Specks Easy, Bass Tough

speckled perchAlthough the speckled perch fishing has been very good overall, you’d have to say that area bass fishing really hasn’t.

Sunday’s year-end classic championship held by local bass club, the Bassmasters of Gator Country, seemed to underscore this puzzling truth.  The top half of the club’s 2017 finishers qualified to participate in the lucrative contest whose location was kept secret until the morning of the event. 

The morning was quite an uninviting one for any extended in-the-elements undertaking.  Still, the intrepid bassers met and drew the tourney location (the St. John’s River at Astor) and headed there well ahead of daylight.  The Astor draw did come with one major exclusion…..competitors could fish only south of the Highway 40 Bridge.  This eliminated heading from the boat ramp even in the direction of Lake George.

Now, nobody expected the bass to be biting particularly well.  The water was high and dark, the weather cold and windy, and it was rumored that there had been a minor fish kill a few weeks before.  But I’m sure that each of the fishermen did expect to have a bite or two in the 8-hour contest.  Most didn’t.  The two key bites did not come until the final hour, when Tommy Waters’ Texas-rigged plastic worm produced a small keeper (1.04) that would end up earning him second place.  Benny Beckham’s last-ditch casts also yielded a bite.  His red shad-colored Bass Assassin worm was taken by a considerably larger 3.14-pounder…a fish that won him the club’s 2017 classic.  Only one more bass was caught on the day … a .82-pound dink taken by Keith Chapman.  It earned him third place.

In the windy (but no longer wet) chill early this week, a handful of folks started getting back out on the lakes.  One couple, Kenny and Jelena Funston fished out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp Monday and Tuesday on their vacation tour of Florida waters.  Apprehensive at the notion that the narrow passage into Lochloosa could close up, preventing their easy return to the Cross Creek camp, the Funstons instead turned right and idled the creek into Orange Lake.  The days were chilly and windy, limiting the visitors to semi-sheltered spots near shore.  There, they cast crappie jigs tipped with minnows to bag 20 specks and several small bass.

The nasty weekend did not allow offshore fishing, frustrating the would-be deep water fishers looking to take advantage of grouper fishing that is finally good again.  Anglers visiting the store this week obviously had no really recent reports, but several were still talking about the good trips they made while the weather was still nice.  Craig Hawley went out of Cedar Key early last week with his 7 year old son, Bodie.  Fishing cut bait on the bottom in water only 35 to 40 feet deep, they found grouper…hauling in several hefty fish including three 30-inchers.   The good day was really topped off, though, when Bodie’s trolled Stretch 30 lure was whacked by a strong, fast fish that turned out to be a 42-inch December Cedar Key king mackerel.

A couple of days later, Dan Rhine and Zac Carver enjoyed an exceptional day in the gulf shallows out of Steinhatchee.  The men didn’t have to go far outside the mouth of the Steinhatchee River to find fish, bagging a number of quick trout and smallish redfish.  Rhine spotted a ‘push’ at the surface nearby, and they gave chase.  As he had suspected, it was a school of redfish moving the water—and big ones.  They were able to stay with the school long enough to catch and release five large reds.  After losing track of the big reds, the men ran south nearly to Pepperfish Keys, where they managed to improve on the fine fishing day.  The Rapala Skitter Walk surface lures they cast in the clear shallows there were crushed by several stout trout up to 23 inches. 

Rhine summed up the day simply.  “We caught a lot of fish, and we were back in by 2:00.”

Posted in 2017, Gary Simpson's Fishing Report | Comments Off on Specks Easy, Bass Tough

Perfect Weather Produces for Anglers

Fishers able to break away to hit the water on short notice when things are ‘right’ have spent a good bit of time there lately.  The final days of November and the first few of December brought wonderful weather and fishing… and the primary targets of saltwater and freshwater fishers, speckled trout and speckled perch, were taken at a good rate.  Weeks-long stretches like this make most of us long for retirement. 

