2010 Fishing Report

Archived Fishing Reports 2010

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The year is certainly closing out better for redfish, trout, and grouper fishers than for casters looking for speckled perch and bass in area fresh waters. Even so, the handful of fishers still working the lakes and rivers are proving that freshwater success is possible.

Gary and Eric Rupp fished Orange Lake Christmas afternoon, launching at Heagy-Burry Park at 2:00 p.m. Casting Gambler soft plastics, the Melrose father-and-son found the bass to be fully in a feeding mood. They released quite a few stout fish in the 2-to-4-pound class. But, as is often the case in bass fishing, the big one that pulled off in a wad of hydrilla was foremost on their minds on the way home.

Few fishers—no matter how avid—would have seriously considered fishing in the cutting wind that came Sunday. Robin Shiver of Bass Assassin Lures and his son, Robbie jumped at the chance. The lifelong Suwannee River anglers knew how to make the raw conditions work in their favor. They also knew that, as the tide fell, the banks of the Suwannee tidal creeks they planned to fish would offer effective wind breaks. The Mayo duo’s primary target was actually one that few actively seek…stumpknockers. But, anchored in the first hole in the first creek, the first cast with a live earthworm on 4-pound-test ultralight tackle produced a 16-inch redfish.

The ‘unexpected species’ trend would continue.

Like they had planned, the Shiver men did catch several thick stumpknockers. But, along with the feisty little panfish, they also boated 60 very large redbellies and released 40 bass from two-to-three-pounds. When they left the water shortly after noon, the tide was very low and “lots of new real estate was showing” in usually-inundated places.

The late fall season and the first several days of winter have already set a few cold records; and this has held lots of redfish and trout in the slightly warmer and deeper coastal creeks and rivers.

The Steinhatchee River remains a top-notch trout fishing destination. Five-trout limits are commonplace in the river, where folks are fooling trout in a variety of ways. Some are casting jigs, some slow-trolling Mirrolures, and others, soaking live or frozen shrimp on the bottom while at anchor. When I called Christie at the Sea Hag Marina Tuesday morning, she could count a half-dozen fishing boats from where she sat…and temperatures at that time were still in the mid-twenties.

The East Coast sheepshead-catching saga continues in the inland waterway. This week, the sheepshead are still plenty-willing to bite fiddlers, but the little crabs are again nearly impossible to find in such cold weather. So, how do the folks at Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp know that the fish are biting? Only by watching the continued success of locals who bought lots of fiddlers when they were last available—and kept them in good fish-catching shape.

After Friday, offshore gulf anglers will have to wait quite a while before they can harvest gag grouper again. The recreational harvest of gags closes in federal waters starting January 1. Federal fisheries managers recently announced the temporary rule that closes gulf federal waters to recreational gag grouper harvest for six months while they develop a long-term plan to improve the gag population. State waters (from shore to nine-miles out) will remain open for recreational gag grouper harvest until February 1st.

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

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Low water levels and a surprisingly chilly fall season must be to blame for the unusually tough fishing on local lakes. A few decent bass at Santa Fe and Rodman Lakes , along with a handful of fair speckled perch catches from Orange , Little Orange, Alto, and Santa Fe pretty much make up the sum of nearby angling successes.

Still, this won’t be the shortest fishing report of all time—thanks to the gulf rivers that often save the day for holiday season fishers.

Steinhatchee, the northernmost river we cover along the gulf’s Big Bend , remains an excellent fish-catching destination. Speckled trout are now scattered through a long stretch of river, from its mouth to farther upriver than most trout and redfish seekers consider. Anglers casting jigs with grub or Gulp! tails—or live shrimp—are scoring good trout limits, as are those chunking Mirrolures or Paul Brown Original Corky Mullets.

Monday, several of the Sea Hag guides had fishing parties, and all of them-both trout/ redfish and offshore grouper specialists—brought in very good catches.

Moving south, the next gulf river is likewise productive.

Scores of fishers have enjoyed the fine redfish action the Suwannee has produced now for a few weeks. But Bob Heron might have squeezed out the best personal results. The Gainesville angler recently won the Bassmasters of Gator Country’s final tournament of 2010 there—a result that lifted him to the club’s Angler of the Year status. Then on Saturday, Heron returned to the Suwannee along with fellow club member, Dennis Croyle. The two bass anglers cast weighted paddletail worms in tidal creeks near the river’s East Pass , where both fresh and saltwater species can be found. They hauled in and released 20 bass. Interestingly, though, their soft plastics intended for bass also produced a half-dozen redfish and a whopping 5-pound trout that ranked among Heron’s biggest-ever.

After a good redfish-catching excursion a week earlier, Cole Childers, R.J. Dick, and Ian Taylor returned to their favorite Suwannee creek Sunday. In a damp chill, the Gainesville trio found the reds again—but even more. They cast Bomber Minnows to boat an impressive total of 79 reds, 2 nice trout, and a foul-hooked mullet. It was almost altogether a catch-and-release day, but the men had no complaints.

The catching has been slimmer on the little Waccasassa River …but a handful of trout seekers have reported that scattered trout and redfish bites can be found there.

Crystal River ‘s spring-fed Kings Bay is a well-known haven of warmer water, winter manatees, and dependable fishing for an appealing plethora of species. Bass are year-round residents here; and during cold weather an angler might tie into redfish, trout, ladyfish, jack crevalle, snook, or tarpon.

And, farther south yet, the Homosassa River has now been invaded by most of the same favorites. Locals this week have taken trout, redfish, and sheepshead; and lots of snook are being spotted as well. Most of the linesiders, though, are in the ‘blue water’ near the headwaters, in a “no fishing” zone.

The Matanzas River on the Atlantic Coast now fits right in with the hot ‘tidal river’ fishing pattern, as well. After a few weeks of dealing with reluctant biters…and then willing fish but poor bait availability, things have come together for sheepshead fans on the inland waterway. The stout, square-toothed brawlers are abundant near most bridge or dock pilings. And now, fiddler crabs, their favorite morsel, are likewise in good supply. Lots of limit catches have resulted…and one Devils Elbow customer said he caught and released at least 25 sheepies beyond his 15-fish legal limit. Redfish and trout action, too, has picked up in the Matanzas-to-St Augustine stretch.

If you’re looking for good fishing during the holidays, saltwater creeks and rivers along both North Florida coasts are looking hard to beat.

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

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While unusually cold late fall temperatures continue to limit the local fishing effort, a few intrepid souls have not only fished…they’ve fished with great success. A big trick in catching cold weather fish in Florida involves understanding how certain species react to sudden temperature plunges. And the thin-skinned saltwater speckled trout is one of the easiest to predict. They head for the deepest and warmest spots they can find.

Along the gulf coast, these spots are creeks and rivers.

Trout fishers scored last weekend in the Crystal , Waccasassa, and Suwannee Rivers —but most said that they had to fish long and hard to fill limits, as the bites came at a slow pace. In fact, redfish action seems to be better in these rivers at present. It is the Steinhatchee River —the northernmost river along the part of gulf coast we cover in this report—that has seen the greatest migration of warmth-seeking trout.

In the Steinhatchee, five-trout limits have come easily for most anglers casting jigs and slow sinking minnow-imitating lures over the past week or two. Live shrimp would work as well…but the supply of bait shrimp has been poor. This week, there are plenty of good Steinhatchee River trout-catching stories…but one really stands out. Fishing alone Saturday, Capt. Rick Davidson found a hot spot in the river while casting a Paul Brown Original Corky Devil lure. The Gainesville angler caught a trout from 17-to-19-inches long on 18 consecutive casts.

Only the southernmost of the gulf rivers we cover has apparently not seen an influx of trout. In fact, weekend Homosassa anglers complained of wind, very low water, a sudden temperature drop, and a thick Sunday sea fog. In the poor conditions, determined Homosassa anglers kept to the river and had to settle for smallish mangrove snappers.

East coast anglers can’t seem to catch a break—let alone, a fish. Last week, we reported that sheepshead were abundant and hungry around bridge, pier, and dock pilings—but that the best bait, fiddler crabs, could not be found. This week, Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp on Matanzas River managed to find a bait supplier with plenty of fiddlers. Now, though, the sheepshead have developed a case of lockjaw following the latest sudden drop in water temperature. But all is not lost. The now-lethargic banded brawlers will surely resume their bite later this week; and when they do, Devils Elbow will have plenty of fiddlers.

Freshwater fishers usually focus on speckled perch when the mercury dips low. The one-two punch of low water and cold wind, though, has limited the damage speckers have been able to do in the rough mid-lake depths. Even so, local speck sages, Bernie Bass and Ricky Benton have consistently pulled speck limits from Orange Lake . While most speck seekers have been running to the lake’s north end, the Cross Creek anglers have fished in the other direction. They typically start around mid lake, and drift or slow-troll their live minnows toward the south end.

A recent FLABASS.NET tournament on Orange drew 22 competing teams. In the end, Jimbo Denton and Matt Beck took home the first-place money. The Ocala team bagged a fine five-bass limit weighing just over 21 pounds to win. Among their five keepers was a rare set of triplets—three fish that each weighed exactly 5-pounds. A beautiful ten-pound bigmouth was also weighed in by the second-place team. Soft plastic worms and craws accounted for the top catches.

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

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The most severe freezing front of the season arrived early this week, and few chose to angle in the frigid wind that accompanied it. As the wind did ease up a bit through the week, gulf anglers hit the water in a hurry in search of speckled trout that gathered in deeper holes in rivers and creeks. The winter gulf anglers know that, in the now-cold water, warmth loving trout are easier to locate due to their desperate search for an extra degree or so of warmth. They typically find it in those deeper holes.

And yes, we know it’s not even officially winter yet. That has us wondering if the trout (and many of us anglers) might welcome the coming season that is forecast to be “mild”. If that prediction turns out to be correct, then autumn might have produced the colder nights.

At any rate, the trout don’t know what season it is. They just know they’re too chilly.

The speckled beauties wasted no time re-entering the Steinhatchee River early this week.

When I called Sea Hag Marina Tuesday morning for a report, Christie Bunkley said that she had been watching a fisherman trolling the river all morning. With temperatures in the twenties and a fifteen-mph wind, it’s a safe bet that he wasn’t there for his health. And the coming weekend offers a promising forecast that’s pretty close to ideal for trout fishers—nice fishing weather with still-cold water. Look out trout…in the Steinhatchee, Suwannee , Waccasassa, Homosassa, and Crystal Rivers…and, in the deepest parts of harder-to-access tidal creeks along the same stretch of coast.

In the somewhat-wind-protected inland waters on the Atlantic side, the problem is even more challenging for folks looking to catch the fastest-biting fish there. The sheepshead bite is “on” around pier, dock, and bridge pilings—but the number one bait is as scarce as hen’s teeth. Understandably, fiddler crabs have burrowed as deep into the coastal mud and sand as they can get. Pieces of shrimp will work for sheepies in a pinch—but not as well as fiddlers.

In fresh water, speckled perch fishers frequently battle a different challenge. Presently, for instance, the specks are biting just fine on Santa Fe and Rodman Lakes …out in the wide-open, mid-lake depths. Aside from the obvious discomfort factor associated with fishing in a cold bluster with nothing to break the wind, it is quite tricky to slow a boat’s drift sufficiently to keep baits low in the water column (where most of the crappies presently reside).

Ah, the challenges of cold-weather fishing (winter or not).

We hope you’ll join us for our annual Tackle Box Christmas Sale that will run this year from Friday, December 10th through Saturday the 18th. Lots of great deals on all kinds of fishing stuff.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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The Thanksgiving weekend brought mixed blessings for area anglers. Some infrequent boaters out for their annual holiday fishing excursions, found that low water had limited access to their favorite lakes and changed the fishes’ hangouts. Other anglers chose easier-to-navigate waters and caught fish just fine.

After hearing promising stories for weeks, I was happy to get a chance to check out the speck fishing on Lake Santa Fe Thanksgiving morning. This year, for our speck fishing turkey-day tradition, Buddy DeGraff and I launched at the Melrose boat ramp just after daylight. Buddy had caught specks on Santa Fe recently, and he knew the best area and technique. We headed out to mid-lake, stopping in water 25-feet deep. There, we rigged with one big split shot set a few inches above a number 2 Eagle Claw hook, and lip-hooked live minnows. We let the rigs drop all the way to the bottom, and then wound up two turns of the reel handle and laid the rods down on the deck, tips over the water. It wasn’t long before the bites came. When we left at 11:00 a.m. (in plenty of time for Thanksgiving dinner) we had boated three catfish and 31 specks, keeping the 16 biggest.

Remotely attached to Santa Fe , little Lake Alto also is putting out good specks. Gainesville angler, Ren Gallon stopped by the store Saturday afternoon to weigh his biggest Alto speck of the day. It was a fine, 1-pound, 11-ounce specimen.

North Florida salt waters continue to produce, as well. In fact, action is picking up in some areas. The Matanzas section of East Coast inland waterway has really come on strong over recent weeks. Some angling customers at Devil’s Elbow Fish Camp on Matanzas River have even docked claiming that they “got tired of catching trout.” Now, admittedly, lots of these trout are undersized…but that’s a complaint we’d all love to have. While redfish, flounder, and black drum action is slower, it has improved notably…and surf fishers are enjoying sporadic runs of pompano along the beaches. Live and dead shrimp are the bait accounting for most of the fish-catching here.

On the gulf side, there is little fishing pressure, but few of the sparse fishers are complaining about the fish-catching. Out of Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina, Mark Thomas, his wife, and their two daughters fished every day through the Thanksgiving weekend, and fared well with reds and trout. Fishing Gulp! baits and Mirrolures in “skinny water”, the Hahira, Georgia family caught several good fish each day.

Each fishing live shrimp in and around creeks off Waccasassa Bay, Herbert Wilkerson of Gulf Hammock and Clay Campbell of New Jersey were among the anglers that docked at the Waccasassa Fishing Club with fine weekend catches of both reds and trout.

And, out of Homosassa, redfish have been strangely scarce. The speckled trout fishing, on the other hand, continues to be exceptional. Capt. William Toney’s party of four filled limits of fat trout Monday, and Capt. Todd Cornielle docked at MacRae’s Marina a bit later—his three-person group also showing off big trout limits.

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

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In a quick turn-around, the area freshwater fishing that had been on the slow side for a few days picked up over a weekend that featured a full moon and extra nice weather. And the smaller area lakes again held their own with the more heavily-fished major water bodies.

Darrell Nipper tried Little Orange Lake Sunday morning, fishing black and white Beetle Spins out in deep water. It didn’t take very long for the Gainesville angler to fill his 25-fish daily allotment of thick specks up to two-pounds.

Even with the freshwater improvement, it’s still the Gulf of Mexico that shines brightest for anglers. Fishers looking for the season’s top inshore attraction, speckled trout, are finding plenty. And, curiously, the trout catching is best at the northern and southern ends of the stretch of Big Bend coast we regularly cover in this report.

Steinhatchee fishers are picking up good limits from deeper water in the river, proper…casting jigs with grub tails, live shrimp, and TT series Mirrolures, primarily between channel markers, 25 and 28. There are lots of trout out on the grass flats, as well, where Gulp! Shrimp and Jerk Shads in the New Penny and Pearl White colors, along with Paul Brown Originals (Corky Mullets) are working well.

Offshore, the nice weekend allowed anglers a good shot at grouper, and many took full advantage. A number of limits of both red and gag grouper were registered in water from 25-to-60-feet deep. While fishing on the bottom with live or frozen bait accounted for most of the good catches, trollers of Mann’s Stretch 25 and Rapala CD 18 plugs also reported good grouper success. And, as is often true this time of year, incredible numbers of black sea bass can be easily found almost anywhere, 9-to-12 miles off Marker One. “Just open up a box of squid,” said Christie Bunkley of Sea Hag Marina, “and they’ll jump in the boat.”

And if the hook-and-line action isn’t good enough, you might be able to catch a big one without even making a cast—like Stan and Frances Jones. The Habersham County, Ga. couple was trout fishing Sunday near the Steinhatchee River mouth when they noticed a considerable commotion in very shallow water. And this is where the fishing story gets crazy. Capt. Tommy Thompson’s excellent online site, saltwateranglersguide.com, relates that the splashing persisted long enough for Stan to wade ashore to investigate. He then used his bare hands to grab the big, stranded fish and drag it back to the boat. There, he and Frances hoisted aboard a 37-pound kingfish.

To match the Steinhatchee trout action, one must travel all the way down the Big Bend to Homosassa. At MacRae’s, Nancy Bushey says that the speckled trout fishing is “awesome”, adding that “everybody’s limiting out” and the fish she is seeing are “as big as you can keep legally.” Gulp! baits and live shrimp, fished on the Homosassa grass flats are accounting for many of the fine results.

The offshore grouper action also remains good here as well. Capt. Don Chancy and his party of three filled limits of gag and red grouper, tolling and bottom fishing about 25-miles offshore Monday.

The assault on the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s record book continues with the third record fish caught by members within the last two months. And last Sunday’s record breaker is notable for more reasons than one. Young Charlie Thomas went far off Steinhatchee that day along with Charlie Bartley, Chris Lyons, Robbie Suter, and his dad, Jon. In water 90 feet deep, Charlie had just caught a nice-sized red snapper and was putting it on ice when he noticed that his second rod was bent over. He grabbed it out of the rod holder, and the battle was on. Eventually, the seven-year-old cranked his big fish to the boat; and now the Talbot Elementary second grader owns the GOFC record for red snapper at 18.8-pounds (weighed on tested scales at Northwest Seafood). When I talked to Charlie a couple of days later he didn’t seem too shocked to have bested forty years of GOFC snapper fishers, saying, “I think it’s possible for a kid to outfish grownups.”

He certainly proved that.

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

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Some freshwater fishers that should be enjoying a seasonal upswing in action are finding that low levels are spoiling the positive effects of cooling water temperatures. The unfortunate fishers are those with sizable boats, seriously hindered by limited and difficult access at several nearby boat ramps.

Good speckled perch action had been the one bright spot for area light-tackle anglers—and even the speck bite sputtered a little last week. Some very good catches were made on Orange , Rodman, and Santa Fe Lakes …and on several smaller area lakes such as Alto, Crosby, Hampton , and Little Orange. Generally, though, speck reports seemed a bit lighter than during previous weeks.

The real saving grace for North Florida anglers these days is good saltwater fishing. Of course, low water is even an issue here from time to time, as it’s the time of year we see extremely low water during some low tide phases. Still, this is a hurdle that shallow water fans have leapt for decades….and the tide eventually comes back in.

Last Wednesday, Roland Paradise and Kenny Wooten found that fish had reacted to the season’s initial cold snap by crowding into the Suwannee River . Casting shrimp, jigs, and gold spoons in the river’s West Pass , the Gainesville fishermen filled a large cooler with trout, redfish, and flounder. They found the reds on a shallower sand bar near the river mouth, and the trout were in deeper water nearby. Roland said that, for a while, he and his buddy were hooking good-sized fish on every cast. Paradise , indeed.

Reports from fishers looking for trout and reds in the river this week have not been so exciting.

