2007 Fishing Reports

2007 Archived Fishing Reports

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Continued mild temperatures have created lots of opportunities for Christmas season anglers and allowed unseasonably fine catches from all around. Amid the bustle of holiday shopping at The Tackle Box Saturday, Paul McClary peeked in the door with a bagful of fish. No matter what’s going on, a good catch always stops traffic in the store, and this one also gathered the shoppers around.

The Gainesville angler had purchased a very modest one-dozen minnows earlier in the day on his way to the just-lowered Rodman Reservoir. Fishing out of the temporary boat ramp at Kenwood Landing, McClary had made efficient use of his twelve baits. He had nine keeper-size specks. We weighed the largest at a very respectable 1-pound, 12-ounces-a fish that looked like a big, thin and dark male.

Later, McClary called to let us know that seven of the fish had been females with small roe…and that the biggest fish was, indeed one of the two males. Now at low pool until April, Rodman ranks as the top-producing speckled perch lake within easy driving distance from Gainesville. Almost every angler we’ve spoken with has offered positive accounts of the crappie bite in the parts of the pool that still hold good water—primarily, the old Ocklawaha River channel in the Barge Canal.

Lochloosa, the top specking lake up ’til recently, now holds down the number two spot. Orange and Santa Fe are in the mix-each producing sporadically-nice results. And, a one time favorite lake that has been quiet for years is making a little noise among speck fishers. Area fishers without boats are really an impressive group of anglers. Without the luxury of being able to head for just any good-looking spot, the shorebound remain determined and keep close track of relatively small pieces of available water. Known among fellow anglers by only their first initials, E. Williams and L. Taylor fished minnows from shore at Powers Park at the south end of Newnans Lake last Thursday and Friday. Over the two days, they took 29 good-sized specks. During times of normal water level, this would still be a very good result. With the water painfully low, it is impressive, indeed. Not one of the crappie seekers fishing Newnans from boats during those two days reported a catch as good. Tenacity and technique often trumps superior equipment. Redfish and grouper remain the top saltwater targets on the Gulf Coast.

The best redfishing stories have originated in creeks and around shell bars around the Suwannee area. Speckled trout action is improving, but fish are still scattered thanks to the continued mild conditions. Those same mild temperatures, though, are keeping the grouper feeding unusually close to shore all along the Big Bend. On a chilly, breezy, dark and damp day Saturday, John Kimball and party fished out of Cedar Key. The nasty conditions kept the group from traveling far offshore. Instead, they stopped in water just 19-feet deep, a mere fifteen-minute run from the last channel marker. Fishing cut mullet at anchor, the Gainesville crew boated six nice gags from 25-to-29-inches long.

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

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All serious anglers keep a close eye on the cold fronts that sweep southward during this season. They’re not necessarily looking for the most pleasant conditions—or trying to avoid the cold and wind.

While only fortunate anglers with the ability to head for the water at the drop of a hat can regularly time their trips perfectly, everyone hopes to be on the water just ahead of a major spat of wind, rain, and cold. They know that the best fishing dependably occurs when a nasty cold front is drawing near and the barometer is moving briskly.

Saturday, ahead of one of this season’s most impressive cold fronts, fishers that braved a fairly stout breeze enjoyed that good pre-front bite.

Fishing the Suwannee River’s East Pass with his buddy, Glenn McIlwain, area angling icon, Dick Bowles had no shortage of action as the band of squalls approached. The men anchored in water 15-feet deep and tight-lined shrimp on the bottom. The East Pass is just full of little mangrove snapper these days-and they hauled in 46 of those (out of curiosity, Bowles kept count.) But the little snappers weren’t alone. 13 redfish, 4 sheepshead, and 2 black drum also found the well-placed baits. When they ran out of shrimp at 1:00 PM, Bowles and McIlwain had caught 65 fish and had never moved the boat. “It was fun…but, when you got down to it,” Bowles mused, “we ended up actually keeping just two reds, one sheepshead, and a black drum.”

Capt. Rick Davidson and Doug Barrett had been looking forward to fishing in the Veterans Memorial Fund tournament that was scheduled for Saturday at Steinhatchee. The poor forecast for that afternoon, though, caused the event to be cancelled. Barrett and Davidson decided to try their luck, anyway, reasoning that the weather would probably not really deteriorate until later in the day. They headed out at 7:30 from the Sea Hag Marina. Virtually alone on the flats, the men drifted over shallow grass first and picked up a couple of trout—one a 19-incher. Then they found a faster trout bite out a little deeper and picked up a few more.

With the tide rapidly falling, they eased back to a shallow area with a sand-and-rock bottom. The redfish were home. The topwater plugs the men cast over the grassless zone drew strike after heavy strike, and the anglers enjoyed occasional double hook-ups. Davidson’s best red was a 6.5-pound fish, and Barrett boated a stocky 7-pound example.

With the rain and breeze increasing, and the water leaving rapidly, the men headed back for the river at 9:30, pleased that they had given the fishing a try despite the tourney’s cancellation.

Speckled perch fans have been hoping for a cold front to put a chill into area lakes, thus hopefully stimulating the heretofore-lethargic crappies. The chilly winds that arrived Sunday and lingered through Monday night seem to have done the trick-at least, on one Alachua County lake.

Monday, Lochloosa angler, Bill Miller anchored with chicken livers set out on one rod-and-reel, and minnows on another. The minnows yielded four nice-sized specks, and the livers produced 15 stout catfish averaging three-pounds. John Courtney showed off yet another 25-speck limit Wednesday at The Tackle Box. As usual, the Hawthorne fisherman scored in Lochloosa with jig-and-minnow combinations. Every fish was a beauty—each falling within the one-to-two-pound range.

Courtney fishes almost every day and seems to really whack the fish almost every trip. Also Wednesday, Charlie Register docked at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp with specks weighing 2 and 1.5-pounds—the biggest of a nice 8-fish catch.

Willie James of Citra, hauled in 25 nice specks and two catfish. James fished green jigs in Lochloosa’s north end. And Bill Deshong’s eight-speck tally included fish weighing 2-pounds and 1-pound, 10-ounces on the Lochloosa Harbor scales.

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Today’s phone calls to fish camps, marinas, and guides were answered with all-around excellent reports. But they sure didn’t sound like fishing stories from mid-December. Trout should have abandoned the grass flats by now, grouper fans should be waiting for a small window of passable weather to get offshore, mackerel should be long gone, and Suwannee snook—well, that pushes the out-of-season envelope right off the table.

Becky Elliott of Crystal River has seen a steady parade of good grouper catches at her Pete’s Pier Marina. Many of the top catches being made on near-shore spots within easy eyesight of land. For effect, Becky added this gem: “One customer claims to be catching big grouper in four feet of water.” Oh, and this one: “All of the guides are still coming in with lots of good-sized mackerel.”

A bit farther down the coast, grouper fishers are dealing with a bit of a hardship. It seems the bigger gags can’t get to the bait as fast as the hungry swarms of smaller species. “There are tons and tons of white grunts in the grouper spots,” explained Nancy Bushy of Pete’s Pier. “Capt. Don Chancy came in Monday with 4 grouper and 150 grunts.” It could be a worse. I remember a December trip when ice formed in our eyelets and our lines couldn’t slide through….. Inshore anglers continue to brag about the redfish action out of Waccasassa, Cedar Key, Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee.

Speckled trout, on the other hand, remain scattered. Folks casting lures and jigs are locating trout on grass flats, sand and shell bars, and in creeks. Only when a stout cold snap arrives will the seasonal favorites gather in deeper holes.

Anglers after the top freshwater target of this season, speckled perch, would also welcome a strong chill. Many speck fishers have had trouble finding fish in their favorite December spots. The on-the-water regulars, however, are scoring very well.

Rick Jones and Tim Buchanan fished from the wooden dock at Rodman Dam Monday morning. The green and yellow crappie jigs that the Satsuma men eased through the tumbling current produced 28 fine specks up to 2-pounds. And John Courtney might rate as the crappie-catcher most in-touch with the moods and habits of his quarry these days. The Hawthorne fisherman stopped by the store Monday to show us his expected daily limit. When he popped the lid on his ice chest this time, though, the pile of crappie staring back made me blink a few times. Every fish was a true slab—pushing the two-pound mark. Courtney pinned minnows on green-and-orange curly-tail jigs to make the fine catch. “They were all in one area, in water five-feet deep” he offered, adding that he released “about thirty” smaller fish to make the uniformly-large 25-slab lineup.

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

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With area freshwater reports still mediocre, stories from the coastal salt waters get a clear nod as the most impressive this week.

Although trout action is steadily decent in creeks, around shell bars, and on shallow grass flats, redfish seem to be the more abundant and fast-biting of the inshore favorites. “Trout are fair right now,” said veteran Captain, Jon Farmer, “but they should be better. It’s easier to catch reds—all sizes.” The Suwannee guide continued, “I started working the mouth of a creek the other day with a party…we were casting Gulp! baits on jigheads. We worked that creek all the way back to the woods, and caught reds the whole way.”

Capt. Jon added that the annual sand trout and whiting bonanza is underway in the deeper, sandy holes along the Suwannee’s Alligator Pass channel.

Doug Stringfellow and I fished out of Waccasassa Sunday. We started early, and when the sun popped up over the distant treeline, we were already easing into Turtle Bay. The tide was nearly high, and the redfish were active. After battling several sizable fish that busted surface plugs, we drifted out towards the open gulf while casting suspending minnow-imitating lures. Soon, we found that the trout were also on a feed, and boated several fish up to 24-inches long. A half dozen other boats drifted nearby. Judging from the frequent hooting that traveled easily over the glassy-calm bay, they were having good luck as well. Having tussled with enough fish to fend off the craving for a little while, we headed back to Gainesville at noon.

Like reds and trout inshore, grouper are keeping offshore anglers wound up. Every gulf port offered good grouper stories this week, topped by an enormous 26-pound gag weighed Sunday at McRae’s Marina at Homosassa. Both trollers and bottom fishers have taken advantage of fine weather to bring in great catches of gag and red grouper.

And then there’s the cross-over catch. Saturday off Yankeetown, Rusty and Linda Morgan of Ocala tried to find deep-water trout. Fishing with friends from Orlando, the Morgans cast ¼-ounce curly-tail trout jigs in water about 20-feet deep. Rusty hooked up first—a hard-pulling fish that ran around some bottom structure and broke his 12-pound test Sufix Siege mono. When another heavy fish grabbed his jig on the next cast, Morgan applied more pressure. The fish was, of course, no trout. After a long and bruising battle, it turned out to be a 28-inch grouper. Without retying, Morgan cast again and hooked yet another good grouper-this one 26-inches. Later, on the way back to the boat ramp, the anglers did locate a bunch of trout. Using the same jigs that had produced the surprise grouper, they iced a four-person limit of fish at least 18-inches long.

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

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A stretch of beautiful fall weather just ahead of Thanksgiving helped area anglers to pull in catches worthy of sincere thanks.

Speckled perch results continue to slowly improve, with most of the top tallies coming from Lochloosa Lake. During the cooler months, Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp sponsors a monthly ‘big speck’ contest. Sunday, just a couple of weeks into the first of these contests, local angler Kenny Weaver came into the camp with a whopper he had just enticed with a lively minnow in the mid-lake depths. At sixteen inches and 2-pounds, 15-ounces, this slab will be mighty hard to top for November. Charles Register was the first to find this true. He came in, also on Sunday, with a very impressive 2-08 fish only to learn of Weaver’s all-but-unbeatable slab.

Weekend fishers found Lochloosa glassy-calm, and that they had to troll in order to cover water. Speck-seekers that scored well include Jeff Scull. Fishing from a canoe, the Jacksonville fisher docked at the Harbor with a dozen good specks and a big catfish. Frieda and Andy of Jacksonville and Starke also boxed 12 nice specks up to a pound-and-a-half….and a 2-pound catfish. They fished chartreuse jigs with minnows added near the bottom to make their good catch.

Saltwater action was again great over the weekend, with strong catches registered by both inshore and offshore anglers. Low tides thwarted some weekend trout and redfish seekers, but folks with shallow-draft boats found plenty of both in creeks near Suwannee and Waccasassa.

Capt. Todd Cornellie and his customers enjoyed an unusual treat, catching grouper on rockpiles in water only six-feet deep off Homosassa. Casting diving lures over a three-day period, Cornellie’s parties combined to boat an astounding one-hundred gags. Only a half dozen or so each day were legal fish at least 22-inches long, but that’s quite a feat in such shallow water.

According to Lucas Smith, the report from the East Coast’s inland waters can be summed up in these few words: “Fish are just everywhere.” Along with his friend, Terry Bottom, Smith found a bunch of black drum in a creek off Matanzas River Sunday. “When the tide started coming in,” said Smith, “we caught fish with live shrimp on every cast.” “Trout are all over the place, too,” he continued, “but the biggest ones are in the clearer water near the inlet.” Positive redfish and flounder reports round out a fine Matanzas/St. Augustine area report this week.

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

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The season and water temperature are about ideal, and there’s still enough water in the lakes to launch most boats.

Fishing, though, can be a funny sport.

The speckled perch that should be feeding like crazy are instead only being caught sporadically (compared to most recent years.)

About 40 teams showed up to fish the Crappie USA tournament last Saturday on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. Catches were plenty respectable, but these lakes are capable of producing much better results. Earl Roberts Jr. and III topped the field in the tourney’s ‘Amateur’ division. The father-and-son team from Tampa and Plant City hauled in seven nice specks that weighed a total of 9.57-pounds. In the big boy ‘Semi-pro’ division, John Peyton and Darryl Cole of Leesburg had a seven-speck limit that went 9.93. William Roberts of Tallahassee only weighed in a couple of fish, but one was a 2.54-pound slab—the biggest single fish of the day.

On the other hand, fishing stories from the coasts are starting to impress all-around.

Near-shore shell bars and creeks all along the Gulf Coast are yielding lots of redfish and trout, and things have fired up even more offshore. Saturday, Lewis Colson, Hal Deck, and Gregg Leggett fished water 40-to-45 feet deep out of Cedar Key and had luck employing varied techniques. Trolling Mann’s Stretch 30 lures, the Gainesville trio boated kingfish up to 43-inches. Then, they drifted while fishing with frozen herring. On a couple of outfits, the bait was weighted and bounced along the bottom; and on another, a herring floated behind the boat just under the surface. The baits on the bottom attracted several nice gag and red grouper, and those near the top drew more strikes from kings.

Saltwater action on the East Coast also rates high with anglers right now. Lucas Smith and Daniel Joslin fished aboard Terry Bottom’s “Reel Time” last Friday on Matanzas River. The locals soon located loads of fish in a creek off the river. Casting Gulp! lures and live mud minnows and shrimp, the three concentrated on deeper holes to take 40 trout and 20 redfish of legal size…plus a few flounder, whiting and drum. A great day by anyone’s standards.