Anglers with saltwater leanings took advantage of the beautiful weather and later visited the shop with especially-glowing reports.

According to them, grouper fishing remains good offshore.  Snook are biting well from Waccasassa Bay, southward.  Redfishing is good…but best north of Suwannee, and even mackerel and bluefish were still in good supply out of Steinhatchee through mid-week.

Trout were just about everywhere.   Wherever your favorite trout spot might be, fish were probably there through the middle of this week.  The largest specimens seem to be nestled in very shallow shoreline sea grasses along with redfish.  Folks throwing jigs under popping or rattling corks continue to pull limits from the deeper grass flats.  But plenty of trout are also in place in their winter hangouts—tidal creeks and rivers and in sloughs and troughs.    

Wayne, Matt, and Connor Geiger fished with Capt. Randy Harris Saturday out of Steinhatchee.  Capt. Randy steered his airboat to tidal creeks near the river’s mouth where the three generations of Geiger cast a range of baits that included Mirrolures, topwaters, and cut bait.  With these, the Keystone Heights anglers hauled in 8 redfish of legal size and 6 fine trout up to 24-inches.   

Amy and Capt. Joe Richard fished Friday out of Steinhatchee.  The Gainesville couple’s primary intent was to break in their new Yamaha outboard…but catching fish was also on the agenda.  Right away, they were surprised at the clarity of the water.  At Steinhatchee’s Number One marker, the bottom could be seen in unusually clear detail.  They headed south and found the water as clear until they neared Pepperfish Keys, where it darkened considerably.  In the miles between Steinhatchee and Pepperfish, the well-experienced anglers made use of the rare combination of clear water and its glassy-slick surface. 

Along the way, traveling out in water 10-to-12 feet deep they saw that most of the bottom was of white sand, but they occasionally slid over darker spots.  And some of these, they found, were rocky.  With fresh cut bait, the pair caught and released several gag grouper—but sub-legal fish less than 20-inches long.  They did bag a number of black sea bass and bluefish, and Amy whipped a fine 44-inch cobia on one of the ‘dark spots’.

Joe and Amy returned on Saturday to find conditions again near ideal…just a light ripple on the surface.  Again working the dark, rocky spots, they cast spoons and jerkbaits to bag 5 nice trout and a mackerel.  And then Joe’s jig with a twister tail produced a big bite…another December cobia that would measure 36-inches.  Interestingly, Joe said that when the ling came out of the dark and after the jig, “three more cobia were with it”.   Though they released both of their cobia, the Richards took home a good bit of fish fry material—and put 5 hours on their new engine.

Although the fine early December weather apparently did not bring fishing quite as great to freshwater anglers, the biggest buzz on nearby lakes still centers around speckled perch.  Most say that the Newnan’s Lake speck bite was slower this week, but most speck seekers on Lochloosa and Orange Lakes continued to pull in plenty of good-sized crappies.

December never seems to offer great fishing weather all the way through.  By late this week, the weather was far less ideal. 

The cold snap at hand is sure to be a fishing game changer…and not altogether in a bad way.  Expect the speckled trout to congregate more densely in deeper gulf rivers and creeks, and for the speckled perch bite to pick up.   And with the lakes full and beautiful following a wet year, it’s reasonable to hope that we will see our best bass fishing in years as the largemouths bulk up and begin to choose spawning areas around shoreline cover.

 

Posted in 2017, Gary Simpson's Fishing Report | Comments Off on Perfect Weather Produces for Anglers

Grouper Time Again

fishing report red fish

Photo: Elliot McDavid

December brings local anglers some nice gifts, but taking advantage of the ‘grouper gift’ has been unusually tricky for a while now.

First, grouper-catching success this time of year is always dependent upon the severity of an approaching North Florida winter. No matter how abundant and hungry the fish might be, offshore trips are mighty difficult in a stiff north wind.

The weather lately has been mostly-nice. But that’s only one hurdle grouper fans have to clear. For three years now, something else altogether has drastically reduced the number of folks running offshore from gulf ports like Cedar Key, Suwannee, and Steinhatchee.

