A Building Bite in Fresh and Saltwaters

sheeephead fishingSlow fishing was the rule through an unusually-cold January, and North Florida anglers were forced to be patient.  Now, finally-warming lakes, rivers, and flats are producing much better.

Moses and Joann Reese stopped by the store Monday, excited to tell us about all the Lochloosa speckled perch they have been catching.  Fishing lily pad beds with small crappie jigs and minnows, the Reeses took home 32 “big, thick” Lochloosa slabs late last week “before it got so windy over the weekend”.  Moses continued with an enthusiasm that made us all want to head for the lake immediately, “You gotta use a net to get these specks in the boat…they’re too heavy to stay on the hook if you try to lift ‘em in”.

After an outstanding trip a week earlier, the Elliott party kept its Lochloosa speck-catching roll going through the weekend.  Fishing shallow cover using fiberglass poles and crappie jigs, the speck specialists pulled in no fewer than 175 spawning slabs over Saturday and Sunday.  In on the crappie-catching were Russell, Mike, and Michael Elliott, and James Sullivan.    They also bagged five ‘incidental’ bass.  Incredibly, Mike declared that every one of the specks they harvested was better than a pound.

Orange Lake has again joined the list of productive area speck lakes.  Allen ‘Cajun’ Perry and fellow Orange Lake resident, Jackie Mullins have been using light spinning tackle to cast crappie jigs around the lake’s pads.  They fish a few mornings every week, typically from about 8:30 ‘til noon.  Keeping only the better fish, they have averaged 14-to-18 an outing.  Perry thinks the Orange specks are on the verge of spawning, as well.  “The roe looks about ready”, the veteran crappie catcher said.

While most of the top crappie catches these days are being made in pads, grass, or brush, some nice stringers are yet coming from deeper, open water.  Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Cross Creek eased out into Lochloosa Wednesday morning.  He stopped just short of Allen’s Point and put out speck jigs.  Moving steadily with his trolling motor just outside the shoreline cover, Septer found lots of fish.  In an hour and a half, he bagged 17 keepers and released more than that many.

In Saturday’s considerable wind, Ren Gallon returned to Rocky Creek and the Steinhatchee flats where he has lately found stacks of trout and redfish.  Casting a ‘Scaled Sardine’ lure by Live Target in the bluster, the Gainesville angler scored well again in the shallows south of the river.  It took him until 1 p.m. this time, but Gallon succeeded in putting 5 good trout and a 25-inch red on ice. 

Richard and Elliott McDavid fished Saturday at Steinhatchee, along with Elliott’s girlfriend, Cassidy Shannon.  A too-strong northeast wind kept most anglers in the relatively-protected river, where lots of trout have been caught recently.  It also kept the water effectively ‘blown out’.   With shell bars and long stretches of normally-inundated bank showing all around, the three filled limits of trout from 17 to 20-inches long that found green Saltwater Assassin jigs irresistible.

Rick Pena and James Lovvorn fished north of Steinhatchee on Monday—a day that offered much nicer conditions and water temps finally bumping 60 degrees.  The Gainesville anglers found a slightly deeper trough on a flat that was loaded with fish.  Casting Drum Roller jigs, they bagged limits of stout trout from 18 to 23-inches long, and released five nice ‘slot’ reds.

Sometime in late January, Big Bend shead usually begin to gather around structure out in water 15 to 40 feet deep.  Very cold water has delayed these spawning get-togethers this year, but finally, fishers scouting past-productive wrecks and reefs are returning with some encouraging stories.

Dale Reed needed to break in his engine’s new powerhead.  Along with fellow Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club member, Mike Sancome, he headed offshore from Cedar Key two Thursdays ago hoping to be among the first to find a congregation of sheepies.  The men checked several spots as they put time on the outboard.  But with water still in the low 50’s, the first six stops produced none of the square-toothed chunks.  Then, finally, on a wreck in water 30 feet deep, their shrimp produced fish.  Over the next hour or so, Reed and Sancome caught several sheepshead, keeping a half dozen big ones up to 6-pounds.  By the time the GOFC’s Sheepshead Shootout arrives on March 3, nearly every major bottom feature within the 15-to-40-foot depth range should be well-attended by spawning sheepshead.

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