. After the fish nearly stripped all of the 50-pound-test Power Pro from his reel, the angler finally wore it down. Smith and his fishing partner were much surprised to haul aboard a whopping 57-inch, 40-pound kingfish—one of the largest in recent memory to be taken so near shore.

Speckled perch catches do seem to be improving on area lakes. Even so, it’s a slow uphill climb this year, unlike the sudden action seen in recent Octobers. Friday, Dewey Edwards of Jacksonville docked at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp with 16 nice specks and two hefty catfish—all caught in water 6-feet deep with minnows. Saturday, Derek and Claire Harvey of High Springs boxed 25 Lochloosa specks in two-and-a-half hours of fishing.

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

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The chilly north winds are beginning to blow a bit more frequently, signaling the transition that’s again at hand for gulf anglers. Folks that drift the grass flats for speckled trout will be able to find fish there for several more weeks-but those that look to intercept the fish in their new, more protected hangouts will soon be bragging most. Already, fishers casting jigs and shrimp are finding big numbers of trout in Suwannee-area creeks-along with quite an array of ‘incidental’ species. Fishing with son-in-law, Darryl Ayers, Gainesville fishing icon, Dick Bowles pushed his boat up into the grass on a bank of the Suwannee’s East Pass Saturday morning. Fishing jigs tipped with shrimp in this one spot, the pair boated 29 fish-including jack crevalle, redfish, catfish, black drum, and flounder. High Springs anglers, Kevin Walker and Stacy Cowart also picked the Suwannee’s East Pass for their Sunday fishing trip. They started the morning casting TT series Mirrolures near the mouth of Dan May Creek and found nice-sized trout to be in good supply. After filling a combined 10-trout limit, they ran back to West Pass, switched to plastic worms and crankbaits, and boated 15 keeper-sized largemouth bass up to 5 ½-pounds. “It was a great day of fishing,” said Cowart.

Flounder were mentioned prominently this week by inland East Coast fishers. At Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp on Matanzas River, weekend customers casting mud minnows brought in catches ranging in number “from four to seven” flatfish. A few also found spooky redfish schools on the clear, shallow flats.

The upcoming Crappie USA tournament on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes has brought a number of new speck fishers to the area, but reports have never been tougher to gather. Laurie Pease of Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp, the event’s host camp, said, “these competitors have been really hush-hush about their fishing.” Good to know they’re just like all other tournament anglers. The pre-fishing speckers I’ve talked to at The Tackle Box seem to be of the opinion that the tournament could well be won with a seven-fish limit weighing less than ten pounds.

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

A dry season with stable late-summer weather might not bode so well for long-term freshwater angling prospects; but it is accounting for some good saltwater fishing opportunities as the fall season commences. In terms of water clarity and salinity, conditions are near ideal on both coasts-and action is excellent overall.

Along the Gulf Coast, speckled trout catches are beginning to increase as water temps begin to edge lower. Anglers casting live shrimp, cut bait, Gulp! lures, and Fishbites Strips are reporting decent trout action off every port. Redfish action is even better for the folks that have shallow-floating vessels that can stealthily access the skinny waters where the reds love to feed. Anglers in larger boats are not necessarily excluded from the great redfish bite—the Crystal River Spoil Bank, with deep-water access, presently holds loads of big reds that are more than willing to take a shrimp or pinfish flipped their way.

Spanish mackerel are the third top target of gulf fishers. Spanish specialists agree that the best mackerel fishing is most often found off Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Crystal River. Only a few king mackerel catches have been reported to date…..but we expect to hear about more kings very shortly.

Folks that like larger game should spend some time floating pinfish in a chum slick somewhere along the coast. We’ve heard numerous cobia stories over the last two weeks, and it seems clear that the powerful pelagics are passing through Big Bend waters again on their fall migration.

The East Coast results have also been impressive. Redfishing remains good in Matanzas River and at Matanzas Inlet—although not as dependable as it was a few weeks ago. The big reds show up on some tidal rotations better than others.

Locals say that the best all-around inland waterway fishing might be found at night. Trout are abundant under lighted boat docks from Crescent Beach to Marineland….and folks that are only concerned with having their strings stretched should try their nighttime luck at the Highway 206 Bridge, where jack crevalle and bluefish are schooling.

Access remains reasonably easy for smaller vessels on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, where speckled perch action is slowly picking up. Fishers drifting the mid-lake depths pulled in weekend catches that ranged from 8-to-47 specks, with the average catch closer to the lower number. The cooler nights ahead will fire the specks up, and catches are sure to increase dramatically in the coming weeks.

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

The last days of summer are slow and lazy at fish camps on area fresh waters. Aside from lake levels that are considerably lower than ideal, the feeding attitude of freshwater species is stuck firmly in that awkward late-summer rut squarely between bream and speckled perch seasons. At present, the average bluegill and crappie fishers on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes are both reporting unexciting tallies of around 6-to-12 fish. That number will tail off even farther in the ‘bream’ category…..but speck catches will rise dramatically very shortly.

Bass anglers are almost as challenged, but action on the St. John’s River system, at least, is improving. The annual shrimp run has largemouths and stripers feeding with a bit more enthusiasm, and some folks cast-netting the river shrimp have found a way to parlay their catch into even more seafood. The freshly-caught shrimp are a first-rate live bait for bass when floated under boat docks and around pilings. Ralph Porter and Dave Ahlquist nearly filled their 5-gallon bucket with sizable shrimp by midday Monday, and then anchored on the Memorial Bridge pilings. With a few of the shrimp they had just netted, the Gainesville men hooked a nice largemouth, a small striper, and a big speck in short order.

Rodman Reservoir is another top bet for bass fishing. The water here is ultra clear, though, so early morning and late evening hours are best. Saltwater anglers are doing a lot more bragging these days than their inland counterparts. Speckled trout continue to bite well on the gulf flats, good Spanish mackerel catches are still coming from deep flats and offshore reefs, and already-large redfish numbers seem to be yet building. Capt. Jon Farmer’s Texas party released no fewer that 40 Suwannee reds Saturday—and most were keeper-size fish. Capt. Jon located the reds on outer sand and shell bars, where he had his customers cast live shrimp and gold spoons. On their way back home from a trip to the Florida Keys, the vacationing Texans declared that the Suwannee fishing beat the angling action in the Keys hands down. Of course, a good guide has more than a little to do with such impressions.

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

With no measurable rainfall in weeks, area lake levels are beginning to slip downward again. Infrequent anglers with larger vessels that decided to try Orange, Lochloosa, or Newnans Lake over the Labor Day weekend had a tough time ramping in and out.

Most didn’t exactly load those boats with fish, either—the summer-to-fall transition often brings slower fishing in our fresh waters, even when the lakes are full.

Thankfully, it brings improved feeding attitudes on the salty coasts. The final days of this year’s gulf scallop season are producing some of its best results. Many folks persistently searching the clear, grassy shallows off Steinhatchee and Homosassa are eventually filling scallop limits. The coming weekend is the last one to legally pursue the bivalves.

Gulf anglers are noticing a clear upswing in action. Speckled trout catches are improving on the flats all along the Big Bend. Spanish mackerel are big and plentiful off Suwannee, Cedar Keys, and Crystal River—and the best grouper catches in months were seen over the holiday weekend at several ports.

Still, one common thread is apparent all along the gulf and even over on the Atlantic side: Redfish have shown up abundant and hungry. Rick and Richard Stanton fished Waccasassa Bay Monday. With cut bait and shrimp, the father-and-son teamed up to boat several nice reds, topped by a fine pair of maximum-size 27-inchers. At the end of the Labor Day trip, their ice chest also contained trout measuring 23 and 21-inches. Outstanding redfish results also came from the Suwannee, Crystal River, and Homosassa River areas.

It’s the East Coast redfish report, however, that really stands out…….and for a peculiar reason. It seems that a major run of reds arrived at Matanzas Inlet on Friday and Saturday, and that the fishing scene since has resembled the Wild West. The scramble to battle the big East Coast reds has apparently become unusually emotional for local fishers fighting for position. The problem stems from the fact that the best spot to hook the mostly-oversize brutes can be reached from the shore, from the Matanzas Bridge, and, (of course) from boats. Observers say that the ongoing battle between these casting factions is somewhere between “entertaining” and “disturbing.” At any rate, as Karen Miles of Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp put it, “that’s the best fishing bet—-if you can stand it.”

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

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As usual, late summer offers a mixed and somewhat limited bag of opportunities to the North Florida angler.

Bass are hard to locate, bream numbers are thinning in the bedding areas that had been dependable around ‘new’ and ‘full’ moons since April, and the speckled perch that will soon take over as the number one panfishing target have not yet gathered in mid-lake packs. At least the annual migration of St. John’s River shrimp is gaining steam as a very sub-par scallop season winds down. The best news for area freshwater fishers might be that ominously-low lake levels are presently inching upwards following months of gradual movement in the other direction. Hopefully, a wet September will keep them on the rise.

Orange Lake is yielding some large bream-including the ridiculous 2-pound bluegill taken by Kenny Gaskins a few days back. But Lochloosa seems to be giving up better overall panfish tallies. Several weekend cane-polers dipping grass shrimp and crickets pulled limit and near-limit catches from the maidencane edge that surrounds much of the lake. A handful of anglers have tried drifting Lochloosa’s deeper water for specks, with almost all reporting similar catches of from 6-to-12 crappie of ‘keeper’ size. Some of those numbers might have been more impressive if not for the afternoon thunderstorms that ran the speck fans back to shore before they were ready. Gulf anglers are finding fewer trout, but Spanish mackerel action is holding up well and redfish seem more willing now than they have been all summer. Positive redfish reports came in this week from every gulf port for the first time this year. “High tide,” “shellbars,” and “Gulp Shrimp” are mentioned in most of these reports.

