2008 Fishing Report

2008 ARCHIVED FISHING REPORTS

January February March April May June July August September October November December

December

12-30-08

The New Year arrives amid troubling times. Fortunately, the fishing in our area is still good…and that counts for a lot. Speckled perch fishers looking to compete in the Crappie USA tournament coming up Saturday, January 3, will be allowed to choose between Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes in their attempts to bring in the heaviest seven-speck catch of the day. If Bruce and Steve Tinney decide to fish in the event, they are almost sure to be among the teams that will pick Lochloosa. Saturday, the local speck specialists docked at Lochloosa Harbor with 11 nice fish topped by a 1-pound, 11-ounce slab. Last weekend, of course, the Tinneys’ best crappie weighed in at a very impressive 2-06. Actually, on a list of the best speck-producing area waters, none of the three lakes in play for the upcoming tourney would rank at the top right now. Either Rodman or Crescent Lake should hold that honor. John Stacey fished Saturday with sons, Brandon (15,) Cameron (11,) and Tyler (10.) They started on Lochloosa, but the bite was slow. So, John and the boys made a move. They ramped out and headed for Rodman. In this new setting, they started fishing at 11:00 A.M; and before long, the Stacey men located a hot crappie spot in water 8-feet deep. Bites came fast as the Rodman specks nabbed their minnows and pink jigs fished near the bottom with the help of a quarter-ounce split shot. At the end of the day, the four anglers had 17 good specks up to 1-pound, 12-ounces…and had released about 20 smaller specks and three yearling bass. John was surprised later to note, upon cleaning the fish, that all seventeen were males. Eric and Debra Wilson stopped by The Tackle Box Friday on their way home from Crescent Lake. The Wilson’s trip had been a successful one, and a peek in their ice chest revealed a big bunch of pretty specks. We weighed two of the larger fish at 1-08 and 1-13. Chartreuse and silver jigs drifted “out deep” accounted for the nice Crescent catch. Through the present stretch of nice weather, area bass anglers have had plenty of good reports to offer. Saturday, David Nash cast a white floating frog lure to pull seven bass from topped-out Lochloosa vegetation. Nash released all of the fish that ranged in size from one-to-three-pounds. Tom and Michael Meisenheimer rented boats Saturday and Sunday at Twin Lakes Fish Camp, at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek. Using heavy weights and soft plastic baits in thick weeds near Burnt Island, they caught and released several nice bass up to five-pounds. Jodan Bright, Sr. and Barbara Harrington fished from the pier at Rodman Dam Tuesday. The couple was having fun catching sizable channel catfish when a more acrobatic fish took Bright’s earthworm. The fish turned out to be a beautiful 5-pound, 5-ounce bass that bumped the day up from ‘good’ to ‘great.’ ‘Indian Summer’ weather continues to give gulf anglers scarce opportunities to get after winter-season grouper. Monday must have been a particularly good day for both offshore and inshore anglers at Homosassa. That morning, Capt. Don Chancy and his party went out to water 60-feet deep. Fishing threadfin herring on the bottom, they hauled in scores of fish, including ten good-sized grouper. Capt. Todd Cornielle’s two angling customers docked at MacRae’s Marina with redfish and trout limits. And Capt William Toney’s three-person party also maxed out on trout and reds—but also had several good-sized sheepshead on ice for good measure.

And that’s this week’s report. Happy New Year…and good fishin’ from The Tackle Box


12-23-08

Folks planning a fishing trip over the Christmas holidays have lots of reasons to be optimistic, since reports this week ranged from promising to fairly exciting. The biggest problem both fresh and salt water anglers are likely to encounter is skinny water. Annual rainfall totals for this area will again be a few inches below the “normal” standard…and that shortage shows on nearby lakes and ponds. On the gulf coast, tides are lower during the winter season, creating a great challenge for fishers looking to access the deeper tidal creeks that presently hold bunches of trout and redfish. It is the always-shallower water with often-rocky bottom between the boat ramps and the creek mouths that pose the access problem. Either by way of trips well-timed for good tides…or in vessels made to navigate the treacherous terrain, anglers able to make it to creeks near Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa continue to report great action. Fishing together out of Homosassa Sunday, David Ryan of Lecanto and Jorn Clausen of Homosassa each pulled in a big trout. Clausen’s fish, a 21-incher, took a pink DOA Shrimp fished under a popping cork; while Ryan fooled his 23 ½-inch fish with a white DOA Shrimp. Calm days have been a little scarcer recently, but grouper fishers are still scoring when they’re able to go offshore. Saturday, Glen Johnson, Jack Harris, and Dr. Ray Clites ran well off Suwannee aboard Johnson’s 38 Fountain. Fishing threadfin herring in water around 70-feet deep, the men enjoyed a fast bite that netted 11 good grouper. They also released several out-of-season red snapper. Also on Saturday, Homosassa Capt. Bill Musser’s three-man party bagged fine limits of gags while fishing Spanish sardines in water 50-feet of water. Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s Marina said, “If you can get out to water 25-to-60-feet deep, it’s almost a sure grouper limit.” Continued good fishing in the inland waters of the east coast features flounder numbers on the increase and redfish of legal size easier to find. Fishers are even hooking a few oversize reds. Monday, a Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp customer fished from the Matanzas Inlet Bridge to haul in and release a 30-inch red. The unnamed fisherman also pulled an 8-pound sheepshead and fifteen whiting onto the bridge. Speckled perch action finally picked up again last week on Lochloosa. Larry and Robert Langley of Orange Springs and Ocala showed off a fine 25-fish catch Thursday at Lochloosa Harbor. They made their good catch, anchored by a 1-pound, 9-ounce fish, with jig-and-minnow combinations. T.J. Bass also had a good day Thursday. The Ocala thirteen-year-old fished with minnows to pull in seven specks and a chunky 3-pound bass. But it was a catch made by Bruce and Steve Tinney that will grab the collective attention of crappie fishers. The big Crappie USA Tournament is coming up January 3 on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes, attracting contestants from far and near. Every one of them will be hoping for a fish like the 2-pound-6 ½-ounce speck the Gainesville brothers pulled from Lochloosa Saturday. The Tinneys offered competitors only two further clues regarding the big slab: They caught it near a stand of lily pads with a live minnow. Another short spat of pre-Christmas cold is likely to spur the crappie on to even better appetites. And finally, congratulations are due Todd Baker. The Gainesville angler finished as the Bassmasters of Gator Country’s 2009 Angler of the Year. Baker accumulated 105.04 pounds of bass in the club’s monthly tournaments, besting 44 fellow members. This yearly total topped that of the second-place angler by more than 25-pounds.

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


12-16-08

Notable catches were common during the middle of last week, when a window of very nice weather gave anglers a green light…even to the grouper grounds off the gulf coast. Homosassa guides scored as well as any. Capt. Don Chancy’s party of three filled grouper limits Wednesday, and took five hefty mangrove snapper better than four-pounds to boot. When Thursday offered conditions just as nice, the veteran Homosassa guide took another party out about 35-miles into the gulf. Again, all four fishermen on board finished with maximum legal takes of grouper. Captain Bill Musser’s party of four got in on the fast offshore action as well, and likewise filled grouper limits while fishing Spanish sardines and threadfin herring on the bottom. Some Homosassa locals are enjoying fast fishing while staying much closer to home. Kathy MacRae is among the folks fishing shrimp near the springs at the rivers’ headwaters to take 5-fish limits of scrappy mangrove snapper better than ten inches long. The secret is to fish the ultra-clear springs at night. Farther north on the gulf coast, inshore anglers say that speckled trout are moving targets these days in the fast-fluctuating weather conditions. Through part of last week, the trout were present and biting in the Waccasassa River. Three boats carrying Wildwood fishers slow-trolled the river with good success Wednesday and Thursday. But by Friday, the fickle trout had vanished. David and Greg Robinson and John Matthews fished Cedar Key Sunday aboard the Robinsons’ airboat. Even in a craft designed for the shallowest shallows, the three struggled with an unusually-low full moon tide. Just before noon, they started casting in a creek near the island community. The father-and son cast shrimp on jig heads, while Matthews decided to try one of his Thunder Shad crankbaits. Before long, the Gainesville anglers had released 35 reds and iced a dozen good trout that would weigh 20-pounds in aggregate. Florida bass anglers know that their chances of hooking a trophy largemouth are best during the colder months. Scott Kerslake can confirm that. Saturday morning, Kerslake nearly duplicated the most memorable catch of his impressive angling career. Through his annual holiday season visit home, the devoted basser has spent quite a few days on Rodman Reservoir. This lake choice is due, in large part, to the 11-pound, 1-ounce bass he boated there in early January during his 2004 visit.

Now a bass fishing guide in Henderson, N.C., the Gainesville native was flipping isolated hyacinth mats floating in topped-out Rodman hydrilla near the site of his big catch nearly four years ago. Punching through the thick cover with an ounce-and-a-half tungsten sinker ahead of a Gambler Ugly Otter soft plastic lure, Kerslake felt a ‘thump.’ “As soon as I set the hook, I knew it was another big fish,” he recalled. After a see-sawing, head-shaking, lettuce-slinging battle, Kerslake was able to pin the big bass against the hyacinth raft, and then lip-land her. The 25-inch trophy fish would later weigh 10-pounds, 12-ounces…rating as his second-best bigmouth.

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


12/09/08

If holiday-season fishing results seem on the slim side, rest assured it’s not due to a poor feeding attitude on the part of the fish of North Florida. Almost everybody fortunate enough to pick a relatively wind-free day to fish local lakes…or either coast…has returned with a pleasing story. It is the seasonal bluster that has limited anglers more than anything. Last Thursday offered fishers near-ideal conditions, and that day’s all-around fine results demonstrate the present potential for catching. Perry McDonald, Jim Cunningham, Stanley Su, and Hany Atalah fished offshore Thursday with Cedar Key Capt. Phil Muldrow of Native Son Charters. Fishing cut bait on the bottom, the four Gainesville men hauled in fish at a steady pace. They finished the day with 18 gag grouper and 2 grouper of the ‘red’ variety. The best of the reds was a stout 12-pound example; but the biggest gag—wrestled in by Cunningham—was a rare eye-popper at 23-pounds. To boot, the anglers pulled 13 keeper-sized red snapper from the 65-foot-deep water. Unfortunately, the snapper were out of season and were quickly released. James Edwards stopped by the store Thursday afternoon on his way back home to Bell after a trip to Orange Lake. In his live well was the dozen best speckled perch of his fishing day. We weighed the largest fish at 2-pounds, 2-ounces. Edwards made his good catch while fishing live minnows in Orange’s open water. A chilly wind kept catches down over the weekend, but Mike Sigler and his young son claimed a very impressive catch just the same. Leery of the prospects of his rambunctious four-year-old in a small, wind-tossed vessel, Sigler decided not to launch his boat Saturday. Instead, they settled for casting minnows off the boat dock at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp. And the Good Lord smiled down. Amazingly, the fish they pulled in while standing on that dock outdid the catches of most boaters that day. Their half-dozen specks included a jaw-dropping 15-inch long slab that weighed 2-pounds, 3-ounces. Also on Saturday, Henry Meier of Jessup, Ga. found the bass biting in the grass along Lochloosa’s Burnt Island. He cast a variety of soft plastic lures to fool 21 bass that he promptly released. Although all were small yearling-size fish, the Jessup, Ga. angler had no complaints. Multitudes of small redfish continue to highlight the east coast report. From all accounts, there are so many little reds in the Matanzas Inlet area that many anglers now consider them to be nuisances. Folks trying for trout, flounder, and legal reds apparently are having a tough time getting baits past the packs of 12-to-16-inch spot tails. Using oyster and fiddler crabs around bridge pilings, sheepshead fishers have managed to ice good catches of the banded brawlers while effectively excluding the ravenous, sub legal reds.

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


12-02-08

The holiday season always serves up an interesting puzzle for rod-and-reelers. Good things often happen for anglers when the water temperatures drop fast in December. And yet, this is a tough time to make it to the water—what with the busy holiday season combining with often-blustery conditions. This year, many fishers can add tight finances to the list. We at The Tackle Box can’t calm the wind, clear your schedule, or offer an anglers’ bailout…but we can, as always, let you know where the fish are biting when an opportunity opens up.

At the top of the list (if you’re primarily interested in catching lots of fish) is Matanzas River and Inlet over on the Atlantic coast. Smallish redfish have been in abundant supply here for weeks…but locals say that now, the numbers of available “rat reds” borders on ridiculous. “I’ve never seen so many reds,” offers Jeff Collins of Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp. “Even people launching here in kayaks are catching a bunch. Some of my friends have released a hundred without ever getting a legal fish at least 18-inches long.” Of course, any redfisher can testify that even the little ones are a lot of fun. On the gulf side, it’s the sand trout and whiting that provide the most failsafe targets. The deeper, sandy slopes along the channels at the mouths of the Suwannee and Steinhatchee Rivers will hold large numbers of these small-but-willing fish. You might have to move around a bit to locate the concentrations of fish…or, you can employ the old ‘look-for-the-cluster-of-boats’ method. Only a few days have rolled around calm enough to allow offshore trips, but they have produced fine grouper results. Myles Hilliard fished Friday with John Ayers and Adam Mizell off Cedar Key aboard John’s 24-foot Proline. Seas were choppy, and the grouper were not feeding very aggressively. Even so, the three Trenton anglers managed ten keeper fish—plus plenty of pinkmouth grunts and black sea bass. The best grouper of the day, a 15-pound beauty Myles pulled from 35-feet of water, had three threadfin herring in its gullet—baits it had stolen from the anglers before they finally hooked it. Even on Orange and Lochloosa, the area’s most productive crappie lakes, specks have been a little harder to find lately. Bruce and Steve Tinney of Gainesville fished crappie jigs on Lochloosa’s northwest side Saturday to box ten ‘keeper size’ fish. Darran Cheman drifted curly tail jigs with minnows added to fool 17 Orange Lake specks. The Silver Springs angler found the specks near the bottom in water eight feet deep. The largest fish of the day was also Darran’s best-ever crappie—a whopping 2-pound 6-ounce slab.

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


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November

11-25-08

The hottest fish-producing spots in North Florida seem to be shifting a bit following an unusually chilly November, and thankful anglers are taking advantage of calm days that are finally coming along more frequently. Scott Kerslake fished Rodman Reservoir Monday morning. The experienced bass angler located fish underneath a thick bed of hydrilla and water hyacinth—a tough mix of weeds to get a lure through. Using ounce-and-a-half tungsten weights, however, Kerslake was able to punch his Gambler B.B. Cricket and Ugly Otter baits through the vegetation often enough to fool sixteen bass. A thick and healthy 7-pound, 1-ounce bigmouth was the morning’s best fish. And, like all the rest, she remains on the prowl in the watery salad. Speck reports have been best for some time now on Lochloosa. No lake, though, stays hot every week. “I think Orange is a little better now for specks,” said Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek. “Several of the local speck fishermen have filled limits over there this week.” Farther from home, Crescent Lake is starting to make considerable noise among speck specialists. Sunday, Jeremy Williams and Justin Johns fished the long lake on the far side of the St. Johns River. Through the early part of the day, the fish bit their minnows well out in the deep, open water. But the easy drifting soon ceased. “The wind got so bad that we had to move in to a protected shoreline,” Justin explained. Surprisingly, the young Keystone Heights anglers proceeded to add substantially to their catch by freelining live minnows under boat docks. They filled their combined fifty-fish limit of specks up to two-pounds…releasing 32 smaller fish in the process. While the season for great inshore action has arrived on the gulf coast, ultra-low tides and still-annoying winds have done a solid job of thwarting anglers. Last Thursday, Terry Nelson and Ralph Sheffield happened to choose an ideal day to fish Suwannee. To boot, the fish they found were in sufficiently-deep water that no low tide could limit access to them. Near Channel Marker Four of Alligator Pass, the bites came at an impossibly-steady pace. Recounting the action, Nelson tried to convey the great action with a claim not often heard: “Our baits could not hit the bottom before a fish had them.” Those baits were, at first, shrimp; but the Gainesville anglers soon went to cut bait because a single piece could be used to catch several fish. The men started casting at 10:30, and “had to leave before 2:00 because we had no more room for fish.” Sheffield returned Monday with a friend and reported that 15 boats were already present in the vicinity of the marker when he arrived. But even with the extra fishing pressure, the catching was as good as before. Don’t miss The Tackle Box’s Annual Christmas Sale the two days after Thanksgiving—Friday November 28th and Saturday the 29th. Factory reps, pro fishermen, free food, prizes, and great deals on the area’s widest selection of tackle. Call us at 352-372-1791 for more.

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


11-18-08

Every year around this time, the season’s first freeze rolls in. And a bunch of anglers that have waited for that chilly night sit ready to abandon day-to-day obligations at its arrival. For those who know the right spots and have the ability to head for the water on the proper days, the big drop in water temperature produces one the most exciting angling opportunities of the year. Saltwater fishers specializing in this annual fish-catching occasion are primarily after speckled trout; while the freshwater fishing group that awaits the initial cold snap is mostly made up of speckled perch enthusiasts. You see, ‘specks,’—both the freshwater and saltwater variety—dependably behave in ways that make them easier to catch when the mercury plummets. And the first plummet of the season is best. Speckled perch really seem to enjoy the colder water. Their wholehearted feeding spree when it first really chills down has a celebratory feel to it. Trout, on the other hand, become easier to find and catch for about the opposite reason. They, like many Floridians, can’t stand to be very cold. When the water temperature moves downward fast, trout move en masse to find warmer hangouts…sometimes settling for spots just a couple of degrees warmer than the grass flats where they have spent most of the spring, summer, and fall. Anglers familiar with these slightly-warmer spots can really work the trout over when the big chill arrives. The easiest of these to locate are the deeper Gulf Coast creeks and rivers. Locals have whispered about finding good numbers of both redfish and trout in creeks around Suwannee, Shired Island, and Horseshoe Beach for about three weeks now. As this report is being written, the cold front that will send the mercury below the 32-degree mark is still a few hours away. But the forecast freeze through mid week should cause considerably bigger numbers of fish (and particularly the thin-skinned trout) to gang up in the deeper holes. The notion of fishing can be pretty unattractive when the cold wind blows, but folks that choose to stay in heated comfort will surely miss out on one of the top fish-catching chances of the year.

