2011 Fishing Report

2011 Archived Fishing Reports

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Spring is always an exciting season for freshwater and saltwater anglers.

Our final Tackle Box fishing report comes at a time of low water in nearby lakes, but fast-biting fish almost everywhere make that inconvenience bearable.

It’s late in the speckled perch spawn and a tad early for bream to bed. Both are biting fairly well, though, and cane pole fishers using grass shrimp for bait are frequently pulling in mixed bags of panfish. Mike and Alicia Bass proved Monday that the Orange Lake slabs aren’t done in the shallows just yet. The Cross Creek couple fished freshwater shrimp in lily pads on the lake’s south end to take 32 nice specks.

Area bass fishing seems to have hit high gear. Saturday, the annual Bald Eagle Open Spring Tournament held on Lake Santa Fe drew 27 competing teams and saw some really impressive catches. Chris Kadlec and C.K. Ryan had a 9.26-pound lunker to anchor their 23.16-pound five-bass limit…and Chuck and Nick Foster edged that total with a 24.22-pound bag of fish. But it was the Jason McClellan and Clint Sheppard team that toted the winning catch to the weigh scales. Their five bass weighed 30.82-pounds.

Santa Fe hasn’t made a lot of noise recently among the bassing crowd, but that’s very likely to change following this output. Bald Eagle’s 6-to-9 p.m. Wednesday night tournaments will start up March 16th.

Fishing late last week with top Rodman Reservoir guide, Sean Rush, Eric and Jeff Fabian of Ocala hauled in 27 good bass. The best single fish of the day was an 11-pound whopper that, along with the rest, took a large wild shiner.

Commercial wild shiner supplier, Carl Thompson, spent a couple of weeks catching bait on Lochloosa. During that time, he was surprised to inadvertently catch a half dozen big bass of at least eight-pounds…in his cast net. Of course, he released all of the big fish unharmed.

Speckled trout numbers are growing in the warming grass flats all along the Big Bend coast—but nowhere better than in the Homosassa area. Jason English of MacRae’s Marina promises, “You can’t help but catch trout right now”. When I phoned for a report Tuesday morning, nine trout guides had already taken their daily parties out and the marina’s live shrimp supply was already exhausted. Most captains, English said, are having their customers fish shrimp on jigheads, set under rattling floats.

And the sheepshead spawn is finally underway in earnest as far north as Steinhatchee Reef. Last weekend, folks tight-lining shrimp and fiddler crabs on the reef commonly filled 15-fish limits of the toothy favorites.

You could call this report our ‘last cast’ after 58 years as Gainesville ‘s fishing headquarters. We’ll be open (with deep discounts) for a few weeks yet, and hope you can stop by.

We have always tried to gather good, honest information and tips, and hopefully, we’ve helped you catch some fish.

And so, for the last time. Good fishin’ from The Tackle Box.



Hastened by a warm February, the salt and freshwater fish of North Florida have transitioned quickly into their springtime patterns.

Through the past week, catches of big bass have clearly been on the rise.

Fishing with his well-experienced bass-catching granddad, Butch Cromwell, fifteen-year-old Travis Cromwell hooked a monster fish on Lochloosa. The whopper nabbed a live shiner he fished in a lily pad bed near the lake’s south end. Following a tough battle, young Travis finally whipped the fish, and can now claim an accomplishment that few bass anglers ever pull off—a 12-pound bass catch.

Another unnamed weekend angler caught, photographed, and released a 12-pound, 12-ounce bigmouth on Orange Lake ; and yet a third basser, Greg Gibson of Ocala , released a massive fish while floating a big shiner on Orange . Gibson weighed his fish on an accurate spring scale at 14-pounds.

Unfortunately, neither angler entered his big bass into the Orange Lake Bass Documentation Program that will help FWC keep better track of the lake’s productivity.

Already, the shallow speckled perch bite seems to have largely come and gone. This is really nothing new, as many times we have seen speck fans chapped over having missed the comparatively narrow window of time the crappies spend in the spawning shallows.

