Archive for the ‘Steinhatchee’ Category
Between travel, home construction, music festivals and meetings, I’ve been a bad blogger. But with cooler weather, more fishing takes place, although not necessarily more catching. Earlier this year, the Doug Johnson Reeling for Kids tournament was a huge success, in spite of some dicey weather. I was pleased to again get the opportunity to fish with Noah Brindise and his guests from Arthrex, including a former student Mike Moser, from the Sports Medicine group in UF Orthopedics. We caught a good number of fish, including this trout that was almost five pounds, and Mike caught this fine redfish….but as usual during this tournament, the nice redfish we caught were all over slot. This is by far my favorite tournament of the year, for a great cause, and I’m ready for next year already.
Later in the summer I had a fun trip with Mark and Sarah. Mark is an Ebola researcher from Maryland and his friend Sarah recently moved to Gainesville. Mark warned me that Sarah had not fished a lot, so I did something I haven’t done in about five years….bought some live shrimp. Sarah managed one trout on a shrimp before we both tired of dealing with ravenous pinfish, so I taught her how to throw a plug. About five minutes later she managed this fine redfish on a topwater, and later this fine trout. Mark also found a nice redfish and asked if there was something we could find so that Sarah would have something pull hard on her line….amazing how easy it is to find 40 pound stingrays when you’re fishing with cut bait. Forty-five minutes later she had her fill. A great trip, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again this winter.
In early September, in spite of heavy boat traffic from scalloping and lots of floating grass, we could usually find some redfish. Here’s a pair that Tommy Thompson and I found, along with a nice trout that Doug Barrett caught, all on topwaters.
I’ve had visits from several old friends, some from NC, Tennessee, and that distressed area of the US, Destin. Lark and Tom, old friends from my Nashville days, helped me hunt. Fishing was tough, but they did catch enough for one dinner….a small keeper redfish and a nice flounder. And my old high school friend Joe Jacobs came for a day to find things just as tough, catching this inshore gag grouper and a variety of fish, but not what we were looking for.
Most recently the fishing in Steinhatchee has been confusingly slow, for a month that historically is one of our best months of the year. The water has been very clear, although the floating grass has stayed around longer than usual to torture plug fishermen like me. We did have a minor red tide episode, but it fairly rapidly left the area. The migration of baitfish seems to be delayed, and there are a lot fewer mullet than I’m used to seeing this time of year. Hopefully things will swing around now that there is some consistent lowering of the water temperatures.
After months of tannin-stained water and massive quantities of floating grass, the waters around Steinhatchee have returned to the clear productive state of normality. The fishing has been excellent, both offshore and inshore. Somewhat atypically, trout have been moving into the Steinhatchee River in the absence of a major cold snap, and not surprisingly, nobody has complained yet. Silver (sand) trout have been everywhere, including in the river and at one of the recent hotspots near the Bird Rack north of Steinhatchee. One captain with a large party wanting a fish fry brought in 160 pounds of silver trout. On a brief trip with Capt. Tommy Thompson and Doug Barrett, we took several nice trout on topwater plugs near Rock Point over mixed grass and sand potholes. The next week I took Tommy and old friend Capt. John Peyton out for another reconnoitering. While we didn’t find any redfish on our early drifts, we managed to find some excellent upper-slot fish using topwater plugs south of Dallus Creek, again in an area of potholes.
We moved offshore as the tide dropped and found some large Spanish mackerel, several nice flounder and a good number of silver trout with the occasional speckled trout. There were schools of white bait scattered over a quarter-mile square area being attacked by mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish. The fishing was so good that I convinced my son Sidney and his girlfriend, Lee Ferinden, to come out for a trip. Fishing has never been Sid’s cup of tea, but he was excited to give it a try after a number of years. Both he and Lee re-learned how to cast. Again, we couldn’t find any redfish in the early morning flood tide, but as we moved out we again found large schools of whitebait. Returning to an area west of the Bird Rack at Big Grass Island, we found silver and speckled trout, at times catching fish on every cast. We also came across some giant Spanish mackerel which somehow were unable to get their teeth through the 25 pound fluorocarbon leader. The largest was over 5.5 pounds and looked like a small kingfish coming to the boat.