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


11-14-08

Cooler water temperatures certainly have kicked both fresh and saltwater fish-catching into a higher gear…and not only in the quicker-to-cool shallows. The Gulf of Mexico’s Big Bend is yielding better offshore results than it has in months. Thursday, Jeff and Frank McMeekin and Wilbur Hutchins found ideal conditions off Cedar Key. “It was as calm as a lake,” Jeff said, “we could run at full speed.” On a spot in water 38-feet deep with a rocky bottom, the Hawthorne trio anchored and dropped cut bait and squid to the fishy structure below. In the 68-degree water, bites came with great regularity. But, only one of the dozens of grouper the men caught was of legal size. The single 30-inch gag joined over a hundred big pinkmouth grunts in the ice chest. Saturday, things were considerably choppier off Cedar Key…a fact to which Jay Peacock, Jack and Melvina Cutright, and Jack Helseth can attest. The Gainesville fishers battled four-to-six foot seas as a menacing front came through early in the day. Fortunately, things calmed a bit later and allowed more effective fishing. The pinfish the four sent 45 feet down to the bottom met with several sizable and hungry grouper. Their nine keepers included Helseth’s 12-pound gag and 10-pound red. Farther south on the gulf coast, Crystal River and Homosassa guides and marinas seem excited about the improving offshore bite. Friday, Homosassa Capt. Don Chancy’s party of four anglers hauled in loads of grouper…but had a hard time finding fish of legal size. They did manage to dock with a nine-fish mix of keeper gags and reds. Monday, the well-known guide went out again with two more customers. This time Chancy varied his grouper-catching tactics, alternately trolling Stretch 25 lures and fishing Spanish sardines at anchor. Each technique contributed to the day’s impressive, three-person grouper limit. Sunday afternoon, Tom and Carlene Cross fished the Steinhatchee River with Fish Bait Charters. The bite was slow until the tide started out; but then, their shrimp-tipped grubtail jigs started producing. In a spot near the river mouth, the Trenton couple hauled in 68 big whiting in less than two hours. The whiting fillets filled a five-gallon bucket—more than double the volume of the gasoline they used on the water. East Coast saltwater results have also picked up, with nighttime speckled trout fishing one of the top pursuits for local anglers. Lighted boat docks are holding plenty of good trout willing to grab live shrimp or minnows fished around shadow lines. While daytime redfish are easy to find, locals say that almost all are small. Mike Sherman and Jeff and George Collins fished the Matanzas River Sunday. “We were piddling around in the river in Mike’s boat,” Jeff said, “and decided to try a creek we like. It was just full of rat reds.” The next creek also was loaded with little reds that couldn’t refuse live shrimp. Finally, after releasing over 30 redfish topped by a 15-incher, the three anglers gave up on finding keeper fish. It’s no surprise following a number of chilly nights that speckled perch top the “fastest biting fish” list for area freshwater anglers. Sunday, George Dekle and Larry Nutt fished minnows out in Lochloosa’s deeper water. Their 38-speck catch was anchored by a fine 2-pound, 1-ounce slab. The same day, Charles Lloyd of Citra docked at Lochloosa Harbor with 18 good crappie; and Monday, Charlie Register filled a nice 25-fish limit of Lochloosa specks. Following a successful Orange Lake specking trip earlier in the week, Donnie Bauknight returned Friday with Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp. Drifting the lake’s deepest water with minnows, the fishermen filled an impressive double limit. While some fishers with larger boats say the water is too low there, Bauknight’s Stumpknocker is still able to access Orange Lake via the boat ramp at Marjorie Rawlings Park. Mike Henry was enjoying a nice morning of fishing Saturday on Hampton Lake. The big specks were biting his jig-and-minnow combination at a pleasing rate, and the Gainesville angler was well on his way to a limit catch. Then, drifting in water about 15-feet deep, his 13-foot telescopic fiberglass pole bent over double. “I thought at first it must be a really huge speck,” Henry said, “but then it came to the surface and jumped.” After a long struggle, Henry finally hoisted the big bass into his boat. It would later measure 26-inches and weigh 8.97-pounds on digital scales. As he recounted the battle, Henry’s well-deserved pride was evident. “It was my best catch ever,” he said.

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


11-7-08

Early fall usually offers up the most dependably nice weather of the year. This season, however, otherwise-fine fishing conditions have been tarnished by a fairly relentless wind. Finally, last weekend provided anglers with a better window of opportunity. Even with the economic, political, and college football struggles at hand, quite a good number of anglers seized the chance and headed for the water. In Crystal River for an antique fishing tackle show, professional bass angler, Bernie Schultz and I found time Sunday morning to idle out into King’s Bay with Bernie’s sons, Daniel and Trevor. Young Trevor was primarily interested in swimming with manatees, so we planned the first stop for that purpose. Just outside the Plantation Inn canal, Daniel spotted a boil in a nearby cove. His sharp-sightedness led to the day’s first goal met before the sun peeked above the trees. A mother and her calf regarded Trevor cautiously, but allowed the fourteen-year old a brief close-up encounter. Upon turning into the open bay, a school of jack crevalle and ladyfish popped up almost immediately and kept the crew occupied for a while. Later, a nice snook and trout would also come aboard for quick release. Curiously, we never caught a freshwater fish. In another boat, Luke Pemberton and Raven Coppola of New Smyrna Beach fished with Ashlie Gove of Gainesville. Their focus was redfish, and that objective was met with success highlighted by Ashlie’s first red taken with an artificial lure. The Santa Fe College student enticed the spot tail with a Normark X-Rap 8 in gold. Enjoying a scarce window of free time, Schultz mused, “Crystal River has to be one of the best places in Florida to catch a mixed bag of fresh and saltwater fish. The water’s fresh here in the bay, but you just don’t know what you’ll catch next.” Schultz recently qualified for his eighth Bassmaster’s Classic—the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing.” The sport’s most prestigious event will be held on Louisiana’s Red River at Shreveport in February of 2009. Gainesville’s brightest bass fishing star, Shaw Grigsby will also be shooting for the Classic title, as will fellow Floridians, Brian Hudgins, Bobby Lane, Terry Scroggins, and Pete Thliveros. Weekend catches were generally good all along the gulf coast. Fishing Sunday out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club, Capt. Herbert Wilkerson’s four customers quickly pulled redfish limits from a rocky creek. The veteran guide then headed out to the grass flats where his party bagged a full four-person allotment of 20 speckled trout. The bait that accounted for all 24 fish? Old school, tried-and-true cut mullet. Last weekend Outdoor Promotions held the first Cabela’s Speckled Trout USA event at a popular Big Bend destination. Weigh-ins for the two-day contest were held at Keaton Beach Marina Saturday and at the Sea Hag Marina Sunday. Each participant was allowed three trout per day. Edward Thomas of Perry was the big winner with a two-day total of 15.24-pounds over six fish. Thomas collected his winning catch by working creek channels north of Keaton Beach with dark colored topwater baits. Ashley Mock, another Perry angler, finished second with a total weight of 14.34-pounds. Mock also fished north of Keaton Beach, but fooled his six good trout with Big Bite Bio baits. Larry Smith of Crystal River boated the contest’s largest single trout…a 4.12-pounder. And bringing in the biggest redfish was young Austin Admundsen. The hefty 7.92-pound red earned the Perry twelve-year-old a new Minn Kota trolling motor, plus $500.00. Speckled perch results remain solid, but well short of spectacular on area lakes. Charlie and Leon Register fished out of Lochloosa Harbor Monday morning. The minnows they floated in open water produced 22 keeper specks. The Williston father-and-son returned Monday morning, again fishing for only a couple of hours to take another 17 nice fish. The grieving family of Brent Mayes would like to express great appreciation for the generous help following his sudden death two weeks ago. Brent helped countless people to catch fish through his life, and many have returned to help his family. The fishing community must be made up of the best of all people. It’s always heartwarming to witness their ready help and encouragement. We, Brent’s co-workers at The Tackle Box, are likewise thankful for the support offered his widow and son.


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October

10-28-08

The coldest snap of the season arrived this week, and the chill is sure to change the fishing picture. Anglers, however, seem more concerned with a persistent wind that refuses to let up long enough to allow anglers to work out the proper adjustments. With the season’s initial chill, swarms of small redfish usually show up in the shallows and creeks along the Big Bend. That invasion has apparently begun, and a number of saltwater enthusiasts have scored well by concentrating in wind-protected coastal backwaters. Ralph Holder and Tuffy Wheeler gave the Shell Mound backwaters a try Sunday in a stiff breeze that ruined the plans of most anglers with open water fishing in mind. Shell Mound, between Cedar Key and Suwannee, is a relatively remote access point on the gulf, popular among folks with smaller vessels such as kayaks and canoes. As the tide rose, the Gainesville cousins anchored on their first spot. Right away, the live shrimp they threaded onto plain jigheads were grabbed by young redfish. After releasing around 80 undersize reds, the men went searching for larger fish. Two stops later, they found some bigger bites in a cove near the boat ramp. Here, 80 more reds fell for the jig/shrimp combinations—including five fish over 20-inches long. “You could flip the shrimp out just a few feet from the boat,” exclaimed Wheeler, “and watch a red pick it up in clear water two feet deep.” The black drum that provided the most consistent action for east coast inland waterway fishers through early October have become harder to find over the last couple of weeks. Fortunately, reds and flounder have taken up the slack. Sunday, a Devils Elbow customer stopped in with three nice-sized Matanzas flatfish topped by a 6-pound doormat. The anonymous angler fooled the flounder while fishing for reds with large finger mullet. Less blustery days have seen continued good speckled perch results on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. Thursday, Clay Davis fished minnows in deep water to take seven good Lochloosa specks. Curious to know the weight of the largest of these, he stopped by The Tackle Box to borrow our State-certified scales. Davis’ best crappie turned out to be a 2-pound, 3-ounce slab—the biggest we have seen in some time. Saturday, Bruce and Steve Tinney of Gainesville found the speck bite to be good as they drifted the Lochloosa depths with minnows. Thirty of the fish they pulled in were large enough for the speck specialists to put on ice. Jeff Chevess of Hawthorne fished pink jigs Sunday to fool 15 specks up to 1-pound, 7-ounces; and fellow Hawthorne fisherman, John Capoe bagged a beautiful 9-pound, 12-ounce bass the same day while casting a junebug-colored plastic worm.

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


10-21-08

I like to write, but hold no journalistic aspiration greater than to pen fishing stories. On occasion, a wrenching and too-challenging need arises. You see, our friend and co-worker at The Tackle Box for over a decade, Brent Mayes, suddenly and tragically died last week. Now, we feel the need to try and convey-with just a few words—how much he meant to us and to the North Florida fishing community. And it can’t be done. Our job is really a happy one most of the time. We help people enjoy a great sport. But there isn’t much happiness around The Tackle Box right now. The brightest personality in our workday has left us grieving…along with numerous customers to whom Brent offered knowledge, expertise, and humor on a daily basis. We can only imagine the loss felt by his family…particularly wife, Debbie and son, B.J. Their situation is somewhat dire, and we have set up a donation box for them at the store. Brent was looking forward to a vacation that was just days away. He was excited to get after the Lochloosa speckled perch. Judging from the recent stories from the lake, he would have done very well. Although the speck bite has clearly not peaked, some fish of respectable size are coming in with regularity. Last Thursday, the bunch of specks pulled in by Steve Lang and Sonny Tillman included individual fish that weighed one-pound, six-ounces and a pound, nine-ounces on the Lochloosa Harbor scales. Joe Lane docked the same day with several specks topped by a 1-pound 5-ouncer. Friday, Arnold Jones of Interlachen iced 8 nice specks including fish of 1-04 and 1-08. And the best crappie taken by Jan and Greg of Astor Park went 1-06. A few nice Lochloosa catches were also seen at Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the mouth of Cross Creek; and an anonymous local stopped by the camp with a speck limit he pulled from Orange Lake in just 2-hours of fishing. The Bassmasters of Gator Country held their monthly bass tournament Sunday on Orange Lake. The biggest part of the day was chilly and windy, but most members filled three-bass limits. Todd Baker topped the field with three fish weighing a tad over twelve pounds. His largest single bass, a 5.17-pounder, was also winner of the ‘Big Bass’ pot. The same front that would chill the bass clubbers a day later also made things uncomfortable for 24 boatloads of contestants entered in the First Annual Raider Slam held Saturday at Steinhatchee. Even in the less-than-ideal conditions, some fine catches were registered… none more impressive than the freakishly-heavy legal redfish that officially weighed in at 9-pounds, 1-ounce.

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


10-14-08

An unrelenting fall wind has done its best lately to undermine the best efforts of North Florida fishers. This week the anglers have managed to generally come out on top. Speckled perch have been the primary focus of local freshwater fishers for a few weeks. Recently, however, speck seekers on two of the best area lakes, Orange and Lochloosa, have not fared as well as another angling faction. Bass results on these lakes have shined considerably brighter. Local basser, Dave Barrett, continued his bigmouth-catching ways with whoppers measuring 26 and 24-inches in length last Tuesday; then he adding a 25-inch lunker to his “Caught and Released” list Monday. Barrett’s latest bragging-size catches all took artificial frogs rigged weedless. Since the special slot limit for Orange and Lochloosa bass allows each angler to keep three fish per day smaller than 15 or larger than 24-inches, all three of Barrett’s bass would have been legal to keep. Like most serious bass anglers, though, the Lochloosa sportsman prefers to see his catches swim away. Barrett is not the only fisherman scoring with Lochloosa bass. Visiting bass anglers, Dick Franks and Jeff Wells stayed in Lochloosa Harbor cabins through the early part of last week. Sunday, the day they arrived from New Smyrna Beach, they boated 29 bass up to 5-pounds. Monday, their total was 18 fish. Tuesday the count went back up to 28. And Wednesday, the South Florida anglers released 13 fish up to 8-pounds. The visitors fished topwater plugs with yellow bellies in heavy hydrilla on the lake’s southeast side. Good bass action can be found down on the Twin Lakes Fish Camp end of the lake as well. Jeff Septer plucked four fish from Cross Creek one recent evening while casting from shore at his camp. And bass reports from Orange Lake have been just about as impressive. Mike and Natalie Allen tried their luck on Orange for three hours Sunday. The Gainesville father-and-daughter hauled in 20 bass up to three pounds. Mike, a Fisheries Biologist at UF said, “The water temperature was 78 and the hydrilla growth looked perfect.” Eight-year-old Natalie was pretty enthusiastic, too. Before local speckled perch enthusiasts start trading their cane poles in on graphite rods, we should mention that several very nice speck catches have come in as well. George Dekle and Larry Nutt slow-trolled crappie tube jigs out in Lochloosa’s deep water Monday to fool 33 nice fish up to 1-pound, 9-ounces. The blue/white and red/chartreuse-colored tubes worked best. Dean Young of Lochloosa holds the early lead in Lochloosa Harbor’s “Big Speck” contest for October with a fish that weighed a pound-and-three-quarters. Despite a strong breeze and an extra low tide, nine captains with the Homosassa Fishing Guide Association were able to keep their Georgia customers very happy Monday. Cotton States Insurance Company of Marietta had contracted with the guides to show 23 of their employees some good Florida fishing. Casting grubtail jigs for trout and cut mullet for redfish, the guides did just that. Nancy Bushey of McRae’s Marina of Homosassa said, “It was pretty impressive that evening at the fish cleaning station.”

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


10-07-08

The word had gotten out to anglers through all of the normal channels. Following a mediocre late-summer season, several favorite fishing targets-such as speckled perch and sea trout—were biting well again. Then, the predictable happened.

The scenario that played out last weekend is one we have seen enough times to have become amusingly predictable. Here’s how it goes: From the time a noteworthy fall bite commences, to the time the word gets around, to the time the anglers that haven’t hit the water in a while have their schedules and tackle in place, usually about three weeks has lapsed. On that third weekend or so, if the weather looks good, the largest gang of boats and fishers since the spring season descends upon the waters that have reportedly been most productive. Now, something (likely all the extra noise and commotion) puts the fish in a non-biting funk. Oh, a few decent catches are made here and there, but those easy-to-get limits cannot be found. Fishers that had been fired-up a few hours earlier leave the water with moods ranging from unimpressed to angry. After enjoying some pretty good speckled perch action two weeks earlier, Buddy DeGraff and I headed for Lochloosa again Saturday morning. As soon as we arrived at Lochloosa Park just after daylight, we knew that things were different. Already, there was not a parking spot left in the large boat ramp lot. We launched Buddy’s big flats boat anyway, and found parking outside the lot, next to the railroad tracks. We ran up to the spot where we had found fish best on the last trip, and set up a drift. Temperature, cloud cover, and breeze all seemed ideal, and we expected to do well. Then the boats came. Within a half hour, there were more than twenty boatloads of fellow crappie chasers close by…and we still hadn’t had a bite. Buddy and I have fished together hundreds of times and neither of us likes fishing in a crowd. We left the spot, and found ourselves searching as we cruised the lake. Not for a likely-looking spot to catch fish, but for the area with the fewest boats. Upon finding it, we settled down for an enjoyable morning of fishing, managing to ice 17 specks. Both of us made it home in time for the gator game kickoff. But, man, there was a bunch of boats out there. Following the Saturday-and-Sunday invasion, speckled perch reports had not been not nearly as good as over the previous weeks. Bass anglers in both Lochloosa and Orange actually docked with the best of the weekend stories. Billy Chism of Lake City released a 21-inch, 5-pound bigmouth, and local angler David Barrett weighed in a fine 25-inch, 9-09 lunker at Lochloosa Harbor. There’s plenty of open fishing space in the gulf, but saltwater weekenders were thwarted by a different foe. A brisk breeze all-but eliminated offshore grouper trips, and even kept most folks away from the fast-biting mackerel. Still, trout and redfish action was easy to find in the stiff breezes, and nice results again came from every Big Bend port. Well-known Gainesville angler, Richard Bowles, came in The Tackle Box Monday with a fishing story of his own. He was looking for a new rod and reel. It seems that, fishing alone at anchor in the Suwannee Rivers’ East Pass, the ninety-year-old angling icon was fishing two outfits at once. Here’s how he described the incident. “I was using two rods and reels. Number one had a jig with shrimp. Number two had sinker, ten inches of hard line, hook and shrimp. I prefer using number one, but number two is more likely to get a fish.” He continued, “Number two hooked something big, probably a big ray. It got my line under the boat, and I couldn’t do anything. While I was busy with this fish, I picked up number one and just leaned it against the side of the boat. Suddenly something else big—very big—yanked on it and there it went sailing into the sky and then the water. It was a good $300-dollar rod and reel.” Bowles wasn’t too disturbed, though. “I had four good fish in the cooler, anyway.” We should all hope that, at ninety, a fine October morning finds us having such excitement somewhere along the gulf coast.

