New Water, New Opportunities

fishing report-snook

Zach and Foster

An angler returning to his home waters from a two-month trip abroad would have a hard time believing his eyes. Record-setting rainfall through June and July has altered our lakes quickly and dramatically.

All this new water has certainly changed the fishing.

Although the bass there are harder now to nail down, local fishers are happy about the off-season speckled perch bite at Newnan’s Lake. Fish are being pulled from both mid lake depths and from around pads and brush nearer the cypress treeline. In the earlier weeks of its recent rise, Newnan’s bass could be found fairly easily as they made for their favorite habitat that had been high and dry. When water finally flowed again around the bases of the cypress, the bass were there. Now, bassers are finding the fishing to be more like the proverbial “needle in a haystack”. The same number of needles (bass) are now scattered in a very hard-to-access and much larger haystack.

While the water is also much higher on Orange and Lochloosa, these lakes haven’t reached the incredibly-high level of the lake (Newnan’s) above them in the watershed. Bream are biting well on Lochloosa, and decent speckled perch catches have come frequently from Orange. Interestingly, bass anglers say their favorite fish are very hard to find here….possibly due to that ‘bigger haystack’ theory. Access onto Orange from Cross Creek and Marjorie Rawlings Park, though, has been ‘iffy’ at best. Depending on the wind direction, weeds have often plugged these access points shut. Heagy-Burry Park on the Marion County side is probably the safest spot to put a boat into Orange.
For bass, the bite might be best now near Rodman Dam, where some locals have scored eye-popping catches of both largemouth and hybrid Sunshine bass while casting small jigs with Bass Assassin Crappie Dapper tails in the swollen turbulence below the dam.

Around a month ago, some concerned anglers reported seeing dead crayfish and baitfish in Rodman Reservoir, proper. This isn’t very surprising, as low dissolved oxygen is not uncommon here following periods of heavy rainfall. But now, things have apparently come around quickly and bass action has ramped up dramatically. In Saturday’s Northeast Division Florida BASS Nation qualifier held out of Kenwood Landing, Jay Daily of Melrose drew out to fish with Jacksonville’s Jerry Shawver. While in the store Wednesday, Daily said they caught an estimated 80 bass through the day. At one point, Daily caught two fish on one cast with his ‘Alabama’ umbrella Rig. Then, on the next cast, his 5-lure rig produced 3 bass—all two-pounders. And that is a rare feat, indeed.

According to our cast net-throwing St. John’s River sources, numbers of saltwater shrimp on their annual trek up the river continue to slowly improve. The discriminating Palatka locals, though, say the crustaceans are still too small to harvest for food. Most of the shrimping experts seem to stick with the “middle of August” as their best guess as to when the shrimp might be sufficiently large and abundant to warrant an all-out effort.

Saturday, Shaun Abolverdi fished with son, Foster and grandson, Zach Jr. at his secret hotspot out of Cedar Key. Near the evening high tide, the fish started feeding and the Abolverdis bagged three legal redfish. Then they made a lifelong memory when young Zach’s finger mullet drew a big bite. Following a spirited battle, the 8-year old had his fish whipped. With help from his uncle and granddad, Zach measured his big snook at 32-inches before a quick photo and release.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it has been hearing concerns regarding the spotted seatrout population, and so they set up a series of workshops throughout the state to hear comments from the public. The speckled trout is the most avidly-sought gulf inshore species, and FWC will be gathering comment from trout fishers to determine whether further management restrictions are warranted. Several workshops around the state have been scheduled in August to discuss and receive public comment regarding spotted seatrout. Just-completed meetings were held at Cedar Key and Crystal River, and another will be held on August 16 at the Steinhatchee Community Center.

Also in progress is a series of workshops addressing the management of Goliath grouper. This discussion will likely center around a proposed limited harvest of the long-protected giants in Florida state waters. For us, the nearest of the Goliath meetings will be held at Crystal River on August 8. The FWC meetings run from 6 to 8 p.m. local time.

Posted in 2017, Gary Simpson's Fishing Report | Comments Off on New Water, New Opportunities

Angling the Wet Summer

gary simpson fishing reportAt the end of May, most of our natural lakes were in poor shape, level-wise.  Then out of the blue, it started raining in June….and now it’s looking like this could end up ranking as the wettest summer here on record.  On a trip to Newnan’s Lake last week, I was very impressed at how high its water had risen.  Back at Power’s Park on Tuesday, my jaw dropped to see that the lake had come up another foot or so in just six days.  Once known as ‘Wayside Park’, Power’s Park offers one of the two nice public boat ramps onto Newnan’s.  The lake has spilled into the parking lot only a few times since it’s groundbreaking in the 1960’s.  It’s there again.