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

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Coastal anglers and cane pole fishers both have been waiting for the season’s first real cool snap…and hoping it would make their spotted objectives frisky and hungry.

And sure enough, the chilly spell at hand has fired up the speckled trout on the coasts and the speckled perch in nearby lakes.

For instance, the first comments from Homosassa today went like this: “The trout fishing’s outrageous now. The redfish are still biting well, but everybody’s concentrating on the trout. Capt. William Toney and his parties are limiting out every day—and they’ve had trout up to 28-inches and 5 ½ pounds.” Capt. Toney caught that biggest trout, by the way, with a DOA Shrimp in the ‘natural’ color.

Trout have kicked it up a notch on the East Coast, too. At Matanzas, the report from Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp on Matanzas River was equally tantalizing. “It’s goin’ off here,” said Matt Wrann. The black drum have come in big time, there’s lots of sheepshead, and a customer went through a hundred shrimp yesterday catching reds.” “But,” he continued, “It’s probably the trout that have improved most. They’re suddenly all over the place.”

Speckled perch, notorious lovers of chilly temperatures, also have stepped up their activity and appetite since the water temperature fell into the mid seventies.

And, on Orange and Lochloosa, the late fall speck bite is coming at exactly the right time.

Expert crappie fishers from all over will be arriving through the week to compete-along with local fishers–in the Crappie USA tournament on the Alachua County lakes. Saturday, November 10th, is the big competition day. Sunday, Dewey and Linda Edwards of Callahan were drifting for specks in Lochloosa’s depths with crappie jigs/minnow combinations when Linda hooked a hefty fish. After a short tussle, she pulled in the biggest slab seen here in months-a 2-pound, 7-ounce beauty. Somebody in the tournament would be mighty pleased to have that fish on Saturday. Leon and Sharon Freeman of Jacksonville, Earl Edwards of Tampa, and locals Henry Merrier and Keith Lloyd also docked with nice weekend Orange or Lochloosa speck catches.

A month ago, the water on these lakes was sadly low, and the specks were scattered and inactive. Now, levels are considerably higher and the fishing is starting to fire on all cylinders. Just the kind of fishing news we like to deliver.

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

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A few weeks ago, things were not looking too good in the freshwater department. Almost all of our nearby lakes and rivers were woefully low—as we stared at the upcoming dry season.

Then, prayers were answered as a very-rainy October added more than seven-inches to the dwindling pot—close to an ALL TIME record for the month. Last week we had a positive story about Newnan’s Lake and the restocking of a few thousand largemouth bass. Higher water is another important factor that has been too-often missing here in recent years—and the rains will help in that regard. As we seem to finally turn a corner in a positive direction, we should take care not to allow the good to be undone. An important meeting will be held Wednesday, November 7 in the Alachua County Health Department Auditorium located at 224 S.E. 24th Street in Gainesville. The Orange Creek Basin Management Working Group, a coalition of public and private organizations and community groups, is seeking public input to form plans to restore water quality in local lakes and creeks. Even those of us who don’t normally attend such meetings should try to make this one. The door opens at 6:00 P.M. Considerably-higher levels have revitalized interest in the upcoming Crappie USA Tournament on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. The event, to be held November 10th, will attract a number of high-power speck experts to compete in the Semi-pro Division; and should see a number of local speck seekers trying to draw cash prizes in the Amateur Division. (For more, call Crappie USA 270-395-4204 or visit www.crappieusa.com.) Wet and windy conditions made things tough for weekend anglers pre-fishing for the tournament. Henry Mierier managed to locate a few good-sized Lochloosa specks Sunday in deeper water off the lakes’ southwest side. Mierier’s blue-and-white jigs drew soft bites from near-slabs that later weighed 1-08 and 1-06 at Lochloosa Harbor. Although rough conditions for fishing—coupled with very low tides—diminished the saltwater reports from the weekend, anglers that tucked up into wind-protected gulf creeks did gather a good number of bites from redfish, drum, and smallish sheepshead. Speckled trout, one of the season’s top targets, were scarce in most areas, but the weather change could soon change that. “It’s been chilly, windy, and uncomfortable out there,” said Suwannee Capt Jon Farmer, “but that’s probably just what it takes to bring the trout in.” In at least two zones, trout have already put in a fairly strong appearance. Redfishers in Waccasassa-area creeks say their shrimp or cut mullet have been frequently taken by sizable trout lately. “I started noticing that about a week ago,” said Spek Hayward of Waccasassa Fishing Club. And Homosassa anglers enjoyed their second-straight week of much-improved trout catches, with live shrimp and Gulp! lures both producing well. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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When it comes to North Florida’s fresh waters and freshwater fishing, there has been way too much news on the negative side recently. Folks are understandably tired of hearing words or phrases like: ‘overfishing,’ ‘weed-choked,’ ‘overspraying,’ ‘low water,’ ‘limited access,’ ‘fish kill,’ and ‘water piping to South Florida.’ There are other angling profanities, but these rank pretty high. Sometimes, just about everything related to our sport appears to be heading south. And that’s why it’s so nice to see an agency doing something that can be only seen as good.

Seven employees of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission met at the Windsor Boat Ramp on Newnan’s Lake last Tuesday with the positive mission. The day before, these FWC workers had released 3000 bass from 6-to-10-inches long at predetermined sites around the lake. On this day, they had even more to seed out into the needy lake—and I was pleased to be invited on one of the release boats.

A large trailer on the edge of the Windsor Canal held an aerated tank from the Largemouth Bass Conservation Center in Richloam…and inside it swam another 3900 frisky little bass—all possessing the homegrown genetics from the water shed related to Newnan’s. Some of us remember the seventies and early eighties, when Newnan’s was full of strong, heavy-bodied bass. Should these football-shaped babies survive and thrive, they will do justice to that tradition.

Man, a significant rain followed by a stout restocking of bass…things are looking up. This week, Lochloosa’s speckled perch again seem to be the local anglers’ best bet. While staying at Lochloosa Harbor’s RV site, Henry Meirer tried his luck Friday. Drifting crappie jigs in assorted colors, he pulled ten good-sized specks from the mid-lake depths. Saturday, Meirer went out again and, using the tricks he learned the previous day, boated fifteen fish.

Local crappie specialists, Bruce and Steve Tinney drifted blue-and-white jigs Saturday to ice 25-specks. Every fish was of good size, ranging from one to one-and-a-half-pounds.

Saltwater action continues to improve, with even speckled trout finally showing up hungry.

A large gathering of Cotton States Insurance Company employees at Homosassa put the entire fleet of local guides to work. Fortunately, the trout picked that time to finally oblige. Nearly every boat returned with nice catches of stout trout.

Grouper results here have, too, spiked over recent days. Several offshore anglers fishing out of Pete’s Pier at Crystal River are consistently scoring big grouper tallies in a large zone15-to-20-miles off the 1-A Marker. One of them, Dan Clymer, mixed techniques. He alternately trolled Mann’s Stretch 30 lures and bottom-fished to fill hefty limits both Saturday and Sunday.

East Coast fans are really happy that the Red Tide has apparently cleared out. Although some problems persist in the inland waterway, the beaches are again clear and productive.

Oversize redfish are being hooked regularly on the beaches and at Matanzas Inlet—but the best-represented species is the bluefish. Surf fishers say that the blues (most around 20-inches long) are in excellent supply, grabbing nearly any natural bait or flashy artificial lure.

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

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Last Wednesday, Dave Lechler and his son, John David (9), enjoyed a great bass-catching day on Rodman Reservoir. When they returned Saturday, they noticed a smattering of dead fish along the Barge Canal near their launch point, Kenwood Landing.

Still, the recent transplants from Ohio motored on to their favorite spot and again released several nice fish. Buoyed by continued success, the father-and-son returned to the lake yet again on Sunday. And on this day, there were more dead fish. Lots more. “In five hours of fishing Sunday,” Dave added, “we didn’t’t have a bite.” We spoke to Dave Bowman of DEP . He had just returned from Kenwood and confirmed the kill. “I saw several acres of dead fish in one zone near Kenwood,” Bowman said. “I’d say there were between 1500 and 2000 fish—all species and sizes.” Fortunately, the kill appears to be confined to the one relatively-small zone, and dissolved oxygen levels taken throughout the lake indicate no trouble elsewhere.

Later Monday, we were talking with customer, Chuck Celiesz of Gainesville. With fishing buddy, Tom Boldock, he had visited Bing’s Landing on the East Coast’s inland waterway last Wednesday—unaware of the ongoing Red Tide outbreak that has plagued that area for weeks. “We saw plenty of the fish we were after,” said Celiesz, “reds, flounder, speckled trout and sand trout…but they were all floating. We had no bites.” Now, we’re happy to follow these depressing paragraphs with some stories from the opposite end of the fishing spectrum.

Speaking of fishing success, a now-deceased Gainesville sage once told us, “It’s all in the spots you pick.” Here are some weekend fishers that picked winning spots. Keifer and Sandy Calkins and Richard Hamman fished Saturday out of Suwannee. They headed first out to Spotty Bottom to try for Spanish mackerel, but a strong wind changed their plan. Looking to salvage the day, they baited up with shrimp and cut ladyfish and plucked a few reds and black drum from the shell bars near the end of Alligator Pass. Keifer also cast-netted several nice mullet. Around noon the wind eased off, so the three decided to run back out to Spotty Bottom. The usually-dependable area again failed to produce, and they turned back once more for the river. On the way back in, they swung by Hedemon Reef…and that was the hot spot. Predators skyrocketed and crashed through baitfish schools over the reef in an acres-wide frenzy. The anglers anchored and filled limits of big Spanish, hooking several bluefish and a king in the process.

Bob and Alex Rella, Zack Seymour, and Sergio Macias fished offshore from Cedar Key Sunday. They found the bite to be slow, boating just three legal grouper by 3:00 PM. Just then, however, the fish started to eat. Tight-lining live pinfish on the bottom in water 58-feet deep, the four anglers added nine nice grouper—and a beautiful 8-pound red snapper—to their catch by 5:00 o’clock.

Buddy Crevasse of Gainesville and Flip Cox of Bonifay fished Cedar Key’s inshore waters Saturday. After eliminating a couple of favorite spots, Crevasse took his visiting friend to Corrigan’s Reef. Here, the two lured six redfish on their first six casts with cut mullet. Before the bite slowed, the men had released several big reds including a whopper measuring 37-inches and probably weighing around 15-pounds.

In newly-risen nearby lakes, speckled perch action is slowly picking up.

Unfortunately for weekend fishers, catches on Lochloosa were better on Thursday and Friday than on Saturday and Sunday. Ralph Hutchinson of Hawthorne and Jacksonville’s Keith Lloyd iced 15 nice Lochloosa specks Thursday while drifting off the north end with blue-and-white jigs tipped with minnows. Friday, Lloyd returned to box 17 specks and two fat catfish. Also Friday, Troy Oliver Sr. and Jr. pulled 15 crappie from the same area. Again, success came with blue and white jigs tipped with live minnows. At least one good catch was seen at Lochloosa Harbor Sunday when Shannon and Zachary King docked with 15 specks weighing up to 1-pound, 11-ounces. The Starke pair found the fish to prefer (there’s a pattern developing here) blue and white Road Runner spinners. These days some fishin’ spots are very bad…but others are very good. Here’s hoping you choose the good ones.

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Just a few days ago, the North Florida fishing landscape was all about saltwater action on both coasts.

When referring to the freshwater possibilities, it was nearly impossible not to bemoan the incredibly low lake and river levels that kept all-but the smallest vessels away. In this sport, though, seasonal shifts and weather events can change the picture almost overnight. An incredibly rainy week that the fresh waters desperately needed has local anglers suddenly grinning.

At the same time, the saltwater bunch that had been enjoying such dependable action, is grumbling. The big rains darkened the flats along much of the Gulf Coast; and a strong wind finished off chances for weekend fishers to effectively get after trout, redfish, mackerel, or grouper.

Over on the East Coast, these same tough conditions prevailed…along with an even nastier foe. The Red Tide that blew ashore a couple of weeks back is hanging on, causing respiratory problems for people and killing fish.

Boaters on Matanzas River yesterday reported seeing “tons of dead mullet and quite a few floating flounder, too.”

Newnan’s Lake, far under the angling radar all year long, produced some eyebrow-raising weekend catches. Gainesville’s closest major body of water has always produced well immediately following a big rain.

While few still remember that rule, enough did show up on Palm Point Saturday to make some fish-catching noise. One couple came in before closing time to pick up more minnows. They had already pulled 20-speckled perch and 15-bluegill onto the bank, and had firm plans to pull in more.

The water rose all of ten-inches on Lochloosa, allowing vessels that had struggled before to launch with relative ease over the weekend. Keith and Karen Lloyd let the wind push their boat across the lake’s North End Saturday while they trailed minnows behind. The Jacksonville father/daughter team released all but specks over a pound, and finished up with 20 fine fish. Sunday, the Lloyds again had plenty of bites, but the average fish was smaller and they settled for 8 ‘keeper’ specks.

Also drifting minnows out in the mid-lake depths, Mike Martin picked up several good specks-including a 1-pound, 15-ounce fish he weighed at Lochloosa Harbor. And James Hubbard showed, during a recent trip to Rodman Dam, that late-season bluegill can also still be found. The Gainesville angler showed up at The Tackle Box with a large ice chest packed with 50 huge bream and a half-dozen channel catfish. He had made the good catch while fishing red worms from the pier just below the spillway. “They were bitin’ so fast…,” he said, “I couldn’t bait the hook fast enough.” Now, that’s the way we like it.

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

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Cooler nights and falling water temperatures are paying ever-growing dividends to North Florida saltwater fishers. Gulf Coast speckled trout and redfish are feeding with greater gusto; and the free-roaming pelagics that follow desirable water temperatures and baitfish are being seen in better numbers each week. Unfortunately, East Coast anglers are dealing with a natural setback that will keep them from enjoying the same seasonal benefits as their gulf brethren…at least, for a while. An outbreak of Red Tide has come ashore on the Atlantic side, causing bouts of coughing and sneezing among coastal residents. A few mullet have washed onto the beaches around Matanzas Inlet, and these have been the sole casualties spotted thus far along this part of the coast. All of this week’s top saltwater results are from the gulf. Last Thursday, J.B. and Clay Parrish and Wayne Morrell trolled dusters on Spotty Bottom out of Suwannee. In four hours of fast action, the three filled limits of Spanish mackerel, boxing 45 sharp-toothed beauties that averaged an impressive 25-inches. Friday, Capt. Jon Farmer’s party from Macon cast Gulp! shrimp lures to pull plenty of redfish from sand and shell bars near the Suwannee’s mouth. In Saturday’s growing bluster, though, the fishing was considerably tougher. After three hours of searching, Capt. Farmer managed to locate a bunch of willing trout and the Georgia anglers filled limits in just 30-minutes. Although we have, to date, been spared a major tropical storm this season, the Atlantic Coast was thoroughly drenched by a glancing blow from a wet system about three weeks ago. The rain put parts of Jacksonville under water, and it also apparently delivered a blow to fans of an annual North Florida seafood-catching ritual. The St. John’s River swelled with fresh water…and some mysterious switch in the heads of the multitudes of saltwater shrimp there, flipped. As they have many times in the past following a sudden glut of fresh water, the shrimp that had made their way far up the river turned and headed back towards the ocean as fast as their swimmerets could carry them. This week, several cast-netters did try to intercept the now-large crustaceans on their way back north with fair success (several reported tallies in the two-gallon range.) Still, the big rain appears to have effectively cut short the 2007 St. John’s shrimp run—one of the best in years.