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


10-01-08

It always seems a peculiar disparity at the outset of fall. Amid wonderful weather and usually-fine fishing, lots of anglers temporarily abandon the sport. The traditional reasons for underutilizing productive fishing waters include the anglers’ attention being drawn away by football season and hunting season. This year, economic worries and high fuel prices probably contribute further to the autumnal empty boat ramp syndrome. At any rate, the fishing is presently quite good overall…and anyone choosing to try his or her luck probably won’t have a lot of other anglers to compete with. The big run of redfish that invaded the east coast beaches and inlets through late August and early September made for a lot of great fishing…but the best of that bite appears to be over. Last weekend, black drum were about as big an attraction at Matanzas Inlet as were their red cousins. And, along with increased drum numbers, sheepshead catches have improved noticeably for anglers carefully lowering shrimp, fiddler crabs, and oyster crabs alongside barnacle-encrusted pilings. These days it is the gulf anglers that offer the most exciting saltwater stories.

Earlier this year, the bigger speckled trout seemed to abandon the Big Bend grass flats at the end of spring. Some excused it as an “off year,” but summertime trout fishing really was unusually bad—especially south of Horseshoe Beach. Fortunately, cooler temperatures have brought much-improved trout takes. One Cedar Key angler claims to have, over three-hours of fishing, hooked at least one good trout every three or four casts. He found the hungry horde of fish Saturday while casting jigs on grass flats west of Snake Key. Nancy Bushey of McRae’s Marina at Homosassa didn’t need many words to sum up last week’s fishing. “It’s been awesome,” she gushed. “Everybody’s getting nice trout limits, and the redfish are just everywhere. Lots of guys are releasing 20 or 30 big reds a day.” She added that Grey Mare Pass, near Ozello between Homosassa and Crystal River, is a top spot to hunt huge schools of spottails. As they do some years, Spanish mackerel have arrived suddenly on their well-known feeding grounds off Cedar Key and Suwannee. Jason Orrock and Emily Owens fished bucktail jigs and silver spoons last Friday on Seahorse Reef. “There was only one other boat out there,” Jason said, “but the fishing was great.” The Gainesville couple caught a load of the slashing speedsters, keeping the 18 best fish. Of these, ten were big Spanish better than 20-inches long. The offshore fishing is also looking up. Sunday, Capt. Bruce Musselwhite of Gettin’ There Charters enjoyed “a good trip with perfect weather” off Cedar Key with his wife, Lea, and three friends. In the 65-to-70-foot depth range, Capt. Bruce found a dependable bottom bite. With Spanish sardines and squid, the five fishers took easy limits of red and gag grouper. Among the incidental catches that natural baits always seem to produce was a very noteworthy one registered by Lea. Fishing a double rig with two separate hooks and baits, she tied into something powerful. Eventually, she wrestled the fish to the surface where the anxious anglers on board were surprised to see a legal cobia. What’s more, the second hook also held a fish—another grouper. Cobes fight hard enough by themselves…. The fall speckled perch bite continues to slowly build, with most of the best speck stories still coming from Lochloosa. Rick Sanders drifted minnows in the mid-lake depths Friday to ice 18 specks weighing up to 1-pound, 12-ounces. The same day, Bruce and Steve Tenney took enough specks better than a pound to fill a cooler. The brothers fished Crappie Slider Jigs and minnows. Enoch Harris fished with live minnows Saturday out in Lochloosa’s deeper, open water. No jigs, weights, or even floats…just minnows on bare hooks. The unusual approach yielded a great result—a fine 25-crappie limit.

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


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September

09-23-08

Although fall has arrived officially, we might not notice really strong evidence of that for a few more weeks. The fish, though, can somehow tell…even when the temperatures continue to flirt with the ninety degree mark; and the appetites of autumn favorites always seem to pick up at the end of September. In fresh waters, the change of season marks the handoff from bream to speckled perch as the fastest-biting target of panfishers. Right on cue, bluegill results are fading, while speck fishers are docking with better and better catches. Local speck chasers, Charles Register and John Isaac nearly filled a cooler with good-sized specks Thursday while fishing brightly-colored jigs out in the deeper water of Lochloosa Lake. Register returned to the lake Thursday with his son, Nathan, visiting from Texas. Again with jigs, the father-and-son boxed 15 good crappie. Any good fishing-reporter must personally check out supposed hotspots periodically, so Buddy DeGraff and I launched at the Lochloosa public boat ramp Sunday morning. It was our first speck fishing trip since last fall. After picking up a couple of yearling bass during the first half hour of fishing, we eased out into deeper water to see about the specks. We set out live minnows under floats to trail behind the boat as the light breeze pushed us slowly along. As we drifted, we also cast new Gitzit jigs ambitiously called “Mother of all Minnows” ahead of the boat. On this morning, you couldn’t really say that the bite was fast or furious, but we did swing our 20th speck aboard just before noon. Only half of the fish were what we consider nice ‘keepers,’ but I count that as a very good morning. By the time football season has hit full stride, an army of inshore gulf fishers is geared up for the sleekest and fastest of the finny seasonal visitors. And, again on cue, this week saw the best mackerel results since the spring season. Longtime Gainesville mackerel sage, Ed Oehmig has recently fared well with speckled trout on Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Key. Last weekend, though, the veteran angler felt that it was time to shift his attention to his old, toothy friends. He was right. Along with the Spanish mackerel he expected to find, Oehmig hooked and boated a whopping 28-pound kingfish. It seems safe to say that the 2008 Big Bend fall mackerel run has begun.

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


09-16-08

The August rainfall that caused a big spike in fresh water catches locally has all-but stopped, as has the fish attracting flow in creeks, streams, and runouts. Still, fishing remains generally good in the humid late summer swelter. Following several apparently-exhausting monthly spawning sessions, bluegill are considerably thinner than during early summer. Their comparatively-wasted state is pretty much standard fare through the year’s final bream get-togethers. Some bream fans dwell on the negative side of such mixed blessings and bitterly lament that fact…even refusing to go after the gaunt fish during late-season spawns. Others see the glass as half-full…and are just as pleased to catch skinny bream as fat ones. Thin or not, the bluegill staged a pretty serious full moon bedding spree for September. Over the weekend, even shorebound fishers scored remarkably well just ahead of the Monday moon. One pair of Newnan’s Lake anglers spent six hours on the banks of Prairie Creek Sunday to take 97 mixed panfish. Another boatless pair chose the somewhat-remote fishing pier on Lochloosa’s south side to try their luck. Dipping crickets around the grass and cypresses, they pulled in 93 bluegill and warmouth. On the gulf flats north of Waccasassa Bay, speckled trout remain harder to find than usual. Even so, some redfishers working shell bars around Horseshoe Beach and Suwannee have picked up a few outstanding examples. Capt. John Leibach and company have recently had the reds in this stretch figured out…and have pulled in occasional trout. But every trout has been a large one, with the best a 27-inch whopper. John Palmer and Rusty Rowe fished Saturday afternoon in the shallows a few miles south of Steinhatchee. Casting highly-unconventional artificial baits, they boated a dozen good trout to 23-inches. The peculiar fish-getting rigs devised by Palmer and Rowe consist of Mirrolure Top Pup lures with the treble hooks removed. Tied onto the lure’s rear hook hanger is a short piece of monofilament, to which they add a bare hook. Onto this hook, the men thread a Berkley Gulp! lure. As is often the case, the trout were apparently reluctant to break the surface of the water that day…but readily attacked the subsurface scented shrimp or grub trailing behind. The southern end of the Big Bend has been better to trout fans using more conventional baits. At Homosassa, where several captains and their parties registered both trout and redfish limits over the weekend, the fish are said to be “biting shrimp and jigs like crazy.” The luckiest of these clients had to be the Kentucky man who, following a successful trip with Capt. William Toney, was dressing his catch at MacRae’s Marina’s fish cleaning station. When a tarpon swam up and took a trout carcass the guide tossed into the crystal-clear river, the man grabbed his stoutest outfit, hooked on another fish skin, and pitched it out. The silver king nabbed the offering immediately. Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s watched the entertaining event unfold. “The guy just wanted to jump the tarpon,” she laughed, “…but he actually ended up fighting it all the way to the dock. It looked to be about a ninety-pound fish.” A strong, early mullet run has East Coast anglers hopping at Matanzas Inlet. Along with the multitudes of the preferred bait fish, tons of redfish have also arrived. Anglers on the Matanzas Bridge, on the beaches, and in boats have had to release lots of big reds—since one-fish limits are filled so quickly. Another of those angling mixed blessings.

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


09-09-08

Freshwater fish catching has picked up noticeably since our lakes increased in volume following the big late-August rains. It is late in the season for bluegill, since the season’s final all-out bream spawn typically occurs around September’s full moon…but the new water seems to have made this a stronger bite than it would have otherwise been. Newnan’s Lake cane pole fishers loaded up limits of bluegill—particularly in the flowing water around the lake’s feeder creeks at the north end and in the single south end outflow at Prairie Creek. Here, it was a banner weekend for fishers using red worms and crickets for bait. Bream fans continue to pull in fish on Orange and Lochloosa as well; but more and more are getting a start on early-season speckled perch. Thursday, Enoch Harris launched at Lochloosa Harbor. The Lake City angler headed out to deep, open lake and trolled live minnows to take 18 specks. Something Harris learned that day made him return Saturday with a slightly different game plan. On this day, he worked a shallower 5-foot deep area on Lochloosa’s northeast side to fill an outstanding 25-speck limit. Area mullet fans are enjoying a nice late-summer run in several annually- productive spots. Rodman Dam and the St. John’s River at Green Cove Springs are two popular spots yielding the deceptively powerful grass eaters. The promising run of saltwater shrimp was apparently done in by the huge influx of rainwater pouring out of the St. John’s River, but this condition seems to have done nothing to hurt the mullet run. Late last week, Padgett Powell and Lizzie Paulus tried their mullet-catching luck at Green Cove Springs’ Shands Bridge. After first chumming with laying mash (chicken feed,) the Gainesville fishers baited up with live worms and quickly pulled in 15 nice mullet. In Lizzie’s first mullet-catching attempt, she demonstrated a natural knack for sensing the hard-to-detect mullet bites and pulled in 10 of the fish. With water on the grass flats still darker than usual from all the rain dumped by Tropical Storm Fay, near-shore reports from the Gulf Coast remain scarce. At least one area out of Homosassa has recovered and cleared quickly…and here, action is nearly back to normal. Monday, Capt. William Toney and his single client from Kentucky headed out of the Homosassa River at dawn to catch the high tide. By noon, they were back at MacRae’s Marina with their full allotment of both trout that took live shrimp and reds that fell for cut mullet. Although few offshore reports have come in, Greg and Jeff Ahrens showed that there are fish available in the darker-than-normal water. Even prized and seldom-seem fish. Late Sunday morning, the Gainesville father-and-son launched at Cedar Key and headed offshore. The water was dirty in their first 25-foot-deep spot, yet it produced several short grouper, a nice 25-inch gag, and plenty of black sea bass and pinkmouth grunts. Water was clearer in the next spot a few miles farther out, but it gave up fewer bites. It was on the way back in that the anglers saw a piece of floating debris in 30-feet of water. “It was a tree branch maybe 6 or 8-feet long,” explained Greg. “We eased up to it and Jeff said, “Dad, there’s dolphin!” Over the next half hour, the fishermen plucked dolphin fish ranging in size from 3 to 7-pounds. They had to change baits three times…from frozen sardines…to yellow mackerel jigs…to squid as the fish wised up to each offering. “There was a school of about 50 fish,” explained Greg, “and some were considerably bigger than the biggest we were able to catch.” Cedar Key anglers generally seem to feel that the big slug of fresh, red water from the Suwannee has temporarily ruined the fishing. It’s hard not to wonder, though, whether it might have actually created some unique opportunities…

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


09-02-08

Following a big rain, experienced freshwater anglers know that there’s a steadfast rule for fishing success—go to the moving water. Predators from bluegill to largemouth bass take advantage of the situation any time a flow develops where there had previously been little or none. They position behind current breaks, waiting for food to be swept their way. Margaret Reynolds has taken advantage of the sudden flow through Prairie Creek, fishing from shore alongside Highway 20. The creek is moving very well following Tropical Storm Fay; exiting Newnan’s Lake to the south. Margaret was among the first to find the fast-biting bluegill there, and scored big catches two days last week. She might have taken even fuller advantage of the good bite if not for the equally-fetching bite at Rodman Dam that occupied a couple more free days. Here, the flow has also increased since the big rain…and the Gainesville fisher is using chum and white plastic worms to pull in big mullet. Anglers living near the Suwannee River have, for a couple of years, enjoyed a friendly-but-competitive Tuesday night bass tournament series. Through the heat of summer, the river was low and clear—and even the winning catches were not very impressive. Two Tuesdays back, with the river high, dark, and moving fast, Lester and Beverly Brown cast minnow-imitating lures to win the weekly contest. Their catch had to be a record-setter…especially for August. The Brown’s winning five-bass limit weighed a whopping 25-pounds, 14-ounces. Like Prairie Creek, Cross Creek is flowing hard from Lochloosa into Orange Lake. Fishing from shore at Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of the mile-long creek, a local fisherman caught 8 nice catfish Monday, plus a couple of bass. A big influx of rain water is good for angling on lakes and creeks, but not so much for fans of casting the near-shore salt waters. A few decent speckled trout results continue to come from the grass flats north of Horseshoe Beach, and from Yankeetown, southward. The long stretch in-between, however, has produced precious few trout. A recent tournament held at the Waccasassa Fishing Club offers a good example of this. The rules allowed each two-man team to have ten trout and two redfish. The heaviest twelve-fish limit would win. Over thirty teams fished the tourney. While several two-fish limits of redfish were seen, there was a grand total of eight legal trout weighed. Usually, speckled trout action picks up through September, but fresh, ‘red’ water from the flooding Suwannee and Waccasassa Rivers will likely stain the near-shore flats for several weeks and extend the trout drought. As expected, the big rains from Fay apparently sent the saltwater shrimp on their annual tour up the St. John’s back out of the swollen river. Of all the post-Fay reports from Palatka, the best haul reported at The Tackle Box was 41. No, not gallons or pounds…forty-one shrimp. We were about to declare the run ‘finished’ when Mike Yawn came in straight from a cast-netting excursion with his friend, Tolar Powell. The Gainesville buddies had just hauled four-and-a-half gallons of big crustaceans from a spot near Doctor’s Lake, a long run north from Palatka. Evidently, they had intercepted some shrimp that had been much farther upriver and were hurrying back out to their permanent, saline home.

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


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August

08-26-08

As expected, Tropical Storm Fay shook up the North Florida fishing picture…but most of the changes seem to be good ones.

While fishing in or on the fringes of such a weather event is not recommended safety-wise, the rewards can occasionally be great. Manny Disgiertt and Ron Andrews of Gainesville both have weekend homes at Suwannee, and were there Sunday checking on things and cleaning up. Conditions didn’t look too bad, so they decided to try the fishing. Near the mouth of Alligator Pass, the men settled down to cast Love’s Lure tandem trout jigs, tipped with shrimp. Through the steady, all-day rain, the redfish bit well, and they released several good-sized examples. But the day’s highlight was a fat, 30-inch snook that grabbed Andrews’ jig as he bounced it along the bottom. Once an almost-unthinkable catch here, snook are clearly becoming much more commonplace at Suwannee. Also on Sunday, Homosassa Captain William Toney was apprehensive about taking out his party so close to the storms passage. At their insistence, the veteran guide relented—and was soon happy he did. The redfish were abundant and feeding like crazy. The two client/anglers, although inexperienced, boated and released about 60 reds of all sizes. The next day, Captains Todd Cornielle, Don Chancy, and Gary Cox and their parties all experienced the same Homosassa redfish feeding binge; and they took bunches of speckled trout, as well. Live shrimp, jigs, and various lures all were effective. For saltwater fishers near Crystal River and Homosassa, the sole negative effect of the storm seems to be diminished near-shore salinity and visibility. This combination has made the scalloping considerably tougher, but the temporary condition could well be the reason for the big hook-and-line boost. The great amount of rainfall has, of course, made an even bigger impact on area freshwater fishing. So far, the Newnan’s Lake water level only shows a few-inch rise. But fish camps on Orange and Lochloosa have seen a more remarkable influx of new water. New owners of Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek, Jeff and Michelle Septer, must be a fortunate couple, indeed. Following many months of very low water and an impassable trickle between Orange and Lochloosa, the water has suddenly risen at their arrival. Is the storied creek again navigable all the way from Lochloosa to Orange? Michelle said, “Right now, only airboats can get through. But that’s only because of a big raft of floating hyacinths and debris that is hung on the pilings of the Highway 325 Bridge. If not for that obstruction, you probably could get a motor boat through.” Gary Palmeter of Cross Creek Lodge at the bridge confirmed this, saying he saw a few boats powered by outboards traversing the creek before the flotsam piled up. The Cross Creek Lodge boat ramp, though, will be open only to registered guests of the camp’s motels. Lochloosa Harbor reports the water up “nearly two feet.” C. J. Register fished for Lochloosa bass Saturday evening when the rain let up for a while. Working the shoreline just above the Harbor, the Reddick angler boated and released several nice bigmouths. Regular cane-pole fishers are finding it necessary to relocate the bedding bream, but are happy to have to do it. Monday, Lochloosa brothers, Kenny and Roy Weaver were among the first to succeed in finding the repositioned panfish. Using crickets, they hauled 86 big bluegill from an undisclosed spot on the northeast side. Wednesday, an angling couple known only as ‘Kelly and Artie’ offered evidence that the influx of rain water has also vitalized the speckled perch bite out in the mid-lake depths. Taken with live minnows, their 26 specks were all of admirable size. All area anglers welcome the shot-in-the-arm of fresh water.