Although high water certainly beats low water for fishing productivity in our natural lakes, the present situation on Newnan’s isn’t necessarily the greatest for catching.  Bass, for instance, seem hard to find now.  It’s very likely that the fish have followed the ‘new water’ hundreds of feet back into the cypresses that ring the lake.  Few vessels can wiggle back through the tangle of trees and limbs, under the tight verdant canopy.  For now, the largemouths seem safe.

For bassers, the top-producing area lake must be Rodman Reservoir, where catches have improved steadily for a couple of weeks.  Saturday, Joe Yarborough and Paul Akridge fished the famed Rodman ‘stump flats’ to catch and release more than 50 bass up to 5-pounds.

Clear water is increasingly hard to find in the gulf shallows, but inshore fishers continue to locate redfish, tripletail, and out a bit deeper, trout.  And catches of species once considered scarce in our waters continues as well.  Bill Grogan and Ryan Kerwin fished out of Waccasassa last weekend, heading south out of the river mouth.  Although their primary target was redfish, it was the surprising catches that made the trip memorable.  Casting a Rat-L-Trap over a shell bar flooded by high tide, Grogan was shocked to bag a pair of nice-sized tripletail.  Not to be outdone by his buddy, Kerwin cast a white spinnerbait to fool a 28-inch snook.  Then a 3-pound sheepshead grabbed the skirted spinnerbait.  Each of the catches that day by the Gainesville anglers would have once been called highly unusual due to the combination of site, lure, and species. 

Gainesville’s David Teiss was visited through last week by a number of family members at his Cedar Key house.  He enjoyed taking them out to the nearby backwaters around high tide to fish, primarily, for redfish.  Teiss said that while everybody caught fish, he was especially impressed with the angling prowess of his granddaughter, Rebecca Frangie.  During her turns on the water, the Gainesville 15-year old hauled in 6 legal and 10 undersize reds, plus a nice flounder.

While mid-season Steinhatchee-area scallopers are still generally able to locate water clear enough to spot nice numbers of bivalves, some have complained that the rain-darkened flats have made things more difficult in their favorite areas.

But local shellfish fans could sure have it worse.  Just ask our neighbors to the north.  This week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced that the Gulf County scallop season would be postponed due to a naturally-occurring algae bloom in St. Joseph Bay.  The season that was supposed to begin on July 25 is expected to be put back a minimum of two weeks.

FWC assures, though, that “This algae bloom should not impact other recreational activities on St. Joseph Bay”.

This is the time of year we expect to hear the first reports of saltwater shrimp arriving for their annual trek up the St. John’s River, so I phoned Jimmy at Messer’s Westside Bait in Palatka to see if local shrimpers had found any yet.  And word is, the shrimp have, indeed, shown up in the big river at Palatka.  “Nobody’s catching big shrimp or limits yet”, Jimmy said, “but you can find plenty for bait, and that’s about what we usually see in July”.  Lots of St. John’s shrimpers consider the second week in August to be a good time to make their first cast-netting trip to the river.  And so, the much-anticipated St. John’s shrimp run would seem to be pretty much on schedule.


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Scarce Fishing Stories…But Plenty of Fish

African Pompano

For the second straight week, good current fishing stories were so scarce I didn’t know how I would fill this space.  So, scrambling for interesting content, I used part of my day off Wednesday to try and scrape up a fishing tale on my own.  After running errands all morning, I launched my Ranger onto Newnan’s Lake at Power’s Park.

I checked my favorite bassing spots, working areas that have produced through the years.  But after two hours, I had zero bites and was telling myself “maybe this is why I’m not hearing any stories”.  My shirt was soaked with sweat.  But I pressed on in the heat and finally, running in open water, came across an area with shad schools pushing dimples in the water.  I sat the old Ranger down and put down the trolling motor.  The shad seemed to be widespread, and in a few minutes I saw the thing I was hoping to see…a couple of fish busting panicked minnows at the surface.  But the bass wouldn’t take just anything.  A bunch of casts with several different lures had produced just one ‘follow’—when the day finally took a turn for the better.

Jeff Septer of Twin Lakes Fish Camp called with the first really good panfish report of the week.  One of his customers, Kelvin Toombs of Gainesville had just docked at his Cross Creek camp with a fine cooler-full limit of big bluegills and shellcrackers.  The Gainesville angler had found his fish cane-poling with grass shrimp in the Lochloosa Lily pads.  I told Jeff where I was and he asked how many I’d caught…had to reply, “none, but I’ll figure ‘em out”.   And just a minute after hanging up, a Bill Lewis Tiny Trap finally produced the first bass of the day.  Yearling largemouths kept rounding up the shad, and I kept casting the little lure with success.  For quite a while, almost every cast yielded either a ‘swipe’ or a catch.  The little bass ran between one and three pounds.  Only one other boat was in the area, and the two fishermen in it looked to be pulling in panfish of some kind at a nice pace.  Except for the swelter, it was sure fun…until a thunderstorm ran me back to the boat ramp.