The sudden appearance of multitudes of tarpon along East Coast beaches a couple of weeks back coincided with the arrival of big finger mullet and pogy (menhaden) schools. Those wads of baitfish are still present above and below Matanzas Inlet, and fat tarpon and smallish bluefish are escorting them along the beaches. This pursuit should rank highly among the folks looking for early-September line-stretching gamefish action.

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

The sweltering Dog Days heat always brings a drastic reduction in angling traffic on all North Florida waters. This year, soaring gasoline prices seem to have made the thought of waiting for bites in the relentless sun even less appealing.

Well, for anyone that does have a mind to hit the late-August water, here are the very best bets we’re aware of: 1. Bream-fishing on Lochloosa. The water level here is marginal, but access is still reasonably-easy at the public ramp on Highway 301…and folks are still able to churn through Cross Creek from A Family Tradition Fish Camp, and Orange Lake ramps. While hot-weather bream-bedding activities will soon wind down, the bluegill and shellcracker bite here has remained excellent. Fifty-fish limit catches continued through the early part of this week. Dip grass shrimp or crickets along outer maidencane edges and in the lily pads on the lake’s southeast side. 2. St. John’s River shrimping. It’s still early in the run, but this is looking like the best bunch of migrating river shrimp in years—and their average size is improving quickly. Most local shrimpers like the Palatka and Green Cove Springs areas best; cast-netting along the deeper channel edges by day and employing chum and lights at night in shallower water. Lately, nocturnal netters have reported better results. Cooler, too. The daily limit is 5-gallons of heads-on shrimp, and that’s enough for a fine feast. 3. Tarpon fishing near Matanzas Inlet. This one just started last weekend-and is the most challenging and potentially-exciting choice. Big schools of silver mullet just arrived along the Matanzas stretch of Atlantic Coast, and bunches of silver kings showed up along with them. Although plenty of tarpon will slip up into Matanzas River, local anglers have, so far, done best just off the beaches both above and below the inlet. Fred Miles and John Herring fished live mullet Sunday while chumming near the beach. The men jumped an amazing two-dozen fish of varying sizes. Now that’s some exciting fishing.

If you’ve been hankering for some late-summer on-the-water action, give these a try.

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

With below-average rainfall for the year and no major rain event to bolster levels, the summer heat continues to draw down our shallow local lakes. Anglers using motor boats are finding that access onto Orange and Newnans Lakes poses a real water pump risk. Of course, the folks with the little vessels seem pleased that the lakes are theirs exclusively since bluegill catches remain pretty strong. Folks are pulling the biggest numbers of big bream from Orange and Lochloosa. Several have revealed their successful technique of pushing their boats into stands of maidencane, then dropping grass shrimp or crickets along the outside edges of the grass. A couple of big messes of bream were taken on the Windsor side of Newnans Lake last weekend as well.

Bass reports have been scarce lately. Even so, a few sweltering anglers have enjoyed success while dragging large plastic worms down deeper ledges in Rodman Pool. The St. John’s River shrimp run is underway, and that always sparks the river bass up. So far, fishers have found a few extra bites around current-breaking structure such as pilings; but no Palatka angler has mentioned seeing schooling fish.

Boat ramps along the Gulf Coast are no more crowded than those on inland lakes. Even at Steinhatchee, where there should be considerable extra activity from the scalloping crowd, things are strangely quiet. Why the Steinhatchee scallops were a no-show this season has been debated hotly. Meanwhile, the limited anglers trying for trout on the clear flats are picking up only occasional keepers.

Reports from ports farther down the coast (Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa) sound similar. A few decent trout and redfish stories here and there, but nothing to make the average angler rush out into the 95-degree sun.

One very interesting Big Bend story that has evolved over the last few seasons is the distinctly-increasing presence of a highly-prized south Florida gamefish. Over recent years, snook numbers have grown in the Crystal River area, and scattered examples have been hooked as far north as Suwannee. Visiting from North Carolina, Janet Peterson was enjoying good redfish action near Cedar Key last Thursday when she hooked instead a little 18-inch lineside. The next day out of Crystal River, she and husband, Bob, each caught another snook—each slightly larger than the Cedar Key fish. Their friend and guide, George Yates, had to convince his visitors that these were not normal catches. It’s funny how out-of-place fishers and out-of-place fish often seem to find each other.

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

Folks that wrote off the 2006 scalloping year might want to reconsider and try a late-season shellfishing excursion. With about one month left in the 2006 gulf scallop season, things are clearly turning for the better. The best overall scalloping results of the season are being seen at Steinhatchee and Homosassa marinas. Of the two shellfish-gathering destinations, Homosassa is best. The clear, shallow flats south of the river are finally producing consistent 5-gallon limits of sizable bivalves. Although the Steinhatchee shallows remain unusually stingy with their scallop production, they are a bit more scallop-rich at present than they have been up to this point.

During good years, the St. John’s River shrimp run starts firing on all cylinders by mid August. This is starting to look like one of those very productive years—and it would be the first in quite a while. The initial wave of saltwater shrimp was intercepted north of Green Cove Springs two weeks ago. Then last week, a few 5-gallon limits were cast-netted near Federal Point, a few miles downstream from Palatka. This week, some positive stories have finally come from the Palatka stretch—the piece of the big river nearest Gainesville. When the run is in full swing, evidence of the prized crustaceans’ presence can be easily seen from Memorial Bridge. Dozens of anchored vessels will be in view; their occupants throwing cast nets.

Traditional cane pole or reel-and-rod fishing is also holding up well in the wilting summer heat. The August Full Moon again bunched bluegill and shellcracker up for a mid-summer spawning session. D.D. Cooper pulled 50 big bluegill from Lochloosa Friday. Don Wilson and Steve Donaldson of Valdosta docked with an 85-fish mix of Orange Lake bluegill and shellcracker Saturday, and Carl Young of Hawthorne iced his 50-bream limit Tuesday. Grass shrimp and crickets are the most productive baits on the twin lakes. Live saltwater bait shrimp are again readily available, to the joy of many anglers. Thursday, four Homosassa friends cast shrimp in the midday heat with notable success. Nancy and Colleen Bushy, Todd Cornelius, and Dwayne Diaz boated no fewer than 35 redfish around the St. Martin’s Keys. Strangely, though, (for August) every fish was small-under the 18-inch minimum legal size. Fortunately, the last spot they tried produced two legal reds. At 1:30, the fierce heat drove the foursome back to dock at McRae’s Marina.

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

There’s one thing we have learned from being in the bait and tackle business for all these years—when fish are biting, anglers will always find a way to the water. In drought and flood, regardless of personal commitments or extreme weather….folks with fishing in their blood will fish if they think they can get a bite.

The “extreme weather” part presently applies. Through the middle of the day Sunday on Orange Lake, I was so miserable I didn’t really even care if I got a bite or not. Only a steady parade of big warmouth pretending to be bass kept me somewhat focused.

Most folks that are fishing now are trying to avoid the harsh midday hours; doing their most serious casting during early morning and late evening. Almost everyone seriously fishing these days knows what he is doing—and some really fine results are coming in from nearby waters. Gary and Cynthia Terry stopped by the store Saturday afternoon to pick up ice for their day’s catch. I walked out to look at the cooler-full catch of bluegill and saw that the Gainesville couple had a problem—-there wasn’t enough room in the ice chest for ice. It was pretty much full to the top with big ‘copperhead’ bluegill and shellcracker they had just tempted from the east side of Newnans Lake with grass shrimp. Of course, there are worse problems to have….

Lloyd and Bob Miller likewise enjoyed an exceptional bream-catching day Saturday. The brothers eased out from Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp at 7:00 a.m., and fished crickets and grass shrimp in the maidencane along the lake’s Highway 301 side. At noon, the Millers returned to the camp with 46 bream weighing up to a pound.

A few good bass catches have been reported. Jim Denton of Ocala cast a Gambler spinnerbait in Lochloosa Thursday evening. Just before he was ready to call it a day, a 24-inch, 6.75 pound largemouth pounced on the lure. For the first time in five years, the Camp Blanding Lakes are again open to boaters and anglers. On opening day Friday, Skip and Michael Davis and Stan King waited at the gate along with dozens of other vehicles with boats on trailers. When most of the anglers in line ahead of them chose to fish Lowrey Lake, King and the Davises chose the other lake—Magnolia. In two-and a-half hours of casting watermelon-colored plastic worms, the three boated 49 bass. Eleven were hefty fish better than 16-inches long. The elder Davis summed up the feelings of a lot of fishers saying, “I’m sure glad they opened it back up.”

Through August, the Blanding lakes will be accessible on Fridays and Saturdays, from 7:00 a.m. ’til 1:30.

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

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I ran into a fishing buddy the other day at the grocery store and asked him why we never see him during July and August. He replied, “This is a good time to mow or get ready for football season-maybe take a trip with the family. But I don’t fish in this heat—the water’s so hot they don’t bite anyway….” Indeed, the late-July turn into the dreaded Dog Days of summer is seen as “no man’s land” by most North Florida anglers. While it’s true that most mid-summers do present poor overall fishing options, there are always line-wetting niches that remain fun and rewarding. Then there are hot summers that inexplicably bring downright excellent fish-catching opportunities. Summers like this one. The sunblock-and-long-sleeve-shirt crew faring best is concentrating on the Big Bend of our Gulf Coast.