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

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In fresh waters, the summer-to-fall transition can be a very good thing for anglers—when there’s sufficient water to work with. Bream are set to hand over the “Top Panfish” designation to speckled perch for a few months, and bass are beginning to feed up on the larger baitfish that have congregated and are on the move. But this year, many anglers who have waited for cooler temperatures before planning fishing excursions are likely to get a rude surprise at their favorite boat ramp. Most access points on most nearby lakes are borderline unusable, particularly by folks with larger vessels. Those with patience and determination are yet reaching their favorite spots—but it’s rarely done easily. Leroy Cromwell and Earl Young jockeyed their bass boat into Lochloosa Sunday and headed for the ‘Lochloosa Springs’ area on the lakes’ northeast side. Fishing crickets outside the visible vegetation there, the Gainesville anglers quickly put 35 big bluegill in the livewell. Like them, most Lochloosa panfishers have lately reported having better luck with late-season bream than with early-season specks. Following this week’s full moon, that will probably change. The opportunities are much wider on the salty coasts. On the inland east coast flats off Matanzas River, redfish are increasingly abundant and can be seen tailing in the shallows. And anglers continue to crowd Matanzas Inlet, where dark water and breezy conditions have not hurt the strong redfish bite. One Devils Elbow Fish Camp customer even claims to have beached ten Matanzas Inlet snook over Saturday, Sunday, and Monday while trying to tempt reds with finger mullet.

Redfish also are the most-mentioned targets of gulf anglers these days. Those concentrating in the Homosassa and Suwannee zones may be the happiest of the west coast redfishers, as there are multitudes of willing spottails present in each. Shell bars and grassy points near Suwannee are loaded with redfish in the 17-to-22-inch range; and a Homosassa captain claims to be able to catch reds with a bare jighead on the St. Martin’s Keys. Speckled trout might not have appeared on the gulf grass flats as anglers would hope—but it sounds like there’s not much room to complain when it comes to reds. While mackerel are not yet really dependable, their seasonal invasion can’t be far off. With a fishing party from Charlotte, N.C., Capt. Jon Farmer slow-trolled live baitfish on Spotty Bottom Saturday with no luck. About eight miles farther west, though, the veteran guide found the fish. His appreciative group boated several whopping Spanish up to 6-pounds….and a 48-inch kingfish.

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

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We entered it in need and hopeful, but the 2007 storm season has failed to bring a significant rain event to North Central Florida. Local lakes now seem doomed to low levels for at least the remainder of the year Even Rodman Reservoir, normally the stronghold of plentiful water for area anglers, will soon undergo a scheduled, periodic drawdown that will last through fall and winter. Unlike other lakes, there will still be good access points on Rodman, and the fishing is typically excellent during these planned periods of very low water. If things continue on the present track, area freshwater fishers should expect Rodman to be at the top of their ‘Top Spots’ list for the next few months. Saltwater anglers will have a much longer list of good fishing options. Already, redfishing action is great on both coasts. Weekend reports were most impressive from Suwannee, Waccasassa, and Homosassa. Jeff Tedder and sons, Garrett and Jason fished Waccasassa Bay Saturday. Despite low, unfavorable tides, the Lady Lake crew boated fine redfish limits. Gene Babbitt and Pat Hiers and Joella and Bobby Markham were also maxed out on reds when they docked at the Waccasassa Fishing Club. Homosassa anglers are still happily complaining about all the too-large redfish they’re catching near the river mouth. And big numbers of big tarpon are providing great sport for locals. Fishing cut bait at McRae’s Marina, Barbara Leatherman has jumped at least one big tarpon every evening for a while now—and has hooked as many as five in one after-work session. The Homosassa resident has yet to land one of the powerful acrobats, but that would be an angling longshot, considering all the obstructions nearby. Grouper fishers at Homosassa and Crystal River have also scored consistently in water from 25-to-30 feet deep. Most are tight-lining cut bait or frozen Spanish sardines on the bottom. Black drum have joined the abundant redfish at Matanzas Inlet, but heavy rainfall early this week darkened these inland waters and interrupted the fast fishing there The news isn’t all bad, though. The northeast wind that accompanied the rain also pushed multitudes of finger mullet into the inlet. Since it never takes predators very long to locate easy forage, locals expect the big influx of baitfish to pay big dividends when the water settles.

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

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The season’s initial spike in fine cathes along the Gulf Coast, it seems, was a short one. Only one gulf port, Homosassa, was able to back up last week’s great fishing stories with continued good results. Even so, those tales remain pretty amazing. It seems that Homosassa captains are having trouble with redfish—trouble finding examples small enough to keep. Monday, Capt. William Toney’s father-and-son party wrestled in over 30 reds. Of these, three were legal-slot fish between 26 and 27-inches long. Those battling the reds almost daily say that the trick is to fish flooded grasslines or mangroves on a rising or high tide. Shrimp, they say, are good but too attractive to the multitudes of mangrove snapper that also crowd the redfish habitat. For this reason, many of the redfishers are presently using live pinfish for bait. Good numbers of snook and tarpon are present in the river, and also have the attention of Homosassa anglers. And nice grouper catches are now being made out in water about 30-feet deep. Captains Bill Musser and Don Chancy are among those taking advantage of the near-shore grouper bite. Bill and Sally Pfeifer found tarpon to be in good supply Saturday at Cedar Key. The Gainesville couple set out cut mullet and jumped a half-dozen big silver kings. “They ranged from five-to-seven-feet long, said Pfeifer, “We didn’t get any to the boat but it was so cool to hook that many big fish.” Another very hot spot for saltwater fishing is Matanzas Inlet. According to Lucas Smith of Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp, the inlet is often crowded with anglers in boats and on the bridge. “Sometimes, there are so many lines in the water that they don’t know who actually caught the fish until they untangle them all to see,” he laughed. To compound the dilemma, decent numbers of big tarpon are also on hand at the inlet and occasionally take baits meant for reds. Sounds like a good place to just watch the angling antics. The freshwater front is strangely-quiet, with a few good results reported by shorebound fishers at Palm Point on Newnan’s Lake and boaters on tough-to-access Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. The Newnan’s crowd is using live worms to pull in a mix of bream, speckled perch, and catfish; while the panfishers on Orange and Lochloosa are primarily fishing grass shrimp and crickets to work on late-season bream.

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

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The early morning breeze had a different feel this morning. It was the cool, refreshing, and it made me think of fall for the first time this year. Some say that the Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer, and taking in the pleasant air, that notion seemed perfectly credible. Of course, summer officially lasts until the arrival of the autumnal equinox September 23rd.

This year it appears that Gulf Coast fish must be siding with those that consider summer finished following the holiday weekend. Coastal predators are suddenly feeding with a liveliness not seen since the heat index started to top the 95-degree mark a couple of months back. Saturday, Capt. Rick Davidson and Tommy Thompson noted lots of baitfish and activity on the shallow Steinhatchee flats, and the anglers boated several big ladyfish and bluefish. Farther offshore, the topwater plugs the men threw attracted more attention from trout—albeit small trout. Among these juveniles, however, Thompson nailed a 26-inch, 5-pound fish. It was the biggest trout of the summer for the veteran anglers. Sunday morning, Davidson’s skiff flew out of the river again, this time with Doug Barrett. Amid ideal conditions, the anglers again battled reds, trout, and blues. They released lots of fish, and kept an impressive boxful that included two reds to 5-pounds and 7 trout including fish measuring 23 and 25-inches. Every fish was caught with a surface bait, and the anglers were off the water by noon. “By far the best fishing I’ve seen since spring,” said Capt. Rick. The coming weekend is the last of this year for scalloping, so there will surely be a good crowd of bivalve hunters at Steinhatchee and on the clear flats off Homosassa. Hook-and-line anglers should be aware that their favorite targets seem poised to take center stage again when the shellfishing is done.

On the Atlantic Coast, inland waterway fishers are finding redfish all over the place. A good wave of bigger fish has kept anglers at Matanzas Inlet busy, while those in shallow-draft vessels in the shallow backwaters are also encountering quite a few spottails. At night, lots of sizable trout can be hooked around the lighted boat docks on Matanzas River. Freshwater action also remains decent, as area panfishers continue to find late-season beds of big bluegill. Last Thursday, Ron and Vahalia Reese, Tap Walker, and Louis Palmer all located bream beds on Lake Bryant. The four Gainesville fishers returned to the Ocala National Forest lake Saturday. Again, fishing in a bed of lily pads with grass shrimp, they filled 50-fish limits. “There isn’t much fishing pressure there,” explained Ron. This week’s report should take care of that. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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Big Bend scallopers and St. John’s River shrimpers are still reaping the fruits of excellent seasonal runs. The season to gather the shellfish is nearing its end on September 10th, but the saltwater shrimp that are in such good supply in the St. John’s could be there for a couple more months—or even longer-if conditions remain ideal. Five-gallon limits are now common for folks throwing webbed cast nets in water from 12-to-25-feet deep all the way from Green Cove Springs south to Little Lake George. Hook-and-line anglers, too, are finally coming in with positive reports, possibly indicating that the fishing is starting to break out of the mid-summer doldrums. Good reports of big redfish are coming in from all over; but especially from the Suwannee, Waccasassa, Crystal River areas on the gulf side and from St. Augustine and Matanzas Inlets on the Atlantic Coast. Spanish mackerel are again being hooked fairly dependably on Seahorse Reef and Spotty Bottom, off Cedar Key and Suwannee-and their numbers will increase through the coming months. While levels are still very low, most boaters can launch with a bit of difficulty at most area boat ramps. Bream catches are still best on Lochloosa, where even fishers in Lochloosa Harbor rental boats are loading up while using crickets and grass shrimp in maidencane near the camp. They have to fish within paddling distance of the fish camp, since folks at The Harbor aren’t renting presently outboard motors. John Courtney proved that boaters with outboards can whack the big late-season bream even better. Tuesday, he had his full allotment of fifty bluegill and shellcracker by noon. Then he took the cooler-full to The Tackle Box for us to see. They were all big, but the largest few fish weighed a bit over a pound on our tested scales. The Hawthorne panfish specialist caught every bream while fishing with live worms. Gator hunters from Orange Park and Starke found a few good-sized Lochloosa lizards late last week, and brought reptiles measuring 10′ 8″, 10′ 9″, and 11-feet to the fish camp.

In Sunday’s Senior Trail/Xtreme Series Tournament, well-known bass angler, “Topwater” Charlie Orme and partner, Dusty McDevitt showed that Orange Lake holds some outstanding largemouth bass if you can locate the ‘sweet spot.’ The men won the tourney with five bass weighing about 32-pounds—and that’s not the most impressive part. Due to the unusual set of bass rules on Orange and Lochloosa, the Ocala team had to release fish of 8 and 7-pounds for their catch to be legal. With those fish, their 5-bass catch would have weighed around 40-pounds. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.


The best fishing these days is not for fish. Oh, late-season bream are still giving a decent account of themselves on area lakes and rivers, and a handful of anxious speckled perch seekers are already picking up scattered fish. Deeper Big Bend grass flats continue to yield their interesting mix of trout, mackerel, jack crevalle, and ladyfish—but not a lot of any one species. Flounder action has abruptly slowed, leaving mangrove snapper as the number one choice on the inland waterway over on the east coast. Nothing against the stout-hearted ‘mangos,’ but they’re little. The minimum legal length for them is 10-inches, and you have to cull through quite a few fish to fill a 5-fish limit. All of these finny targets combined can’t claim to match the success and excitement being relished by gulf scallopers and St. John’s River shrimpers. There have been two very productive scallop-gathering zones all season long. The northernmost is above Steinhatchee, on the clear flats near Keaton Beach. On the usually-popular flats below the river, the shellfish have been unexplainably scarcer. The scalloping army out of Crystal River and Homosassa has enjoyed a sterling season that started strong and has stayed so. Of the scalloping changes as the season has progressed, a Homosassa marina owner said today that “There are still plenty—they just keep getting bigger.” And if you’ve ever shucked scallops, you know that’s a good thing. Scallop season ends September tenth—if you haven’t done enough shellfish hunting yet this year, better start planning a trip. The annual run of shrimp up the St. John’s River is unpredictable and ever-changing. Longtime river shrimpers have seen seemingly-unending sets of condition and circumstance that have caused the precious crustaceans to behave in different ways. Variations in flow and salinity supposedly make or break the event that can be an absolute blessing—or a bust. As with the scallops, things have evidently lined up properly. The shrimp have crowded into the river and are growing fast on their way south. The most efficient way to catch them is with a cast net that has been modified to stay open like a parachute as it sinks through the depths. This can be accomplished with duct tape applied just above the lead line, or with lawn chair webbing permanently sewn in there. During the day, most veteran shrimpers like of anchor along the edge of the river channel-usually in water from 15-to-25-feet deep-and throw the net waiting for waves of shrimp to move through. The daily limit is one five-gallon bucket full with heads on, per vessel per day. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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For area freshwater anglers, larger-than-normal bream that gathered on the spawning beds in nearby lakes have been one of the biggest stories through the back half of this summer. This panfish bite, featuring the stoutest crop in recent memory, continues on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes-and folks fishing from shore at Palm Point on Newnan’s Lake are picking up a few king-sized bluegill, as well. Even though things are steaming along at a healthy bream-catching clip, the season is late and the jumbo-bream parade probably won’t last much longer. September’s full moon generally marks the last major gathering of spawners, and even it usually is attended halfheartedly. After that, we’ll hope speckled perch replace the bluegill in relative size and feeding attitude. The good saltwater stories that dominated this report through the early part of summer remain scarce-thanks mainly to the oppressive Dog Days heat. At least the gas prices that kept lots of anglers home have moderated. Overall, coastal reports have actually been more promising over the last few days—with the exception of speckled trout action that has to be as poor as it gets in gulf waters. It’s time for the big ‘bull’ redfish to run along the Spoil Banks of the Crystal River and Barge Canal channels. A number of anglers have had success casting the popular Gulp! Shrimp, but most longtime bull red chasers favor the tried-and-true live pinfish that they cast to the big rocks that line the channels. One unnamed guide said he released 30 big reds one day last week. Out of Homosassa, grouper anglers are scoring surprisingly well in relatively shallow water. Don and Marla Chancy fished cut mullet on the bottom in water 25-feet deep in Friday’s heat to fill a fine double limit of red and gag grouper. Things are definitely looking up over in the inland waters of the East Coast. “All of a sudden, there’s a lot more baitfish here this week,” said Karen Miles of Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp near Matanzas, “and there’s an excellent flounder bite going on. Even people in our rental boats are catching flounder. Yesterday ((Monday the 13th)) Capt. Shawn Marsh took two people out and they brought in more than twenty.” She went on to say that almost all of the best flounder catches are being made with live mud minnows. And finally, the St. John’s shrimp run continues to show all signs that it is a very good one. The big river is dotted daily with boats filled with cast-netting shrimp seekers. They can be seen from Jacksonville, all the way south to Little Lake George. And most boats are coming in with 5-gallon limits of shrimp that are now of sufficient size for the barbeque. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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The top dog never stays on top for very long. For a while, the Gulf Coast is the undisputed top place to cast a line; then it’s the East Coast’s inland waters—or one of the area lakes takes a turn at the top of the fishers’ list. For anglers, it’s always intriguing to follow these cycles of productivity. And pretty much impossible to predict them. Most of this year had been mighty tough for local fishers whose focus is on the specks, bream, and bass swimming in the lakes near Gainesville. While the fish were mostly willing, the condition of the lakes was poor. Very low water and difficult launching for all-but the smallest boats kept many away. Happily, that cycle is changing.