My bassing trip was pretty good, but it didn’t hold a candle to the day some of the Gainesville Bassmasters enjoyed Saturday during their monthly tournament.  This one was out of Palatka on The St. John’s River.

Casting Texas-rigged Zoom worms around boat docks, Wally Grant and Gary Lough employed a classic shrimp-run bassing pattern.  Although they saw no jumping shrimp—or anyone cast-netting for shrimp—the pattern worked well as the men combined to boat a good many fish.  Their six best (the club limit is three each) weighed in at just a tad under 20-pounds.  Grant’s 6.8-pound beauty easily ranked as the heaviest single bass of the day.   Atop the club standings, Keith Chapman made the run upriver to Little Lake George to finish the day in second place individually and easily hold his overall lead.

In July, we usually receive more good reports from salt waters than from freshwater.  This wet summer has altered that a bit.  Even so, some salty anglers are faring well.  Out of Cedar Key on Monday, Sean Campbell, Joey Gonzalez, and Rick Pena went after trout and redfish.  Fishing near Seahorse Key, the Gainesville trio boated five reds that all took topwater lures and seven nice-sized trout that went for hard-bodied twitch baits.

Mackerel reports have varied wildly out of Cedar Key—ranging from dozens of fish to two.  Farther offshore, weekend red snapper action remains excellent, but grouper are much tougher to locate.

The ICAST show rolls around each July to showcase every tackle manufacturer’s offerings for the coming tackle year.  For a few years now, the “International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades” has been held in Orlando, giving Florida dealers a quick trip to the biggest tackle show of the year.

It has long been said that there are no truly new ideas in fishing—only refinements.  And that might be true…but some of this year’s refinements are mighty cool.  Tackle dealers will be receiving their orders of the newest innovations in fishing gear through the coming days and weeks.


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Plenty of Fishing in July

Mid-July brings quite an interesting mixed bag for fishing locally.

There’s obviously heat and humidity enough to alter the energy with which most fishers practice their craft. Lots of folks flatly tell us they don’t fish in July or August due to the oppressive heat. Anglers both serious and tough, though, are happy to focus on the longest days, the highest tides, and the lengthened list of available saltwater species that summer brings.

On the other side of that coin you have the fish….and various species are likewise tough and not-so-tough in the heat.

Some favorites seem to be hardy enough that that they are rarely forced to seek cooler water. It’s not very out of the ordinary to actually find bass best in a foot of hot water. If the dissolved oxygen is good, the cover is adequate, and baitfish are present, Florida bassers shouldn’t be surprised to find largemouths in 90-degree shallows. The same is true with redfish in salt water. Then you have the bluegill that seem increasingly happy and active the hotter it gets. Like the salty redfish, the bream become thinner-bodied in mid-to-late summer, but they dependably congregate and feed vigorously in the shallows.
And some of Florida’s greatest fish are only present here when it’s hot. Fans of extreme sport are hooking tackle-busting tarpon and cobia that will mostly disappear when the water cools in autumn.
But other sought-after species fall on the side of those heat-avoiding anglers.
Though they obviously must feed year-round, speckled perch activity definitely declines as the summer heat builds. It is interesting, however, that following very rainy summertime periods, speck catches pick up noticeably in the resulting cooler water. We have seen this over the last month on Newnan’s Lake, where rare June and July crappie limits have become common.

Possibly the number one target of local inshore saltwater fans, the speckled trout is another heat-avoiding fish. As water temps rise, the top trout catches come from deeper and deeper grass flats. Most trout fishers focus on grass flats in three-to-six feet of water. But for a few weeks now, some of the best gulf trout-catching tales have come from a twelve-foot-plus deep zone of mixed sand and grass off Suwannee known as ‘Spotty Bottom’.

You might need to switch your target species—and your fish of choice might not be where you caught them last spring…but the hottest part of summer does offer the angler excellent opportunities.

A very large number of people enjoy fishing occasionally and would love to introduce their children to the sport—but they have no good places to go and no fishing equipment.
Here in Gainesville, we are fortunate to have an exceptionally nice answer to that problem. One Saturday each month, the Fishing for Success program presents a Family Fishing Day at the University of Florida’s IFAS Millhopper ponds (7922 NW 71 Street). This Saturday, July 15, is one of those very popular Family Fishing Days.