“Fishing’s just really good right now,” declares journeyman Suwannee captain, Jon Farmer. Saturday, my party and I caught big mackerel and trout until we were tired; then a 46-inch cobia took a pinfish we had out in the chum slick.” Although he is also locating plenty of nice redfish inshore, Farmer’s best success has come at anchor and chumming on Spotty Bottom-and beyond. “A lot of big trout are out in water 25-or more feet deep, out past Spotty Bottom. I’ve been anchoring and setting out chum over the grass and rock patches out there. It attracts everything—speckled and sand trout, mackerel, bluefish, cobia, and tons of little sharks.” Shallower trout flats are also producing. Fishing out of Waccasassa Fishing Club Saturday, Jim and Sharon Smith filled a fine 10-trout limit that included a pair of fish over 20-inches and nothing under 18-inches. The Lady Lake couple cast jigs in Waccasassa Bay. Offshore fishers, too, say that the hot weather fishing is better than it was during spring. Grouper and snapper tallies remain very respectable—many taken from waters surprisingly near shore. Low lake levels have kept some boaters off Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes. The folks with smaller vessels, though, are finding big bedding bream. Weekend anglers docking at A Family Tradition Fish Camp with big bluegill catches include: Donnie Bauknight, Bill and Myrna Jones, Gene Posey, and Sonny Redmon. Even some crappie fans have been able to locate willing specks. Harold Bowman drifted Orange’s deepest water Friday to box an impressive 25-speck limit.

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

Florida anglers know that there’s plenty of good fish-catching to be found–even through the heat of summer. You just have to pick and choose your target with a bit more discrimination than during the milder seasons when almost EVERY kind of fish is readily available.

Panfishing is, as always, the most dependable hot-weather choice in fresh waters. This year’s bluegill crop in Orange, Lochloosa, Rodman, and Newnans Lakes has been good in number, but even more outstanding in size. Saucer-size ‘copperheads’ were common catches for cane-pole fishers with grass shrimp and crickets leading up to the early-July Full Moon. Through the fickle moon’s waning phase, however, results have been far less impressive. In-the-know breammers believe that the coming weekend just ahead of the New Moon will again see good congregations of spawning fish. Bass anglers expect off-and-on action, concentrating their efforts in early morning and late evening—-and while the barometer is moving fast due to nearby thunderstorms. A bass club from Valdosta fished Orange last weekend—and reported better-than-expected mid summer success. The winner, whose two days’ ten fish limit weighed 33-pounds, said he cast plastic frog lures in lily pads. Water levels are thus far holding pretty well in our area lakes, but for boaters, there’s no room for any further drop. This season’s Gulf Coast scalloping crowd has probably suffered about a 95-percent disappointment rate. It looks like this is simply one of those “off” years for the prized shellfish. Results from the Homosassa area (especially southward towards Chassahowitzka) have been best; but 5-gallon limits are still hard to come by.

Speckled trout numbers, on the other hand, remain good on relatively-shallow grass flats all along the coast. Finally, gulf marinas are starting to receive partial orders of live bait shrimp—-but they’re mighty small. Folks casting Gulp! grubs and shrimp set under popping or rattling floats are faring best overall, picking up nice trout limits regularly. Spanish mackerel are another top Gulf Coast bet. Crystal River, Cedar Key, and Suwannee anglers are all reporting that loads of mackerel are available out on deep flats.

And gulf grouper fishers are finally offering good reports. Nice limits of gags have come from water ranging from 35-to-55 feet deep for a couple of weeks. Most are anchoring over structure and fishing squid or sardines on the bottom.

East Coast inland waterway anglers looking for sport are having no trouble finding it. Along with abundant jack crevalle, locals are hooking plenty of nice-sized bluefish. One very good bet at present is the Highway 206 Bridge just before sunset. Surface plugs cast around the bridge pilings will attract blues from 4-to-8-pounds.

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

Fishing often takes a distinct downturn through the blistering Dog Days of late summer. So far this season, however, action has held up exceptionally well in both fresh and salt waters.

If not for water levels on the edge of direly-low, things would be altogether great for the anglers searching for fish in nearby lakes, Newnans, Orange, and Lochloosa. As always, bream fishing is the hot weather staple—and it was excellent around the just-passed Full Moon phase. Fifty-fish limit catches of bluegill and shellcracker are expected in Orange and Lochloosa in the summer months, and such fine catches are being seen at fish camps almost daily. It is the size of the panfish this year that is most notable. Bream weighing a full pound or more are, unthinkably, almost common these days. The long list of weekend fishers that docked with big bunches of big bream included: Tracy Parker and Steve Marshall fishing crickets on Lochloosa; and Sonny Redmon, Bill DeSong and Myrna Jones, and Guy and Vaughn Sherrer dunking grass shrimp on Orange. Gulf action also remains very good for so late into summer. Trout are still abundant on the shallow flats—the female fish even thick with roe we would expect to see in April trout. Spanish mackerel are loaded up out on Seahorse Reef and Spotty Bottom off Cedar Keys and Suwannee, respectively. And a couple of nice kings were taken from the outer reaches of Spotty last weekend.

Although scallop season has been disappointing, some marina owners believe there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful that things will improve dramatically later in the season. Nancy Bushey of McRae’s at Homosassa said, “Results are getting a little better every day.”

East Coast anglers are enjoying good action in the surf, where whiting are the main target. Pompano and black drum are appealing-but-occasional bonuses. Tarpon numbers are increasing in the inland waterway, and flounder remain abundant-but small.

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

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With the arrival of July, even some of the most dedicated North Florida hook-and-line fishers allow the focus of their finny pursuits to be derailed for a while by a couple of special opportunities. These will last nearly until fall (and, in reality, are usually better in the later stages of the season.) Nevertheless, the folks that have hankered for scallop-gathering and the cast-netting of river shrimp are always looking to rush up the bivalves and crustaceans.

Saturday marks the July 1start of scallop season in Big Bend waters, and it is certain that hundreds of boats will be scouring the clear shallows on the best scalloping grounds near Steinhatchee, Crystal River, and Homosassa. Trouble is, the preseason reports regarding the shellfish’s population density in these well-known areas are not favorable. Clarity, salinity, and condition of sea grasses are all important factors, and they all appear to be perfectly fine. If anyone has really located the motherlode of bivalves, though, he’s not talking. The one positive indication I’ve been able to dig up came from a shrimper looking for (presently ultra-scarce) bait shrimp out in deeper water off Homosassa. He didn’t find many shrimp-but his trawl did contain lots of big scallops. Perhaps the wily shellfish are hanging out in water too deep for the waders and snorkelers this season. Following a couple of purely-dismal annual St. John’s River shrimp runs, locals are hoping hard that this year will be different. In the good years, a handful of small shrimp would be already as far upriver as Palatka by the first of July; and the shrimp could be expected to increase in number and size until early September. Again, however, nobody has offered a positive indication that this will be that kind of year.

We’ll certainly keep a close eye on these two potentially-pleasing distractions. For now, though, better look back to targets with fins and scales.

The water level has started falling noticeably again on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes. Bream fishing success, on the other hand, is rising. Unusually large bluegill and shellcracker willing to take grass shrimp and crickets were in good supply in all three lakes last weekend. And the scarce, good catches of Lochloosa speckled perch are becoming more common as more fishers give the deep water a try.

Speckled trout and Spanish mackerel are the fastest-biting gulf species, with sharks not far behind. And fine flounder catches still have East Coast inland waterway anglers turned on. The folks at Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp have seen a number of semi doormat-size flatfish lately.

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

Summer has arrived officially. Fortunately, the season that brings heat, bugs, and storms also offers plenty of good fishing. The mainstays of hot weather freshwater fishers are panfish of one kind or another, and while their spawning congregations have been a bit half-hearted so far this season, things appear to be improving following good rainfall from the year’s first tropical storm. Vaughn, Tristen, and Fay Sherrer of Cross Creek pulled limits of big bluegill and shellcracker from Orange Lake Sunday. All 150 bream fell for grass shrimp. Bill DeSong and Myrna Jones also boxed Orange Lake shellcracker limits Sunday; and Donnie Bauknight and J.R. took their allowed 100 fish Monday. Bobby Brek tried speckled perch in Lochloosa Monday with surprising success. Trolling jigs in water 10-feet deep, he filled a 25-fish limit.

Reports of Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha River redbellies are also on the increase; and Newnans Lake panfish have likewise kicked their bite up a notch. Ronnie Brown and Ben Smith fished grass shrimp in Newnans’ southwest corner Monday. A small area in three feet of water yielded a pleasing catch of 45 bluegill and 18 speckled perch.

Tropical Storm Alberto apparently gave freshwater action a boost, but its effects have had the opposite influence of Gulf Coast results. Grass flats along the coast are slowly clearing, but rafts of floating grass are making it tough for anglers to present baits effectively. Several have reported that setting Berkley Gulp! Shrimp under Equalizer or Cajun Thunder floats is the only sure way to keep an unfouled lure in front of prospective trout or redfish. Bobby Hall of Bostwick used this method Friday and Saturday to entice trout limits from under the widespread flotsam north of Steinhatchee. An Ocala crew fished grassy points in Waccasassa Bay Sunday, casting Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny and Pearl White colors. Larry Muldrow filled his one-fish limit with a 22-inch redfish. Gene Posey and son, Gene Jr. each fooled 24-inch keeper reds, and Peggy Posey lured a 22-incher. Nine-year old Amanda Posey, though, claimed the day’s best red at 26-inches. Gulf Coast shrimp trawlers apparently have had no luck finding bait since Alberto, and have reportedly stopped trying for the time being. This leaves the popular Gulp! products, along with favorites such as Saltwater Assassin jigs, as the top bait choices.

There is no ‘weed,’ ‘dark water,’ or ‘scarce bait’ challenge on the East Coast, and action here remains very good. The Intracoastal Waterway is said to be producing loads of trout, reds, and flounder.