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


08-19-08

As this is written, Tropical Storm Fay has just made landfall and is churning her way up the State as one of those scarce events that could bring great relief to surface and groundwater levels that, locally, remain deficient. And, this storm promises to do so without much threat of destruction. Well, things might work out differently, but it’s nice to hope…This must sound like a broken record by now, but we remain very impressed by the better-than-usual mid-summer fishing. If Fay treats us well, we could see an even bigger boost in freshwater fishing successes. Of course, there is always another side of the coin…and a great influx of rainwater does not normally bode well for the St. John’s River shrimp run that has just started to hit high gear. When Bernie, Daniel, and Trevor Schultz and I put my little flats boat in at Crystal Cove Marina around noon Sunday, the word was that quick 5-gallon limits could be found “under the power lines across the river.” We usually hate to follow the crowd on the water—but we didn’t have very long for trial-and-error cast-netting. We headed across the river to a spot where a very deep trench runs near the river bank at the power lines. A few boats were already there. Before a thunderstorm sent us homeward at around 3:00 p.m., Trevor, the youngest Schultz, had netted a good mess of nice-sized shrimp. Not a full five gallons…but after Daniel had culled out the smallest couple-hundred, we still finished with more than 300. Hopefully, the big rain event will not send the crustaceans racing back to the sea as it has in the past. Accompanied by a full moon, last weekend produced lots of good late-season bream catches from Lochloosa, Orange, and Newnan’s Lakes. Saturday, John and Pete Nickerson found the bluegill near Burnt Island on the southern Lochloosa shore. Fishing with crickets, the Hawthorne pair hauled in 94 wide fish. Gator season opened late last week, and the gator hunters that drew Lochloosa as their reptile-hunting site produced a bigger spectacle at Lochloosa Harbor than did the triumphant panfishers. Saturday alone, six gators were displayed at the fish camp ranging in length from 6-feet, 7-inches to 10-feet, 9-inches. This, strangely enough, brings us nicely to the fishing story of the week. Capt. Jon Farmer has spent untold hundreds of days in the salty-to-brackish shallows in the vicinity of the Suwannee River’s mouth. But, no matter how long one has been around, there are always new things to experience. Late in the day last Friday, Capt. Jon’s party arrived from Macon, Ga., ready to fish. Wind and rain made this a less-than-ideal evening; but Dawson Moore and Skipper Zimmerman were anxious to tangle with something big and strong. They already had a target in mind…one of the world’s most game fish. “I tried to find them some tarpon close by,” said Farmer, “but a couple of stops in the East Pass didn’t produce. So, we ran through the rain down towards Deer Island.” As usual, the veteran guide made the right move, and a large silver king grabbed Zimmerman’s 6-inch Bomber lure on his third cast in the new spot. When the 125-pound behemoth cleared the water a few yards from the boat, the Georgia fishermen were awestruck. As if this wasn’t excitement enough, another predator entered the scene about five minutes into the battle. A huge alligator “came out of nowhere” after the big fish as it leapt again. The gator, described as Capt. Farmer only as “over ten feet,” didn’t succeed in nabbing the tarpon, but it wouldn’t give up. “The fish jumped ten times, altogether,” Farmer explained, “and the gator went after it four of those times. It was an aggressive gator…not very afraid of the boat.” Describing the reactions of his customers, Farmer chuckled, “Their eyes were as big as saucers. They had never seen a big, live tarpon, much less one being chased by a bigger gator.” Incredibly, the three men eventually brought the tarpon to the boat following a one-hour battle. And they managed to unhook and release it without the hungry reptile fulfilling his quest for a big meal. The understated guide summed up his incredible story saying, “It was really something.”

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


08-12-08

Most years, when scallop seekers take to the Steinhatchee-area grass flats, the speckled trout and redfishers simply stand down for a couple of months. This is especially true on the weekends, with hundreds of boatloads of shellfish fans on hand. This year, things are different. Even with the scallopers in full attendance, the fishing has held up amazingly well. Nice trout and redfish catches are not at all uncommon on the crowded Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach flats…probably largely due to lower-than-usual water temperatures. Gainesville’s Richard Nalli, Wade Lynn, and Liz House; and Lena Martinez of Lake City went to Steinhatchee for scalloping on Saturday August 2nd. They ran just a mile or so south of the river to a pretty grass flat, but found the water to be quite chilly…particularly with the sun behind a canopy of clouds. They gathered a bit more than a gallon of shellfish, but when the chill became nearly unbearable, someone suggested they call the trip. Nalli, though, asserted that, as long as they were out there, they should simply shift gears. With that, he idled in to the nearest shallow, grassy point. Fortunately, there was sufficient tackle aboard for all four to cast. The first fish, a grunt, would become the cut bait that would save the day. With a grunt strip, Liz soon had a bite…a fish that turned out to be a nice 21-inch redfish. Lena then followed with a 20-inch red, and another she released. Nalli says there is a lesson here: “Even on scalloping trips, always take fishing tackle along.” Lochloosa anglers still have the nice luxury of choosing between fast-biting bluegill and dependable, open water speckled perch. Thursday, Kenny Weaver and his brother fished lily pads and maidencane on the lake’s northeast side. The local fishermen were well-prepared bait-wise, with worms, crickets, and grass shrimp all on hand. And at day’s end, every type of bait had contributed to the impressive 88-bluegill tally they showed off at Lochloosa Harbor. The same day Lori and J. J. Pease and their daughter, Jennifer slow-trolled out in Lochloosa’s open water with a variety of crappie jigs to take a couple dozen speckled perch. After culling out the small fish, they had 17 good specks that fell for jigs in purple, red, blue, and silver colors. Paul Bateman and Joe Moore fished chartreuse jigs tipped with live minnows off Burnt Island Saturday. This combination produced 18 sizable Lochloosa specks for the Hawthorne anglers. A guy stopped me at a gas station yesterday and asked if I had heard about ‘the catch.’ I said, “No, guess I haven’t.” So he let me know about a limit catch of bluegill that a couple of anglers ramping out of Newnan’s Lake at Power’s Park had shown him. “They were the biggest I’ve ever seen,” he gushed, “every single one over two pounds.” All I could muster was a quiet “dang!” I’ve been around for a while and seen a grand total of one two-pound native bluegill taken from a local lake. So far, we haven’t been able to confirm this tale, and should probably treat it as a tall one. But it sure would be neat if it was true….

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


08-05-08

An old sportsman we once knew said that the good Lord provided us North Florida fans of outdoor sports with a scallop season in the gulf and a run of sweet saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River when the hook-and-line fishing slows during the heat of summer. It appears that this could be one of those rare seasons when He will allow us to double-dip. Fish-catching continues to hold up exceptionally well so deep into the summer heat…and the bivalves and crustaceans are right on schedule, as well. At Gulfstream Marina’s fish-and-scallop cleaning station Sunday evening, a couple of anglers were present along with the shellfishers shucking their Steinhatchee scallops. One of the speckled trout they were filleting was a real eye-popper—a fish over 28-inches long that they estimated at 7-pounds. When I quizzed one of the fishermen, he revealed that they had caught the trout in shallow water with cut bait, near a group of scallopers. Then he leaned over and whispered, “We hooked another big one, but a shark ate it before we could get it in.” At Homosassa, continued good fishing also complements the dependable scalloping. Saturday, Capt. William Toney’s party of three docked at MacRae’s Marina with 13 trout to go along with a 3-redfish limit. Although low, local lake levels are holding well enough to allow continued access by most freshwater vessels. And the fishers aboard those boats are picking up nice catches of bass, bluegill, and speckled perch. While a few Newnan’s Lake regulars are scoring well with the bream, anglers on Orange and Lochloosa are reporting good results with all three of these top freshwater targets. It is slower than during spring and early summer, but bass action on Orange remains plenty worthwhile. Several local bassers have reported using plastic worms and frogs in hydrilla beds to draw numerous strikes from bigmouths. Adrain Brown and Sinatria Williams are two anglers that have kept up with the shifting bluegill hotspots on Lochloosa. For weeks, the Gainesville men have pulled great catches from the south end, including hefty limits Monday. J.J. and Lori Pease of Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp took another speckled perch fishing trip Monday morning on their home lake. Their crappie jigs again produced a bragging catch—this time, seventeen nice-sized specks. Longtime Gainesville angler and conservation activist, Ed Sapp was recently appointed by the US Secretary of Commerce to the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council. Sapp was the number one nominee of Governor Charlie Crist to fill the spot vacated by outgoing appointee, Bill Daughdrill of Panama City. Florida recreational anglers may tend to cringe at the mere mention of the Gulf Council, as that group has helped bring about some unpopular changes in recent years. But disgruntled fishers should be heartened to learn of its newest addition. Sapp makes no bones about his allegiance to the hook-and-line faction. “All council members represent certain interest groups—economic, scientific, commercial, and recreational. I am a ‘recreational’ appointee. Keep in mind, though, that I’ll be only one of seventeen members from the five Gulf States.” Sapp came to Gainesville in 1970 from Miami to attend the University of Florida. He was an original organizer of the Florida Conservation Association, and served as its State Chairman in 1992. That organization has since grown to become the Coastal Conservation Association.

A fine and talented angler, Sapp has targeted almost every game fish that swims in the gulf. Gainesville’s angling patriarch, Richard Bowles, recently recounted an Ed Sapp fishing tale from the days when Ed and his wife, Lynn, were avid members of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club (GOFC.) It seems that back in the eighties, Bowles had the tripletail, a wonderfully-game fish not often caught locally, figured out to a tee in Suwannee waters. “I explained to Ed how and where to catch them, and in a short time he had taken my GOFC tripletail record,” Bowles wryly offered. Sapp added, “Dick did more than just tell me where and how to catch tripletail, he took me along and taught me firsthand. He and I caught quite a few fish together before I finally broke his longstanding record with a 25-pounder.” That record, by the way, still stands. The Gulf Council’s function is to regulate gulf fisheries with laws governing both sport and commercial interests. The regulations submitted by the seventeen-member group then must be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service to be law. Sapp will be sworn in at the August 10 council meeting in Key Largo, and his duties will begin immediately. Gulf of Mexico recreational anglers can rest assured that they have an eloquent and persuasive new ally.

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


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July

07-29-08

Some years, a time comes during the heat of summer when the fish-catching seems to “hit the wall.” The anglers that have scored well for months suddenly start having a harder time making those good catches. Only frequently-fishing bluegill fans seem exempt from the sudden slowdown. So far this year, good all-around results from fresh and salt waters just keep rolling in each week. What’s even more curious is the speckled perch bite on Lochloosa. The cool-weather-loving specks are biting almost as well as the bream whose season is in high gear. Charles Register of Williston drifted live minnows through Lochloosa’s deeper, open water last Saturday to take 15 specks. The largest of his fine catch was a 2-pound, 2-ounce slab. Friday, J. J. and Lori Pease took a little time off from duties at their Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp to try for some specks themselves. Drifting little chartreuse crappie jigs, their catch was also noteworthy—17 speckled perch, all weighing better than a pound. Still, it is supposed to be bream season. Larry Sauls and Forest Gibbs of Valdosta confirmed that Sunday with a full, 100-bluegill limit they took with crickets. Jason Taylor and friend, Randy also made a big haul of Lochloosa bream Sunday. When the Gainesville anglers counted up their catch, they had 95 fish. Buddy and Stephen DeGraff took fellow Melrose angler, Bill White, and Atlanta resident, Louis LeGrand to Yankeetown Saturday. They arrived at high tide and quickly found a small island with oyster beds and rocks next to a deeper trough. And, in this first spot, redfish were present and feeding. Casting gold spoons and Gulp! shrimp on jigheads, the anglers boated seven reds. All were ‘slot fish’ between 18-and-27 inches long…except one too-big brute that stretched all the way to the 31-inch mark. In the deeper spot, the Georgia visitor managed to entice two flounder with Gulp! shrimp. The largest, a 4-pounder, was not quite deserving of “doormat” status, but a fine flatfish for these waters. The DeGraffs returned to the hot island Sunday to battle 9 more reds up to 28-inches. The 2008 scallop season continues to rave reviews; with loads of the avidly-sought shellfish available on Homosassa, Crystal River, Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee grass flats. The best shellfishing news lately is the abrupt disappearance of the jellyfish that plagued the first two weeks of the season out of Homosassa and Crystal River. Now, there’s little to worry about but locating the shellfish…and locals say that’s not too difficult. Homosassa Captain William Toney can put his customers on plenty of redfish or speckled trout. It’s the folks that want to gather scallops, though, that make his job easiest. “Last week, everyone filled limits of scallops quick—and nobody saw a jellyfish,” the veteran guide beamed. That’s welcomed news for hundreds of scallop fans that were frustrated earlier in the season.

And that’s this week’s report.


07-22-08

Thanks to the relentless mid-summer swelter, this is never a time when lakes or rivers are very crowded. Anglers able to take the heat, though, always seem to find fish. And in our part of Florida, you can tack on ‘scallops’ and ‘shrimp.’ In fresh waters, bluegill, warmouth, shellcracker, redbelly and stumpknocker are dependably active when the mercury soars. Through the week leading up to Friday’s full moon, cane pole fishers that braved the heat reported making consistently-good hauls of bluegill on both Lochloosa and Newnan’s Lakes. Grass shrimp are the number one bait among bream fishers these days, but crickets aren’t too far behind.

Fans of near-shore saltwater angling on the gulf side of the State typically pursue speckled trout, redfish, black drum, and Spanish mackerel in the summer heat. Calls to guides and marinas from Horseshoe Beach to Homosassa today left a strong feeling that the redfishers are generally faring best. Although most of the redfish bragging still comes from the Steinhatchee-to-Suwannee stretch, strong high tides around the just-passed full moon also saw nice catches of reds from shell bars and grassy points farther south. Gulf Hammock anglers Gene Babbitt, Pat Hiers, and Herbert Wilkerson all docked at the Waccasassa Fishing Club with maximum-size limits over the weekend. Out of Homosassa, Capt. Todd Cornielle and his parties were among the successful weekend redfishers. Saturday, Cornielle tied Johnson Spoons on for his clients and treated them to fast red action near the river mouth.

Although there hasn’t been a lot of talk about offshore grouper catches lately, two members of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club did head out from Cedar Key Sunday with cobia in mind. Jay Peacock and Mark Rustemier anchored on a few of the GOFC artificial reefs and put out chum to attract big fish. After they battled three big nurse sharks up to 8-feet in length, Rustemier did hook and boat a beautiful 39-pound cobia. The ling took a 4-ounce jig sweetened with a live pinfish. Gathering seafood while in the cool, clear shallows has “popular family activity” written all over it. And, in terms of easy-to-find targets, this scallop season is about as good as they come. Homosassa and Crystal River scallopers have had to deal with plentiful jellyfish in their shallows since the season’s start. To get around this problem, they have learned to time their trips carefully. Apparently, the mid-to-late outgoing tide offers the shellfish gatherers the best shots at scallops sans jellies. The Steinhatchee flats have offered no such challenge to shellfish collectors as yet. The annual run of saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River is slowly gaining steam. Cast-netters from Green Cove Springs to Palatka say that there are fair numbers of shrimp in the river…but that their average size is still far from ‘jumbo.’ The fairly-drastic influx of cool water along Atlantic beaches has apparently ended, and warm water is again the rule. It will be interesting to see how quickly baitfish schools reappear and how long it will take predators such as kingfish to locate them.

The inland waters on the Atlantic Coast have, so far, not seen any big change brought by the warmer water. Flounder fishers like Capt. Keith Waldron continue to consistently put customers on plenty of flounder and small redfish out of his home base, Devil’s Elbow.

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


07-15-08

Summer heat has, so far, failed to alter the fish-catching picture as much as it usually does by mid-July. In fact, nature seems to have turned back the clock in one North Florida fishing destination. Occasionally, peculiar currents send water temperatures plummeting along the Sunshine State’s East Coast…and that occasion has again arrived. With surf temperatures at St. Augustine about ten degrees lower than they were a month back, the fish-catching opportunities are very non-typical. “It’s hurt the offshore fishing,” explains Zach of Devil’s Elbow Fishing Resort, “but it actually helps the fishing inshore.” To demonstrate his point, the young angler cites an ongoing flounder bite that, most years, would have been long finished by July. “But the catches are still pretty good. Just last week, a fisherman came in with a 7-pound flounder. I’m looking at the picture right now. We didn’t get the guy’s name…but he looks like Barack Obama.” Adequate rainfall also has kept the fishing strong in nearby lakes. Friday, Dale Zoller went after his favorite fish in the north end of Lochloosa…and with chartreuse jigs, the Jacksonville angler took 16 of the fat warmouth. Zoller returned to the productive spot Saturday to harvest another 16 fish. For a few days, sixteen must have been the magic number at Lochloosa. Greg Ard, also of Jacksonville, fished crickets on the lake’s northwest side Saturday to take 16 big bream. Sunday, Mark Ard of Pensacola paddled a rental boat out from Lochloosa Harbor. The crickets he fished in lily pads near the camp produced 32 bream (16 twice.) Local angler, Mr. Isaac docked Monday with an impressive bunch of speckled perch he pulled from Lochloosa’s depths. When he counted his haul, the crappie-catching regular had 16 fish. July’s monthly bass tournament in the Orange Lake Series was held Sunday out of the Heagy-Burry boat ramp. Gainesville anglers, Jody Marriott and Stephen Gray easily outdistanced the sixteen-boat field with an eye-popping 23.25-pound five-bass tourney limit. The big bag of bass was anchored by a 9.49-pound lunker that busted an old-school Nip-I-Diddee surface lure during mid-morning. Both anglers and scallopers continue to fare well in gulf waters. Redfish catches have improved in the Waccasassa area over recent weeks—a pleasing trend that extends all the way south to Homosassa. Capt. Marvin Williams took redfish-seeking parties to the St. Martin’s Keys Sunday and Monday. With undisclosed artificial baits, the two groups combined to boat 30 reds up to 30-inches. Offshore trips are less frequent these days, but results seem fine when anglers do go deep. Homosassa Capt. Bill Musser’s party of three fished Spanish sardines on the bottom in water 50-feet deep Saturday to take 11 good grouper. Steinhatchee shellfishers are almost unanimous in their approval of the excellent crop of scallops on the clear flats this season. Folks after bivalves near Crystal River and Homosassa likewise say their targets are plentiful…but there remains a sticky issue on this stretch of coast. Along with the scallops, large numbers of jellyfish are present in the shallows–enough to cause considerable dismay among the folks dying to get in the water. But, locals have learned that waiting for the right tide is the trick. “The outgoing tide seems to sweep the jellyfish away,” Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s of Homosassa explains. “Then, you can pick up a limit quick without getting stung.”

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


07-08-08

Reports from the long Independence Day weekend were predictably mixed, with some folks faring very well and others collecting little more than suntans. Even one of the season’s ‘sure things’ developed a considerable hitch, as scallopers on the clear Homosassa/Crystal River flats reported unusually large numbers of jellyfish present. And many of the shellfishers aboard the thousand-plus boats that left out of the Homosassa River Saturday were not willing to share the water with the potential inflictors of painful stings. Fortunately, scallop seekers on the Steinhatchee flats reported no problems with jellies, and made full use of the unbridled access to the easy-to-find bivalves. The arrival of scallop season usually spells bad news for anglers who chase trout and redfish in well-known scallop waters. So far, Horseshoe Beach hook-and-liners have been able to continue their good catches despite the crowded conditions at the boat ramp. Capt. John Leibach, Ramona Pletcher, Terry Stradomski, and Danny Leibach enjoyed an incredible day out of Horseshoe last Thursday. As the tide rose under overcast skies, the fishers cast live pinfish, mud minnows, and finger mullet on jigheads. By noon, the four had run up an incredible catch-and-release tally that included eight trout, three flounder, and “at least 80 redfish.” Then they moved to the Pepperfish Keys flats to fill a limit of scallops. Capt. John couldn’t say whether the action on that rare day had been better for finfish or shellfish. Most offshore fishers say that they have to run quite a distance these days to find good-sized grouper. But those able to travel out to water over 50-feet deep are finding cooperative fish. Captain Bill Musser took a party of two offshore from Homosassa Monday. In nearly 60-feet of water, their frozen bait produced not only grouper limits, but also a 47-pound cobia. Freshwater action is generally holding up very well so late into summer—and good results will likely continue as long as regular rains keep the shallows cool and oxygenated. The best overall bluegill catches are still coming from Lochloosa…with its sister lake, Orange not far behind. Frequent fishers able to keep up with the whereabouts of bream beds are using grass shrimp and crickets to pull in daily limits. Orange and Lochloosa also offer good summertime bass fishing. With Lake Santa Fe, Rousseau, and Rodman also productive, area bass enthusiasts presently have a nice list of promising nearby destinations.