Lakes warm at different rates, and the spawn could be yet coming in some. But there seems to be good evidence that the Orange and Lochloosa fish have finished up. Monday, John Courtney came by the store with one of his typical eye-popping catches of big specks. Packed in ice were 50 slabs that he and his brother, Tom had caught Sunday on Lochloosa. The Hawthorne men made the fine haul by fishing Hal Fly jigs with minnows added out in water 6-to-7 feet deep. Every fish looked to be between 1-¼ and 2-pounds…but every female we checked appeared to have already spawned, and carried no evident roe.

Randy Nipper fished alone Sunday evening on Newnan’s Lake when just about every kind of fish in the lake went on a major feed. The Windsor sixteen-year old casted Beetle Spins and Rooster Tails in chartreuse and yellow in the lake’s north end to take a dozen big specks, several big bluegill and shellcracker, and even a few catfish.

Sunday was good, too, to Sam Hintermister and Greg Searles. The fishing buddies launched Sam’s new G3 boat early at Kenwood Landing and headed out into a thick Rodman fog. “We couldn’t see a thing,” Sam said, “so we just started casting gold-bladed spinnerbaits”. Although they didn’t know exactly where they were, the Gainesville anglers tagged four hefty bass.

Unlike recent weeks, the weekend fish-catching flurry was not limited to fresh waters.

Al Clements fished from his kayak Sunday at Cedar Key, and learned that some top springtime targets are already in place on the flats. Casting jigs with Gulp! tails near North Key, the Gainesville angler took 10 big whiting, released around 40 trout and a half dozen Spanish mackerel…and hooked a very large tarpon for good measure.

I can’t ever recall a Cedar Key tarpon report as early in the year as late February.

Clements found the water temperature in the shallows to be a warm-for-the-date 66-degrees. Still chilly, I think, for tarpon. The big fish must not have been aware of that.

At any rate, area anglers should celebrate. In the world of fishing, spring has surely arrived.

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



The cold weather that arrived abruptly at the start of December seems to have departed just as suddenly with several weeks of winter left on the calendar. Lots of freshwater fishers are taking advantage of the early spring weather, and catches of bass and specks could only be better if our lakes had another foot or two of water.

Margaret Reynolds sits on the Newnan’s Lake shore at Powers Park most days, fishing in the canal that leads to the boat ramp or from the fishing pier at the end of it. A true lover of the sport, she needs neither fancy tackle nor boat to find enjoyment and success. Fishing with poles and minnows this week, she has pulled in several speckled perch up to 1-½-pounds, a few bass to 3 ½ pounds, and a bunch of nice-sized catfish.

Tuesday, Danny and Kevin Smith of Gainesville and Ocala fished minnows in a lily pad bed on Newnans’ north end to corral 17 good specks and 10 catfish.

Speck seekers willing to wait through long lines at the Lochloosa public boat ramp have largely been rewarded with good speck action. This has been the most popular area lake through the speck spawn. Vacationing in cabins at Twin Lakes Fish Camp, the Harrington party continues to enjoy its crappie-catching stay. The Georgia visitors prefer to cast crappie jigs using ultralight tackle, and have pulled in daily catches numbering from 15-to-30 fish.

Though it has not received quite the fishing pressure, Orange Lake has, too, put out decent numbers of specks. Mike Hawkins and Don Smith, both of Citra, made a mid-week trip to the pads on Orange ‘s south end. They fished minnows in water just two-feet deep; and during the evening hours, pulled in 30 specks and a hefty bass.

Fishing Saturday with his brother, Chris, and his dad, Chad , young Shaun Adams of Gainesville whipped a nice 2 ½-pound bass in Little Orange Lake. The fish took a junebug colored Zoom Trick Worm, and rates as young Shaun’s first artificial-lure-caught bigmouth.