At Steinhatchee, both inshore and offshore anglers had good fish-catching weeks.

Capt. Gene Frazier and party filled fine limits of grouper and red snapper last weekend in water 60-feet deep aboard the Nevamiss. The coming weekend will be the last to harvest red snapper; and, given nice weather, there should be a big offshore fishing effort out of every gulf port.

Charlie and Chase Norwood of Sea Hag Marina fished Sunday with Don Jensen of Live Oak, Bobby Ryder of Cocoa, and Gary White of Rockledge. Anchored over rocky spots in water ranging from 50-to-60-feet deep, the anglers dropped live pinfish and frozen Spanish sardines to the bottom to take an eye-popping catch of red and gag grouper and red snapper.

Casting a ¼-ounce jighead with a Sea Shad tail in the Orange Gold Shiner color about a mile north of Pepperfish Keys Sunday morning, Capt. Brad Riddle hooked a big, strong fish. Following a twenty-minute battle, he boated, photographed, and released a whopping redfish nearly forty inches long.

And, while making a few early-morning casts from a boat dock on the Steinhatchee River , Bo Davis of Lithia was surprised to hook and land a whopping 36-inch-long Spanish mackerel.

In this sport, you just never know what’s coming next.

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

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Generally, the first big temperature plunge of fall creates excellent fishing opportunities. This plunge should certainly qualify. Weekend gulf fishers were surprised when they found the water temperatures on the shallow flats to have quickly dropped all the way into the high fifties. But the season’s first cold snap was accompanied by the obligatory cold wind…and that’s likely the sole reason that weekend catches along the coast weren’t better than they were.

The Cabela’s Speckled Trout USA Tournament held Saturday and Sunday at Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach just happened to fall at the arrival of the chilly blast. Low tides and a stiff, cold wind made fishing tough for the 25 teams entered.

Still, the contest featured a couple of “firsts” along the Cabela’s trail. There was a tie for first place…and an all-female team was one of the winners. Cynthia Johns of Steinhatchee and Sherry Fletcher of Perry teamed up to bag a two-day, ten-trout catch weighing 23.86-pounds while casting green-and-white soft plastics near the #1 Steinhatchee channel marker. The Georgia team of John Martin ( Valdosta ) and Lewis Sargent ( Sparks ) took an identical 23.86-pound catch over two days while casting gold, blue, and green Mirrolures north of Steinhatchee. Each team took home $2250.00—fair trade for the discomfort they endured.

If Waccasassa Bay redfish were affected by the cold front, it was for the better. One unnamed angler fishing out of Waccasassa Fishing Club Monday waited until the tide rose sufficiently for his boat to access a creek near the river mouth. When it did reach that point around 3:00 p.m. he entered and anchored on a deeper hole. By 4:25, the fisherman had boated eight reds—“one oversize, one undersize, and six in the 18-to-27-inch slot”, while casting cut mullet. After catching his eighth fish, a nice 26.5-incher, he headed back to the ramp.

Conditions improved on Monday for Homosassa fishers, as well. Capt. Russell Holliday fished out of MacRae’s that day, soaking mullet in a favorite spot. Although he came back to the dock with nothing to show, the Homosassa guide had boated and released three whopping reds—40, 40, and 38-inches long.

Primarily feeding in mid-lake depths, speckled perch were left alone for the most part by local weekend anglers. With no wind breaks out deep, the would-be crappie chasers knew they would have a hard time keeping a minnow at a proper depth and speed. Most serious speck fishers say that Orange , Santa Fe , and Alto are the most productive area crappie lakes now; and they expect to resume the harvest when the winds calm.

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

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There’s lots of good news this week regarding local anglers.

First of all, readers might recognize the names of Jake Gipson and Matt Wercinski—winners of the national collegiate bass fishing championship last year as members of the University of Florida ‘s collegiate bass fishing team. Well, the UF anglers have earned another shot at the title. A couple of weeks ago, Gipson and Wercinski won the FLW College Fishing Southeast Regional Championship held on the St. John’s River at Lake Monroe, proving convincingly that the title they hold is no fluke. Their win here last year served as the springboard for their later success on the national stage. The team flipped soft plastics into beds of vegetation to finish with 38-pounds, 10-ounces—plenty to outdistance the second-place team from Kennesaw State (35-02) and the third-place Auburn team (31.08). Making things even sweeter for the UF fishermen was a fine fourth place finish by Engineering Seniors, Dennis Croyle and Travis Gates, who primarily cast Zoom Horny Toads to bag 27-06. All of the collegiate teams fished from identically-rigged Ranger boats, enjoyed unlimited fuel, and had a repair crew at their service…all provided by FLW for their use. Not a bad deal at all.

The regional tournament is scheduled to be televised on the Versus Network November 20th. Now, both of the aforementioned UF teams will move on to the National Championship to be held next April on Kentucky Lake that will host the top 25 teams from 5 regions across the country.

Closer to home, the big bass parade on Orange Lake continues. Accomplished local bass angler, Freddy Pearson was casting a buzzbait on the hot-as-a-pistol lake last Thursday afternoon when he experienced the surface strike of a lifetime. The huge bass “ate a buzzbait like a rocket, coming straight out of the water two to three feet and then straight back down.” Pearson went on, “It was the best strike I’ve ever seen.” And it had to be an amazing sight, given that the fish would later weigh 12.4-pounds. Following a couple of photographs at the Heagy-Burry launch site, Pearson released the perfectly-proportioned whopper to thrill another caster.

On the saltwater front, not one, but TWO all-time Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club records were broken recently by members. The first of the new records came two Fridays back, when Capt. Wiley Horton fished with fellow Gainesville anglers, Brad Spatz and John Harbilas far off Steinhatchee. A live pinfish that Horton dropped to the bottom 85-feet below was taken by a red snapper that would weigh in at 14.65-pounds on certified scales.

Saturday, it was another veteran GOFC fisherman’s turn to top a longstanding record when Board Member, Dr. Ken Knopf took the club’s Webmaster, Eric Daniels, its Past President, Ed Ellett, and it’s President Elect, Allen Turner offshore out of Cedar Key.

Floating a live baitfish with kingfish in mind, Knopf hooked a blazingly powerful fish that turned out to be a rare visitor to these waters—a wahoo. In September of 1975, L. C. Larson took a 12-pound wahoo that stood atop the venerable club’s all-time catches of the species until Knopf’s fish came aboard. The popular Gainesville dentist didn’t just edge the record—he shattered it with the magnificent 53-pound predator. Using a similar live bait rig, Ellett also had a strong strike, but his fish turned out to be a sizable but comparatively common kingfish that weighed in at 25.5-pounds. The men also filled limits of red snapper, topped by Turner’s 12-pound beauty.

Definitely a great couple of weeks for outstanding fishing accomplishments in fresh and salt waters by local anglers.

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

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The bad news these days for freshwater anglers is that the ongoing ‘dry spell’ is starting to look more like ‘drought’; and the effects are being seen in lake levels low enough to render some boat ramps unusable by larger vessels.

The good news is the best news an angler can hear…the fish are biting. Both fresh and saltwater fishers are reporting steadily improving action in the cooling lakes, rivers, and coastal shallows.

Santa Fe and Rodman Lakes have been yielding impressive catches of speckled perch for a couple of weeks now; and they should be ranked among the top bets for folks looking to crappie fish locally.

Still, as it has been much of the year, Orange seems to be the most productive of our area lakes. Speckled perch season is off and running here, with good catches coming in almost daily from its deeper, open water. Saturday, Bryon and Katie Lenhart drifted minnows on Orange and found fast-biting specks. After filling most of a double limit with minnows, the Palm Coast couple ran out of live bait. They switched to white grubs that they threaded onto small black jigheads and finished out their combined 50-fish limit of good sized fish.

And the trophy-size bass that have garnered Orange so much attention this year continue to make their presence known—albeit less often—to bass anglers. Flipping a black and blue crawdad into matted vegetation Monday, Jeffrey Dyson hooked a huge largemouth that he eventually wrestled from the tangle of weeds. The Ocala angler weighed and photographed the whopper, and then eased the 11-pound 6-ounce beauty back overboard to return to her hangout.

Ed Niblack brought a fine looking 7.5-pound bass by the store Tuesday…along with quite an entertaining fish story. The Gainesville fisherman had been cane pole fishing for bream in a nearby pond when the big fish took his tiny grass shrimp instead. For about five minutes, Niblack said he “prayed and cried” for the bass to stay hooked while he slowly wore it down. Now, he plans to have the fish mounted to preserve the great fishing memory.

Following a sub par summer of speckled trout fishing, gulf coast grass flats are finally coming around with better numbers of keeper fish. Monday, Capt. Herbert Wilkerson and his party were among the successful casters that filled good trout limits in Waccasassa Bay ; and they also iced a nice flounder. Shrimp, cut bait, and jigs with grub tails are all producing on the now-clearer Waccasassa Bay flats. Redfish, too, are perking up in the cooler water, and good spot-tail stories are coming from every Big Bend port.

Spanish mackerel are in very good supply this season, almost to the aggravation of trout fishers casting lures without wire leaders. Cut-offs are commonplace on the deeper flats, with only the occasional mackerel being hooked in a spot where its razor teeth cannot touch the monofilament or braid. Most anglers targeting mackerel using wire leaders or heavy fluorocarbon say they are having little trouble locating willing fish while trolling or casting jigs, dusters, or spoons.

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

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Following a weekend featuring weather the pickiest angler couldn’t resist, fine reports seemed to come from everywhere.

The 4 B’s Benefit Bass Tournament on Orange Lake out of Heagy-Burry Park attracted the largest tourney field seen here in years—and, as expected, the catches were quite impressive. With a tourney limit of just three bass, the 65 teams entered knew that they had to catch big ones in order to vie successfully for the thousand-dollar top prize. The Gainesville team of Stephen Gray and Jody Marriott had a whopper of 8.41-pounds to go with a pair of smaller bass to total 13.98-pounds. Amazingly, Allen and Stephen Dyson likewise vanquished an 8.41-pound lunker. The Hawthorne father-and-son team finished with a fine 17.26-pound total. But the three bass John Mobley and Kyle Smith took to the weigh scales included an 8.43-pound anchor—just heavy enough to claim the Big Bass title. And, their 18.03-pound total also took the first place cash. On the other end, Vincent Benvenuto and Victor Williams won the prize for “smallest limit” with a 2.61-pound trio of not-quite-yearlings. It was great to see the area angling community stage such a fine turnout for a good cause.

Among less competition-minded freshwater fishers, speckled perch remain the biggest draw. Bernie Bass of Cross Creek fished Orange Lake Friday to fill a nice 25-fish limit of specks. Tuesday morning, Sinclair Holmes and Myrtice Woulard drifted minnows through the deeper, open water of Orange . In two-and-a-half hours, the Gainesville fishers filled a combined fifty-fish speck limit. They didn’t seem at all surprised, saying they had done the same thing Monday.

Also on Tuesday, Shawn Akridge and Paul Cooper drifted minnows in deeper water off Lochloosa’s north end. Before noon, the Gainesville anglers had likewise boxed a fine fifty-speck catch of fish up to 1-pound, 12-ounces.

Big numbers of Spanish mackerel have been on hand for weeks…but the arrival of kingfish signals the official arrival of the fall fishing season on the gulf coast’s Big Bend . Apparently, the kings have shown up with a bang.

Debbie and Alvin Henderson were fishing for trout Saturday morning on the Nine Mile Bank off Steinhatchee when a big, strong, and fast fish took a pinfish that Debbie had out under a float. In just four feet of water on top of the reef, neither had been thinking “kingfish”, but the screaming drag said differently. Alvin quickly fired the engine and fell in behind the rapidly-departing fish, and the battle was on. Using 20-pound test Power Pro line, Debbie eventually whipped the whopping 40-pound king.

Until the last few days, unusually-dark water in Waccasassa Bay had kept speckled trout catches to a discouraging minimum. Finally a few days ago, local angler Joe Norris reported that the bay had cleared considerably. And, with the clearer water came the first good trout catches in weeks. John and Amy Martin and Joel and June Martin were among those fishing out of Waccasassa Fishing Club Saturday, and the Williston couples found an impressive mix of trout, redfish, and black drum. Although they caught some nice trout, the four said that too-small-to-keep fish far outnumbered them.

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

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The chilly nights of fall continue to change the North Florida fishing picture. And, happily, that picture is changing mostly for the better.

Speckled perch reports continue to grow in the cooling lakes. Most fishers drifting minnows or light-colored crappie jigs in both Orange and Lochloosa are starting to find nice numbers of good-sized specks. Full 25-fish limits are not yet coming in regularly, but two-person catches in the thirties and forties are increasingly common.

Not ready to be forgotten thoroughly, bluegill are still biting fairly well in a few locations. Prairie Creek, the main Newnan’s Lake outflow is one such spot, and Little Orange Lake near Hawthorne is another. Red worms and crickets are producing best in the creek; while anglers casting Beetle Spins with ultralight tackle are scoring well in Little Orange.

Bass action also seems to be again on the increase. Young Mitch Turner of Cross Creek cast a plastic worm in Cross Creek in front of Twin Lakes Fish Camp Sunday to fool a nice 3 ½-pound bigmouth. And Jay Schlegel and Barry Prabczyk took a Twin Lakes rental boat into Lochloosa Saturday. When the Gainesville anglers returned, they had boated and released nine bass from 2-to-4 pounds that fell for plastic worms.

Most gulf anglers say they have noticed a bump-up in near shore action.

Out of Homosassa, Capt. Todd Cornielle’s party of four filled redfish limits and also bagged four nice trout Monday; while Capt. Mike Locklear’s group also found a few scattered trout to go with their redfish limits. Steinhatchee Capt. Steve Rassel and his party likewise picked up redfish limits, plus several nice trout both Saturday and Sunday.

Gainesville anglers, Bill Andrews and Ed Oehmig fished at Cedar Key Friday with fellow fishing sage, Macy Teetor of Cedar Key. When the three arrived that morning at Seahorse Reef, Oehmig described an impressive scene: “It was a sight to behold…baitfish at the surface everywhere, trying to escape feeding mackerel.” Trolling white and green-and-white jigs through the fray, the three anglers hauled in 40 big Spanish…including one fish that ranked at the top of an incredibly long list of fish caught. “I have been fishing the reef since 1965,” Oehmig continued, “and Friday I caught my biggest Spanish ever. It was 32-inches long and we figured it must’ve weighed seven or eight pounds.”

Fred Llana also picked Cedar key for his solo trip Monday. The Gainesville fisherman started the morning casting near Gomez Key for redfish. He would come home with none, but was far from skunked. Of a dozen reds he boated while casting live shrimp and artificial Gulp! shrimp in the New Penny color, four were too small and eight were too big to keep. After the Gulp! bait produced another fish he released (a 36-inch black drum), Llana headed out to Seahorse Reef. Once there, a similar sight that impressed Andrews, Oehmig, and Teetor greeted him. “Mackerel were all around leaping through tons of baitfish,” he declared. Casting shrimp and cut ladyfish, he hauled in 20 Spanish, keeping four big ones ranging from 3 ½-to 4 ½-pounds.

Lots of offshore fishers looking to take advantage of the first of eight consecutive weekends of re-opened red snapper season were discouraged by forecasts that called for the roughest seas in a long while. Most stayed home and prepared to try again next weekend. Some Steinhatchee captains, however, that were unconvinced stayed the offshore course with hopeful clients…and they were glad they did. The wind turned out to be lighter there than forecast. The guides said that the seas never rose to more than three feet.

Captains Gene Frazier, Steve Hart, Wiley Horton, and Brian Smith all brought in great catches of varied species. Seen in good numbers that evening on the Sea Hag Marina’s dock were not only red snapper, but also red and gag grouper, cobia, and amberjack.

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

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The fall season is beginning to make its arrival more apparent, and the gradual weather change is causing the expected shifts in fishy behavior.

The rainy front that swept through our area at the start of the week will likely bump the fish-catching up another notch in area lakes and ponds that have received precious little precipitation in two months. But even before the rain arrived, the speckled perch were showing that it’s their time of year to become the dominant panfish.

Back-to-back they came in to the store Saturday, just after noon. After picking up minnows before daylight, Brian Roe of Gainesville returned to show us fifteen very nice specks he had pulled from Orange Lake . Then, Chad Bankston and Shane Carnley pulled in with a 43-speck catch that they had just put together while slow-trolling crappie jigs in open water at the north end of Orange . No big bream catches were reported through the weekend; and it seems apparent that the panfish mantle has been passed—about on schedule.

Weekend bassers again found their fish on Orange , but seemed a bit less willing to disclose details of their successes. Most, it seems, are pre-fishing for the 4 B’s Benefit Bass Tournament coming up on October 9th at Orange ‘s Heagy-Burry Park . Paul Braun’s practice trip Sunday yielded a nine-pound beauty…but that’s about all we can say. Knowledge of the big fish’s hangout…and the lure that fooled it…remain his own.

Offshore gulf anglers are excited to take advantage of what is being called a “bonus recreational red snapper season”—eight consecutive 3-day weekends to harvest the bright beauties starting Friday, October 1st.

The extra open season was made possible because harvest levels of these fish were lower than expected during the summer season that ended July 24th.

Adding to the big water fishers’ enthusiasm is a grouper bite that is improving closer to port. The shallowest of the grouper producing spots seem to be at the southern end of the gulf stretch we regularly cover in this report, out of Homosassa. Again last weekend, a Homosassa local, Bob Bunting, pulled a brace of stout gags from a rocky spot in water just 10-feet deep. Out of Steinhatchee, Suwannee , Cedar Keys, and Yankeetown, the shallowest dependable grouper spots have shifted from sixty-plus feet of water to rocky spots in water about 50-feet deep.

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

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Cooler nights finally have water temperatures easing downward; and some favorite targets of fall fishers seem to have responded quickly.

Most saltwater anglers agree that speckled trout action was sub-par through most of 2010. Last weekend saw widespread positive trout reports for the first time in a while.

Fishing out of Steinhatchee Sunday, James Malloy filled a fine trout limit while casting grass flats in 6-to-7 feet of water north of the river. The same day, Trina Coggins and friend, also a local fisher, chose the flats to the south of the Steinhatchee to cast their 4-inch Gulp! shrimp in pearl white. Through the early afternoon hours, they iced eight good trout and released scores of black sea bass (keeping only two unusually-large examples).

Sunday, Cole Childers headed south out of Steinhatchee with friends, R.J. Dick and his son, Ian Taylor. Near Pepperfish Keys, the Gainesville trio cast Gulp! shrimp in the ‘natural’ color to lure a dozen keeper trout and 6 redfish. The day’s highlight was sixteen-year-old Ian’s first-ever red—a stout 23-incher.

While trout action on the East Coast’s inland waters has been fairly dependable for nighttime anglers all summer, good catches in the bright light of day have been scarce…until this week.