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


07-01-08

The Fourth of July weekend marks the start of a favorite part of the year for many North Florida fans of on-the-water pursuits. Some might put their boats in storage for a while when the mercury pushes the three-digit mark and agitated air masses threaten almost daily…but adventurous locals with the stamina to handle the heat, plus the savvy to avoid thunderstorms, love this season.

If you were charged with thoroughly demonstrating the summertime North Florida fishing experience to a newcomer from far away, you would want to start by covering the following species and spots.

  1. Scalloping on the Steinhatchee or Homosassa flats. The 2008 Scallop season just opened July 1st. When we phoned MacRae’s Bait Shop and Marina on the Homosassa River at 10:00 that morning, employees were seeing opening-day shellfishers returning with limits of the precious bivalves already filled. Early Steinhatchee reports likewise sound promising. And when the scallops are as abundant as they appear to be this year, maximum daily hauls can be collected before the storms start to build.
  2. Cane-pole fishing for bluegill on Rodman, Orange, Lochloosa, or Newnan’s Lake. For generations, this has represented the prototypical hot-weather Florida fishing experience. Presently, the bream are biting well with good catches coming from all four of these locations almost every day. Last Saturday, Jeff and Anna Gustin of Gainesville fished out of Lochloosa Harbor with sons, Alex and Julian. Alex is five, and Julian, two…quite a handful for parents in a little rental boat. Still, the young family managed to pull in several big bream. (Substitute redbelly and stumpknocker fishing on the Suwannee or Ocklawaha River for a shadier and arguably more scenic bream-catching outing.)
  3. Casting for speckled trout or redfish near any of several Big Bend ports. Always plenty of hot-weather action on the grass flats and around shell bars. Any of many shallow water gulf species are likely to wind up on the hook…another reason that a salty gulf coast trip is a must. Several trout and redfish limits were seen over the just-passed weekend at Waccasassa Fishing Club. Just one tip…Choose a launch site whose nearby flats are not well-known producers of scallops. This will help you avoid crowds at the ramp and on the water.
  4. Shrimping on the St. John’s River. Presently, it’s still a bit early in the season to expect great cast-netting success for big ‘river shrimp’ on their annual migration. In a month, however, this will be a unique and most worthwhile pastime. Already, Palatka and Green Cove Springs locals report good numbers of smallish shrimp in the huge, backwards-flowing river—and these will grow in size and number over the coming weeks.

of course, there are other good choices, but these four would get the summertime outdoor sports experience across pretty effectively to the greenhorn. Then, like so many others have, he’d probably want to move here.

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


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June

06-24-08

The rainy season arrived just in time to permit continued access to some of the largest area lakes. Fortunately, along with the welcome rain has come a general upturn in the feeding attitudes of most fish. Top anglers know that success is now a matter of developing a feel for timing trips around thunderstorms. Patient fishers adept at this trick of timing continue to pull excellent bunches of panfish from Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes while using grass shrimp, crickets, and red worms. And smaller area lakes and ponds are producing just as well. Rick Cheshire spent a little time Monday evening fly-rodding for bluegill in Melrose Lake. With his own hand-tied creations, he pulled in 21 big bluegill. When Cheshire cleaned his catch, he noted that 20 of the 21 fish were either males…or that such a large a percentage had bedded on the just-passed full moon. The rainstorms that have kept North Florida lakes productive have also effectively cut into prime periods for saltwater angling. “People try to time trips in front of their favorite tide…but lately, the storms have come at the best times for most,” explains Jackie Hayward of Waccasassa Fishing Club. Sunday, Frank and Nick Warrington and Ronnie Kite enjoyed a perfectly-timed trip to Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Keys. The anglers first stopped to catch live baitfish using Sabiki Rigs…a trick that turned out to be most important. Upon arriving at ‘The Reef,’ the three noticed that no other boats were present—usually an indication of less-than-stellar recent productivity. Undaunted, they set the freshly-caught baitfish out under rattling floats and hooked up right away. The mackerel were there, after all. And these weren’t your run-of-the mill Spanish mackerel. “Overall, they were the biggest I’ve ever seen. We caught 24 Spanish, and almost all were over 5-pounds,” Frank declared. To boot, the three anglers also took trout limits with their live bait. Interestingly, a couple of boats did arrive on Seahorse while the Warrington-Kite crew was pulling in fish. The late-arriving anglers employed the usual jig-and-spoon-trolling techniques, but appeared to have no luck. “I guess they wouldn’t bite artificial baits that day,” Frank surmised. While good speckled trout reports have been common in the Horseshoe Beach, Waccasassa, and Homosassa areas, the last of these produced the top single trout of the weekend. Michelle Peabody cast a Gulp! Shrimp in the New Penny color Sunday near the Homosassa River mouth to fool a whopping 26-inch, 5-pound specimen. During a lull between thunderstorms Sunday, Capt. Chris Wilkins and wife, Alexis ran out to a Homosassa rockpile in water just eight-feet deep. They anchored up and cast diving minnow-imitating lures to take 4 nice, keeper grouper in just two hours. Locals that enjoy taking pre-season peeks at the scallop crop have docked with glowing projections for the Ozello and Homosassa shellfish seekers that will invade these waters next Tuesday, July 1st. Well to the north, shellfish scouts say that prospects also look good on the clear Steinhatchee flats. Even after four solid weeks of good flounder action, crowded anglers still are pulling plenty of flatfish from well-known spots in the inland waterway near Matanzas Inlet. Saturday, Fred Miles avoided the throng by shifting targets a bit. Soaking live shrimp in a deeper spot, the veteran angler pulled in a fine limit of black drum.

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


06-17-08

Father’s Day weekend brought great catches for fresh and saltwater anglers throughout the area. That it fell just ahead of the full moon must have been a big help—especially to panfishers. Saturday, the bluegill fishing was fast and furious on Newnan’s Lake. Through the day, several fishermen pushed their boats onto the bank of the Powers Park canal and walked up to the store to pick up more bait. The fast-biting bream were using up more grass shrimp and crickets than they had planned—but nobody was complaining. By Monday, the bream-catching hotspot seemed to shift to another nearby lake—Lochloosa. Bill Deshong and Myrna Jones stopped by with a cooler full of nothing but the biggest kind of bluegill. The longtime panfish assassins found an active bream bed on Lochloosa’s north end and, flipping grass shrimp against an edge of hydrilla, limited out. “We were the only boat around,” said Bill. The reason for their angling solitude was apparently that there were better-advertised bream beds at the opposite end of the lake. Deek Green and ‘Splurge’ came in next with a hundred big bream—also from Lochloosa. The men had found their big bunch of fish on the south end, and also used different bait—crickets. Glenn Randall and David Young stopped in a little later with yet another account of fast bream-catching on the south side of Lochloosa. These Gainesville anglers also had plenty of good-sized bluegill…but their 57-fish tally was limited by the fact that they had run out of both shrimp and crickets. “We could have caught a lot more,” Randall said. Chuck Jones spent part of Sunday casting for bass on a private lake near Hawthorne. Slowly working plastic Culprit worms around shoreline cover, Jones caught and released a pair of whopping largemouths within a twenty-minute span. He weighed each fish on a hand-held digital scale before slipping it back into the lake. The first weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces, and the second went 8-11. Recounting the feat at the store Monday, Jones summed up the story with an enthusiastic, “what a Father’s Day!” Thunderstorms cut down on weekend angling tales from the gulf, but early-morning fishers did score ahead of the downpours. Marilyn Booher’s successful trip to Cedar Key earlier in the week led to another Thursday…this time, with friend, Cindy Boulware. The Gainesville fishers ran towards Waccasassa, stopping on the grass flats in the Cedar Key Pole area. Casting Gulp! Pogies and live shrimp set under Cajun Thunder floats, they boxed up a limit of maximum-size speckled trout in just two and a half hours. Gator and Pam MacRae and family ran offshore from Homosassa Saturday on a one-day-early Father’s Day trip. Dropping frozen bait to the bottom about 25-miles offshore, the MacRaes hauled in scores of fish, keeping nine nice-sized grouper.

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


06-10-08

Excuses to stay home are easy to come by. For able-bodied lovers of the sport of fishing, though, few things can overcome the call of the water. These area anglers continue to meet the heat, low water, and high gas prices head-on…and are finding the success that the persistent always seem to find. Although water levels have fallen even further, most fishers can still put boats into Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes. Although weekend bluegill catches were steady-but-unspectacular on Orange and Lochloosa; grass shrimp-fishing bream seekers fared much better on Newnan’s. Johnell Young stopped in Friday with a very nice catch of 88 Newnan’s bluegill. Along with a friend, Johnell had found a good bream bed and tempted the saucer-size fish with grass shrimp. As panfish go, the hot months are supposed to belong to the bream. And so it’s pretty strange that speckled perch are presently making at least as much noise among Orange and Lochloosa anglers. Bruce and Steve Tenney trolled crappie jigs in Lochloosa’s deepest water through the Saturday heat. The Gainesville brothers hauled in 18 nice-sized specks. Persistent speck stories continue from Orange, too, where trolled Beetle Spin variations are accounting for many of the top catches. Bass anglers still are finding plenty of action in all corners of Orange, but say that the most productive spots are changing weekly as levels drop and aquatic vegetation grows. Saltwater action is holding steady—and even improving for some species like mackerel. Both Seahorse Reef off Cedar Key and Spotty Bottom off Suwannee have yielded some of the spring season’s best Spanish mackerel catches over the last two weeks. Most of the successful Spanish fishers are trolling Capt. Action spoons or dusters. The 24th Annual Cobia Tournament held last weekend out of Homosassa and Crystal River saw its usual full, 200-boat field and notable catches. Matt Scales boated the best ling of the weekend…a 47.38-pound brute that netted the Leesburg angler an equally-whopping $7300.00 prize. John Sarver, Lanie Martin, and David Romish also received cash prizes as captors of the second-through-fourth place fish weighing 38.72, 29.22, and 25.66 pounds, respectively. The good east coast flounder bite in the Matanzas Inlet area shows no signs of slowing. Jeff Collins took a short break from his duties at Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp Monday to try for some flatfish. Fishing mud minnows in several favorite spots near the inlet around low tide, the young angler boated a 10-fish limit of flounder measuring at least 15-inches in a two-hour span.

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


06-03-08

A nasty combination of low water and high fuel prices has put a real squeeze on anglers. The fishing is plenty good on the coasts…but the trip is likely to be more costly than ever before. Those who opt to aim for finny targets closer to home will find that lake levels have again slipped low enough to cause launching problems at several boat ramps. This leaves the North Florida angler with a shorter-than-usual list of appealing options. Folks with smaller boats are finding fish-catching success on Orange, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe Lakes. On Orange and Lochloosa, both bluegill and bass are biting well enough to make the effort worthwhile. Santa Fe continues to put out nice bass catches during the late-evening hours. Newnan’s, the forgotten area lake for about fifteen years, made a huge speckled perch comeback through February, March, and April. And it won’t be long before Gainesville’s closest major pool starts to make more noise among bass fishers. A couple of weeks ago, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission brought in another tanker truck from the State’s fish hatchery at Richloam. And sixty thousand more fingerling largemouths went into Newnan’s. Then there are the rivers of green sliding unseen beneath the trees, laughing as they pass through the endless summer, making for the sea. Just sounds like those idyllic summers of long ago…and, maybe a little like old Pink Floyd, too. The Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ocklawaha are all great spots to cast ultralight plugs or spinners for hot-weather bluegill, redbelly, and stumpknocker. Inshore action remains steady out of Gulf Coast ports at Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa. Inshore weekend results were best out of Waccasassa and Homosassa, where both trout and redfish limits were standard. It seems early to offer a pre-season scallop report, but Carl Hodge’s experienced and watchful eye has us convinced that the upcoming season will be a real shellfish barn-burner. Even a month ago, Hodge noticed an unusually-large number of scallops nestled in the shallow Steinhatchee sea grasses as he drifted past. Then a couple of weeks ago, while trout fishing with his buddy, Tony Martin of Hahira, Ga., Hodge again spotted scallops. And lots of them. “We drifted for half a mile, and they were just dotted in the grass all the way,” he declared. “We picked up a couple for a few seconds to check out the size, and they were as big as late-season scallops.” The season doesn’t begin until July 1, but it sounds as if things might be very good when the shellfishing fans arrive at Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee. The big 200-boat Cobia Big Fish Tournament coming up June 7 and 8 will increase the weekend boat traffic at Homosassa and Crystal River. Entrants into the annual event were fired-up to hear of the 55-pound ling taken recently by a group of retirees fishing with a Homosassa guide. The big fish reportedly fell for a live catfish. For about a month, flounder have been squarely in the sights of inland waterway anglers on the east coast. The fine flatfish catches seen over the weekend at Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp will do nothing to change that focus. Captains Jimmy Blount and Jason Leverett each docked with a bunch of good-sized flounder…and each catch was topped by a six-pound doormat.

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


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May

05-27-08

Most of the ‘fishing indicators’ were looking pretty strong heading into the Memorial Day weekend; but after checking with anglers, guides, and fish camps today it seems that the catching wasn’t really that great. Freshwater panfishers will blame an “off” moon phase, plus unusually chilly water temperatures. Near shore saltwater fans will throw in still-often-high winds and the resulting turbidity on their favorite grass flats and bars. Most folks equate great fishing with mild temps and gentle breezes…but this might be one of those peculiar seasons that changes quickly from one extreme to the other in a too-short stretch. The moon phase is improving with the ‘new’ stage coming up in a week. With its approach, tides will run harder on the coasts and bream will bed more fervently. Summer is on its way just as surely as New Moon…and will all-too-soon raise water temperatures. It’s a good bet that the annoying winds will finally die down as well. Trouble is, the “calm and hot” combination isn’t too great for fishing, either.

Access onto favorite area lakes can still be gained by fishers in all-but very large vessels. While fair numbers of holiday weekend bluegill and warmouth were pulled from Orange and Lochloosa, the fish on Newnan’s did a better job of hiding. Lochloosa and Orange also continue to produce nice bass from their hydrilla and lily pad beds. And bass fishers should add Rodman Reservoir and Lake Santa Fe to their list of promising spots-the rumblings of success are increasing among the Rodman and Santa Fe bigmouth seekers. It seems that every year certain stretches along the gulf coast hold better numbers of certain fish…and these ‘ideal zones’ often shift from year to year. As the season has taken shape, a general outline of inshore Big Bend fishing would hold that speckled trout are most abundant from Waccasassa Bay, down to Homosassa. Redfish, on the other hand, are much easier to find in the Cedar Key-to-Steinhatchee district. Journeyman Capt. Jon Farmer says that with the water stirred up and still 78-degrees, trout in the Suwannee area are undeniably scarce. Not only that, but Spanish mackerel numbers are thinner than usual. Anglers working the standard Spanish haunt known as “Spotty Bottom” are instead finding lots of sand trout and bluefish. Capt. Jon has kept his clients satisfied with the plentiful redfish and black drum on the inner Suwannee bars, along with the occasional sheepshead and flounder. Cobia have many fans among Gulf Coast saltwater anglers, and the annual Cobia “Big Fish” Tournament every June out of Crystal River and Homosassa always attracts a large field that is capped at 200-teams. This year the two-day tourney will be held June 7 and 8, and at present, some slots are still available. For more info, call MacRae’s Bait and Tackle at (352) 628-2602. Every year, somebody wins the considerable cash prize with a huge ling, and that will probably happen again this year…but, if anybody has the thick-headed pelagics figured out, he’s not talking. Over the last two weeks, only one angler in the Crystal River-to-Homosassa stretch will admit to having caught a cobia—and that was just a 25-pound fish.

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


05-20-08

It’s late May, and local anglers who have angled for a very long time are puzzled. By now, water temperatures should be quite warm…but they remain just in the seventies in salt waters and on area lakes. Also, the steadily-high winds that just won’t let up for more than a day at a time should have dissipated at least a month ago. Throw in a troubling two-month-long dearth of rain, and things just don’t seem as they should be. Still, good anglers will always find a way to catch fish. And, at least this week’s full moon did bring about the expected big bream bite. Barry Cook located the fish Saturday on Orange Lake, and took Mark and Margaret Cook back to the fishy spot Sunday. Casting small, white Beetle Spins with light spincast tackle, the three Cooks hauled in “about a hundred” bluegill, shellcracker, warmouth, bass, and mudfish. Their varied take also included a few catfish up to three pounds and speckled perch to a pound and a half. Tim Clark found a bluegill bed on Lochloosa’s south end Monday. That afternoon at The Tackle Box, he popped the lid on his cooler to show us the fifty-fish limit of big bream that had fallen for his grass shrimp. Bass, too, are active in the still-cool lakes. Customers at Lochloosa Harbor are docking with stories of nice-sized bigmouths regularly; and at Sunday’s bass tournament held by the Bassmasters of Gator Country on Orange, 34 of the 37 contestants registered full, three-bass bags. While the daily bass limit is five almost everywhere else in Florida, bass anglers on Orange and Lochloosa must observe a three-fish limit. Saltwater fishing is generally excellent—catches are curbed more by the too-high breezes than any shortage of fish. The wind let up enough Saturday to allow some seaworthy boats offshore from Homosassa. With a group visiting from Georgia, Capt. Gator McRae hauled in grouper limits, a 25-pound cobia, and a pair of big flounder. Bottom fishing with Spanish sardines and trolling large diving lures, Capt. Don Chancy led a party of five to grouper limits in water 30-feet deep. And Capt. Bill Musser’s four-person group likewise maxed out with grouper. They strictly fished sardines on the bottom in water around 40-feet deep. All eighty teams entered in the Doug Johnson and Donnie Young Reeling for Kids Fishing Tournament last Friday and Saturday knew that the wind would play a large part in their success. And Friday, it overcame the best efforts of most. There was, however, one major crowd pleaser at the rainy first-day weigh-in. Capt. Ray Hedgecock and his Ex Mark Team entered a whopping 47.7-pound kingfish. The big ‘smoker’ anchored the team’s three-species catch to help them ultimately claim the “Masters Offshore” championship. Happily, Saturday dawned with a much more manageable breeze…and the entrants put on a serious fish-catching show. The Bobby Bounds team showed great range and versatility, toting a 19-pound winning grouper to the weigh scales after, two weeks ago, bagging a heavy grouper limit in the Builders’ Tournament out of Crystal River. Another angler who shined was young Kyle Welsh, who took the winning 5.9-pound trout plus a 6.6-pound second-place redfish. The best red was Alexis Griffin’s 6.9-pound fish. The Stringfellow/Simpson team caught the biggest cobia-a 20.8-pound fish-on the last cast of the last day; and the ling propelled the aging duo to the “Masters Inshore” title. Karen Miles of Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp put things pretty plainly, declaring, “There’s a major flounder bite going on over here.” When I phoned Tuesday for her weekly East Coast report, Capt. Keith Waldron and his party had just docked with a catch of ten good flatfish, including a pair of five-pound examples. Live mud minnows are the top-producing flounder bait in the inland waters near Matanzas Inlet.