There is little saltwater angling effort these days at Steinhatchee, but more and more folks are loading up on the black sea bass and pinkmouth grunts that are abundant a short run offshore. The Hedgecock party from Valdosta iced scores of the smallish fish Sunday, and also enjoyed catching and releasing several nice out-of-season grouper.

They have been going strong off Homosassa for weeks…and gulf fishers farther north on the same coast have expected sheepshead to show up on the spawning grounds off Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee any day. Finally, a handful of reports have come from Cedar Key. Saturday, Dennis and Debbie Carter of Gainesville located a few fish on one of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s artificial reefs. Fishing shrimp around the structure, they took four of the square-toothed battlers…topped by Debbie’s 8 ¼-pound whopper.

Along with the sheepshead spawning in the “Foul Area” a few miles out of the river mouth, some Homosassa locals have found another good fishing target. Snook are not legal to possess at present, but catch-and-release fish are taking live and artificial baits around ambush points such as boat docks along the river. Freelining live shrimp under docks, Jason English of MacRae’s Marina has released several sizable linesiders over the last couple of weeks.

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


On paper, it’s the most prime week of all for catching speckled perch in our shallow lakes. But, in the fishing world, there are few absolutes and frequent surprises. Anglers knew that extreme weather events could spoil the expected busiest few days of speck spawn…and the crappie fans that planned their annual trips to favorite bonnet beds were fearful of a major cold front or high winds.

Although they soon found lake levels lower (and that they would need to move out a little farther from the shoreline cover that held fish last year), nice, stable conditions have graced the last week of February’s waxing moon.

And fishing for spawning specks through the most anticipated week has been—-okay. Not great, and not poor. Just okay.

Out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp, Robert Deese and his ten year old son, Nico, fished Sunday afternoon with Steve Datkuliak. The three Gainesville speckers fished with minnows in the Little Lochloosa pads to bag 13 specks that ran in size from 1-to-1 ¾ pounds. And that was fairly typical of the weekend reports from Lochloosa and Orange .

Throwing a curve at the crappie seekers working the shallows, unreal catches of big specks came from Rodman Reservoir—out in water six to eight feet deep. Robbie and Levi Matchett fished Rodman Sunday, drifting the stump flats while fishing crappie jigs and minnows. The Interlachen father and son headed back to Kenwood Landing only after filling a 50-fish double limit of big Rodman slabs. Along with a little ice, the catch filled a 54-quart ice chest. This was not an isolated catch, as several more speck fans reported similar success. If these specks are spawning, it’s on the scattered remnants of mostly-inundated timber that dot the open expanse.

Gulf reports are usually unexciting in late February, but there are a few worthwhile angling bets. There have still been no indications that sheepshead have gathered to spawn off Steinhatchee, Suwannee , or Cedar Keys…but they’re sure on the job out of Homosassa. At MacRae’s Marina on the river, “monster limits” are coming in almost daily, pulled from a zone known as the “Foul Area” three to four miles out of the river mouth. Over the weekend, Capt. Don Chancy took a party from England out to the spot, and the visiting Brits “had a ball” battling the hefty spawners.

Grouper are off limits to recreational anglers these days, and so the offshore effort these days is slim. Willing to settle for pinkmouth grunts and black sea bass, Tim Clark headed out of Steinhatchee recently with three friends. In water around 50-feet deep, the four Gainesville fishermen accomplished that goal, filling a 200-quart chest with nice-sized specimens. While they were harvesting legal fish, they also caught and released several hefty grouper…and a few red snapper. Even without grouper in the ice box, that sounds like a successful offshore trip.

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


Fishing can be an unpredictable sport, but a few things always go together—like a waxing February moon and spawning speckled perch.

Specks are bedding in most area lakes, and the top producers to date have been Orange , Lochloosa, Newnan’s, and Rodman.

Of the top speck choices, only Rodman offers easy access at all of its boat ramps. The speck-catching there is likewise uncomplicated. Sunday evening, Derick King and Jessie Brock were drifting minnows under floats when the specks started biting. The Gainesville couple pulled in several good fish, topped by a two-pound-plus slab that Jessie whipped in only her second attempt at speck fishing.