Visiting from Tennessee , Matt Newell launched his kayak at Devil’s Elbow Monday armed with light tackle and live mud minnows and shrimp. The Memphis angler returned after boating several good trout and releasing a few small redfish and flounder. Also on Monday, the Logan family pulled in a number of good Matanzas River trout from their pontoon boat. The fast sheepshead bite here continues as well, with lots of the toothy bandits available around pier, dock, and bridge pilings. Karen Miles of Devil’s Elbow says that fiddler crab sales are brisk, and, “That’s how we know for sure the sheepshead are biting.”

Gulf grouper, too, might be feeding faster in the cooling water. Anthony Dobosiewicz and the Gator Tree crew docked Sunday at Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina with an eye-popping bunch of gag and red grouper.

And another telling grouper report comes from Homosassa; where local angler, Chris Wilkins boated a fine bunch of gags Sunday while freelining live pinfish over a rockpile in water just 10-feet deep.

Spanish mackerel usually start making a strong appearance in late September…but, so far, gulf fishers have mentioned only scattered encounters with the toothy bullets. With trout, reds, and grouper all feeling friskier, it’s only a short matter of time before the macks show up in bigger numbers.

Freshwater reports remain slim and spotty on area lakes whose levels are falling before our eyes. A few bream and bass here…a speck or two there. Continued cooling should help things, but local lakes could really use a few significant rains.

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

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Area panfishers know that the bluegill and shellcracker bite is waning; and that their cool-weather replacements, the speckled perch, have not yet shifted into full ‘gather-and-feed’ mode.

With that group not so energized, has been little local angling effort in the late-summer heat. Add in falling water levels in local lakes dependent upon rainfall, and you have a ‘slow news week’ on the freshwater fishing report front. At least bass anglers on Orange , arguably Florida ‘s hottest lake for big bass, do have an upcoming event to anticipate and practice for. That’s the 4 B’s Benefit—with a thousand-dollar first place guarantee—to be held out of Orange ‘s Heagy-Burry Park October 9th. The event will benefit lifelong Ocala resident, Marc Benvenuto, who was badly injured in a motorcycle accident in February. While the bass catches here over the last couple of weeks have remained fairly good, the staggering parade of ten-plus-pound lunkers has, for now, ceased. While fishing a Bassmasters of Gator Country club tournament on Orange Sunday, Jake Gipson did put together a fine three-bass tourney limit that weighed a very impressive 18.04-pounds. Gipson’s limit included the contest’s best single bigmouth—an 8.98-pound beauty.

Overall, saltwater anglers seem to be in a slightly better mood. Redfish biting well all along the Big Bend arc of gulf coast will do that. Red reports are positive everywhere, but the best zone seems to be out of Homosassa. Here, fishers casting all manner of bait and lure have been whacking good reds for weeks on the St. Martins Islands; and now, the fast action has extended to bars and creek mouths along the twisty shoreline from Homosassa to Crystal River .

Speckled trout generally become more active in September, but trout stories aren’t too impressive anywhere right now. If an angler just had to catch a bunch of trout this week, he would probably be well-advised to head, like the redfisher, for the Homosassa area.

Offshore anglers able to make 30-plus-mile runs off Cedar Key, Suwannee , and Steinhatchee are pleased with the overall bottom bite. Fishing with cut bait or squid, most are finding plenty of pinkmouth grunts and black sea bass—and fair numbers of legal grouper in water at least 60-feet deep.

Inland East Coast fishers are picking up occasional trout and redfish—and a few small flounder. But, the clear-cut top choice here is the sheepshead. Folks dropping live fiddler crabs alongside barnacle-encrusted dock, pier, and bridge pilings are hooking hefty 4-to-5-pound sheepies regularly. The Matanzas Inlet Bridge is the focal spot for this fast bite.

And finally, the run of saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River is apparently still going strong. Folks on the big river over the weekend say they saw much more shrimp-catching going on than fish-catching. When they’re still around by mid-September, the shrimp are pretty much uniformly large…and that’s why a long-lasting run like this one is especially appreciated by St. John’s locals.

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

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Scallop season is in its final hours; and gulf anglers in the Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach , Crystal River , and Homosassa areas annually celebrate the crowd’s exodus by breaking out the inshore tackle.

So far, those reporting back from the now-quieter shallows say they are finding the fishing just as they left it in July, at the start of scalloping season. And that means loaded with redfish and trout.

At Steinhatchee, young Chase Norwood is consistently finding nice-sized reds in and around the river. Christie Bunkley of Sea Hag Marina says that anglers running south from the river to near-shore rocky spots are hooking big reds with surface lures—most notably, the Heddon Super Spook Jr. in chrome. An unnamed angler, fishing from a kayak he launched at Rocky Creek, released big reds most of Tuesday morning while casting in water just a foot-and-a-half deep. His lure of choice was a Gulp! Jerk Shad in pearl white.

Waccasassa fishers have had to endure slow trout fishing due largely to rain-darkened water in Waccasassa Bay . During a three-day period recently, the rain gauge at the Waccasassa Fishing Club showed that an amazing 15-inches had fallen. Even so, the redfish action here has remained good.

At Homosassa, the redfish report could not be much better. Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s Marina reports, “Reds are everywhere, and lots of them are oversize. They’re biting everything from cut bait to topwaters.” Captains Don Chancy and Dan Clymer each guided three-person Labor Day parties to great catches of both reds and trout…and Clymer’s group also managed to boat a legal grouper.

Offshore gulf anglers are celebrating good news from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission—and most inshore saltwater fishers are following another possibility with fingers crossed.

First, the recreational harvest of red snapper in the gulf will be reopened on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for eight straight weeks beginning October 1 and ending November 21. Hook-and-line anglers did not meet the recreational quota for this year due to BP oil leak fishing closures, and now weekend fishers able to make it offshore will have 24 extra autumn days to harvest the bright red beauties. The standard daily limit of two fish per person, at least 16-inches long, will be in effect.

Even more exciting for most saltwater fans is the possibility of a more relaxed redfish limit. A series of public workshops this fall will discuss possible changes in fishing regulations for the popular reds. Among the considerations will be the possibility of raising the daily bag limit from one fish to two in North Florida . This would be a rare occasion, as Florida fish limits have always seemed to work like a zip tie—moving only in the ‘tightening’ direction.

Two meetings have already taken place in Panama City and Tallahassee ; and the rest are scheduled for: Monday, Sept. 20 in Cocoa , Tuesday, Nov. 23 in Jacksonville , Tuesday, Nov. 30 in St. Pete, and Wednesday, Dec. 1 at Crystal River . Every meeting will take place from 6:00 ’til 8:00 PM. For more information regarding these workshops, go to myfwc.com/rules.

Freshwater fishing stories were a bit mundane through the holiday weekend. Visiting from even farther north in Florida , Wayne and Sandra Caruthers spent the weekend in a Twin Lakes Fish Camp cabin, on Cross Creek. The couple fished grass shrimp in Lochloosa to take a pleasing mix of bream, speckled perch, and bass.

Having read the numerous reports of giant Orange Lake fish, it seems that plenty of Florida bass anglers had Labor Day circled on their calendars to check things out first hand. Folks at Heagy-Burry Park Monday morning say that an hour-plus wait to the boat ramp greeted ill-timed arrivers to the lake’s best access point. And, of course, the big bass clammed up. So far, no reports of big fish on the biggest day of angling effort in months…but, those familiar with the wily largemouth bass could tell you that this could have been predicted.

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

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As a favorite time for fishing, the weeks surrounding Labor Day are nowhere near the top of the anglers’ list. The new school year has started, football season is kicking off, hunting season is near…and all of these compete for our on-the-water time. To boot, it is also an in-between time for many of our favorite targets. Bream bedding is beginning to taper off…and it’s a little early for speckled perch to be very active out deep. For saltwater fans, redfishing is pretty dependable, and the speckled trout bite might be picking up slightly—but a wider array of inshore favorites including mackerel will surely be available in a month.

During this not-so-prime fishing time, it is a very good thing that the Good Lord gave scallops and shrimp to lovers of the North Florida outdoors.

The scallops, that is, that spend the late summer nestled in some clear Big Bend shallows, and the ‘river shrimp’ that make an annual run up the mighty St. John’s River at about the same time. To fill in the start-of-September void, we North Floridians hope for at least one of these two special seasons to be productive.

But neither is a given. Some years, the salinity on the grass flats just doesn’t make the grade for the fussy bivalves; and even more often, the strict water quality requisites of the Atlantic crustaceans fall short in the St. John’s .

This has been a season to celebrate…with both scalloping and shrimping quite fruitful. And, even though scallop season will end at midnight on September 10, each option is looking pretty promising for the Labor Day weekend.

Although plenty have been harvested through the season, you couldn’t say that gulf scallops have been widespread. Out of Steinhatchee, the shellfish-collecting has been best to the north, up towards Keaton Beach . And that’s why this prediction from Danielle Norwood of the Sea Hag Marina was a surprise. “For the last few days, I would head south out of the river, to the old favorite areas like Rocky Creek. With most people searching up north, the scallops there have quietly been building in numbers and size for a while.”

At the top shellfishing destination to the south, Homosassa has produced very dependably all season. Here, there should be no late-season change. Weeks ago, Homosassa shellfishers narrowed their collective search down to Chassahowitzka Point as the top zone on these clear flats. “There’s really no reason to go anywhere else,” advises Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s of Homosassa, “everyone is picking up daily limits there in short order.”

Folks looking to catch migrating saltwater shrimp from a boat are well advised to anchor in line with a row of channel markers…or, on the channel drop-off. Since this will usually be in water more than 12-feet deep, the shrimper’s cast net should be webbed or taped just above the lead line. The addition of the webbing prevents the net from closing during its descent. Actually, it ‘parachutes’ the net open all the way to the bottom, offering a much greater ‘catch’ area. Boatless shrimpers fare best at night, when the crustaceans scatter into the shallows. A well-lighted boat dock or sea wall on the river is a big plus for the cast-netter; and shrimp-attracting scents such as cat food, rock salt, and ‘fish meal’ up the odds even more.

Fish-catching is great, but lovers of the North Florida outdoors should not neglect their relatively-brief late summer opportunities to put two more great seafoods on the table.

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

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On nearby lakes, there’s probably only one good month of bluegill and shellcracker bedding activity left. By the start of football season, bream catches often have already started to taper off.

This, though, has been a strong year for fishing in general; and panfishers willing to suffer through awfully-hot late summer days say that their target species remains big, thick, and congregated.

Buck Ruffin and his visiting son, John Sampson, anchored in open water on Orange Lake ‘s east side Thursday. Casting small, weighted floats with grass shrimp set four-feet below, the duo tallied 68 shellcrackers, a speckled perch, and a 12-inch bass.

The Orange Lake bass-catching bonanza might have taken a break for a couple of weeks, but the action has apparently fired up again. Tallahassee angler, Dewey Moore stopped by the store Saturday afternoon, fresh off the lake and excited. His day’s tally, taken with large plastic worms, included bass of 7, 8, and 10-pounds. Moore and several of his angling cohorts from the panhandle will be fishing a club tournament next weekend on Orange , and he is now expecting great things.

Though the fishing and scalloping Saturday was very good out of Steinhatchee, a particularly-severe thunderstorm caused folks on the water more than a little consternation. Today’s technology, though, came to the rescue. When the storm hit Steinhatchee, many use cell phones to call Sea Hag Marina for guidance. Studying the marina’s radar screen, Danielle Norwood advised those on the water to stay put. “I had never seen much purple on the radar,” she said, “but it sure was purple Saturday. Coming in off the water right then would have been running straight into the storm’s teeth.” After knocking out power in the coastal community, the tempest passed and fishers and scallopers motored in safely. Their redfish and scallop catches, by the way, were generally excellent. While trout were likewise abundant, the great majority of these were undersize.

Homosassa scallopers enjoyed another great shellfish-gathering weekend, with the densest bivalve presence still south of the river near Chassahowitzka Point. Hook-and-liners, too, were happy with the weekend action. Fishing cut mullet, Capt. Todd Cornielle’s two-person party battled and released 30 oversize redfish; and Capt. Marvin Williams’ customers vanquished a fine, 34-pound cobia. When the fish first came into view, all aboard were astounded to see another—much larger—ling along with it. The veteran guide chose to not try to hook up with the second fish. “It’s tough enough getting one in the boat,” he explained.

Gainesville ‘s Tuffy Wheeler and Ralph Holder of Ocala took a trip Saturday night to the east coast’s inland waterway. Casting live finger mullet and minnow-imitating artificials, the men’s best success came while targeting lighted boat docks. Through the night, they boated no fewer than ten different species of fish including limits of mangrove snapper up to 15-inches long, 6 flounder, 2 redfish, and 40 trout. Their ten ‘keeper’ trout were all upper-slot quality. Not a bad summer night in Florida …

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

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A dip in good reports from almost every marina, guide, and angler seems to prove that even a better-than-average fishing summer can’t fend off the annual ‘Dog Days slowdown’ forever.

Area bass anglers—especially on Orange Lake —had been on a tear into early August, taking trophy-size bigmouths at an amazing rate. Through the last couple of weeks, though, the big bass stories have quieted. Things on local lakes have reverted to more ‘normal’ summertime fare, with bluegill the top target of folks who want to ice a bunch of fish. Panfishers are scoring well all over these days, with some pulling limit catches from Orange , others from Lochloosa, and still others from Newnan’s Lake . The moon is waxing towards an August 24th ‘full’ phase; and bream catches should grow along with it. As usual, the best bream-producing baits are grass shrimp and crickets.

Inshore gulf anglers are generally having trouble locating numbers of good-sized trout, but redfishing has held up well out of Horseshoe Beach , Waccasassa, Crystal River , and Homosassa. Most redfish seekers are caught fish best while casting spoons, saltwater spinnerbaits, or shrimp over flooded bars or grassy points near high tide.

The Spanish mackerel that were recently swarming Seahorse Reef and Spotty Bottom (off Cedar Keys and Suwannee) have become far less numerous, as have kingfish and cobia. Grouper are yet being found—but only by well-equipped anglers able to run far offshore.

While the fish-catching may be slower, opportunistic sportspeople continue to harvest scallops and saltwater shrimp making their annual appearance in our nearby waters.

Scallopers on the Big Bend coast are still picking up maximum shellfish takes allowable by law, and will likely be able to do so until the season ends September 10. Curiously, the two best scalloping areas are at absolutely opposite ends of the gulf coast zone we regularly cover in this report. Steinhatchee and Homosassa are annually the two shellfishing strongholds, and so it’s no surprise that they are the best ports for the dive flag, snorkel, and mesh bag crowd. This year the best area out of the Homosassa River is to the south, and the hot zone out of Steinhatchee is to the north.

Carl Thompson beat the heat Tuesday morning by cast-netting for St. John’s River shrimp in the predawn cool. Thompson anchored in water 12-feet deep at 4:00 AM near Drayton Island , at the north end of Lake George . By 5:15, he had already filled a five-gallon bucket with good-sized shrimp.

It took Larry Smith longer to fill his five-gallon shrimp limit Saturday night, but his investment and pre-trip preparation had been considerably less. The Hawthorne shrimp seeker simply drove to Palatka, parked near the west base of Memorial Bridge , and walked out onto the City Dock with his net. Once there, he quickly saw that “everybody there was catching shrimp.” Four hours later, Smith had his 5-gallon bucket filled with tasty crustaceans “around 4-inches long.” When there is a shrimp run this strong going on, anybody with a net and some free time can succeed in harvesting seafood.

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

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Very high new moon tides have made for some good redfish action out of Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach , Cedar Keys, Waccasassa, and Homosassa. Guides and marinas at each of these Big Bend destinations, however, have also cited poor catches of another flats staple, the speckled trout. Very hot water temperatures annually send the trout out to scatter on very deep flats…and, while it happened later than usual this year, the tough trout fishing spell seems to be at hand. When the first cooler nights arrive in September, the trout will start slipping back into the shallow haunts that they and their fans prefer.

Fortunately, when the late summer, Dog Days heat takes its eventual toll on fishing, two separate seafood-catching pastimes arrive to fill the void.

With one month of scallop season remaining, avid shellfishers have effectively narrowed down the best spots for bivalve collecting. Out of Steinhatchee, the hotspot is north of the river, on clear flats near Keaton Beach . Most Homosassa shellfish seekers now are heading southward out of that river mouth, towards Chassahowitzka Point. Down there, they say, the flats are clearer and the scallops, easier to spot.

The annual run of saltwater shrimp up the St. John’s River is likewise a fun and popular opportunity—when the shrimp cooperate. While scallops are highly picky regarding the salinity of the waters they will inhabit, the ‘river shrimp’ might be even more intolerant of imperfect conditions. Often, during a seemingly strong run, a major rain event will send the crustaceans back out to sea in a hurry. This year, the shrimp have entered the big river in seemingly large numbers…and, so far, they’ve been willing to stick around.

Most of the shrimp harvesting is done from boats during daylight hours in deeper water. But having a vessel is not a requirement.

At night, the shrimp move into the shallows. They are attracted by light and certain smells, and folks with the ability to throw a cast net—and also have access to a lighted boat dock—can fare very well. Jay Wasdin and his son, Dylan cast-netted from such a Palatka boat dock Friday night with neighbors, Chris Tomlinson and his son, Nathaniel. The Waldo shrimpers chummed the water with cat food and soon had lots of shrimp around the dock. Chris made the best single-cast haul with a throw that netted 40 shrimp; while nine-year-old Dylan was very pleased with his 20-shrimp cast. Preparing their catch Saturday morning, the size of their catch was impressive. “We had 25-pounds of nice shrimp…heads off,” Jay said.

Area bass anglers really are collectively fired up about the ongoing and well-documented Orange Lake big bass bite. And it’s just a matter of time before anglers from far away start to arrive.

Dennis Croyle, president of UF’s bass fishing club, Gator Bassmasters, is among the latest to take a personal-best from the eutrophic gem whose south shore sits on the Alachua/Marion County border.

Friday morning, Croyle launched at Heagy-Burry Park and began his search for a big bite. Since a large percentage of the giant Orange bass caught through recent weeks has come via a technique known as “flipping”, that’s just what the young bass angler started off doing—dropping heavily weighted soft plastics into mats of thick aquatic vegetation. While this did produce a few fish, none were particularly large. So, the angler decided to cover some water with one of his favorite lures—a Rat L Trap. So his surprise and delight, Croyle’s first strike with the gold-colored lipless crankbait was the trophy-sized fish he sought—his best-ever bigmouth at 10-pounds, 15-ounces.

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

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An article in the Gainesville Sun Tuesday revealed that the average temperature through July was 2.7 degrees hotter than normal.

The fishers, scallopers, and shrimpers that plied North Florida waters through recent weeks could have told us as much. And, still, this has clearly been an above-average summer for fishing, gathering, and netting. That there has been has been stronger-than-usual July angler participation takes us to this conclusion: When the fishing, scalloping, or shrimping is good, folks will suffer through considerable discomfort to get in on it.

Lochloosa looked to be poised to give its sister lake a run for its money for ‘top area panfish lake’…but Orange produced most of the best bream takes through the weekend. Fishing crickets in the lake’s north end, Chad Bankston of Newberry and his friends have had the Orange Lake bluegill located for seven weeks running. And this week, he said the bite remains as strong as it was earlier in the summer. Fishing alone Tuesday morning, Bankston easily filled another fifty-fish limit.