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

While they do provide welcomed relief, the scattered and isolated showers we’re seeing in the afternoons are not what we need to stop the bleeding. This has, so far, been a cruelly-dry year. Access into some favorite area fishing holes is already ‘iffy’ with some vessels, and it will soon be worse without serious rainfall.

The smaller boats that can still make it into Orange and Lochloosa from Cross Creek have found bedding bluegill and shellcracker. Billy Dissong’s fat 1-pound, 6-ounce shellcracker leads the monthly panfish contest at A Family Tradition Fish Camp. Fishing freshwater grass shrimp, local bream experts, Donnie Bauknight and J.R. pulled in a nice 50-fish mix of Orange Lake bream Monday. A bass tournament is scheduled for Sunday at Marjorie Rawlings Park on Orange—but the competitors in large bass boats may find it tough exiting and entering the park’s canal.

Saltwater action remains strong on both coasts. Gulf Coast trout fishers casting Saltwater Assassin grubs with Fishbites Strip added are loading up on nice-sized fish—as are those fishing Berkley Gulp! grubs and shrimp. Most clear grass flats along the entire coast are holding trout. Anglers fishing the near-shore bars and cuts report seeing lots of redfish—but that the usually-cooperative spot tails seem reluctant to bite artificials. Darrell Elliott and Butch Bailey had no trouble filling both trout and redfish limits Sunday and Monday. They fished Gulp! grubs and Johnson gold spoons near Rock Point, north of Steinhatchee.

Debra Hunter of Providence had a big strike last Wednesday while casting a Tiny Torpedo—a little surface lure used most often for bass. At the time, however, she was fishing a very shallow grass flat near Horseshoe Beach with husband, Jerry. The fish turned out to be a 25.5-inch speckled trout weighing 5-pounds—a real Gulf Coast whopper.

During this season the Gulf heavyweights gather—and prime fishing time has arrived for those that enjoy battling them. Capt. Jon Farmer took out a shark-seeking party Sunday. Anchored and chumming in a deeper cut surprisingly near shore, Farmer’s three-person group from Chattanooga boated and released a bunch of Suwannee sharks-including five they estimated at over 150-pounds. Among the varieties were black tips, lemons, and a nurse shark. “We had a big reel spooled, too,” said Farmer, “and there’s no telling how big that one was.” Gainesville angler and avid sharker, Bill Pfeiffer caught and released an 8-foot tiger off Cedar Key—after another that he feels was larger had broken his line.

Whether you’re after bluegill or tiger sharks, June is an excellent month to wet a line.

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

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The summer months of 2006 arrive to ominously-low and falling area lake levels. Adding to that all-too-familiar problem is a large amount of non-native vegetation growth that has already been—or will soon be—addressed with herbicide application. I’m no biologist, but hot, low water and large amounts of spray can’t be a good combination for the fish living between the weeds and the already-mucky bottom.

As of the Memorial Day Weekend, fishing remained pretty good overall in the heavily-vegetated areas on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes. Gene Posey fished grass shrimp in Lochloosa pads last Thursday to take 50 big shellcracker. He returned Friday along with friends, Bill and Myrna Jones. Posey boated 40 more ‘crackers, and the Citra couple took 35.

Bass anglers on Orange and Lochloosa also enjoyed holiday weekend success. One Jacksonville basser was clearly shaken Monday, declaring that he had just lost an enormous fish at the boat in Orange. Stephen Gray managed to put his 8-pound Lochloosa largemouth in the boat Monday—at least for a few moments before he released it.

Steinhatchee continues to produce dependable trout action for Gulf anglers. Even though boat ramps and the best-known flats were crowded over the holiday weekend, it seems that most fishers were pleased with their catch. Saltwater Assassin grubs and Gulp! Shrimp were mentioned most often as the top trout attractors.

Saltwater anglers concentrating on the East Coast have returned with fishing stories at least as impressive as their Gulf brothers. While folks remaining in the inland waters are hooking lots of redfish and flounder, the more adventuresome group fishing out in the Atlantic reports unusually-excellent opportunities not far from the beaches. Numerous bait pods are scattered along the coast, and these have attracted predators not often seen so near shore. Along with the expected cobia and kingfish, anglers have been amazed to catch big numbers of fair-sized dolphin within eyesight of the sunbathers.

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

North Florida anglers that had long awaited a nice weekend finally received at least passable conditions Saturday and Sunday. Contestants in the Third Annual Doug Johnson and Donnie Young Reeling for Kids Tournament held at Steinhatchee woke Saturday morning to 15-mph winds and 3-to-4-foot seas—but that was a little better than most Saturdays this season. The sloppy conditions caused several of the 74 teams that had set sights on grouper and kings to hunt for winning fish in the contest’s inshore categories instead.

Veteran grouper angler, Frank Sheffield succeeded in making it out to water deep enough to produce a nice 13-poung gag-and that was big enough to take the thousand-dollar ‘Big Grouper’ prize.

Several fine speckled trout were taken to the scales, including former Gator, Travis McGriff’s stout 4.2-pounder and event emcee, Doug Stringfellow’s 4.7-pound, 25.5-inch whopper. A pair of 5.7-pound fish tied for first place in the redfish division.

Gator greats, Johnson and Young did a truly remarkable job garnering sponsors for the event that benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs. In total, they raised the amazing total of more than 75 thousand dollars–by far more than any area fishing event…….ever.

Results in Sunday’s Gator Open, this area’s longest-standing bass tournament, were good enough to make believers of anyone doubting the recent comeback of Orange and Lochloosa lakes. The Ocala team of Gary Bradford and Robbie Denton missed a key bit of information in the pre-tournament meeting. Thinking the tourney limit was 5-bass, they released a couple of three-pound largemouths after boxing five larger fish. This would normally have been a fatal error, but amazingly, the bass-catching team’s total weight of 26.45-pounds was enough to win anyway. It’s not often a team can spot the remainder of the field a fish and still come out on top.

From top to bottom, catches in the 30th Annual contest were most impressive. The seventh-place team (the lowest placement to receive a paycheck) put together an 18.73-pound limit.

Bluegill are biting a little more dependably, and some Orange Lake fishers have discovered that minnows, jigs, and spinners fished out in the mid-lake depths will presently attract decent attention from speckled perch. Saturday, Andrew Franklin and John Hill docked at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek with a 90-fish mix of bluegill and specks they enticed with grass shrimp.

Newnans and Lochloosa Lakes and the Suwannee River are also presently good bets for fast panfish action.

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

Mid May weather conditions continue to be curiously cool at night and breezy by day. The windy portion of that recipe has diminished the saltwater anglers’ fish-catching effectiveness; while the still-coolish water temperatures are putting the bluegill bite off in nearby lakes. May weather is normally more stable, and the standard calm warm-up will eventually commence.

While the Gulf Coast fishers’ total trout take might have been reduced over the last few days, it’s still plenty good on the flats near Steinhatchee, Cedar Key, and Homosassa. Anglers casting a variety of artificial lures near these ports last weekend managed fine numbers of nice fish. Things have been a bit tougher lately near Suwannee, where suspended algal glops that many locals refer to as ‘gumbo’ have temporarily messed fishing up. The ‘gumbo balls’ drift throughout the water column, fouling line and lure. Even out on Spotty Bottom, where big trout and mackerel should be presently easy to find, the quarter-size green clumps are wreaking fishing havoc. Fortunately, these blooms do not typically last for very long. Just a short distance to the south of Spotty, on Seahorse Reef, Cedar Key anglers continue to enjoy fast fishing for big schools of mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish. And some of the baddest pelagics of all are in place and ready for battle. Scott McCann and friends pulled 11 cobia from one Cedar Key channel marker Saturday, and couldn’t stop a 12th fish that looked to be better than 4-feet long. Even though 9 of the ling the Gainesville fishers boated were sub legal, this report should fire up area cobia fans.

The East Coast report is more positive these days, although some of the fastest-biting species such as jacks, ladyfish, and blues won’t excite all anglers. Everyone will be pleased that flounder catches are again picking up—and fishers casting to lighted boat docks at night are hooking some very large trout.

The 50-fish limit catches of bluegill and shellcracker on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes came to an abrupt end following last weekend’s full moon. A few fair (15-to-30 fish) tallies have been reported since, but the combination of chilly nights and the less-favorable moon phase have clearly slowed the panfishing. A handful of favorable bass reports have come from Rodman and Santa Fe Lakes and from the Suwannee River, where good-sized largemouths are taking slowly-fished soft plastics. The huge annual bass tournament benefiting the Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville will be held at Palatka on Saturday the 20th, and a couple hundred of the competing boats will likely make the trip through the Buckman Locks into Rodman.

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

Weekend weather forecasts promised nice conditions, but a stout breeze off the gulf again had the last laugh, forcing scores of boaters to cancel—or at least alter—angling plans.

It was a bit amusing to see offshore boats nearly thirty feet long casting for trout on the flats Saturday, but the adjustment was understandable. Doug, Alex, and Andrew Stringfellow and I fished in four-foot swells on a deep trout spot near Seahorse Key, so it must’ve really been rough out in the big water.

The funny thing is that the largest and most seaworthy vessels that did make it out to the grouper grounds fared quite well in the pitching seas. Frank Kowalczyk and Ken Bedford made it all the way out to water 100-feet deep in Frank’s 31-foot Cape Horn Saturday morning. At that depth, they hauled in 5 big gags from 15-to-18 pounds, plus the head half of another. When the bull sharks showed up, the men eased back in to 90-feet of water. Here, they boated 4 nice red snapper before “about a hundred barracuda” forced another move. A spot in 80-feet of water produced only short grouper. It was late afternoon when the pair anchored on a spot in water just 39-feet deep. Here, they saw the only other boat they would encounter all day—and finished fine grouper limits. Actually, they were a half fish short of a full limit, but as close as they could legally be.