Wayne Bratcher of Alachua and Bill Purvis of Hague also went after Rodman specks Sunday. They fished chartreuse Road Runner jigs in the old Ocklawaha River channel to tally 32 good-sized specimens. The men returned Tuesday; and in chillier, brighter, and breezier conditions, managed just 15 fish.

Lochloosa continues to put out good—and improving—numbers of specks. Ren Gallon of Gainesville worked the lily pad bed on the lake’s south end Saturday, dropping minnows into tight open spots. With his 13-foot telescoping pole, he managed to pull 17 nice fish out from the tangle of pads and stems. Then on Sunday, he pulled out 19 more. Gallon said the specks bit best in the afternoon, between 1:30 and 4:00.

Cross Creek residents, Bernie Bass and Ricky Benton worked a few spots in the Lochloosa shallows with poles and minnows Saturday. The men kept only their bigger fish, and later at the boat ramp, counted their catch at 29.

So far this year, Newnan’s has lagged behind its fellow Alachua County lakes in speck production. But Adam Simpson and his 5-year old daughter, Megan tried their luck there Friday evening with pretty good success. Fishing with minnows set just 8-inches under a small float in the lake’s north end, they pulled out 15 fish in short order. Although the lake level has risen slightly, brush and weeds along the Newnan’s shoreline are covered by just inches of water. Here, a smaller boat is pretty much a ‘must’. But the procreating specks won’t miss a beat…often preferring to spawn in impossibly-shallow spots.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission just completed another crappie-tagging mission on Newnan’s, and a few hundred more fish are swimming about with reward tags attached. Last week, the office received its first crappie tag of the year. The reward amount on this fish was just five dollars, but the researchers were surprised to find that, with all the newly-tagged fish out there, this fish was tagged two years ago.

Let’s see…gag grouper: off limits; speckled trout: off limits; mackerel, bluefish, cobia, tarpon: at least a month away from arriving in our Big Bend waters. That leaves two good targets for gulf anglers over the remainder of February…redfish and sheepshead.

Redfishers are picking up a few fish out of Steinhatchee, Suwannee , and Waccasassa, but we’ve had no really exciting reports. Sheepshead action, on the other hand, is clearly on the increase as bigger numbers of hefty spawning-size fish gather on natural and artificial reefs out in water 8-to-25-feet deep. The first reports of spawning congregations generally come from Homosassa—the southernmost gulf port we regularly cover. And here, locals and guides have been pulling in big fish for weeks. Next, the reefs out of Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee start holding fish—and while we’ve heard a small handful of promising stories, it seems that the fish haven’t yet gathered on these spots in earnest.

East Coast sheepshead also deserve a mention. The fish that locals are catching here aren’t spawners, but they’re just as hungry…positioned on barnacle-encrusted pier and bridge pilings. The rock jetty at Fort Matanzas is another good bet. Fiddler crabs are the preferred bait, and Devils Elbow Fish Camp on Matanzas River currently has plenty.

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


When February arrives, area speckled perch fans get serious. It’s almost a sure thing that big spawning slabs will head for shallow cover in local lakes sometime this month…most likely just ahead of the full moon phase.

To date, the speck bite has been sporadic—good one day, and not so great the next. If history is an indicator, though, action will pick up through the month.

Tuesday morning, Clifton Harrison and Manuel Godina launched at the public boat ramp on Highway 301 to fish Lochloosa. They went across the lake to a lily pad bed on the west side, joining several other boats fishing minnows among them. Manuel had never fished for the paper-mouthed favorites, and hooked several big fish that pulled off before making it into the boat. Still, the Gainesville men managed 11 good specks by 2:00 p.m.

Several impressive speck reports have also come from Rodman Dam, one of North Florida ‘s best bank-fishing spots. Lots of locals are fishing at night…dropping lanterns over the dam walls to attract baitfish that, in turn, bring in feeding specks. These fishers are pretty tight-lipped, but indications are, this tactic is working very well.

