2009 Fishing Report

2009 Archived Fishing Reports

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



Most cold weather anglers continue to fare best when targeting ‘specks.’

That’s speckled perch in fresh waters, and speckled trout on the coasts.

A bit surprisingly, the freshwater speck can be found in almost every depth range right now.Some crappie fishers on Lake Santa Fe are pulling fine catches from water 19-to-25-feet deep while tight-lining minnows straight down, without floats.And lots of fishers armed with minnows or small jigs in Lochloosa, Alto, Rodman, and Hampton Lakes are also finding fish in water at least six feet deep.

On the other hand, a few folks like Roger Elliott are pulling nice-sized specks from water less than two feet deep.Elliott, a Cross Creek resident, has been fishing minnows during the morning hours in Little Lochloosa’s lily pads beds to pick up consistently-impressive takes of skinny water specks.

Typically, big numbers of specks don’t move out of the deeper water into shallow cover until the first or second full moon of the New Year…but very little in fishing is totally predictable.Since a full moon falls on the last day of 2009, maybe the apparent move to spawn isn’t really as unusually-early as it seems.

Ronnie Joiner stopped in the store Tuesday afternoon with a nice bunch of big specks that he had just pulled from his favorite pond near Melrose . Joiner has caught scores of big specks over the last few weeks, so there was nothing very unusual about his catch (topped by a thick pound-and-a-half fish). Except, that is, the fact that they were the first he had located in shallow water this season.”It seems like they’re moving in early this year,” he said.

The speckled trout is, if anything, a little more predictable when the freezing nights start.A thin-skinned fish, they cannot handle the cold very well; and winter gulf anglers know that the trout will always seek the warmest water.Any spring-fed gulf river is always a good winter trout residence; and the Crystal River Power Plant’s warm water discharge canal is another fine refuge that has produced well in cold weather for years.

Even rivers whose feeder springs are far upriver and well away from trout-sustaining salinity do offer at least a degree or two of relief for the warmth-seeking specks.

One of the best bets in North Florida coastal fishing is this: Following a very cold night or string of nights, trout will be deep and hugging the bottom in or near the mouths of gulf rivers. Here, live shrimp or slow-moving shrimp or minnow-imitating lures fished very low in the water column are dependable producers.

For several days now, such a gathering of trout in Steinhatchee River has probably attracted the attention of the greatest number of Big Bend gulf anglers.

Christie Bunkley of Sea Hag Marina put it concisely, “Trout from 17-to-18 inches are at the mouth of the river in abundance,” adding that the most productive baits to date have been live shrimp and sinking Yozuri minnows.

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

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The just-finished 2009 Tackle Box Speck a thon produced some pretty impressive catches and revealed interesting data regarding the crappie fishery in North Central Florida.

Through the six-week competition, 371 signed in to fish.Contest rules made things a bit tough on entrants that had to catch fish on the same day they signed up…and had to make it back to weigh their fish by 5:30 on weekdays and by 4:30 on Saturdays.To boot, only big, slabby specks measuring at least 12-inches were accepted (and, yes, we measured and rejected dozens of fish just a few centimeters shy of that mark.)

Still, the final tally was 186 specks—demonstrating, we think, a pretty healthy crop of big crappies.Equally remarkable was the diversity of nearby lakes and ponds that yielded the jumbo specks.We weighed fish from Alto, Hampton , Lochloosa, Little Orange, Newnan’s, Orange , Rodman, Star, Wauburg, and an unnamed Melrose pond.

The winner in Total Weight, Tim Clark, took most of his incredible 97-fish total that weighed 127 pounds, 14 ounces from Little Orange; while the Melrose pond produced 76 specks totaling 81-14 for runner-up in the category, Ronnie Joiner.

In the Biggest Fish division, Gail Duncan’s 2-pound, 3-ounce whopper edged out Kevin Allen’s 2-02.Gail pulled her winning fish from Lake Wauburg . Kevin’s second-place slab came from Rodman Reservoir.

Four top winners—four different locations.

Paid in Tackle Box gift certificates, Gail’s winnings totaled $110.00, Tim’s combined weekly and overall take was $80.00, Kevin earned $60.00, and Ronnie picked up $35.00.

While we’re offering angling accolades, here are a few more notable 2009 accomplishments.

Skilled bass angler, Keith Chapman finished the 2009 as Angler of the Year in the Bassmasters of Gator Country with a total weight of 88.71 pounds accumulated in the club’s monthly tournaments.Chapman edged Benny Beckham (83.02) for the title.

Through the calendar year, Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club members seek gulf fish within the club’s “big eight” species.The heaviest of each receives maximum points, and smaller examples are worth relatively fewer points in Men’s, Women’s, and Youth Divisions.

Even this late in the year, a couple of the races for Ellett Angler of the Year awards remain too close to call.

Things are down to the wire in the men’s division, with Rick Davidson (146.62 points), Ken Knopf (144.45), and Allen Turner (135.13) all still in the hunt.Among the GOFC women, Debby Knopf (178.90) has a fairly safe lead over Debbie Carter (145.87).Ian Daniels had a solid hold on the Youth Division prize with 157.33 points.Ken, Debby, and Ian are all defending winners from 2008.

Currently, a building speckled trout bite in rivers along the Big Bend stretch of the gulf coast is the top saltwater news.Hundreds of trout fans anticipate the winter run of sea trout into the deeper and slightly warmer rivers.Although bunches of trout have been holed up in tidal creeks for about a month, the move into the rivers usually occurs immediately following the season’s first strong cold snap.Live shrimp and a variety of artificial lures fished very slowly in deeper spots can account for numerous easy-to-access fish.

Last weekend, anglers found trout in the Suwannee, Waccasassa, Crystal , and Homosassa Rivers .But in-the-know winter trout fans keep an especially close eye on the Steinhatchee River .Here, the size of the warmth-seeking specks is often larger than in rivers to its south.

And Tuesday’s report from the Sea Hag Marina holds that on Sunday, “people started catching trout like crazy” in the Steinhatchee River .

That’s the Christmastime edition of The Tackle Box fishing report.

Merry Christmas, happy holidays and…..good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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Early on in The Tackle Box Speck a thon, the “Total Weight” category looked like a pure blowout. Gainesville crappie expert, Tim Clark ran out to such a big lead, everybody was certain that he would easily win that portion of the contest.The “Biggest Speck” category remains hotly contested, with the best single fish still at 2-pounds, 2-ounces.But by the time Clark had accumulated 60 total pounds of specks better than twelve inches in length, his closest challenger in total pounds was…well, a long ways back.

But, as a five-week marathon, we should have known things would get more competitive.

Last Thursday, Ronnie Joiner brought in 14 more qualifying specks (plus seven more that fell just short of the12-inche mark) to add to his own growing total.

Aware of the mounting challenge, Tim brought in several more good specks Friday to bolster his lead.But, alas, he didn’t quite make the 5:30 weekday weigh-in deadline.Monday, Clark did succeed in lengthening his lead with a very fine 13-slab catch that weighed about 15-pounds in total.But Joiner came in with five of his own to reduce Clark ‘s gain.

Then on Tuesday, Joiner added eight more specks weighing a bit over eight total pounds. The Gainesville angler’s Melrose pond and Road Runner Jigs continue to draw him closer to Clark ‘s once-commanding lead.

It has been a number of years since The Tackle Box has sponsored any kind of fishing contest, and this one has been fun to watch.

Tuesday, Jesse Williams III weighed two large specks he had just caught with live minnows in Little Orange Lake.The fish each weighed two-pounds, but the Gainesville angler had not signed up that morning for his fish to be eligible in the Speck a thon.

Along with the Speck a Thon (offering store gift certificates worth up to a hundred dollars) and scattered open fishing tournaments throughout the area, there are even more ways for area anglers to catch valuable fish.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has released hundreds of crappies with reward tags worth anywhere from $5 to $80 dollars into Newnan’s Lake .Here at the store, we’ve already seen one speck wearing an eighty-dollar tag.

In addition to the specks, FWC and the University of Florida recently did the same with some Newnan’s bass as part of a year-long statewide largemouth bass research study.And the reward amounts for tagged largemouths range all the way up to $500 dollars!Man, it can be pretty lucrative to cast a line these days.

Saltwater fishers continue to score well…especially in tidal creeks along the gulf coast.Cedar Key Capt. Jim Keith took his brother, Billy and three other anglers from Naples , Fl and Kansas early last week.In creeks and around bars near Corrigan’s Reef, the group cast Saltwater Assassin jigs in the new “Acid Rain” color to boat an eighty-fish total of redfish and trout.Of course, they released most of the fish.Monday, Capt. Jim tried another spot with another party.The same lures, fished under rattling floats in creeks near Shell Mound, produced several good reds and a few big trout over 20-inches.

Over recent years, the annual gathering of spawning sheepshead on natural and artificial reefs just off the coast has peaked in February and March.That’s why there was some surprise among the Steinhatchee regulars when Sunday, a group of Georgia fishers docked at Sea Hag Marina with eight nice examples.The visitors said they had taken the banded beauties while fishing shrimp on Steinhatchee Reef—a traditional hotspot for sheepshead with procreation in mind.

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

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Buddy DeGraff and I spent Thanksgiving morning fishing on Little Orange Lake.

For two lifelong friends, the day of thanks held special meaning.Buddy was seriously injured in a fall from scaffolding in September, and had pointed to this as a ‘fishing day’ goal in his recovery and rehabilitation.As we had hoped, he was finally able to get out on the water.We each had a big speckled perch in the Ranger livewell when something much larger grabbed my Gitzit jig audaciously named the “Mother of all Minnows.” After taking lots of drag on my light spinning reel filled with 4-pound test Sufix mono, the head and most of the body of a monster bass busted through the lake’s glassy surface.Suddenly, it felt like we were rhino hunting with a BB gun.Through a twenty-minute battle, Buddy and I had time to discuss our chances of landing the lunker.About ten minutes into it, we decided that he should dig the landing net out from a large storage compartment.After spending the last minute or so fighting under the boat, the big bass swam out into the open and Buddy was right on the spot with the net.As usual, we had neither weighing device nor camera aboard.But that was just as well. We each hefted the impressive fish, and then slipped her back into the lake.She took off like a shot.

Since 1963, Buddy and I have caught many hundreds of fish together.Some stand out in memory…and the Thanksgiving Day lunker of 2009 might end up at the top of the list.

Recently, bass fishing became a recognized collegiate sport.Representing the Florida Gators in the National Guard College Fishing Southeast Regional on Lake Monroe at Sanford just ahead of Thanksgiving was the team of Jake Gipson and Matthew Wercinski.Fishing Zoom Magnum Speed Worms around and over shallow grass, the young Gator anglers jumped out to a 12-12 lead after Day One.They added 9-09 on Day Two, and finished off the big win with a 7-pound, 12-ounce Day Three.The University of Auburn team of Shaye Baker and Dennis Parker finished second with 27-11.

Limit catches of speckled perch are not being seen very often, but area fishers are sure pulling in some slabs.Fishing chartreuse crappie jigs Monday morning on Orange Lake , Gainesville ‘s James Brown hooked two very large specks.He managed to get one of the two into the boat…a fish that later weighed 2-pounds 2-ounces at The Tackle Box.If the veteran crappie catcher had entered the Speck a thon contest on his way to the lake, his slab would have placed him in a three way tie for the heaviest fish to date. Interestingly, Mr. Brown reported later that the big speck had been full of fat and well-developed roe.

Tuesday, Ronnie Joiner came in with no fewer than seven qualifying specks at least twelve inches long.He had pulled the fine bunch of fish from a Melrose pond.None were eye-popping big, but the combined seven pounds drew Joiner closer to the Speck a thon’s total pounds leader, Tim Clark.

Gulf anglers also have posted some impressive results.

Charlie Norwood was fishing off Steinhatchee Saturday in water 18-feet deep when a whopping 42-inch redfish happened along to interrupt his fast pinkmouth grunt and black sea bass fish-catching.Following a quick photograph, the giant red was released and the catching of ‘eating fish’ resumed.

For many inshore Steinhatchee fishers, a fast sand trout bite on “Little Bank,” north of the river is the biggest draw.Here, lots of fish are being taken by anglers casting Gulp! baits fished on jig heads.

Out of Waccasassa, redfish were the fastest-biting fish of the weekend.John and Amy Boatwright of Belleview were among the folks easily filling limits.

Several Homosassa guides probably have a bit of friendly competition among themselves regarding which is able to put his party on the best catch of the day.Over the weekend, any of four top captains could have made a good case.Capt. Don Chancy’s party of three trolled Mann’s Stretch lures to fill grouper limits; and then fished shrimp on the bottom in 35-feet of water to also take limits of mangrove snapper.Inshore, Todd Cornielle and Marvin Williams each guided three people, while Dallas Willis took out four. Every angler pulled in a limit catch of both speckled trout and redfish.Not a bad weekend for Homosassa fishers.

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

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A variety of sports interests has some very good fishing elbowed-out and underappreciated…but that’s nothing new during the fall season.

Although the weather is nice and the fish are biting, the start of hunting season and the tail end of football season annually waters down angling interest.Of course, there are no complaints from those continuing to ply the waters and cast lines.Unlike the spring season, with its crowded boat ramps and contested hot fishing holes, the fishers of autumn find sparse competition.

With good catches coming from Orange , Lochloosa, and Santa Fe Lakes , The Tackle Box’s Speck a thon continues to reveal the hottest choices of the slab seekers.And that’s not all it has revealed.

After two weeks, one player is dominating the speck catching like the Florida football Gators own Vanderbilt.

Gainesville angler, Tim Clark has weighed in more speckled perch over 12-inches than most crappie specialists can claim in a full season…or more.Late last week, Clark weighed his largest speck so far—a 2-pound, 2-ounce fish that tied Kevin Allen’s 2-02 weighed earlier in the week. But here’s the jaw dropper:After two weeks of Speck a thon competition, Clark has tallied 47 slabs that have weighed a total of 60-pounds, even.And that’s not mentioning the dozens of fish that fell just centimeters shy of the twelve-inch mark.

Although private lakes and ponds are not off-limits in the contest, Clark has fished only well-known public waters to make his almost-daily hauls—primarily, Orange , Little Orange, and Santa Fe Lakes .

Amid all the crappie hoopla, there are still some bream fishers scoring surprisingly well.Freddie and Sharon Richardson and Lucille Blount fished Friday out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp, at the north end of Cross Creek.After a day of fishing European night crawlers and shrimp in Little Lochloosa’s lily pads, the three Gainesville fishers wowed the folks at the camp with a fine stringer of 140 bluegill and shellcracker.

At the southern end of our gulf coast coverage zone, water temperatures have reached the preferred range for catching legal grouper in unusually-near shore spots.Monday, Capt. Don Chancy’s two-man party fished natural baits on the bottom to take five big mangrove snapper, and then trolled large diving lures to take grouper limits.Gator MacRae and four of his friends filled grouper limits the next day in just 25-feet of water.But this is the area and the season for even shallower grouper-catching…and a persistent buzz holds that a couple of Homosassa locals have been pulling good-sized gags from rockpiles standing in water only 12-feet deep.

Homosassa trout fishers are likewise happy with their fish-catching on shallow grass flats, and redfish seekers are hooking slot-size fish in creeks and on hard-bottomed shallows.

Inshore fishers working creeks and bars in Waccasassa Bay say they have noticed clear improvement in the trout and redfish action there. Kentucky visitors, George and Brian Jeffries fished rocky holes in creeks over the weekend to fill redfish limits and release several more good fish.Monday, Capt. Herbert Wilkerson guided Benny Campbell and George Frazzell to both trout and redfish limits; and Clay and Nancy Campbell matched that feat while fishing with Capt. Terry Brooks.

Up in the Steinhatchee area, big trout are showing up with greater regularity in the cooling shallows.Saturday, Bill Rees fished live shrimp in a creek near the river mouth to fool two big “gator trout.”At Sea Hag Marina , the whoppers weighed 5 and 6-pounds.A short run offshore, there are tons of grouper available, but almost all are a bit too small to keep.Undaunted, bottom fishing fans are loading up on big black sea bass and pinkmouth grunts (locally referred to as ” Florida snapper.”)

To boot, several nice flounder were seen at the Sea Hag’s fish-cleaning table over the weekend.About that time, Gulp! shrimp tails in the nuclear chicken color disappeared quickly from the Sea Hag shelves, giving employees a strong notion that these were the flounder producers.

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

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Interrupted a few times by late-season warm spells, the fall speckled perch season has taken a while to really fire up this year.Finally, there are strong signs that the cool-weather crappie feed has begun in earnest.

We have seen some of those signs first hand while weighing entries in The Tackle Box’s Speck-a-thon, a no-entry-fee speck-catching contest offering anglers weekly and overall chances at store gift certificates.Not to mention a bit of hometown angling notoriety.

Unsettled and windy conditions prevented speckers from weighing in a single eligible fish the first two days of the contest.But when the weather settled down, the fish started coming in.

Through the first week of the Speck-a-thon, a total of 82 local fishers searched various area waters for qualifying crappies at least twelve-inches long.

Wyman Wallace got on the board with a 1-pound, 10-ounce Newnan’s Lake beauty. Another honorable mention week-one speck was a 1-pound, 13-ounce example pulled from Lochloosa by Johnny Robertson.

But on Thursday, Tim Clark commenced his crappie-catching exhibition.That afternoon, the Gainesville angler brought in three big specks before the 5:30 weekday deadline.The largest of the slabs tugged the scales all the way to the two-pound mark.Friday, the accomplished fisherman piled seven more good looking Orange Lake fish onto the scales.Together, the seven weighed just one ounce shy of nine pounds…with the largest a 2-pound 1-ouncer.And that dark Orange Lake specimen ranked as the biggest slab speck of week one.

After one week, Clark also leads in the ‘Total Weight’ category with fifteen fish totaling 18-pounds, 15-ounces.

Saltwater action is likewise gathering steam as coastal shallows slowly cool.

Over the weekend, Steinhatchee anglers fishing out of the Sea Hag Marina found lots of redfish and trout near creek mouths.Chug Bug and MirroProp topwater lures both produced impressive catches.Offshore, legal grouper can now be found in water less than 30-feet deep, along with swarms of black sea bass.Young Chance Norwood proved that the ravenous sea bass are not picky eaters.Just for fun, the Steinhatchee nine-year old baited up with a piece of beef jerky—and with that single jerky stick, he caught 7 fish.

While fishing on the Cedar Key Pier with neighbor, Brenda Dangler, Alex Trapp thought she was hung on the bottom.After tugging for a while in an attempt to free the hook, she realized the snag was moving.Finally, the large fish rolled on the surface before the hook pulled out.Another very large fish took Alex’s bait a while later, but, again, the unseen foe managed to get away.Finally, with the leg of a frozen crab she had just bought from a nearby bait shop, Alex hooked yet another giant.This time, the Gainesville angler played the fish carefully, allowing it to make powerful runs against the drag for about 20-minutes.Brenda dropped the pier net that her son had made the night before and Alex guided the big black drum in.With help from fellow anglers, Alex’s big drum was hoisted onto the pier.The 36-inch whopper weighed 23-pounds.

A few days later, Alex topped her best fishing feat with a huge 38-inch redfish and another Cedar Key Pier drum weighing 24-pounds.