Although it is not receiving a lot of angler attention, several bluegill specialists have lately been choosing Newnan’s as their target lake and picking up nice catches of bluegill while working various beds of wood and grass cover with crickets and grass shrimp.

Orange remains the undisputed king of area bass lakes. And its kingdom might just be much larger than this immediate area. Many are calling Orange the best big bass-producing lake in the State at present. An Xtreme Bass tournament held Sunday out of Orange ‘s Heagy-Burry Park would sure reinforce that notion. The winning five-bass limit weighed 34.05-pounds, second place had 30.00 with a 10.07-pound anchor fish, and third bagged 28.55 with a 10.14-pound lunker. The sixth-place team had the contest’s third fish over ten—a 10.83-pound toad.

Add Bernie Schultz to the growing list of professional Florida bass anglers that has successfully honed his big fish skills on Orange . Relaxing at Eagle’s Nest Café (next to the boat ramp at Heagy-Burry Park ) following a good bass-catching morning, Schultz phoned to tell us about the huge, eleven-pound bass he had just caught on camera while flipping lily pads. The footage is probably great…but it’s doubtful that we’ll ever get to see it. Bernie’s camera man was filming for a Shimano-sponsored fishing show that will air in Japan .

Inshore gulf anglers are finding still-dependable redfish and trout action in the shallows. Usually this late into a hot summer, anglers find it necessary to hunt for speckled trout way out on flats at least 8-or-10 feet deep. However, reports from Steinhatchee, Cedar Key, and Homosassa all indicate that most of the trout remain in water less than 6-feet deep.

And North Florida ‘s special seafood-catching seasons are still big news.

Out of Steinhatchee, the clear grass flats north of the river are yet producing daily limits of the avidly-sought scallops. The “Birdrack” area off Hagan’s Cove seems to have this area’s densest concentration of shellfish.

In the Homosassa shallows far to the south, Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s Marina says the scalloping is still “unbelievable”; adding that “people are coming from all parts of Florida , and they all seem to be taking home full limits.”

Already impressive for so early in the season, the St. John’s River shrimp run continues to build steam. The migrating shrimp, some now quite sizable, have made their way all the way upriver to Lake George . Saturday, Carl Thompson and his son, Jared took a short trip to a favorite shrimping spot from past years, just north of Drayton Island . Anchored there, eight-year-old Jared made one cast with his webbed six-foot net that yielded no fewer than 49 medium-to-large shrimp.

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

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Now and then, some of the best fishing reports have little to do with fish.

North Florida on-the-water sportspeople avidly anticipate two special annual opportunities—scalloping and shrimping. The scalloping takes place in gulf waters, while the saltwater shrimp harvest occurs in the inland waters of the Atlantic . Several factors have to come together in order to make each season a good one…and only occasionally are both very good at once.

So far, this year is looking pretty strong.

We have known for weeks that there was a good crop of bay scallops in certain Big Bend zones—primarily, off Homosassa and north of Steinhatchee. Now, the initial wave of saltwater shrimp on their annual migration up the St. John’s River has appeared in good numbers and surprising early-season size. Around the middle of last week, the shrimp-catching reports started, and they have quickly gathered steam. Savvy shrimpers know, however, that their quarry can leave the river with astonishing speed if conditions arrive not to their liking. Last year, this occurred when heavy rains presumably lowered the river water’s salinity past the shrimp’s tolerance level and ended the run far too early.

Last Friday, Tim and Tommy Taylor were among the cast-netters who scored well at Doctor’s Lake , north of Green Cove Springs. Culling out the smaller crustaceans, the Newberry father-and-son filled their five-gallon daily limit with medium-to-large shrimp. Sunday, Darren Cowart and Todd Stenner of Waldo tried out the Palatka stretch of river and netted a similar take. So it’s official—the shrimp are in the St. John’s , and quite a number are already of harvestable size.

The remarkable Orange Lake trophy bass parade marches on.

Action was slow for Wayne and Marti Sprayberry on Orange Lake Tuesday, July 27. But perseverance paid off late that morning when a heavyweight took the Zoom Ol’ Monster worm Wayne flipped into a thick bed of hydrilla. When he set the hook, Sprayberry knew he had something large. “I thought I had stuck a gator,” he laughed. Following a tough battle, the angling couple finally wrestled aboard a “perfect specimen…27-inches long and with a 21-inch girth.” Their tested digital scale showed the big bass to weigh 11-pounds, 1-ounce. The longtime bass angler released his personal record fish following the weighing and a couple of pictures.

Last week we had the story of the Dysons from Hawthorne, a family of staunch bass anglers. Fishing two weeks ago with his brother, Billy, Allen Dyson had hooked and lost a very large bass on Orange . A few days later, Billy’s son, Jeffrey, found the battle-scarred Devils Horse surface lure floating near the scene of the fight.

This week, yet another chapter unfolded.

Saturday, Allen and Stephen were again fishing the same part of Orange when young Stephen hooked a big bass. And, yes, finally, the lunker bass did end up in the boat—just long enough for weighing and a photo. Stephen furthered his family’s bass-catching reputation and boated his best-ever bigmouth all at once with the 11-pound, 6-ounce brute.

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

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Folks able to deal with the Florida summertime swelter continue to score very fine catches throughout our area.

As the July moon grows, bluegill and shellcracker catches are on the increase…with Orange and Lochloosa yet the most productive lakes. Orange might still be putting out more bream catches; but Lochloosa seems to be catching up. Monday, Walter, Anthony, and Logan Murray fished out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp during their fishing visit from Jessup , Georgia . The three generations of Murray anglers fished grass shrimp in beds of Lochloosa bonnets to put 30 big bream on ice.

To listen to fishing stories Tuesday at The Tackle Box, one would have to feel that the Orange Lake bass really put it on the fishermen over the prior weekend. With a pained look, Allen Dyson told of battling a whopper all the way to the landing net held by his brother, Billy. Somehow still, the beast got away. A fellow angler listened to Dyson’s lament, and then nodded sympathetically and offered his own sad tale. “I hooked four big ones with a Zoom toad,” he said. “Didn’t get a one of them in the boat.” A third Orange Lake angler was still so worked up that he could hardly find the words to describe the bass that escaped from him. “I’ve seen a lot of big bass,” he finally explained, “but this one was the biggest.”

Sometimes the fisher wins; sometimes the fish wins.

A few weeks into scalloping season, frequent Steinhatchee shellfishers have settled on the waters north of the Steinhatchee River mouth as, by far, the most productive. While limit takes there remain common, taking the waters to the south out of the picture has crowded more shellfish-seeking boats into smaller productive areas. At least one fishing faction is pleased. Rod-and-reel anglers can’t often fish the grass flats off Rocky and Sink Creeks during July in such seclusion. Sunday, Mike Bunkley of Bell and Trina Coggins of Steinhatchee cast soft plastic lures in water 4-to-5 feet deep off Rocky Creek. Their quick, late morning trip yielded five stout speckled trout.

Saturday, Capt. John Leibach fished out of Horseshoe Beach with a few friends—Ted Burns, Terry Stradomski, and Jim DeFord and his grandson, Kyle Brasfield. The anglers enjoyed fabulous redfish action, releasing 40 good fish. Most were lured with live finger mullet, but the largest, a 13-pound “bull” whipped by Leibach, took a blue crab. Kyle was a quick study in crabbing and cast-netting; and the thirteen-year old also caught his first red, a nice six-pounder.

Gulf waters farther south likewise remain quite productive.

Fishing out of MacRae’s of Homosassa, the parties of Capts. Dan Clymer and Todd Cornielle filled limits of both redfish and trout Monday. Clymer’s party fished with live shrimp; while the Cornielle group’s success came with hyper-scented Gulp! lures.

The Homosassa scallop crop this year has been an incredible one, and hundreds of vessels filled with shellfish gatherers are taking advantage every weekend. Locating plenty of bivalves here is said to be as easy as running out to Channel Marker Ten, and then searching the clear grass flats either north or south of that spot.

And one other seasonal seafood-catching opportunity should be at hand.

In late July, saltwater shrimp usually make an initial appearance on their annual run up the St. John’s River . So far, there have been no great catches to report…but our ear is to the ground on this.

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

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Good freshwater action is holding up unusually well as the summer slips along. Orange Lake remains king among the panfish crowd, and this year area bass fans likewise head there first if given a choice. Fishing Saturday morning with his son, Nick, (and with fellow Bassmaster elite pro, Bernie Schultz in another boat nearby), Pete Thliveros nailed a whopping 11-pound 2-ounce bass while flipping a Zoom Super Hog into a thick hydrilla bed. Terry Scroggins, yet another high-powered basser, fished Orange on camera Sunday for ESPN’s “A Day on the Lake ” series. The Putnam County pro enjoyed similar results, nailing a ten-pounder early in the day, followed by several more good fish. And the big-name pros weren’t the only anglers getting the big bites. Dean Jackson and James Hatch fished a small tournament Saturday out of the public Lochloosa boat ramp. Straight away, the fishermen headed for Cross Creek and idled through to Orange . Fishing a mid-lake hydrilla bed, they soon filled a five-bass tourney limit that included a pair of 9-plus pounders. Back in Lochloosa later in the day, the Gainesville team added yet another 9-pound lunker. They won handily, and had the three biggest bass of the contest.

Rodman Reservoir, too, continues to put out trophy-size bigmouths in the summer swelter. Fishing alone on the pool Saturday, Benny Beckham flipped a plastic worm through thick, floating aquatic vegetation. He felt something take his bait under the tangle of weeds, and lifted his flipping stick to snug the hook home. The line-stretching, weed-thrashing battle that ensued ended with Beckham boating and releasing a huge bass pushing 11-pounds.

Wholly dependent upon rainfall for its water, Newnan’s is a fishing lake notoriously productive during the periods of higher water following good rains.

And after the heavy, three-plus-inch rain Sunday evening, Newnan’s suddenly appeared on the collective radar of savvy area bream fishers. Nearly everybody that dipped a cricket or grass shrimp around shallow cover scored well there Monday.

Gulf Coast action is slowing a bit as the water temperatures rise, but the scalloping remains fine in some areas.

In fact, there is more scalloping than fishing activity out of two of the hottest gulf spots…Steinhatchee and Homosassa. And, the shellfish-gathering in each is going very well. The most productive scalloping out of Steinhatchee is to the north of the river; while Homosassa shellfishers are picking up plenty of bivalves within a relatively short boat ride of that river mouth.

Hook-and-liners are finding the pickings notably slimmer as the water heats up, and trout and redfish catches have been sporadic. Jerry Fletcher of Jacksonville was one angler pleased with the weekend flats action, filling limits of good trout Saturday and Sunday while casting jigs in Waccasassa Bay .

Offshore, the fish-catching is still in high gear.

Capt. Don Chancy’s parties have consistently taken grouper limits while fishing hard bottom in water around 50-feet deep off Homosassa.

Donnie and Brian Ellington and Hal Wilson left Saturday evening out of Steinhatchee for the Florida Middle Grounds, far offshore. Fishing all night in water 100 or more feet deep with cut bait, the men hauled in big numbers of red and mangrove snapper, several nice grouper, a scamp, and two kingfish. Still, the long trip offshore wasn’t all pleasant. “Seas were supposed to be one-to-two feet,” Wilson explained, “but they were more like four feet.”

Please note our new store hours…we’ll be open from 6 am ’til 3 pm on Saturdays, then closed Sundays and Mondays. And, we’re very hopeful that the extra fishing time will lead to more FIRSTHAND fishing reports.

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

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Some area anglers seem puzzled that Newnan’s Lake rose a bit in June, while Orange and Lochloosa lost water during the same month. This has started a “sink hole has opened up again” rumor. But…the real answer might be found looking at monthly rainfall amounts for Alachua County (where Newnan’s lies) versus Marion County ( Orange sits on Marion ‘s northern border). Through June 28, Alachua’s total stood at 7.74-inches, while the Marion total was 2.65.

Though the low water doesn’t help with angler access to the lakes, the fish-catching on Orange certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering.

In a Fish Tales Bass Tournament out of Heagy-Burry Park on Orange Sunday, yet another world-class catch was brought to the weigh scales. Stephen Gray and Jody Marriott teamed up to bag a five-bass tourney limit weighing 35.98-pounds. Yep, five fish that averaged better than seven pounds. The Gainesville pair cast topwaters early and then settled down in mixed vegetation with soft plastics to finish the giant limit. Marriott’s 11-pound, 11-ounce behemoth was the best of the five bigmouths—and the heaviest of the contest.

And Gray and Marriott didn’t run away with first place. The Ocala team of David Hunter and Keith Sells had a 33-plus pound limit of their own, anchored by a 10.25-pound lunker. Even in the blazing heat of summer, there are whopping bass to be pulled from Orange Lake .

Bream catches probably peaked last weekend with the June full moon. While bluegills typically make up the lion’s share of panfish taken from Orange and Lochloosa, some panfish specialists have also located active shellcracker beds. Buck Ruffin and Phil Widler fished Thursday on Orange , using grass shrimp for bait. They stopped back by The Tackle Box at 3:00 p.m. with around 80 nice bream in their live well. More than half were hefty shellcrackers.

These are worrisome times for coastal fishers and businesses. But you sure cannot say that Florida officials aren’t doing what they can for the saltwater fishing community. Since the BP oil rig explosion, we have seen three “free fishing weekends”, the renewal period for saltwater commercial fishing licenses was extended, scallop season was moved up twelve days, and the State’s fee for Saltwater Shoreline Fishing Licenses was done away with. Most recently, the FWC issued an executive order to waive four previously-scheduled 10-day blue crab trap harvest closures in July and August. They explained the move was to “relieve possible economic hardships on fishing communities.”

This all adds up to more concessions than we would see in years during more normal times.

Gulf fishing remains very good in our Big Bend stretch of Florida . Good speckled trout takes are common out of every port, and it’s still a very worthwhile bet to try for redfish and Spanish mackerel. Scallops are in excellent supply in the clear shallows near Steinhatchee and Homosassa.

Offshore, fine grouper and snapper action remains par. And, apparently, the farther offshore, the better.

Accomplished angler, Ken and Kenneth Tenney ran far out of Cedar Key Friday with Doug Bily, Dwayne and Robbie Mumford, and Nate Weber. Around 83-miles off the Cedar Key headpin, the men slowed to study the fascinating bottom structure of the Florida Middle Grounds. The best spot they located was a 133-foot deep valley with 103-foot deep ‘walls’ on either side. They pulled up vermillion, lane, mangrove, and red snapper and gag and red grouper. By early Saturday they had a great box full of fish highlighted by a dozen red snapper the likes of which don’t come in to port often at Cedar Key. Most weighed in the mid-to-upper teens.

But anglers don’t have to run far offshore to battle big gulf bruisers. This has been an exceptional year for big kingfish; and now, their fellow heavyweights—cobia and tarpon—are on hand. UF Fisheries faculty Mike Allen took friend and colleague, John Douglas and his sons, Blake and Scott out of Cedar Key Saturday. The Douglas men were visiting from Australia . Not far from the island community, they found lots of tarpon. Using cut bait, the four jumped six fish and caught, photographed, and released two—one brought to the boat by each of the younger Aussies. The angling host estimated Blake’s fish at 80-pounds; while 16-year-old Scott whipped a giant silver king that Allen figured to be in the 130-to-150-pound class. Allen said, “The guys from Down Under think the Big Bend is a pretty special place.”

Amen to that.

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

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There’s a seemingly-unstoppable oil gusher out there…but to talk with marinas along our stretch of the gulf’s Big Bend , you’d think everything is just groovy. Fishing is outstanding, and an early opening of the shellfishing season has created a healthy buzz of activity.

Like every year, there were plenty of opening-weekend scallop-seekers in near-shore Steinhatchee waters. Decent numbers of surprisingly-good-sized shellfish were located off Rocky Creek and Bowlegs Point to the south of the river…and near Grassy Island to the north. The Kennedy and McRae families were among those that found the scallops…and each family reported “maxing out” in just an hour and a half.

Even so, it might still be the hook-and-line Steinhatchee anglers that are really scoring best.

When the Steinhatchee Community Projects Board picked June 18 for the first-ever Nauti-Girls Fishing Tournament, that seemed like a good date just ahead of a busy scallop opening. Instead, of course, the inaugural event fell right on a bumped-up-at-the-last-minute opening scallop day. That didn’t deter the 98 lady anglers from competing, but the additional boats and snorkelers in the shallows did seem to keep the catches on the light side. Donna Ellis caught the tourney’s largest trout at 2.45-pounds, LeAnne Carnes bested a 6.15 winning redfish, and a 1.75-pound ladyfish won a special piece of custom jewelry for its captor, Sandy McCann.

Offshore action for grouper and red snapper remains excellent. Although frequent thunderstorms have them often checking the horizons, almost every grouper and snapper fisher has returned with a glowing report.

The good fishing extends southward, and Suwannee Captain Jon Farmer and his parties have dependably fared well with a variety of targets. Last weekend, Capt. Jon guided the Andy Lassiter party of three. Saturday, the Chattanooga fishers battled kingfish. Sunday, hefty black sea bass were the objective in water about 30-feet deep. But a hungry, 40-inch cobia did swim along to liven things even more. The veteran Suwannee guide efficiently summarized the fish-catching weekend saying, “They went home happy.”

Early Saturday morning, Capt. George Tanner and Bill Malphurs headed to Seahorse Reef from the Cedar Key boat basin. Once there, the longtime fishing buddies knew from the surface activity that it would be a good morning. Trolling silver spoons along the edge of the reef, they soon boxed a double limit of Spanish mackerel. Of the 30 nice fish, two were extra-big 5-pound specimens.

The Crystal River/Homosassa area might be the hottest early-season Big Bend scalloping spot so far. And, even though opening day was moved up twelve days with little time for vacationers to change plans, Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s of Homosassa said that it didn’t seem like many folks missed the premier. As she put it, “Opening day was nuts.” The shellfish gathering, though, went very well, with most people easily picking up limits of the precious bivalves. One very productive area here is between Homosassa River Marker Two and The Birdrack.

Following a dry May, nice June rainfall is starting to bring lake levels back up a bit. Freshwater catches also seem to be on the upswing, as panfishers in particular continue to find good congregations of bluegill in Gainesville-area waters. Three unnamed fishers departed from Twin Lakes Fish Camp a few mornings ago in a rental boat, armed with poles and grass shrimp. When they returned later, 129 good bluegills filled their ice chest. Most bream fans are concentrating in lily pad beds standing in deeper water—but this trio found a wad of fish in open water, around 200-feet off the deepest Lochloosa lilies. Charles Gresham of Gainesville also found a bream bed in Little Lochloosa last Thursday. Fishing grass shrimp around a clump of bonnets, he hauled in 40 big bream.