Speckled trout will be illegal to possess in North Florida through February, but the wintertime trout season sure finished strong in the Steinhatchee area. Part-time locals, John Palmer and Brian Hecker fished through the final week of January with Earl Rice of Ocala . Casting suspending twitchbaits, Paul Brown Originals, the three anglers released around 50 trout each day—up to 26-inches long. While the biggest of the trout-seeking crowd stayed in the Steinhatchee River , Hecker, Palmer, and Rice concentrated their efforts in nearby tidal creeks.

Steinhatchee marinas and residents now will focus on preparing for the Steinhatchee Fiddler Crab Festival coming up February 18, 19, and 20.

With both trout and gag grouper out of play for a while, sheepshead will move up on the gulf anglers’ list. Several well known hard-bottomed spots off the Big Bend coast play host to the sheepshead spawn every year; and when the time is right, big catches of the heavy-bodied bruisers are common. Through recent years, the heaviest sheepshead spawning has occurred in March…but a few Homosassa anglers have been pulling in plenty of spawning sheepies for a couple of weeks now. This gives fishers farther up the coast reason to think that the hard-pulling bandits might be getting started a little early this year.

East coast sheepshead are likewise active. Anglers able to locate tough-to-find fiddler crabs have consistently connected with thick fish positioned around pier, dock, and bridge pilings near Matanzas and St. Augustine . Shrimp will produce bites, too, but generally not as well. Customers launching at Devils Elbow Fish Camp on Matanzas River have also connected with pleasing numbers of redfish and black drum this week.

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



Freshwater action is finally heating up in local lakes….and the much-needed rain earlier this week will allow more anglers to enjoy it as the most prime fishing season approaches.

Though access at many boat ramps remains sketchy for larger vessels, any upward movement along the water line is a big deal. And that line had moved up the bank a good distance by the middle of this week.

The annual speckled perch spawn almost always peaks at the full moon of either January or February. This year, things seem to be cranking up between the two lunar peaks.

Last Wednesday, Richard Bullwinkel and Mel Davidson fished water three feet deep in the north end of Orange Lake . With Missouri minnows, the McIntosh men caught 25 specks and 4 bass. The next day, Mike and Alicia Bass of Cross Creek tried their luck in lily pads on Lochloosa’s west side. The minnows they fished in the shallow pads yielded 20 real slabs—all between one and two pounds. Then on Friday, Roger Elliott headed out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp just after noon to dip minnows among bonnets at the north end of Lochloosa. The veteran speck-catcher returned after just two hours of fishing—with 15 good specks already in his ice chest.

Speckled trout will be off-limits to North Florida anglers through the month of February. Casters looking to box up a few last-open-weekend fish might do well to head for the Steinhatchee River . Trout catches there were very good through last weekend…and especially on Sunday, the nicer day, weather-wise. As the tide turned and started to rise, bent rods could be seen all along the river (as far up as channel marker 45). Anglers casting slow-sinking baits such as Mirrolures filled limits, as did jig fishers and folks at anchor with shrimp on the bottom. Reports from the other gulf rivers were less impressive.

Out of Homosassa, however, guides fishing rocky areas five to six miles out of the river mouth are starting to catch the first of this year’s spawning sheepshead. This bite will soon spread to the traditional sheepshead spawning spots off Cedar Key, Suwannee , and Steinhatchee; and trout will be replaced as the top angling target for a few weeks. Captains Gary Cox and William Toney and their parties both filled limits of hefty sheepies Sunday.

And another report from the Homosassa was equally uplifting. Members of the Homosassa Guides Association annually donate a day to take children from Homosassa Elementary School for a day of fishing on the river. Last Wednesday, 52 kids and their chaperones hit the river with 15 guides. Using bait donated by MacRae’s Marina , they pulled in a few trout, redfish, and various other interesting species. The children now will write papers about their experience.