Bill Benson, Danny McDonald, Ted Nollinger, and Ray Sontag made it well off Crystal River Saturday morning in a 29-foot Triton. In water 85-feet deep, however, they found the seas too sloppy for bottom fishing. The four Ocala anglers responded to this adversity by putting out Mann’s Stretch 30 lures. Rigged with thin Spectra line and set far back behind the big Triton, the deep-running lures made it close enough to the bottom to attract 17 very sizable grouper by 1:00 pm. In fact, their best three gags were extra-stout specimens measuring 39, 38, and 36-inches.

Inshore action was very good as well, as our party took a nice 4-man limit of Cedar Key trout to 22-inches, plus three nice redfish. We cast Saltwater Assassin jigs under Cajun Thunder floats to take most of the fish. Steinhatchee and Suwannee trout catches were also good Saturday and Sunday. And Monday, Michelle and Richard Vaughn fished with Homosassa Captain Chris to boat a pair of nice cobia, three keeper reds, and a whopping 27-inch trout.

Freshwater catches locally were topped by the limit and near-limit catches of big bluegill on Newnans Lake’s south end. Heading to work Monday morning on Lakeshore Drive, I counted six bream fishing boats crowded in one section of flooded bushes. Tuesday morning, eleven boats were dropping grass shrimp and crickets in the same spots. As the May moon waxes, bluegill should congregate even more.

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

All things must pass, and in the spring of 2006 the old Tackle Box building became just a fond memory for thousands of Gainesville anglers and residents. If our society placed more value on the really important aspects of life, the sixty-year-old block structure would have been preserved and placed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

The new Tackle Box is nice, with plenty of room for fishin’ stuff and a great atmosphere-and we’ll work hard to help it someday carry the same deep-rooted, heart-and-soul fisherman’s character.

But enough about old memories. We want to catch fish right now. Yet another windy and unseasonably chilly weekend kept gulf fishers from the fast-biting speckled trout and mackerel. The few that did crash out through the sizable waves to Seahorse Reef and Spotty Bottom found fish, but struggled to fish effectively. At least one group of Suwannee anglers was able to whack easy limits of big Spanish Saturday. They were just a short distance from the river mouth at Pelican Reef when they saw the large school of fish chopping the water to a froth. This is a popular spot among redfishers, but it’s pretty unusual to find lots of mackerel there.

Cole and Debbie Childers were able to make a great Horseshoe Beach catch Saturday by staying close to shore. The pair set up drifts–running in to water two-feet-deep, and then letting the southeast wind push them back out to the 5-foot mark. As they drifted, the Gainesville couple cast white Berkley Gulp! Shrimp on jigheads to take impressive double-limit of trout to 23-inches. They also boated lots of sand trout up to 14-inches and fooled several Spanish with Skitter Walk topwater lures.

Crystal River anglers also found lots of near-shore mackerel in the windy conditions, and the found bigger bites as well. Several cobia were taken to port at Pete’s Pier, on Kings Bay—the largest weighed at 34-pounds. Freshwater reports from the weekend were even scarcer, as hot weather-loving bluegill apparently all-but refused to bite. The bream strike was, fortunately, very temporary. By Monday, big catches of Newnans Lake bluegill were coming in again. The waxing moon in May traditionally brings the best bream action of the year, and as the weather settles, panfishing should improve quickly and dramatically.

Another very good freshwater happening is the ongoing run of striped bass at Rodman Dam. Shorebound casters are hooking quite a number of good-sized stripers with both shiners and artificial lures. Most seem to be in the 7-to-10-pound range.

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

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The late spring season often brings the best all-around fishing of the year. Although spring-like weather seemed to be with us for an unusually brief spell in 2006, the early turn into summer is again accompanied by on-the-water success stories to tug at every angling soul.

One of the best seasonal indicators in the North Florida fishing world is the wholehearted arrival of the nomadic predators of the gulf. Just a few days ago, Spanish and king mackerel, bluefish, and cobia all showed up quite suddenly in the Gulf Coast waters nearest Gainesville. Reports for the last two weeks or so have been inspiring, to say the least. Great mackerel catches have been numerous on two of the traditionally-best mackerel grounds in the state—Seahorse Reef off Cedar Key and Spotty Bottom off Suwannee. Anglers casting or trolling jigs and spoons are locating Spanish of all sizes in these areas—and are connecting with lots of kings as well. While Seahorse and Spotty have accounted for a large number of kings, most folks targeting the sleek speedsters are doing so in a zone aptly called “the Kingfish Hole.” In water about 25-feet deep, it’s roughly in between the two top Spanish hotspots. A large number of fish in the 20-pound class were taken there over the weekend.

Cobia numbers are increasing and, although no monster fish have been reported to date, some fishermen have caught as many as a half dozen ling in a day—up to about 30-pounds.

Nearer shore the standby shallow favorites, trout and redfish, remain in good supply and continue to bite shrimp and jigs with grub tails well. Freshwater results might not be quite as showy as all this, but bass and bluegill action is solid in several area lakes. Bass fishers working Orange, Lochloosa, Santa Fe, and Rodman are still scaring up quite a few bites with soft plastic lures—and smaller ponds are producing some trophy fish. Harry Drake stopped by the store Saturday with a 9-pound, 10-ounce beauty he had just pulled from a Melrose lake with a spinnerbait. The Gainesville angler was understandably excited saying, “It’s my biggest bass ever, by far.”

Some cane pole fishers have located New Moon bluegill beds on Orange Lake. Monday, Glen Blake fished grass shrimp near Bird Island to take a very fat 50-bream limit. John Courtney filled 50-bluegill limits both Monday and Tuesday in a secret Orange Lake grass bed.

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

It’s always interesting to watch as the springtime sun awakens various lakes, rivers, and stretches of coast at different rates—causing, of course, perplexing inconsistencies in angling fare. Water depth and clarity and bottom composition are major factors that cause neighboring waters to be at opposite ends of the slide scale in terms of fishing productivity.

A very good example at present is the comparison of recent reports from the Yankeetown/Waccasassa stretch and from Cedar Key/Suwannee waters. Locals blame dark water in Waccasassa Bay for very slow redfish and trout action. But Crystal River marinas are looking for a different cause for one of the worst-ever early-spring seasons on their very-clear flats.

The Cedar Key and Suwannee flats, on the other hand, are loaded with not only the usual suspects like trout—warm-weather favorites such as mackerel and cobia have also put in a major appearance.

Bill Enneking and Ed Oehmig, veterans of many Cedar Key Spanish mackerel runs, headed for Seahorse Reef Saturday morning. As they approached the east end of the big, sandy expanse, they spotted an acre of fish—many clearly leaping Spanish. At first, the Gainesville anglers thought that the Spanish were feeding on baitfish. Then, they realized that it was the Spanish that were being eaten. A massive school of kingfish had the Spanish rounded up and were slashing through their smaller cousins in the ultra-clear water. The first couple of fish the men hooked in the melee broke them off. The next jig flung into the fray produced a 10-pound king. Oehmig said, “It was an awesome sight-birds were diving all over picking up pieces of mackerel that were floating about.” Oehmig and Enneking then left the marauding kings for their primary target—Spanish on the reef, proper. There, the fast action continued and the anglers filled their 30-mackerel double limit of fish from 20-to-28 inches.

Weekend freshwater fishers pulled in fine bluegill and shellcracker from Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes. Bill and Myrna Jones of Citra boated 47 big Orange Lake bream, Steve and Theresa Whitener took 40 from Lochloosa, and John Courtney filled an impressive 50-bluegill limit Saturday on Newnans.

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

Windy, rough conditions spoiled what could have been the prime pre-full moon weekend to usher in the year’s favorite fishing season. Now, anglers look to the coming weekend that falls a couple of days after the moon. The pesky bluster made things toughest on saltwater fishers, cutting out offshore grouper trips and limiting excursions for redfish, trout and sheepshead. Just enough reports came in to give us the idea that the Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, and Suwannee flats remain the best for trout action.

While their fish-catching effectiveness was lessened by the approaching nasty weather, freshwater anglers scored pretty well on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. Lochloosa panfishers choosing crickets for bait fared best—and the bugs also produced some surprises. Alberta Taylor pulled a 26-fish mix of bluegill, shellcracker, and warmouth from Lochloosa Saturday; while Doris Sellers docked with 18 big panfish. Johnell Young managed 24 bream Saturday and then 24 again Sunday. Crickets accounted for each of these catches. Steve and Teresa Whitener docked with 40 bluegill—but the real surprise in the Whiteners’ live well was the massive three-pound speckled perch that, like the 40 bream with it, found a cricket too tempting to resist. The folks at Lochloosa Harbor thought this an amusing anomaly. But just then, Tony Pankey eased up to the dock with a 2-pound, 2-ounce speck of his own that had just eaten his cricket in the south end Lochloosa pads. Specks don’t really go for crickets as a rule, but that’s what makes fishing such a great sport. Nobody ever really figures it out.

Clear, spring-fed area rivers also continue to offer excellent fishing. Bass anglers casting Texas-rigged soft plastic lures are enjoying fast action on the Suwannee River. And redbellies and stumpknockers on the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha are big and hungry. James Dampier has taken several successful panfish trips to the Ocklawaha lately. Saturday, with his fetching fishing stories, the High Springs angler convinced his dad to join him on the river. In his first fishing trip in ten years, Jimmy Dampier helped James fill a double 100-fish limit of big redbellies and shellcracker in just a few hours.

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

This is often a wetter season, with flooded gulf rivers and tannin-stained coastal shallows. No such problems this year.