When Roger Daise and Terrance Mack walked into The Tackle Box Saturday morning around 10:30, I thought their fishing trip was just getting underway. The Ft. White anglers, though, were on their way home and looking to pick up ice for their already-filled 100-fish catch. They had found fast-biting bluegill in open water outside a stretch of Orange Lake pads and, using crickets for bait, loaded up. A few minutes later, Chad Bankston, Shane Carnley, and Tyler Wilson stopped by with 80 big Orange Lake bluegill of their own. We weighed the largest of the bream taken by the young Gainesville and Newberry fishermen. Fooled with a grass shrimp, it weighed in at a very impressive 1-pound, 4-ounces.

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

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A surprisingly large group of outdoor sports enthusiasts really, really does like to attend the opening days following periodic seasonal closures. Of all the annual saltwater premiers (including those for speckled trout, grouper, red snapper, crabs, and shellfish), bay scallop season arguably attracts the biggest, most diverse and enthusiastic crowd.

With an aim towards helping out Big Bend businesses suffering from perceived oil spill problems, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist moved scallop season up twelve days to Saturday, June 19.

Everyone sees this as a good and positive thing.

But it sure has set the opening-day faithful to scrambling.

Paige Proenza of Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee said, “Our phone has been ringing off the hook—mostly people looking to bump up their reservations.” Bret Smith, owner of the Scallop Shak in Steinhatchee echoed those comments. The Keystone Heights resident added, “I’ve looked around on the flats, and there are plenty of scallops north and south of the (Steinhatchee) river. They look to be of decent size, too.”

At the other Big Bend scalloping hotspot to the south, Crystal River and Homosassa residents have likewise taken scouting trips to visually check shellfish availability in the clear shallows. And their accounts, too, have been very positive. Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s of Homosassa said, “It’s loaded. I’ve had four different people this week report back that the scallops are everywhere…much better than last year.” And, like at Steinhatchee, lots of folks simply must be on hand for opening day. “Since the season was moved up late last week, we’ve had one call after another,” Nancy said, “reserving motel rooms and rental boats.”

Like in recent years, each scalloper can harvest 2-gallons whole, or one pint of cleaned scallop meat per day—with no more than 10 gallons in the shell or 1/2 -gallon of meat on any vessel at any time.

Fin-fish are still biting well in the midst of the recent heat wave, as well. The rod-and-reelers who thought they would have until July 1 before things got really congested at boat launch points might be the only demographic group grumbling over the sooner-than-expected shellfishing debut.

Through the early part of this week, near-shore Steinhatchee fishers located healthy numbers of trout on the 3-to-7-foot deep flats; and many have also connected with redfish feeding on shell bars near high tide. And offshore fishers sending live or cut natural baits to the bottom-generally in water at least 55-feet deep—almost uniformly teke limit catches of grouper and snapper.

Monday, Mike Menard and his four-person crew ran 40-miles offshore from Homosassa aboard the Vanessa Mae. Fishing cut bait, they filled unusually-large limits of both grouper and red snapper.

Although lake levels are dropping lower than most anglers would prefer, panfishers continue to find good congregations of bluegill in Gainesville-area waters. Three unnamed fishers departed from Twin Lakes Fish Camp Sunday in a rental boat, armed with poles and grass shrimp. When they returned later, 129 good bream filled their ice chest. Most bream fans are concentrating in lily pad beds standing in deeper water—but this trio found a wad of fish in open water, well off the deepest Lochloosa lilies.

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

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After trying a couple of free fishing weekends, the Florida Legislature has come up with another attempt to keep ‘fishing’ on the minds of its residents. A shoreline saltwater fishing license that cost nine bucks last year will be free starting July 1, enabling Florida anglers to catch saltwater fish from shore, pier, or bridge sans tariff. Fishers will still need to possess a shoreline license, and will still have to pay the issuing vendor a small “convenience fee” to process it—but the license fee itself will be rescinded. The deal is for Florida residents only, and does not cover fishing from a boat or any place accessible only by boat.

Easy-to-find red snapper are still the talk of offshore Big Bend fishers…and grouper are biting well, to boot. Dr. Richard Wright and son, Blake battled rough seas Saturday to run to water 60-feet deep off Steinhatchee. The men returned to port with a hefty double limit of snapper and four good grouper that took cigar minnows and white, four-ounce Spro Jigs. Anybody on the water that day, though, knows the Wrights earned their good catch the hard way.

Russ and Ray Hedgecock of Valdosta and crew filled a five-person limit of red snapper Monday and had a dozen gag and red grouper besides. The Valdosta anglers fished live pinfish and frozen cigar minnows in water 72-feet deep.

Inshore anglers have, too, scored well recently out of Steinhatchee. The folks at Sea Hag Marina saw lots of good sized trout—and a couple of legal near-shore cobia—over the weekend.

Inshore fishers on the Atlantic side are starting to brag a bit more…especially folks soaking mud minnows in the Matanzas area. Flounder have made a considerable appearance there, and anglers are pulling in plenty of the prized flatfish. Several limit catches, in fact, were seen Saturday and Sunday at Devil’s Elbow camp.

With water levels holding up reasonably well, freshwater catches in local lakes remain good. In a Fishers of Men bass tournament Saturday on Rodman Reservoir, the team of Dean Jackson (High Springs) and James Hatch ( Gainesville ) bagged a big five-fish tournament limit weighing 25.84-pounds to top the seventeen-boat field. Hatch also caught the largest single bigmouth of the contest-a 10.88-pound whopper. The second-place team of Dusty McDevitt and Wayne Lindsey also had a top notch fish-catching day, finishing with 23.98-pound limit topped by an 8.33 lunker.

Bluegill catches were a tad ‘off’ over the weekend, likely due to a pesky wind and ‘off’ moon phase. Still, some fine catches were recorded—mostly pulled from Orange and Lochloosa Lakes by cane pole fishers using crickets and grass shrimp for bait.

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

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Like death row inmates, the residents of many fishing destinations along the gulf coast have waited solemnly for the worst. But ocean currents and favorable wind direction have kept the Florida coast oil-free. For marinas and guides along the Big Bend portion of the coast, thankfully, it’s business as usual—or, it would be if more anglers would just show up.

To underscore the fact that no environmental problems resulting directly from the BP spill have been seen in Florida , Gov. Charlie Crist has declared the upcoming weekend, June 5 and 6, to be a “free fishing weekend” in salt waters. On these two days, no saltwater fishing license will be required of residents or nonresidents. All other fishing rules, though, still apply.

June 1 marked the start of red snapper season in gulf waters. The recently-abundant beauties are considered special prizes for offshore anglers who have had to release large numbers of them for months while targeting other species such as grouper.

Now, they can be harvested legally for a short season that will run through July 24. Each angler can take two fish, at least 16-inches long, per day. Pent-up desire to bring home the brightly-colored and hard-fighting delicacies was evident at most Big Bend ports around daylight Tuesday. No fewer than twelve big snapper-seeking boats left on opening morning out of Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina alone.

The familiar summertime weather pattern that keeps inshore anglers dodging afternoon thunderstorms has set in; and good trout and redfish action has lots of Steinhatchee and Horseshoe Beach fishers keeping watch on the horizons. Chartreuse soft plastics and Badonk-A-Donk surface lures have accounted for some of the top trout and redfish catches seen recently at the Sea Hag.

A couple of upcoming gulf coast tournaments couldn’t be much more different, but each is likely to be a big success. The Steinhatchee Community Projects Board will host its 1st Annual Ladies Fishing Tournament Saturday, June 19. In addition to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place cash prizes in both trout and redfish categories, a very special prize will be awarded for the largest ladyfish brought in. For more, call Sharon at River Haven 352-498-0709 or Danielle at Sea Hag 352-498-3008.

At the other end of the Big Bend, Citrus County ‘s 26th Annual Cobia “Big Fish” Tournament features an almost cult-like angler following…plus a large total purse of $14,000. Early this week there were already 180 teams entered into the two-day event that’s held out of both Crystal River and Homosassa. If you want to fish it, better hurry. Participation in this event is capped at 200 teams. Call MacRae’s of Homosassa 352-628-2602.

Action has been pretty decent on its sister lake, Lochloosa; but even better bluegill catches have consistently come recently from Orange . Saturday, Roger Daies and Terrance Mack filled their ice chest with big Orange Lake bluegills in just two hours. The Ft. White anglers located a big bunch of bedding bream in open water “a ways off from the pads.” Like many Orange Lake panfishers, they used crickets to make their good catch.

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

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For several weeks leading up to it, we predicted the Alachua County Bass Championship held out of Powers Park on Newnan’s Lake would produce attention-getting catches. And, despite hot and still conditions too late in the season for optimum results, the first annual tournament did just that.

Ahead of the event, numerous anglers commented that they understood the Alachua County event being held on Gainesville ‘s own major water body—but they wondered whether there was a sufficient population of bigmouths to make for a good contest. With this uncertainty—plus being up against competing May 22 tourneys on waters known to be ‘hot’—only fifteen teams fished the inaugural championship. The maligned Newnan’s, though, produced the heaviest winning weight among all open area tourneys held that day.

Concerned for the well-being their fish in the live well on the hot day, the team of Eric Canto and Trent Gay weighed in a bit early. Their fine five-bass tourney limit tipped the scales to 17-pounds, 13-ounces and set the bar high for the rest of the field.

Then, watched closely by an enthusiastic weigh-in crowd, Bobby Hales and his partner, Phil Blunt, started transferring bass from live well to weigh bag. And it was soon clear that a dean of Gainesville bass fishing and his partner had quite a sack of fish. A minute later at the scales, their five-bass take weighed 22-pounds. Anchoring the outstanding catch was an 8-02 beauty.

Thomas Jones and Johnell Young finished with a commendable five bass catch totaling 14-06 for third place. And Buster Lipham and Scott Simken earned fourth place with three fish weighing 10-pounds.

On the strength of their fine performance and catch, Hales and Blunt can—for at least a year—claim the title, “Alachua County Bass Champions”. Thanks to all who were involved in the fundraising event for the McGurn YMCA.

On the panfish scene, the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers have fallen slightly, sending the revered, brightly colored sunfish known by locals as the ‘redbelly’ into a pleasing feeding spell. Last Thursday, Mark Moody and Owen Alvarez cast little F3 Rapalas on ultralight tackle in the Santa Fe , near its junction with the Suwannee . Redbelly regulars, the Starke men boated a slew of the beautiful bream, keeping 61 of the largest examples.

Area lakes also continue to put out good bream catches. Jeff and Tina Pearce and Glenn Murray fished Friday afternoon and Saturday morning out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek. The Jessup, Ga. fishers dipped grass shrimp around Lochloosa lily pads to take a total of 66 bluegill…and also release a couple of bass.

The same two days, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Murray likewise worked the Lochloosa pads with shrimp. Fishing only during the morning hours, they tallied 113 shellcrackers and bluegills.

Steinhatchee anglers fishing inshore waters reported good speckled trout action through last weekend. And none was more thrilled than Wil Meeker. Fishing live shrimp with the Thompson party from Newberry, the five-year old pulled in his first trout—a nice 18-incher.

Gainesville anglers, Charlie Bartley and Mike Fink ran offshore from Cedar Key Saturday in search of grouper. The men found their fish in water from 55-to-60 feet deep. Dropping live pinfish to the bottom, their good catch was topped by gags measuring 27 and 28-inches…and a whopping 30-inch red grouper.

The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club held its Spring Tournament Saturday at Cedar Key, and the results say the fishing must have been very good.

Jay Peacock earned the “Top Offshore Angler” title with a good grouper, king, and trout catch. Ross McElroy was the tourney’s Top Inshore Angler with a flounder-redfish-trout-Spanish mackerel quartet. And Debbie Knopf was the Top Lady Angler. Her beautiful 27-40-pound king, taken with husband, Ken, on Seahorse Reef, was the single most impressive fish of the day.

On the strength of the impressive array of species he hauled in, Virgil Cooper was named “Master Angler”. He docked with a legal trout, a good Spanish, a kingfish, an 11.84-pound grouper, and a 29.49-pound cobia. Now, that’s a day of fishing.

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

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The spring season’s last wave of competitive events is almost over, and tournaments will be scarce until fall brings a bit of relief from the North Florida heat.

Two of the grandest and most anticipated tournaments of the year were held last weekend. One a freshwater bass shootout and the other, a gulf coast tilt, their results offer verifiable promise of the action anglers might find in similar waters.

The 21st Annual Wolfson Children’s Hospital tournament was, as usual, a mega event among bass fishing contests. Held out of the City Dock on the St. John’s River at Palatka, the giant benefit tourney drew 422 teams.

In every tournament the most pressing decision is where to fish; and this year, the right call was clearly Rodman Reservoir.

Ed Taylor, Jr. of Interlachen and Gainesville ‘s Brian Dolski came out on top with a possible tournament-record, five-bass catch that weighed 31.59 pounds. The win came on the well-practiced team’s sixteenth try after the first fifteen produced no finishes better than sixth. And their winning tactic was a bit unusual—but there was no arguing the result.

Dolski and Taylor arrived on their best spot on Rodman that morning, set anchor, and never moved until it was time to head back to the Buckman Locks. There, Taylor ‘s first cast of the morning produced a five-pounder—immediate reinforcement to stay put. While camped out on the sweet spot, the men cast junebug/blue colored Bass Assassin plastic worms to draw seven bites—all from big fish.

Anchoring the hefty winning bag of bass was Dolski’s 9.23-pound whopper that added another cool grand to their 10K winners check.

That wasn’t, however, the tourney’s largest single fish. John and Deryl Williams of Lake Butler lugged that one to the weigh scales—a 10.92 Rodman monster that took a 10-inch worm.

For another consistently tough local team, it was yet another near miss.

Larry and Tommy Studstill, another well-known bassing pair, finished in second place with five fish weighing 24.28. The Gainesville father-and-son team has been close before…two years ago they finished the Wolfson in 3rd place. They locked into Rodman (like the rest of the top finishers) and fished Zoom worms in the Orange Springs area to make their fine catch worth $4000.

For competitive Gulf Coast anglers, Doug Johnson and Donnie Young’s Reeling for Kids event has quickly grown to become a Big Bend standard-setter.

Ninety four teams fished in the first-class tournament, setting records in both attendance and funds raised for the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.

Individual winning fish in the ‘Inshore’ category included Brittany Lee’s 3.75 Spanish mackerel, Mark McKinney’s impossibly-thick 8.3 redfish, and the 4.75 trout brought in by the Lucus Ross team.

In the ‘Offshore’ division, Ricky Reed’s 35.3 smoker kingfish, Bo Sweeny’s 39.5 amberjack, and Cephas Christian’s 17.25 grouper took the top cash prizes. Jud Carter boated a 24.45-pound cobia to narrowly nudge out Ray Hedgecock’s 24.10-pounder.

In the coveted Masters Offshore category, “Team English” lugged a 66.75-pound grouper-king-amberjack trio to the scales to outpace the rest of the big-water competitors.

Tournament tested for nearly three decades (dang), the Doug Stringfellow and Gary Simpson team came out on top in the Masters Inshore standings with a red-trout-Spanish mackerel combination totaling 12.90-pounds.

While the Reeling for Kids competitors tussled to the north, 56 anglers were duking it out in the 14th Annual UF Fisheries/FWC Tournament out of Cedar Key.

Eric and Steph Nagid and Will Strong took the largest redfish at 25.6-inches, while Steve Larson and Darren Pecora claimed the ‘largest trout’ prize with a 22-inch specimen. Doug Colle, Bill Pleiman, and their kids and grandkids captured the top Spanish.

This contest also features a cool category that more events should recognize—“Most Impressive Cooler”. And, in that area, the big winners were Capt. George Tanner and his brother, Bill. The Tanner brothers docked with 10 Spanish mackerel, 10 speckled trout, and a nice redfish.

The 2010 spring tournament season left a lot of anglers with great memories…and a few more will be made this weekend.

Even if you can’t fish with us, be sure to attend the Alachua County Bass Championship’s weigh-in and festivities Saturday, May 22nd beginning at 11:00a.m. at Earl Powers Park on Highway 20 just east of Gainesville . Activities will be geared especially to kids—with a casting contest, ‘go fish’ booth, and reading of Shelley Mickle’s great new fishing book, “Jason and Elihu”.

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

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Summer heat is looming ahead…right along with coastal oil spill problems. For now, though, fishing is excellent for both fresh and saltwater anglers.

While Newnan’s Lake has long taken a back seat to other major area lakes among bass fishers, Gainesville ‘s nearest large body of water has quietly been building a nice population of bigmouths.

And it’s about time to let the cat out of the bag.

The upcoming the Alachua County Bass Championship will put fishers who aspire to that lofty title back in touch with Newnan’s. And, already, anglers practicing for the contest have been very impressed with the fish they have found. Johnny and Toy Bass were big trouble for Newnan’s bass back in the seventies and eighties. It looks like they may just pick up where they left off all those years ago. Friday, the Hawthorne brothers cast plastic worms to boat a half dozen fish in the four-to-five pound range. Johnny returned to the lake’s north end Saturday to release five more good fish.

Also on Saturday, Johnell Young pitched unspecified plastic lures to catch and release an eight-pound Newnan’s beauty—plus four more solid bass from 4-to-5-pounds each.

Looks like the Alachua County tournament on May 22nd might be a real barn-burner…and for a very worthy cause. Proceeds will benefit the McGurn YMCA just in time for the kids’ summer activities.

Following a stellar spring season, Orange Lake is still putting out some mighty big bass. Mark Gunter and Mark Ruble topped the field of competitors in the Orange Lake Wednesday Night Tournament with a five-bass limit that weighed 17.32-pounds. Anchoring the fine bag of bass was Gunter’s 10.26-pound lunker.

In another of the new breed of after-work tourneys, this one a Florida Bass Network Thursday event on Lakes Sampson and Rowell near Starke, Mike Solsman and Richard Kingsbury topped a 21-boat field. Solsman cast a silver Rapala on ten-pound test line to fool their anchor fish—a 9-pound lunker.

Bream season is now in full swing. Fishing out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek Friday, Tony Dennison, George Kimbrough, and Kent Patterson all filled fifty-fish limits of mixed bluegill and shellcracker. The Gainesville anglers all fished lily pads on Lochloosa’s west side with grass shrimp. The same day, part-time Cross Creek resident Bob Drew, pulled 25 big bream from pads in Little Lochloosa by 9:30 a.m.

Great saltwater inshore catches are the rule in the Steinhatchee area. Monday, three guides and their parties scored big in the Steinhatchee shallows. Captains Randy Hewitt, Scott Peters, and Steve Rassel all found plenty of trout, reds, and mackerel…and a few flounder.

Nancy Bushey of MacRae’s of Homosassa spent Mothers Day at Cedar Key with daughter, Colleen. On the new Public Fishing Pier there, Nancy was surprised to see lots of fish being hooked. “While we were there, people on the pier pulled in big hammerhead and nurse sharks,” she said, “and also a few keeper-sized redfish. People were having lots of luck using shrimp for bait.”

While Nancy was enjoying her day farther north on the Big Bend Coast , Capt. Chris Willis and his two-person party fished artificial lures off Homosassa. In water just 12-feet deep the anglers boated grouper limits, plus two legal cobia.