As I mentioned, we had reports of some trout being caught in the river. We noticed several boats landing lots of small silver trout, but some nice speckled trout have made it into the river as well; Chase Norwood, the son of Sea Hag owner/operator Charlie Norwood nailed this gator trolling a Mirrolure in the river.
I really had a great time with Lee and Sid, and I was glad we managed to catch a few fish as well. While ordinarily I don’t keep fish, we ended up keeping around 20 pounds of trout and mackerel filets to grill. The water temperature throughout the day ranged from the low to the mid-60s. Water was clear just about everywhere and we could see the bottom over 10 foot creek beds. Unfortunately the floating grass continued to make plug fishing challenging, but that is improving as well.Looking forward to a long holiday weekend to get in some more water time. As the water temps continue to cool down, the trout fishing could improve dramatically as the larger fish begin to school. That will be “Corky time” for us, time to fish my favorite cold-water lure, the Paul Brown Corky Devil from Mirrolure. Can’t wait for that cold weather!
I’ve had a few trips that I haven’t really had time to report so I thought I’d combine a few. Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to take several folks out for a fun trip, and we got to use Doug Barrett’s Gulfshore 20 (more about that later). We took Drs. Fred Alt and Rob Hromas out to try and find some redfish and trout. Fred was visiting from Harvard and Rob is the chair of medicine at UF and both are experienced fisherman; in fact, Fred is a licensed headboat captain in Massachusetts. We had a tough day, but managed a few nice fish, including this nice redfish that Fred managed on a topwater and Rob caught several trout including this very reasonable specimen. We brought all our fish with us for a great fresh fish dinner at Fiddler’s Restaurant. There is nobody that grills redfish like Chef Jim Hunt.
After picking up my very own Young Gulfshore, I had the great opportunity to take out well-known kayak angler John Donohue (JD). Living in Venice, Florida, JD represent Hobie Kayaks and writes for several national magazines including Coastal Angler. I first met him last year at a Hobie sponsored event in Jensen Beach that I described in a previous post. He was invited up to speak at the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club about kayak fishing and we took a few days to break in the new boat. He and I have similar fishing styles (except that I use a boat) in that we love fishing topwater plugs more than anything else, and with the warming waters we were hoping for a good topwater bite. We got to the Sea Hag Marina around 1 PM and hit the water, first time in the new boat. We found some nice trout south of the river, with one excellent 5 pound trout that managed to escape when JD put him in the water to make sure he was doing well in preparation for a picture. He was doing well enough to escape. We found several other nice trout, fishing both topwaters and suspending lures. JD represents Sebile Lures and they were very effective in finding some nice fish. I was using the Paul Brown Devil and the Mirrolure Mirrominnow. The trout pictured below wasn’t spectacular but it was the first fish caught on the new boat so we documented it. There was a vicious seabreeze that sent us back in a little earlier than anticipated, but we were looking forward to the next morning with a great forecast.
Thursday morning was glassy with a early morning low tide. We worked our way into some oyster bars and rock clusters that were exposed and surrounded by mullet and whitebait. it looked like topwater heaven, and we started finding some fine fish. I managed a nice 25 inch red, shortly followed by JD’s tournament fish (27 inches, 6.7 pounds).
We also found some very nice trout, also on topwaters.
As the tide flooded in we tried several other locations south of the river but other than scaring away a 30 pound cobia that swam right up to the boat, we didn’t find much else and came in around noon so that JD could drive back to Venice. It was a great couple of days with a fine fisherman and I hope we can get him back up to Steinhatchee for a few more trips.
I get asked a lot about fishing soft baits in very shallow water and grass. We frequently fish in less than 3 feet of water, and sometimes less than that, and especially in the spring, with lots of grass. Even with weedless spoons, grass gets picked up on almost every cast, and with exposed hook lures, fishing over rocks in very shallow water results in lots of rockfish. Given fishing this shallow is pretty specialized, here are some tips for rigging soft baits weedless, and also avoid hooking shallow rocks.
Here are some standard soft jerkbaits and a variety of offset worm hooks. These hooks were developed to Texas-rig soft freshwater baits for bass fishing. I started using them in the salt about fifteen years ago and these rigs are among the first I go to in shallow water in the winter and grassy water in the spring and summer.