A particularly nasty and widespread outbreak of red tide in the late summer and fall of 2014 played havoc on the resident fish over many square miles of Big Bend grouper territory. And, while catches since the massive kill had slowly improved, the thought earlier this year persisted that the populations of bottom dwellers were still far-from fully recovered.

The painfully slow improvement continued until Hurricane Irma’s trip up the state seemed to change things again. Just days after the big storm tore its way up the peninsula, the first anglers to try for grouper returned with some of the best grouper catches of the year. Since then, most grouper fans have continued to insist the action is as good as it has been since before the unwanted visit from the Karenia brevis organism. And now falling water temps seem to have clicked things up another notch, bringing us to what appears to be the best grouper fishing we have seen in more than three years.

Paul and Willie Geiger and Trisha Hood found perfect, ‘slick’ conditions Saturday as they were heading out of Suwannee. The Gainesville fishers ran only a few miles offshore. Anchored over a rocky spot in water 42 feet deep, the three dropped frozen herring to the bottom. The grouper were there. In short order they filled a three-person, six-fish limit of heavy gags up to 32-inches long. In this and a few more spots, the trio released another ten grouper of legal length…plus several ‘short’ gag and red grouper. They pulled in and released a big number of sizable out-of-season red snapper in water only 30 feet deep—and the always-present grunts and black sea bass were also in good supply.

It seems that grouper fishing trips out of our nearest ports might be worthwhile again.

Mostly unaffected by the long-ago red tide bloom, inshore fishers out of the same ports have enjoyed continued good numbers of redfish and speckled trout. Anglers working the cooling shallows are presently finding these well. Trout are gathering in tidal creeks, while redfish are scouring the shorelines. In zones with very clear water, the brightly-colored reds are said to be easily visible.

Elliott McDavid and Kyle Cronin gave the Steinhatchee shallows a try on Sunday. They headed out of the river mouth at 8:30 and ran north, stopping on a clear, near-shore flat. The bottom was mixed sand and grass, less than two feet beneath the surface. In short order, Elliott said he saw “three moving pumpkins”. The pumpkins, of course, were big redfish. The young Gainesville anglers each hooked up, and they eventually boated upper-slot fish. As the tide fell through the next hour and a half, they spotted and caught several more reds and several good trout with Slayer, Inc. swimbaits. At one point, the duo saw “an orange blob” moving across the shallow flat that was actually “around 50 redfish”.

Monday, Scott Gamble fished alone out of Cedar Key. Near Snake Key, the Gainesville fisherman picked up several trout with live shrimp. Late in the day, he stopped at Atsena Otie Key on his way back to the boat ramp. In shallow water, numerous flashes and wakes gave away the presence of redfish. “At sunset”, he said, “it seemed like I could have walked across the redfish backs”. Gamble hooked and caught a few reds in the fading daylight.

While maybe not as ‘automatic’ as in previous weeks, area speckled perch fishing remains good with Newnan’s, Lochloosa, and Orange still the most productive lakes. Fishing out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp on Friday, Chris and Howard Harchick boated out from Cross Creek onto Lochloosa. The fishermen slow-trolled little speck jigs out deep and returned to the camp with 40 good specks. This would not have been possible this week, however, as acres of thick floating islands (complete with 20-foot trees) have since blocked the Lochloosa end of Cross Creek. The storied creek itself is open and plenty deep. . . but unfortunately, passage between Lochloosa and Orange is shut off.


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Posted in 2017, Gary Simpson's Fishing Report | Comments Off on Grouper Time Again

Thankful for Trout

fishingFor large fish over four pounds, the start of December begins the best season for speckled trout anglers.  We’re seeing the first big cool-weather gulf trout now. 