It’s prime time for big-fish hunting on the east coast. The annual migration of manta rays is underway—and Atlantic anglers know that means it’s time to get after the cobias that accompany the behemoths on their journey. When the word reached ‘on the ready’ fishers, catches of lings weighing from 30-to-50-pounds quickly became commonplace. One Devils Elbow customer flew down the coast a week ago, counting 120 rays between Matanzas Inlet and Flagler Beach . That represents a lot of potential cobia.

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

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They all sounded similar. Words and terms like “hoping”, “praying”, and “fingers crossed” came up often during our Tuesday report-gathering calls to gulf guides and marinas. Everybody is rightfully fearful of the huge oil spill growing and spreading in the gulf. The impending environmental and economic disaster holds the potential to change almost every aspect of coastal life.

For the time being, though, things are fine with the west coast fishing—excellent, even.

Four Gainesville friends enjoyed an outstanding fishing trip Saturday to Cedar Key in just the second fishing trip for Sheryl Baer’s new pontoon boat. Billy Bryan, Kathleen Thompson, Dave Bickford, and Baer found an area next to Seahorse Key Saturday that was somewhat protected from a tough wind. There, the four fished shrimp on the bottom and under floats to take several speckled trout, a couple of Spanish mackerel, and a bunch of whiting. The big highlight, however, was the 36-inch redfish that Sheryl eventually vanquished with 8-pound test line and a small shrimp. Before its release, the whopper weighed 28-pounds on a hand-held scale.

The Optimist Club of Perry held its Saltwater Fishing Tournament Saturday at Steinhatchee. Among the most lucrative of the annual gulf events, the Optimists pay a particularly high reward to the captor of the tourney’s largest speckled trout…and T.J. Ellison boated a stout 5.95-pound winner to pocket that $3000.00 prize. Drew Vickers’ 15.15-pound grouper was worth $1000.00; and rounding out the first place cash winners were Danny Read (7.9 redfish) and Glenn Wiggins (47.35 cobia.) Read and Wiggins each won $500.00.

Saturday, the Builders Association of North Central Florida held their 46th Annual Family Fun Fishing Tournament out of Crystal River .

Always emphasized in the builders’ event are the youngest fishers, and these “Junior Anglers”, as always, managed impressive catches. Nick Oelrich bested a whopping 19.2-pound kingfish to draw weigh-in exclamations rarely heard away from a good fireworks display. Ryan Schiavone whipped a 6.5 grouper, and Greg Robinson weighed in a 4.5 grouper of his own. Evan Bolton, Kyle McGriff, Nick McGriff, Kaleb Payne, and Kaitlyn Whitfield all caught Spanish mackerel. Trinity Bolton hauled in a nice bluefish, Jared Robinson and Ella Yazdanpour each had a fine trout, and Kayla Clark boated a sheepshead. Shannon Bieniek’s remora one of the most unusual species seen at weigh-in.

Not to be outdone by the youngsters, the adult entrants also made considerable hauls on the choppy day.

Jack Lee, Shaw Lee, Chris Courtney, and Chris Lewis weighed 13.7-pounds on nine fish to win the Speckled Trout division…and Jack’s 2.6-pounder was the contest’s best single trout.

Trent Swartz, Keith Thompson, and Matt Webster took a two-fish tourney limit of redfish that totaled 11.5; while Jason Scott and Terry Cooprider had the single-biggest red at 6.3.

The McGriff family, represented by Mark, Lori, Ryan, Kyle, and Nick had seven nice Spanish mackerel; but Michael McFall docked with the biggest Spanish at 2.1.

The Kingfish Division was thoroughly swept by Ivan Oelrich, Nick Oelrich, and Eric Drummond. In addition to young Nick’s aforementioned eye-popper, the team weighed two more kings totaling 41.7…topped by Ivan’s 21.5-pounder.

Bobby Bounds, Bryan Bounds, Bruce Henley, Roan Silcox, and Dean Zetrour dug up four chunky grouper that went 34.5 to take top honors in their division. Joe Keene harvested a 16.4-pound cobia; and Andrew Bieniek swept the freshwater bass category. This event always lives up to its name.

Just when we think fishing is finally settling into a seasonal norm on our lakes, another whacky report comes in.

Most of us figured the speckled perch spawn was finished weeks ago; but the 50-fish limit catch Ricky Knight and Jesse Shireman pulled from a lake near Melrose Sunday consisted of “at least 40 females that were still full of roe.” The anglers made their outstanding haul while fishing minnows and crappie jigs on a brushpile in water 15-feet deep.

Don’t miss the Alachua County Bass Championship May 22nd, presented by Sun State Federal Credit Union and The Tackle Box. This will be the first high-profile bass tournament on Newnan’s Lake in twenty years, and catches pulled from the once-again-productive Gainesville lake might surprise folks. The weigh-in at Earl Powers Park on Highway 20 will feature fun fishing activities for kids. Fliers and entry forms are at The Tackle Box.

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

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April is the almost always the month for bluegill to take over as the number one target of panfishers in North Florida lakes. Since things got off to a slower start this season, most savvy cane pole specialists figured this end-of-the-month full moon would trigger the first major, widespread bream spawn of the year. Looks like they were right.

Fishers using crickets, grass shrimp, red worms, and several more obscure bluegill-catching favorites have fought off a pesky wind through recent days to pull bunches of big bream from just about every area lake. Of them all, Lochloosa has probably produced best for folks fishing grass shrimp in lily pad beds.

Bassers also continue to find good fish. Orange Lake is putting out the biggest fish; but Lochloosa, Santa Fe , Kerr, and Rousseau have also have been cited in numerous bragging stories over the last couple of weeks.

Christie Bunkley of Sea Hag Marina at Steinhatchee put it concisely: “The fishing is great—even though the wind has been pretty hateful.” The anglers’ number one pest is hanging on late into the spring season; only affording saltwater fishers occasional clean shots at their targets. Still, near-shore gulf fishers are making plenty of fine hauls.

The Steinhatchee shallows produced fine trout, redfish, mackerel, and flounder catches for weekend casters.

The Cedar Key flats are swarming with trout—even though most are a bit undersized. Anglers casting Gulp! and Fishbites Xtreme hyper-scented lures or Saltwater Assassin grubs set under popping or rattling floats say there’s not much time for daydreaming between bites. The first-rate Spanish mackerel run is still going strong; and artificial reefs in water at least 18-feet deep continue to hold spawning sheepshead. Anthony and Nancy Pugliese anchored on Seahorse Reef off Cedar Key Wednesday and fish live shrimp. Though unusual, this tactic worked for 25 nice-sized Spanish. The Gainesville couple then anchored on another spot just off the reef in 25-feet of water, where they hauled in 10 sheepshead from 2-to-8-pounds.

The Homosassa flats are producing just about every shallow-water favorite. Sunday, Capt. William Toney’s four-person party docked with an impressive haul that included trout, redfish, mackerel, and flounder.

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


Up to this point in the year, freshwater fishers have held a clear edge over their saltwater counterparts in producing good catches. We’re not sure if it can yet be said that the saltwater fishers have caught up; but they are getting very close at the least.

There has been little or no significant rainfall in the last several weeks—and that brings to mind the low water issues drought-weary fishers have faced more often than not through recent years. Hopefully, the ongoing dry spell will not be the start of another low water bout in lakes and ponds.

Bluegill are the top target of local panfishers now; and Orange , Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes are all producing big ones. Bobby Cato and Chris Nickols of Gainesville fished grass shrimp in Lochloosa Saturday to pull out a full, 100-fish bream limit.

And Orange Lake continues to put out big bass. The University of Florida Bass Club fished Orange and Lochloosa this weekend. Angling from a Twin Lakes Fish Camp rental boat the club’s President-Elect, Dennis Croyle, fished the Orange Lake lily pads. There, he hooked and boated a 9-pound, 6-ounce bruiser of a bass. Asked about the lure he used, the young basser answered, “a deep-diving Hula Popper.” Well said, grasshopper…

The lack of recent rainfall has caused no problems for coastal anglers. The near shore grass flats have finally fully come to life, and bites-all-day action has returned.

Trout fishers say the Steinhatchee grass flats are teeming with small, undersized fish. Plenty of limit catches of nice-sized trout were seen, though, at the Sea Hag Marina through the weekend. The bait of choice here has been the Gulp! Jerk Shad in the Pearl White color.

Tim and Chris Jansen found the weather at Cedar Key so fine Saturday morning that they decided to take their 16-foot Carolina Skiff out to Seahorse Reef. The Archer father-and son cast shrimp on jigheads set under rattling floats. Concentrating in water around 10-feet deep, they hauled in 30 Spanish mackerel—and released nearly that many again—in just two and a half hour of fishing. Several of the Jansen’s mackerel were over 24-inches long.

Capt. Jim Keith’s parties have enjoyed great luck recently out of Cedar Key. The veteran guide and his son, Jimbo each took out four anglers Saturday. At day’s end, all ten fishers had filled trout limits. Monday, Capt. Jim took John and Patrick Griffith of Lakeland to the same productive areas on the Cedar Key flats. Casting Saltwater Assassin jigs in the “Acid Rain” color set under Quick Cork floats, the visiting fishers had trout limits by 9:30. Keith then took the party to a rockpile a little farther offshore where, fishing with live shrimp, they added several good sheepshead to the day’s tally.

Mark and Trey Lochlear fished last weekend, pre-fishing for the Catch a Cure for Cancer Tournament coming up Saturday out of the Waccasassa Fishing Club (352-486-6380.) The Wildwood anglers cast grubs in the bay to take a fine trout limits. The fund raising tourney will also include redfish and trout categories, and will afford non-members a once-a-year chance to fish out of the private fishing club.

Bobby Gaff and Gator Creasman also fished Waccasassa Bay Saturday with good success. The Gainesville anglers picked up a fine 10-fish limit of speckled trout by 11:00 a.m.; and then they added a few sand trout, mackerel, and flounder.

Homosassa area catches have been outstanding, with great trout and redfish action the rule inshore, and big grouper biting out in water at least 50-feet deep.

And on the gulf, there are always other unexpected possibilities. Guiding a party out of MacRae’s of Homosassa Sunday, Capt. Jody Johnson spotted a huge fish cruising the flats. At first, the guide thought he and his customers were looking at a bull shark. But when the fish swam closer, he saw that it was a giant cobia.

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


The best of the springtime bite did get off to a late start due to the unusually cold winter, but it’s good to know that one thing always remains true. By the time mid April rolls around, there is never a problem coming up with a fetching fishing report.

The Cedar Key/Suwannee stretch of gulf coast was the last to really warm up and hold the standard springtime saltwater favorites. Now, good trout, redfish, and mackerel catches tell us these grass flats are alive again.

The trout bite has come around everywhere. Monday, Capt. Steve Rassel guided Bob and Roxanne Burns of Jacksonville on the Steinhatchee flats. When Roxanne hooked a big fish, the veteran captain thought the hard-pulling fish was another redfish. But when it surfaced in a head-thrashing flurry, he knew otherwise. Eventually in the boat, the freakishly-huge speckled trout measured 32.5-inches and weighed 9-pounds, 2-ounces.

The Homosassa area has been putting out fine trout and redfish results for weeks, and now some warm-water predators are showing up. Capt Gary Cox’s party of three fishers Sunday had a few big Spanish mackerel and a thick pompano to go with their trout limits. And a local angler docked at MacRae’s Marina Saturday with a legal cobia—the first Big Bend example we know of this season.

Although the coastal reports are obviously catching up, area lakes remain the brightest stars of North Florida fishing.

Sunday, Jimmy Buck of Bronson and Al Pinson of Gainesville found a spot in a Lochloosa lily pad bed where the shellcrackers and late-spawning speckled perch were both thick and hungry. Using grass shrimp on light fiberglass poles, the men hauled in 31 redears and 30 specks including a two-pound slab.

The same day, Ronnie Brown located a big bed of bluegill on Orange Lake . Fishing alone with shrimp in the pads, the Gainesville angler easily filled his 50-fish limit.

Outstanding recent bass fishing stories from Orange Lake have awakened some accomplished bassers who had fallen out of the habit of stalking their big-mouthed prey. Wally Grant and Don House launched at Heagy Burry Park Sunday to see for themselves what all the fuss was about. The Gainesville anglers soon found out first hand that the hype is justified. Casting Zoom plastic worms, they boated twelve bass. House’s biggest was a 9-pound lunker, and Grant’s best fish, a massive 11-pounder. Many very good and dedicated bass anglers have angled long and hard without ever catching such a specimen.

But another, even larger bucketmouth was also caught and released Sunday on Orange . Fishing with Will Allen of Chiefland, Johnny Santerfeit of Trenton was casting an undisclosed soft plastic lure somewhere in the southern half of the lake when he hooked an enormous fish. Finally in the boat, the bass weighed 13-pounds, 14-ounces on a Cull-’em-Right digital scale. The giant was thick and heavy-bodied…apparently still full of roe.

Twenty two teams fished the bass tournament held on Lochloosa Saturday by the Fraternal Order of Eagles #3656. World-class bass angler, Preston Clark of Palatka and his partner, Joe Schultz put together an impressive five-bass tourney limit weighing 24-14 to win. The Waldo father-and-son team of Robert and Cody Black finished second with 16-06. While the tourney’s largest single fish weighed 5-02, ten year old Cody boated a 5-pounder of his own in the event that benefited Hospice of Marion County.

And a hearty congratulation goes out to the University of Florida ‘s collegiate bass fishing team. Representing UF, Jake Gipson and Matt Wercinski qualified to fish in the National Collegiate Championship last weekend at Ft. Loudoun , Tennessee . The Gator anglers ended up winning the three-day event, topping a hot Texas State and a hard-charging Auburn team. Gipson and Wercinski won $100,000.00 for the University of Florida .

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


Speckled trout still only sparsely populate the grass flats from Yankeetown, north. No cobia or kingfish in these waters yet…and only a handful of Spanish mackerel.

But that’s about all of the negatives to be found on the North Florida fresh and saltwater fishing scene these days. Aside from these ‘not yets’, prime fishing time has arrived with a bang.

Area bass fishers are enjoying a big fish bite that’s off the modern-day charts. I remember having to work at The Tackle Box on springtime Saturdays during the seventies and eighties, sending anglers out with bait and tackle on perfect weather days…hearing the enticing fishing stories, and even having to photograph some of the better catches. For a young angler desperate to be on the water himself, it was torture. Saturday, for the first time in a long time, I felt the yearning again.

Bart Waters started it all early in the afternoon. He phoned from Orange Lake saying that he had just caught a bass over 28-inches long. The catch was magnified, too, by the relatively light tackle and he was using when the lunker struck—ten pound test line on spinning tackle. The Alachua angler wanted to release the fish…but first wanted to know its weight. I told him to try South Shore Fish Camp, as I thought I remembered they had a scale. He called back later from the camp to let me know that the fish had weighed 12-08.

Just a few minutes later, Dave Morris called to report his own Orange Lake catch. On his first cast of the morning, a monster largemouth had taken his white Chatter Bait in McIntosh Bay . Luckily, another angler nearby had a certified Boga Grip and a camera. After a couple of pics, Morris released the 11-pound, 14-ounce whopper back into the bay. By the time I headed home from work, I was chomping at the trailer hitch. If you’re a bass angler and that kind of stuff doesn’t light your fire, your wood’s wet.

As I was hooking up the Ranger to head for the lake Sunday , Hunt Whaley called from the water likewise looking for a place to weigh a big Orange Lake bass. On his way to the Citra camp, though, Whaley found Bernie Schultz casting the pads with Byron Terwillegar. Schultz’s digital scale showed Whaley’s bass to be a ten-and-a-half pounder.

On the lake finally with Buddy DeGraff and Dalton Woods, we saw the nice mix of water depth, vegetation, and temperature that was helping to produce such top-notch fish. And, sure enough, our first bite of the afternoon was a nice seven-pound bass.

While they remain a worthwhile pursuit, speckled perch catches are beginning to fade in the fast-warming lakes. It’s shellcracker and bluegill time. Ronnie and Jordan Brown have boxed nice catches of thick shellcrackers several times over the last few days while fishing grass shrimp in Lochloosa lily pads. Sunday, Vaughn Sherrer and Adrian Taylor of Cross Creek fished the Orange Lake pads. With grass shrimp and European nitecrawlers, they succeeded in filling a 100 fish double limit of shellcrackers and bluegills. Monday, Ted Elliott of Cross Creek fished bonnets near Twin Lakes Fish Camp to take 22 big bream. Twin Lakes is at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek.

As we mentioned at the top, trout remain fairly scarce along much of the gulf coast. But a few anglers have found them just fine. Captains Rick Davidson and Tommy Thompson have boated a number of big, 5-pound plus fish through the last few days in the Steinhatchee shallows. And Sheryl Baer and David Bickford located some sizable trout near Crystal River ‘s Shell Island Friday. Along with a great variety of incidental species, the live shrimp the Gainesville couple fished produced heavy-bodied trout of 19 and 18-inches. “They were eating it up,” exclaimed Sheryl.

Gulf anglers fishing out deeper, though, are generally faring best. The first weekend of open grouper season saw fine weather and good catches pulled from water 30-to-60 feet deep off every gulf port.

And Steinhatchee Reef yielded numerous limits of sheepshead to weekend anglers tight-lining shrimp and fiddlers on the bottom.

That’s this week’s report.

Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.

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With water temps still unusually low at the end-of-March full moon, many longtime area panfishers expected speckled perch to be in the shallows for perhaps their biggest spawning session. They knew, too, that the March moon is a prime time to find bedding shellcracker. But not many predicted the unusual simultaneous spawn that occurred through the last few days of the month.

Bass and bluegill, too, joined in on the breeding overlap.

In hindsight, the abnormally-cold winter season served to put off earlier-spawning species; while the timing for the later springtime spawners was scarcely affected. Things pretty much ‘got right’ all at once in a number of area fresh waters for bunch of hotly-sought species.

Although Larry Jenkins humbly calls his on-the-water success “beginner’s luck,” anybody who knows him knows better. Fishing with minnows, the Gainesville angler again pulled a fine 25-fish limit of specks from around the flooded Newnan’s Lake cypresses Friday. The really impressive part, though, is that one of the fish, an 11-incher, carried an 80-dollar FWC reward tag. And that would be the third 80-dollar tag he has redeemed this year.

While plenty of speck-catching was going on, Ronnie Brown and Al Williams were zeroing in on another target. By Monday, the Gainesville fishermen had located as sweet a shellcracker bed any panfish fan could imagine. They stopped by The Tackle Box early that afternoon with a full, 100-fish double limit of big, thick-bodied redears they had just pulled from a Lochloosa bonnet patch while using grass shrimp for bait.

But Jesse Williams III stole the shellcracker show for the week—and probably the year. Fishing with Gina Rush on the Ocklawaha River just below Rodman Dam Monday, the Gainesville angler was picking up assorted panfish when a much harder-pulling fish took a live worm. After finally boating the whopping redear, the fishers marveled at its size—13-inches long with a 13.5-inch girth. On tested scales, the massive shellcracker weighed 2-pounds, 2-ounces.