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


05-13-08

A strangely-persistent wind late in the season continues to give anglers fits. More than a few trips were again cancelled last weekend due to a storm-like bluster. A brave few did not allow the stiff breezes to halt their trips, but they were not able to work very efficiently. This, however, is a minor setback when compared to the much more serious problems presented by the ongoing several-week spell with little or no rainfall. Water levels that were looking pretty good just two months ago are again low, and access onto some area lakes is once again approaching the “iffy” designation. On Newnan’s Lake, some of the shoreline spots that produced nice catches of speckled perch back in March are scarcely ankle-deep now. For now, most fishing boats can still access Newnan’s, Lochloosa, and Orange Lakes at most ramps without much trouble. Even with last week’s ‘off’ moon phase and some unseasonably-chilly nights, bluegill bit pretty well. But things stand to get even better in a hurry. This week should bring the first of the hot-weather bedding sessions for bream—fishy gatherings that experienced panfishers can literally home in on by smell. According to a couple of the most devout bream seekers I have known, the full moons in May and June bring the biggest spawns and the fattest bluegill of the year. If you’re after thick blue bream, circle the 20 th
of this month on your calendar. The four or five days on either side of it should be outstanding. Sunday was one of the windiest days of the season, and most of us had no trouble opting to stay off the water. At least 13 boats did go out on Orange Lake, though, in the monthly Xtreme Bass Tournament. And afterwards, they were quick to let us non-fishers know that the bass “bit like crazy” in the hard wind. Jody Marriott and Stephen Gray caught fish all day long…on the windy side of the lake…with topwater baits. Their five-bass limit weighed almost 17-pounds…and they finished third. Man, you think you made one good, common sense call…. Saltwater fishers have been even more limited by the unceasing atmospheric turbulence. The word from Steinhatchee in advance of the big Doug Johnson/Donnie Young Reeling for Kids Celebrity Fishing Tournament coming up Friday and Saturday goes generally like this: Big speckled trout, the kind that might win in this category, are a little scarcer than usual on the Steinhatchee flats. Redfish, on the other hand, are abundant and plenty willing to bite. The ‘red’ division should see lots of maximum-size entries and be decided by a very narrow margin. Last year, not a single cobia was weighed in; and it looks like ling of legal size may be hard to find again this year. Fishing for king mackerel and grouper is top-notch, but whether the offshore bunch will be able to get out to the big boys will depend upon the wind. Regardless of the wave height, quite a few of the blood-and-guts offshore competitors are sure to ‘go for it.’ This is a great event that has become one of the most prestigious of its kind along the Florida Gulf Coast. Everyone seems to keep in mind that the event’s true purpose is helping Doug and Donnie help the kids, but competition will be fierce. And Mother Nature holds the wild card.

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


05-06-08

As water levels slowly descend, local lakes continue to put out big and abundant bluegill. Pleasing catches have been the rule on Orange and Newnan’s, but the 90-bream take from Lochloosa that we saw Monday afternoon ranks as the most impressive bunch of panfish in several days. John and Don Courtney of Hawthorne and Gainesville respectively, pulled the big bluegill and shellcracker from an open-water bed while using crickets for bait. The insects also enticed four big specks for the fishing brothers. It seems like Orange Lake has produced at least one ten-pound bass every week through the spring season. Saturday, Cliff Harris became the latest angler to accomplish that substantial feat. The Micanopy rodeo clown (yes, really) hooked the huge bigmouth in the lake’s south end while casting a Texas-rigged plastic worm. Although conditions too-regularly remain a bit windy for their liking, gulf grouper fishers are finding action tempting enough to endure today’s high cost of offshore trips.

Saturday, the Builders Association of North Central Florida held its 44th Annual Family Fun Fishing Tournament. Despite very rough going offshore, several boats docked at Crystal River’s Plantation Inn with great grouper, making for a close and exciting weigh-in. The three top five-fish tourney limits weighed roughly 43, 41, and 39-pounds in aggregate.

The contest for the biggest individual grouper was even tighter. Each taken on a different boat, the best three fish weighed in at 12.5, 12.3, and 12.2-pounds. The size of the top grouper taken in another big saltwater tournament held Saturday at Suwannee was strangely similar. A 12.44-pound gag topped the grouper field in the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club’s 2008 Fishin’ Tournament.

Sunday, with the gulf considerably less angry, more folks were able to make it offshore and results were even better.

Deep water successes were reported from Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Cedar Key, and Crystal River. The Ken Tenney party had opted to not run out to the grouper grounds in the Builders’ event, but stayed the night in Crystal River in hopes of calmer conditions Sunday. As hoped, the day offered near-ideal weather and the crew hauled in loads of sizable gags and reds.

Glen and Jon McMillan of Gainesville fished off Cedar Keys Sunday. The father-and-son took what they figured would be more than enough bait—10-pounds of frozen squid, a 5-pound box of Spanish sardines, and 4-dozen live pinfish. Anchored in water just shy of 50-feet deep, however, they caught grouper until the bait was all gone. Recounting the trip, the elder McMillan grinned, “I’m still sore.” Water is clear and the fishing is good in the inland waterway at Matanzas. The ongoing flounder bite at and near the inlet is still the biggest news to anglers. Mr. and Mrs. Rogero of Palatka showed off a beautiful catch of fifteen fine flatfish they fooled with live mud minnows Sunday.

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


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April

04-29-08

Fishing on Orange Lake Saturday, Barry Brunges set a new high standard for a local bass fishing organization that has been around for quite a while. In the Gainesville Bassmasters’ monthly tournament, Brunges was paired with fellow Gainesville angler, Dennis Murphy. Casting a white spinnerbait near the boat ramp at Heagy-Burry Park with the tourney winding down, Brunges had a strong strike. The large bass was also plenty spirited—and at the end of a struggle that featured lots of line-stretching and spectacular jumps and wallows, Murphy netted a huge bass that would weigh 10.69-pounds. That ranks as the largest bass ever caught in one of the monthly contests over 24 years of the club’s existence. With a six-fish limit weighing a total of 17.71-pounds, Brunges and Murphy also netted first place overall. Another Gainesville Bassmaster also deserves props after claiming the club’s Angler of the Year title last month. David Gunter of Earleton out-pointed 49 fellow club members by a healthy margin at the end of their March-through-February year. Although panfish action was a bit off with the moon squarely between the ‘full’ and ‘new’ phases, weekend catches of bluegill, shellcracker, and warmouths were reasonably strong on Orange and its sister lake, Lochloosa. Lochloosa Harbor saw numerous nice catches; most pulled from the north end of the lake by fishers using crickets or grass shrimp for bait. Cooperative weekend weather helped anglers score fine Gulf Coast catches. Two Steinhatchee-based saltwater tournaments, the Fishing for Kids Saltwater Trout Tournament and the Big Bend Bash, saw lots of participants and nice fish. In ‘the Bash’, mackerel results were the most impressive. Brian Kiel and his kids, Casey and Kaitlyn boated an 18-pound, 15-ounce king…and also a 4-pound, 15-ounce Spanish. Saturday, May 3rd, Suwannee Cove Marina will host another longtime favorite fishing event when the Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club holds its 22nd Annual Fishin’ Tournament. This one is “open to everyone who loves to fish,” and always attracts a fun-loving crowd of hopeful casters. Call Freddy Pearson @ 352-317-6530 for more. Dependable redfish and trout action remains the rule down at the south end of the Big Bend, but weekend grouper guides fared even better. Saturday, Homosassa Capt. Bill Musser’s party of three docked with 13 hefty grouper up to 18-pounds. They fished live pinfish in water 40-feet deep. Capt. Don Chancy’s Sunday party of four dropped frozen Spanish sardines to the bottom in water 30-to-35-feet deep to bag 20 keepers. Hometown angler, David Wagner caused a ruckus Sunday when a chunk of cut bait he cast into the Homosassa River from shore at McRae’s Marina was eaten by a huge tarpon. The 100-plus-pound beauty cleared the water three times to the shouts and cheers of onlookers drinking and dining at the Tiki Bar. The big fish eventually got away.

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


04-22-08

In these turbulent days of conflict and shaky economy, area anglers can take comfort in the fact that area fresh and salt waters are presently in nice shape and that fishing is very good. Among the lakes within fifty miles of Gainesville, a few lakes stand out at the top of the ‘best fishing’ list. Lochloosa would be near the top, turning out nice bunches of bluegill, shellcracker, and catch-and-release bass. Dewey Edwards of Callahan fished crickets on the northwest side Saturday to ice 21 thick shellcracker. He returned Sunday to add 25 more big ‘crackers to his fish fry stock. Bob and Lloyd Miller of Lochloosa and Lake City also chose crickets Tuesday to work a shellcracker and bluegill bed they had previously located in water 3-feet deep just off the east shore. By noon, the brothers had 60 big fish on ice. Another fish-catching team of brothers, Steve and Bruce Tenney, went after speckled perch Saturday in deeper water. They hauled in nine good-sized specks before the wind picked up to the point of disrupting their drifts.

Jay Pease took time out from fish camp duties at Lochloosa Harbor and fished Firecracker-colored crappie jigs in a Lochloosa creek to take 25 big warmouths. And Friday, Joe Freeman of Newberry and Henry Manassa of Gainesville cast Zoom Flukes in a Lochloosa hydrilla bed to lure ten bass up to 5-pounds. Every fish was in the 14-to-24-inch protected slot and all were promptly released. Fishing is just about as good on Rodman, Orange, and Newnan’s Lakes. At the annual Save Rodman Reservoir bass tournament, well over a hundred boats lined up in the pre-dawn darkness along the canal at Kenwood Landing, waiting for take-off. While most were big, sleek, and fancy; one boat belonging to Arkie and Tercel Mullins stood out a bit—a small vessel powered by a 25-horsepower ‘kicker.’ That afternoon at weigh-in, the little Mullins craft had hung in with the fancy rigs just fine. With a limit weighing 17.65-pounds, Arkie and his young son posted a strong 5th place overall finish. And Tercel, who turns six on Friday the 25 th, caught a couple of the keepers. East Coast action is strong overall in the Matanzas area, with drum, bluefish, and jacks all plentiful. But, by far, it is the sudden arrival of a great wave of flounder that has anglers most excited. A fisherman looking to weigh his catch lugged a doormat-sized flatfish in to Devil’s Elbow Sunday. The flounder pulled the needle down to the nine-pound mark. And that was plenty big to command the full attention of the local flounder fans. Gulf Coast results were again excellent over the weekend…both from inshore and offshore. Bob and Al Foster fished off Cedar Key Sunday aboard Kenny McLean’s 23 Contender. In water around 70-feet deep, the men first trolled Stretch 30 lures, each letting out well over a hundred yards of thin Power Pro Spectra line to allow the diving plugs to reach greater depths. Trolling success was slow, so the anglers were glad when the wind died sufficiently to allow them to anchor and bottom fish effectively. Dropping live pinfish and frozen squid to the bottom, they boated 18 good grouper and a nice mangrove snapper. Winning catches in the 13th Annual Citrus County Builders Association tournament held Saturday and Sunday out of Crystal River were as follows:

Trout: Bobby Kelly III 4.74-pounds @ 24.5-inches.

Redfish: Jimmy Kofmehi 6.90-pounds @ 26.2-inches.

Grouper: Dave Moore 16.16-pounds @ 32.75-inches.

Cobia: 13.66-pounds @ 34.25-inches.

Perhaps the most impressive catch of all, though, was the redfish taken by Jeremiah Cariucci…a fish that sported no fewer than 93 spots.

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


04-15-08

Although the panfish free-for-all is presently a little quieter in area lakes, bream and speckled perch experts know that another full moon is coming Sunday, and that action will again be fast at its arrival. Normally, the speckled perch spawn in our area is finished by late-April, having given way to the year’s initial wave of bedding bream. But this year hasn’t been normal. A number of fishers continue to report catching big, female specks still full of roe…so we have to assume that there’s at least one more session ahead. Last Friday, Ron Gaylon of Hawthorne fished tiny jigs in Lochloosa’s North End pads to take 25-specks and 10 thick warmouth. On the same day and in the same area, Tracy Parker fished crickets to entice 28 big bluegill. Saturday, Mr. Lee docked at Lochloosa Harbor with a 25-speck limit plus three bream, while David Barrett caught and released a beautiful 7-pound bass. Although the seasonal outpouring of fresh, ‘red’ water into the usually-clear Suwannee flats still has the water in that area off-color, anglers are managing better catches all the time. Capt. Jon Farmer’s customers have all been treated to nearly-nonstop mackerel action recently. The Suwannee guide likes to drift the slowly-clearing Spotty Bottom area while free-lining shrimp. “The Spanish are kinda small, but they’re thick as fleas,” Farmer said. “With light spinning tackle, they’re lots of fun.” Kingfish, too, are in good supply, and Capt. Jon’s parties have boated fish up to 10-pounds while drifting with the light, 8-pound-test line. The technique, though, is not without pitfalls. “One big king did tear up a reel the other day.” Trout and redfish action is also good in the gulf shallows. Friday, Capt. John Leibach fished the flats north of Horseshoe Beach with Dr. Ted Burns and Sean McCarthy. With live shrimp, the three anglers hauled in 20 redfish and scores of trout to 22-inches. And that’s not counting several incidental species including black drum, flounder, and Spanish mackerel. Saturday brought rougher conditions, but Capt. John returned to the productive flats with four fresh fishermen—his son Danny, Dr. Dick Childers, Dr. Bruce Bryant, and Stewart Hancock. Strangely, on this day they found no trout…but did release 50 redfish in the bluster. Doyle Hewitt did battle with a surprising early arrival while fishing out of Steinhatchee Saturday with fellow Gainesville anglers, Brian Dixon and Ken Elwood. Casting a Gulp! bait for trout, Hewitt hooked a big fish. It was soon evident that this was no trout, as a six-foot tarpon cleared the water. With 12-pound test line, it seemed that the battle would be a short one. But Hewitt’s buddies fired up the engine and followed the big fish; keeping enough line on the reel to prolong the battle in a building wind. Finally, after a forty-minute fight and six jumps, the line parted with the big tarpon at boatside. Grouper fishers are reporting very good results out of every Big Bend port, with those running farther offshore faring best. Out of Homosassa Saturday, Capt. Bill Musser’s party of five hauled its full allotment of 25 good grouper from water 60-plus feet deep. The same day Capt. Don Chancy and his party of three anglers worked spots in just 30-feet of water to take ten legal gags. And Homosassa cobia numbers are increasing each week. Casting artificial eels, Chris Wilkins has boated three bragging-size ling over the last few days.

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


04-08-08

Emergency crews had only just arrived. Glass, wood, concrete, and splintered cane poles still were strewn and heaped on the store floor in front of a pickup truck, also partly inside. A few of us were taking in the surreal scene from outside the store when John Courtney pulled into the parking lot. He surveyed the wreckage silently, then abruptly offered, “Wanna see some fish?” In the middle of a very strange Monday, we had to laugh. It was a timely reminder that, although the situation was anguishing, nobody had been hurt and things would soon be back to normal at The Tackle Box. And we did walk over to check out John’s ice chest nearly filled with big early-season bluegill and shellcracker. “Caught ’em all in Orange Lake with worms—in one hour,” the expert panfisher said. Then, almost as if the sight was a routine one, Courtney mused, “Somebody didn’t stop, huh?” We have seen similar occurrences on the news for years, but the sights and sounds of such an accidental storefront ramming are unforgettable. A twelve-by-eight foot window from the pre-safety glass era rains down following impact for what seems like an eternity. But back to fishing. Along with the Orange Lake bream that are suddenly biting like crazy in McIntosh Bay near the Heagy-Burry boat ramp, bream on Lochloosa also have kicked their feeding up a notch. Lily pad beds around the lake all are holding bluegill that will take worms, crickets, and grass shrimp; as well as speckled perch that nab shrimp and minnows best. The flooded brush and cypress trees that ring Newnan’s Lake also are producing bream, warmouth, and specks for fishers using the same baits. In an attempt to eradicate the latest non-native threat to the health of area waters, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission personnel will close the Newnan’s ramp at Windsor on Thursday, April 10 and Friday, the 11th. They will be treating the area near the ramp in hopes of eradicating an infestation of the island apple snail, a South American species that first made an appearance at this site a few months back. When a bird watcher reported the big, pink egg clusters in September, it was the first introduction of the dangerous interloper ever noted in the entire Orange Creek Basin watershed. We’re sure pulling for the good guys here. This large snail species could eventually wipe out huge amounts of essential aquatic vegetation if it spreads successfully. Rough weather limited weekend offshore trips, but anglers fishing the Gulf Coast flats again scored well. The water remains dark in the proximity of the Suwannee River mouth, and bites are tougher to find in this stained water. The clear flats near Steinhatchee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, Crystal River, and Homosassa offer better prospects for near-shore fishers looking for redfish, trout, and Spanish mackerel. Some of the best-known spots to catch spawning sheepshead during March and April are presently in the sector of gulf stained by the river water, so catches there remain sub par. Of the best-known sheepshead spots outside the Suwannee area, Steinhatchee Reef has probably produced the best results most consistently.

And that’s this week’s report. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box…NOT offering drive-through service.