A few weeks of wet weather has made a huge difference. Now, fairly sizable boats are on Orange, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe Lakes every day and their occupants are making up for lost time. Lochloosa, especially, has the local bream crowd fired up. Using crickets and grass shrimp, dozens of fishers have been filling coolers almost daily with unusually-large bluegill since the rainier spell arrived. Although Orange is harder to navigate due to heavy hydrilla coverage, there are plenty of big bream being pulled in there, too. It was August 21 of last year when Kenny Gaskins showed everyone just how big Orange Lake blue bream can get when he hauled in a true two-pound specimen. That fish is now mounted and on display at The Tackle Box. Lake Santa Fe has the distinction of being the number one choice of Gainesville-area bass fishers. The well-attended Bald Eagle Bait Wednesday Night Tournaments just wrapped up a 20-week series with a big-stakes, season-ending classic tourney. Twenty-nine teams qualified to fish the classic, and the anglers really stepped up with the finest catches of the season. Jeff Fitts and Timmy Givens of Keystone Heights won with five bass weighing 15.42-pounds, pocketing over $3200.00. Close behind were Clint Sheppard and Ashley Allday (14.56) and Don House and Keith Chapman (14.00.) The classic’s biggest bass was weighed by Chris Crosby and Brandon Williams-a healthy 7.23-pound bigmouth that took a GoDaddy Lure. That’s some impressive numbers for a short, Wednesday night affair……

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

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Low water, frequent thunderstorms, and mid summer heat certainly do eliminate all but dedicated anglers these days. One nearby spot where success remains the rule is Lochloosa Lake, whose level has actually risen a couple of inches over the last few days. Bream are bedding here, and fishers stop by the store almost daily to show off cooler-full limit catches of hand-size specimens. Johnell Young and Cory and J.J. Johnson have excelled in taking bluegill by adjusting their bream-seeking technique to the low water conditions. The usual summertime hotspots, lily pad and maidencane beds, presently stand in water too shallow to harbor big bunches of fish. These men have learned that locating the biggest congregations means finding them in open water. Once a bed is found, the bluegill specialists anchor a few feet away and cast lightly-weighted grass shrimp into it. Mike Martin showed that speckled perch, too, can yet be found on Lochloosa. The Ocala angler rented a boat from Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp last Thursday, eased over to the lake’s southwest side, and set crappie jigs and minnows out at mid-depths. He caught dozens of specks, but kept only 15 sizable fish up to 1-1/4-pounds. Saltwater action typically holds up best in the hottest weather. Still, not everybody is claiming success on their favorite gulf spots. Capt. Jimmy Keith has kept his customers around fish by spending more time on deeper grass flats. “The trout are in deeper water now,” he said, “on flats at least 7-feet deep. Seahorse Reef is one spot that’s working pretty well.” The longtime guide added, “There’s plenty of sharks and tarpon around, too.” This seems to be an ‘on’ year for the two special summertime seasons in North Florida–scalloping and shrimping. Although it’s still early and they are still on the small side, nice waves of shrimp are already present in the St. John’s River, where cast netters wait. Some fast-growing crustaceans have already made it up the river as far south as Palatka, but the biggest waves are reportedly in the Doctor’s Lake area, north of Green Cove Springs. While scallop reports have been impressive out of Steinhatchee and Crystal River, the Homosassa shellfishers are happiest. “If we don’t have a thousand boats scalloping out of this river every weekend, we don’t have one,” gushed Nancy Bushy of Pete’s Pier, on the Homosassa River. “And they all limit out. There has to be millions of scallops out there—and they’re huge. It’s like the meat can hardly fit into the shell. This is the best I’ve seen it here.” Now, if that doesn’t make you want to do some salty snorkeling, nothing will. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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For years I have been proud to share a page in The Gainesville Sun’s sports section every Friday with Tim Tucker. Monday afternoon, we received the surreal news that Tim had died in an automobile accident. In my mind, he was the finest, most prolific, and most knowledgeable fishing writer in the world. Anglers everywhere will sorely miss the insights that could be delivered only by a writer so immersed in his sport for so many years. But his family and closest friends have suffered the grievous loss, and we at The Tackle Box offer them our deepest sympathy. Tim would urge us to get on with the fishing and the fishing stories.

In the heat of summer, the best all-around angling action is usually found on the salty coasts…and that’s the source of the week’s most impressive fishing story. This could be considered the height of king mackerel season in North Florida. Although the peak time has actually passed in gulf waters, the quest for big kings is at fever pitch on the Atlantic side, where a string of tournaments emphasizing the speedy predators is in mid stride. Oddly, it is a gulf king that steals this week’s show. Suwannee Capt. Jon Farmer has practiced his on-the-water trade for a long time. It’s a rare day when he encounters something that he hasn’t seen in his decades on the Gulf of Mexico. And that’s why Farmer had my full attention today when he said, “One of my customers caught the biggest kingfish I’ve ever seen Monday.” That morning, it seems, the Suwannee journeyman took Byron Ruth and Reynaldo Roque of Gainesville, and Nam Ho Kim of Korea out to Spotty Bottom (one of his top summer areas.) When things weren’t as active there as he had hoped, he headed farther out—and about six miles past Spotty, in water 25-feet deep, baitfish schools and diving birds were everywhere. Capt. Farmer anchored and set out lines with live baitfish. He used no chum—didn’t have to. Good-sized Spanish mackerel were abundant and hungry, and “you could catch bluefish ’til you were tired.” After they had boated several of these, a big fish ate one of the baits and, in Ruth’s words, “took off like a rocket,” nearly spooling the Ambassadeur 9000 reel that Roque held. Finally, though, the fish turned. The battle was a lengthy one, as the big fish made three large circles around the boat. After 25-minutes, the angler had the big kingfish near enough for Farmer to gaff. Unfortunately, the old salt did not bother to weigh the massive king, but said, “I believe it was in the 60-pound class.” Man, that’s some gulf kingfish.

The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club has placed generations of accomplished kingfish anglers on these waters since 1968. The all-time heaviest gulf king among club members was taken by Ed Ellett in May of 1999—a fine 43.60-pound fish. Farmer’s customers for the day went on to catch lots more fish, including another king of about 25-pounds and several big speckled trout. At one point in the wilting heat, Farmer said he might take a quick dip. About that time, the Korean visitor pointed out a huge form swimming under the boat. “It was a bull shark that looked to be around 500-pounds,” chuckled Farmer. He changed his mind about the swim. And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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Even in the years that find our lakes with plenty-high water levels, angling activity always wanes in the July swelter. With the combination of this year’s water level challenges and the ninety-plus-degree temperatures of late, you’d think things would really be deserted these days on nearby lakes such as Lochloosa. However, it’s impossible to precisely pattern and predict the seasonal ebb-and-flow of fish and fisher. Carefully launching smallish boats at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp and at the public boat ramp a short distance south of it, some hot-weather anglers are scoring surprisingly well. Saturday morning Ralph Porter and his mom, Mary Baker slow-trolled small crappie jigs in Lochloosa’s mid-lake depths. Bites came at a steady pace, but sticking to a self-imposed 12-inch minimum size limit (as they do) really cuts down on the number of fish on ice at the end of the trip. Still, 7-07-07 was a lucky day, as the mom and son teamed up to box a dozen big slabs, plus a good-sized catfish. Several of their throwback specks would have been considered ‘big’ by most other fishers. Thick bluegill also continue to gather in the lake’s pads and grass beds. Local angler, Tracey Parker has picked up from 25-to-40 bream big enough to fillet every day this week. Parker fishes crickets and grass shrimp on the south end of the lake. During the heat of summer, many of the folks that have abandoned the lakes focus instead on a couple of highly-anticipated seasonal opportunities-one on each side of the state. This has already been declared a good year for scallop-gathering in the clear gulf shallows near Homosassa, Crystal River, and Steinhatchee. Almost everyone reporting in has been able to fill two-gallon personal limits in-the-shell. And folks are starting to talk ‘shrimp,’ as bigger numbers of the saltwater variety appear in the St. John’s on their annual migration up the big river. So far, cast-netters have reported finding good numbers of smallish crustaceans, but they know that these will grow quickly. A major event bringing loads of rain could halt the run in midstream. But if things stay as they are, this is looking like another good year for river shrimping…as well as scalloping. And when both of our ‘bonus seasons’ are going off, life is good in North Florida.

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

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Gathering the varied reports from the first couple of days of scallop season reminds us of the long-held belief that 20% of all anglers catch 80% of the fish. Now, this ratio might not be quite so one-sided when applied to shellfishing…but it can’t be denied that some folks are, well, challenged in the hunter/gatherer department. One Crystal River resident said, “I talked to some friends who said they picked up scallop limits pretty quick—but some others said there weren’t any to be found. I don’t understand it.” The sad truth is that some folks could be in a school of jacks and swear that there wasn’t a fish around. Most seasoned shellfishers are actually pleased with the early-season scallop numbers-particularly after the dismal crop of last year. Good reports have come from both of the expanses of clear grass flat most regularly-snorkeled (Homosassa to Crystal River and the even-longer stretch from Horseshoe Beach to Keaton Beach.) Nancy Bushy of McRae’s Marina at Homosassa said, “There must’ve been 500 boats clustered around The Birdrack Sunday. To get there, just run out the river channel out to Marker Two, then head north a ways.” And apparently, the bivalve hunters that docked at McRae’s were well-satisfied with their results. The Steinhatchee area probably claims the most famous scalloping grounds on the entire Big Bend coast. Here, the top hotspots seem to be the grass beds near Pepperfish Keys (south of Steinhatchee) and off Keaton Beach, to the north. Just ahead of the Sunday scalloping rush, hook-and-line anglers fared well in the gulf waters that would soon be invaded by snorkelers. James Dorminey and Rib Spitze cast Skitter Walks and Super Spooks in the Horseshoe Beach shallows late last week to take nine redfish measuring from 21-to-26-inches. Following the early topwater bite, the Starke anglers headed for deeper flats, where they cast Gulp! Shrimp on jigheads, and filled limits of nice trout. On Saturday’s return trip, however, abundant floating grass hindered their efforts. The weeds, dredged up by nighttime shrimp trawlers and blown into the shallows by a west wind, fouled every line and bait. Even so, they did manage four reds and three trout. Things remain generally-quiet on the freshwater scene. Still, a few dedicated bream and speck fishers have come in with fetching fish stories. J.J. Johnson and several of his fishing buddies are presently working on a bed of Lochloosa bluegill that sounds like one of the best-ever. Summertime bream fishers have always relied on the sense of smell to locate congregations of spawning fish. According to J. J., the smell of this bed is so strong it “makes your eyes water.” Needless to say, he and his friends have pulled in big catches every day so far this week. The hot-weather speckled perch bite also continues on Orange and Lochloosa. Among the specks that Mark and Margaret Cook pulled from Lochloosa’s deeper reaches Sunday was Margaret’s 2-1/2-pound slab-the biggest single speck seen here in months.

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

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Finally, the weather trend seems to have slipped into the wetter cycle that comes during this season. Time for meteorologists to trot out the old “afternoon and evening thunderstorms” forecast every day for quite a while. Only a significant tropical event, however, will make up for the deficiency this area has accumulated in surface and ground water. Lake levels have gained very slightly in the daily take-and-give with evaporation, and it’s good to see any upward movement. Still, area lakes are up only an inch or two over the last two weeks. We need a foot or two, for starters. The lion’s share of angling stories these days is coming from salt waters, where those on the water most often all agree that it’s prime time for big fish. Fishing out of Cedar Key, Capt. Steve McGovern and friends have recently hooked plenty of tarpon, cobia, and shark. “There are a lot of big sharks right now,” McGovern said. “We’ve caught a few 7-footers…and hooked some that we couldn’t even turn. They’re dumping Penn 6/0’s without slowing down.” And this isn’t far offshore, either. Capt. Steve is hooking these unstoppable fish near Snake, Atsena Otie, Seahorse, and North Keys—very near the boat ramp. Offshore, gulf grouper fishers are scoring well in water at least 60-feet deep. Sunday, Capt Dan Clymer and his party of five docked at Pete’s Pier at Crystal River with seven fine hog snapper to go with big grouper limits. Their success came by simply anchoring and dropping frozen bait to the bottom thirty miles out of the river. Redfish stories from all along the Big Bend are positive, but trout fans say they have to search now in deeper water. The party of Homosassa Capt. Marvin Williams cast jigs in water 10-feet deep Saturday to fill big trout limits and then release several more. Folks that love the summertime Easter egg hunt in the clear gulf shallows are excited, since scallop season opens Sunday, July 1. Avid fans of scalloping even make reconnaissance runs in the weeks leading up to the opening. Their pre-season predictions always seem to conflict. This year, they range all the way from ‘poor’ to ‘great.’ Keeping that in mind, the opinions of scallop scouts are, generally, as follows: Near Homosassa, most think there’s a reasonably good supply of bivalves awaiting shellfishers. Just a little north of there, however, reports out of Crystal River are far less optimistic. The Steinhatchee flats, at least, receive a near-unanimous endorsement as a ‘good bet’ for a season-opening scalloping trip.