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

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Although another overly-breezy weekend held down angling effort, casters opting to tough out the blustery aggravation showed that there is plenty of fish-catching to be enjoyed.

Billy and Sheila Reese fished out of the Steinhatchee River Friday and Saturday—days that saw white caps in the river.To find shelter Friday, the Williston couple steered their airboat into a nearby creek…and that turned out to be a good move.Casting an undisclosed artificial lure, they had several big strikes and boated a few redfish and several speckled trout.Two of the trout were whoppers weighing between 5 and 6-pounds each.On a return trip to the productive creek Saturday, Sheila and Billy again took a nice bunch of both reds and trout.

Alto Straughn and Gary Rupp of Melrose and Georgia angler, Jerry Vanderwigen fished Sunday with Suwannee Captain Ken Anderson.Concentrating around runouts and cuts in creeks north of the Suwannee river mouth, the group boated an interesting mix of fish while casting a variety of baits and lures.Red Mirrolures and chartreuse Storm WildEye Swim Shads produced strikes right along with old-time favorites, live shrimp and cut ladyfish.The four fishermen harvested redfish measuring 26, 25, 25, and 24 inches; and they also boated trout, whiting, sheepshead, and black drum.

Capt. Herbert Wilkerson of Gulf Hammock and Joe Norris of Ocala fished out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club Sunday.In creeks near the river and around oyster bars near them, the men cast shrimp to box limit catches—ten trout and two nice reds.

Sam Hintermister and Jim Bukas of Gainesville launched at the Waccasassa River public boat ramp Wednesday morning at 10:00.Through a falling tide, the anglers had bites steadily while fishing shrimp near the river mouth.Along with a double limit of trout, they hauled in two legal mangrove snapper, two whiting, and a 5-pound black drum.Thirty small trout, ten small mangroves, and a bunch of ladyfish also found the anglers’ shrimp and were released. When the tide started back in, the fish quit biting.

Although the bite there has not yet really fired up, some have gone after the Newnan’s Lake specks recently enhanced by FWC researchers with reward tags.Peter Williams fished Newnan’s Friday with Samuel Smith.Drifting minnows off Palm Point, the Gainesville men brought in the first tagged crappie of the season—an 8-inch long speck worth $80.00.Along with the valuable fish, the anglers boated two more specks and six catfish.

The Tackle Box Speck-a-thon, with weekly and overall prizes, is officially underway.With a storm in the gulf and the resulting unsettled weather, however, the first two days of the contest produced no entries.Anglers must sign in at the beginning of their fishing day, and only slabs at least 12-inches long will be weighed.

While specks have been a little scarce over the last few days, bass action has remained steady.James Boston, Julius Jones, and Reggie McCrae fished live Missouri minnows and shiners near the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek Wednesday to boat nine nice-sized largemouths.Every fish measured within the 15-to-24 inch slot that is catch-and-release only on Orange and Lochloosa.So…although the three Gainesville anglers had a good afternoon of fishing, they had no proof of it at the end of the day.

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

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It’s tough to coordinate fishing trips with ideal conditions.The cooler nights we have hoped for have finally arrived, but the wind that brought them has been a bit high for angling comfort.

Late last week, before the persistent breeze commenced, Carol Brient and John Harper fished the grass flats near Horseshoe Beach .The Putnam County couple had an excellent day of fish-catching, boating a number of hefty trout, redfish, and Spanish mackerel.Carol’s 24-inch trout and almost-too-big slot red were highlights.Carol was certain that a major key to their success was the bait they used.”Fishbites Xtreme Scent Release baits were the best,” she declared, “Even better than live shrimp.”

Even though a windy weekend cut down on gulf catches, the folks at the Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee said that several of their more successful customers ran all the way south to a large, sandy stretch off Pepperfish Keys, where a fine sand trout bite is going on.

Acting on a tip from Sea Hag employee, Christie Bunkley, Dean Pauley tried out Gulp! Gobies in the Pumpkin Chartreuse color.Christie had been catching trout well with the Berkley baits, but the one Dean cast on the flats Saturday attracted a more impressive predator.The Beverly Hills , Fl. angler hooked and eventually landed a nice, legal late-season cobia that couldn’t resist the hyper-scented lure.Spanish mackerel, too, have increased in number on the deeper grass flats off Steinhatchee.

Of our largest nearby lakes, Lochloosa continues to put out the top catches—and the widest array of freshwater species.

As expected, the cooler temperatures have triggered an improved speckled perch bite.Kinnis and Billy Thomas of Cross Creek drifted deeper water with live Missouri minnows Monday.After getting started late that morning, the men docked at 5:00 p.m. with 40 nice Lochloosa specks.

Friday morning, Bob Reynolds and Russ Augspurg of Gainesville and High Springs respectively, were casting gold Rapala lures for bass.The anglers were enjoying plenty of bites, and had boated several fish up to 15-inches when another struck Bob’s gold balsa wood lure at the surface.This fish pulled harder than any of the fifteen or so bass they had caught so far, and they thought it must be a lunker.At the net, however, the fishing buddies were surprised to see that a 4-pound tilapia had grabbed the lure…very unusual behavior for the heavy-bodied vegetarians.

Recent catches near Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek show that bream are not yet ready to yield all of the panfish attention to specks.Eddie Debose and James Coney, both of Gainesville , each docked with separate but nearly identical catches of 21 and 20 bluegill and shellcracker, taken with little European nightcrawlers.Also fishing near the creek mouth, Mark Goldberg nailed a nice 23-inch bigmouth while casting a Storm WildEye Shiner and nine-year-old Adam Roth wrestled in his first bass—a healthy twelve-incher.

The upswing in speckled perch activity comes just in time for speck fans to score in the Speck-a-thon coming up soon at The Tackle Box.From Monday, November 9th through Saturday, December 19th, anglers can sign in free on their way to the lake each day they wish to participate.After singing in, any big speck (at least 12-inches long) they catch on that day will be eligible.Just bring the slab in before 5:30 pm on weekdays or 4:30 on Saturdays.Weekly prizes will be awarded, but the real bragging rights (and the biggest prizes) will be awarded the overall winners in “Heaviest Speck” and “Total Weight” categories December 21st.Call (352) 372-1791 for more information.

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

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Fish camp and marina owners on both coasts believe they have noticed a recent spike in good catches.Most notably, speckled trout catches. At Devil’s Elbow on Matanzas River , for example, customers are showing off more impressive bunches of trout and flounder than in quite a while.Both Monday and Tuesday of this week, employees at the camp noted several fine-looking limits of each species. The trout seem just as hungry on the gulf side. Fishing alone out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club, Jim Mariucci was among the weekend fishers that scored well with trout.The Wildwood angler cast jigs on the grass flats at the south end of Waccasassa Bay Saturday to fill a fine five-trout limit.Seven local guides took members of the Atlanta Fishing Club out from the Homosassa River Saturday and Sunday.All reported taking limits of redfish (with a few oversize fish released) and most also boxed trout limits. Monday, Captains Todd Cornielle and Don Chancey teamed up to guide two clients offshore aboard Chancey’s boat, “The Grouper Hunter.”In water just 25-feet deep off Homosassa, they trolled Mann’s Stretch 25 lures and fished on the bottom with Spanish sardines to fool 6 nice-sized gag grouper. Mackerel numbers likewise seem to be growing…but the number of days windy enough to keep folks from the best mackerel feeding grounds is growing almost proportionately. Saturday, Rick Davidson fished out of Steinhatchee with fellow Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club members, Ed Ellett and Ken Knopf.Seas were rough; but Knopf’s 30-foot Boston Whaler, Knot on Call, was more than capable of handling them.The three men anchored on a spot in water about 20-feet deep and put out chum.Using live bait, they boated and released a few smaller cobia and a grouper just short of legal size, and also took a nice Spanish mackerel.But Davidson’s freelined pinfish produced the bite of the day.After battling the fish through several long runs, the angler brought his big king mackerel to the boat—a 28.15-pound beauty that presently ranks as the best Big Bend king of the year among club members. A nice rain early this week had to be a boost for lake levels that had steadily fallen for a month.The fast speckled perch action we’ve come to expect by this late in the autumn season has yet to really kick into gear on our larger local lakes.Possibly on account of their faster-changing water temperatures, smaller lakes and ponds have produced the best speck fishing so far in this area. Among the larger bodies of water, Lochloosa has yielded not only the best crappie catches, but also the best bassing action.Allen and Stephen Dyson were on Lochloosa at daylight Saturday morning.Casting crankbaits and plastic worms around a variety of shallow vegetation, the Hawthorne and Gainesville father-and-son teamed up to release 24 bigmouths up to 5-pounds before noon.

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

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The strongest cold front of the fall season probably brought big changes to the fresh and salt water fishing landscape in North Florida .We say “probably” since the wind that accompanied the chill was sufficiently strong to keep most would-be anglers at home—greatly reducing the weekend reports that could have confirmed our speculation.

We do have one “before” and “after” catch comparison from a small area lake. But, since each was fairly impressive, we can’t yet say that the cold really changed things—at least for speckled perch fans.

Friday, just ahead of the front, George Dekle and Larry Nutt fished for specks on Little Orange Lake, near Hawthorne .Drifting crappie jigs in deeper water, the men caught five specks while rain showers threatened.They stopped by the store to weigh the biggest two—slabs that pulled the needle on our State-certified scale to the 2-pound and 1-pound, 12-ounce marks.

Dekle and Nutt returned Monday, after the worst of the cold front had passed.The weather on their return trip was very different—bright, dry, and windy.The anglers drifted minnows and jig/minnow combinations through the white caps in deep water to take 14 nice specks.Again, the best of the fish were thick slabs weighing from a pound-and-a-half to two-pounds.A seven-plus-pound catfish topped off the fish catching for the Gainesville fishermen.

On Lochloosa and Cross Creek, both specks and bass remain active.While standing on the small island in front of Twin Lakes Fish Camp Monday evening, Mark Goldberg hauled in eight bass in the two-pound class.The Cross Creek resident made his fine catch while casting Storm WildEye Shiners in a sparkly green finish.

With overnight weekend temperatures down to about 40-degrees, the gulf shallows must have chilled measurably.Usually, such a sudden drop will push speckled trout into Big Bend tidal creeks.A small drop in water temp can, too, fire up the mackerel bite out a bit deeper.So far, though, we’ve not been able to locate a trout fisher that has given the creeks a try since the chilly spell…or a mackerel seeker that’s braved the chop to check out Seahorse Reef or Spotty Bottom.Mild, stable conditions are forecast for the rest of this week, so the angling answers are likely to come soon.Stay tuned…

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

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With a cold front on the way, relief is in sight.But anglers fished through last weekend’s near-record heat wave with surprising success.

The Cotton States Insurance Company out of Atlanta treats its top salespeople annually to a golfing or fishing getaway headquartered at Crystal River ‘s Plantation Inn.The trip is planned for this week to avoid the worst of the summer heat…but, sometimes even the best planning doesn’t work out quite right.Monday, seventy sunscreen-slathered Georgia anglers departed from the Homosassa and Crystal Rivers aboard the boats of twenty area guides.Other than having to brave the swelter, the group had fun and was very pleased with the fish-catching in the 87-degree near-shore waters.Trout, redfish, mackerel, and grouper were all harvested in pleasing numbers.

Another fishing group, this one more familiar with Big Bend waters, assembled at Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina Sunday. The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s annual fall tournament saw only decent action that seemed a bit off due to the unseasonable heat.Russ Roy’s 3.09-pound redfish and Allen Turner’s 1.82 speckled trout and 2.79 flounder were winning fish in the inshore categories; while Ken Knopf caught the best king mackerel at 10.13-pounds and Mark Rustemier docked with the best Spanish—a 3.20-pound example.

Turner was named “Top Inshore Angler,” and Knopf claimed the “Top Offshore Angler” title.Awards and prizes will be given out at the club’s next meeting October 27th that will feature Jay Peacock sharing his considerable knowledge on “Jigging and Trolling for Grouper.”Go to www.GOFC.us for more.

Area mackerel specialists have been very impressed over recent days with the numbers of fish on Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Keys.Capt. Mike Smith and friends found quite a few kingfish offshore Saturday; but on the way out to fifty feet of water, they stopped to check out the reef.There, they noted plenty of activity and resolved to return for some Spanish-catching on Sunday…provided the Gators had been victorious, thereby keeping their frame of mind positive. Happily, the anglers did head out Sunday morning, and upon arriving at the reef, were immediately glad they did.The mackerel action was incredible.”We lost every spoon and floreo we had in the boat,” Mike declared.”It didn’t matter whether we used heavy mono or wire—there were so many fish, they cut us off at the black swivels.Kings were there, too.We lost at least two.”During a visit to the store last week, the veteran Gainesville angler had purchased a Peacock Bass Special—a large, brightly-colored wooden lure.Something about the gaudy bait made him think it would attract big kingfish.And he was evidently correct, as it lasted but one cast on the mackerel-filled reef.”If anybody finds that lure,” he said, “I’m offering a $13.82 reward” (the cost of the plug, including tax.)

East Coast anglers likewise have fetching fishing stories these days.Locals are still buzzing about the 18-pound flounder caught with a mud minnow recently near Matanzas Inlet.Vanquished by Hastings angler, David Carter, the huge flatfish was 33-inches long.

Bluefish have arrived at the inlet and throughout the inland waterway.And folks with bigger battles in mind can go for the tarpon that are rolling through a miles-long stretch of Matanzas River .An even surer bet for tarpon seekers is to fall in behind the shrimp boats pulling trawls just off the Matanzas-area beaches.There, big silver kings are said to be abundant and in a feeding mood.

Speckled perch enthusiasts expect the cold front that should arrive this weekend to ignite the overdue full-on fall crappie bite.Already, good speck results are coming from deeper water on Lochloosa. In the persistent heat, however, bream have remained abundantly available.Monday, Mickey Belle fished out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp, using live worms and grass shrimp for bait.Two spots—one at each end of the lake—produced a full 50-fish limit of bluegill and shellcracker for the Gainesville angler.

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

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Anglers know that fish change with the seasons, and that every season has its own fast-biting species and productive spots.The changes are fairly constant and predictable, but these things are not on a cut-and-dried schedule.The toughest thing is trying to nail down just when the seasonal changes will kick in.

A week deep into October, speckled perch have usually taken over as the fastest biting panfish in area lakes. The last few hot days, though, have produced some pretty impressive bluegill and shellcracker catches.

Gainesville ‘s Al Pinson and Jimmy Buck of Bronson fished Rodman Pool Sunday.Dropping grass shrimp through beds of water lettuce and topped-out hydrilla, the men rigged small corks to suspend the baits 8-feet below the surface and 2-feet above the bottom.Rather than speckled perch, the little shrimp were taken by bluegill and shellcracker—and not the scrawny specimens often seen so late in the year.In fact, seven of the bream were eye-popping examples weighing over a pound apiece.

Ronnie Brown tried the Rodman bream Monday and enjoyed similar success.In a similar bed of matted vegetation, the Gainesville fisherman made a small opening to drop his grass shrimp through.After a short fish-catching session, Brown headed back to the Kenwood boat ramp with twenty-five king size shellcracker and bluegill.

Although specks have probably become the number one target on Lochloosa Lake (aside from bass), bluegill fishers continue to score here, as well.Through last weekend, more good bream than speck catches had been seen at Twin Lakes Fish Camp—probably since many of the best bream catches are coming from near the camp’s front door, at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek. The barely-navigable connector between Lochloosa and Orange has recently produced the most dependable bream action on the two lakes, with crickets and red worms the top baits.

Likely invigorated by slightly cooler temperatures, bass action has also picked up on Lochloosa, Orange , Santa Fe , and Rodman Lakes .Most anglers are pitching Texas-rigged soft plastic lures around shallow cover.

Very good saltwater action remains the rule on both coasts; and stable weather has allowed anglers easy access to any spot.

Early Sunday morning, Bob Foster launched at Steinhatchee near low tide.In the dim light not far from the river mouth, he eased into the shallows casting topwater lures.In the first hour-and-a-half of fishing, the Gainesville angler boated several big trout including four fish over 20-inches, topped by a whopping 25-incher.

East coast fishers concentrating their efforts around lighted boat docks on the inland waterway continue to report great fishing.Saturday night, Tuffy Wheeler of Gainesville fished the intracoastal waterway near Matanzas Inlet with young Ocala angler, Joe Holder.Upon arriving just before dark, they were immediately impressed by the huge mullet schools at the surface.”It looked like you could walk on them,” Tuffy recounted.Just a couple of tosses with his cast net produced plenty of bait mullet to last the night.At the first spot they stopped, tarpon had corralled a wad of mullet.The anglers jumped three of the powerful acrobats, but lost them all.By this time, it was apparent that this would be a great night for fishing, so they called Joe’s dad, Ralph Holder.When Ralph arrived, the three started working well-lit boat docks with their live mullet.The weary trio ramped out at 2:30 that morning, having released four tarpon from 20-to-30 pounds, three short snook, two redfish, and more than thirty trout (two over 20-inches long.)

Not a bad night at all.

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

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There hasn’t been a lot of cool weather to kick their feed into high gear, but water temperatures have inched downward enough to nudge a fair number of speckled perch into biting. Still scattered but almost-daily catches out in the deeper waters of some nearby lakes tell us that it’s about time to start thinking about the popular, cool-weather-loving panfish.It’s almost a certainty that the first string of halfway chilly nights will spur a more wholehearted feed and herald the start of crappie season.

Fishing with Mike Skirchak, visiting from Melbourne , Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp located biting specks near Lochloosa’s north end Tuesday morning. The men fished minnows and minnow/jig combinations set six-to-eight feet under floats to tempt a fine mess of fish.An equal number of the paper-mouthed crappies escaped, though.Between first light and mid-morning, the men boated 18 specks—“but that was only about half the number we hooked,” Jeff said.

Once the speckled perch bite does crank up in earnest, water levels this year won’t be much of a negative issue for speck seekers with larger boats.The boat ramp at Marjorie Rawlings Park near Cross Creek is presently the sole access point that such vessels can’t negotiate.Oh, and travel between Orange and Lochloosa through Cross Creek is still out.

Lochloosa also continues to produce well for bass and bream fishers.Monday, Armand Dacuba of Gainesville cast topwater lures near the tip of Burnt Island to take and release two bigmouths in the 3-to-4-pound range.Chris Galasso had less luck with the bass, so the Gainesville regular shifted gears.He went back to the Twin Lakes camp and bought a cup of worms.Fishing these at the mouth of Cross Creek, he caught a load of bluegill and shellcracker.

Pretty much all of the inshore Gulf Coast favorites are biting well. Since scallop season ended and the grass flats have had a chance to settle down, fine trout and redfish catches are being seen regularly at the Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee.

Jim and Pat McKinney fished the high tide Sunday out of Suwannee .A short run from the mouth of East Pass , the Gainesville couple shut down and started casting…and it didn’t take long for something big to locate Pat’s live shrimp.On her first cast, she hooked a heavy fish.There was plenty of time through the battle to speculate as to the species on the hook, and their guesses ranged from red to ray.Finally, a 36-inch black drum gave up, was measured and unhooked, and gratefully swam away.The McKinneys went on to boat eight legal redfish, keeping a pair measuring 24 and 21-inches.