Following an unusually-dry March, the trout flats from Homosassa to Steinhatchee are as clear as a bell, and catches in these shallows continue to improve each week. Excellent trout reports are steadily coming from Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, and Suwannee; and from Crystal River and Homosassa. Curiously, the stretch in between has come around more slowly. Waccasassa Bay and Cedar Key trout stories, though, should catch up with those from the other coastal destinations very soon.

The annual “sheepshead slaughter,” (so-called by some because of the over-generous 15-per-person-per-day limit,) is in full swing. Pretty much all natural and artificial reefs off the Gulf Coast are loaded with hungry, spawning sheepshead. The “slaughter” part is even more fitting this season. Anglers on Hedemon Reef this week offered disturbing reports of commercial fishers cast-netting the thick-as-fleas fish in-between the anchored hook-and-liners.

Although some anglers are having reasonably impressive offshore success with grouper, more are struggling. In fact, the apparent grouper shortage has many anglers and marina operators wondering just how devastating last years’ nasty and prolonged Red Tide outbreak really was…

The recent dry spell has water levels in local lakes falling perceptibly. Fortunately, we entered this season in such good shape that the rain shortage has not really caused problems. Speckled perch catches are, as expected, dwindling—as takes of various bream increase in every area lake. Bob and Sharon Goodwin of Mt. Dora did prove that good speck tallies are still available Sunday afternoon when they pulled 17 fish up to 1-pound, 10-ounces from lily pads on Lochloosa’s south end. The Goodwins used crappie jigs in white and chartreuse with minnows added.

In the clear Suwannee and Ocklawaha Rivers, the redbreasted sunfish are bedding. That is, of course, the technical name for the well-loved fish that locals fondly call the “redbelly.” Fishing earthworms and crickets, James and Beverly Dampier of High Springs pulled 90 of the pretty panfish Sunday from the Ocklawaha. James said, “They were all bigger than your hand.”

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

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Many expected the just-passed weekend to be a real barn burner for fishers. While the breezy and chilly conditions held it a bit short of those expectations for most, a few outstanding catches were made in both fresh and salt waters.

The catch that everybody’s talking about was made by veteran anglers, Capt. Jim Keith and Bob Heron in a 29-boat Orange Lake bass tournament Saturday. Fishing plastic worms, the pair boated a jaw-dropping 5-bass limit that weighed just over 35-pounds. An 11.61-pound lunker anchored the nearly-unbelievable catch. Keith’s son, Stephen, along with partner, Daniel Robinson finished second with another giant limit weighing better than 27-pounds. After first and second, the catches became more ordinary—the third place team had 18-pounds.

There were no eye-popping results during the MDA Tourney at Rodman the same day—18 pounds was the top weight there.

Panfishers continue to pull nice bunches of bluegill, shellcracker, and speckled perch from Orange and Lochloosa. The speck seekers that refused to give up on the late-to-spawn Lochloosa crappie were rewarded with top-notch weekend catches. Fishing minnows in the shallows, the Smith family from Ocala bagged limits of thick specks in short order Saturday. For the record, a goodly number of the biggest Lochloosa specks waited all the way ’til the late-March New Moon to do their thing.

Although no full, 50 fish limits were reported, good weekend bluegill and shellcracker tallies also came from both Orange and Lochloosa. The chilly winds had a more negative effect on coastal fishers. By Monday, however, things were nice again and great catches, again common. A Georgia trio about to head back home from Steinhatchee finally located a sweet area Monday afternoon near Grassy Island. Casting floating Mirrolures, they quickly boated big trout limits that included a pair of thick, 25-inch fish. Steinhatchee Capt. Steve Etts could again put his party on fish comfortably Monday—and they returned from Steinhatchee Reef with 20 sheepshead up to 6-pounds.

And the most amazing East Coast catch in a long while occurred Saturday when a Summer Island (at Summerhaven) resident reportedly pulled in an 18-pound gag grouper. “Nice fish, but not so amazing,” you say? Well, consider that this guy caught the big gag from his boat dock!

As water temperatures rise and winds ease off, April promises to offer this area’s best fresh and saltwater action of the year. Don’t miss it! That’s this week’s report.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

It’s never too hard to recommend good fishing spots during spring. A visitor with no knowledge of local waters could cast his favorite lure nearly anywhere right now and expect to have something swing at it. There are, of course, better spots and baits than others….so here’s this week’s rundown.

Fine bass reports have come from numerous area lakes, such as Orange, Lochloosa, Santa Fe, Alto, Rodman, Crosby, and Hampton. The bass spawn is fully in progress, and anglers should concentrate in and around shallow cover casting weedless lures like soft plastics. Also, the reproduction-minded largemouths should be promptly released to continue their important job.

It seems that the last of the big, spawning speckled perch are finishing up in the same shallows. Most have, by now, scattered back into open water. Fortunately, bluegill and shellcracker have already wholeheartedly taken their place, and now are the panfishers’ top target.

Lively weekend activity on Newnans Lake reminded locals of the early eighties—back when it ranked very highly on everyone’s fishing list. Currently, Gainesville’s closest major lake is producing bluegill best. Fishers dropping crickets and red worms around flooded trees and bushes are pulling in bream that most anglers can’t hold with one hand. Lochloosa bream action is also heating up. Friday evening, Steve Marshall eased his boat out to a grass bed just a few feet from his launch point—Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp. Fishing crickets and worms, he pulled in twenty bluegill in one hour.

Near-shore Gulf waters are awakening at least as dramatically. Most speckled trout seekers—from Homosassa to Horseshoe—were excited about the big numbers of trout present on the grass flats. Fishing Gulp! shrimp under rattling floats out of Horseshoe Beach, one four-man group boated over 200 trout. While most were just sub legal, they did ice limits of fish up to 22.5-inches.

Capt. Jon Farmer’s weekend party from Valdosta caught a pile of big sand trout and sheepshead off Suwannee to go with their speckled trout limits. Yes, the annual sheepshead free-for-all has begun off Suwannee, where the banded brawlers are finally ready to bite. More than 40 boats were anchored on Hedemon Reef Sunday-and lots of rods were bent toward big sheepshead. Still no mackerel or cobia reports from Cedar Key, north….but….a 42-inch kingfish came to dock at McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa River Sunday; and another McRae’s customer said he released an undersize, 30-inch cobia.

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

While the best saltwater action is still a few weeks away, prime fishing time has arrived in North Florida fresh waters.

Cane pole and light tackle fans are finding it necessary to take bait for both bluegill and speckled perch, since they’re about equally apt to find either ganged up in pads or grass. Fine panfish catches have come from Orange, Lochloosa, Newnans, and several smaller lakes and ponds since the weekend.

Among the results relayed to us here at the store were limit tallies of 25 Orange Lake specks on Tuesday by Camille Graubman, Barry Berringer, Tom Kuehn, Mike Driver, and Al Malin. Impressively enough, the five were all fishing minnows out of the same pontoon boat.

When April Maxey dropped her first grass shrimp into Orange Lake pads Sunday, a fat, 1-pound bluegill promptly grabbed it. The Ocala teen went on to, along with friend Richard Butcher, pull in 14 more big bream. Stephen and Latona Foster drove from Starke to the Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek for bait Thursday; then took the grass shrimp all the way back to Lake Sampson. The long drive to find the scarce bait proved worthwhile, as the couple boated 40 very nice bluegill.

It is time for bass fishers to be on their game as well. The Bassmasters of Gator Country Club held its monthly tournament Sunday on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. While there weren’t big numbers of fish weighed in, Todd Baker wowed the members and spectators on hand with a 12.85-pound monster largemouth he took in Lochloosa with a plastic worm. Baker only caught one other bass, but still won the contest.

Bespeckled trout haven’t yet fully reclaimed residence on all the gulf’s shallow grass flats—but there are plenty in some areas, and numbers are increasing out of every port. The Crystal River flats proved to be quite fertile during the recent “Trout Masters Tournament” held out of Pete’s Pier. The largest single trout was 4.9-pounds, and the top 5-trout limit weighed in at 13.8—both pretty impressive catches.

Grouper action last week was said to be on the slow side, and no warm-water species such as cobia and shark have been seen. Although anglers have found a handful of Spanish mackerel off Homosassa and Crystal River, it appears that none (or few) have made it as far north as Cedar Key. And that’s this week’s report.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

It’s finally obvious that the season has changed in North Florida—even though the first day is officially a couple of weeks away. Oh, we’ll still have a few chilly nights here and there—and surely a big dose of March wind remains; but the fish seem to agree that it looks and feels like spring is here.

Panfish specialists are finding plenty of late-season speckled perch and early-season bream in area lakes. Larry Brown and Clint Rutledge pulled 20 nice specks from Lochloosa Thursday. Jamie Howard had a fine 51-fish mix of Orange Lake bluegill, shellcracker, and specks Sunday; and Sanka Miller and Lonnie Harris combined in Monday’s stiff breeze to snatch 53 bluegill and 33 specks from Orange. Gene Scott and Roderick Morten of Gainesville stopped by The Tackle Box Monday afternoon with a great cooler full of big bluegill and shellcracker weighing up to 1-pound, 6-ounces. The Gainesville anglers fished grass shrimp on Rodman Pool near Kenwood Landing.

At the start of March, a bunch of gulf anglers headed for the Steinhatchee creeks and flats to resume their speckled trout-catching following the February closure. For the first couple of days, most were disappointed. Since then, though, the Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach trout have been more than cooperative. Bobby and Vida Dix left the Steinhatchee River at 11:00 Monday, and returned at 1:30 with ten nice fish. Al Lancaster and Keith Bailey had both trout and redfish limits three days running-Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And along with the outstanding limit brought in Friday by Cooter Reed and Barney Perry was an eye-popping 27.5-inch trout that weighed over 7-pounds. That’s the kind of trout a hundred or more anglers will be seeking when the March 18 Steinhatchee Community Fishing Tournament rolls around. They will be interested to know that Reed took the whopper with a yellow Mann’s Sting Ray grub.

