Prime Spring Coastal Fishing Arrives

pepper keys fishingDogwoods and redbuds blooming, pelagics arriving in our waters….all of nature agrees that spring has arrived.

Here in Florida, we don’t really have a season with weather nasty enough to prohibit fishing. It’s possible to catch fish here every day of the year. Still, while we might not suffer the same degree of ‘cabin fever’ as do anglers to our distant north, we certainly see a lot more participation in the sport when ideal weather—weather like this—arrives.

One favorite only present when the water warms sufficiently is the mackerel. And good catches of both the ‘Spanish’ and ‘king’ varieties continue to come from multiple gulf ports.

Richard and Diane McDavid went out of Suwannee Sunday and headed offshore to confirm firsthand the mackerel stories they had heard. The Lake City couple waited until the tide was up, launching late in the morning. They headed straight to Suwannee’s most dependable mackerel grounds…an area known as Spotty Bottom…where they tried trolling Spanish sardines on dusters. There was too much floating grass, though, to make trolling work.

Richard went to a grassy-bottomed spot and, with Sabiki rigs, caught blue runners and herring. They took the live baits to a dropoff they had found earlier in 19 feet of water. There, they freelined a live threadfin. In short order, a 3-pound mackerel had it. After boating the fish, the McDavids repeated the process on another pass. The next herring produced another strike—except that this fish was a good bit larger. After circling the boat one and a half times, Diane had the 20-pound king within gaffing range for Richard.

McDavid reports the water temperature Sunday was still cool at 70.2 degrees, and the bait schools were not at the surface. But the macks were obviously present.

Also on Sunday, Mike Dumas and Rick Rufo went out of Suwannee. Their target was redfish, but just as the red bite was starting to pick up, the wind died. When the wind died, the scourge of the salt marsh came out. And, although the reds were biting, the hungry, swarming sand gnats were just “too bad to stay”. The men had to go…and they decided to run west to escape the torture. On Hedemon Reef, Dumas and Rufo stopped to troll spoons and jigs. And in the wide-open, insect-free spaces, they started having fun again. Eighteen nice-sized Spanish macks were in the fish box when Mike decided to break out his “straw rig”, made with drinking straws. With it, he added a 30-inch king mackerel to the bag. Mike summed up the day: “Everything was biting…but the sand gnats were biting best”.

Gainesville Capt. Joe Richard fished out of Steinhatchee’s Rocky Creek Tuesday with the Whinnen party from Ocala. On the perfect, cool morning, the anglers were surprised to see no other boats fishing. They cast Rapala X Raps and spoons on the deeper grass flats to haul in around 40 trout. The Ocala fishers took a dozen nice ones home.

The Salty Gators Inshore Tournament held Saturday featured an unusual format that allowed participants to fish from ports of their choice, and to count fish too large to enter in traditional contests. Anglers entered in the photographed-catch tourney agreed that the bite was a bit ‘off’ in the full moon/cold front conditions, but the 21 teams entered made some fine catches just the same. Fishing near Yankeetown from a kayak, the winning Salty Minded team of David McDonald and Dan Staub landed a 31.5-inch redfish and a 17.5-inch trout for 49 points. The second-place Chase-N-Fish team, Chase Norwood and Brett Molzen, fished much farther north, where they took a 26 inch red and an 18-inch trout for 44 points. Jeff Perry and Toby Sorrels were very close behind them with a 26 inch red and a 17.5 inch trout for 43.5 points.

Even though low water levels have made access challenging on some area lakes, the just-passed full moon produced fine panfish catches. Both Orange and Lochloosa produced especially impressive bags of bream. Larry and Patricia Ann Retherford launched Wednesday at Marjorie Rawlings Park and trolling-motored through the shallow access canal out to Orange Lake. The Port St. Joe couple fished crickets and grass shrimp around islands of vegetation to pull in a 50-fish mix of bluegill, warmouth, and speckled perch. They considered about half of that total large enough to keep.

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