Richard Nalli Jr. and Liz House fished Sunday out of Cedar Key with Richard Nalli III and Jennifer Hogsette.The four didn’t experience especially fast fishing action—but the variety of fish they hauled in through the day was impressive.Along with a four-person limit of redfish, the Gainesville fishers boated a nice trout, a flounder, a mackerel, a couple of black drum (including a 20-pounder), and a twelve-pound Atlantic sharpnose shark.

Redfish get most of the attention from the regulars fishing out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club, but Joey Sparkman and a couple of friends did try for trout Tuesday.Casting jigs out on the grass flats, they filled limits of good ‘specks.’

Inshore anglers at Homosassa have found pleasing numbers of reds and trout over recent days, and now the dock talk at MacRae’s Marina also includes the Spanish mackerel that have likewise become considerably more numerous.

While good offshore reports remain strangely scarce, Capt. Brian Smith of Big Bend Charters did make his weekend party very happy.In about 50 feet of water off Steinhatchee, they boated several nice cobia and a bunch of good red grouper.Throughout the Big Bend coast, however, legal gag grouper remain undeniably scarce.

Congratulations go out to Steve McGovern and Scott Crown.Competing Saturday in the East Coast Division of the IFA Redfish Tour, the local team finished 4th out of 82 teams with two reds weighing 12.44-pounds.Held at Titusville, this was the final qualifier of the season; and as the division’s third-place team overall, McGovern and Crown will try for the bigger money and prizes at the championship event coming up November 6 and 7 at Orange Beach, Alabama.

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

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There hasn’t been a lot of cool weather to kick their feed into high gear, but water temperatures have inched downward enough to nudge a fair number of speckled perch into biting. Still scattered but almost-daily catches out in the deeper waters of some nearby lakes tell us that it’s about time to start thinking about the popular, cool-weather-loving panfish.It’s almost a certainty that the first string of halfway chilly nights will spur a more wholehearted feed and herald the start of crappie season.

Fishing with Mike Skirchak, visiting from Melbourne , Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp located biting specks near Lochloosa’s north end Tuesday morning. The men fished minnows and minnow/jig combinations set six-to-eight feet under floats to tempt a fine mess of fish.An equal number of the paper-mouthed crappies escaped, though.Between first light and mid-morning, the men boated 18 specks—“but that was only about half the number we hooked,” Jeff said.

Once the speckled perch bite does crank up in earnest, water levels this year won’t be much of a negative issue for speck seekers with larger boats.The boat ramp at Marjorie Rawlings Park near Cross Creek is presently the sole access point that such vessels can’t negotiate.Oh, and travel between Orange and Lochloosa through Cross Creek is still out.

Lochloosa also continues to produce well for bass and bream fishers.Monday, Armand Dacuba of Gainesville cast topwater lures near the tip of Burnt Island to take and release two bigmouths in the 3-to-4-pound range.Chris Galasso had less luck with the bass, so the Gainesville regular shifted gears.He went back to the Twin Lakes camp and bought a cup of worms.Fishing these at the mouth of Cross Creek, he caught a load of bluegill and shellcracker.

Pretty much all of the inshore Gulf Coast favorites are biting well. Since scallop season ended and the grass flats have had a chance to settle down, fine trout and redfish catches are being seen regularly at the Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee.

Jim and Pat McKinney fished the high tide Sunday out of Suwannee .A short run from the mouth of East Pass , the Gainesville couple shut down and started casting…and it didn’t take long for something big to locate Pat’s live shrimp.On her first cast, she hooked a heavy fish.There was plenty of time through the battle to speculate as to the species on the hook, and their guesses ranged from red to ray.Finally, a 36-inch black drum gave up, was measured and unhooked, and gratefully swam away.The McKinneys went on to boat eight legal redfish, keeping a pair measuring 24 and 21-inches.

Richard Nalli Jr. and Liz House fished Sunday out of Cedar Key with Richard Nalli III and Jennifer Hogsette.The four didn’t experience especially fast fishing action—but the variety of fish they hauled in through the day was impressive.Along with a four-person limit of redfish, the Gainesville fishers boated a nice trout, a flounder, a mackerel, a couple of black drum (including a 20-pounder), and a twelve-pound Atlantic sharpnose shark.

Redfish get most of the attention from the regulars fishing out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club, but Joey Sparkman and a couple of friends did try for trout Tuesday.Casting jigs out on the grass flats, they filled limits of good ‘specks.’

Inshore anglers at Homosassa have found pleasing numbers of reds and trout over recent days, and now the dock talk at MacRae’s Marina also includes the Spanish mackerel that have likewise become considerably more numerous.

While good offshore reports remain strangely scarce, Capt. Brian Smith of Big Bend Charters did make his weekend party very happy.In about 50 feet of water off Steinhatchee, they boated several nice cobia and a bunch of good red grouper.Throughout the Big Bend coast, however, legal gag grouper remain undeniably scarce.

Congratulations go out to Steve McGovern and Scott Crown.Competing Saturday in the East Coast Division of the IFA Redfish Tour, the local team finished 4th out of 82 teams with two reds weighing 12.44-pounds.Held at Titusville, this was the final qualifier of the season; and as the division’s third-place team overall, McGovern and Crown will try for the bigger money and prizes at the championship event coming up November 6 and 7 at Orange Beach, Alabama.

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

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For a couple of weeks now, we’ve said it was about time for the bluegill bite to slow down and for speckled perch to take over the “best bet for panfishing” crown in local fresh waters.But this week, the bream-catching specialists have let us know that their favorite fish are still biting just fine. Sure enough, the folks dropping worms, crickets, and grass shrimp around shallow cover have fared better that those drifting jigs and minnows out in speck territory.Last Wednesday, Tony Dennison and friend fished red worms near the mouth of Cross Creek to fill a 100-fish limit of bluegill and shellcracker.Then, the Gainesville angler returned Friday to the hot spot near Twin Lakes fish Camp to pull in forty more. Twin Lakes owner, Jeff Septer, tried for specks Monday along with visiting friends.Out in the Lochloosa depths, their hour-and-a-half excursion produced just two nice specks…but a chunky 17-inch bass that took a minnow fished six feet down added a shot of excitement to the short trip.

Salt waters continue to yield the most impressive results in North Florida .

Although trout and redfish are the top targets of anglers as summer fades to fall, a great variety of species is showing up in anglers’ creels.Last week, we chronicled the apparent recent rise of a snook population in the Cedar Key-to-Suwannee area.Spanish mackerel numbers are slowly growing on Seahorse Reef and Spotty Bottom, off Cedar Keys and Suwannee .And cobia remain available along channels and on the flats.During our trip to Cedar Key Sunday, Doug Stringfellow hooked a heavy fish while casting a trout grub with spinning tackle.When the 23-pound fish surfaced for the first time after being hooked, we were surprised to see that it was a cobia—and to see five more, smaller lings swimming along with it. (And, no, we still didn’t find a snook.) Kirk Smith’s great fishing day recently out of Cedar Key saw him haul in not only a 20-pound cobia, but also around 30 big trout and several reds.

Last Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, Gary Rupp and Alto Straughn of Melrose fished out of Suwannee with their friend, Jerry Vanderwigen of Homerville , Ga. Near high tide the first day, they located a bunch of hungry and sizable redfish on shell bars near the river mouth.Casting white and natural-colored 3-inch Gulp! shrimp, the three anglers boated ten stout reds.Thursday, they found speckled trout to be active on shell bars around Suwannee Reef.The anglers hauled in 35 good fish up to 24-inches.”The fish seemed to be hanging around shell much more than around grass,” Gary observed.A half-dozen legal flounder and four big black drum also fell for the Gulp! baits fished on jigheads, and they rounded out the fish-catching for the very successful trip.

Yet farther north along the Big Bend Coast , folks fishing out of both Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee are cleaning up on a fast sand trout bite on a large sand bar off Pepperfish Keys.The spotless cousins of the speckled are taking artificial, live, and dead baits at a fast clip.Fishing out of Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee, Julie Fowler made a remarkable catch while fishing with husband, Alan on the grass flats Friday.Casting an unspecified artificial lure, the Valdosta fisher hooked and boated a black sea bass.Now, these are not generally regarded as very noteworthy—but this was an unusually-large example, measuring 20-inches.Unfortunately, the Georgia couple did not weigh the outsize sea bass.

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

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Experienced anglers know there is a response by every fish to even the slightest weather change.While summer-to-fall might be the subtlest of the four seasonal shifts, the changes anglers expect will soon be evident.

Already, speckled perch catches on Lochloosa and Newnan’s Lakes are increasing.Although bluegill fishing remains worthwhile here as well, their monthly spawning sessions are now brief and sparsely attended.

Speckled trout action will improve noticeably over the coming weeks, but redfish fans on both coasts have already noticed a newly-improved feeding attitude among their favorite targets.The first catches good enough to put us in mind of the upcoming fall mackerel run are being pulled from Cedar Key and Suwannee waters.John McPherson of Cedar Key and Roy Harrell of Gainesville cast Floreo Jigs on Seahorse Reef Sunday.”There weren’t a lot of mackerel,” said McPherson, “but the six we caught were all over 20-inches.”

Grouper fishers usually wait anxiously for the autumn cool-down.So far, though, the best bite is still out in water 60-or more feet deep, and even the most steadfast grouper diggers seem to be passing up great looking days.

Snook season opened September 1st in all Florida waters.

That’s the first time I recall ever mentioning this in twelve years of writing this column.Until now, it has never seemed like a particularly pertinent fact for Gainesville area anglers.In the future, though, it looks like this could be a day for us to anticipate. More likely due to climatic change than seasonal transition, the splendid warm water sport fish certainly seems to be taking up residence in Big Bend waters farther north than any of us would have ever believed just a decade ago. Things have actually gotten to a point where inshore anglers as far north as Suwannee might want to consider picking up a two-dollar snook permit.

The evidence is growing by the week.

Last Thursday, Mikel English fished just north of Cedar Key with his dad, Steve.The High Springs anglers were having good luck fishing live mud minnows for redfish when Mikel hooked something at least as powerful…but faster and more acrobatic than another big red.After a spirited battle, the Englishes boated a snook that weighed 17-pounds on their Boga Grip.Snook season had just opened—but the father-and son team never figured they needed a snook stamp so close to home.The beauty had to go back in the water.

Two weeks ago, we chronicled young Foster Abolverdi’s snook-catching exploits.The thirteen-year-old Westwood Middle School student had just caught his third Cedar Key snook in two years—and we guessed that just might have been more than any other hook-and-line fisher could claim.

But Saturday, Foster put an exclamation point on his Cedar Key snook mastery when he hauled in his fourth linesider near North Key.The young angler again used a live pinfish to take the revered gamefish measuring 33-inches.

In the Gulf, snook season opened September 1, and the legal-to-keep slot for the species here is 28-to-33 inches. Accustomed to watching his son tangle with the fish that most of us have yet to locate in this part of the State, Foster’s dad, Shaun, had recently purchased a snook permit.With all of these elements in place, Foster Abolverdi’s fish became perhaps the best legally-harvested snook from these waters in quite a while.

The more usual inshore gulf targets remain available, as well.Sunday, Jeremy Cox and Janet Miscotto fished live shrimp on shell bars south of Horseshoe Beach to fill a fine double-limit of speckled trout ranging in length from 16-to-20-inches.The Jacksonville fishers also tussled with several hard-fighting jack crevalle that were tearing through baitfish schools along the bars.

With scallop season now finished for the year, Steinhatchee anglers can again stalk reds and trout in relative solitude.The folks at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee believe the hook-and-line prospects look promising.Monday, the David Lightfoot party mixed some rod and reel action with their late-season shellfish gathering south of the river.Despite their lack of saltwater fishing experience, the Jacksonville family was excited to tangle with several redfish too big to keep, and to catch their first-ever speckled trout—a pair of 18-inchers.

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

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The season has arrived. Football fans are at fever pitch and hunters are starting to get very serious in their preparations to hit the woods.But one other, slightly more obscure, group of sports lovers is chomping at the bit just as hard. North Florida saltwater anglers know that the year’s fastest redfish action is will arrive when water temperatures start to dip significantly.After checking in with fishers, guides, and marinas this week, it seems that the reds threw their first fall feed a little early.Saltwater anglers on both coasts took advantage of fine weekend weather—and fans of the copper-backed spot tails had the most impressive fishing stories of all.

Folks at the Waccasassa Fishing Club heard uniformly-positive comments from their customers that targeted redfish.Among the redfishers quickly filling limits were Jimmy and Garrett Proto of Williston.Keeper-size speckled trout were not so plentiful…but Joey Sparkman and family did locate a big mess of the spotless variety.Despite getting a late start Sunday evening, the Wildwood family loaded a cooler with nice sand trout.

Abundant redfish were also the top topic at MacRae’s of Homosassa.Capt. William Toney’s party of three was but one of the guided groups that docked with redfish limits filled.Fishing with his wife, Billie, Capt. Todd Cornielle whipped a whopping 33-inch red that fell for a piece of cut mullet.The guide weighed the red at 16-pounds on his Boga Grip before releasing it. Even on the East Coast, almost all of the fishing talk centers on redfish.”You wouldn’t believe the weekend crowd at Matanzas Inlet,” offered Bill at Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp.”The water’s clearing up, and from the bridge you can see schools of reds moving through.It’s like a rodeo.”That the beach at the inlet’s popular North Point has just been re-opened to vehicles only added to the fish-catching fever among the locals.

Five members of the Bassmasters of Gator Country competed in the Florida Bass Federation Qualifier last week on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.Held out of Camp Mack on the Kissimmee River, the tourney offered Florida anglers a chance to qualify for the State Federation Championship to be held in November on Lake Okeechobee .In a resounding success for the local bassers, all five qualified make the trip to the big lake to join two other members that qualified earlier this year.Club member Marty Gray fared particularly well.The only female entered in the contest, she finished in second place in the co-angler division…and bagged the tourney’s single largest bass, a 5.9-pounder.The accomplished Hawthorne bass-catcher is an employee at The Tackle Box.

And finally, Newnan’s produced the biggest reptile of this year’s alligator season Monday…among Gainesville-area lakes, at least. At sunrise, local gator guide, Chic Hinton and Jacque Breman of Lake Butler hooked the gator with light spinning tackle and later harpooned it.Following a 45-minute battle, the men finally subdued the beast…but then had to ask another pair of gator hunters to help them pull the 12-foot, 3-inch specimen aboard.

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

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As college football season cranks up, fishing fans should catch up on a few new angling regulations, the opening and closing of seasons, and a washed-out opportunity.

As of August 1, shore bound Florida Residents are, for the first time, required to have a fishing license in salt waters.Called the “Saltwater Shoreline License,” the new permit costs about $9.00.Of course, if you have a Resident Recreational Saltwater License, you’re already covered. East Coast fishers celebrating the re-opening of the North Point beach at Matanzas Inlet to vehicles will need to remember the new need for shoreline licenses.

The first part of this year saw some of the best gulf red snapper fishing in memory.But don’t forget that red snapper season closed a couple of weeks ago. Scientists gathered last week in Miami to start stock assessments of red snapper to determine whether the fish in the gulf are really overfished.It is the first time since 2004 that such a comprehensive analysis has been conducted.It’s unlikely the regulations will loosen—as they never seem to move in that direction.But you have to think they will find more red snapper than ever if their data corresponds at all with reports from anglers this year.

Alligator season has begun.The thrill-seeking big-game hunters are again out in force most nights on larger Florida lakes.So far, several large gators harvested in this area include a 12-footer taken from Orange Lake and an 11-foot, 6-incher pulled from Newnan’s.The gator harvested most recently from Newnan’s was a 10-foot, 9-inch specimen taken by Melrose gator guide, Brad Tschorn.The longtime reptile hunter located and hooked the gator around dawn Monday morning.Without anybody along to help, he vanquished and hauled it aboard.

Around this time every year, North Floridians know they will have a shot at gulf scallops and St. John’s river-run saltwater shrimp.Some years, conditions are just right for both.Sometimes, just one of the two “bonus seasons” is productive.And, occasionally, neither is worth a flip. In last week’s report, we noted that signs were pointing to an early exodus of shrimp from the St. John’s .Unfortunately, that did apparently occur.Where fairly decent numbers of crustaceans were present three weeks ago, there are very few—if any—now.The bountiful rainfall along Florida ‘s northeast coast seems to have done in this year’s run before eager cast netters had a chance to make a trip. Scallops, at least, have been in excellent supply in the gulf’s Steinhatchee area—and will almost surely remain so until the season ends September 10th.

Gulf Coast hook-and-line action has remained unusually good through the late-summer heat. Shawn Abolverdi took his son, Foster and Foster’s friend, Max Goepper to Cedar Key Wednesday, August 19.For the boys, it would be the last trip before the start of the school year.Casting live shrimp from a beach on North Key, the schoolmates at Westwood Junior High each caught redfish.Of six fish, the young anglers kept fish measuring 21 and 23-inches.The bites kept coming, and a jack and 7 blacktip sharks likewise fell for the shrimp and were promptly released. Then Foster pulled off a possibly-unprecedented feat when yet another live shrimp produced a hard-fighting 30-inch North Key snook.You see, the thing is, Foster already has a 36-inch Cedar Key snook on his wall at home.Most of us long time Cedar Key fishers have yet to encounter even one linesider from gulf waters so far north.

I took a trip to Cedar Key Sunday to find fairly abundant-but-smallish speckled trout in the shallows, and a surprising number of skyrocketing Spanish mackerel having their way with schools of small baitfish. Along with a few trout, I picked up one legal red…but still no Cedar Key snook for me.

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

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Except when the occasional tropical storm blows through, things on the fishing front don’t often change a lot through the hot, late-summer grind.That’s why area fans of outdoor sports are grateful that a couple of special, seasonal seafood-gathering opportunities do offer a bit of variety.

One has been excellent in one place at least; while the other has not gotten off to a very good start.

The annual window of opportunity to catch gulf scallops is narrowing fast, and this year’s shellfish crop has been a banner one on the Horseshoe Beach-to-Keaton Beach stretch of coast.The season lasts through September 10.

Saltwater shrimp are present on their annual run up the St. John’s River …but experienced locals are saying that this year’s edition does not show early signs of being a very strong run.Still, some folks have reported filling five-gallon buckets with the prized crustaceans.Even boatless cast-netters stuck with shrimping from piers and seawalls have fared reasonably well.A few willing to chum and throw the net tirelessly—sometimes all night—have hoisted decent hauls of medium-sized shrimp onto Palatka’s City Dock.

A less-utilized and underappreciated fish-catching opportunity on the St. John’s is going strong.Mullet are in good supply at least as far south as Green Cove Springs. Folks fishing from shore and from the bridge that crosses the big river there have been pulling in bunches of the light-biting but hard-fighting favorites for weeks now.Clarence and Alice Mills employed a tried-and-true mullet-catching technique Tuesday on Shands Bridge .They attracted the mullet by pitching out a mix of laying mash and oatmeal.Then, the Gainesville couple swung small pieces of cut plastic worm on small but stout hooks into the chummed spot.Soon, they had 52 mullet on ice…but another, more memorable, fish was also attracted to the chum. Alice hooked and eventually whipped a whopping Nile perch that would later weigh 6.2-pounds.The Florida record stands at 9-pounds for the tasty non-native interloper.

The most dependable bite in fresh waters is being provided by bluegill in Orange , Newnan’s, and Lochloosa Lakes .Although there aren’t many weeks of spawning activity left this year, the bite has held up exceptionally well.Fishers dunking grass shrimp, live worms, and crickets continue to find plenty of willing bream around grass and pads.