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


A window of nicer weather allowed anglers their best shot at fish in a while…and produced some of the best catches of the new year.

Even so, action freshwater remains generally sub par on local lakes. Limited and difficult access to many lakes is part of the problem, as fishers with larger vessels really have to hunt around to find suitable access points. Rodman Reservoir is one of the few that offers relative easy launching, and the fishing there is pretty good, to boot. Scattered speckled perch catches have come from the deeper Barge Canal cut and from deeper clumps of matted vegetation anchored in lily pad beds. Bass anglers have scored very well by running shiners under hyacinth and cabbage mats…and some cane pole fishers have pulled nice catches of shellcrackers from under the same rafts of Rodman weeds.

And Rodman isn’t the only area lake that’s putting out early spawning shellcrackers.

Saturday, Charlie Thomas and Bobby Robertson pulled off the tricky feat of locating a shellcracker bed out in the wide open spaces of Lochloosa. The Gainesville men anchored near the bed and cast red worms into it to take 55 of the thick-bodied bream.

This is far from an easy bite. First, the men say they have to push-pole out quite a ways from the public boat ramp off Highway 301 before they can lower their outboard, start it, and run to the shellcracker spot.

Speckled perch really should be the top target of panfishers in late January—and the specks, too, are showing signs that their pre-spawn feed might be increasing. Fishing Tuesday morning out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp, Jim and Lil Harrington slow-trolled green, white, and orange crappie jigs out in Lochloosa’s mid-lake depths. By noon, the Georgia visitors bagged twelve sizable slabs.

With the February-long North Florida speckled trout closure approaching fast, lots of inshore anglers are working the gulf coast rivers in earnest. After a pretty dependable month-long bite, the Steinhatchee River was a bit less productive last weekend—although it was hit plenty hard by scores of trout-seeking boats. At least one group found fishing success with just one trout in their ice chest at day’s end Sunday. Fishing frozen shrimp on the bottom, the three fishermen hauled in ten thick sheepshead. The Suwannee , Waccasassa, and Crystal Rivers might not offer trout seekers a lot of fish, either, as they all have put out considerably more redfish through recent days.

The Homosassa River actually yielded the most impressive gulf reports from the weekend. Capt. William Toney’s four-person party Sunday cast DOA lures and live shrimp in the river Sunday—and each of the Pennsylvania fishermen hauled in a snook/redfish/trout slam. That’s an outstanding January feat.

While offshore gulf results have been very slim, it should be noted that more than one Steinhatchee offshore fisher has found and filled limits of legal gag grouper within state waters, less than nine miles offshore. Frozen sardines and herring have done the trick.

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


The depths of winter seldom offer a very wide choice of good fishing opportunities. When you factor in windy cold fronts and very low lake levels, the pickings get even slimmer.

It’s a sure thing, however, that the best and most dedicated anglers will find the spots and techniques to produce tight lines.

James Hubbard has found that the best way to battle low water is to go where it isn’t low. And that fishing hole would be on Rodman Reservoir, a lake unaffected level-wise by dry conditions. Hubbard launched at Kenwood Landing Wednesday morning, eased out into a bed of lily pads, and fished minnows set about two feet under small floats. The Gainesville angler soon had 22 fine specks—several were slabs in the two-pound class—and one three-pound catfish, to boot.

Some bass fishers, too, have chosen Rodman with good results.

Charlie Lawson of Orange Springs and Cajun Perry of Citra fished live shiners under floating vegetation Friday. Aside from the fun of fishing, the men’s trip had a purpose. They were searching for good spots—scouting for an upcoming event that will pair several area guides with Wounded Warriors. The Wounded Warriors organization arranges fishing and hunting trips for combat-wounded veterans. And the warriors that go with Lawson and Perry will likely have a great time. Without lingering at any spot for long, the two men boated and released twelve nice-sized bass…and lost one very large fish that took a jumbo shiner and refused to be pulled from its lair far under a hyacinth raft.

