While lakes near Gainesville haven’t fully come around following the big influx of water from Irma, local bass anglers don’t have to travel very far to find biting bigmouths. Excellent catches are coming from the Harris Chain of Lakes near Leesburg and from the St. John’s River, between Palatka and Lake George.
In Saturday’s First Annual FCCCU “King of the River” tournament out of Palatka, BASS Elite pro Terry Scroggins showed up and, along with partner Bill Counts, claimed that title. The St. John’s locals basically took five bass weighing six pounds apiece to the weigh scales. Their total weight of 30.27 gave them an emphatic win by a relatively large margin. However, seven other teams also weighed fine limits of twenty pounds, plus.
Two Saturdays ago, the Florida BASS Nation Team Championship saw outstanding catches from the Harris Chain, another top-notch bass destination. As in many Florida fresh waters, water is moving through creeks, runouts, spillways, and drains, concentrating feeding fish in areas with the heaviest flow. Area anglers from the Bassmasters of Gator Country competing in the tourney said they caught upwards of thirty bass during the practice and competition days. Seventy federated teams from around the state competed in the two-day event, with the top four teams to move on to BASS Nation’s National Team Championship scheduled for later this year on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell. And it turned out that three of those four would be teams from nearby North Florida bass clubs. From Dunnellon and hailing from the Citrus County Bassmasters, Nick Manfredo and David Frost won with a 37.11-pound two-day total. Our own Bassmasters of Gator Country claimed second place with the 36.18-pound catch registered by Matt Rittman (Starke) and Jay Daily (Hawthorne). The third place team of Ray Trudeau and Fred George, members of the Lakeland Bassmasters, had 35.24. And rounding out the top four with a 34.60 total was Alan Agnoli and Frederick Boettjer. The Chiefland men are affiliated with the Citrus County Bassmasters.
Nearby boat ramps closed by high water are slowly reopening. Orange, Lochloosa, Newnan’s, and Santa Fe Lakes can all be accessed now by at least one public launch site. Folks getting back on the water again are finding that speckled perch are biting best—at least as well now as before the storm. Lochloosa and Newnan’s are producing especially fast speck action.
The folks at Twin Lakes Fish Camp at the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek have seen a water rise of two full feet since Irma. Although that’s an impressive rise, it pales against the flooding suffered at Kate’s Fish Camp on Prairie Creek below Newnan’s. This week it was business as usual at Twin Lakes, and owner, Jeff Septer fished Tuesday morning with Cross Creek neighbor, Sam Mooney. They eased out through Little Lochloosa into the big portion of the lake and started slow-trolling crappie jigs in open water 8 to 12 feet deep. The specks were biting. Before noon, the men headed back to the fish camp. They had released all but the larger, fillet-size specks and still had 28 fish. When I asked whether the fish had shown a preference for a particular color, Septer said he had tried jigs in eight colors, and each one had produced good bites.
Over the last decade or so, we have heard steadily-increasing reports of gulf anglers hooking snook farther north than anglers a generation ago could have hoped to.
This week Gary’s Tackle Box ran a Facebook inquiry in an attempt to shed more light regarding the northward march of the snook—and the frequency of catches. Crystal River/Yankeetown was once considered the northernmost zone one might expect to encounter a lineside, and so we inquired only about catches made north of there. Within a day, respondents had reported recent catches of 6 Cedar Key, 5 Suwannee, and 4 Steinhatchee snook. Several anglers mentioned that when they cast-net baitfish in the shallows as far north as Steinhatchee, they frequently find juvenile snook in their nets. A breeding population is clearly in place along our stretch of coast. However, as other fishers pointed out, the first lengthy temperature plunge below 20 degrees will likely doom large numbers of the stellar gamefish.
Even considering the inevitability of such natural corrections, I expect that the snook’s pleasing expansion into our nearest gulf waters has taken solid hold.