And the bass fishing isn’t too bad either.

Steve Arnett was impressed with the bassing action Saturday morning on Lochloosa.The Gainesville angler cast a black BooYah spinnerbait around and among a stretch of bonnets to boat and release eight bigmouths including one he estimated at 9-pounds.

Near Twin Lakes Fish Camp, Casey Braginton tried his hand at fishing for the first time.The Gainesville sixteen-year-old enjoyed an exciting angling initiation when his live nightcrawler (intended for bream) was taken by a five-pound bass.Casey admired and released the hefty Lochloosa fish.

Not every bassing destination has been so kind.A recent monthly tournament held by the Bassmasters of Gator Country on the Suwannee River yielded downright anemic catches for the overheated club members.Dwayne Davis topped his fellow Gator anglers with a 5-bass limit that weighed 5.23-pounds.

The success of gulf fishers has hinged largely upon their choice of destination—and not so much on account of one area holding more fish that another. Peculiar rain patterns recently have drenched some areas, while totally missing others.Weekend anglers that chose Suwannee , Cedar Key, and Waccasassa had their efforts cut short by nasty rainstorms.On shell bars and grass flats farther south, though, anglers took advantage of good redfishing and improved trout action without the threat of rain.”We can’t even get a dark cloud,” laughed Nancy Bushey at MacRae’s of Homosassa.

The inland waters of the east coast had begun to clear, to the round approval of the local fishers.With the increased visibility and salinity, flounder, redfish, and mangrove snapper catches were, likewise on the increase.But several days of heavy rains have Matanzas River looking “like strong iced tea” again.So far, the darker water hasn’t messed up the fish-catching very much…but it is never a help.

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

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The August full moon coincided with another mighty hot spell that probably kept the Gulf Coast redfish and late-season bluegill that usually fire up at this time a bit safer from angling efforts.

Still, freshwater fishers say that good bream and bass results remain the rule on at least one area lake.Lochloosa camps are seeing “cooler-full” catches of bluegill and shellcracker almost daily—most taken by cane pole fishers dropping grass shrimp around the stalks of lily pads abundant around the lake. Eva Chaline was among the successful catchers around the full moon late last week.Fishing near Cross Creek, the retired Alachua fisher-woman pulled in a fine catch of bream and catfish.Motel guests at Twin Lakes Fish Camp, the Wright family located lots of feeding bass while casting from their rented boat Sunday.Young Matt, 14, was so taken with the good fishing that his dad and mom had a hard time prying him away to head back home to Jacksonville .

Water on Orange and Lochloosa is approaching historic ‘normal’ mid-summer levels…even without a tropical storm.In a recent evening bass tournament on Orange Lake , Stephen Gray and Don Emerik decided to try to make it to Lochloosa.They succeeded—and theirs became probably the first bass boat in some time to plow all the way through Cross Creek.But it wasn’t easy.”It was tough…we bumped bottom a lot of the way through,” Stephen said.Then he added, “I don’t recommend trying it.”The time-consuming trip through the shallows, by the way, didn’t pay off for the Gainesville team.

Orange Lake , now covered in large part by topped-out hydrilla, is also putting out fair numbers of good bream and bass.But it’s the nighttime frog-gigging specialists that are really having field days (or ‘field nights’) here.Their legs a prized Florida delicacy, the big frogs are quite abundant in the thick mixed vegetation and accessible only with airboats.It’s no coincidence that bass anglers have found artificial frog imitations to be among the most productive lures on Orange through recent months.

Bald Eagle Bait and Tackle in Keystone Heights held its season-ending Classic Tournament the evening of August 5th.The classic was the pinnacle event of a twenty-week 6-’til-9-pm Wednesday night tournament trail on Lake Santa Fe .A portion of the weekly entry fees went into the payout for this classic, and forty-five anglers qualified and fished aboard 24 boats to vie for the big year-end pot.

Clint Sheppard and Ashley Allday must have thought they had the title wrapped up when they boated a 9.59-pound lunker. Chris Kadlec and C.K. Ryan, however, docked with a very impressive catch of their own—a 5-bass limit that weighed 18.85-pounds and earned them the $2000.00 prize.Allday and Sheppard settled for second place.The hot-weather trail has been quite popular among local bassers for several years…and has spawned a number of copycat night trails held on different area waters.

A common thread is apparent among the stories told by Cedar Key fishers over the past several days—and that is ‘big fish.’Through August, anglers working this part of the gulf coast have hooked various heavyweights including cobia, black drum, shark, and tarpon with unusual regularity.Friday, Frank and Nick Warrington had more than their share of big fish battles off Cedar Key.Young Nick had already lost a tug-of-war with a big Goliath grouper earlier in the day, when he and his dad spotted a good cobia on the Steel Tower .Nick enticed the ling to take a strip of cut bait and was fighting the fish when yet another giant arrived on the scene.A huge hammerhead at least ten feet long made several passes at the struggling cobia.Frank fired the engine and managed to run the massive shark away with a cloud of propeller turbulence.Finally, he and Nick boated a nice, legal (and intact) cobia.

Looking for a stiff angling challenge?The Cedar Key-to-Suwannee stretch is presently a prime area to pick a fight with a bruiser.

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

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Amid summer heat and humidity, healthy doses of rainfall are helping to keep the fishing good for hardy freshwater anglers.At Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek, the almost-daily rains have fired the fishing up.Very near the camp, the water is flowing through the creek briskly enough to have concentrated both game fish and panfish.Folks casting live shiners, hard and soft jerkbaits, and Devil’s Horse surface plugs are picking up nice catch-and-release, slot-sized bass; while cane pole fishers using live worms or grass shrimp for bait are pulling 50-fish limits of bluegill and shellcracker from the creek.Michelle Septer of Twin Lakes says that most successful fishers are doing their best catching from daylight ’til mid morning—and then again, from about 6:00 pm ’til dark.

Orange Lake , now covered in large part by topped-out hydrilla, is also putting out fair numbers of good bream and bass.But it’s the nighttime frog-gigging specialists that are really having field days (or ‘field nights’) here. Their legs a prized Florida delicacy, the big frogs are quite abundant in the thick mixed vegetation and accessible only with airboats. It’s no coincidence that bass anglers have found artificial frog imitations to be among the most productive lures on Orange through recent months.

Gulf Coast anglers are still able to find plenty of line-stretching action with decent trout and redfish action in close, Spanish mackerel and bluefish chasing baitfish out a bit deeper, and grouper, snapper, grunts, and black sea bass offshore.And, of course, for the saltwater angler there’s always a good chance of finding out-of-the-ordinary species. Late last week, Capt. Jon Farmer took a three-man party out from Suwannee to water thirty feet deep.The anglers, from Valdosta and Orlando , enjoyed catching a box full of pinkmouth grunts and black sea bass, and releasing several short grouper.When a thunderstorm threatened, the Suwannee guide and his customers headed back towards the river thinking the day’s fish-catching was done.The best part, though, was about to begin.”On the way in near Spotty Bottom, one of the anglers yelled and pointed to something floating in the distance,” Capt. Jon related.In building seas, he swung around to investigate.The guide continued, “It was a big tractor tire, and I eased closer to see if anything—maybe a tripletail—was hanging out under it.”To everyone’s surprise, there was not just a single fish making use of the tire’s shade…but dozens.And, so near shore, the kind of fish swarming under the flotsam was the biggest surprise.Casting the same Gulp! baits on half-ounce jig heads that had produced the grunts and sea bass, the anglers quickly had three dolphin on at once—mahi mahi fish, that is.Before the storm forced their early departure for good, the fishermen had boated 23 of the colorful battlers up to five pounds.

Aside from hook-and-line fishing, North Florida fans of on-the-water sports are enjoying an outstanding scallop season in the Horseshoe Beach-to-Keaton Beach stretch of gulf coast.Although the shellfish are considerably harder to locate down around the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers , some bivalve-seeking families willing to scour the sea grasses diligently are eventually filling limits here, as well.

On the east side of the State, another seafood-catching opportunity is just beginning to come around.The St. John’s River locals say that shrimp on their annual migration up the river are growing in size and number.Even so, we’re still waiting for reports sufficiently impressive to signal an official start to the 2009 shrimp run.

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

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The Dog Days of summer really separate the diehard North Florida anglers from those who just like to fish.While folks in the latter group are waiting for nicer weather, the sweaty anglers are faring very well in the sticky swelter.

Possibly the most intrepid sub group of fishers is the one that targets the smallest fish.And they have to be tough, since bluegill gang up to spawn—and are most easily caught—during the hottest months. The fishermen rise early, deal with hot, still days and regular thunderstorms—and most don’t leave the water until their 50-fish limit is filled.

The serious bream fisher knows that one of the most important tricks for catching bedding bream is keeping up with the lake putting out the best catches.With bluegill, things can change quickly.Last week’s hot spot might very well be not so good this week. Orange and Newnan’s Lakes have taken turns at the top of the “hot bream lake” heap recently.Over the last several days, though, most ‘in touch’ bluegill devotees have been heading for Lochloosa, where maidencane and bonnets are holding loads of fish.

Another bite pretty close to the opposite end of the North Florida fishing spectrum has been gradually but steadily improving over recent weeks.Gulf offshore fishers are finding very good numbers of grouper that seem to be increasingly hungry.

Ken Tenney usually fishes off the Atlantic coast, but in a wise attempt to avoid the big Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament crowd, he and Kenneth, Doug, Duane, and Tommy decided to give the Cedar Key grouper a try.Aboard Tenney’s 320 Boston Whaler Outrage, “Cee Stud,” the Gainesville fishermen headed offshore at daylight.In water 72-feet deep, they put out Mann’s Stretch 30 lures…and were pleasantly surprised when one of the diving plugs was eaten right away by a thick red grouper that would weigh 14 ½-pounds.The fishermen went on to box up 10 big reds, 5 gags, and a couple of small kingfish.

Sunday, a group of anglers from Putnam County enjoyed similar success while fishing off Steinhatchee with Capt. Wayne Emery aboard the “Outta Here.”Fifty miles offshore, Rick Cox, Dwayne McElroy, Tony Epps, Clint Boyer, and Tony C fished live pinfish and menhaden on the bottom to tally 10 legal red grouper, 5 whopping gags from 30-to-35-inches long, 10 red snapper, a kingfish, an 8-pound mangrove snapper, three amberjack, and loads of pinkmouth grunts.The anglers released around 50 short grouper and snapper, and also pulled a pair of big Goliath Grouper to the surface before releasing them.Man, that’s a day of fishing.

Gainesville anglers fared quite well in the big 28th Annual Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament held Friday and Saturday. Jim Doyle, (winner of the event in 1993) fishing with three Jacksonville buddies, boated a 28.3-pound king on Day One, and then took a 15-pounder on Day Two to finish with a 43.3-pound aggregate weight.That total gave the team a 20th-place, in-the-money finish.Both fish were caught trolling ribbonfish north of the Mayport Inlet. Bill Stanley, another Gainesville angler, fished the 451-team tilt with Fred Miles of St. Augustine aboard Bill’s boat, “Twister.”Fishing was tough, and the team had no fish with a short time left to fish on the first day.But with time running out, a big fish took a slow-trolled live ribbonfish at the surface.Stanley and Miles had carefully calculated that they needed to start the 52-mile run back to port at 3:45 to make weigh-in.They’d have to catch the big fish in a hurry.At 3:40, Stanley hoisted the 40.55-pound king aboard—a fish that would end up being the second-largest of the tourney behind a 42.85-pound specimen. Stanley said, “I believe that fish was a Godsend.I give Him the glory for allowing us to weigh such a great fish in the world’s biggest kingfish tournament.”


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

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One of the top saltwater guides along the entire Big Bend coast, Captain Brian Smith has seen an incredible array of fish pulled over the side of his boats through the years. But one mackerel he gaffed Friday, July 17th, made him do a major double-take.Unlike a small kingfish that he had assumed it was, the fish had smallish yellow/bronze-colored spots along its sides. And, unlike the cero mackerel he has also often seen, there were no gold streaks down the sides and the spots were more round than elongated. This was a world-class Spanish mackerel. Tom Idoyaga had hooked the fish off Steinhatchee on a day when he, his son, Nikki, and four other anglers had planned to run offshore in Capt. Brian’s big Twin Vee.Rough seas, however, had caused the veteran Steinhatchee captain to stop instead on a productive spot nearer-shore, in water 22-feet deep.Here, the anglers freelined live pinfish…and with very good, day-saving results.Of the various species they pulled from the spot, the day’s highlights had been a pair of legal cobia…until Tom’s big Spanish came aboard.Capt. Brian knew the fish would be close to a Florida State record, and was anxious to see the reaction of FWC officers and marina folk back at port.All of the thoughts back at the marina, however, revolved around the scalloping fatality that had occurred earlier that day. On various scales, the big mack weighed right around twelve-pounds on the day of its capture.But the next day, on tested scales at The Tackle Box in Gainesville , the fish pulled the needle just a hair past the 11-pound, 2-ounce mark.Not a record fish, but easily the biggest Spanish mackerel we have ever seen.

Redfish action seems above par along several stretches of the gulf coast.Fishing out of the Waccasassa River over the weekend, Spec Hayward, Roger Morris, and Jerry Fletcher of Gulf Hammock, and Jeff and Justin Tedder of Weirsdale all docked at the Waccasassa Fishing Club with good-sized reds. Out of Homosassa, several guides including Todd Cornielle and Don Chancy have treated customers to battles with heavy redfish.Homosassa anglers, Mitchell Meehan and friends ran offshore Friday evening.In 45-feet of water, they anchored and fished live pinfish.Along with a few nice gag and red grouper, the anglers fooled several fine mangrove snapper before heading home just before midnight.

Area lakes are holding acceptably-high water levels, and the fishing is holding up pretty well, too.Bluegill fans say that Lochloosa and Orange are presently the most productive lakes.Folks fishing crickets and grass shrimp along Lochloosa’s south end maidencane edge have pulled in big bream consistently for weeks; and grass and pads near Mike’s Fish Camp on Orange has likewise put out bream dependably.

Bass fishers also continue to find plenty of bites in both lakes.Jeff Septer, owner of Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek, took visiting friends out for some bass fishing Monday evening.The Lochloosa bass weren’t too cooperative, though, for Mike and Terri Skirchak of Melbourne .As a last-gasp try, Septer anchored at the mouth of Cross Creek, near his camp…and here, the fish were biting.In the last hour of the day, the friends cast Storm lures and live shiners to haul in 12 bass up to 3-pounds.

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

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The most rewarding fishing successes occur when you’re the only angler that has the fish figured out at a certain place and time. Fellow fishers will eventually catch on, but it’s great to be the sole soul who knows where, when, or how…for a while, at least.Such triumph, of course, is almost always a result of trying something that nobody else is doing.

Friday morning, Jim Lowrimore and Will Durst decided to try the deepest waters in Newnan’s Lake for speckled perch.A good speck bite lasted through the early part of June in Lochloosa…but if anybody had given deep-water specks a shot on Newnan’s over recent weeks, they had kept it to themselves.Instead, panfishers stuck with bluegill, thinking with solid reasoning that the specks just wouldn’t bite well during the heat of summer. The Lake City anglers got off to a bit of a late start, arriving at their deep-water destination near Palm Point at 9:00 a.m.Right away, the minnows and jigs they cast drew bites from hungry crappies.Though the bite slowed as the heat increased, Lowrimore and Durst pulled in fish until 3:00 pm, when they called it a day.They had released every speck under ten-inches long, along with about a dozen catfish and bream…and still, they had 17 near-slab size specks on ice when they stopped back by The Tackle Box.Makes you wonder just how long the deep Newnan’s specks have been waiting for a fisherman’s minnow.

Most panfishers these days are focused on one or more of the various North Florida bream—the mainstays of the hot-weather freshwater fisher. Bob Sharp and Tim Yawn fished grass shrimp in a bed of Lochloosa lily pads Tuesday.By the time a thunderstorm ran the Gainesville anglers off the water at noon, they had nearly filled a live well with 83 thick bluegill.

Light tackle fishers on the clear and cooler area rivers set their sights on stumpknockers and redbreasted sunfish.Known better by locals as ‘redbellies,’ the latter is easily the river anglers’ favorite.Monday morning, Larry and Denise Stewart fished the Suwannee River near its junction with a major feeder, the Santa Fe River .Casting tiny Rebel Crawfish and F3 Rapala lures with ultra light spinning tackle, the Branford couple found plenty of hungry redbellies where rocky banks met steeper dropoffs.By 11:00 a.m., the Stewarts had 25 of the big, colorful bream on ice and had released many smaller panfish and a few little bass.”The river’s good right now, level-wise and clarity-wise,” Larry advised concisely.

A couple of local bass anglers proved last week that the great Orange Lake bass fishing that lasted through the first part of the year isn’t finished.Jody Marriott and Mark Ruble fished on Orange in a weekly Wednesday night tournament that launches out of Heagy-Burry Park . Their five-bass tourney limit popped eyes and dropped jaws.Casting a topwater lure in the 6:00-’til-9:30 contest, Ruble hooked a 10.15-pound lunker that would anchor his team’s 30.22-pound total.Ruble and Marriott bested thirteen other teams in the after-work rumble…and, yes, a 6-pound average over five fish will win just about every time.

Gulf Coast action is holding steady with many of the best inshore reports still coming from Waccasassa Bay .Monday, Jimmy and Garrett Proto of Williston boated several nice redfish; and Gulf Hammock angler, Eddie Murphy was among the fishers that docked at the Waccasassa Fishing Club with trout limits.

Scallop seekers continue to fare very well out of Horseshoe Beach , Steinhatchee, and Keaton Beach .Shellfishers out of Crystal River and Homosassa, on the other hand, have had to search much harder for the blue-eyed prizes.

Anglers at home in the east coast’s inland waters have dealt with dark water and slower-than-normal fishing for several weeks.Now, they say the clarity-and fishing–is finally improving.Finger mullet schools are showing up again in Matanzas River , and that’s a very good sign for fishers.Guides and customers fishing out of Devils Elbow are spotting redfish schools in the shallow backwaters where stealthy casters are taking both legal and undersize fish.To boot, locals say they are starting to see increasing numbers of mangrove snapper and flounder.

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

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North Florida anglers are reporting hard-earned successes typical of the summer season. There are fish and scallops to be found, but the outdoor sportsperson must also deal with a burning sun and frequent thunderstorms.

Leading up to the July 7 full moon, bedding bluegill were in abundant supply on Orange , Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes.Fishers able to locate congregations of the big, purple-headed bream used grass shrimp, crickets, and red worms to pull loads of nice catches from the tepid shallows. The Suwannee and Ocklawaha Rivers , too, have generously produced panfish. The hot weather mainstays for river fishers are bluegill, stumpknockers, and redbellies; and earthworms, tiny diving lures, and ultralight spinners are effective fish-getters in the lazy current along the river banks.

Bass catches seem to have slowed a tad in the summer heat, but some lakes and ponds in the Hawthorne and Melrose areas produced fish well enough to keep resident anglers with lake access happy over the Independence Day weekend.