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

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In the midst of this nasty spell of low water, it’s true that there are few really good nearby spots for freshwater fishing. As always, however, diehards have been able to sniff out some great fish-catching spots within a reasonable drive from Gainesville. Down near Leesburg, the Harris Chain of Lakes has the attention of many of our panfishing customers. First thing in the morning, it is common for a few of these fishermen to pick up a couple of cups of grass shrimp on their way south to Lake Harris, Griffin, or Eustis—or to the strip of water that connects Harris and Eustis called ‘Dead River.’ There’s really nothing dead about this place. Its pads and sawgrass beds hold loads of enormous shellcracker that are pulled from here every week-many by the folks from Gainesville. Clear area rivers also account for some fine panfish action these days. The Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha Rivers top this list. Thursday, Don Cribbs and David Ostrander stopped by with a fish box packed full of nice-sized bluegill and redbellies that they had just taken in the Ocklawaha below Rodman Dam. The Gainesville fishermen used crickets and European nightcrawlers to make the good catch. Bass reports have been best from Rodman Pool, where soft plastics and topwater baits are both producing big bites. Nice weather over the weekend led to lots of fine saltwater action. Redfish stories were best out of Suwannee and Waccasassa, while trout results were good all along the coast. The Father’s Day Weekend also produced cobia battles from Homosassa to Steinhatchee. One slightly unsettling trend is the large number of sharks that boaters are spotting or hooking. Some inshore anglers have said that the sharks they see are abundant but small, while others have been downright spooked by big bulls and tigers in water just three feet deep. Sharks are often a concern leading up to scallop season-but this season’s ultra-saline near-shore shallows seem to have attracted a more ominous crowd than usual. The inland waters of the Atlantic Coast can’t be left out, since fishing there is top-notch. A large crop of flounder is commanding the attention of most angling locals; but black drum and pompano have also joined the ever-present whiting and are biting at a pleasing pace on Crescent Beach. Surf fishers casting shrimp and Fishbites strips are scoring best.

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

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The wetter season at hand hasn’t done much yet for deficient area lake levels. Still, along with generally-less breezy conditions, the scattered rain showers do seem to have improved the fishing. It’s no secret that the fishermen on the water most often are the ones that catch the most fish. This is certainly true of John Courtney. The Hawthorne angler stopped by in the Monday afternoon heat with a really impressive limit of big Orange Lake shellcracker and bluegill. But then, Courtney catches a nice limit every time out. When pressed to reveal a little more about his successful ways, he said, “I’m putting my boat in at Heagy-Burry Park and running out to an open spot in a boat lane. Nobody’s really on the lake these days, so I don’t have to worry much about traffic. I anchor there and put out a couple of poles,” he continued. “Lately, the little European nightcrawlers have been the best bait. If the bream don’t bite at first, I just wait because I know the fish are there.” As always in fishing, confidence is of great importance. Saltwater anglers should be the most confident bunch of all. Most are having little trouble locating trout, reds, and mackerel near shore; and grouper offshore. Suwannee Captain, Jon Farmer, allows that this has been an outstanding late-spring season in his favorite haunts along Suwannee Reef and on Spotty Bottom. “This has been the best year in the last fifteen for kingfish and cobia,” he said. “My customers and I have boated lots of each-up to nearly 50-pounds.” Like many of us, the longtime guide is bowled over by the prevalent reports of heretofore-unheard-of finny visitors to the Suwannee. “I’ve heard of five snook caught in the Suwannee over the last few weeks,” he declared, “that’s really something.” Waccasassa Bay hasn’t made the report much this year, but good weekend trout results will get it in this week. Two construction companies from Wildwood organized a 30-boat trout tournament last weekend out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club. Although big trout were hard to find, most boats returned with nice catches. A ten-trout limit weighing 15-pounds, 3-ounces came out on top. And the 23rd Annual Cobia Big Fish Tournament held last weekend out of Homosassa and Crystal River attracted a full, 200-boat field. Several would-be entrants, in fact, were turned away after the 200th team signed up. Mike Decker of Titusville captured the largest ling of the contest, and pocketed $7300.00 for the 56.32-pound fish.

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

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Lots of folks have walked in the store lately with a familiar question. As they have for decades, these couple-of-trips-a-year fishers ask where the best nearby place is to launch their boat and catch fish. Some have the family along–with hats, shades, sunscreen, and ice chests filled with drinks and snacks. This year, things are different-and we hate to see them surprised and disappointed.While we normally are able to give the infrequent angler several good lake choices (and fish-catching tips on each,) that pool of choices has shrunken this season almost unthinkably. In Alachua County, here’s a rundown of public places to launch motorboats without unwanted consequence. And even in these places, trim up, go slow, and watch the water pump.

  1. Heagy-Burry Park on Orange Lake. Turn off 441 at the food market in the town of Orange Lake. This ramp is fairly long and steep, but since the ramp at Mike’s Fish Camp became unusable a couple of weeks ago, this is the only reasonable place to access Orange. Even here, your outboard will kick up considerable mud from the bottom.
  2. Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp or the public boat ramp just down the road from it. Again, these are only marginal access points-and if your boat and motor are not small, you aren’t likely to enjoy the experience.
  3. Lake Santa Fe at the “Little Lake” ramp off Highway 21 between Melrose and Keystone Heights. And that’s about it.

Rodman Pool still holds plenty of water, and the Suwannee, St. Johns, and Ocklawaha Rivers are plenty navigable if you don’t mind a slightly longer drive from Gainesville. And there are additional possibilities for kayaks, small jonboats, and canoes-like Wauburg and Newnan’s Lakes-but you get the picture. In the ongoing drought, freshwater fishing spots have become scarce. Saltwater fishing, on the other hand, is nearly as good as the freshwater situation is bad. Only a strangely-persistent wind keeps coastal anglers from catching loads of fish at will. On the scarce days when it gives anglers a brief break, outstanding catches are made. Last Thursday offered a less-windy window for Gainesville anglers, Richard Stringfellow, Paul Locascio, and Bob Weimer. With the forecast calling for 10-to-15 knot breeze and seas three-to-four feet, the three headed off the Atlantic Coast out of Matanzas Inlet. Aboard Stringfellow’s 21-foot Ranger, Jennybelle, they ran 47-miles offshore to water 145-feet deep. “We always try to go to ‘The Ledge’ a few times every May,” said Stringfellow, “and the last day of the month brought the only good chance we had seen all month. Still, the last twenty miles going out were real chunky.” The opportunity was well worth seizing, as the three longtime friends hauled in a kingfish, a 29-pound cobia, and nine dolphin. The largest of the dolphin was easily the top fish of the trip, and at 51-pounds was the largest ever pulled into the Jennybelle. With an outstanding catch on ice, the downsea ride back to the inlet was a breeze.

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

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Freshwater catches continue to dwindle as severely-low water levels continue to drop; so it’s a very good thing that saltwater action is excellent. Always the top inshore targets, speckled trout and redfish are biting well from Homosassa to Keaton Beach. Pressed to narrow that long stretch of coast down to the very best section of shallows, we’d have to say that the Suwannee-to-Steinhatchee flats should claim that distinction. Unlike in the flats to the south, four-pound trout have been fairly common off Suwannee, Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee. And then there’s the trout that Bobby Johnson of Gainesville hooked last weekend near Suwannee. “That thing looked four feet long,” said the veteran angler. Johnson battled the monstrous trout nearly to the landing net held by Bill Thigpin, but the fish would not be netted. Only occasionally do we hear of such outsize gulf trout—and the result of the battle seems to always be the same. The fish wins. Two Saturdays ago, the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club held its Annual Fishin’ Tournament at Suwannee. Despite the rough conditions, Clyde Lewis managed to boat a fine 3.95-pound trout to win that category. Steve Maynard boated a Spanish mackerel that exactly matched the weight of Lewis’ trout-and that was large enough to claim the “Mackerel Champion” title. Ron Sanchez’s thick 7.33-pounder was the redfish winner, and Tom Pridgen weighed the tourney’s best freshwater fish-a 3.35-pound largemouth bass. Jimmy Johns pulled a 9.39-pound grouper from the high seas, but Sam Wesley took the most impressive single fish to the weigh scales-a whopping 44-pound kingfish. Fifty teams participated in the 21st annual event. High late-season winds have frequently hampered offshore anglers considerably, but those that have made it out there have returned with great catches. Capt. Gator McRae fished off Homosassa Wednesday with Bobby Barnes, Jeff Garvin, and Tom Peterson. The four took a pounding on the 25-mile ride out to one of McRae’s hot spots, but the wind eased a bit as they anchored. Fishing frozen Spanish sardines on the bottom, the anglers hauled in eye-popping limits of grouper. Things were rough again on the boat ride back to port, but the 20 fish in the fish box made it seem easier.

Five of the grouper weighed better than 15-pounds. And finally, Ken Knopf can safely lay claim to the ‘catch of the year’ thus far. The Memorial Day cobia he caught while fishing out of Cedar Key with his wife, Debby, is the largest we know to have EVER been boated here. The fish took a freshly-caught herring and, after a tense battle the Knopfs somehow wrestled the 89-pound behemoth into their Boston Whaler. The Gainesville dentist summed the epic catch up succinctly: “It was one of those days when everything worked right.”

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

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Alright, it’s late May….these windy fronts can stop any time. Yet another too-breezy weekend made fish-catching tougher than it might have been back when you could count on the climate to follow the seasonal rules. Offshore anglers in the Doug Johnson/Donnie Young Reeling for Kids Tournament Friday and Saturday at Steinhatchee were walking a little gingerly at the weigh-ins each afternoon following the pounding they had taken all day by 4-to-6-foot waves. Even so, quite a few fine grouper up to about 15-pounds were entered. Fishers concentrating on the inshore part of the competition had things a little better. Lots of maximum-length redfish and several big speckled trout better than four pounds were seen at the scales. Best of all, the annual event raised lots of money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alachua County. Farther south, weekend fishing was excellent out of Homosassa, as well. Grouper fishers here don’t necessarily have to run far offshore to find fish—and some great gags were taken in water just 8-or-so-feet deep. Curiously, the best trout catches came from deeper than that; as several Homosassa trout guides are working sand-bottomed areas in about ten-feet of water. For Homosassa anglers, the biggest annual event is the arrival of huge tarpon in late spring—and that has come to pass. Tarpon fans have descended on the little gulf river with all kinds of boats and tackle….but most conspicuous are the flyfishing faithful seeking the most extreme challenge of their sport. Young Galvin Oakes hooked one of the huge silver kings while fishing from his boat dock in the river Saturday. After the tarpon jumped, Galvin and his dad jumped into a boat moored at the dock and followed the big fish upriver. For 45-minutes, the battle raged, until finally the sixteen-year-old had the monster whipped at boatside. The pair was able to revive and release the hundred-plus-pound fish. Although our extra-low fresh waters continue to drop, panfishers with smaller boats are still finding ways to get to their targets. Thursday, Hawthorne angler, John Courtney stopped by the store with a cooler-full limit of big Orange Lake bluegill and shellcracker he had fooled with worms and grass shrimp. But there was a peculiar fish among the handsome catch. Courtney had pulled an amazing interloper from the bream bed—an oscar. These scrappy little devils are common in the Everglades…but, to our knowledge, they have not been encountered locally until now.

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

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After the last few fishing reports sounded like saltwater was the only hope for good action, several lake and river guys let us know that their fishing hadn’t been too bad, either. Ralph Porter of Gainesville fished Lake Wauburg Sunday. Slow-trolling Beetle Spins tipped with grass shrimp in water 16-feet deep, the Gainesville angler hauled in 18 speckled perch, keeping only three fish over 12-inches long. The largest of the three weighed 2-05 on The Tackle Box’s tested scales Monday morning. As a nice bonus, Porter’s Beetle Spin also produced three good-sized bullhead catfish. Some guys probably ended up in the doghouse for fishing on Mothers’ Day. Porter, on the other hand, dodged that bullet like the angling veteran he is. He cleaned the catfish for his grandmother since that’s her favorite fish, and fixed the specks up for his mom. Although the water is low at the boat ramp on Wauburg’s State Park side, Porter is able to launch his small boat there with little trouble. Wauburg is a trolling motor-only lake—no outboard engines allowed. Tracy Parker of Lochloosa showed that specks can still be located in his home lake Saturday when he docked at Lochloosa Harbor with 14 fine, fillet-size slabs he had pulled from the lily pads while using grass shrimp and minnows. Don and Mary Gail Cribbs fished Tuesday with David Ostrander on the Ocklawaha River below Rodman Dam. Using European nightcrawlers and crickets, the Gainesville trio loaded up on large panfish-a ninety-fish mix of bluegill, shellcracker, and redbellies. Despite these impressive freshwater entries, Gulf Coast fishing remains the best bet for North Florida anglers. From Cedar Key, northward, speckled trout and redfish catches have been excellent. In just one pass down a long sand bar near Steinhatchee Sunday, Doug Stringfellow and Tom Burke caught and released a half-dozen big trout over 20-inches long. Practicing for the Reeling for Kids Tournament this weekend, the Gainesville fishermen tried a number of lures—jerkbaits, topwaters, jigs, and spinners. Every bait worked on the big Steinhatchee trout. Jeff Mickle of Gainesville fished with Capt. Allen on an overnight trip off the Gulf Coast. Capt. Allen took Mickle, along with Blair and Lance Morgan, out about 25-miles Friday afternoon. When they returned around noon Saturday, the three anglers had full limits of fine gag grouper weighing up to 20.3-pounds and a dozen mangrove and red snapper to 10.5-pounds. They fished Boston mackerel, Spanish sardines, and live cigar minnows on the bottom. And that’s this week’s report.Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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The drought that has ultimately led to our charred and smoky state has also nearly halted freshwater fishing in many lakes that would otherwise be bustling with activity. Still, it IS May, one of the very best overall fishing months; and saltwater action, at least, is left to satisfy the cravings of avid anglers. Results in the 43rd Annual ‘Family Fun Fishing Tournament’ of the Builders Association of North Central Florida again confirmed the fact that fishing on the gulf is excellent. Fishing out of Crystal Rivers’ Plantation Inn, the builders and their families scored well with most species. Among those targeting speckled trout, the team of Steve Mathis, David Reichert, and Joe Reichert bagging the top10-fish tourney limit that weighed 20.3-pounds. Joe’s 3.5-pound fish took top honors as the largest single trout. The best ten-fish limit of Spanish mackerel, taken by Phil Leitner and crew, went 13.5; while the largest single Spanish of the event, a nice 3.4-pound fish, was taken by Elwyn Robinson. Breck Weingart weighed in a 12.9-pound kingfish that accounted for just over half of his team’s 25.3 aggregate total for their two-king tourney limit.

The ‘Grouper’ category, though, was most hotly-contested…and produced some of the event’s most impressive catches. Several 5-fish limits tugged the weigh scales past the 30-pound mark, but the team that came out on top didn’t even box a full limit. Calvin Peterson, Breck Weingart, Austin Weingart, Brian Leslie, Ben French, and Mike Winn won with four fine gags that weighed 44-pounds. An angler on another boat, however, landed the day’s biggest single grouper. The 16.3-pound gag hauled in by Joel Anusavice earned that distinction. As always, the Junior Anglers gave an excellent account of their fish-catching prowess.