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March

03-25-08

While it’s an excellent month for fishing overall, March does throw some trying challenges at anglers. First, it’s not called ‘the windy month’ for nothing. Countless fishers either caught far less than they might have-or were forced to cancel fishing trips altogether over the last few weeks due to high winds. And just when the wind finally eased off to a pesky breeze, a couple of unusually-cold post-Easter nights again altered the fishing scene.

But successful fishing often involves dealing with unfavorable elements and changes. A bunch of area anglers are making impressive hauls as ‘the windy month’ winds down. They have remained in the shallows all the way into spring; but now, there are signs that the annual speckled perch spawn is winding down in most lakes. More fishers are choosing worms and crickets for bait, while the crazy number of Missouri minnows we’re counting is beginning to taper off. On Newnan’s Lake (where we now know that an amazing year-class of specks was hatched three years ago,) the panfish ratio remains at least five-specks caught to every bluegill or warmouth. Fishers on other area lakes such as Orange and Lochloosa, though, have started reporting bream and specks in nearly-equal numbers. Bass, too, are making some serious noise with Lochloosa and Orange Lake anglers. Dave Bennett was fishing out of Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp Sunday evening when an enormous fish engulfed the topwater frog lure he cast. A little later at the camp, the monster weighed 12-pounds, 1-ounce. After a couple of photos, Bennett released the huge bigmouth—even though, at 26 ½-inches, it could have been legally kept as a trophy. An unusual slot limit on Orange and Lochloosa allows each angler to keep three bass per day, but every fish must be either shorter than 15-inches or longer than 24-inches. The special limit has been in place for some years now, and it certainly seems to be working. Speaking of Orange and Lochloosa, there have been lots of questions regarding boat-launching possibilities since the water rose with nice March rains. Actually, not a lot has changed in that department. On Lochloosa, the Highway 301 ramps at Lochloosa Harbor and at the public ramp a short distance south of it remain the top launch spots. Cross creek is not navigable by larger boats, and most boats still cannot access Orange from Marjorie Rawlings Park without a mighty struggle. Small vessels can put in at Mikes Fish Camp (at Boardman off Hwy. 441,) but larger boats are still stuck with the long, steep ramp at Heagy-Burry Park. While we’re talking boat ramps, here’s a rundown of the possibilities at other nearby favorite fishing spots. At Lake Santa Fe, there are no problems at the Melrose ramp or at the North End ramp on Little Santa Fe. Rodman Reservoir, however, has been tricky of late, as the pool level is on the rise following a winter drawdown. For a couple of weeks, the temporary ramps were flooded but the water wasn’t yet high enough to use the standard ramps. Now we’re told that the water is sufficiently high at Kenwood and Orange Springs to accommodate most vessels. On the Gulf Coast, avid anglers endured a trout closure through February and a month-long grouper closure in Federal waters that ended March 15. Although fans of both species were chomping at the bit to get back after them, that furious March wind kept most away. Finally, nicer conditions arrived last weekend. Capt. Bill Musser took a party of five to a rocky-bottomed spot in 40-feet of water off Homosassa. Fishing frozen baitfish on the bottom, each angler hauled in a 5-grouper limit. Rodney McRae and his sister, Cathy didn’t run as far offshore, stopping on a 25-foot-deep spot. Here, the Spanish sardines they dropped to the bottom produced nine good gags. Richard and Cindy Scibeck and Marty Gray fished the grass flats out of Horseshoe Beach Saturday. Since all three anglers are or have been in the fishing tackle business, they decided to conduct an experiment. Richard, Cindy, and Marty used varieties of popular new scent-releasing shrimp tails, each casting samples produced by a different company. Two of the hyper-scented baits already had strong reputations, while the third was a relatively untested and soon-to-be-released product. And the three anglers were surprised when this new shrimp tail was the clear winner, accounting for more trout (45) than the other two combined. On this day, at least, a saltwater bait called “Fishbites Xtreme” was king.

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


03-18-08

Things are about as crazy around The Tackle Box right now as I have seen in my 30-plus years here. The seemingly-sudden resurgence of a productive Newnan’s Lake is the reason. Folks are rolling up in the parking lot towing boats that haven’t seen a lake in thirty years…with outboard motors that would seem to have almost no hope of running. Those without boats arrive early to stake out the most prime spots along the boat ramp canal at Powers Park. For hours at a time, they line up for bait and tackle like we’re hot dog vendors during halftime at a Gator game. It is a too-rare reminder of the excitement Gainesville’s nearest major body of water is capable of creating. Twenty five years ago, when area freshwater fishing was in another class of productivity, crowded boat ramps here during spring were standard fare. Now the fish-catching is great again, and a brand new generation of fishers is taking advantage of it. The mix of people looking to get in on the Newnan’s Lake speckled perch action is most interesting. Some enjoyed catching fish here when the lake was in its prime back in the sixties—but many are inexperienced or even first-timers, fishing from shore with minimal gear. And the great thing is, everybody seems to be catching fish. Monday, even a stiff wind didn’t limit the fervor of the now-daily circus. And again, catches were excellent. Gainesville anglers, Stan McCandless and Brian Roe came in with 50-specks—the largest half of the 100-or-so they caught in all while casting yellow jig heads adorned with white Crappie Slider grubs in the North End shallows. Their cooler also held 15 thick warmouth, two fat-headed catfish (one weighed 5-pounds,) and a 4-1/2-pound bass. Good speck and bass fishing can also be found on Lochloosa, and Lake Santa Fe is turning out great bass catches. And, with the daily crowds at Newnan’s, the angling competition on these two lakes has to be greatly diminished. The wind that failed to thwart speck-seekers has, however done in offshore anglers looking for grouper in deeper gulf waters. This morning, Nancy Bushey of McRae’s Marina at Homosassa said, “We haven’t been able to get a single boat out there since Saturday, when the season reopened. It’s just been too windy.” Near-shore trout and redfish seekers at Homosassa, on the other hand, have enjoyed great success. Sunday, Capt. Mark Zorn’s party of three took both redfish and trout limits while casting the flats near the river. The reds took gold spoons and cut bait, while the trout (including one 25-inch whopper) fell for jigs and shrimp. William Toney’s Sunday party filled limits nearly as nice, and Capt. Don Chancy’s three-person party also maxed out on both species Monday. One of Florida’s signature inshore favorites continues to show signs that it is expanding its territory up the Gulf Coast in this age of global warming. In a bass club tournament two weekends ago, several members of the Bassmasters of Gator Country reported catching and releasing sizable snook in Crystal River with lures intended to attract largemouth bass. And, if that’s not convincing enough, consider this one. Fishing cut mullet about a mile upriver from Fowler’s Bluff on the Suwannee River, Josh McLeod and friends hooked something other than the expected catfish. Yep, it was a 26-inch snook. Gulf sheepshead fans have braved choppy seas to take big bunches of spawning fish that are now biting well on nearly every natural and artificial reef off Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee. And East Coast anglers say that abundant bluefish are easy to find at Matanzas Inlet and throughout the inland waterway. They join sheepshead and black drum as the top targets of angling locals.

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


03-11-08

The strong, wet front that blew through our area late last week interrupted some very good fishing, but no true sportsman complained. The resulting several-inch rise in lake levels will pay angling dividends for months to come. And actually, not every angler allowed the nasty weather to postpone his fish-catching. Dave Jamerson and Wade Lynn drew some head shakes and chuckles Friday when, wearing heavy rain gear, they came into the store and purchased 7 dozen minnows. Then the Gainesville men proceeded out into the driving rain to launch their boat into Newnan’s Lake. They returned later to let us know that they had pulled in 75 speckled perch during the downpour, keeping 50 fish up to 1 and 1/2-pounds. Lynn said, “On average, we caught bigger specks that we had been catching in nicer weather.” Perhaps even more amazingly, Jamerson and Lynn returned Saturday morning. As bad as things had been the day before, Saturday’s incredibly windy conditions offered even tougher angling prospects. But the intrepid pair came off the lake a few hours later with another good catch. “We got another limit, but it’s nasty out there,” Lynn offered with a shudder. Things improved quickly weather-wise, and Sunday saw many great Newnan’s catches. Gainesville’s James Scott fished from the aluminum fishing pier at Powers Park. His 3-dozen minnows produced a very impressive take consisting of 23 specks and 20 catfish. The same day, Ronnie Smith and Lannie Starling combined to box a 50-fish double limit of Newnan’s specks, plus 25 catfish. A few of the ‘cats’ taken by the Gainesville brothers weighed as much as 4 pounds.

While crappie tallies have been the biggest fishing newsmakers lately, area bass anglers have quietly been picking up good fish. Bald Eagle Bait and Tackle’s annual open bass tournament on Lake Santa Fe happened to fall on the terribly-blustery Saturday…and any middling success, really, in the 30-to-45 mph wind would have been somewhat surprising. Catches were not just surprising—they were amazing. The Gainesville team of Don House and Keith Chapman bagged a very fine 5-bass limit that weighed 17.37-pounds to win. Wayne Geiger and Buddy Gouge boated the tourney’s largest single fish at 7.8-pounds. Even the fifth-place team, the last to earn a paycheck in the windstorm, had 12.26-pounds—a respectable catch even in ideal weather. Offshore saltwater anglers are excited that grouper season will reopen Saturday following a month-long closure. Inshore gulf enthusiasts, on the other hand, are most excited that speckled trout fishing is improving steadily every week. Even though the big rain Friday dumped more than six inches on Gulf Hammock, the dark water the Waccasassa River sent out into Waccasassa Bay apparently did not hurt the saltwater fishing. Trout fans here reported their best action of the season early this week. Keith Petteway of Williston and Floyd Graham of Daytona manned one of the vessels that docked at the Waccasassa Fishing Club Monday with both trout and redfish limits. They made the good haul while casting jigs on the flats near the “Cedar Key Pole.”

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


03-04-08

Some long-awaited good saltwater news headlines this week’s report. Speckled trout season has resumed (following the annual February closure in North Florida) with a bang out of most ports along the Big Bend coast. Not only that, but spawning gulf sheepshead are finally beginning to gather on natural and artificial reefs out in deeper water. Homosassa guides have had no trouble putting their customers on plenty of trout through the first few days of March—and most have been able to fill quick redfish limits on the way back to the river for good measure. Captains Don Chancy, William Toney, and Marvin Williams all accomplished this on Monday. Most of the top trout results have come from the zone known as the “Bombing Range,” in water about 6-feet deep.

Although not every well-known March sheepshead spot is producing yet, at least a few are. Capt. Jon Farmer’s parties took limits of sizable fish on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The veteran Suwannee captain, however, had to search long and hard for the early spawners. “I haven’t had a bite yet on Hedemon Reef or Spotty Bottom,” he said, “and only a couple of the artificial reefs off Horseshoe Beach in water about 32-feet deep have fish that are willing to bite.” Here, though, they are willing enough that his parties boated “about 600-pounds” of the banded battlers over the three-day period, releasing many. Interestingly, Farmer’s fishers also released 25 short grouper and even pulled two legal gags from spots within the “State waters” boundary that failed to yield sheepshead. Farmer is a bit concerned, though, that the “muddy water pouring out of the Suwannee” following heavy North Florida and South Georgia rainfall will have a negative effect on the blossoming sheepshead bite. Sheepshead are in the East Coast news, as well. Fishing Sunday around pilings of the Matanzas Inlet Bridge, local anglers, Andy Echols and Brett Hudson fooled 20 sheepshead with live fiddlers. But the big news was the largest fish of the bunch—a whopper that weighed all of 12-pounds and rated as the biggest seen at Devil’s Elbow in years. Speckled perch are still the biggest deal in local fresh waters. Daily 25-speck limits were again standard fare over the weekend at Newnan’s Lake, with most of the generally-medium-sized fish coming from water less than two-feet deep. Green crappie jigs and minnows are the best baits. Although some of the best catches on Lochloosa are also being made in the shallows, it was the mid-lake depths that yielded the best catch of the weekend there. Along with his brother and grandson, Mr. Farmer of Sumter County drifted minnows in open water Saturday to take 65 nice-sized crappie.

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


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February

02-26-08

Things are looking good these days for freshwater fishers. Recent rains have brought some lakes up as much as 6-inches, bass reports are on the increase, and fine daily speckled perch action is standard in the shallows of many nearby lakes. Bill Deashong fished 18-to-24-inch-deep water on the South End of Lochloosa Wednesday to take a nice 25-fish limit of spawning specks. The Citra fisherman used minnows to make the good catch. Sunday, Ted Elliott of Cross Creek went after specks with Keith, his brother visiting from Wisconsin. The Elliotts fished minnows on a #2 gold Aberdeen hook below a “little bitty split shot and a tiny cork” to pull 40 specks from shallow-water Lochloosa pads. They kept the 30 best fish. Rob and Leslie, a Canadian couple spending a few days in Lochloosa Harbor’s RV Park, simply paddled a rental boat out from the camp Friday and into a nearby lily pad bed. With minnows, the visitors enticed 25 specks. They returned Saturday to the pads standing in water two-feet deep to take 18 more. Although the great majority of anglers picking through the Newnan’s Lake shallows are searching for specks, abundant tales of incidental catches show that there’s much more to find here. Sunday, John and Bridget Weeks and Jimmy Watts fished minnows around shallow cover. The three pulled in not only twenty nice specks; but also a bass, a mudfish, a few gar, and 15 catfish of 2-pounds or better.

Ricky Hutchinson stopped by The Tackle Box Tuesday holding an impressive pair of bass up high. Along with his dad, Roosevelt, Ricky had fished night crawlers in a pond near his home in Hawthorne to fool the hefty brace. On tested scales, the fish each weighed within a couple ounces of seven-pounds. “We released two more that were even bigger,” the proud angler added. On the saltwater front, warmer-than-usual water has (for now, at least,) the flats already holding shallow-water favorites such as trout. And, of course, open season for the spotted coastal favorites will resume Saturday, March first. Crystal River Capt. Mark Zorn took a party out on a catch-and-release trip Monday. They enjoyed fast action, taking a few nice redfish and sheepshead–and several nice trout. Crystal River anglers will celebrate the reopening of speckled trout season in North Florida with a trout tournament to be held out of Pete’s Pier Saturday. During the month-long trout closure, some anglers turned to redfish with good success. Carlton Annis and Donnie Woods fished Sunday with Capt. Glen Touchton out of Crystal River. On the afternoon trip, the three men boated between 20-and-25 reds ranging in length from 16-to-29-inches. Their best luck came while fishing dead shrimp around high tide south of the river. East Coast anglers say that warm-water fish are showing up early on their side of the State, as well. Lucas Smith and Terry Bottom worked boat docks in Matanzas River Monday with live shrimp and artificial Gulp! shrimp. The local experts picked up a nice mix of trout, redfish, and flounder…and they even boated a few jack crevalle.

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


02-19-08

With seasons presently closed for two top targets, saltwater fishing activity on the Big Bend Coast is slow these days. Captains that normally rely on speckled trout and grouper to please clients now must be creative in order to accomplish that goal. Capt. William Toney is one guide that has this down to an art. Sunday, the Homosassa guide took a pair of customers out with the idea of showing them lots of bites from varied species. At day’s end, they docked at McRae’s Marina with two good Spanish mackerel, three big sheepshead, a 23-inch redfish, and a load of sizable black sea bass. Mission accomplished. Occasional anglers looking for shallow-water action during the remainder of the February trout closure will probably do best with redfish. On the gulf side, the top red reports have come from Suwannee and Waccasassa-area creeks and from the St. Martin’s Keys that can be reached from the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers. Shallower backwaters on Matanzas River, too, are yielding nice red results for fishers on the Atlantic side of the State. For Florida freshwater anglers, February is a top month for bass and speckled perch. Folks are locating Lochloosa specks a little better these days-many in open pockets in thick hydrilla beds that are scheduled to be chemically treated in about a month. Saturday, Jacksonville anglers, Mr. Reddish and Mr. Shealy picked up 20 good specks in water two-feet deep just above Little Lochloosa. They used minnows to make the nice haul. Sunday, Mike Buncha picked up several specks, while William Conners caught and released 8 bass in a Lochloosa Harbor rental boat. The largemouths ranged in size from 2-to-3-pounds. Mr. Turner again demonstrated that his unusual method produces specks a little better than most. The Lochloosa resident fished from his brightly-lighted pontoon boat Friday night to take a good bunch of specks topped by a hefty 2-pound, 4-ounce slab. For fast action, Newnan’s retains the crappie crown among area lakes. Gainesville’s closest major lake again received tons of angling attention over the weekend. This time, the shallow old pond produced very well. Most anglers concentrating their efforts in sufficiently-shallow water scored with fine hauls of keeper-size specks. In fact, several weekend fishers reported culling through nearly a hundred fish to fill legal 25-fish limits of nice-sized examples. James and Barbara Chatman fished the shallow cover in the north end of Newnan’s Sunday evening. With a “green head jig” in water just a foot deep, the Gainesville couple hauled in 25 good specks-plus a catfish so big that James couldn’t grasp it with one hand. And they caught every fish in just two hours. While a small handful of bass have been taken here, it’s clear that Newnan’s is presently a lake that will best satisfy folks looking for panfish and catfish.

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


02-12-08

It happens often enough to defy the law of averages…a good bite develops in a nearby lake or lakes and word gets out. When a nice weekend follows, tons of folks break out the fishing gear—some for the first time in years. And, of course, despite all of the positive indications, the fish don’t bite very well. The fishing version of Murphy’s Law surfaced once more last weekend. Newnan’s and Lochloosa Lakes had been putting out the speckled perch well…until the weekend brought hundreds of anglers to each. The lakes were generally stingy, and some of the infrequent fishers were discouraged. The more serious variety of angler will not be put off, and some will be on hand to enjoy speck action that is yet to peak. And then there are the dialed-in locals able to catch fish whether they’re biting well or not. At the Lochloosa Public Boat Ramp late Sunday afternoon, anglers taking boats out of the lake related accounts of their fishing day to John Duncan of the FWC. The overall accounts of the fishing had not been too inspiring to the longtime fish and game officer. About that time, a small aluminum boat pulled up to the dock and a thin, bearded man with a floppy hat jumped out. A cheery bounce in his step told the disgruntled group that his fishing day had gone better than theirs. When the man opened his ice chest to reveal a limit of slabs (several pushing the two-pound mark,) the empty-handed fishermen shook their heads in disbelief. But the anglers at the ramp didn’t know that John Courtney has been the top speckled perch angler on this lake for quite a while. Newnan’s specks saw the largest number of boats on that lake in years–and succeeded in sending most weekend anglers home without the big catches they expected. Fortunately, the crappies’ feeding attitude recovered quickly. Cory Johnson fished alone on the west side of Newnan’s Monday with minnows set under corks, and filled an impressive 25-speck limit by just after noon. Many of his best fish appeared to be slab males taken, he said, from water only a foot-and-a-half deep. Josh Beckwith made an epic catch Sunday while fishing for specks at the Buckman Lock, between Rodman Reservoir and the St. John’s River. With ultralight spinning gear and six-pound test line, the High Springs angler battled a whopping foe “back and forth across the canal for thirty minutes.” At the end of the fight, a huge, 35-pound blue catfish lay in Beckwith’s boat to accompany the fifteen nice specks already there. Gulf Coast anglers are limited these days as to the species they can legally harvest. Gulf grouper are off-limits from February 15 until March 15 outside State waters, and speckled trout season is closed through February on both North Florida coasts. Trout fishers scored very well right up through the last day of January, and grouper anglers likewise made outstanding offshore catches in the days leading up to the recently-imposed closure. These anglers, though, will have to concentrate on different finny targets for a while.