Orange , Rodman, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe Lakes continue to put out fair numbers of largemouths. Rich and Cindy Magrini launched their Gheenoe Saturday morning at the Lochloosa public ramp.Casting plastic worms in the lily pads near the launch site, the Gainesville couple hauled in and released three bass.The best of these was an 8-pound beauty that Cindy whipped amid the approval of nearby cane pole fishers pulling bream from the same stand of bonnets.

Suwannee River anglers say the bass fishing there has improved greatly since the water level started falling a few weeks back.Rumor has it a local angler fishing a live shiner caught a 13.6-pound monster bigmouth near Fanning Springs last week.Hopefully, the catch can be confirmed (or discredited) for next week’s report.If true, this was an extraordinary Suwannee fish.

Weekend gulf coast activity was dominated by hundreds of early-season scallop seekers…but a few hook-and-line anglers managed to fare very well in less crowded areas. The Waccasassa Bay flats yielded speckled trout limits for a pair of Wildwood couples fishing out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club.Cooter and Joanne Brown and Gene and Donna Kornegay cast grubtail jigs to make their fine trout catches. Following too-windy conditions last Friday, George and Sonny Fletcher and Gene Suggs found much more agreeable conditions Saturday on the flats just north of Suwannee .Casting a variety of baits, the three enjoyed numerous strikes from Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and trout to 22-inches.

Capt. John Leibach and his family and guests had lots of success out of Horseshoe Beach through the holiday weekend.Leibach and son, Danny, picked up limits of both scallops and redfish Saturday.Then on the outskirts of the shellfishing fleet, they boated a half dozen speckled trout to 23-inches.The following day Capt. John, his wife Bev, and Danny scalloped with Jim and Terri DeFord.In an hour-and-a-half, the five had a full ten-gallon limit of scallops.Later, Danny went out again in his kayak to fish the outgoing tide.With live pinfish set under Cajun Thunder floats, he boated several more stout trout and reds topped by a way-too-big 34-inch whopper.

For shellfishers, the Crystal River/Homosassa flats were a little less productive through the initial week of scallop season.Many of the limits taken in this zone came from the three-to-five-foot deep flats that stretch from Gomez Rocks to Mangrove Point.Some Homosassa locals believe there are plenty of scallops south of the St. Martins Keys as well—but they’re presently out in deeper water than most folks are willing or able to negotiate. Happily, there have been no reports of problems with the jellyfish that plagued the initial weeks of the season here last year.

It’s almost time to start thinking about another special seafood-catching opportunity we North Floridians enjoy annually.Locals near the northern reaches of the St. John’s River are starting to check out good cast-netting spots for the river shrimp that, if conditions are right, will soon make their appearance and head south.Through his twenty-odd years of shrimping experience, John Clark of Palatka has become pretty proficient at netting the prized crustaceans.”The earliest I ever remember making a really good haul of shrimp,” he offered, “was on August 8th a few years back.”Plenty of time to pick a day, prepare the equipment, and put a trip together.

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Things seem to be back to normal for fishers in our most productive area lakes.Bluegill are biting—and bedding—as the moon grows and bass action is strong during the early and late-day low light hours or when a summer thunderstorm is brewing nearby. Missing from the list of fast-biting fish is the speckled perch.

An unusually wet May set the cool-weather-loving crappies to feeding in Orange , Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes.But in the hotter and drier weather that has prevailed through the last part of June, the speck bite has slowed.

That was apparent Monday afternoon, when I cut away for a couple of hours of bass fishing on my favorite lake.When I arrived at the public boat ramp on Lochloosa, there was only one other vehicle and trailer in the parking lot.When the specks are biting, this place tends to be packed. I had a great evening of bass fishing, catching fish with Bass Assassin, Gambler, and Zoom worms and with a gold Rapala.I fished old favorite spots all around the lake, and it seemed that almost every one produced at least one fish. The lake’s water color looks good, its level is acceptable, and the vegetation amounts appear to be fine. When I ramped the old Ranger out at 7:00, I had released 16 bass with 6 of them chunky beauties between 3 ½ and 4 ½ pounds.By then, two trucks and trailers sat in the lot.

By contrast, the parking lot at Powers Park on Newnan’s Lake has been nearly full most days for more than a week.That’s almost completely due to a good bluegill and catfish bite folks fishing worms, crickets, and grass shrimp are enjoying.

Saltwater fishing along the gulf coast is generally holding up well. Suwannee Capt. Jon Farmer and his parties have been very pleased with the redfishing on sand and shell bars near the river.Gold Johnson spoons and shrimp have consistently done the trick for reds.But the angling highlights for Capt. Jon’s customers might be an unusual technique the veteran guide has developed.”Out on Spotty Bottom and beyond, the Spanish and king mackerel really seem to be going for topwater plugs on calmer days,” he explained.”They’re busting big, silver plugs with rattles best—baits like Top Dogs.”Capt. Jon continued, “You have to use a short piece of wire leader, and still, you’ll lose quite a few lures.”On a recent trip to his favorite mackerel grounds with a group from Mississippi , Farmer tallied his largest recent topwater-caught king.He didn’t weigh the smoker, but it wouldn’t fit in a cooler four feet long.

Offshore action is also holding steady. Last Thursday, that fact was confirmed by a group of guys much better known for their bass-fishing expertise.Terry Scroggins captained fellow Elite Series pros, Derek Remitz, Pete Thliveros, and Bernie Schultz…plus Pete’s son, Nick and Bernie’s sons, Daniel and Trevor.

A world of angling genetics aboard that vessel.They fished cigar minnows, pogies, and mullet about 45 miles offshore in water 75-feet deep to take 20 legal red grouper, 4 nice gags, and a red snapper.To boot, young Trevor hooked and hauled in a 25-plus-pound kingfish that picked a cigar minnow intended for grouper off the bottom.Rapala X-Raps also contributed a few bonito and sizable Spanish mackerel to the big catch

The coastal towns of Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach , Crystal River , and Homosassa are all geared up for the big scallop season onslaught that begins annually at the Independence Day weekend. Decent scalloping is expected in the Steinhatchee area, but things don’t look as promising in the clear shallows nearer the southern end of the Big Bend shellfishing stretch.Even so, the bivalve-seekers are undeterred.Said Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s of Homosassa, “The motels around here are almost already booked for every weekend in July.”

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

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A very warm week at the summer solstice failed to halt the area fishing flurry that commenced during a wet May.Anglers stewed and sweated, but they fished on…and many fared well through the swelter. On the way to work Tuesday morning, I took Lakeshore Drive around the west side of Newnan’s Lake .When I passed Palm Point, fifteen vehicles had squeezed into about every parking place available, and folks were fishing in every open spot that has casting access to the water.Struck by the unusual flurry of bank fishing activity, I wondered whether this could be a product of the hard times at hand.Through the day at The Tackle Box, though, fishers picking up bait explained that the fish-catching had simply been good there on the previous day.Bluegill and catfish, in particular, have kept shore bound Newnan’s casters busy this week.

Gainesville anglers Tom McDaniel and Bill Felker fished Lochloosa Monday morning, casting Beetle Spins with brightly colored Culprit grub tails added.From water about 8-feet deep off the lake’s north end, the men pulled 23 speckled perch, 3 big bluegill, and a hefty catfish before the nearly-hundred-degree heat drove them off the water. On Orange Lake , bluegill, shellcracker, and warmouth are the primary attractors of panfish anglers.Persistent fishers are locating large, active bream beds around relatively shallow cover.Once a congregation of fish is found, crickets, red worms, and grass shrimp are (as usual) the top producers.

Bass anglers on Lochloosa and Orange also remain pleased with the fast action.The trophy-size fish that seemed amazingly abundant during the late winter and spring seasons are hard to locate now…but plenty of one-to-three pound fish are taking both soft and hard plastic baits fished in and around hydrilla beds.

Boats have thinned out a bit in the saltwater shallows, but anglers able to take the heat continue to find fish.Harold Wise enjoyed quite a day Thursday while fishing alone out of Suwannee .On shell bars north of the river, the Gainesville angler first cast Gulp! Jerk Shads to fill a nice limit of speckled trout-while also managing to hook a few nearly-hand size pigfish that he tossed in the live well.After catching his fifth trout, Wise decided to head out to Spotty Bottom in hopes of hooking a cobia with one of the frisky pigfish.Upon arriving in the Spotty Bottom area, Wise anchored and put out one of the live baits under a float.Almost immediately, a four-foot shark nailed it.The next grunt didn’t last long, either, as something large and fast “took off with it.”Since he was alone Harold had to put the rod in a rod holder in order to pull the anchor, fire the engine, and follow the rapidly-departing fish.Finally, after a sporty battle, a beautiful 28-pound kingfish joined five trout in the fish box.

East Coast anglers have hooked lots of black drum at Matanzas Inlet; and tarpon, bluefish, and smallish cobia are terrorizing bait pods along the beach just outside the inlet.

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

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Area lakes continue to put out nice catches of almost all the angling favorites—bass, bluegill, shellcracker, warmouth, and catfish are all feeding around now-deeper shoreline cover.And as a major bonus, a surprising speckled perch bite continues out in deeper water. During a typical mid-June, area fishers have a decidedly smaller set of reasonable targets.And veteran fishers are aware of the unusual opportunity. Many are braving the seasonal heat deeper into June than they normally do in order to take advantage.

Orange and Newnan’s Lakes are putting out above average hot-weather catches of both panfish and bass, but Lochloosa seems to presently rate as the hottest area lake. Last Friday morning, Charles Cooper Sr. and Jr. fished among a throng of boats floating in deeper water off Lochloosa’s northwest side.The fish were not at all put off by the crowd.Drifting minnows, the Cooper men filled a double limit of specks (50 fish) in short order, between 8:00 and 9:30. Saturday, John Lamb and Gale Triplett enjoyed similar luck while drifting minnows in water six feet deep.In just two early morning hours, the Gainesville couple boxed up 37 Lochloosa specks and had their boat back on the trailer long before the summer heat began to bear down.

Bassers are likewise finding their fish.In Twin Lakes Fish Camp rental boats, both Kevin Pete of Gainesville and Shawn Welch of Summerfield docked with weekend stories of fast bass action around Lochloosa vegetation.

If freshwater fish-catching is above average, near-shore Gulf Coast action might be a tad below.Some trout anglers casting jigs with soft-plastic grub tails are finding decent numbers of fish off Yankeetown, Cedar Keys, Suwannee, and Horseshoe Beach–but most say the bite is pretty slow. Capt. Rick Mozina, on the other hand, had little trouble Sunday while fishing with his wife, Sandy. The Suwannee guide cast Normark X Rap lures while Sandy fished shrimp along Lone Cabbage Reef, near the Suwannee River ‘s East Pass. In spite of the darkly stained water, the fish bit well just before and after high tide.The Mozinas each took a legal redfish and also filled trout limits topped by Sandy ‘s impressive 26-inch whopper.

It was also a brisk weekend at MacRae’s of Homosassa, where big fish stories were almost standard fare.Capt. Gator MacRae fished offshore Saturday with Captains Jeff and Patti Marshall.From water 80-feet deep, the salty trio pulled several amberjack and red snapper—plus a good box of grouper that included two hefty 20-pound gags. A few anglers reported jumping tarpon; and a big 75-pound cobia taken Sunday from water 35-feet deep was weighed at the Homosassa marina.

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

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Still benefiting from a very wet May, area anglers are hauling consistently-pleasing catches from both fresh and salt waters. Twin Lakes Fish Camp is an example of the positive effects brought by the summer rains that arrived early.Just a few weeks ago, the camp’s boat ramp was not usable—and it was a chore for rental boats to access Lochloosa through a very-low Cross Creek.Today, rental boats are having no trouble motoring in and out from the camp, and folks have successfully launching sizable vessels (including a 24-foot pontoon boat.)And the fishing has been very good for Lochloosa anglers launching at Twin Lakes , Lochloosa Harbor , and the Highway 301 public ramp.Bass are taking a wide variety of artificial baits around grass and lily pad beds, bluegill and shellcracker are bedding around the same shallow cover, and speckled perch have gone on a surprisingly-strong warm-weather bite out in the lakes’ deeper water.

At the other end of Cross Creek, Orange Lake is likewise putting out some fine catches—topped by plenty of stout catch-and-release bass.On Orange and Lochloosa, largemouths between 15 and 24-inches long must be released immediately.It is fish in this ‘release-only’ slot that are biting best…but few anglers are complaining.

Newnan’s Lake has seen lots of angling attention since the wet spell, since bluegill, shellcracker, and catfish have all been in abundant supply for fishers dipping crickets, grass shrimp, and red worms in the now-deeper shallows.Speckled perch have also started biting here; and anglers floating grass shrimp in water three-to-four feet deep in the northern part of the lake have found the most fish.

Gulf Coast fishers are beginning to get a feel for the warm-weather speckled trout bite…and most say that it’s strangely-sporadic.”They’ll catch fish pretty good one day,” explains Spek Hayward of Waccasassa Fishing Club, “and then they can’t find them at all the next.”This peculiar, off-and-on bite has been reported fairly consistently all along the Big Bend coast. John Matthews did manage to boat an outstanding trout recently out of Steinhatchee.The Gainesville angler was casting a Thundershad lure on a shallow grass flat when the 6-pound whopper struck.

Redfish reports have been best out of Yankeetown and Suwannee .And Spanish mackerel are still relatively easy to find on Seahorse Reef off Cedar Keys, and in the zone off Suwannee known as “Spotty Bottom.” Cobia are being spotted with fair regularity…but not many sizable keepers are being boated.A 38.5-pound fish was the top ling taken in the long-running annual Cobia Tournament held last weekend out of Crystal River and Homosassa.That’s one of the smallest winning fish ever in this 200-team event. Offshore, red snapper and grouper fishing remains very dependable, with steady results coming in gulf waters from 40-to-100 feet deep.

Inland waters are dark from the huge rains that fell recently along Florida ‘s east coast, and only steady black drum action and a fair flounder bite has held up in the Matanzas area.A bit farther south, though, redfish and snook are “on fire” in the Palm Coast canals.

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

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At the unofficial start of summer, overall area fishing is nothing short of excellent.After benefiting from a very wet late May, the major lakes are up by anywhere from a foot to a foot-and-a-half—a greatly-needed rise, since the levels of most had become woefully low. June is thought of as the peak of bream season, and bluegill and shellcracker catches are strong as expected.Big catches, taken by fishers using crickets, red worms, and grass shrimp, are being seen regularly on Orange , Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes.Al Williams and his young son, Alex, are among the successful bream catchers.Monday, the Gainesville pair anchored in water four feet deep and fished grass shrimp to take 38 big Lochloosa bluegill.

It is the bass and speckled perch fishing, though, that the fresh rainwater has improved most. For a few weeks, specks have been taking crappie jigs very well in Lochloosa’s deeper water.Now, impressive catches are also coming from Newnan’s.Tuesday afternoon, Adrain Brown, Kori Lamb, and Alphonso Johnson stopped by the store with 25 specks.Several were slabs in the two-pound class.The anglers said they made the fine catch with grass shrimp and small jigs in water about three feet deep on Newnans’ north end—and that they had boxed a similar catch Monday.

Lochloosa bassers are drawing lots of strikes using a variety of baits.While the May rains were falling, Lochloosa resident Cory Martin and his friend Timmy Lado of Gainesville enjoyed fast action with buzzbaits around grass and lily pads.Since the daily rains ended, their best luck (including a few fish in the six-pound class) has come in the same areas with plastic worms. Since the water rose, Jeff Septer has had a nice way to start his day.He walks out to the island in front of his Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek and makes a few casts in the growing light.Pitching worms, spinnerbaits, and topwater lures, he has been able to pick up four or five bass most mornings while sipping his coffee. And the great Orange Lake bass bite that lasted through most of the spring has likewise fired back up rather than fading in the building heat.

Gulf Coast action has been just as good, with trout, redfish, and mackerel all feeding heavily. The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club held its two-day spring tournament last weekend, allowing participants to fish out of any gulf access point from Crystal River up to Keaton Beach—as long as they made it to weigh-in at Cedar Key between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. Sunday.Dennis and Debbie Carter chose to fish Seahorse Reef for mackerel.After tempting no fish by trolling, the Gainesville couple anchored and put out chum.That was the ticket.In short order, they hauled in a few big Spanish over 4-pounds, topped by a 5.3-pound winner in the ‘Spanish Mackerel’ division of the GOFC event.Other winning fish included Phil Horne’s 22.33-pound cobia, Cole Ellett’s 12.03 kingfish, and Mark Rustemier’s 13.69 grouper.Ross McElroy boated a winning 1.57 flounder, Joe Shands had the best redfish at 7.12, and Lamar Evers took the top trout with a 2.80-pound fish.

Steve McGovern, Scott Crown, and Jim Nelson got together last Thursday to fish out of Yankeetown.Considering that all three men are Big Bend captains, you might suspect that all the skill and knowledge aboard translated to a good catch that day.And you would be correct.The three guides released 15 redfish to 32-inches, a 30-pound black drum, and two tarpon—the largest they guessed at 130-pounds.The reds took jigs with DOA paddletails and Gulp! shrimp.Live mullet lured the two silver kings, and surprisingly, the drum ate a Zoom Super Fluke.

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

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Like a reprieve from above, one incredibly wet late-May week brought desperately needed relief to area lakes.A couple of weeks ago, just a few Orange and Lochloosa boat ramps still had sufficient water to launch boats of normal size.Following the record-setting week of rain, folks are again launching at some of the old spots.The most popular launch point on these lakes is the double ramp at Marjorie Rawlings Park at Cross Creek.For most of this year, low water rendered the ramp unusable for most motorboats.Now, canoes and some small vessels with trolling motors can again navigate the shallow trail from ramp to lake.Given continued rain, anglers with bigger boats hope that they, too, will soon be able to utilize the Rawlings access.

Old timers are fond of recalling the bass and speckled perch they once regularly pulled from around the cypress trees and knees that surround Newnan’s Lake .For decades, legions of fishers developed great fondness for stalking their quarry in the shade of the trees standing in two-to-four feet of water. Thanks to low water, the latest generation of Newnan’s Lake fish has never hung out under the cypresses…and at present, they still can’t quite pull that feat off—unless they turn sideways.But the waterline now, at least, covers the bases of the big trees. Just a few more inches of rain could introduce the latest crop of specks and bass to the preferred haunts of their forebears. As the water rose through last week in Newnan’s, the catfish fed like crazy along the newly-inundated shoreline.Craig Cooper of Gainesville took Cheriese Brown to the Powers Park fishing pier Friday morning for her first-ever fishing trip.With chicken livers, the pair took 32 nice Newnan’s catfish.

Some saltwater fishers were not put off by Memorial Day Weekend weather forecasts that called for continued rain along the gulf coast.They were rewarded with mostly-nice conditions and fine fishing.Jeff Tedder of Lady Lake and his sons Garrett and Justin fished Monday out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club.They were among a number of successful anglers who pulled off the inshore feat of filling both trout and redfish limits in Waccasassa Bay .

Farther down the coast, anglers are gearing up for the big “Cobia Big Fish Tournament” out of Homosassa and Crystal River .The contest annually pays big bucks to the captor of the biggest cobia taken over the weekend of June 6 and 7.An unnamed weekend angler caused considerable excitement among this group when he docked at MacRae’s of Homosassa Saturday with a nice 43-pound cobe.Impressive trout, redfish, mackerel, and tarpon reports are also standard fare in the Crystal/Homosassa area.