Brad and Collin English paddled a canoe out into the river. Each boy boated a legal bass, and they won the freshwater bass category handily. Cody Clark hauled in a fine 11.5-pound grouper, Greg Robinson took an 8.5-pound kingfish, and Amanda Krpan vanquished a 5.9 king of her own. Matt Concelmo, Carrie Leitner, Kelly Leitner, and Andrew Stringfellow all caught nice Spanish mackerel. James LaPointe and Alex Stringfellow both took nice speckled trout to the scales, Kayle Clark boated a good-sized bluefish, Andrew Bieniek’s remora drew lots of gawkers in the weigh-in line, and Shannon Bieniek entered a nice pinkmouth grunt. Curiously, no cobia or redfish were caught in the Builders tournament this year. But that doesn’t mean the cobia aren’t around. Capt. Leo Riddle weighed a 54-pound ling Saturday at McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa River-one of the best Big Bend cobia boated so far this season.

As good as fishing obviously is in the Homosassa/Crystal River area, overall results have actually been a bit better to the north-out of Suwannee, Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee. Here, big limits of trout, redfish, and grouper are almost commonplace, giving anglers pre-fishing for the huge, upcoming Doug Johnson/Donnie Young Reeling for Kids tournament plenty of reason to be hopeful. John Palmer of Gainesville and Glen Hagan of Alachua fished a grassy point south of Steinhatchee Saturday. Hagan’s first-ever red, a 23-incher, started the day that would produce 29 more spot-tails for the pair. But their catch paled against the hurt Palmer’s son and his buddies put on the offshore fish the same day. Practicing for the Reeling for Kids event, John Palmer, Jr., Brian Hecker, and Bobby Cumbo enjoyed nearly-constant action in water just shy of 100-feet deep. The three anglers boated big limits of grouper and red snapper to almost twenty pounds. For good measure, they also hauled in a hefty amberjack and a nice kingfish. While salt waters presently account for the lion’s share of reports these days, lakes and rivers shouldn’t be forgotten. Fishing last Thursday morning on Lake Kerr with her husband, Bob, Candy Burroughs experienced a one-in-a-lifetime thrill. At 7:10, on her sixth cast of the morning with a Zoom Super Fluke in the Watermelon/red color, Candy had a strike. “When I set the hook, it didn’t move,” she said. “I just said, ‘I have a big fish here.'” And big it was. Under a sunrise that was strangely easy to view through the smoky atmosphere, Candy battled the big bass. Finally, the couple wrestled a 12-pound, 4-ounce monster into their boat. “My biggest bass ever before that was 7-pounds.” After photographing, weighing and measuring (28.5-inches in length) the huge largemouth, Bob and Candy slipped the fish back into Lake Kerr.

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The present low-water state of nearby lakes has forced local freshwater fishers to move around a bit more than usual in search of water both accessible and productive. A handful of panfish fans are still picking up good bluegill catches on Orange and Lochloosa, mostly fishing grass shrimp along deeper edges of grass and pads.

A large contingent, though, has defected to clear, cool, and running waters. While the rivers are also low, folks fishing the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha seem to be the happiest early-season bream seekers. Reports of big bluegill, stumpknocker, and redbelly catches—most made by anglers flipping tiny lures or spinners around logs, limbs, and rocks along the river edge—are the most appealing of the area panfish stories these days. The bass fishing report is about equally promising, with a couple of lakes clearly producing best. Rodman and Orange saw several impressive catches during weekend bass tournaments. Jim Wheeler and Don Smith weren’t fishing competitively, but they could have taken the top spot Saturday with the bass they found in the deeper stumps. The Gainesville anglers caught six largemouths of at least 5-pounds; AND they also boated seven striped bass while casting 5-inch shad-imitating swim baits. Two of the true stripers were eye-popping nine-pounders. Still, it’s the coastal destinations that hold the best fish-catching opportunities for North Florida anglers. Recent windy conditions on the coasts had water on the flats a bit cloudier than usual, and had pushed up enough floating grass to aggravate casters of artificial lures. Weekend results were very good, anyway. Pat Robertson and sons Dakota (12) and Blaze (5,) fished Cedar Key Saturday. The Gainesville trio enjoyed a great days of fishing, boating a dozen trout and around 30 redfish. Dakota was the top fish-catcher, boating and releasing 15 reds over 25-inches long. Young Blaze also dove into the fish-catching fray, wrestling in a 20-pound black drum. The Robertson boys’ most successful lures were Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny and Natural colors and Cajun Spins. Capt Jon Farmer and his party of four found the trout action a bit slow off Suwannee Sunday, picking up only scattered keepers. When the Suwannee captain decided to spend the last two hours of the day on an outer shell bar, the day was saved. “Redfish and black drum were all over it,” he said. The visiting anglers boxed four reds barely small enough to keep at 27-inches, and released several that were too big. And Capt. John Leibach located some monstrous reds Saturday on a shell bar south of Shired Island. Leibach directed his party of three to hop out of the boat and wade the bar, casting jigs and finger mullet as the tide rose. A 3-inch Gulp! Shrimp in New Penny drew a strike from a powerful fish for Terry Stradomski. Following a long battle, a 45-inch-redfish hung in Capt. John’s Boga Grip. The huge fish weighed 24.5-pounds. Aside from this epic catch, the party filled both trout and redfish limits. Offshore action is also excellent-especially off Crystal River and Homosassa. Captains Jeff and Patti Marshall guided a party of three to great grouper limits off Homosassa in water just 24-feet deep. Willie North and Matt Scales showed that big cobia are present as well. Each brought a big ling in to McRae’s Marina on Sunday.

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

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Now, this is more like it. Finally, a stretch of weather like it should be in April…and cooperative fish, to boot. Although the warm-weather species are in place on the Big Bend shallows, late cold snaps had weekend water temperatures still in the high sixties, slowing the overall shallow bite just a bit. When I called Capt. Jim Keith just now (Tuesday morning,) he convinced me that the trout action must be back up to par. When the top inshore captain answered his phone, he was somewhere on the Cedar Key flats with John Hillis Sr., John Jr., and young Claire Hillis. “I just netted a 26-inch trout for John Jr.,” he said. “That’s a big trout-must weigh over 5-pounds. Claire is eight years old, and she caught a nice 16 ½-incher on her first cast.” With that, it was time to let the guide go back to work-“Gotta net another fish,” he explained, “thanks for calling.” I did manage to learn that the group’s success was coming with Saltwater Assassin grubs in the Candy Corn color, fished under Cajun Thunder rattling floats. I fished the Crystal River flats Sunday with old buddies, Doug Stringfellow and Tom Burke. While our success wasn’t as heady as Capt. Jim’s, we did boat quite a few trout on the beautiful spring day. I’d say we probably unhooked and released twenty fish over 17-inches long. Doug took the prize for variety, catching bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, and jack crevalle along a bunch of trout. The offshore bite is just as strong. Last Wednesday, Frank Kowalczyk headed out of Cedar Key with friends, Miles and Alyssa. The day was breezy and a bit dreary, but Frank’s 31-foot Cape Horn scarcely noticed the chop as they ran out to water 42-feet deep. The three trolled Stretch 30 lures for quite a while with no success before the Gainesville angler decided to run out to water 55-feet deep and to anchor over a rocky spot that had been productive on a past trip. That was the ticket. In a light rain, the three fished frozen threadfin herring to fool 13 nice red and two gag grouper. Out of Homosassa, Capt. Bill Musser and customer, Ray Boone fished Spanish sardines in water 30-feet deep to fill a nice grouper limit Saturday.

If there is a negative in this week’s report, it’s the freshwater portion. Actually, fishing remains pretty good in nearby lakes—but most folks are less interested in launching larger vessels when added care for propellers and water pumps is needed. As is often the case during such dry times, the one bright spot is Rodman Reservoir. Here the water is high and the bream are already gathering for the season’s first big bedding session expected around the May 2nd Full Moon.

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

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It sure looked like high winds, the top weather-enemy of the angler, would do away with all fishing attempts (let alone any decent catches) over the weekend. Monday and Tuesday, however, I was amazed to hear of a bunch of fine catches pulled in amid the bluster. In fresh water, the fishers at Rodman Dam were not affected by the wind nearly as much as their cohorts in boats—and the legion of shorebound casters really loaded up on fish. Bluegill and shellcracker are biting earthworms and grass shrimp very well on the downriver side of the dam, and folks equipped for bass also enjoyed success with spinnerbaits and jigs. A hundred contestants in the BASS Federation qualifier on the St. John’s River at Palatka did struggle to fish effectively from their bass boats, but Gainesville’s Benny Beckham had little trouble. The veteran fisherman cast Rat-l-Traps and plastic worms just north of Lake George to bag 5-bass limits each day. Beckham finished 2nd overall and won the “Ranger Cup” contingency money.

It was the gulf anglers, though, that made the most impressive weekend catches; especially considering the fact that the high winds that pounded them came from the west-straight out of the open water.

That fact brought unusually-high water to the Big Bend coast around mid day. Spek Hayward of the Waccasassa Fishing Club couldn’t resist looking around during Sunday’s ultra-high tide. “I was the only boat out there,” he said, “and I could get to places I’d never been.” The Waccasassa Bay tide had been nearly as high on Saturday, when Howard and Garrett Griffith and Tony Easom were casting for redfish. “The wind let up a little for about an hour between 2:00 and 3:00,” said Howard. That’s when the reds started biting.” Young Garrett, 14, and Tony hooked up at the same time. When they finally got both fish in the boat, there was no hope that they might fall into the ‘legal’ slot of 18-to-27-inches. Tony’s fish measured 32-inches. Garrett’s red was an exceptional specimen…33-inches long and very heavy-bodied; it probably weighed around 15-pounds. Howard snapped a quick picture of both anglers and their fish before they returned the big reds to Waccasassa Bay. A small Shands department tournament went on as planned Saturday at Suwannee. Mike Sexton of Earleton and Mike Thompson of Hawthorne fished with the added intention of pre-fishing for the big Children’s Miracle Network tourney coming up April 28th. “The wind had darkened the water near Suwannee,” Sexton explained, “and so we decided to run north to water we thought would be clearer.” Easier said than done in that wind. In Sexton’s 24-foot Carolina Skiff, the team did make it up to the Horseshoe Beach flats. Casting Mirrolures there, they boxed a good limit of seven trout that weighed 14-02—enough to take the top prize in the trout category.

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

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An all-out fish-catching jamboree had been going strong on both coasts until a peculiar late-season cold snap temporarily throttled it over the Easter Weekend. Trout and redfish reports from all gulf ports had been excellent up ’til the chilly front arrived; and mackerel, bluefish, sheepshead, and grouper also were plentiful and hungry. Gulf anglers know that the spring season has truly arrived when the Big Bend big boys show up—and recent stories of kingfish and cobia off Cedar Keys and Suwannee have made that official. Captain Don Smith spotted a monster cobia near a Cedar Key channel last week, and Capt. Jon Farmer battled and boated a fine 30-pound king off Suwannee. Offshore, anglers can watch fish take their baits on the bottom forty feet below. For that reason, many offshore anglers are now running farther out, where grouper are less likely to be finicky due to the clarity. When the wind has allowed, the grouper seekers have scored well. Capt. Gator McRae and friends fished about 25-miles off Homosassa Sunday. With frozen Spanish sardines fished on the bottom, the three fishers hauled in 13 nice, legal gags. East Coast anglers say that if a tight line is your primary goal, then the inland waterway near Matanzas Inlet should be your destination. Small bluefish, big ladyfish, and tackle-busting jacks are all present inside the inlet and giving schools of finger mullet fits. Fishers equipped to run out of the inlet and into the ocean are excited that the annual migration of manta rays is underway not far off the beaches. It’s not the huge rays that the anglers want to hook; rather the cobia that travel with them. Boaters speed to the big rays when they surface, enabling another angler ready with a big jig or artificial eel to cast near it. The cobia, usually hiding underneath the behemoth, runs out and nabs the bait in full view. They say it’s some of the most exciting fishing of all. Even before the late cold snap sent water temps back down into the range they normally prefer, many light tackle fans felt that speckled perch had not relinquished their hold on the “fastest-biting-panfish” title. Donnie Bauknight, Vaughn Sherrer, and Allen and Joe Manning hauled a four-man speck limit from Lochloosa both Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. “The crazy thing,” said Sherrer, “was that some of them were still full of roe.” After pausing, he continued, “It’s really weird.” No question about that.

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

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Spring, nearly everybody’s favorite time to wet a line, has arrived with its usual gifts for anglers. But the peak-and-valley nature of this sport that depends so greatly upon the weather has brought a huge challenge during this year’s most prime time. At the end of February, locals knew that a typically-dry season was ahead…and that, if rainfall was as scarce as it usually is in March, some lake levels were in danger of dropping to points of inaccessibility. Less than an inch has fallen since that time, and sure enough, the lakes are woefully low. Larger vessels might be out of the picture in many waters, but determined anglers able find a way onto the water continue to score good catches. While most panfishers have abandoned it, a strong speckled perch bite has lasted a very long time this year. John Hileman and Sarge McQuinn have not failed to take a big bunch of specks on their Thursday trips all year. Last week, the Gainesville fishermen showed off 40 more sizable crappie that they pulled from Orange Lake while at anchor and fishing minnows in water 4-feet deep.

Another top speck master, John Courtney of Hawthorne, filled a 25-speck limit Saturday morning on Orange. “They’re not as big now as they were earlier this year, but you can still get plenty of bites,” he said.

Stymied through the morning hours on Rodman, Tuffy Wheeler ramped out and headed to another nearby lake Saturday. Action wasn’t much faster here…but the one bite that Wheeler’s large shiner did produce was momentous. That afternoon, Wheeler and his canine fishing buddy, Booder, were at The Tackle Box with a monster bass that weighed 12-pounds, 11-ounces on our certified scales. Unfazed by the ongoing drought, saltwater anglers seem pleased with the fishing on the Gulf Coast. Much of the buzz continues to center around the amazing crop of Spanish mackerel that has invaded the Big Bend. When the pelagics first arrived more than a month ago, their numbers were surprising—but most were on the small side. Now, the mackerel are both abundant and large. “These are some of the biggest Spanish we’ve seen in a long time—over 30-inches long,” declared Becky Elliott of Pete’s Pier at Crystal River Tuesday. And now, trout and redfish numbers are beginning to catch up. While fishing out of Horseshoe Beach Saturday in the first of the Big Bend Redfish Club’s series of tournaments, Mark Brady and Rodney Purvis drifted across a very ‘sweet spot.’ Casting jigs, the Gainesville men hooked up almost simultaneously. Both were winning fish. After the chaotic scramble to first net Rodney’s trout (5.5-pounds,) and then Mark’s redfish (5.7,) they fired up the outboard to ease back to the ultra-productive area. A big porpoise, however, had arrived there first, and promptly added insult to injury. “He came to the surface with a nice red in his mouth,” said Purvis. “I said we might as well leave. There’s a better fisherman here now.”

