I’m going to be running a “learnament” next weekend for the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club. I’ll be taking ten or 12 boats out and show them some redfish areas around Steinhatchee and hopefully catch some fish at the same time. However, I wanted to do some pre-fishing and luckily my good friend Capt. Tommy Thompson was available this weekend and offered to do the driving. On Saturday we left the Seahag Marina at around 7:30 and headed south….way south. We had heard of some redfish being caught south of Pepperfish Keys, and neither of us had been down there for a while. It’s about a 10 or 11 mile trip from the Steinhatchee River to the area we were interested in. We had great conditions, made the run in about 25 minutes, and arrived just south of Little Rocky Creek to find tons of baitfish, including whitebait, mullet of all sizes, and glass minnows. We immediately began catching slot-sized trout and came across these two redfish, along with a few others.
As has been true everywhere in the area, we found the water to be significantly stained and not the usual gin-clear water we expect in the Steinhatchee area. There was a moderate amount of floating grass. We were using a variety of lures, and while Tommy was fishing topwaters most of the time, I was trying out a few oddities….like the floating Ribbet lure, which is a freshwater bass lure shaped like a frog that runs like a buzz bait. Although I had the occasional hit and frequent follows I never could entice anyone to actually eat the thing. I was also using a chatterbait, which is a jig with a metal vibrating lip, and I also tried the Rapala suspending SSW lure. None performed as well as topwaters, which Tommy was fishing on a new Tsunami 8 foot inshore rod that has a lot of possibilities for the kind of fishing we do. The bite dropped off around noon, and after a brief and non-productive visit to Bowlegs Point, we headed back. Back closer to the channel we dropped a pinfish trap just north of the channel.
Tommy’s boat Photo Opportunity is a Shipoke, a rare boat that was one of the first designed flats boats. Because of space limitations, the livewell became dry storage. Last month Tommy picked up a portable livewell and we wanted to try it out. It runs off a 12 volt battery (Tommy has his running off the trolling motor batteries.
We loaded up the livewell with pinfish and headed out around 8 AM Sunday morning, after a quick and early rain. We knew a small front was moving through the area, and as the skies began to clear the wind slowly picked up and the temperature dropped. We fished a slowly dropping tide along some shorelines several miles north of the river and were pleasantly surprised to find fish easily. There were massive schools of baitfish moving to the south along the shorelines, everything from “rainbait” to 12 inch mullet, with lots of surface action and scattering baits. Using live pinfish, fished under a popping cork used to generate surface activity intermittently, I caught a redfish and two trout right off the bat; all were short. Tommy continued to fish primarily a topwater and a Heddon Swim’n Image crankbait. We continued to find trout…large trout…in this 2 to 3 foot depth.
This was a pretty direct comparison between live bait and topwaters. While I caught a fair amount of fish with live bait, Tommy definitely caught more and larger trout in exactly the same area using topwaters. They cover more water, and in the presence of a lot of baitfish activity draw more attention than a sole pinfish, even with a popping cork.
Although the water temperature is still in the mid to high 80’s, finding sizable trout this close to shore signifies the beginning of the fall trout season as water temperatures drop and the larger fish move in out of deeper water after spawning into the shallows to feed. We caught around 30 trout, and almost all were slot-sized keepers, with the largest around 4 pounds. Now that the trout are in town, I’m looking forward to the learnment next weekend. Hopefully the redfish will cooperate.