The good east coast fishing in the Intracoastal Waterway was interrupted by last week’s wet weather.The folks at Devil’s Elbow on Matanzas River measured 15-inches of rain—and say the tannin-stained river now “looks like iced tea.”While big baitfish schools traveling down the middle of the river are being busted up by jack crevalle, the recommendation from here is to try Matanzas Inlet, where better salinity has allowed the good flounder and black drum fishing to continue pretty much as before the deluge.

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

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Along with nice and well-timed weather, last weekend served up the pinnacle events for tournament fishers of North Florida . Following about three months of lesser clashes, many of the area’s biggest guns in fresh and salt waters came out to claim shares of the largest purses of the year.For freshwater bass fishers, the Twentieth Annual Wolfson Children’s Hospital Bass Tournament paid a five-digit prize to its winners.

At the same time, the Doug Johnson and Donnie Young Reeling for Kids saltwater tourney out of Steinhatchee offered gulf anglers a substantial purse spread over numerous categories. In a classic struggle for the bragging rights and prize money, some of the region’s top saltwater anglers succeeded in making eye-popping catches…to the delight of the weigh-in crowd at Gulfstream Marina.

The veteran offshore team of Terry Gaines, Frank Sheffield Sr., and Frank Sheffield, Jr. ran all the way out to water 170-feet deep in search of large grouper.The Starke team’s long trip was rewarded with an impossibly-huge 24.3-pound gag—and a tournament record that will be very hard to ever top.Big kingfish were highlighted by Chris Newsome’s 33.5-pound smoker. In a close race for the largest trout, Chase Daniel’s 4.7-pound fish topped Ashley Mock’s 4.5 and Jason Carrington’s 4.4 pounders. In a most unusual development, a three-way tie in the redfish category forced tournament officials to enact the tie-breaker that rewards the team entered into the event on the earliest date.By that criterion, Toney Sullivan’s 7.5-pound red beat out identical fish weighed in by Thad Beck and Chase Daniel.

One team entered in the offshore division drew accolades at weigh-in when they struggled to the weigh scales with a world-class 84-pound cobia.Unfortunately, the stellar catch garnered the team no prize money, as the ling was designated as a target for contestants entered in the inshore division.The cobia that did win its captor plenty of cash was a 37.3 pound specimen caught by Ashley Mock.When combined with his nice trout and 6.6-pound red, Mock easily won the coveted “Masters Inshore” award for the heaviest cumulative weight of those three species. Ray Hedgecock captured the “Masters Offshore” title with a grouper/kingfish/amberjack trifecta that weighed 68.5-pounds. Again, the Reeling for Kids tourney presented by W. W. Gay Mechanical Contractors succeeded in raising considerable funds for the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.

For decades, The Wolfson Children’s Hospital Bass Tournament has been called the “largest bass tournament east of the Mississippi .” Saturday brought nothing to change that title, as more than four hundred teams again competed in the venerable contest held on the St. John’s River out of Palatka’s City Dock.The winning team of Glenn Welborn and Barney Headrick hail from Sanford .And that fact triggered speculation that the anglers made a spectacularly-long run up the river to pull the winning limit weighing 23.97-pounds from their home water.If so, it turned out to be a great gamble and play—akin to the winning Sheffield catch covered above. Local teams placing highly included Wally Johns and Roger Roebuck.The Starke anglers finished a very close second with 23.54-pounds of bass. Chris Heron and Shawn Keith of Gainesville landed in fifth place with 20.24.A fine 9.33-pound bigmouth, though, rated as the tourney’s third-largest fish and added a thousand bucks to their paycheck.Another Gainesville team, Stephen Keith Sr. and Jr., finished eighth with a good 19.42-pound catch.

This was a mercifully rainy week, rescuing area lakes-if only temporarily—from slowly but steadily-falling water levels. To boot, the strangely-chilly temperatures through the week should lower water temps in our shallow lakes and could also extend the great springtime bass and panfish action.

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

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One by one anglers have reported hooking or spotting them.First cobia… then, kingfish. Tarpon and sharks came next—and it became clear when even a stray sailfish showed up almost within eyesight of land. Off Crystal River , Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee, the Big Bend bruisers are back.

When Buddy and Stephen DeGraff launched at Cedar Key Saturday morning with Matt and Dalton Wood, they had no aspiration of tangling with any of the aforementioned brutes.The Melrose father-and-son teams simply hoped to draw a decent number of bites from speckled trout and redfish.They set up a drift near North Key, through a zone that had been productive for them a few weeks back.Casting Gulp! shrimp on light jigheads, the four fishers started nailing nice-sized trout right away.And the fish just kept coming.”I don’t think I’ve ever caught so many good trout,” Buddy exclaimed.”We had to put a few back that were too big…and we caught Spanish mackerel, flounder, redfish, and a big pompano, too.”The topper, though, was yet to come. Something had just cut a hooked and fighting trout in two, so the fishermen knew that something big, fast, and toothy was around.But so near shore, they couldn’t have expected the fish that grabbed Dalton ‘s lure and screamed off.Buddy started the engine and followed the fish while there was still a bit of line on the reel. The 30-pound test Spiderwire on the small Shimano spinning outfit held up through a 40-minute battle, as did the determined twelve-year-old.Finally, the anglers managed to haul aboard Dalton ‘s kingfish—a whopper that would later weigh a bit over 25-pounds. One of the top draws of saltwater fishing is the incredible variety—you really never know what’s going to bite next.But who would be ready for a smoker king in four feet of water?

Anglers trying to get a feel for things in Steinhatchee waters ahead of the Doug Johnson and Donnie Young Reeling for Kids Tournament coming up Friday and Saturday say this year’s contest should be quite a shootout.Big trout and max-size reds are in good supply; and several fishers have spotted big cobia ambling about on the clear grass flats. In typical pre-tournament style, the offshore fishers aren’t bragging a lot.But they aren’t complaining either.It’s a safe bet (if the wind behaves) that lots of big grouper, amberjack, and kingfish will be seen at weigh in.

For sure, the trout seekers would be thrilled with a fish like the one Homosassa resident, Allan Boyett fooled recently with a topwater plug.Casting near the mouth of the Homosassa River , Boyett nailed a 28 ½ inch trout that weighed just better than 8-pounds.On the gulf coast, that’s an uncommonly-large specimen.

Area waters yielded lots of big bluegill through last week, as the moon grew toward its ‘full.’Ice chests filled with bluegill were not uncommon on Orange , Lochloosa, Rodman, or Newnan’s Lakes.When that lunar phase actually arrived Saturday, things slowed fairly dramatically.Bream fans now will point to the 24th of the month and New Moon.Of course, some old timers like to point out the fact that there’s really no bad time to bream fish during the month of May.

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

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North Florida bluegill authorities generally agree that the full moon in May brings the most widespread spawn by the most uniformly thick-bodied bream.With that key time at hand, folks armed with crickets and grass shrimp will likely be out in force this weekend on local lakes. Many of the big bedding bream didn’t wait for the moon, however, as great catches have been standard fare for two weeks now.

Al Pinson and Ted Connell fished Lochloosa Sunday.The local fishermen started searching for bream beds a little after daybreak.An hour later they found one just off a bed of lily pads, and anchored in the 2 ½-foot deep water.Fishing grass shrimp under small floats, the anglers caught big blue bream at a steady rate; and were back at the public boat ramp by early afternoon with 100 panfish and six small bass.

There was plenty of unease among anglers when, a few weeks ago, big rains across South Georgia and the Florida Panhandle filled the Suwannee river to its limits.River fishers knew the river itself would be all-but unfishable for a while, but it was the saltwater fans that were most worried.From many past floods they knew that the fresh, dark excess from the big river would hurt the near-shore fish-catching in the gulf for miles above, below, and out deep from the river mouth. Oddly, when the slug of Georgia water came down this year, the saltwater fish didn’t really seem to mind.

Suwannee Capt. Rick Mozina is among the saltwater fishers that have caught fish just fine in the less-than-clear coastal shallows.For several weekends running, the guide has found plenty of redfish and trout on near-shore sand and shell bars to the north of the river.Saturday, along with Steve May of Charlotte, Capt. Rick located a hot spot near Shired Island .The men cast Rapala XRap slashbaits to boat limits of trout that included an eye-popping 27-incher.To top off the day, the Carolina visitor hauled in several redfish—also topped by a 27-inch fish.

Most saltwater anglers of North Central Florida consider the Big Bend portion of Florida ‘s gulf coast to be ‘home water.’For us, it is impossible not to notice that there are more Big Bend fishing tournaments every year.And, despite a faltering economy, participation in these contests is on the increase as competitive fishers get tastes of the added excitement that can only come from showing up and taking a shot. Already passed are several sizable tilts including the 8th Annual Steinhatchee Community Fishing Tournament, the 5th Annual Fishing for Kids event that benefits Shands Children’s Hospital, the 18th Annual Saltwater Fishing Tournament presented by the Optimist Club of Perry, Fl. (suppose they expected a bite on every cast?), and the Mel Tillis and Friends Tournament.All four events were headquartered at Steinhatchee.

Coming up are more well-run and popular events—such as the 23rd Annual Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club’s “Fishin’ Tournament,” to be held out of Suwannee Cove Saturday, May 9th.Call Hugh Cain (352) 494-0253 or Greg Ahrens (352) 665-3212 for more information.

Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16, Gulfstream Marina in Steinhatchee will be the site of the big Doug Johnson and Donnie Young ‘Reeling for Kids Celebrity Fishing Tournament.’The former Gator and NFL greats and their tourney committee work tirelessly to make this the most prestigious Big Bend contest of all.The considerable proceeds go to the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.Go to www.reelingforkids.com or call (352) 373-3885 for more.

Another Gulf Coast fishing event held last Saturday had a different slant.Called the “Family Fun Fishing Tournament,” the Builders Association of North Central Florida (BANCF) holds an annual angling get-together that truly focuses on family fun.The event was held at Crystal River ‘s Plantation Inn.Although there are no eye-popping cash prizes for the winners in this one, the contestants are plenty competition-minded.And a large number of those contestants are youngsters, fishing with parents or other family members.

On a fine day weather-wise, dozens of families and teams went after a wide range of species.As is often the case, the junior anglers, all 15 or younger, stole the show.Fishing with his dad, David, and John Matthews, young Greg Robinson hauled in a 5.9-pound grouper.The Cox family went after kingfish…and with great success.Hayden Cox had a big 13.9-pound king to enter, while his brother Seth managed to whip a whopping 18-pounder.Ryan Schiavone and Nick Oelrich got in on the king fest, weighing in 8.9-and 7.3-pound fish respectively.Austin Burke and Andrew Stringfellow each boated a good-sized speckled trout, Kaleb Payne wrestled in a big catfish, and tiny Kayla Clark captured the weigh-in crowd’s heart when she proudly hoisted her 1.7-pound shark over head for photos.Long live the Family Fun Fishing Tournament.

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

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As in any sport, there are always challenges popping up for anglers.Low water, dirty water, extreme heat or cold, red tide, storms, and high winds are a few that seem constantly on the ready to ruin well-planned fishing trips. This year, throughout much of April, the primary culprit was the wind. The bluster we expect in March persisted a full month past it.And that fact was made tolerable only because the fishing was good enough to allow anglers to overcome the considerable handicap.

These days, Orange and Lochloosa fishers can also cite the “low water” challenge. Water levels here have fallen to the point of creating access inconveniences.Some boat ramps, like the fine one at Marjorie K. Rawlings Park, are totally unusable…and boaters can expect to ‘kick up some mud,’ even at the best access points. Still, the fish-catching remains very good. Tuesday, Ben Crenshaw of Gainesville fished Orange with his friends, Bruce Davis and Dustin Gross.The goal of the day was to get Ben his first-ever bass with an artificial lure.Set up with Zoom Horny Toads in the watermelon/red color, the men cast hydrilla beds; and when Ben’s first strike came, it was a doozy. Following a tense, see-saw battle in the submerged weeds, the men finally succeeded in boating the bass.

There are many thousands of excellent anglers who bass fished hard through long lives, but never broke the ten-pound mark.Ben Crenshaw’s first lure-caught bigmouth weighed 11-pounds, 2-ounces.

Several days around Saturday’s new moon phase produced good bream fishing in area lakes.The parking lot at Power’s Park on Newnan’s Lake was nearly full through last week—with good reason.Crickets and grass shrimp fished around brushy or weedy cover standing in shallow water produced lots of 50-fish limit catches of big bluegill every day.When Roger Barber made it out on the lake Thursday afternoon, the bite must have been fully ‘on.'”When we got there,” the Gainesville fisherman explained, “we couldn’t see nothing but poles bendin’ and reels reelin’.”

As expected, runoff from the flooded Suwannee River has darkened gulf waters for miles above and below its mouth. However, while the ‘red’ water has ruined the saltwater fishing in years past, it has been less devastating so far this year.Known as one of the best spots for Spanish mackerel fishing along the entire gulf coast, Seahorse Reef off Cedar Keys is a good example.The water on the reef has slowly darkened through recent days…but the Spanish have remained.Friday, Paul Hildebrand, Joe Sabatella, and Denny Smith trolled Floreo Jigs and Drone Spoons to take a bunch of small-to-medium sized fish.Although they released several of the smallest mackerel, each of the men still filled his 15-fish limit.

Saturday, George Tanner and Bill Malphurs reported similar results on the storied reef.

Speckled trout, too, have seemingly been unfazed by the darkening water on the Cedar Key grass flats. Wednesday, Cedar Key Capt. Jim Keith and his party of Ralph Eng, Ed Garvin, and Dennis Lee fished Saltwater Assassin grubs under Cajun Thunder rattling floats to fill trout limits by 1:30.The best fish was a fine 22-inch example. Friday, the well-known guide returned to the flats with George Gibbs, Randy Jarmin, and Randy Jefferson.Again, the party hauled in good trout limits—plus redfish limits—by early afternoon.Capt. Jim offers one tip for catching trout in the stirred-up water.”The brighter colored baits are working best,” he said.

Saturday Eddie Bell, Mark Stubbs, John Stevenson, and Trey Clayton proved that kingfish have arrived a little farther offshore.When they arrived at the Whistle Buoy in water 45-feet deep, the wind was higher than ideal, but the water was “crystal clear.”Out a bit deeper, the anglers anchored up to try for grouper.And as the day went on the wind slowly subsided.While fishing the bottom, the anglers set out live baitfish under balloons…a tactic that produced several kings, including whoppers of 30, 26, 20, and 18-pounds.

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

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Following three straight years of sub par rainfall, and with lakes chronically low as a result, area fish camp operators, boaters, and anglers have prayed for enough rain to help the waters of North Central Florida to ‘catch up,’ level-wise. Recent near-misses have only added to their vexation.

The big rains have come close, but afforded Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes—along with a slew of smaller ponds—only glancing benefits (for which we are grateful.) Two weeks ago, a momentous deluge missed us slightly to the north. Where the resulting floods are a presently a curse throughout the course of the Suwannee River, lakes just a few miles away remain significantly deficient of water. Actually, North Florida anglers are likely to see a significant effect from this near miss. But it won’t be a positive one. The flooded Suwannee River is already spilling tannin-stained ‘red’ water into the gulf—and we know that this will diminish saltwater fishing over a wide swath of Big Bend coast. Then early this week, another big rainmaker dumped big rains primarily to the south of Alachua County.

Even in their skinny states, area lakes continue to produce very good catches. David and Essie Merricks of Alachua stopped by The Tackle Box Friday with their boat’s big livewell crowded with very nice specks, shellcracker, bluegill, and catfish. They did not find the fish around visible cover that everyone else was hammering…but more than a hundred feet from it, out in open lake. The key, David said, was finding a hard, sandy bottom. On such a spot, the couple anchored and fished grass shrimp to take the impressive array of fish. Newnan’s yielded more good results over the Easter weekend. Saturday, Darlene Debose fished bulrush beds standing in just two-feet of water on the lake’s north end. Using grass shrimp for bait, she pulled in 20-speckled perch; and she could easily have taken home 25, but thought that 20 was the daily limit. Ms. Debose wasn’t too peeved, however. One of her 20 specks had two twenty-dollar FWC reward tags, affording the Gainesville angler a 40-buck bonus.

Lochloosa panfishing likewise remains strong. Lashun Fayson and friend rented a boat at Lochloosa Harbor Monday and also picked up two dozen minnows. Before long, they were back at the fish camp to buy three dozen more minnows. When they called it a day later because of rough weather, the Williston anglers had 30 specks and four bass that they had pulled from lily pads near the camp.

The most amazing story of this week’s report, though, is the revelation of the recent capture of another huge Orange Lake bass. Dean Jackson of High Springs was casting a topwater frog in the morning fog April 3rd when the bass struck. Thanks to fellow bass anglers who happened to be in the same part of the lake, we have good photographs…and a weight from a hand-held digital scale. The scale showed the bass to be 14-pounds, 11-ounces. Whether accurate or just close, the bass was clearly a giant. Before releasing the huge fish, Jackson measured its length at 28.5-inches and girth at 24.75.

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

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Allen and Billy Dyson are no strangers to Florida bass fishing—and most especially bassing on Orange and Lochloosa Lakes. The Hawthorne brothers have been casting for bigmouths in their home lakes since the 1960’s when they were youngsters. Since those days, the Dysons have caught lots of big fish and have a long list of remarkable angling stories to tell. The most recent, however, will go straight to the top of the list. Casting an old favorite bass plug on Orange Lake Saturday morning, Allen had a huge swirl. As he called to Billy to cast to the spot, the fish unexpectedly struck again…this time, nailing the silver Devil’s Horse topwater lure. “I thought it might be a big mudfish…or even a gator,” Allen recounted, “but I knew it was big.” He battled the big fish until it ran into a bed of hydrilla…and when he worked the behemoth out of the grass, Billy was ready with the landing net. As Billy swung the full and writhing net aboard, the brothers were momentarily stunned. “We both said, ‘My God, what a fish.'” Allen phoned his wife and she drove to the boat ramp at Heagy-Burry Park with camera and digital scales. On the scale made by Berkley, the monster weighed 13-07. The Rapala digital showed 13-08. After a thorough photographic chronicling, the Dysons took the brute back to the spot where she had struck, and released her in excellent condition. Allen Dyson’s biggest bass up until last weekend had been 10-03, and now it will be nearly impossible to ever better his top fish. He doesn’t seem too upset about that. At thirteen and a half pounds, the bass ranks as one of the largest pulled from an Alachua County Lake in decades—and should easily rank among the largest fish taken in all of Florida for 2009. Monday, Chris Beloso, Chris Norville, and Henry Manassa fished Lochloosa aboard a Twin Lakes Fish Camp rental boat. Bass fishers on Orange and Lochloosa must adhere to special rules. Each angler may keep up to three fish that must either be under 15-inches or at least 24-inches in length. Among the twenty-odd bass the three friends caught while casting soft plastic lures were nine legal fish under 15-inches long. Wednesday, Alicia Urbine of Cross Creek fished Orange Lake with Mike Bass to catch her biggest bass (besides Mike)…a 24-inch beauty that weighed 8-pounds. Panfishers continue to report good mixed bags of speckled perch and various bream. Sunday, Robert Sapp and Bobby Nilsson fished their favorite chartreuse crappie jigs on Newnan’s Lake Sunday—as they frequently have for weeks. And, again, they scored a fine catch, taking 35 specks, plus several catfish and warmouth. The fact that one of the specks was wearing a pair of twenty-dollar FWC tags was just a nice bonus. Saturday was, by most accounts, the only offshore-worthy day since gag grouper season reopened April first. Gator MacRae was ready when the opportunity arrived, and departed the Homosassa River that morning with his wife, Pam, and sister, Cathy Faulk. He set anchor 25-miles offshore in water about 50-feet deep, and the three sent Spanish sardines to the bottom. Unmolested by anglers since January, the grouper were willing; and the day’s catch included eight very stout gags. Speckled trout, though, are presently the number one target of the Gulf Coast angler. Fine weekend trout action was reported from the Homosassa, Crystal River, Waccasassa, Cedar Key, Horseshoe Beach, and Steinhatchee areas. And that’s this week’s report.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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Almost every angler looks forward to spring.Since the peak fish-catching season arrived, however, conditions have seldom allowed anglers to fish effectively.Now that “the windy month” is in the past and substantial rains are finally falling, things are definitely looking up. If not limited by the March bluster, both fresh and saltwater catches over the last several days might have been off the charts.We know this because many intrepid anglers that braved the elements came back with great reports despite the rough conditions. Sunday, Dan Boyd and Billy Evans fished vegetation in the Lochloosa shallows.Using grass shrimp for bait, the men easily filled limits of nice-sized speckled perch.In another boat, Leroy Cromwell and Leroy Wims also fared well, taking 25-fish limits of their own.

