Although 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.”