Several anglers have reported trying live shrimp, the normally-ultimate trout bait, without success. The shallow trout are presently showing a distinct preference for more flashy artificials.

The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s “Sheepshead Shootout,” held Saturday, saw its usual rough conditions. Unfortunately, the fish-catching was sub-par as well. John Peacock boated the day’s best fish at 4.75-pounds. Folks are reporting lots of fish in place on the offshore reefs where the sheepshead spawn annually. So far, though, the banded brawlers have been very tough to tempt.

Sheepshead in the East Coast’s inland waterway are a bit more willing. Tight-lining fiddlers Sunday, Matt Wrann pulled 11 fish up to 6-pounds from the Highway 206 Bridge pilings. Wrann says that East Coast flounder catches are on the increase, and that big whiting are still plentiful in the surf and near the mouth of Matanzas River.

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

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“Specks” are still receiving a large share of angling attention these days from both salt and freshwater fishers.

The fans of coastal fishing are more excited than usual about the March 1st reopening of speckled trout season in North Florida. The reason for the added buzz is the unusually-large number of big fish that were caught right up ’til the last day of their open season January 31st. To boot, catch-and-release scouts have had little trouble finding big trout in some zones—and airboaters skimming across the Steinhatchee shallows confirm that there are plenty of big trout awaiting March anglers. As is often the case, the clear flats at the extreme reaches of our Big Bend coverage area seem to hold the best numbers of big speckled trout. In other words, it looks like Steinhatchee and Homosassa trout fishing is about to ‘go off.’ While speckled perch did spend a few days in the Orange and Lochloosa shallows, it is unlikely that this was the season’s final speck spawn. Still, the folks that really whacked the Lochloosa crappie Saturday found the concentrations outside the lily pad beds. Bruce and Steve Tinney fished minnows in Lochloosa’s south end bonnets Saturday morning with only fair luck. When the Gainesville brothers moved out into water 7 feet deep, though, they found more and bigger fish. Keeping only larger fish, they finished with 30 slabs. The most interesting thing about the Tinneys’ good catch was that, when they filleted the big specks, they found that all but two were females carrying very well-developed roe. Looks like another major speck spawn is coming—and probably soon.

Bass action is also picking up on Orange and Lochloosa. Sunday’s Bass Champions Senior Tour saw two outstanding five-bass limits—one weighing nearly 24-pounds and the other pushing 23. The winning teams flipped worms and craws in vegetation.

Bass stories from Rodman and Santa Fe Lakes have been strangely slim lately. Back to Gulf fishing—the Annual Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club “Sheepshead Shootout” coming up this weekend should reveal how abundant the Big Bend spawning sheepshead are out on natural and artificial reefs. Contestants can launch from any port—so catches could come from anywhere from Homosassa to Steinhatchee Reef. Word on these and all other offshore fish has been scarce lately thanks to dependably windy weekend conditions.

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

Unwilling to allow the speckled perch spawn to pass undetected (as it sometimes does,) some dedicated fishers have endured freezing winds for weeks without even a bite to show for it.

Others, perhaps more wisely, have simply awaited ‘the word.’ Well, here it is: The wholehearted move by speckled perch into the shallow cover in some area lakes appears to have finally begun. Delayed ’til now by ill-timed cold fronts, bunches of big spawning crappie have finally been located in Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnans Lakes over the last few warm days. Typically a short-lived event, the speck spawn always produces an impressive flurry of heavy-bodied slabs. Don Boggs boated a 2-pound, 4-ounce Lochloosa whopper Friday; and Mr. Turner, fishing minnows from his Lochloosa boat dock, pulled in a hefty 2-06 Sunday afternoon. Von Nix weighed a 2-08 Orange Lake slab Sunday, and Annette and Larry Burnham of Lake City showed off a 2-06 Monday at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek. Although they did not weigh it on tested scales, Mike Mutti and Josh Beckwith brought in photos of an immense speck they caught in Orange Lake’s south end with a Road Runner spinner. The pictures are excellent—and this fish had to be better than 3-pounds.

While we’ve seen no Newnans Lake fish over 2-pounds, several folks fishing minnows from shore at Powers Park have pulled nice specks onto the bank. It seems a tad early, but bluegill and shellcracker catches are already building on Orange and Newnans. Dallas Douglas and Glen Blake fished grass shrimp in Orange Lake pads Saturday to fool a fine 25-fish mixed bag of bream.

Grouper are king in this week’s Gulf Coast report. Although Saturday was breezy inshore, anglers reported nice conditions offshore—and hungry fish. Fish boxes containing big gags were seen at Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Cedar Key, Crystal River, and Homosassa. The good catches came from as shallow as 30-feet of water off Homosassa—and as deep as 70-feet of water off Suwannee. Most of the offshore fishers we talked to said that the trolling bite was best with Stretch 30 lures.

East Coast anglers continue to report steady action for redfish—and for bluefish that are now running up to 3-pounds. The surf fishing action, though, remains the best bet here. A Devils Elbow customer bought frozen shrimp Saturday morning and headed over to the beach. In just an hour and a half, he returned with 44 good-sized whiting.

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

February’s Full Moon, much anticipated by area crappie fishers, came and went without the great fishing that many expected it to bring. Of course, that it arrived alongside this winter’s toughest blast of cold spelled doom for the anxious anglers.

Although Friday dawned with sub-freezing temperatures, it warmed quickly and turned out to be the best fishing day within a few days of the moon phase. Still, the best crappie tallies we know about came from unlikely spots along Prairie Creek and Camp’s Canal, between Newnan’s Lake and Payne’s Prairie. Bass anglers also found the fishing to be good Friday. Those fishing just ahead of the BFL tournament out of the St. John’s River at Palatka docked after the practice day with great hope for their chances in the season opener. The February weather turned, however, and weights the following day were generally low in the chilly wind and rain. One angler did have an outstanding day. Casting Carolina Rigged plastics in the river, Mike Jackson of San Mateo bagged a 5-bass limit that pushed the scales all the way to the 22-12 mark. Jackson’s best two fish weighed 8-05 and 8-04. The month of February is considered by many to be the worst fishing month on the Gulf Coast-and it has been living up to the reputation. Few anglers are even trying to fish here—but folks expecting the sheepshead action to crank up any time have offered a bit of hope. Several claim to have found big concentrations of the square-toothed prizes on offshore reefs. They just haven’t figured out how to make ’em bite. And that’s actually fairly typical early spawning-season fare. This is one gulf bite that shows signs, at least, of being close to ‘prime.’

Speckled trout are out of season in North Florida waters—but a few anglers are keeping track of the fish at Crystal River by practicing catch-and-release. They are preparing for the Trout Masters Tournament coming up at Pete’s Pier on March 4th. Last year, the turnout for this event was big—and so was the 100% payback purse. For more, call Pete’s Pier at 352-795-3302.

On the East Coast, sheepshead, redfish, and bluefish are still biting well—but the best all-around bet here might be the whiting that are abundant in the surf above and below Matanzas Inlet.

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

The annual speckled perch spawn is almost like the lottery-lots of people think they have a system or rule to help them correctly time it, but few actually manage to be on the water when the event occurs.

If you’ve ever really been on the right spot (usually around shallow pads, grass, trees or brush) at the perfect time (usually just ahead of spring,) you know why so many have given so much thought to the possibility of making it happen again. It’s a blast—the best slab-catching bonanza of the year. Over more than half a century, plenty of theories have been heard around the minnow tank at The Tackle Box. You hear of the crappie making their collective move to the shallows when the water temperature reaches a certain mark-or when a particular plant first buds or flowers. “Full Moon in February” is sure a good bet….and “first week in February” is also a fairly common axiom. Of course, for this year, that one can go in the trash. The folks that bet on the “first week in Feburary theory” have already packed up and headed home disappointed. The cabins at Lochloosa Harbor were full through that week, but nobody really found the roe-laden slabs. The azalea just starting to bloom in mom’s front yard, and the month’s Full Moon is just a few days away. Someone will get it right.

Fishing out of A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek, Larry Clukey and Jim Glancy each pulled in nice speck limits Monday—but in Orange Lake’s deeper water. Clukey’s fish bit in the morning, while Glancy had his luck in the afternoon. Both men used crappie jigs with minnows added.

Doris Sellers also docked with 25 nice crappie, while Alberta Taylor was looking to buy a landing net after losing a massive slab at boatside. With speckled trout season closed for February, angling activity is very slim along much of the Gulf Coast. To date, the sheepshead that annually begin to spawn on reefs just off Cedar Key and Suwannee about now have yet to make their presence known. The sole area that has produced any number of open-water sheepshead is just off Homosassa. Fishing shrimp, Capt. John Bazo and friend boated 18 here Monday.

Reports from the inland waters along the East Coast are a little more promising—redfish are again active on the shallow, grassy expanses, sheepshead and flounder specialists are faring well, and small bluefish are abundant for the folks that simply like to feel a tug at the end of the line.

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

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The solunar tables and fishing almanac predicted that last weekend would not be a good one for fishing. As is usually the case, the publications were correct. Some anglers showed, however that it’s never good to stay home solely on account of unfavorable lunar forecasts and tide phases. Although the weekend did bring mostly-sub par fishing, a few outstanding results were reported.