Monday, Christopher St. James rented a boat at Twin Lakes Fish Camp.Casting soft plastic baits on a stretch along Burnt Island , he picked up a half-dozen chunky Lochloosa bigmouths.Aboard another rented boat, Nornell Moore tried his luck with a fly rod.Impressively, the angler’s sinking fly attracted a few bream, a bass, and even several specks (a fish usually tough to tempt with flyfishing tackle.) Good bass and bream fishing is also the rule On Rodman and Orange Lakes , and on numerous smaller area ponds. When days nice enough have come along, fishers find the near shore gulf waters to be full of fish.Christie Bunkley of Sea Hag Marina has seen customers bring in consistently-fine trout catches recently.”The only complaints I hear,” she said, “are from people who don’t like having to throw back so many oversize trout.”Each angler can keep five trout more than 15-inches long…but just one can be longer than 20-inches. A week ago, Rich Hall of Suwannee, Ga. boated the best single trout weighed at the marina during March.The big ‘speck’ weighed six pounds, even. Trout aren’t the only draw for Steinhatchee anglers.Tuesday morning, the Mashburn party was among the fishers enjoying a rare, calm day on Steinhatchee Reef.Here, the four anglers from Roopville , Ga. fished shrimp on the bottom.Around noon, they returned to the Sea Hag with limits of chunky sheepshead already filled.Inshore fans fishing out of Homosassa and Crystal River say the trout action is great.Captains Todd Cornielle and William Toney have regularly guided their customers to big trout limits.Sunday, Capt. Todd also put the season’s first cobia in the boat—a 34-inch keeper that signals the arrival of the battling pelagics to Big Bend waters.And just in time.Presented by the Homosassa Game Fish Club, the 25th Annual Cobia Big Fish Tournament is coming up April 6 and 7.This popular tourney is limited to the first 200 entrants.Last year, 40 teams were late signing up and were turned away. Offshore anglers are chomping at the bit to get after grouper whose season has, at least in part, been closed since February 1. The same rain events that are blessings for our chronically-low lakes, however, are likely to make things awfully tough on the deep-water bunch.

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

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Ah, spring—the best all-around season for fishing…and for the fetching tales the good catches inspire. A little more than a week ago, Spanish mackerel made a sudden appearance along Florida ‘s Big Bend .Within a matter of days, good catches of macks were reported from every gulf port.Now, only a week or two after the appearance of their smaller cousins, king mackerel are showing up as well. Last Wednesday, Gary Moore was drifting for trout on the Steinhatchee grass flats off Rocky Creek.While the Oxford , Florida angler cast jigs, he also trailed a live pinfish behind his boat in hopes of drawing a bigger trout.The fish his live bait attracted was bigger, alright…but it wasn’t a trout.After an epic battle with light tackle and in water just 5-feet deep, Moore hauled a big kingfish aboard.The king would later measure 48-inches to the tail fork and weigh a bit more than 25-pounds on scales at the Sea Hag Marina.It ranks as the first Big Bend king reported in 2009. Along with the mackerel, trout and redfish numbers are on the increase; and sheepshead seem to finally be dependably in place on their spawning spots off the coast.Last Friday, Anthony Pugliese, Bob and Kevin Lingis, and Hank Banalewicz fished the ” Steel Tower ” portion of Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Keys.The men had taken 17 sheepshead in this area a week earlier, and were looking to match or better that mark.Tight-lining live shrimp, the four anglers fell just short of that goal, but had no complaints.They enjoyed another great day, catching 15 fish up to 8-pounds—plus four trout. Even though the first official weekend of spring was chilly and windy, reports of good Orange Lake bass fishing were scarcely dampened—and the stories were all topped by the catch made by “Chicken” Jim Slechta.Fishing with Cliff Harris Sunday morning, Chicken Jim’s very first cast of the day with a Magnum Zoom Speed Worm produced a huge bite and a breathtaking battle.At its end, the Micanopy anglers had boated, photographed, and released a whopping 9-pound bigmouth. Not a bad way to start the day. Bob Sharp fished Lochloosa on Friday.The accomplished angler found a spot along an edge of eelgrass in water just a foot-and-a-half deep where the smell of bream was strong.Sharp figured that he had found an early-season bed of fish.His suspicions were soon confirmed, as the grass shrimp he fished without weight or float produced two catfish to 7-pounds, two tilapia to 4-pounds, four specks, three small bass, and a 40-fish mix of bluegill and shellcracker. Bobby Nilsson and his dad, Robert Sapp, also located an ultra-productive fishing spot the same day—but on a different lake.After being delayed by a disorienting early-morning fog, the Gainesville pair located an open strip of water surrounded by vegetation on the north end of Newnan’s.The spot was full of fish.The men took turns casting chartreuse crappie jigs into the sweet spot, and hooked a speckled perch on every cast for nearly an hour.Keeping only the biggest fish, they filled a fine 50-fish limit of specks that they later showed off at The Tackle Box.To boot, the anglers had a Newnan’s bass to weigh—a 7-pound, 3-ounce beauty that apparently had been sharing the hot spot with the specks.

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

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Some anglers like to keep close track of annual fishing ‘firsts.’This is actually a practical pastime, as the patterns and averages from past years enable us to predict fairly accurately the arrival of certain seasonal species in nearby waters. For Cedar Key fishers, one of those yardsticks for 2009 was set last weekend…by a twelve-year-old angler.

Fishing with Buddy and Stephen DeGraff and his dad, Matt, young Dalton Wood hooked and landed a big 24-inch Spanish mackerel Saturday, March 14th near North Key.While Spanish stories have come from the Homosassa area for a week or so, this was certainly among the year’s first Cedar Key Spanish. The big mackerel, however, was far from the sole notable catch made by the four family members.Casting Gulp! shrimp in a deeper cut near the island, Buddy said they also boated “around 25 speckled trout, a hundred or more sand trout, probably 50 whiting, and five redfish.”They kept a small mess of fish for the table and released the rest.”We didn’t find much on the grass flats,” Buddy continued, “but the cuts and channels were full of fish.” Sam Drake and friends experienced the same situation farther north on the coast. After the Steinhatchee grass flats yielded scant action, the men tried a near-shore trough south of the river—and that move produced an excellent take of both reds and trout. Homosassa anglers continue to score big with trout and reds.Captains Don Chancy, Todd Cornielle, Charlie Harris, Jimmy Long, Mark Zorn, and William Toney all docked at MacRae’s Marina with great catches and happy customers last weekend.Toney’s group pulled not only trout limits, but also maxed out on redfish and snatched three big Spanish from the flats near Chassahowitzka Point. Speckled perch are hanging onto the “Top Panfish” designation in local lakes—but just barely, as bluegill activity increases.Capt. Joe Richard took Dick and Linda Fabian of Boston speck fishing on Newnan’s Monday, even though reports from the weekend were not very encouraging.Some people believe wholeheartedly that fish know when the weekend arrives…and quit feeding to avoid capture. On this day, it would have been hard to argue with them.The specks that had been scarce went on an impressive bite (as if they had been fasting for a couple of days.)Aboard his 15-foot MonArk, Capt. Joe and his guests began casting curly tail jigs in the north end shallows at 10:00 AM.Four hours later, the short midday trip had yielded 23 good-sized specks, 6 catfish, and a hefty 6-pound largemouth bass that surprised and thrilled all aboard. Fishing out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek, Roger Elliott found specks in the shallow Lochloosa lily pads. Elliott’s live minnows, fished beneath a small float with no weight, attracted 22 nice specks Thursday and then 19 more on Friday.Both days, the veteran fisherman was off the water by noon.Mike Bass, too, has had some good Lochloosa luck.Using freshwater grass shrimp for bait, the lifelong local very nearly filled a 50-fish limit of bluegill Monday—just missing another first-of-the-year benchmark.

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

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Finally, a string of picture-perfect fishing days revealed what Gulf Coast trout fishers hoped for…early in their just-reopened season, the fish are fat and plentiful.Monday, Capt. William Toney and two customers filled good limits while fishing shrimp on the Homosassa flats.At the same time, his cohort, Capt. Todd Cornielle was guiding his own two-man party to maximum-legal-size limits of trout.Up the coast, similar trout stories came from fast-warming flats off Waccasassa, Cedar Key, Suwannee , and Steinhatchee.

Deeper creeks and rivers, however, are not yet entirely out of the trout-catching picture. Saturday, Buddy, Stephen, and Austin DeGraff (8) and Dalton Wood (12) found a faster trout bite in the Steinhatchee River than on the shallower surrounding flats.The four fishermen boated over 40 trout while casting shrimp and Gulp! baits near channel marker 26.Aside from the reopening of speckled trout season, the principle buzz among gulf anglers lately has centered on an annual happening that, strangely, seems to get cranked up later every year.Decades ago, big, spawning sheepshead used to congregate some time in January on scores of natural and artificial reefs in water from 10 or so to about 25 feet deep along the Big Bend .Somehow, through time, the big get-together slipped into February and March.This week brought the first uniformly-positive reports of the 2009 season. “They’re finally catching ’em,” said Libbi Patterson of the Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee, “and we’re sure selling lots of shrimp.”Most of the Steinhatchee sheepsheaders are focusing on Steinhatchee Reef, nine miles out of the Steinhatchee River mouth. Suwannee anglers are also picking up good numbers of the toothy scrappers.”We haven’t seen the real big ones yet,” said Bill Miller of Millers’ Marina at Suwannee , “just nice numbers of fish that still seem to be a little scattered out.”One of the favorite spawning grounds here is Hedemon Reef, a few miles outside the river. Off Cedar Key, the Steel Tower area is the best-known spot to intercept sheepies in the mood for love.And good numbers of fish were taken there last weekend, as well. Very low tides have forced anglers working the inland waters of the east coast to adapt over the last few weeks.Fans of the backwater flats have been unable to access some of their top spots.They have, however been able to locate good numbers of redfish and black drum in deeper holes, using dead shrimp for drum and live shrimp or mud minnows for the reds.Lots of smallish bluefish are present in the Matanzas area, but they don’t excite the locals much. Top-notch weather has also allowed freshwater fishers splendid shots at panfish and bass.For panfishers, this is an unusual time of year.Speckled perch are finishing up their spawning duties around the shallow cover in local lakes; and the number-two panfish, bluegill, are just beginning to feel the need to gather in the grass and pads for the same purpose.Right now, a cane pole fisher searching the shallows is almost equally likely to find either fish. Mixed panfish bags were seen through the weekend at Lochloosa Harbor , where folks armed with crickets and worms pulled in fair numbers of bream and folks floating minnows picked up specks.And then there’s Charlie Register.The celebrated speck specialist seems to be able to find speckled perch where he wants them to be.Monday, Register docked with a crappie limit that included five slabs bumping the two-pound mark.But he didn’t pull the specks from pads, brush, or grass.The Williston angler made the good catch out in deeper, open water. At Newnan’s Lake , some folks have scored well while others have had a tough time finding fish.Greg Fussell and Paul Varnes took a short morning trip to Newnan’s Saturday.The Gainesville men found a productive spot and hauled in a number of specks and catfish.After releasing all but the largest fish, they took home 7 good specks and 2 cats.The best catch, though, was a chunky speck that carried two FWC tags—each worth a 20-dollar reward.

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

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At the arrival of 2009, the water levels of most North Florida lakes were on the low side—a result of annual rainfall that has fallen short of the “average” mark for three years running.The slightly sub normal rainfall so far this year has done nothing to help their condition.If the remainder of March isn’t very wet, we will be left to count on good rainfall through April and May—typically dry months that combined to contribute less than two inches last year.In the freshwater fishing world, it’s hard to get everything working well all at once.This year, the fishing is generally good…but boater access threatens to be a problem by summer. Fishing was greatly diminished over the chilly and blustery weekend.Saturday, by far the better of the two days, some good hauls were made in nearby freshwaters.Decent catches of speckled perch came from Lochloosa and Newnan’s Lakes, and fishers checking out early-season bluegill prospects also docked with positive stories. Fishing their monthly tournament, the Gainesville Bassmasters scored well on the St. Johns River system out of Palatka.In their usual manner, the bass anglers scattered throughout the vast waterway—testing the bigmouth’s feeding attitudes in Rodman Pool, Dunn’s Creek, and in a very long stretch of river from Federal Point, all the way south to Astor.Those who pre-fished Friday held high hopes; as every one reported finding plenty of sizable and willing fish.Although the bite was tougher on Saturday, several good catches were made.The best came from Rodman and from Dunn’s.Tournament winner, Joe Sharkey, concentrated in Dunn’s Creek—the relatively wind-protected, winding creek that connects the river and Crescent Lake .Fooled by Sharkey’s spinnerbait, the winning catch included a pair of stout bass weighing 5-09 and 5-07. Joey Ference proved Sunday night that the biggest fish sometimes feed best during the nastiest conditions.Ference cast a Zoom Trick Worm the Lake Santa Fe canal behind his home in a high and very chilly wind.”I thought I was wasting my time,” he explained, but the fish were active—swirling and striking all around.”And they were biting, too—well enough to keep the angler outside his warm house for quite a while.The largest of the bass he released was a trophy-size fish that weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. For saltwater fans, there always seems to be a strong attraction to the coast on days when open seasons for almost anything arrive.Opening days for trout, grouper, and scallops sometimes attract so many folks that boat ramp parking is nearly impossible to find.Speckled trout season reopened Sunday in North Florida , and as expected, lots of fishers planned trips. Only those bitten hardest by the fishing bug, however, would have considered wetting lines on that cold and brutally windy day. Like their freshwater brothers, coastal and offshore anglers found fish in a biting mood late last week, just ahead of the strong front.Friday, Ken and Kenneth Tenney, Doug Biley, and Tom O’Neal made full use of a window of nice weather to run off the Atlantic coast out of Vilano aboard Tenney’s Whaler 320 Outrage, “Cee Stud.”Their destination was the edge of the gulfstream known among anglers as “The Ledge.”The four Gainesville anglers trolled high speed lures to hook one of their targets—a big wahoo—right away.Near the boat, though, the fighting ceased and the men thought they had lost the fish.When they wound in the lure, to their surprise, the fish was still hooked.But the best part had been taken by something huge.Only the head of the fish remained. The anglers did go on to boat three fine ‘hoos weighing 50, 50, and 45-pounds…a great haul in anybody’s book.

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A few years ago, the big lake just east of Gainesville was commonly written off as a once-productive treasure slipping into a drawn-out, eutrophic death.Then, in a seemingly-magical comeback a little over a year ago, Newnan’s started putting out speckled perch—and lots of them.Most folks didn’t know, of course, that much of the improvement was due to extensive habitat and stocking work done by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences specialists at UF.Lots of folks have been after the nice-sized Newnan’s Lake specks that started biting dependably again a few weeks back.But this year, it is becoming apparent that specks are not the only angling favorites that have quietly been gaining in size and number.

Brandon Spikes got in on the Newnan’s bonanza, making an outstanding catch recently while speck fishing the north shore.But, the elite athlete managed to locate a much harder-fighting foe.The Gator great was casting a small jig/minnow combination with light tackle when he hooked something obviously too heavy to be a speck.Spikes played the big fish carefully, and eventually wore down a whopping bass.After weighing the 8-pound 10-ounce fish on tested scales at The Tackle Box, he released it back into the lake. The good catch probably wouldn’t rank among Brandon Spikes’ top sporting conquests, but it was the best Newnan’s bass we have seen in years. Unfortunately, every report isn’t so impressive here.Just before last weekend, the Newnan’s specks seemed to take a break from their minnow-eating binge…and the slow spell lasted through the early part of this week.Only a few of the fishers that had been pulling in crappie limits were able to do so over a tough four or five day stretch. Things were only a little better on Lochloosa. The top tally seen at Lochloosa Harbor was put on ice by Georgia anglers.Walter Dart and his brother, both from Jessup, trolled speck jigs Saturday and Sunday to take home 82 keeper specks. Despite the peculiar hiccup in the crappie action, Lochloosa and Newnan’s are still considered tops in the speck fishing department. Orange Lake, though, deserves top billing among bass fishers.Last Monday, Wayne Geiger had a super bassing day—releasing 21 bass.More impressive, though, was the average size of the bigmouths that fell for his Devils Horse plugs and Zoom worms.Geiger weighed his ten best fish on a hand-held digital scale, and they totaled more than 46-pounds.”There was nothing under 4 pounds and nothing over 5.4—just good, solid fish.”The fine Keystone Heights angler added, “It was like going to heaven.” When speckled trout season reopens in North Florida Sunday, anglers are likely to find the fish scattered between creeks, shell bars, and grass flats.Some redfishers have reported hooking incidental trout in creeks and on bars; and the flats should be warm enough to hold some fish, as well.Over on the Atlantic coast, a few anglers have scouted for trout, checking around lighted boat docks at night.These locals contend that the fish are present in good numbers.Also, sporadic waves of weakfish have apparently entered the inland waters through Matanzas Inlet over the past few days.Flounder action is picking up as well, and Tom Hurley and guests offered evidence in the form of ten flatfish Monday.The Palm Coast group fished mud minnows and shrimp near Devils Elbow.B Every saltwater angler in Florida (and especially every gulf angler) should have a copy of Capt. Tommy Thompson’s new book, “The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Florida ‘s Big Bend and Emerald Coast .”The well-known Gainesville angler, writer, and photographer covers just about every fishing destination in the northern portion of the Florida gulf coast with important facts regarding access, fishing, lodging, and dining. Capt. Tommy will be at The Tackle Box’s early spring event next Friday, March 6th to sign copies.The spring event will last through Saturday the 7th, and specials will include discounted while-you-wait line respooling (limited to three reels per customer,) and deals on Fishbites synthetic fish-catching baits

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While gulf anglers wait for trout and grouper seasons to reopen and for sheepshead to gather in earnest on their Big Bend spawning spots, local lakes continue to produce the area’s best fishing action.