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


02-05-08

It’s that much-anticipated time of year when speckled perch head for shallow cover to spawn. Every year, one or two bodies of water locally stand out as the best producers bedding slabs, and it is always interesting to try and predict which will produce best. If the early primaries are good indication, this year’s winner will be a big surprise. North Central Florida’s old-time favorite lake for specks is making some serious noise again. All access points to Newnan’s Lake have been very busy for a week now…and the reason can be determined any day with a quick creel survey. Light-tackle fishers and cane-polers alike are hauling in great numbers of specks. Monday, Orville Prickett nearly filled a 25-fish limit before a broken trolling motor propeller ended his fishing day. Last week, the longtime Newnan’s angler took speck limits four days running. He offered his productive technique to anybody interested in getting in on the good action. “I’m setting a little speck jig about a foot under a float, and pulling it past the flooded bushes where the water’s a couple of feet deep. I quit using minnows when I found out that they’d bite bare jigs just as fast.” Access is not a problem for most vessels…but the water is low, and larger boats and motors will have a harder time getting around in the shallow lake. Adam Franson tried the Newnan’s specks Friday. Armed with cane pole and minnows, the Windsor angler pulled in scores of fish, keeping a nice-sized limit. Franson returned Saturday to pull thirty more specks from around the stickups standing in shallow water. John Courtney stopped by the store Tuesday with clear evidence that Newnan’s is not the only good lake choice for the crappie-minded. His ice chest held 25 impressive Lochloosa specks—lighter in color and, on average, larger than the Newnan’s examples we have seen. The largest of the bunch weighed 2-pounds, 4-ounces on our tested scales. Although the big female fish seemed to be roe-filled, Courtney caught them in deeper water, far from standard spawning territory. T. J. Shear and Tim Nielsen located a good bunch of specks in lily pads on a nearby lake they declined to pinpoint. Friday, the Gainesville pair showed off 17 amazing specks averaging at least two pounds. They returned Saturday to pull in 17 more, again finding the fish while dipping minnows around pads with cane poles. Shear went to the hot spot again Tuesday morning, but fell below the lofty standard set on the previous trips. At noon, he weighed 16 specks that tipped the Tackle Box scales to 19.5-pounds. “As long as it stayed overcast and there was a ripple on the water, the fish bit. When the sun came out and it calmed off, they quit,” Shear stated flatly. These are tough times for grouper fishers, who rightfully feel that their sport (and for some, livelihood) has been attacked. Federal regulators looking to reduce gag grouper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico by 45-percent have imposed a permanent month-long grouper closure for recreational anglers in the Gulf of Mexico from February 15 until March 15. But that’s not the tough part.

The proposed changes are the ones that could, for many, destroy a way of life. It is the recommendation of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s Reef Fish Management Committee that there be no recreational bottom fishing for grouper between January 15 and April 15 every year, spanning the peaks of the red and gag grouper spawning seasons. During the nine ‘open’ months, recreational anglers could keep three grouper per person, per trip; but with only one of them being a gag. Commercial fishers would also face a new, stricter quota on gags—but it is scheduled to be relaxed in subsequent years. Experience tells us that recreational limits never relax later. The final rules will be imposed at the Council’s April meeting.

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


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January

01-29-08

A North Florida panfish enthusiast wanting to schedule his fishing vacation at the peak of speckled perch season would be well-advised to put in for the days surrounding either the new or the full moon in February. Some years, the crappies’ annual move into the spawning shallows happens a bit earlier…and it can occur later, too, if February conditions are particularly harsh…but either of these weeks would be a good call.

Although everybody enjoys drifting for specks that are roaming through the deeper water during the fall and early winter seasons, any angler that has really located the big spawning slabs in shoreline cover such as grass, limbs, and logs will attest to the supremacy of the sport during this phase. Unfortunately, unlike the spawns of other favorites such as bass and bluegill, it is a short window of opportunity—often coming and going before the angler can find a free day to hit the lake.

Just a week or so back, speck catches suddenly increased in some area lakes following a strangely-slow spell. The Phillips/Jones duo filled a double 50-speck limit while slow-trolling minnows in Lochloosa Friday. Billy and Frank Atkins also had good luck in deep water the same day, icing 25 nice fish. Good speck catches continued Saturday, a day that also saw the first really good Lochloosa bass reported this year—a 9-pound, 1-ounce lunker that was weighed and released. Sunday, James Walker of Adel, Ga. docked at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp with a whopping 2-pound, 2-ounce slab that he took with a minnow at the junction of Big and Little Lochloosa. Tuned-in speckers, though, have offered the most revealing reports. During evening hours, some have pulled handfuls of big specks from near-shore maidencane and lily pads. These would be the first of the spawn-minded slabs checking out potential spots to procreate.

Reports of shallow specks have already come from several other area lakes, as well. Among these are Newnan’s, Wauburg, and Alto. Referring to February fishing on the gulf coast, one captain said, “It’s a good month to have your equipment checked out serviced.” Aside from speckled trout season closing for the month, redfish don’t tend to be particularly active and the cold flats are almost devoid of the small baitfish that attract any of the predators that will be in ready supply in a couple of months. Only sheepshead action is typically on the rise in the gulf during February—and both Homosassa and Crystal River marinas did mention increasing numbers of the banded battlers taken from rocky holes in each river. So far, however, there have been no promising stories regarding their gathering in the spawning areas a short run from shore. Out deep, grouper fishing remains good, but days suitable for offshore trips can be few and far between in late winter. Last Wednesday, Charlie Blackwell, Skip Christie, Bill Cushman, Paul Daugherty, and Randy Hicks fished with Capt. Steve Hart of Legal Limit Charters out of Steinhatchee. Capt. Hart made several stops in spots from 12 to 38-miles offshore to put the five fishermen on 21 nice grouper that included a 15-pound gag and a 15-pound red. East Coast anglers have managed to stay with the black drum that have given them at least one dependable target in the inland waterway. Last week, Captains Jimmy Blount and Keith Waldron each put their parties on big numbers of drum that ran from three to five-pounds. A few nice-sized flounder were bonus catches.

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


01-22-08

There was a time when the last week of January and the first of February brought with them a circus-like atmosphere at The Tackle Box. Folks carrying buckets lined up at the minnow tank, sharing thoughts as to whether the speckled perch had made their annual move into the spawning shallows…and where the hottest spots might be. For most, the nearest lake was the favorite. Ask any longtime local freshwater angler about the speck fishing among Newnan’s Lakes’ flooded cypress trees just ahead of spring…but when you do, be prepared to listen for a while. It was a revered tradition. Fishers that would not wet a line for the rest of the year turned out to slip their little boats under the trees and around the knees as quietly as possible. Under the tall canopy of cypress, cane poles were the top choice for swinging minnows set under small corks alongside the woody cover. Indeed, there was something magical about watching the float disappear into the tannin-stained water, knowing that another slab had taken the bait. Through the 1970’s and most of the 1980’s during February weekends, it was not unusual to see vehicles with empty boat trailers parked along the shoulder of Highway 20 well above and below a maxed-out Powers Park. And that’s not to mention the packed lots at the Windsor landing and at McGilvary’s Fish Camp on Lakeshore Drive. These parking lots, though, have not been full in a long while.

There have been fine late-winter seasons for catching spawning crappie in some area lakes—most notably Lochloosa and Orange—but the storied Newnan’s speck fishing that became legendary among outdoors folk ended fairly abruptly about twenty years ago. One of the culprits contributing to the long recess in the Newnan’s Lake experience has been chronically-low water levels. Even though we have been aware of a growing population of specks in Newnan’s, the fish have been scattered and comparatively difficult to catch. Again this season, there is insufficient water surrounding those old cypresses to invite bedding specks. There are, however, lots of dead bushes out away from the trees—remnants of the 2000 drought that dried out much of the lake bottom. And now there are indications that specks have again gained a foothold in the ages-old lake and might utilize these ‘sticks’ for spawning cover. Saturday morning, Michael Kramer and Austin Marino launched their small boat at Powers Park. In the dreary chill, the young Gainesville fishermen floated minnows around the brush standing in water a couple of feet deep near the south end access point. Only an hour later, their vessel was back on the trailer with 28 specks aboard. The larger examples appeared to be thick with roe. It might not be quite the same as the old days, but the Newnan’s speck-spawn this year could be as close as we have seen in far too long.

Switching gears rather radically, Gulf Coast grouper fishers have also been scoring in the chilly January bluster. John Kimball and Carl Carrillo headed out from Cedar Key Saturday on a nasty, foggy, and rough day. The fishing was well worth the discomfort of the rough boatride. Dropping live baitfish to the bottom about 75-feet below, the Gainesville anglers hauled in 13 fine grouper up to a staggering 22-pounds. “That was the biggest gulf grouper either of us had ever caught,” said Carrillo. Extremely low tides continue to hinder the inshore angling efforts of many trout and redfish seekers along the gulf. “Yesterday was the lowest it’s been here in ten years,” declared Craig Bledsoe of McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa River. “A northeast wind during winter does it…but not usually this bad.” If conditions don’t change soon, trout fishers will miss their final shots at their favorites for a while. Speckled trout season closes during February in North Florida.

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


01-15-08

Reports from coastal creeks and rivers and from Rodman Reservoir continue to provide most of the angling highlights for this area…and a rainy spell held even these hot zones below par last weekend. Diehards that braved wet gulf coast boat rides found yet another hindrance to overcome, as extra-low tides added to their usual winter toll on propellers and lower units. During our weekly phone call to McRae’s Marina on the Homosassa River, Nancy Bushy underscored the typical skinny-water problems. “The tides have been so low…” said Bushy, “The water hasn’t even been coming in much at high tide. Our boats are sitting in the mud right now.” Bushy also mentioned that some fishers concentrating within the banks of the deeper Homosassa River have been having fun with the multitudes of ladyfish there. Nobody knows for sure whether the recent cold-weather mullet kill along much of the Big Bend coast was significant enough to bring changes that will affect anglers. There’s a buzz among anglers of the inland east coast waters. Some are searching the shallows and others are looking deep—and both techniques are working well for redfish seekers in the Matanzas area. Locals believe that a big influx of blue crabs in Matanzas River has the reds feeding like there’s no tomorrow. One redfishing group launched at Devil’s Elbow Saturday. Weighting live shrimp to the bottom in a deeper channel, the three anglers took quick limits and released thirty more ‘slot-size’ fish. Conversely, Capt. Jimmy Blount located a big school of reds on a shallow flat and was able to keep his eye on it all week long, releasing scores of nice fish. Folks looking to add to their cold-weather saltwater fishing knowledge should plan to attend the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s January 22nd meeting. Award-winning outdoor writer, Capt. Tommy Thompson annually makes great catches in winter, and the renowned flats master will offer some key tips. For the deep-water-minded, Capt. Wiley Horton will enlighten anglers regarding the capture of offshore targets such as grouper during cold weather. President of the Coastal Conservation Association’s Gainesville Chapter, guide, and tournament angler, Horton has long been a serious threat to big fish. Each speaker will offer a wealth of fish-catching knowledge at Lecture Hall ‘A’ of UF’s Veterinary Academic Building on S.W. 16th Avenue. Doors will open at 7:00 P.M. One fisherman calls the good fishing on Rodman Reservoir “like shootin’ ducks in a barrel.” The embattled backwater is in the midst of a scheduled weed control dewatering that will last until April. During these earlier days of the drawdown, at least, the duck allegory seems accurate. Big numbers of fishers are visiting the temporary boat ramps at Kenwood and Orange Springs every day—and most are leaving with fine catches of speckled perch and bream. Two Sundays ago, Johnell Young concentrated on deeper spots in the Barge Canal cut, allowing his little green and chartreuse crappie jig to settle slowly through the depths. “When I found a spot 14 to 17-feet deep, I would stop and cast,” the Gainesville angler said. The unhurried approach accounted for a hefty limit of specks, plus several chunky bass that the Gainesville fisherman promptly released. Johnell returned to the Orange Springs access point Monday with Earl Richardson, Jr. The specks were a little smaller on this trip, but just as willing. The men kept a double-limit of fish that were “hand-size” or better, and released about that many again. Florida LAKEWATCH, one of the largest lake monitoring programs in the nation, provides a huge service to all who use Florida’s waters. Over 2000 trained volunteer citizens monitor 600 lakes and 50 coastal sites throughout the State. Now, the program’s director, Dr. Dan Canfield, is trying to raise funds for a new LAKEWATCH building. To help with this, 2008 Florida LAKEWATCH calendars are now available, featuring beautiful photos taken by LAKEWATCH volunteers. They are available for donations. Please visit http://lakewatch.ifas.ufl.edu/ to download an order form. Let’s help the State’s most comprehensive and cost-effective monitoring program finally build its first home base after more than 20 years of service!

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


01-08-08

Anglers knew that the frigid front that blew through North Florida last week would have a big effect on the fishing scene. The only question was how dramatic that effect would be. For the most part, game fish seemed to handle the extended freeze pretty well. There were a few reports of scattered dead fish at Steinhatchee-mostly small redfish, mullet, and blue crabs—but larger game fish escaped in fine enough shape to bite well in the days that followed. Jim Myles of Micanopy and Doug Hancock of Alachua found the big trout in a feeding mood south of the Steinhatchee River Sunday morning around low tide. Casting white plastic twitchbaits in very shallow water, they boated thirty trout—most of which were over 20-inches long—and also released a couple of legal redfish. It was apparently the tidal creeks in the long stretch of coast from Suwannee to Waccasassa Bay that saw the worst works of the cold snap. When I called Spek Hayward of the Waccasassa Fishing Club Tuesday, he didn’t bother to break the news gently. “We have thousands of dead mullet out there,” he stated flatly. “Most of ’em are in the creeks between the (Waccasassa) river and Turtle Bay. In a couple of creeks, the grassy edges are white with mullet bellies.” Fortunately, Hayward and his friends have not seen any belly-up species other than mullet—and these are almost altogether small mullet. Still, like all old Florida salts, Spek loves mullet and understands the importance of this one species to the big picture of coastal health. He muttered with heartfelt melancholy, “It couldn’t have happened to the damn catfish.” Out deep, weekend grouper catches seemed as good as ever. The best results, though, did come from a little farther offshore. Homosassa Capt. Bill Musser guided a party of four to hefty grouper limits Sunday. Musser’s group fished Spanish sardines in water 45-feet deep. Now in its fully drawn-down state, Rodman Reservoir is clearly the best North Florida freshwater fish-catching destination. Kenny Brown and Cedric Ferguson are among the Gainesville anglers regularly taking advantage of the fast bite. Launching at Orange Springs, the fishing friends have a productive routine along the Barge Canal cut that dissects the pool. “We pull up and beach the boat, then put out minnows in the deeper water,” Kenny explained. Both Saturday and Sunday, their minnows produced fine catches consisting of speckled perch, bluegill, warmouth, and catfish. Michael Bush of Gainesville fished Rodman Thursday with his dad, Jim Bush of Crestview. Yes, that was the windy day after the 20-degree freeze. “We waited until 9:00 to go out, but it was still freezing,” laughed Michael, “and we only saw one other boat.” The Bushes would have the last laugh, however. They anchored their boat in vegetation on the edge of the old Ocklawaha River channel and freelined wild shiners. “When I finally did get a bite just after noon, it was the fish I’ve been looking for,” said Michael. On his Boga Grip, the lunker weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. After a quick photograph, the men slipped the big bass back into the chilly river channel.

And that’s this week’s report.


01-01-08

Before the big chill arrived, trout could still be found on the grass flats—an unusual happening at Christmastime. The Friday between Christmas and New Year’s Days found Jeff Kanipe of Gainesville and Jim Joiner trying their luck in the Cedar Key shallows. Kanipe of Gainesville hoped to put Joiner, his brother-in-law visiting from Tuscaloosa, on a good winter saltwater bite. Their first stop, Corrigan’s Reef, yielded just two small legal trout…but Kanipe had more spots to try. In a shallow area near Snake Key, a long and narrow band of grass produced two quick bites, so Joiner tied on a big Super Spook surface lure. It was then that the fishing puzzle was solved for a while. Joiner cast his large topwater bait while Kanipe chunked a smaller version, and the big trout found each irresistible for nearly an hour at low tide. Dozens of fish busted the big surface interlopers, and about thirty good-sized trout made it to the boat. The anglers filled the remainder of their ten-trout double limit with fish between 17-and-20-inches long, releasing several fish bigger than some already chosen for the ice chest. Then, suddenly, the bigger trout quit biting. “We caught a lot more after that flurry, but they were all small.” Still, the shallow-water holiday trip was a success. “It was an amazing 45 minutes,” Jeff smiled. At Lochloosa, the water color is milky and most fishers are finding the bite to be a bit tougher of late. But, while the numbers may be off this season, there’s no arguing with the size. Limits are scarce, but the average Lochloosa speck is a stout keeper.

At least a half-dozen slabs weighing better than two-pounds have been weighed at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp since Christmas. As far as we can tell, just one Hawthorne angler has unlocked the secret to consistently come in with both size and numbers of Lochloosa crappie. “People follow me,” said John Courtney, “but they can’t seem to catch ’em too well.” Courtney docked amid a bunch of envious anglers Saturday afternoon with his daily 25-fish limit of speckled perch. And again, his fish (taken in lake’s south end,) were uniformly large. Jealous fishers should not assume that Courtney’s fish-catching prowess is limited to the waters of Lochloosa. Friday afternoon, his 25-speck limit from Rodman was just as hefty as the Lochloosa bags have been. Funny thing…you can easily tell these days which of these two ‘hot’ speck lakes produced the fish you’re admiring. Lochloosa perch are almost all very light in color, while almost every Rodman speck is quite dark. Whether light or dark, here’s hoping you can get after the season’s most inviting angling targets real soon. That’s this week’s report.

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


All fishing reports are written by Gary Simpson, (c) 2008