Ken Knopf fished alone out of Horseshoe Beach two Thursdays ago.  The Gainesville angler cast artificial lures for a while on a clear, grassy flat two feet deep.  The bites the artificials produced, though, were from mostly-small fish.  Knopf adjusted, switching to a jighead with a live shrimp.  The tide was high when he hooked the giant trout he was looking for…an unusually-fat 25-inch fish that would later weigh in at 5.4 pounds.

Logan Miller of Gainesville and Steinhatchee’s Clay Hicks tried their luck Saturday in the salty shallows near Horseshoe Beach.  They enjoyed an exceptional fish-catching day, bagging nine redfish.  Seven were of legal length 20 to 26 inches long, and two were ‘shorts’.  The memorable day also saw several good sized trout, topped by five ranging in length from 20 to 24 inches.  The young anglers made their great catch casting Slayer swimbaits in Smokin’ Mullet and ‘The Slick’ twitchbaits in pink and Dark Melon.  The best trout fishing, Logan offered, was in sloughs between bars about two hours after the negative low tide.  The reds bit best an hour after high tide, just outside the mouths of a couple of creeks.

Fishing a Saltwater Assassin jig under a Cajun Thunder float, Kathy Grant whipped a whopping 26-inch trout Saturday in a Suwannee tidal creek to outfish her husband, Wally.

In the BASS Nation Team Trail Qualifier held Sunday out of Sandy Point on the Santa Fe River, only one team docked with a really good limit of bass.  Robert Dice and Michael Wiles’ 18.96-pound limit topped the second-place team’s total by more than 10 pounds.  On the previous day, the BASS Nation Pro/Am draw tourney likewise saw a very slow bite.  Garry Ward’s winning 5-bass limit weighed in at 9.69 while Suwannee sage, Donnie Feagle settled for second place with his 8.76-pound bag of fish.  On the ‘Am’ side of the ledger, Jeff Kyle finished on top with three bass weighing 3.46.

Anglers with a saltier bent would be more impressed with the incidental catches made that day.  Fishing with Don Bunting in the Suwannee about a mile and a half above Manatee Springs, Dennis Hart of Alachua hooked a fast-running battler while casting a Strike King 1.5 squarebill crankbait.  The fish turned out to be an out-of-place 20-inch snook.  Hart told us that his was not the only snook caught far up the Suwannee that day.  “At weigh in”, he said, “several guys mentioned catching snook”. 

Now, snook catches made considerably farther north than in previous decades are really no longer rare, as numbers of the fabulous game fish appear to be growing fast.  We had a wakeup call from the upriver Suwannee linesiders several months back when Travis Blucher sent us a picture of a 24-inch snook he caught at Fanning Springs while casting an Alabama umbrella Rig.  Maybe it’s time for me to stop calling the Suwannee snook ‘out of place’.

Back on the subject of freshwater bass, the Bassmasters of Gator Country completed its tournament year two weeks ago with their twelfth monthly contest.     At year’s end, Bob Heron’s cumulative 99.01-pound total was plenty to earn him Angler of the Year honors.  Rounding out the top five behind Heron were Keith Chapman (83.44), Jeff Kyle (64.68), Sam Drake (54.29), and Tommy Waters (52.24). 

The speckled perch bite might have slowed just half a click on nearby lakes, but it is still good.  Pat and Merry Robertson fished on Orange Lake Saturday.  The Williston couple had heard good crappie-catching stories and they were looking to collect a mess of their own.  Casting Beetle Spins around grass and lily pads, they found a spot where the bites came at a nice rate.  The little spinners accounted for a good bunch of fish including “around 25 specks” and a pair of chunky bass better than two pounds each.   The Robertsons took a few fillet-size specks back to Williston, topped by slabs of 2-pounds 1 ounce and 2-pounds 8 ounces.

 

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GTB Set for Customer Appreciation Day

customerday17The early morning / late evening speckled perch bite remains good on Orange, Lochloosa, and Newnan’s Lakes. But some fishers say the crappies seem increasingly particular about what they’ll bite. I experienced it firsthand this week.