Crystal River is another strong bet for cold weather fishing. Sunday, the Bassmasters of Gator Country held their first contest of the year there, out of Kings Bay . At take-off that morning, the air temperature was 32-degrees…and it was windy. Still, the bassers managed to locate a good number of willing bigmouths in the clear, spring-fed bay. Billy Dyson, Jr. bagged a five-bass tourney limit that weighed 8.69-pounds; and that was just enough to top Chris Prowant’s 8.04-pound limit. Twenty five intrepid members fished the tournament.

Saltwater fishers in North Florida have just a couple of weeks left to harvest speckled trout before the February trout closure. And the Steinhatchee River is still one top-notch place to do the harvesting. Friday, the Victor party from Sharpsburg , Georgia arrived at the Sea Hag Marina, in search of the river trout that have been biting in the river for a month. The Georgia men started fishing right at the marina, casting Gulp! and Saltwater Assassin grubs on ¼-ounce jigheads. In just two hours, the four had already filled limits of very fine trout. While they were pulling in fish, they never left sight of the marina.

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


The New Year arrives with a large number of North Florida freshwater fishers feeling unfortunate. They’re happier, though, than the saltwater specialists who are feeling under-appreciated.

Freshwater fans are having a tough time accessing many of their favorite waters after the final months of 2010 brought precious little rainfall. It is a setback to which they have become accustomed.

Saltwater anglers—and particularly offshore enthusiasts—have long endured diminishing bag limits. And now a full six-month gulf gag grouper closure has, for many, been the last straw. It’s a buyers market for big boats and heavy duty used tackle. Certainly, almost everyone whose livelihood depends on a healthy offshore fishing effort is looking for another line of work.

The water in our lakes will come back, and the big water fishers that don’t hang it up altogether will find another acceptable target species. But the run-of-the-mill North Florida angler is generally pretty bummed.

Ken Tenney’s favorite sporting objective remains unaffected by the tightening rules. The Gainesville angler fished far off St. Augustine on New Years Eve with his son, Kenneth, and Doug Biley. Trolling C & H lures sixty miles offshore through a light rain; the trio knew quickly that they had arrived with the Wahoo in a feeding mood. By noon, they had filled a combined six-fish limit of sleek beauties weighing 86, 67, 52, 49, 43, and 42-pounds.

And at least one inshore gulf hotspot definitely remains a strong bet for first-trip-of-the-year success.

Steinhatchee speckled trout action has been as good in the welcomed warmth that started late last week as was in the icy conditions that preceded it.

Last Thursday, Ed Ellett and Greg Howard headed to Steinhatchee for their last fishing trip of 2010. They fished in the river with old standby trout producers…slow-sinking Mirrolures. Ed used the TT 28, while Greg opted for the silver-sided version of the same lure, a TT 26. After a couple of strikes there, the Gainesville men concentrated their efforts in the vicinity of channel marker 31. By 10:30, they had their combined limit of trout up to four pounds—and released 15-to-20 more, including several over 20-inches. They ramped out at noon, having used just a half gallon of boat gas.

Jerry Kimball of Hawthorne and Wayne Blankenship of Starke found their fish just outside the Steinhatchee River ‘s mouth. To avoid the rocks along the river channel, the men ran all the way out to Marker 10, and then curled back south through Deadman Bay to a cove just south of the river. There, they cast Mirrolures and white Gulp! shrimp on jigheads to fool four good redfish and ten trout. The total take was impressive to see, as two of the trout measured a bit over 20-inches, and the other eight nearly touched the 20-inch mark.

At a time when really good spots to fish are scarce, anglers very early in 2011 can be thankful for the gulf’s Big Bend rivers…and especially, the Steinhatchee.

At the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s monthly meeting later this month, well-known Keaton Beach fishing guide, Pat McGriff will discuss Early Spring Tactics for Trout and Redfish. This will be a great chance to learn from a great angler. The January 25 meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at UF’s Veterinary Academic Building , Lecture Hall A. For more, visit the club’s website at gofc.us.

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