So for fishing folks, there isn’t a less appealing month than February. Notwithstanding the fact that it’s cold and the weather is challenging, the feds have made it a horrible month for those who make their living associated with recreational fishing. The closures in February include speckled trout, red and gag grouper, red snapper and amberjack. Since kingfish and Spanish mackeral have moved to the south, there isn’t much left….except redfish, sheepshead and other bottom fish like black seabass. For many years, I actually winterized my boat in January and February…but there are some positives. First, even though trout season is closed, catching them is legal…it’s keeping them that’s the problem. Since most of the people I fish with are catch-and-release anyway, there are still fish to be caught. In fact, mid-winter is about the very best time to catch the largest trout of the year, and in good numbers. You just need to handle them carefully and make sure they are released in good shape. Along with Valentine’s Day, February is also the month of the Steinhatchee Fiddler Crab Festival. This year, the Second Annual festival took place over Valentine’s Day weekend. There were lots of vendors selling everything from jewelry to mounted lobsters, including homemade jams and jellies, hand-knitted items, and great food. One of the highlights is the annual Swamp Water Cooking contest. Visitors can buy a mug and then sample the competitive offerings…soups and stews.
Friday night kicked off with some fine music, and on Sunday there was a small redfish tournament with only one prize…whoever caught the redfish with the most spots won a rod, reel and tackle box. My buddy Capt. Tommy Thompson (http://www.saltwateranglersguide.com/) donated the rod and reel, and the Tackle Shop in Jena donated a tackle box full of fine tackle. Even though Tommy donated the prize, we figured we would be supportive and enter the tournament, in spite of frigid temperatures. We didn’t leave the dock until around 11, with the weigh-in from 1 to 3. The water temperature was 45 degrees, and the wind was blowing….but the sun was out. The fishing was not that good, and that is an understatement…but Tommy did manage to catch one redfish, about 6.5 pounds and with only two spots. We figured for sure someone would have caught a redfish before us, or one with more spots, but when we showed up, Tommy had caught the only redfish….this one.
So seeing that neither of us really needs another rod and reel….he is now going to donate the combo to the upcoming Doug Johnson/Donny Young Reeling for Kids tournament. We encourage everyone to participate May 14th and 15th to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Alachua County.
My other fun trip was taking my old fishing buddy Doug Fertig out on the 21st. Doug finally retired a few months ago and we’ve been waiting to get a chance to get out, but the weather and schedules didn’t cooperate. Doug actually got me involved in fishing Steinhatchee many years ago, and showed me many places I fish on a regular basis now. We finally got a break with reasonable winds, slightly warming temperatures, and mutual availability.
We left the Sea Hag around 8 with a soft breeze from the southeast and a warming sun. We ran south of the river to one of our old favorite spots that has held good numbers of trout and redfish during winter months. We were fishing suspending baits, primarily Corky mullet and soft-plastic unweighted Texas-rigged jerk baits. It didn’t take very long for us to find some fine trout.
Although we never found any redfish, we did find the usual winter pattern…large schools of large trout. We worked the general area for a number of hours and caught somewhere around 15 trout, all but one over 20 inches, and several flounder. The biggest fish of the day was this beauty, a bit over 6 pounds.
We also did some kayak explorations this month when the weather allowed. One of the great things about our area is that there is almost always something to do, even in closed seasons with marginal weather. What do we have to look forward to? The sheepshead run is right around the corner, and some of the best fishing of the year, and many of the year’s best tournaments, are coming up in April and May. Given the unbelievably cold winter we’ve had, we’re all looking forward to some more comfortable fishing in the near future.