After failing to find a bass on an afternoon trip to Newnan’s Tuesday, I was slow-rolling a little Road Runner around lily pads at the lake’s north end late in the day. Something was ‘bumping’ the little white spinner pretty often…but I had only been able to hook four specks solidly enough to get them in the boat. I figured the little bumps were just very small specks ‘pecking’ at the lure. A guy in a little aluminum boat was working down the edge of bonnets toward me. When he got close enough, I saw that he was getting bites, too…but he was catching his fish. As I had figured, most were quite small, and he was throwing them back. I hadn’t caught a fish in a half hour.

Easing along with his trolling motor, he had two lines with small floats set out, trailing behind. Under the floats were live minnows.

“You fishing for specks, or bass?” he asked. I admitted I was trying for specks. “Oh”, he said as he pulled in another. “Well, enjoy the evening”, he offered, sounding a lot like he was feeling sorry for me.

I made just a few more casts, then cranked the big motor and headed back to the boat ramp.

On the way home, I promised myself I would have some minnows on board for the next trip. Or maybe I’ll just stick with bass. I might not catch any, but it’s a lot less likely some dude will come past pulling them in every few seconds.

The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club (GOFC) held its Fall Tournament two Saturdays ago out of Cedar Key. Eighteen boats with more than 40 anglers participated. On the strength of his 4.86-pound redfish, the heaviest red of the day, Jerry Rose claimed the win in the Inshore Division. Kevin Poe, however, laid equal claim to the inshore crown with the best trout of the day at 1.97-pounds. The club’s inshore division, therefore, was declared a tie.

On quite a fishing roll of late, Marcia Ellett weighed in a 1.64 Spanish and an 18.13 king mackerel to win the offshore division.

The tourney’s Master Angler was Carlos Morales, who managed on a tough fishing day to bag legal fish of three species … trout, Spanish mackerel, and gag grouper.

After weigh-in, participants enjoyed pork butts and a low country boil to cap the enjoyable day.

Gulf anglers are finding trout pretty well in troughs and tidal creeks, but are generally are having a tougher time finding redfish. And in the southern reaches of the Big Bend coast, a few fishers are still bagging more than the standard cool-weather inshore fare.

Despite a chilly 20-knot wind early in the day that had them questioning the trip, Steve Steele of Jacksonville and Gainesville’s Doug Stringfellow fished Wednesday out of Crystal River with Capt. Dan Clymer. As usual, Capt. Dan produced with ease, guiding the anglers to an array of spots, species, and interesting techniques. Casting DOA lures, the anglers bagged trout limits and even hooked a couple of tripletail. Then when the winds eased up after noon, a short run out to shallow-water rocks produced strikes from four fine grouper of legal size. The gags nailed big Rapala lures. Mighty impressive on a chilly, breezy, post-cold front bluebird day.

Anglers shouldn’t miss the annual Customer Appreciation Day coming up at Gary’s Tackle Box.

Conceived seven years ago to give fishers refuge while their spouses stormed the shopping malls on Black Friday, this has become quite a big party for anglers…featuring store-wide discounts, eye-popping drawing prizes, and an incredible gathering of this area’s finest fishermen.

Among our distinguished anglers is one who, at a ceremony in Springfield, Mo. on November 9, was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Truly a great angler and as good a person, Gainesville’s own Shaw Grigsby has been and done only good for his sport and we congratulate him most heartily.

Talk fishing with Shaw, as well as Bernie Schultz, Pete Thliveros (Peter T), Glenn Browne, Tony Davis, and many more. Famed redfish pros, Greg and Bryan Watts will be on hand representing Power Pole. Food by Blue Water Bay, refreshments from Swamp Head Brewery, music by Capt. Wiley Horton. Be sure to bring your young anglers 15 and under for special reel and rod drawings.

It’s the fishing party of the year…Friday, November 24 at Gary’s.



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Posted in 2017, Gary Simpson's Fishing Report | Comments Off on GTB Set for Customer Appreciation Day