Before Hurricane Irma, the all-time lowest tide registered at Cedar Key occurred on September 18, 1947, when the water fell to 4.2 feet below the mean low tide mark. During Irma, the Cedar Key Weather Station registered an astonishing new low of minus 5.2 feet. When the tide did come back in , it rose to 4.5 feet above mean low—a tidal excursion of 9.7 feet…and, of course, another all-timer.
With persistent flooding and still some roped off boat ramps, Irma has temporarily wrecked area freshwater fishing. However, despite the wind, the rainwater runoff, and this historic dewatering of the flats, the first saltwater fishers to return to the gulf reported fish-catching at least as good as it had been pre-storm.
Most years, the fishing report would have already mentioned the Spanish mackerel beginning to gather on perennial gulf ambush spots like Seahorse Reef, off Cedar Key.
Just about the time gulf anglers started thinking about the sharp-toothed rockets, a menacing threat in the Caribbean turned our collective attention away. Now that many Gainesville-area anglers have cleaned up from the storm and can breathe easier, some have started thinking again about the sporty macks.
Checking out his favorite mackerel spot with a longtime friend visiting from Berlin, Steve Beeland headed to Seahorse Reef just a few days ahead of Irma’s arrival. Along with Victor Von Reiche, Beeland did, indeed, find what he was looking for. Beeland and Von Reiche did not have a lot of strikes, but the jigs and spoons they trolled along the edge of the reef through schools of baitfish did produce seven Spanish mackerel. And four of the macks were big ones measuring better than 24 inches.
Beeland was among the first anglers to return to the reef post-storm, visiting the famous mackerel haven again on Wednesday morning. This time, his fishing partner was fellow Gainesville angler, Bill Frederick. When they arrived on the reef, they found the water’s visibility good and baitfish schools present. Only one other boat was there. The anglers trolled spoons and Floreo style jigs, and occasionally stopped to drift while casting jigs. And they whacked the mackerel. Just after noon, the men headed back to the Cedar Key boat basin with a full 30-fish limit of Spanish. Most impressively, almost all of their fish were whopping beauties over 26-inches long.
Apparently, the fall-run mackerel arrived en masse somewhere near the arrival of Hurricane Irma. We might be a tad late to the party, but, thanks to Steve Beeland and his fishing buddies, at least we know that the party’s going on.
There were reports of a few dead fish seen along the Big Bend coast following the storm—presumably, slower swimmers such as puffers, or fish trapped in pockets of water that eventually went away.
Mike Dumas and Rick Rufo took a trip to Cedar Key last weekend to try out the fishing after the storm. In another boat was Mike’s son Briton and his young grandson Case. The Gainesville anglers said the water, while not as clear as it had been a couple of weeks earlier, was not terribly turbid. Scattered baitfish schools and occasional surface strikes in the distance offered them good hope.
Their luck was far from stellar, but Mike and Rick did manage two legal redfish and a pair of trout. The Other Dumas men went home with fewer fish. But, also fishing live shrimp, they did manage a major highlight as three-year old Case hauled in and released his first snook.
We haven’t talked with many, but reports from anglers who have fished offshore since Irma’s passing have been surprisingly impressive.
Tuesday, Dale Reed fished out of Homosassa along with his brother Mike, nephew Ryan, Glen Rousseau, and Mike Saincome. The Gainesville anglers fished several rocky spots in water ranging from 30 to 45 feet deep, finding the 83-degree water murkier than usual. The darker water did not hurt the fishing. Trolled Mann’s Stretch 30 lures produced for them two nice gag grouper, but bottom fishing was the ticket. They dropped frozen sardines and live pinfish to the bottom to catch grouper steadily, releasing scores of slightly-short gags and also four short red grouper from 17 to 19 inches long. But there were good-sized gags biting, too. The five anglers returned to port with ten fine grouper on ice, topped by 15-year old Ryan’s 31.5 inch beauty.