Gussy Hale of Gainesville recently took up fishing. The Gainesville fisherwoman tried her luck Saturday in lily pads near Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek, and found it to be pretty good. She pulled in a ten-fish mix of bluegills and shellcrackers.

Mel Case found speckled perch in a bed of pads in Little Lochloosa, and hauled in 17 nice ones. The Ocala angler then decided to cast a while for bass. Using old-school lures (Thinfin and Hawaiian Wiggler,) Case boated and released a pair of 20-inch bigmouths.

The Eastside Garden Club held its annual Speckle Perch Fishing Tournament last Thursday. Club members fished Santa Fe and Little Orange Lakes seeking bragging rights for the year; but most struggled to find willing crappies on the crappy fishing day. The winning team of Paul McClary and Bob Stefanelli had 13 specks weighing 9-pounds, 10-ounces; while McClary took Big Speck honors with a 15.5-inch, 1-pound, 13-ounce slab. Added club President, Harry Whitener, “Fun was had by all.”

In gulf waters, the sheepshead spawn might have arrived late…but it has arrived. On Steinhatchee Reef, many fishers tight-lining shrimp filled limits Saturday. Their biggest obstacle was not a lack of fish, but a pesky wind and roughish seas. In choosing a spot on the reef, most anglers look for and anchor near the highest point of rubble. Several anglers have said, though, that the most productive areas on Steinhatchee Reef so far this season have been away from the biggest piles of debris.

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

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Last weekend brought yet another reminder of this year’s peculiar weather. Pretty much ideal and beautiful on Saturday…then chilly, wet, and nasty on Sunday.

Needless to say, anglers registered better results at the top of the weekend.

Donald Bowen and Hal Deck fished Orange Lake in Donald’s Stumpknocker boat Saturday. The day started as fine as the weather, as Hal’s pumpkinseed colored Zoom plastic worm enticed his best bass ever. The six-pound beauty struck at 8:00 a.m. That best-ever status didn’t last long, however. At noon, a considerably larger fish took another Zoom worm in McIntosh Bay . Following a strong, drag-stripping battle, the Gainesville men boated and released Hal’s new personal record—a 23.7-inch long 9-pounder.

These are great fish in anybody’s book, but Orange is a lake at a peak cycle and at a peak time of year. After a couple of huge bass weighing in the teens were taken there early last year, we figured there would be more in 2010. We were right. Greg Gibson was fishing a plastic worm on Orange last Wednesday when a gigantic bigmouth happened by. When the lifelong Ocala angler finally hauled the monster aboard, he placed it in a large, aerated live well and hurried to an Ocala tackle shop. There, the whopping bass measured 28-inches in length, 21 ½ inches in girth, and weighed 14-pounds, even. Gibson released the outsized bass into a 3-acre spring-fed farm pond.

The speckled perch bite, too, has fired up again. Mel Case of Ocala fished out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek Saturday. The minnows he fished in grass and pads produced 35-specks.

Monday, Richard Ornka and his family rented a boat from Twin Lakes and eased out into the Lochloosa lily pads. There, the out-of-state visitors found the crappies to be large and abundant, catching 51 fish. Interestingly, they said that the great majority of their fish were roe-laden females.

Patience is thinning among sheepshead fans that have never had to wait quite this long for their favorite fish to gather in spawning spots off the gulf coast. Still, only Steinhatchee and Homosassa reports included any hint of offshore congregations this week. While a handful of fish was plucked off the top of Steinhatchee Reef Saturday, most of the best Steinhatchee sheepshead catches Saturday came from just off the reef, in water about 20-feet deep.

Dr. Ted Copeland and Elmer Perry found the sheepshead Friday out of Suwannee—and the location of their hotspot probably reveals more than a little about where the local square-tooths are, spawn-wise. Fishing live shrimp in creeks north of the river, the anglers filled a big cooler with 3-to-4-pound sheepshead. Redfish of 22 and 27-inches and a keeper flounder also joined the banded chunks in the Suwannee anglers’ ice chest. Normally, by late March, there are big numbers of sheepshead in key areas off Suwannee such as Hedemon Reef and Spotty Bottom. This chilly year, the top catch of the season to date was located still holed up in a creek.

One Gulf Coast favorite that has finally made a big appearance is the speckled trout. The folks at Sea Hag Marina weighed a few big trout Saturday, topped by a 6-pound whopper vanquished by Scott Vangunten.

It was also a big weekend for trout fishers out of Homosassa. Captains Dan Clymer and Charlie Harris and their Saturday parties fished live shrimp and DOA Shrimp to boat trout limits that included a few fish over 20-inches. Capt. Jimmy Long and his party fished southwest of Homosassa Marker Two to take not only speckled trout limits, but also several sand trout, sheepshead, and redfish. And, proving that the winter is finally finished in these waters at the south end of the gulf’s Big Bend , Capt. Jimmy’s customers also picked up a few bluefish and Spanish mackerel.

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

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A common way to measure an automobile’s acceleration is how fast it goes from zero to sixty. With clear signs of spring now evident, area freshwater fishing that sputtered along slowly through February has hit sixty in a blink.

As long as the freezing cold fronts blew through, they never failed to interrupt a pending speckled perch or bass spawn…sending the female fish out of the spawning cover and back into deeper water. Only over the last few days have the female specks moved into the shallows and finally seem to find things suitable to stay a while. And, with water levels in good shape, the crappies have a nice variety of cover to use.

Don Cribbs and David Ostrander located the speckled perch Last Monday in the Newnan’s Lake cypress trees—an early spring ritual that area speck fishers eagerly anticipated for decades back when the lake’s cypresses always seemed to stand in sufficiently-deep water. The longtime Gainesville fishing buddies used poles and minnows to pull in 45 good specks that day; noting later at the fish cleaning table that about half were females. They returned to the productive spot Tuesday to haul in 47 more…and “ninety percent were females.” Then this Monday, the crappie-catching anglers tried the Newnan’s shallows again. This time, the men filled their combined 50-speck daily limit and stopped by the store to show us the fine bunch of dark and sizable specimens. On this day, the great majority of the fish were males.

Saturday, Jason and Jan Higginbotham and their sons, Krystopher and Nicholas battled a nasty wind on Newnan’s. The family fished minnows and crappie jigs with black-and-chartreuse squid tails in the semi-protected shallows near the Windsor boat ramp to pull in a very impressive catch of 100 specks.

But, of the speckled perch anglers fishing through an excessively-windy weekend, Larry Jenkins might have enjoyed the very best fortune. Fishing live minnows around the Newnan’s trees Saturday, the Gainesville fisherman pulled in a full 25-fish limit of good specks. But the best part was the thin, yellow spaghetti tags he noticed on two of the fish as he unhooked them. In an attempt to learn more about the catch rate of Newnan’s crappie, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission put reward tags in a few hundred specks a few months back. Each of Jenkins’ tagged fish was worth $80.00.

Over four weeks, there were 210 angler sign-ups for The Tackle Box Speck a thon. Early in the contest, though, qualifying fish at least 12-inches long were incredibly scarce. When better conditions arrived during the final week, a fish-catching free-for-all ensued. Speck expert, Tim Clark backed up his Fall Speck a thon win in the Total Weight division with another in the spring event. Clark ‘s 48-pound, 7-ounce total easily topped the total posted by second-place total weight finisher, Riley Flander. While Clark also won in the Biggest Speck category with a fine 2-04 slab, he had to fight off strong challenges from Jess Shireman (2-02 from Little Orange) and James Brown (2-00 from Little Orange.) Clark pulled most of his specks from Rodman Reservoir, and receives a total of $170.00 in Tackle Box gift certificates.

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

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Finally, a warm and not-too-windy weekend made North Florida fishers think that there might actually be a spring to follow the coldest winter anybody can remember.

Often finished with their spawn by mid-March, the speckled perch in area lakes now have their first acceptable shot at creating a 2010 year class of young. With the moon in an ‘off’ phase, though, most area crappie specialists believe the specks still haven’t had a good spawn to date.

Nick Nelson and David Demko fished for specks on Lochloosa Monday. Like most speckers through recent days, the Gainesville anglers did not find fish in the shallowest spawning cover, but rather in deeper pads and in open-water areas where their depth finder showed humps of deep grass. Fishing with minnows in this five-or-so foot deep water, they took 37 good specks.

Also on Monday, Norvell and Eddie Moore tried minnows in the Lochloosa bonnets to bag 13 nice keepers. And the Carlos Dones party from Ocala likewise docked at Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek with 13 nice specks they tempted with minnows in the Lochloosa lilies.

Venerable Gainesville angler, James Brown and his 2-pound slab remain the leaders in the “Biggest Speck” category as the Tackle Box Spring Speck a thon approaches its end. But crappie-catching expert, Tim Clark has pulled away in the “Total Weight” division. Clark waited until Tuesday to bring in the best all-around catch of the contest. Of the 25 specks Clark caught in Rodman Reservoir’s deep water, 10 were Speck a thon qualifiers measuring at least 12-inches (and the other 15 were all at least 11-inches long). The total weight of the largest ten was 10-pounds, 12-ounces. If the contest ended today, Brown would win $60.00 in Tackle Box gift certificates, and Clark would earn $110.00 in store certificates.

Speckled trout season has reopened in the northern half of the State, but anglers are generally having trouble locating fish in good numbers. Monday, a couple of groups fishing out of the Steinhatchee’s Sea Hag Marina did dock with nice trout catches reportedly taken with Gulp! shrimp from near the mouths of Rocky and Porpoise Creeks.

At Suwannee , Cedar Key, Homosassa, and Waccasassa, the trout-catching has been slower. Waccasassa Capt. Herbert Wilkerson’s fishing party took three nice redfish—and one lone trout—to the fish cleaning table Monday. “And that,” said Spek Hayward of the Waccasassa Fishing Club, “is the one and only trout I have seen here since the season reopened.”

Without much luck, sheepshead fans have been faithfully checking and trying gulf spawning spots for weeks; and now, a few scattered positive reports can be heard. There were several near-limit catches taken over the weekend on (and beyond) Steinhatchee Reef.

On rocky, open water areas about seven miles out of the Homosassa River mouth, several guides have located spots with spawning sheepshead. Captains Jody Johnson, Todd Cornielle, and William Toney probably have the numbers for the best spots; but there are more congregations to be found.

But, in sheepshead production, the middle portion of the Big Bend remains a bit behind the north and south ends. Although catches are slowly improving, Cedar Key sheepsheads remain scarce. And the recently-flooded Suwannee River has pumped tannin-stained water into the gulf, darkening the usually-clear water within several miles of its mouth. This is very likely to do further damage to the spring bite on favorite sheepshead spots such as Hedemon Reef.

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

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Again, both fresh and saltwater anglers in North Florida have ‘specks’ in their sights. The freshwater bunch is hurrying to pull as many speckled perch from the shallows as they can before the crappie spawn is over for another year. Coastal anglers put speckled trout on the back burner through the February season closure; and now they’re looking to relocate them.

Last week, as the moon grew towards its ‘full’ phase, speckled perch fishers did take nice numbers of both male and female fish in shallow spawning cover. But on the weekend anglers expected to bring the peak shallow speck-catching of all, yet another dip in water temperature apparently postponed the ritual once again. Speck fishing stories from several different area waters agreed that hours before the moon reached its full stage and started to wane, the speck action likewise declined. A handful of fishers did locate the specks; and their catches following the apparent shoreline exodus suggest the females once again pulled out of the shallows before depositing eggs. Fishing crappie jigs with minnows added on Little Orange Lake Saturday, Jes and Alvin Shireman caught 15 hefty, roe laden female specks up to 1-pound, 15-ounces. But the big specks were not in shallow spawning territory. The Shiremans caught every fish (plus 3 keeper-size bass and a 5-pound catfish) way out in water 10-feet deep.

And, here’s one more telling statistic regarding this season’s oft-thwarted crappie spawn: A total of 122 anglers have signed up to fish in The Tackle Box Spring Speck a thon. Out of all of those, we have weighed in a total of two big specks over twelve inches long.

This has already been a mighty strange year weather-wise, and the peculiar conditions have had dramatic effects on fish.

Bass bedding seems to have been similarly scrubbed in still-cold area lakes. What also figured to be a prime weekend to find spawning bass arrived to water temperatures still in the low-to-mid fifties. Even so, there were some fine catches made during Sunday’s Reel Time Tournament qualifier on Rodman Sunday. Wayne Lindsey of Ocala fished alone to take the winning five-bass limit weighing 21-pounds, 13-ounces. B. J. and Jerry Hammett of Ocala finished second with an 18-pound, 14-ounce limit; and another Ocala angler, Scott Bullard, was third with 18-09. Twenty four boats braved the cold wind to fish in the contest.

The re-opening of speckled trout season was hit-or-miss…with more misses than hits. A few good reports came from the Steinhatchee area, topped in size by a 4.4-pound trout was weighed on opening day at the Sea Hag Marina. The Lake City angler who weighed the trout said he caught it with a Saltwater Assassin grub…but he wouldn’t divulge the color. Sea Hag folks say that anglers casting Sebile Soft Swimmer lures have also nailed some nice fish.

But trout are not so easy to find out of every gulf port.

Moving southward along the Big Bend Coast , we had to go past Suwannee, Cedar Keys, Waccasassa, and Crystal River before finding another area that had positive early-season results. Possibly because it is at the south end of our coverage zone and the water is a bit warmer, we found the Homosassa area to be producing the very best gulf trout catches at the start of March. In nice fishing conditions on opening day Monday, Homosassa Captains William Toney, Todd Corniele, and Don Chancy all took out two-person parties from MacRae’s Marina. And, fishing with live shrimp, all three parties easily took trout limits and released a few more.

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

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Finally, a beautiful fishing weekend brought the kinds of catches we expect this time of year…in fresh waters, at least.

Overall, the fish-catching is still tough on the coasts.

It should be time calendar-wise for at least one favorite target of near-shore gulf anglers; but even the sheepshead that are usually congregating a little ways offshore by late February remain scarce on natural and artificial reefs out of most ports.

Several boats went after the banded brawlers on Steinhatchee Reef over the weekend, but nobody reported a notable success. Out of Homosassa, at least, one group did locate some spawn-minded sheepies. Local fisherman, Bunky Lyles and friends docked Saturday at MacRae’s Marina with fifteen fair-sized fish.

But back to “where the action is”—the lakes of North Central Florida.

Lagree Cason fished Saturday with grandson, Justin White. The Alachua men decided to spend their fishing morning on Little Orange Lake; and that turned out to be a good choice. That afternoon, Cason and White stopped by The Tackle Box with not only a 7-pound, 11-ounce bass to weigh…but also a 1-pound, 15-ounce slab speckled perch. Justin caught the bass with a tiny Bomber crankbait he fished in scattered bonnets with 8-pound test line, while Lagree fooled the big speck with a Beetle Spin. The impressive pair of fish came about ten minutes apart around 11:00 am.

Veteran Gainesville angler, James Brown also chose Little Orange for his specking trip Monday. Fishing a chartreuse crappie jig in the pads, he pulled in a whopping 2-pound slab speck—big enough to take the lead in The Tackle Box Spring Speck a thon contest.

Newnan’s Lake fishers are getting the specks, too. Last Wednesday, Adam Simpson, Gary Vanesse, and Jesse Wilder fished minnows in the lake’s northeast end to box up 34 good crappie and 4 warmouth. The Worthington Springs friends returned to the spot Friday after work to pull in 16 more.

Local panfish specialists, Henry and Marc Morgan have also been getting in on the Newnan’s speck bite. Fishing minnows with cane poles, the Gainesville brothers harvested 22 fish Friday, and then took 26 more Saturday. One of the fish Saturday carried a nice bonus for the Gainesville brothers—two FWC reward tags worth 20-dollars apiece.

But Lochloosa should remain at the top of the list of dependable nearby speck-producing lakes. Saturday, James Coney and Bobby Ross of Gainesville fished minnows in the Little Lochloosa pads to take 19 specks.

Johnell Young fished the incredibly-crowded lake Saturday , and soon determined that the bigger specks were outside the emergent cover in water 5-to-6 feet deep. While Young quickly filled his 25-fish limit, he was quick to mention that he wasn’t the only fisher enjoying success. “It looked like everybody out there was catching fish,” he declared.

Pat and Melissa Thornton picked a fine weekend to rent a cabin at Twin Lakes Fish Camp. In near-ideal weather Saturday, they fished small jigs on the north end of Lochloosa to haul in 49 crappies. Sunday morning, the couple added 22 more specks and two pickerel.

Also staying at Twin Lakes , Jim Harrington and Lillian Pottier caught 12 specks Sunday morning. Then, following a midday break, the couple from Cobb , Georgia returned to take 15 more nice specks that afternoon.

By Tuesday, the speck catching had not let up. Bob and Barb Lingis fished minnows in a large lily pad bed on Lochloosa’s south end. In just a foot and a half of water, the Gainesville couple hauled in a fifty-fish limit of uniformly nice-sized specks.

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

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0 2-16-10

This has sure been a cold and wet winter; and meteorologists say the below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation is part of a trend that isn’t likely to end soon. While most folks seem understandably peeved with this revelation, the uncomfortable combination really isn’t bad at all in the world of freshwater fishing.

For area lakes that have been chronically low and plagued with fast-growing exotic weeds for years, the extra water and growth-inhibiting cold could be just what the doctor ordered. And the record-setting spell of cold in early January took out a significant part of the non-native tilapia population.

Water level-wise; things are looking up at Cross Creek, one of this area’s top level indicators for anglers. Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of the storied creek says that some smaller vessels can now travel (with some difficulty) between Lochloosa and Orange Lakes —a trip that has seldom been possible through recent years.

Two weeks ago, I decided to try to launch my Ranger bass boat at Marjorie K Rawlings Park (another ‘indicator’ spot.) And, with help from trim and tilt, I made it out on Orange without a lot of trouble. Once on the lake, I quickly noted that the hydrilla weed was far less thick and widespread than it had been at my last trip there late last year.

To boot, when the internal clock does tell the bass and specks that it’s time to spawn, they are likely to find far less competition for prime shallow territory. The non-native tilapia choose the same season and the same shallows to make beds; but a large part of their unwelcome population is gone now, having been wiped out in the first two weeks of the year. Another benefit afforded by the ultra-cold winter. The changes brought by the cold and rain extremes we have already seen in 2010 will undoubtedly pay off in a big way for anglers through the spring and summer seasons.

Right now, on the other hand, the fish-catching is strangely slow and everybody wants to know why. Well, anglers are pure experts when it comes to making excuses; and here are some good ones:

Both speckled perch and bass fans probably have this and next week circled on their fishing calendars. And, most years this would, indeed, be a prime time to get after the freshwater favorites. But the fish time their moves instead by water temperature. In their world, it might as well still be January.

In addition to the cold water, another possible reason the specks have been hard to find could be all the new water in our lakes. With sufficient water now in the cypress trees that ring Newnan’s and Lochloosa, the spawn-minded fish could well have scattered into places that were high and dry a month ago.