Despite a serious fish kill a couple of weeks back, Lochloosa is still putting out some impressive catches of speckled perch. Twenty five-fish limits of specks have been seen with pleasing regularity at Lochloosa Harbor Fish Camp through the last several days. Among the top speck catchers are Don and Lee Turner…brothers who prefer the relative solitude of night fishing. On their houseboat, the Lochloosa residents pulled in combined 50-fish limits several nights last week while drifting with minnows and jigs. Doug, Ed, Herbert, and Matt Griffin assembled for a fishing family reunion over the weekend at Twin Lakes Fish Camp, on the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek. The Griffin men enjoyed their best day Sunday, combining to take 30 nice specks and a half-dozen bass.

Lots of fishers have been after Newnan’s Lake specks almost every day for the last two weeks. The fish have rarely disappointed the anglers casting minnows, jigs, and Beetle Spins around bushes and aquatic vegetation near the shorelines. Friday, local anglers Tom Tomlinson and Rodney Crew fished with Steve Gavilac of Buffalo, N.Y. Floating live minnows around shallow brush Friday evening, the men hauled in 60 specks. But it was a single fish that really made the trip. Tom hooked and was able to successfully maneuver an exceptionally-large speck to the landing net held by Rodney. The big slab would measure 15 ½-inches and weigh two-and-a-half pounds. Several of the Newnan’s crappie wearing FWC reward tags have now been pulled in. Jeremiah Brown and his dad, Bill, took advantage of a teacher work day Friday to introduce daughter and granddaughter, Chesney (5), to speck fishing. Among the dozen specks they boated was a fish sporting two yellow 5-dollar tags. A day later, George Lewis came in with another double-tagged fish worth a total of ten bucks. But, so far, Peter Williams of Gainesville has cashed in best. Included in his speck limit Saturday were two tagged fish worth twenty dollars each. Good catches of bass are coming in from a number of area lakes, with Orange and Rodman at the top of that list. In a drizzling rain Sunday, Gary and Eric Rupp cast various soft plastic baits to boat and release 40 Orange Lake bigmouths. The Earleton father and son estimated their best fish at almost five pounds.

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

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With speckled trout and grouper seasons closed in the gulf waters of North Florida, lots of coastal anglers have turned to their attentions to another seasonal favorite whose prime season is just beginning. Right on schedule, sheepshead seekers are starting to find big fish on their spawning grounds—rockpiles and reefs a little ways off the coast. Capt. William Toney’s party of three took 12 big sheepies Monday. Capt. Toney says the fish can presently be found with relative ease in the very-clear waters off Homosassa. Just run along in water around ten feet deep and look for dark spots on the bottom. These are rocky areas that are likely to be holding fish. Anchor up current (or upwind) and cast a lightly-weighted shrimp to the darker area. The top hotspots farther north, such as Suwannee’s Hedemon Reef, are easy to locate when the square-toothed spawners are present…as are Steinhatchee Reef and Seahorse Reef off Cedar Keys. Just look for a big cluster of boats out in the wide-open gulf. In these well-known spots, fish are being picked up with some regularity; but sheepshead specialists say that the big females remain scarce—for now. February’s full moon is the always a good bet for speckled perch fishers looking to find fish in shallow spawning cover. That the big moon actually coincided with ideal weather insured big weekend crowds on most of the top area speck lakes. Newnan’s Lake speckers reported mixed results…but lots of the folks that missed the fish forgot one more rule of the initial speck spawn. Later in the day is better. Sunday afternoon, Johnell Young and Traia Mayberry launched at Newnan’s at 4:00 pm. “Most people were leaving the lake when we got there,” Johnell said. In the short daylight remaining, the anglers cast crappie jigs around shallow cover to pull in 16 specks. Included in the mess of fish were four whopping slabs that each measured 16-inches. Even on a breezy Tuesday two days later, Powers Park was nearly packed with the vehicles and empty boat trailers of anglers searching for Newnan’s fish. Several that stopped by The Tackle Box after ramping out seemed pleased with their catches that included not only specks, but also bream, catfish, and even a 5-pound bass. To date, nobody has come in with a crappie reward tag. A number of the folks that scored best on Lochloosa found fish best out in the deeper water—apparently not quite ready to be fruitful and multiply. Saturday, Bruce and Steve Tinney kept a dozen open water fish up to 1-pound, 12-ounces. Mark Enix and son, Zach (7) of Citra fished with Zach’s uncle, Jimmy Wisdon. They floated minnows near the lakes north end to fool 27 very nice specks. Glen Roberts and his grandson tallied 20 specks on Saturday. Then the Jacksonville pair matched that number Sunday. By Monday, many live wells were nearly as full as the moon. The Bill Farmer party of nine concentrated on Lochloosa’s north end. Fishing live minnows, the Sumter County crew pulled in scores of thick specks. Jay Brooks and friend from Georgetown, Ky. also found fast action, docking that day with 39 crappie “a pound and up.” The Lochloosa Harbor folks say that there are plenty of bass also being hooked…many by overmatched speck fishers using light tackle. Bass tournament season is cranking up for Ron Klys, and the Windsor angler spent Saturday honing his skills on Orange Lake. After launching at Heagy-Burry Park, he soon located what he figured to be prime bass habitat. The promising spot featured hydrilla beds at the prime stage of development for flipping or casting, growing in water 3-to-4 feet deep. Klys flipped 3-inch Berkley Chigger Craws and cast Hollow Belly Split Tail lures to catch and release 30 bass up to 4-pounds…a successful target practice, for sure.

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

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Lots of anglers made good use of several warmer days at the end of January sandwiched between the two coldest cold spells of the season. Gulf coast fans got after the speckled trout that will be off-limits through February, and offshore enthusiasts used the nice stretch of days to bag their last legal grouper for two months. Stephen DeGraff fished Saturday with his dad, Buddy, and friend, Jay Peacock. Their aim was to boat enough Steinhatchee River speckled trout to hold them over until March. This trip did turn out to be memorable….but for a most unlikely reason. While casting a sinking Mirrolure near the river mouth, Stephen had a ‘bird nest’ in his line. As he worked with the snarl, his lure settled to the bottom. A couple of minutes later he had the mess cleared and began retrieving the bait, only to find it heavy—apparently with a very sluggish fish. When the angler reeled the fish to the surface, still a distance away from the boat, the puzzlement began. “I saw it was a trout,” Stephen explained, “and a long trout, too. But it wasn’t fighting at all.” A few moments later, the mystery was solved as he wound a fully filleted speckled trout to the boat. Somehow, the High Springs fisherman’s lure had hooked the dead and cleaned trout in the mouth. For freshwater fishers, speckled perch are presently the main focus. The spawn-minded fish have moved into the shallower cover along the shorelines of most area lakes. Doug Strom slid his canoe into Newnan’s Lake Sunday to try for specks in the brush and vegetation near the launch site. In three hours, the Gainesville angler had thirteen nice-sized specks and two big catfish that all took live minnows. Like most fishers, Strom noted that the specks are “definitely bigger this year.” In order to receive important data, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) employees are the process of tagging speckled perch on Newnan’s Lake. On each tag, a reward amount is printed…5, 10, 20, 40, or 80 dollars. Anglers lucky enough to catch one of these ‘reward fish’ should clip the tag off and take it to The Tackle Box at Powers Park (right by the lake.) We have the proper envelopes to send in tag and questionnaire. Payment will soon be on the way. So far, 270 Newnan’s specks have received reward tags, and the FWC plans to tag at least that many more. A fish kill on Lochloosa Lake has anglers rightly concerned; and the cause of the problem is presently unknown according to FWC officials. Dissolved oxygen levels (often the culprit in such kills) are said to be fine; and there has been no spraying of aquatic vegetation since November. The lake’s water temperature was not nearly cold enough to kill fish…but its color has been a nasty, muddy color for a while now. Late last week, residents and anglers started reporting substantial numbers of fish—shad, bream, specks, bass, and catfish— floating along the east shore, the south end, and in Little Lochloosa. Some fish were still dying through the weekend. Good speck catches on those days, however, showed that the problem was probably not a devastating one. Friday, Lori and J.J. Pease of Lochloosa Harbor filled a double 50-speck limit while fishing Culprit crappie jigs in white and hot pink colors just outside the north end grass and bonnets. Willie Jones of Citra docked Saturday with an impressive 25-speck limit he bagged using black and chartreuse jigs during an afternoon trip. And Willie and Tiwan James scored with the Lochloosa specks Sunday. The Ocala couple fished crappie jigs in various colors to put 40 good fish on ice.

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

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Occasionally, an especially-frigid winter night will actually kill significant numbers of fish (mostly mullet) along the North Florida coasts. Although last week’s hard freeze must have brought quite an uncomfortable jolt, it was not severe enough to cause such a kill. In fact, some very good catches were made in the gulf shallows over the weekend that followed the cold spell. Fishing out of Steinhatchee Saturday, John Palmer and Bob Foster proved that the shock did not keep the favorite inshore targets inactive for long by pulling in several big redfish, plus a couple of trout up to 28-inches long. That the water temperature was only in the fifties did not seem to slow down the skinny-water predators that took a variety of artificial lures. East Coast anglers have apparently had a bit more trouble relocating the trout. Mike Sherman and George and Jeff Collins decided to try for trout around lighted boat docks along Matanzas River and the inland waterway Sunday night. The local experts weren’t very shocked that no hungry trout were present…but they were pretty surprised at the fish they did find in the 59-degree water. “There must have been a hundred bluefish on every dock,” Jeff explained, “and that’s all we caught.” Saturday will be the last day for North Florida fishers to take speckled trout for a month; and gag grouper will be off limits in the gulf for February and March. While saltwater anglers might be bummed about the upcoming closed seasons, excitement is building among their brethren that love fishing in fresh waters. Prime time for catching both bass and speckled perch in shallow water is almost here. Once the freeze, reports from Lochloosa, Orange, and Newnan’s Lakes have included several mentions of speckled perch pulled from shallower grass, brush, and lily pads. Friday, Billy Smith of Gladding, Colorado fished pads on Lochloosa’s north end with pink and white crappie jigs to cull a nice 25-fish limit from the 37 specks he boated. The same day, George Dekle showed off eight big specks at Lochloosa Harbor. The largest of these, a 2-pound, 7-ounce slab, fell for a live minnow. Monday, Bill and Brenda Smith filled their fifty-fish limit in the pads while using little jigs. After seeing these nice catches, Lori and J.J. Pease took a break from fish camp duties to check out the Lochloosa speck fishing first hand. The white and pink jigs they fished in the north end produced 18 specks up to a pound and a half, plus three big bluegill.

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

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When the strongest cold fronts blow through, there are few spots that anglers can really depend upon to produce fish. One of the best for folks seeking both fresh and saltwater fish is Crystal River. Here the 72-degree water constantly pushing up from springs offers refuge for a multitude of species escaping nearby shallows that could be 20-degrees colder. The great diversity of available fish in the gulf river was again demonstrated in a recent tournament held by the Bassmasters of Gator Country. The tightly-contested event was won with a five-bass limit weighing just shy of ten-pounds; but it was the aquatic life that didn’t count toward club points that had everybody talking at weigh-in.

Manatees were spotted in abundance in the clear waters of Kings Bay. There were incidental redfish, ladyfish, jack crevalle, and trout caught and released. One club fisherman had a pelican land on his boat…and had a very hard time making the big bird leave. Benny Beckham hooked and battled a large snook for several minutes, finally losing it near the waiting landing net held by tourney partner, Wally Grant. The bass anglers guessed the big linesider at about 20-pounds. Like a heated auditorium in the middle of an inhospitably cold world, King’s Bay is, and has been for centuries, a winter haven for marine animals of the gulf coast. An often windy and sometimes chilly week cut down on good fishing reports considerably. But just one speckled perch catch almost made up for the shortfall. Tim Clark has been on a crappie-catching roll lately. Last week’s report told of his fine speck day on Sampson Lake. This week, Clark scored even better on a bigger water body. Over recent weeks, the two top speck-producing lakes in this part of Florida have been Crescent and Rodman. Rodman is the spot the Gainesville angler chose to fish on a windy Martin Luther King Day Monday. In the pool’s open water near Rodman Dam, Clark drifted minnows…with more than a little difficulty. “The wind was bad,” he explained, “but I set up my drifts across a good spot where the water was about twelve feet deep. I had the minnows about eleven feet under the floats. But the fast drift picked them up farther off the bottom even though I was using quite a bit of lead to keep them down. The wind was pushing me along fast, but the fish liked it fast—that surprised me, but it was a good thing since I couldn’t really slow the boat down.” Clark was fishing alone, and there were no other boats around when he made the best speckled perch catch we have seen in a long while. By the time he made it by The Tackle Box to show us his fish, he had already given away part of his 25-fish limit. The 18 still in his cooler raised the eyebrows of everyone around. On tested scales, we weighed the largest of the specks at 2-pounds, 12-ounces. And there were two more that each pulled the needle around to the 2-pound, 3-ounce mark. The smallest of the 18 fish weighed 1-02. We all tend to avoid fishing in unsavory weather. But, looking back, many of the all-time greatest catches I have seen and made have come in weather that offered a challenge of one kind or another. Tim’s catch counts as one more good example.

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

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The big chill expected through this week should really shake things up in the North Florida fishing world. The fish might not respond positively at first, but the cold shock is very likely to produce considerable benefits in the long run. The best spring seasons for fishing always seem to be preceded by colder winters. And the decent rainfall just ahead of the cold blast was another greatly-needed blessing.

The two favorite fish that anglers seek most avidly following a major cold front are ‘specks.’ That’s speckled trout in coastal salt waters and speckled perch in the freshwater lakes. There hasn’t been a great deal of speckled perch activity locally since the flurry of good catches around the Crappie USA tournament a little more than a week ago. But this chill should change that. Specks typically become considerably friskier when water temperatures fall, and the arctic blast at hand will do the trick. Many of the soon-to-spawn fish should have well-developed roe and are most likely to be feeding on minnows in the deeper waters of Orange, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe Lakes. While the same should be true on Newnan’s Lake, some puzzling mystery makes the open water specks on that lake very hard to locate. In a few weeks, when the fish make their move into the shallows, Newnan’s will again become a major player in area speckled perch fishing. Several other speck fishing destinations should be mentioned as well. Rodman Reservoir and Crescent Lake have both yielded outstanding speck catches over recent weeks. And smaller area lakes including Crosby, Hampton, Sampson, and Wauburg are always popular with crappie seekers. Tim Clark stopped by the store Tuesday with a dozen big Lake Sampson specks that he fooled while drifting minnows in a chilly, drizzling rain. We weighed the largest of the thick slabs at 2-pounds, 3-ounces. Most specks are presently feeding in the open water depths in all of these lakes. Let the breeze push your boat along while fishing small crappie jigs or live minnows set at varying depths. But speed is important. If the day is calm, you might need a trolling motor to move your baits along more quickly. If it’s very windy, you might have to use the electric motor for the opposite purpose—pointed into the wind to slow down the drift. It will soon be apparent where, in the water column, the fish are holding. When you get a read on their whereabouts, set all of your rigs to that depth. Be aware, however, that the fish often move up or down in the column through the day. Local speck fishers should heed a comment made by Daryl Cole, one of last weekend’s Crappie USA winners in the Semi Pro Division. Cole said, “We were spider-rigging and slow-trolling at about .6 or .7 mph and caught most of our fish on orange/chartreuse or pink/chartreuse Ron’s Zip Jigs. Early in the morning, the fish were right near the surface. Later, they dropped to about three feet down.” Trout fans on both coasts like to see cold snaps, since the thin-skinned fish predictably seem to head for deeper holes when the shallows cool quickly. Even through the unseasonably-warm conditions that persisted through the earliest weeks of winter, speckled trout dutifully reported to many of the gulf rivers and deeper creeks. Saturday, Paul Hildebrand and Denny Smith fished out of Cedar Key. In the first half-hour of fishing, the Gainesville anglers filled limits of redfish. So, they decided to try for trout in tidal creeks. Although they did boat a nice 20-inch ‘speck,’ many more redfish continued to find their shrimp-and they released a good number of nice-sized fish. Finally, the fish they hoped to find took a shrimp Smith drifted under a float…a whopping trout that would weigh 6.26-pounds on a certified scale and rank as one of the largest Big Bend specimens reported so far this season.

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

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Gainesville’s Capt. Tommy Thompson fished last Monday with very special guests. Through a thick morning fog, the well-known angler/outdoor writer idled out of the Steinhatchee River with former President Jimmy Carter, his daughter Amy, and grandson, Hugo Wentzel aboard. The plan was to fish the shallows north of the river…but with the challenging combination of a negative .6 tide and visibility near zero, Thompson settled for a near-shore flat barely out of the river. “Normally, I would have cancelled the trip,” Tommy said. For a United States president, though, you do your best. It was young Hugo that saved the day. Casting a Swim N’ Image lure, the nine-year-old hooked and wrestled in a big 4 ½-pound speckled trout. The presidential party was pleased that Capt. Tommy was, despite tough conditions, able to guide them to such a beautiful fish. In the continued unseasonably-warm weather, saltwater fishing has remained excellent. Capt. John Leibach guided Cpl. Noah Smiley, just returned home from combat in Afghanistan. Also along were Noah’s dad, Richard, his granddad, Ed Oehmig, and cousin, Wesley. All five men filled fine speckled trout limits out of Horseshoe Beach. A couple of days after the good fishing trip, Leibach treated Noah and his dad to an Orange Lake duck hunt that yielded limits of ringnecks. The Crappie USA tournament Saturday produced impressive winning catches. A serious crappie-catching couple from Clarksville, Ohio had the top overall catch. Fishing in the Amateur Division, Ron and Barbara Hollingsworth concentrated in Orange Lake’s deepest water. Fishing Crappie Stop Jigs in various colors, they bagged scores of specks. The largest seven of these weighed 10.46-pounds and included a 2.26-pound slab—plenty to pick up the win. And the Ohio couple’s catch was almost even more impressive. Ron said, “We lost two more two-pound fish at the net.” In the Semi-Pro Division, George Parker of West Palm Beach and Daryl Cole of Leesburg chose to fish Lochloosa on tournament day, fishing “right in the middle” with Ron’s Zip Jigs. Their seven-speck catch weighed 8.84—good enough to top all participants their division…barely. The second-place Semi-Pro team had 8.76, while third-place finished with 8.71. Although the day’s best catch came from Orange, the top three catches in the Semi-Pro class were pulled from Lochloosa. The folks at Lochloosa Harbor have noted lots of nice speck catches lately made by folks unassociated with the Crappie USA event. New Years Day, James Henderson of Rome, Georgia fished minnows and crappie jigs in Lochloosa’s deepest water to take 20 specks. The next day, Charles Register likewise fished the mid-lake depths to pull in 20 specks up to 1-pound, 11-ounces. The Williston fisherman trolled slowly with small jigs. On Saturday the 3rd, Tracy and Thomas Waters of Alma, Ga. tallied 25 keepers while fishing minnows and chartreuse jigs on the lake’s northwest side. But Clyde Mills and Ed Dorsey of Jacksonville docked with the best non-tournament catch of the weekend. The Jacksonville anglers filled a double, 50-fish limit of specks up to 1-1/2 pounds Saturday while trolling jigs in open water.

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

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All fishing reports are written by Gary Simpson, (c) 2009