Each event this year has attracted between 200 and 500 people, and from 6,000 to 8,000 children and their adult chaperones participate annually.

Between 8 a.m. and noon, the FFS folks will make six ponds stocked with bass, channel catfish, and bluegill available to the public. To boot, they offer loaner poles and prepared, bagged bait (but participants are welcome to bring their own tackle and bait). There’s no need to RSVP for the morning of fun, family-oriented fishing—just stop by the registration desk when you arrive Saturday morning. Participants are asked to leave their pets at home and, if possible, to bring empty aluminum cans and printer cartridges to donate. Fishing for Success recycles these, ultimately turning them into bait and tackle.

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Positive Summertime Changes

By Ebyabe via Wikimedia Commons

In fishing, things change fast. Not only might the fish change mood in an instant—their habitat can also shift greatly in short order.

For instance, Gainesville’s closest major water body, Newnan’s Lake, has gone from inaccessibly-low to downright high in just five weeks.

In lakes that had been previously low, fish usually love new water…and all the new water has brought the best Newnan’s fishing of the year….even though July should be far from the best fishing month here.

Around noon on Friday, Mark Geiger stopped by the store. He had just left Newnan’s, after using the newly-risen lake as testing grounds for his boat and outboard ahead of a planned scalloping trip. While he was running his engine, Geiger stopped off Palm Point to troll minnows and Hal Fly jigs for a bit. He caught a speckled perch. Then another.

The short ‘dry run’ had gone well. Geiger’s boat ran fine…plus, he boated 20 nice Newnan’s Lake specks.

But nobody has had better luck with the specks than Willie Watson of Newberry. Last Thursday, Watson caught a nice 14-inch Newnan’s Lake slab while trolling a jig/minnow combination on the lake’s north end. This is nothing unusual for Watson, but this fish was toting an FWC reward tag worth $100. And actually, this is nothing new for Watson, either. “That was my fifth hundred-dollar tag in the last two years”, he explained. “Three of the specks came from Newnans, and I caught the other two on Lochloosa”.

Specks aren’t the only fish biting following the water’s rise.

Marvin Cannon and Larry Fogarty fished Newnan’s on Sunday. The Gainesville men boated up to the lake’s north end and fished earthworms and grass shrimp in lily pads. When they left the lake that afternoon, they had 30 catfish, 5 mixed bream, and one speck.
For the first time in months, Twin Lakes Fish Camp is again able to rent boats and motors. Tuesday, one of the first parties to take advantage of this filled limits of bluegills and shellcrackers while tight-lining grass shrimp amongst the Lochloosa lily pads.

Last week we relayed the story of the recent capture of two seldom-seen sailfish off Steinhatchee by the Phil Wagner party. On Saturday, Wagner’s 32-foot Contender continued its streak of unusual (nearly unique) Big Bend catches. Daybreak on first of July saw Wagner, his sons Reid and Ryan, co-workers Bryan Harrison, Scott Daniels, Rob Edmunds, and Rob’s son Owen heading offshore from Cedar Key. Their primary target was red snapper, and their goal was to fill limits in time for lunch back on the Cedar Key waterfront.

A short stop to catch bait yielded a baitwell full of pinfish and sardines. The group then headed out to a spot in water 60 feet deep that produced several hefty red snapper up to 10 pounds. While the snapper were biting, Rob hooked a fish that fought differently. Once he had the fish near the surface, the angler couldn’t believe what he thought he saw. But once aboard, he and Phil knew that they had an African Pompano. Then a little while later, another live bait produced a 3-pound yellowtail snapper.

After a few more red snapper, a clean cut-off made Wagner think that kingfish were present, so he rigged and put out an unweighted flat line. Five minutes later, Ryan was hooked up and following a fierce battle, the 7-year old had his first-ever king…and a whopper at 25 pounds.

They put the flat line back out with another live bait and after a short while, Owen was fast to another hard-pulling fish. But it was clear that this was not another king. Finally, after several minutes, 5-year-old Owen had his fish to the boat. All were amazed that it was another African Pompano…and this one was bigger than his dad’s fish. At this point, the Gainesville group ended their epic fishing day to make that Cedar Key lunch.

Inshore anglers are also scoring. Some Suwannee speckled trout fishers say they are running all the way out to Spotty Bottom to catch keeper fish. The water here is around 15 feet deep. Others, though, are still finding trout in the hot shallows. Monday, Bobby Crevasse and Dwayne Bush cast jigs in water four feet deep very near Cedar Key. In an hour and a half, the Gainesville fishermen had a double limit of trout that included a pair of 20-inchers.

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