And then there’s the slim angler attendance. Without a lot of big-catch stories and with not-too-comfortable conditions on the water, there aren’t nearly as many fishers out searching for bass or crappie.

We actually have had a few recent indications that some specks are available in shallow cover.

Harper Smith of Gainesville picked up minnows from The Tackle Box late Monday at 4:00 pm, launched at the Powers Park ramp, and made his way to the north end of Newnan’s in a steady, chilly wind. The young fisherman allowed the wind to push his boat into reed beds upwind from an edge of cypress, to which he cast minnows set only a few inches under a float. For a while, despite the trying conditions, Harper’s float disappeared almost as soon as it hit the water. By 6:00, he had boated 17 specks and a couple of small bass.

Dave Protzman took a couple dozen minnows out from Twin Lakes Fish Camp Tuesday at 3:00 pm. In the Little Lochloosa lily pads, the Alachua angler hauled in fifteen specks by 5:30.

While these are fairly nice results, such reports have recently been the exception rather than the rule. The first two days of The Tackle Box spring Speck a thon has attracted only 18 entrants and not one eligible fish. Be ready, though. A warming trend is coming and the fish are just as ready as we fishers.

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

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A reasonably-wet start to 2010 has most area lakes in decent shape level-wise. Boater and angler access is as good as it has been in some months. Only the level of Watermelon Pond is, unexplainably, lower now than it was at the start of the year.

Sadly, the younger generation of area anglers regards an impassible Cross Creek between Orange and Lochloosa Lakes as normal. But the water has risen here and the creek is starting to flow again. With a couple more inches of rain this month, they might be able to make the trip between the lakes as we did routinely through the eighties.

Bass anglers know that their favorite fish is hard-wired to gravitate to newly inundated and flowing creeks; and Michael Mack once again proved this ages-old rule to be true. Saturday, the Gainesville angler cast spinnerbaits and topwater lures in the creek to catch and release 9 bass up to 4-pounds.

This is the top month of the year to catch big speckled perch going about their spawning duties in the shallow cover of most lakes. It’s usually a very good month, too, for hooking big bass along the shorelines. Perhaps due to peculiar temperature fluctuations, the specks have been a little less dependable this year in their nesting; and most area experts believe that neither specks nor bass have staged a wholehearted spawn to date.

Late Friday afternoon, Richard and Cindy Magrini showed us the single largest speck we have seen and weighed this year. The Gainesville couple had been fishing in Orange Lake with chartreuse jigs when they started getting bites around the lily pads standing in the deepest water. They soon boated a dozen fish, keeping the nine largest. We weighed the biggest of these at a whopping 2-pounds, 9-ounces. Heavy-bodied and roe laden, these fish were apparently staging in the deepest cover in preparation for an upcoming spawn.

Accomplished tournament bass angler, Scott Kerslake of Henderson , N.C. fished Rodman Pool Sunday with his friend, Randy Cnota of Valdosta . The men were casting for bass with gold Excalibur One-Knocker lipless crankbaits in water 6-feet deep when Scott caught instead a slab speck. The anglers were surprised when the big crappies continued to nail the rather large 5/8-ounce bass lures in that spot. Before long, they had boated ten more whoppers ranging in size from a pound and a half to two pounds. “They weren’t just nipping at that big plug,” Scott declared, “they were inhaling it.” Kerslake and Cnota went on to have a great bass fishing day, as well, topped by a nine-pound lunker the Carolina angler caught and released.

The old rule of thumb holds that the full moon in February is the best bet for finding bedding specks. However, in years past, the specks have occasionally avoided hooked minnows by moving shallow en masse at the new moon phase two weeks ahead of the eager cane-polers. And that ‘dark moon’ phase arrives Valentine’s Day.

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

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Speckled trout, the number one attraction for inshore Gulf Coast anglers, are now out-of-season until March. Gag and red grouper, the top offshore gulf draws, likewise just went off-limits until April.

The most sought-after freshwater species, on the other hand, are shallow and hungry. In short, this is a good time of year for the Florida angler to turn his or her attention to freshwaters.

The much-anticipated spawning season for speckled perch (crappie) has arrived. Among area lakes so far, Lochloosa has been the top producer of big males and roe-laden slabs. If you arrive at a boat ramp here much after daylight, especially on a weekend, you’re almost sure to have a tough time finding a parking spot—a strong indication of how well the specks are biting in the 6,000-acre lake about five miles south of Hawthorne. Even the chilly and windiest days have attracted loads of anglers. Friday, Ted Elliott extended his string of limit-catching days with 25 good Lochloosa fish. The same day, Kevin Duplantis and Michael Kite fished minnows in the lake’s shallow south end cover. Keeping only large fish, the Gainesville men were back at Twin Lakes Fish Camp by 1:30 p.m. with a dozen slabs. Twin Lakes customers, Velma and Truman dipped minnows among the lily pads in Little Lochloosa Saturday to box a fine double-limit.

The big shad harvesting project commenced in a drizzling rain Tuesday morning with eight commercial boats tending gill nets spread about in the open water of Newnan’s Lake . Lake managers with the St. John’s River Water Management District are looking to remove more than a half-million pounds of the phosphorous-producing shad. Day One of the undertaking saw only fair numbers of caught shad. At day’s end, it was estimated that the eight boats had each averaged about 600 pounds of fish.

Fishers on Newnan’s are cautioned to watch for large red-and-white buoys marking the locations of nets that are just under the surface. Running an outboard between these markers will be bad news for everybody.

Harper Smith of Gainesville was on his way to an appointment in Ocala recently when he caught a big bream in a most unusual manner. Traveling at about 65-miles per hour on Highway 441 near the Town of Orange Lake he noticed an osprey out ahead, carrying a fish in its talons. The bird was trying to fly over the highway, but the considerable weight of the fish was hindering its rate of ascension. Then, young Harper saw the fish hawk turn its catch loose. Later in Ocala , Harper Smith pulled the one-pound shellcracker from the radiator of his Jeep Grand Cherokee.

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

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Following an abnormally-cold entry into 2010, area anglers are settling into more typical late-January fishing. Many have wondered if low water temperatures would push the speckled perch spawn back to the full moon in February…but a couple of warmer weeks have at least some spawn-minded crappie in grass, pads, and shallow brushy cover. Even so, the roe in most shallow-caught female fish seems to be insufficiently developed for an all-out speck spawn here at the end of January.

Fishing out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp, Ted Elliott has taken full advantage of the shallow speck bite on Lochloosa. For a few days running, the Cross Creek angler has fished minnows in lily pad beds to pull in 25-fish limits. Last Friday and Saturday, the longtime Lochloosa speck catcher had his 25 fish by 9:00 a.m.

Joe and Leroy Cromwell and George Thomas started their fishing day on Lochloosa just before noon Thursday. After being nearly skunked through the midday and early afternoon hours, the three local fishermen were happy when the fish suddenly started biting at 5:00. At 6:00, they headed back to the fish camp with 40 good specks.

Monday, Kenneth Thomas and his grandson fished minnows in the Lochloosa bonnets to fill their combined 50-speck limit.

The first shallow speck catches also started up on Newnan’s Lake late last week. While we heard about no limit takes, there have been several catches of up to 17 fish pulled from pads and brush. Capt. Joe Richard tried the Newnan’s shallows in a pesky wind Tuesday afternoon. After wedging his canoe in floating vegetation near the tree line, he cast small white crappie jigs out into open water. In a short time, the speck guide boated eight good fish.

On Newnan’s, one thing will be very out-of-the-ordinary during this top season for freshwater fishing. The St. John’s Water Management District has received permitting to perform a “shad harvest” on Newnan’s Lake . The effort will run from two to three months per year over three years. And that major project to remove gizzard shad is about to begin.

Newnan’s contains high levels of phosphorous—and shad excrement is one source of this excess nutrient. Large gill nets with four-inch mesh will be set in mid-lake zones and tended constantly by commercial fishers contracted for the job. The caught shad will then be taken from the nets by a rotation of commercial vessels to a waiting conveyor at the Power’s Park access point and loaded into waiting trucks. The shad will then be shipped out and later used as bait in commercial crab and crayfish traps. This process will continue through February, March, and possibly through April on weekdays only. There will be no restriction on recreational use, and the Power’s Park boat ramp will remain open to fishing boats and traffic.

While by-catch of desirable fish like speckled perch will occur to some degree, strong efforts will be made to minimize mortality of valuable sport and food fish; and District scientists believe the reward will outweigh the loss. Still called an “experimental shad removal,” the process has been tried a number of times. Professor in the UF Fisheries program, Dr. Mike Allen studied such a shad harvest on Lakes Dora and Beauclair in 2005 and 2006. Their group found no improvements in water quality following two years of shad harvest. The St. John’s scientists hope in Newnan’s, a lake with no other ongoing projects, that significant improvements in water quality will be seen. The cost of the venture is projected to be $700,000 over three years.

Gulf Coast anglers have seen action increase for two weeks along with water temperatures. With speckled trout season set to close February 1, a bunch of trout fans have taken advantage of a good bite in the Steinhatchee River . Heavy rain last week, though, slowed that action for a while. Troy Black of Lake Park , Ga. and Mike Bunkley of Bell proved that trout could be caught in the chillier shallows outside the river when they cast Cordell Redfin minnows in a creek mouth Tuesday. In the outflow, the men filled a double trout limit in about an hour; then they released fish for another hour-and-a-half.

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

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An extraordinary two-week period of cold brought big changes to the Florida fishing world. In response to the widespread fish kills consisting largely of saltwater species not very resistant to cold temperatures, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission enacted measures equally out of the ordinary.

January 15th, an FWC order temporarily suspended certain possession regulations to allow for the collection and disposal of fish killed by the cold weather.

Also issued the same day was another executive order that temporarily extends the closed harvest season for snook statewide until September. Further, the order established a statewide closure for bonefish and tarpon through March 31. Still, the FWC reminds anglers that catch-and-release fishing for these game fish is still allowed.

During these emergency closures, the FWC will evaluate the impacts of the prolonged cold-weather event on fish populations.

Things have thawed enough to lure anglers back for some gulf coast casting, and some have found very decent post-freeze action.

The Steinhatchee River continues to offer possibly the most dependable speckled trout fishing along the Big Bend . Shrimp and sinking Mirrolures fished near the river mouth have been the best producers.

Waccasassa River fishers have started catching redfish with regularity. Monday, Roger Morris took family members visiting from Kentucky out from the Waccasassa Fishing Club. They fished shrimp and cut mullet in creeks between the river and Cedar Key to fill limits of nice-sized reds. The same day, Jacksonville angler, Jerry Fletcher also found the reds to be in a feeding mood. He caught and released several good fish.

Waccasassa fishers say there are mullet jumping again in the river; and they seem understandably relieved that the harsh cold snap didn’t take out the entire herd.

In a cooperative effort between Homosassa Elementary School teacher, Mike Baize, and the Homosassa Fishing Guide Association, a bunch of youngsters recently had a day on the water to remember. Several guides donated last Tuesday to take fifty fifth-graders out on the river to fish and observe. And the kids proved to be capable fish-catchers, taking several trout, ladyfish, and mangrove snapper. One of the trout, in fact, was a 24-inch specimen…impressive in anybody’s book. Now, each student will write a story describing the sights, sounds, and feelings they experienced during their unique field trip. Pretty cool.

Like on the gulf side, large numbers of fish were lost in the inland waters of the Atlantic Coast to the prolonged and extreme cold. Snook, mullet, and lookdowns (a funny-looking fish with an exaggeratedly-sloping forehead) were the species affected worst. This week catches did resume a bit, with black drum and sheepshead regaining their appetite first.

Freshwater catches are finally starting to pick back up, as well.

The only speckled perch fishers that seem to really have something going on are those traveling to the Kenwood or Orange Springs access points on Rodman Reservoir. Here, minnows and small jigs fished deep in the flooded river channel or in the Barge Canal cut are picking up nice numbers of large crappies. Beware of the Orange Springs boat ramp, however. Vehicles and boat trailers have suffered some sad instances of theft and vandalism here. And, really, this has been among the most troublesome of area boat ramps for years.

Water in the boat basin at Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek “stayed frozen for a week,” but since the freezing nights ceased, Jeff and Michelle Septer say they have seen a clear upswing in catches. An angler named Walt braved very windy conditions Sunday to fish minnows in the Lochloosa pads. Despite the tough conditions, he filled a limit of specks.

Surprisingly, Mike and Alicia Bass have docked with nice catches of bluegill and shellcracker they’ve pulled from the Little Lochloosa lily pads while fishing with grass shrimp. During mid winter, the little freshwater shrimp are the scarcest of live baits…but the Basses have a secret spot where they can net their own.

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

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Even the old timers can’t remember a longer-lasting stretch of frigid nights—or one that has impacted Florida fishing so harshly.

“It’s the worst I can ever remember in my nineteen years here,” said Spek Hayward of the Waccasassa Fishing Club. And the grim evidence is abundant in the Waccasassa River and in Waccasassa Bay . Monday, Hayward said he tried to count the dead mullet as he passed them in his airboat. But he quickly realized that this wouldn’t be possible. “I couldn’t count that fast,” he explained. “There are thousands of mullet… and a lot of snook, too.”

Area anglers rejoiced through recent years at the slow but apparent migration of snook northward from their accepted-for-generations range. The northern Gulf Coast boundary of the much-loved game fish’s range had long been Crystal River .

During the 27 years of this fishing report, we have seen times when a snook catch to the north of that latitude was surprising. But during the last decade, good-sized linesiders thirty miles north of it became ho-hum. “Global warming,” everyone said in explanation of the shift. The correction, however, was sure to come…and it may have arrived with 2010.

“We saw one dead snook that had to be 40-pounds,” Spek continued. “And we hear that the game wardens arrested people over the weekend with a boat full of snook they had picked up. Word is, they confiscated the boat and truck.”

Before my phone visit with Spek ended, he left me with one more disturbing image of my favorite piece of Florida . “Out of the river, the buzzards are everywhere—and at low tide, they’re landing at the shoreline and feasting.”

Waccasassa Bay , of course, isn’t the only Big Bend area that suffered cold-created fish kills. Last Wednesday and Thursday, ahead of the lowest temperatures, Capt. John Wells of Hawthorne encountered “thousands of dead mullet” at the mouth of a creek north of the Steinhatchee River .

And that “thousands of mullet” comment has been a standard report from all ports as far south as Homosassa.

When Suwannee Captain Jon Farmer eased through the canals in Suwannee town Monday, he was not surprised to find the stacks of dead mullet. He was shocked, however, to see somewhere between 40 and 50 juvenile tarpon. “Some smaller ones must live here year ’round,” the lifelong guide surmised. “We didn’t know they were there.” He added, “Some were as small as a pound or so; and a few were as large as 25-to-30-pounds.”

Freshwater fish usually fare a bit better during periods of such extreme cold. Only the species that really don’t belong in Florida cannot deal with the chill. Tilapia populations have built up only to meet a cold demise a number of times through the last several years…and another time is at hand.

Late last week, members of the Bassmasters of Gator Country practicing for an upcoming monthly tournament on Lochloosa first noticed sizable tilapia barely alive at the surface. Dale Melms said he was easily able to net the immobilized fish. Later assured that the tilapia were good to eat and not protected by State limits, Melms returned Saturday to harvest 31 of the unsuccessful invaders that weighed 88-pounds altogether. The tournament, by the way, went off as planned in Sunday’s uninviting chill. Seven club members caught bass…but each of the seven anglers was able to capture just one. Keith Chapman’s single 5-pound 4-ounce bigmouth was the tourney winner.

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

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By the time it’s over, this cold snap will have brought the longest string of sub-thirty-degree nights in memory.

Some area anglers regard this as a bad thing—and their ability to fish in relative comfort will, indeed, be lessened for the arctic blast’s duration. In the bigger picture, though, this exceptional spell of cold that accompanied the new decade is likely to bring some very good and needed things for the North Florida angler.

First, the cold is a mighty enemy of the exotic species that have infested our fresh waters. Tilapia will be the most likely of the finny interlopers to die off.

Hydrilla, the ultimate curse of lake managers, is sure to fare poorly in such cold water. Orange Lake grew an especially-prodigious crop of the South American aquatic weed through the summer and fall seasons. This kind of cold will knock down much of the grass that has all-but taken the lake over…and a natural eradication like this is immensely preferable to one achieved with herbicide application.

And, lastly, the best spring fishing seems to follow the most severe winters. Now, we have no scientific data to back that statement up, but are pretty sure we’ve noticed this to be the case through forty or so years of being closely connected to area angling. We’ll see.

Negatives certainly include the other end of the non-native species coin; as the much-loved snook that have slowly crept northward up the Florida coasts are not likely to fare at all well in their new, suddenly frigid homes.

Doug Stringfellow and I discussed the possibility that we might see some belly-up snook on our trip Sunday to the Waccasassa River . At the boat ramp, the water temperature was 51-degrees, and we never saw a reading of over 53.3 all day. Happily, though, no dead linesiders. But that was Sunday—early in the improbably-long string of hard freezes.

The trout we were after near the mouth of the river were harder to find (or make bite) than we expected—and when they did bite, they weren’t particularly large. At the boat ramp at day’s end, however, three shivering guys in a jonboat seemed pleased with their day of fishing. They said they had gone “way up a creek” and fished live shrimp to boat more than 20 redfish. The three reds in their ice chest were near the upper end of the 18-to-27-inch legal slot.

The Steinhatchee River continues to hold the honor as the best-producing gulf river for winter-run speckled trout. Most weekend anglers fishing out of the Sea Hag Marina picked up good trout limits near the river mouth. Oddly, many of the best catches came from shallower, high spots in the river rather than in the deeper holes. Troy Black was among the successful Steinhatchee casters, filling big limits Saturday and Sunday. The Lake Park , Ga. fisherman took trout up to five pounds with slow-sinking TT and 52M series Mirrolures. Sea Hag boat launcher, Derek Snyder cast suspending jerkbaits in the same area Monday to fool a few nice-sized redfish.

Freshwater reports have been understandably scarce, but the year’s first Orange Lake Xtreme Bass Series tournament held Sunday revealed an apparently strong bite there. Six teams endured an early 30-degree chill at takeoff on a day that warmed all the way to 40 for the afternoon weigh-in. Still, the bass anglers caught fish well. Jody Marriott of Gainesville and Dusty McDevitt of Belleview drew spinnerbaits through open pockets in the hydrilla to tempt five bass including a tourney-best 8.95-pound lunker. Their total weight of 20.18-pounds was good enough to win; but it was challenged closely by the 19.02-pound total posted by the Ocala team of Billy Bowen and Dale Kendrick.

Speckled perch anglers have stayed home in droves. Only Roger Elliott, a northern transplant living in Cross Creek, remains undaunted by the bone-chilling wind. Elliott spent New Years Day morning fishing minnows in the Little Lochloosa lily pads. By noon, he had what might have been the first Lochloosa speckled perch limit of the decade.

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