Speckled perch were quite scarce on all local lakes, but young Erik Clark would recount his crappie-catching experience Sunday with great exuberance. Casting chartreuse and white Beetle Spins with dad, John, in Orange Lake, the 7-year old hauled in a good portion of the dozen nice fish they took home. The biggest three weighed 1-05, 1-04, and 1-03. Over on Lochloosa, Jim Long fished minnows Saturday to take 15 good-sized specks.

Crappie action on Newnans, Rodman, and Santa Fe Lakes had been gaining on the Orange and Lochloosa success—but no weekend reports came from any of the three. Speckled trout season is now closed on both North Florida coasts, and will reopen March first. John Palmer braved a stiff breeze Sunday to take one of the last good Steinhatchee trout catches before the closure. Fishing live mud minnows near Rocky Creek, Palmer hauled in a fat 25-inch trout that weighed 6-pounds. He also took a 24-inch red and released another 22.5-inch trout.

Fishing shrimp on the bottom Saturday in Johnson Creek, Clay Hodges caught what looked like a redfish. Further inspection, though, showed the fish to be a croaker—and by far the largest the Gainesville angler had ever seen. Monday at The Tackle Box, the fish would weigh 3-11 on tested scales. The World Record is 3-12.

Redfish action has been spotty in Gulf creeks, and not a lot better on the East Coast’s inland waters. Nice sheepshead catches have come from Suwannee-area creeks, but the offshore spawning on natural and artificial reefs has not really commenced. Suwannee Capt. Jon Farmer tried for sheepshead on reefs 20-to-25 feet deep Saturday, but did not catch one. (He did, however, load up on big black sea bass, a few pinkmouth grunts, and one grouper.) The only Big Bend sheepshead spawning seems to be happening off Homosassa, where hard bottom in water just 10-to-12 feet deep continues to produce catches of from 8 to 15 fish.

Bluefish are so thick that Matanzas anglers are complaining that they cannot fish for reds, trout, or flounder without their unwanted strikes. Check out Matt Wrann’s account of Wednesday’s trip with his friend, Daniel Joslin: “We wanted to fish for reds, but the blues would take our mud minnows right away. So we finally settled for sheepshead fishing, since the blues wouldn’t bother the fiddler crabs we fished on jigheads. But when a sheepshead took our bait, a blue would grab the bare jighead as we wound it back to the boat. They ran about two pounds apiece. When we got the fish in, there would be 4 or 5 more with it. I can think of worse problems………….

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

Usually, speckled trout action on the Gulf Coast has slowed drastically by late January—and catches this season have pretty much followed that pattern, dwindling over recent weeks. One area, though, continues to produce near-astonishing numbers of nice-sized trout.

The trout bite at Steinhatchee is most unusual-and not only for it’s excellence during a time frame that rarely produces great action. The strangest thing about the ongoing Steinhatchee trout bite is that these fish are, mostly, outside the river on shallow and chilly flats. In past years, speckled trout have avoided cold shallows like the plague. This month they have fed heartily in water as cold as 48-degrees. Saturday, Cooter Reed and his wife, Faith, boxed a Steinhatchee trout limit that included two nearly-identical 5-plus-pound fish. They cast Mirrolures on a flat just outside the river mouth.

Gulf anglers in larger vessels also have located excellent fish over the last few days. In water 65-feet deep, Bill and Lance Avera and Tommy Waters trolled Mann’s Stretch 30 lures Saturday off Suwannee to take an eye-popping boxful of fish. Their first catch of the morning, a 26-pound kingfish, rightly surprised the trio. After all, few folks would expect to hook a big king off Suwannee in January. Following that pleasant shocker, things slowed drastically as they tried to locate grouper. Finally at noon, one wild, 20-minute flurry produced three grouper-each a huge, 20-pound fish. And another whopper broke a split ring on a red-and-white Stretch 30. Off Homosassa, Butch Huey and friends took 15 sizable gags in water only 20-feet deep while fishing herring. And Homosassa residents, Tom Turvaville and Michael Birdsong pulled 10 thick sheepshead from a near-shore spawning spot.

Weekend bass fishing was tough on Orange and Lochloosa, but crappie fishers again hauled in lots of good catches. James Dampier took 20 specks in to Lochloosa Harbor Saturday—every fish over a pound. Sunday, Richard Lee came in with another big 20-speck catch.

Ralph Porter docked at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek Saturday with a whopping 2-pound, 6-ounce speck. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Porter had a 2-06 last Saturday, as well. Being stuck on 2-06 is not a bad problem to have if you’re a speck fisherman.

Over the last few days, two of our fishing friends passed on to the big pond in the sky; and we close this week’s report by bidding a fond farewell to Mr. Stanley Hales of the Old Carraway Landing on Lochloosa and to Mr. Ed Ogle.

Mr. Stanley passed while sitting in his chair last Thursday at his beloved fish camp. The accident that took Ed’s life occurred at Steinhatchee, where he was undoubtedly enjoying the outstanding trout fishing just ahead of the February seasonal trout closure.

We will miss them both. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

It’s probably a very good thing that windy cold fronts keep anglers in check through much of this season. Good for fish stocks, that is.

Every January, cold weather creates several outstanding fish-catching opportunities. Both of the most avidly-sought freshwater species (bass and crappie) are heavy-bodied, preparing to spawn, and positioned in deeper water near spawning territory to do so. In saltwater, speckled trout are congregated in any spot along the Gulf Coast that affords them a degree or two of additional water warmth. Offshore, grouper have limited forage in the cooler depths, and are especially hungry.

The only thing keeping area fishers from totally having their way with these tasty and sporty favorites is the weather. Of course, serious winter anglers make the most of the brief periods of nice fishing weather that do come around.

Sunday was a nice day, and saw about 20 boats drifting the grass flats just south of the Steinhatchee River. If not for the jackets and long-sleeved shirts worn by the fishers, someone watching a video of the scene might have thought is was a May morning. The trout were there, but bites were a bit scarce in the 50-degree water. Doug and Andrew Stringfellow and I saw several fish caught, and we boated a half dozen good-sized trout ourselves. It still seems strange to me that trout should be active in such cold shallows; but it makes sense that they only seem to be on the flats near the river, or just outside some of the larger Gulf creeks. Our bites came with suspending Yo-Zuri lures.

Although most of the top speckled perch catches are still coming from deep water, a few anglers have noticed increased activity in the shallows during the evening hours. That’s a sure sign that the crappie spawn is near. Thursday, a Gainesville angler weighed a set of 2-pound, 6-ounce twins at Lochloosa Harbor. He had just pulled the big specks from water 10-feet deep while trolling a jig/minnow combination. Ralph Porter of Gainesville stopped by The Tackle Box Friday with a great bunch of fish he had just taken from Orange Lake. His four best specks weighed 7-pounds, 13-ounces, with the biggest one going 2-06. He also had a dinner-plate bluegill that weighed 1-pound, 1-ounce. Porter fished jigs, grass shrimp, and minnows in lily pads near Cross Creek.

Fishing a plastic worm in a lily pad bed on New Year’s Day, Roy Brown caught, weighed, and released the largest Lochloosa bass we have heard about this century. The brute Brown hooked on the first day’s last cast weighed 12-pounds, 2-ounces on his hand-held digital scale. Now, that’s the way to start the year.

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

Weather-wise, 2006 began beautifully. A pair of warm and reasonably-calm days gave lots of anglers good starts to a fish-catching year. Following the nice spell, a wave of heavy thunderstorms pushed through to further ensure excellent lake levels in the months to come.

Predictably, the top weekend speckled perch catches came from Orange Lake, where the ongoing speck explosion continues. In eye-popping succession, huge New Year’s Weekend slabs were flopped onto the weigh scales at A Family Tradition Fish Camp. Saturday afternoon, Joe Lyons expected to sneak a fat 2-pound, 4-ounce crappie under wire for the fish camp’s monthly ‘big speck’ prize. He couldn’t have figured, though, that a larger crappie that day had tugged the camp’s scale down to the 3-pound mark. Amazingly, Mike Baker of Silver Springs boated his second three-pounds-even super slab in five weeks while slow-trolling a plastic-tailed crappie jig with a minnow added. Baker said that, according to his GPS, he caught the monster speck “within 25-feet of the last one.” There are veeery few Florida speck fishers that can honestly say they have caught two three-pound perch in their lives—and an awful lot of locals would love to know where Baker’s spot is.

Two days later, Larry Jones set a tough-to-beat January mark for crappie seekers out of the Cross Creek camp with a 2-pound, 10-ounce speck he enticed with a minnow.

Lochloosa crappie also seemed easier to locate over the weekend, but their average size remains smaller than the fish being pulled from the lake at the other end of Cross Creek. Bass have been relatively scarce in both Orange and Lochloosa, but anglers soaking shiners and casting soft plastics have reported much-improved largemouth action on Rodman. Saltwater anglers continue to score big trout and redfish catches—-but the fish are concentrated and tougher to locate than during warm weather. For trout, anglers should head to Steinhatchee or to Homosassa—the extremes of our Gulf Coast coverage area. In between, results are hit-or-miss, with more missing than hitting. Redfish, on the other hand, seem most plentiful in-between. Waccasassa, Shell Mound, and Suwannee creeks and shell bars are yielding plenty of spottails to folks casting both live and artificial Gulp! shrimp.

Offshore anglers are very pleased with the numbers and size of the grouper they’re locating when the weather cooperates. Good catches in less than 40-feet of water have all-but ceased now off most ports, but apparently, good near-shore fish can still be located off Homosassa. Sunday, Capt. Bill Musser and party fished Spanish sardines in water 35-feet deep to box 17 legal grouper—all but a couple, gags. And that’s this week’s report.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

All fishing reports are written by Gary Simpson, (c) 2006