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

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A nice, warm weekend complete with a brief break from the March wind was exactly what area anglers had been waiting for. Many seized the opportunity and bagged great catches. Saltwater fans came home from trips to every gulf port with bunches of fish and appealing tales. Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, and grouper were mentioned most often. Manny Disgiertt and his kids fished out of Suwannee. They returned to Miller’s Marina with a very nice mix of sheepshead and Spanish. Also seen at Miller’s was one of the largest gag grouper pulled from these waters in a long time. Ray Renfroe hooked the massive fish with a Spanish sardine Saturday while fishing with his wife. The grouper weighed 30-pounds and anchored the Lake Butler couple’s whopping 10-fish limit. Later at port, they could not shut the lid of their 120-quart ice chest with the ten fish inside-even without ice. While the Renfroes were loading up out of Suwannee, Crystal River Captain Dan Clymer and his party of two were slaying grouper several miles to the south. Trolling Mann’s Stretch 30 lures, they boxed 15 big fish. Then on Sunday, Capt. Rick Spratt boated a big grouper limit, released a huge redfish, and then iced several large Crystal River Spanish for good measure. Homosassa reports were similarly-impressive…but Capt. Don Chancy offered a considerable tiebreaker Saturday when he returned to McRae’s Marina with two nice kingfish-some of the season’s first. Speckled trout activity is firing up slowly along the coast, and is still not yet fast and furious. A few noteworthy weekend trout tallies were seen at the Waccasassa Fishing Club. Herb Wilkerson and Rob Boatright each returned to the camp with good five-fish trout limits. And, each angler had a 26-inch trout to top his catch. Even with water temperatures rising fast, speckled perch continue to account for most of the top area freshwater panfish results. Scott Williams of Gainesville fished a pink-and-yellow crappie jig in water 3-feet deep on Lochloosa Saturday to fill a nice 25-fish limit; while Ron Gray of Hawthorne matched that catch using jig/minnow combinations in Lochloosa’s South End lily pads.

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

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The parting shots of winter happened to fall last weekend—the first following the re-opening of grouper season. This, of course, bummed a bunch of offshore fans that were forced to further delay the grouper battles they had missed for a long while. The chilly wind fouled up other weekend anglers as well, in varying degrees. But the sorry conditions can’t last long during this, the best all-around season for fish-catching.

The spawning sheepshead that should be in place on natural and artificial Gulf reefs remain finicky, but that’s not a very unusual mood for them. Late last week before temperatures dropped and wind picked up, several Suwannee anglers reported seeing multitudes of sheepies in the clear water at Hedemon Reef. These banded brawlers, however, would not bite even the most attractive shrimp. This spell of lockjaw seems to occur every year just before the water warms sufficiently (or maybe just before the fish settle into the spawning grounds.) At any rate, it is highly irritating for the early-season anglers on the spot and expecting to get bit. Speckled trout action continues to heat up all along the west coast; and Spanish mackerel lovers are the happiest angling group of all. Every Gulf Coast fisher I have spoken to over the last two weeks has been impressed with the number of mackerel already on hand.

That awkward time has arrived again for freshwater panfishers. The speckled perch that had for months been their hands-down number one target are finishing up their spawning responsibilities and beginning to scatter in deeper water. At the same time, shellcracker and bluegill activity is increasing. Right now, it’s hard to know which species one will find in a feeding mood. For this reason, grass shrimp (the only live bait that all of the above will readily bite) are presently the best bait. Orange, Lochloosa, and Rodman Lakes are producing the top tallies of both specks and bream. Bass anglers know that this is the top season for their sport—and, right on cue, nearly every area lake is yielding good action. Although live shiners are probably the deadliest bait in early spring, soft plastic lures in the form of worms, eels, lizards, crawfish, and tubes are the mainstays of artificial-bait anglers.

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

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As spring draws near, a healthy mix of good reports are coming in from both salt and fresh waters. I don’t recall big numbers of early-spring Spanish mackerel ever arriving on Big Bend flats ahead of the legions of speckled trout, but recent fishing stories would indicate that’s happening. Becky Elliott of Pete’s Pier at Crystal River said, “Over the weekend, all of the guides loaded up on Spanish. They’re not particularly big, but they’re sure plentiful.”

Six guides with the Homosassa Fishing Guide Association took members of the Atlanta Fishing Club out Sunday. The anglers in all six boats made fine redfish and trout catches. And above that, one guide put his group on an added bonus. The fishers with Capt. John Bazo hauled in thirty Spanish. Sunday, Cole Childers and Bob Carl proved that the Spanish had made it as far north as Cedar Key, as well. The men planned a short trip to the Cedar Key flats ahead of the Gators’ championship basketball game in the SEC Tournament. Casting for trout with Gulp! Shrimp on ¼-ounce jigheads, they had plenty of strikes—but not from their target species. Fishing without steel leaders, Carl and Childers lost a half-dozen rigs…but also managed to ice six mackerel. The Gainesville anglers were back in the truck listening to Mick Hubert before tip-off.

Grouper season opens again Thursday, March 15th. Judging from the number of anglers picking up offshore supplies, one would guess that the fans of the deep have really missed their sport and will be out in force for its reopening.

While the spawning activity of speckled perch is tapering off, some crappie fishers on Orange and Lochloosa continue to fare very well. Friday, John Courtney of Hawthorne fished jig/minnow combinations a little ways outside the Lochloosa maidencane to fill a fine 25-speck limit anchored by a 2-04 slab. Saturday, Courtney employed the same bait and method on Orange to box a similarly-impressive limit of specks up to 2-02.

Bass are aggressive and in shallow water…a combination much to the liking of area bigmouth fans. Dan Mathia of Hawthorne was casting a Zoom Trick Worm in an area pond Thursday when a 10-pound monster struck. After weighing the fish, his largest to date, Mathia eased the roe-laden sow back into the pond to resume her important task.

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

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The full moon phases during February and March are watched closely by anglers that understand the extent of the big moon’s effect on the availability of some freshwater favorites. Unfortunately, the March full moon arrived last weekend along with a rainy cold front. Now, ordinarily, that would be reason to whine—especially with speckled perch and bass spawning in many nearby lakes and speckled trout season re-opening on the coasts. This time, though, the rain made the party instead of dampening it.

Most in-the-know anglers were happy with every drop that fell. Although we still need more, the effects of the inch-plus contribution could be seen and appreciated right away at boat ramps on several local lakes. Even after the rain passed, the cold winds that followed insured that parking would be no problem at area boat ramps. As always, some ignored the challenging conditions, fished anyway, and scored fine catches.

Charlene and Wayne Moore cast plastic worms under threatening skies Saturday on Lake Hampton. The bass were biting at a good pace when Charlene hooked a big fish. The fish was a strong, fast, and wily combatant, wrapping Charlene’s line first around their outboard and then around the trolling motor shaft. Somehow, the couple cleared both tangles, and finally boated the big bass. Charlene’s 8-pound, 10-ounce trophy will soon hang in the Moore home. Terry Beckham fished alone last Friday, floating minnows around Lochloosa maidencane beds. When bites failed to come at a rate that suited the longtime angler, he switched to a Road Runner spinner. Weaving this little lure around and through the shallow cover, Beckham’s bite total started to rise fast. When he headed home, 23 nice-sized specks crowded his ice chest.

Monday, Vince Brinker of Gainesville fished out of Mike’s Fish Camp with his dad, Russ, visiting from Illinois. The Brinkers slow-trolled Beetle Spins in Orange’s North End and, in a pleasing afternoon of fish-catching, boxed a dozen nice specks.

East Coast fish-catching wizard, Matt Wrann, fished lighted docks and bridges in the inland waterway Monday night. Small bluefish were everywhere, hampering his efforts to tempt speckled trout. Finally, Wrann was able to sink a live shrimp down below the feeding blues alongside a bridge piling. The weighted crustacean produced a solid ‘thump’ delivered by a fine, 24-inch fish—the young anglers’ largest trout since the season re-opened a few days ago.

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

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We have put the worst of winter behind us here in North Florida. Following a pretty chilly February, all living things are thawing, stretching, and firing up. Especially fish. In our area, speckled perch typically move into the shallows to spawn around the full moon in February. This year, that phase occurred just a couple of days into the month that turned out to be the coldest of the entire season.

While some crappie-bedding did take place earlier this month in a few lakes, a larger spawn is very likely coming up in the next few days. Another full moon will arrive a couple of days into March-and to much milder weather. There’s lots of evidence that the shallow bite is building.

John Courtney stopped by The Tackle Box Monday at noon. Already, the Hawthorne speck terrorist had plucked a whopping 25-fish limit from Lochloosa’s shallow lily pads while using minnows for bait. A mix of big males and spawned-out female fish made up the impressive bunch of slabs. Nehemiah McDonald and E. Williams are among the few fishers taking advantage of an underrated speck bite on Newnan’s Lake. The Gainesville anglers hauled in 33 nice specks Wednesday. Thursday, they picked up 14 more. On Saturday, the count fell to only 8 specks. Monday, however, Williams and McDonald again found the Newnan’s crappie in a feeding mood and boxed 22 more good fish. The folks at Lochloosa Harbor have been busy. Lochloosa has—and continues to be—the most productive speck lake in this area. To date, there have been 59 entries into the camp’s monthly “Big Speck” contest for February and Leslie Dalton is still holding the lead at 2-pounds, 13.5-ounces. Sunday was one top-notch fish-catching day on Lochloosa. That morning, Gary Cooper of Middleburg hauled in 25 specks in just two hours. Every fish was of good size-the smallest weighed 1-pound, 3-ounces and the largest was a pound-and-a-half example. Cooper fished minnows along an outer edge of maidencane. Mike Schornacil anchored near shallow brush on the lake’s northwest side and floated minnows near the cover to take a 23-speck stringer anchored by a 2-pound, 4-ounce slab.

Fishing with his granddad around grass and pads out in front of the fish camp, Dylan Mobley pulled in a fine pound-and-a-quarter speck. The proud 5-year-old fooled the fish with a lively minnow. And Dylan wasn’t the only young angler to score on Lochloosa last weekend. A couple of young fishers made catches to remind us that soon another panfish will be the anglers’ top objective. Dustin Swain was bouncing a chartreuse-and-blue crappie jig along, expecting another speck when a 15-ounce bluegill pounced. And fishing grass shrimp with his dad, Yarnell Bagley boated an even bigger bream. The Marion County 13-year old whipped the thick, 1-pound 2-ouncer in Little Lochloosa. Each was a hefty bluegill in anybody’s book.

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

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Of all the fish that swim in our local lakes, rivers, and ponds, one stands out as the all-around favorite…the fish with beauty, catch-ability, and table qualities that fire up the largest number of freshwater anglers. And the most prime time to corner these popular fish in shallow water is here.

In most nearby waters, speckled perch have moved into shoreline cover to spawn. The specks would probably have headed shallow earlier, but were thrown off schedule by a couple of the most severe cold fronts of our North Florida winter. Actually, some devoted speck seekers feel that the principal spawn did already occur in at least one top area lake before the twenty-something nights arrived. Lots of roed-out females have been pulled from Lochloosa over the last several days…compelling evidence of that notion. Even so, Orange and Lochloosa, sites of the lion’s share of local crappie-catching activity over the last couple of months, remain the top lake choices. Although fishing activity was minimal over the cold and windy weekend, fine catches have resumed in the warmup since. A crappie tournament among City of Ocala employees was scheduled for Saturday at Lochloosa Harbor. To the credit of the Marion County workers, over half of the expected field actually showed up for the friendly competition in the frigid wind. But few fish were caught. A 1-pound, 5-ounce speck that Charlie Colburn and Darrell Jones managed to tempt proved to be the best speck out of the dozen competing teams. By Tuesday, results had nearly returned to normal. The Scrogts family scored one of the better tallies on the first reasonably-comfortable day in several. The Georgia family fished minnows to haul in 36 Lochloosa specks. Now that specks are compelled by natural instinct to make little specks, fishers are finding them easier to locate in a number of other lakes and ponds. Orville Prickett picked up 13 nice Newnan’s Lake specks Monday while floating minnows around flooded brush in water two-feet deep. And Arthur Lee Madison has snatched some real slabs from the cane and sawgrass of Biven’s Arm. If you have wondered whether your favorite lake holds speckled perch, now’s the best time to pick up some minnows and find out. Aside from a handful of catch-and-release diehards pre-fishing for the 6th Annual Community Fishing Tournament coming up on March 17th, angling activity at Steinhatchee is minimal. The biggest stir here lately came when a local braved nasty seas to learn that some big sheepshead are already in place for their annual spawning rites out on Steinhatchee Reef. Some early square-toothed spawners have also shown up on the Steel Tower off Cedar Key and around some of the artificial Suwannee Regional Reefs. A bunch of would-be grouper fishers will surely take comfort in this productive diversion—at least until the season for their number-one target reopens on March 16th.

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

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Some of our saltwater-fishing customers have called the present situation ‘depressing’ lately. It’s not so much that the fishing is poor on the coasts-more that circumstances won’t allow them to wholeheartedly get after many of their favorite species.

Speckled trout season is closed in North Florida through February, and grouper are also off-limits for a month beginning Thursday, February 15th. And the windy cold fronts that continue to blow through fairly often succeed in enhancing the dark moods of these anglers.

On the optimistic side, there are still a few good salty species to target and rod-bending tactics to employ.

Crystal River anglers are plucking redfish, sheepshead, and legal mangrove snapper from around the river’s headwater springs in King’s Bay. Locals are fishing shrimp pieces on the bottom as far away as possible from the dive boats loaded with tourists looking to fellowship with the sea cows. Although the best sheepshead stories are still coming from rocky inshore holes and bridge and dock pilings, it’s very near time for the larger fish to gather on offshore reefs to spawn. The best-known of these are off Cedar Key and Suwannee. When this bite is ‘on,’ the fishing can be incredible. Over on the East Coast, casters on the inland waterway are finding plenty of bluefish. So far they are on the small side, running from one-to-three pounds, but larger fish will soon arrive. And some Matanzas River anglers have located lots of redfish. One Devil’s Elbow weekend customer docked with perfect 27-inch reds each day. When asked, he said that he had released 42 reds on Saturday, and then 56 more Sunday. Nothing ‘depressing’ about that. The successful angler used mud minnows, shrimp, and Berkley Gulp! lures for bait, but would not divulge the whereabouts of his productive spot.

Okay, it is true that freshwater is really where fishing is best right now. And the best freshwater bet is the speckled perch. While bass catches are steadily improving, this is the speck’s time to shine.

Lochloosa continues to produce specks as well as any area lake despite the overload of fishing pressure it has received. “At times, it was overwhelming Saturday,” said Lori Pease of Lochloosa Harbor. “We had 160 launches and sold over 500 dozen minnows.”

Uhlan Huitt showed off a top-shelf speck limit at the fish camp early that afternoon. On top of his big pile of fish was a 2-pound 12-ounce slab. The Jacksonville fisherman’s good luck came while he fished minnows in water 5-feet deep on the lake’s northwest side. The big speck measured 16 ½ inches in length and took the lead in the camp’s “big speck” contest for February. At least for a little while.

Leslie Dalton docked later in the day with another solid crappie limit that she had pulled from 6-feet of water off the north end. The largest of these was a 14 ½-inch fish that looked incredibly chunky. The fish camp scales confirmed the visual, as the Orange Springs angler’s whopper pushed the needle to the 2-pound, 13-ounce mark.

Although plenty of good weekend catches were seen, the fish were actually a little less cooperative than they had been a couple of days earlier, when big limits were the norm. “Thursday was really the best day,” Pease offered.

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

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Anglers all know that a fast-moving barometer often translates to fast fishing action.

As the wildly-powerful front that would do so much damage to central Florida approached, folks that happened to be on the water experienced that ‘major feed.’ John Hileman and Sarge McQuinn of Gainesville fished minnows in the grass and lily pads on Lochloosa’s east side Thursday to box 25 fast-biting speckled perch. Six were real slabs, in the 2-pound class. Friday, Rudy Atkinson fished minnows in the Little Lochloosa pads. In a stiff, cold wind the Hawthorne angler pulled in eight big specks, topped by a 2-pound, 1-ounce roe-laden female.

Able to fish a little more effectively in a less-toothy wind the following day, Atkinson adjusted his tactics a bit. He tied on a green and chartreuse jig, and then added his minnow. The tweak worked for a hefty limit of crappie up to 2-05. On the same day, James Windham fished bare minnows in pads and grass growing in water 3-feet deep. The Silver Springs fisherman pulled in 20 specks. Jack Suggs, who has been regularly locating very large specks in Lochloosa, came through again. The Jacksonville angler docked Saturday with a 15 speck catch that included a 2-pound 10-ounce whopper. He used black and yellow Hal Fly Jigs tipped with minnows. Suggs’ big speck currently leads in Lochloosa Harbor’s monthly ‘Big Speck’ contest.

The water level on Orange and Lochloosa has risen significantly since the downpour last week—seven inches.

Saltwater reports from the weekend were scattered and mostly unimpressive. Still, there are a few fairly-safe bets for a productive trip to the coast. The warmer waters of King’s Bay, the spring-fed pool fed at Crystal Rivers’ headwaters, are providing anglers with decent catch-and-release trout action. Fishing ahead of the month-long grouper closure to begin February 15, Capt. Dan Clymer and his two-man party toughed out nasty seas to take ten good gags Saturday. They scored both bottom-fishing and trolling deep-diving lures. Capt. Steve Fussell also had satisfied anglers aboard his vessel Thursday when he put them on a bunch of big, spawning sheepshead-a species seldom-targeted out of this port. Casters on the East Coast also have a more-than-willing fish to go after. Matt Wrann of Devil’s Elbow on Matanzas River said, “The bluefish are everywhere right now.”

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

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In ranking the best months for North Florida fresh water fishing versus the best months for choosing the coastal salt waters, each setting can make a good case for claiming January on its side of the ledger. When winter sends down its late-winter shots, however, the edge clearly turns away from the salty scene. The stock of speckled trout that crowded into coastal creeks and rivers for a degree or two of extra warmth have, by now, been largely picked off by anglers. And trips out to offshore spots are greatly hindered by the procession of windy cold fronts. Add to these negatives the February speckled trout closure in North Florida and a new grouper closure beginning February 15. In local freshwaters, on the other hand, fishy activity is actually on the increase.

Speckled perch are ready to spawn-the females as heavy-bodied with roe as they will be all year. Now and then it happens earlier; and when a particularly-severe cold snap arrives at just the wrong time, it can be later. But on average, anglers in North Central Florida can look for the specks to make their move into the spawning shallows very near the full moon in February. That time, of course, is at hand. Last week, before the season’s most serious cold arrived, Lochloosa specks were poised to procreate. Thursday, Sarge McQuinn and John Hillman located a bunch of slabs just off the maidencane that traces the lake’s west shoreline. Fishing with minnows in a light rain from 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., the Gainesville men hauled in 50 specks, keeping the 25 largest. Six of the fish weighed better than 2-pounds, and the biggest of the bunch was a bona fide slab at 2-pounds, 12-ounces. Hubert Hall of Starke was introduced to speck fishing Saturday by buddies, Donald and Ronnie Fogarty of Gainesville. Hall’s first Orange Lake speck was a little ‘throwback.’ The second fish that pulled his float under, however, didn’t move his way too easily when he tugged back. A while later, a 2-pound, 8-ounce beauty lay in the boat—a larger crappie than many anglers will ever catch. Bass are another freshwater favorite that fire up a few clicks around the start of February. Eddie Parrish and Carlos Morris had to fish the wind-protected shore Friday on Lake Santa Fe. Fishing wild shiners in the bluster, they hooked an impressive bunch of bass. Even though the day’s largest fish (they estimated at 8-pounds) got away, the anglers boated 5 bigmouths that ranged in size from 3 ½ to 5 ½- pounds.

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

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We still haven’t hit the freezing mark this season, but a slight chill is back. The balmy mid-winter weather that anglers had enjoyed recently looks to be over for a while, and the expected chilly winds have returned. This may help speckled perch fishing, but it will likely make things tougher for bass anglers. Several area bass anglers have been spending time on Orange Lake in preparation for the Bass Champions Senior Tour and Xtreme Bass tournaments coming up Sunday. From my own practice time, I can report one pleasing truth—last year’s bass spawn must have been incredibly successful. Just cast a small lure around the abundant grass beds anywhere on that lake, and you can expect tons of bites from almost-yearling fish ranging from 8-to-10-inches long. Of course, this is great news. But bass of that size won’t help the competitors this weekend. Out in deeper, less grassy spaces, Orange Lake speckled perch seekers are yet having good success with nice-sized fish. John Courtney is among this group that’s pulling in 25-speck limits every time out. Courtney drifts dark colored Hal Fly Jigs with minnows added. Lochloosa crappie fishers, too, are reporting excellent results. Friday, local angler, Larry George showed off a bunch of specks topped by a 2-pound, 9-ounce slab. He drifted in water 5-feet deep with cane poles and minnows. Then on Saturday, Jack and Randy Suggs docked at Lochloosa Harbor with 27 speck-stringer anchored by a 2-pound, 7-ounce whopper. The brothers fished the south end maidencane growing in four-feet of water. Speckled trout and grouper remain the top targets of gulf anglers—for a little while longer. Sunday, Mark Eiland and Jimmy Padgett ignored the largely-negative ‘dock talk’ at Horseshoe Beach and struck out across impossibly-shallow flats. Finding a deeper trough nearby, the Gainesville fishermen cast minnow-imitating lures to haul in about 50 trout that went on a serious feed when the tide started in. “They were all good-sized,” said Eiland, “no short fish.” Throughout February, trout season will be closed in North Florida waters. Sunday, Gator McRae of McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa River visited one the secret, near-shore spots that hold big grouper during mild weather. Along with his wife, Pam, and son, Daniel, the lifelong Homosassa angler cast big plugs to pull five good gags from water just 10-feet deep. Gulf grouper fishers also have just a little while before a new Federal recreational grouper closure goes into effect. From February 15 through March 15 gag, black, and red grouper may be harvested by neither commercial nor recreational fishers.

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

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The saltwater story has changed little over the last few weeks……..inshore anglers are still enjoying fine speckled trout action along the Gulf Coast, and offshore enthusiasts are whacking the grouper when the weather allows.

Captain Jimmy Long guided sisters from Georgia to the clear shallows near the Homosassa River’s mouth Monday. Their combined limit catch included trout measuring 22 and 23-inches. Homosassa Capt. Bill Musser’s party the same day had a great time in water 25-feet deep. Fishing frozen Spanish sardines on the bottom, they hauled in 40 grouper. Ten of the fish were ‘keepers,’ sufficient to fill legal limits for the two anglers.

Freshwater fishers able to negotiate the thin water at many area public boat ramps continue to haul in fine tallies of speckled perch. Fishing out of Lochloosa Harbor Sunday, Sonja Bragg had a speck-catching day to crow about.

Fishing with her husband and daughter in Lochloosa’s deepest water, the lady angler wrestled in a whopping 2-pound, 9-ounce crappie—the largest of 25 fish that she and her family took home to Jacksonville. While the Bragg family was having success in deep water, another Jacksonville angler was snatching a load of crappie out of Lochloosa’s shallow pads. Don Harris’ biggest speck Sunday also weighed 2-09 on the Lochloosa fish camp’s tested scales. Jim Thompson of Middleburg enticed his 2-pound, 6-ounce slab while fishing a minnow along the outside edge of a Lochloosa grassline Friday. Saturday, Jeremy Rentz and Jonathan Varnadore of Baxley, Georgia pulled 48 Lochloosa specks from south end pads while fishing pink jigs with minnows added. And Robert Cooper and James Benefield picked up 15 specks Saturday, then 36 on Sunday, up to two-pounds. The Moultrie, Ga. fishermen found that black-and-pink jigs adorned with minnows worked best for them.

One finny favorite that is rapidly becoming more active—and is increasingly on the minds of anglers—is the bass. Thomas Jones carefully hoisted a whopping bigmouth from his Nitro bass boat Saturday afternoon and toted it to The Tackle Box’s certified scales. Jones had fooled the big fish (9-pounds, 7-ounces) with a Gambler worm that morning on Orange Lake. The well-traveled Gainesville bass angler is on a big-fish roll, having boated jaw-droppers for two trips running. “The biggest fish last weekend was a good bit bigger,” he said. Sunday, Mark Ruble was fishing Rodman Reservoir when he spotted a huge largemouth in the ultra-clear water. He pitched a black-and-blue Wooly Hawgtail to the massive female, and she took it. Following a grand battle, the Gainesville angler weighed and released the 10-pound lunker–his biggest ever.

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

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It’s still ‘speck’ time in North Florida.Experienced North Florida freshwater anglers know that, during the coldest conditions winter can muster this close to the equator, their angling success is most assured when they target speckled perch. Better known in other parts of the south as crappie, speck activity increases as fall turns to winter. The minnow-eating panfish seem hungriest in local waters when the mercury dips lowest. Even though it was unseasonably warm, weekend fishers again located plenty of crappie in nearby lakes. David Jamerson is on a roll with big Lake Santa Fe specks, and has been included in this report now for three straight weeks. Friday, the Gainesville panfish specialist stopped by the store with a cooler packed with slabs. It was tough to pick out the two largest specks, but the pair we weighed went 2-03 and 2-01. While most of Jamerson’s recent success has come while working deep brush piles, on this day his fish all came while he drifted minnows in open water. Bob and Lloyd Miller docked at Lochloosa Harbor Saturday with 13 specks and 13 warmouth they tempted with minnows in the lakes’ south end maidencane. Ruby Atkinson’s 25-speck catch was another highlight at the Lochloosa camp Saturday. Then on Sunday, Milton Widener iced 18 good Lochloosa specks.

Speckled trout, the crappie’s spotted coastal counterpart, provides one of the most dependable winter marks for lovers of salty creeks, rivers, and sand and shell bars. They, however, don’t seem to relish cold water at all. A strong aversion to the cold is actually the reason that trout fishing’s good in cold weather. The delicate game fish react to cold weather the same way most Floridians would—they pile up in the warmest, deepest water they can find. Shallow and rocky creeks scattered along the long piece of coast between Steinhatchee and Suwannee might be the very best trout-fishing bets in Florida right now—but they possess a built-in protection from over-fishing. Except in vessels capable of floating and running in the skinniest of water, they are dangerously-difficult to access. A few deeper area Big Bend areas also hold lots of trout. The kelp beds at the mouth of the Homosassa River have yielded limits for anglers casting Gulp! grubs and Mirrolures.

Capt Dan Clymer’s customers all reached their grouper goals Saturday—and not at all far outside Crystal Rivers’ mouth. Trolling diving, minnow-mimicking lures over the “foul area” within eyesight of land, the anglers filled five-fish limits of chunky gags.

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

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Unseasonably warm weather through the Christmas-to-New Years Day week invited folks to the outdoors, and resulted in plenty of fish-catching. Some holiday speckled perch fans found their favorite targets on the move—having shifting from the deeper haunts to shallower cover around the shorelines. After spending fruitless hours in open water, speck seekers on both Orange and Lochloosa lakes generally located fish best around grass and lily pads in water less than three feet deep. Saturday, Ralph Porter stopped by the store with 16 specks…not really an outstanding catch until you factor in the size of the fish. Each was an outstanding specimen, with ten measuring over 12 inches in length. Porter returned Sunday to add 11 more big crappie to his fish fry material. The Gainesville angler fished alone, trolling 1/32-ounce jigs with curly-tail grubs as slowly as possible among the hydrilla beds and stickups in Orange’s south end. Porter also adds a live grass shrimp to the tiny jig-an unusual (but apparently effective) tactic.

Tim Johnson of Ocala and Bill Black of Gainesville were among the successful Orange Lake fishers on the year’s first day. Johnson iced 24 specks, and Black’s live well held twenty good-sized fish.The very finest crappie catch of the week, though, might have been made by Troy and Charlene McDermitt. The Sparr couple fished black-and-yellow Beetle Spins in some of Orange’s deepest water off Sampson Point to fool thirty absolute slabs Saturday. Bass anglers expect to fare best during early January in spring-fed area rivers or backwaters. Despite the unusually-warm conditions this season, this rule is holding true. The Withlacoochee River and Lake Rousseau, its backwater lake, are yielding some of the best action they have produced since a serious fish kill following the 2004 hurricanes. And Rodman Pool, the backwater of the Ocklawaha River, is giving shiner fishers boatloads of bass bites. Salt Springs Run, feeding Lake George, is another top bass fishing bet. Bass are beginning to spawn in these spots—several weeks before they commence the ritual on other area waters. Trout, redfish, and grouper remain the best targets for Gulf Coast anglers. Doug Stringfellow and I took our annual New Years Day trip to Suwannee a couple of days early. Instead of ringing in the New Year, we rang out the old. The weather for the trip was warmer than it had ever been since we began the tradition back in the eighties. And the fish were biting as well as ever. After casting for a while in the river and nearby creeks, we slipped out to a couple of our favorite oyster bars. For three hours, the bites came at an incredible pace. We cast Saltwater Assassin jigs in several colors and minnow-imitating jerk baits to release a couple of small reds, a flounder, five bluefish, and well over a hundred trout. Maybe two hundred. Although we couldn’t have asked for faster action, only a dozen of the trout would have been of legal size. More and more offshore anglers are taking advantage of the best grouper bite in months. Saturday, Capt. Don Chancy filled limits of sizable gags for his party. The Homosassa guide anchored over a rock in 30-feet of water and supplied his customers with frozen Spanish sardines for bait.

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

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All fishing reports are written by Gary Simpson, (c) 2007