There are many soft jerk baits, and many sizes and shapes of offset worm hooks. These baits happen to be a Stanley Wedgetail, a Bass Assassin 5 inch shad, and a DOA CAL jerkbait. The most important part of selection is making sure the hook fits the bait. The size of the gap in the hook and the height and thickness of the body of the jerkbait determine whether a particular hook will work with a specific bait. For most 4 to 5 inch jerkbaits, you will be using a 3/0 or 4/0 sized hook, but those sizes vary by manufacturer. If you place the hook over the bait you can make an educated guess as to whether it will work or not. The first step is to stick the point of the hook through the nose of the bait, and push the hook out through the bottom of the bait. The distance on the bottom between the exit point of the hook and the nose of the bait depends on the length of the offset at the base of the hook.
Pass the hook through bait and rotate it so the hook is facing upward and offset part of the hook is inside the front of the bait.
The next maneuver requires some experience. You need to compress the soft bait forward toward the nose and push the point of the hook through the bait and out the back of the lure. Selecting the amount to compress the bait, and thus the spot at which the point of the hook enters the bottom of the bait requires some experience but you will pick it up rapidly once you try a few of these rigs. What you end up with is the hook laying along the back of the bait.
Here are some pictures of the smaller DOA bait with a smaller gap worm hook.
It’s important that the hook lie very closely along the back of the bait. This allows you to “skin-hook” the very point of the hook just under the surface of the bait, keeping the point very lightly covered. It will cause a slight bump in the top of the lure where the hook is covered. Some baits, like the DOA bait, actually have a small groove in the top of the bait that the hook can lay in to keep the point hidden.
Because I fish in very shallow water, I don’t use weights. Many hooks either come with small weights on the bottom loop of the wide-gap hook, or allow you to add them. Personally, more frequently I use the smaller gap hooks so the hook isn’t exposed below the bait. I want the bait to sink slowly and I work it simply with a few small jerks to keep it moving as it flutters toward the bottom. However, the same rig may need these weights if you fish in deeper water. My usual rig includes a 15 to 18 inch flurocarbon leader of 20 or 25 pound test, thrown on a 2500 sized reel with 10 pound Power Pro braid. If you fish with a light rod and line, you will be amazed at the distance you can throw these lures, even without any weights at all. I usually will try and set up with the wind at my back regardless of lures, just to allow longer casts which are very important in shallow water for stealth purposes. You do need to give the fish a little time to get the lure into it’s mouth, and you also need to set the hook a reasonable amount to pull the point out of the skin, but you don’t need a massive hookset like with largemouth bass.
I love this rig. It fishes very slowly and safely over rocks without getting hung up, and works through heavy grass better than any other lure I’ve seen. And my largest trout in the past few years was caught by Dr. Bob Watson fishing this rig with a Bass Assassin Die Dapper soft bait in two feet of water over a rocky bottom. That’s a pretty good recommendation. Play around with hooks and baits until you find the right combination of size and weight for your location. You’ll be amazed at how weedless and snag-free these baits fish.
This was the ninth year for Doug Johnson’s Reeling for Kids tournament which benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs of Alachua County. Doug spent a lot of time as a kid at the Northwest Boy’s Club, and after his NFL career with the Falcons and Bengals, moved back to Gainesville and wanted to give something back. I remember well the first year in 2003….Brian Holt and I fished and we managed to catch the largest redfish; I even found some pics from that first tournament.
The tournament has grown over the years to be the biggest tournament in our area, with a host of sponsors, a kick-off event at the Touchdown Terrace, and around 100 boats participating. I have been fortunate the past three years to fish with Noah Brindise, former Gator quarterback, assistant coach for the Redskins and offensive coordinator for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Noah decided that a football career was a tough way to have a family and has been working for Arthrex for a number of years, a company that makes orthopedic applications. He also is a very good fisherman and several years ago we had a great day during the tournament, with the boat catching the second biggest redfish. I’ve been lucky enough to fish with him each year since. Last year was a tough tournament, but we were optimistic this year as I thought I had located a great redfish area. Our only worry was the weather, with storms and high winds. Noah invited his friend Paul Michas from Albany, Georgia and we set out before dark on Friday. The fishing wasn’t easy, and made a little more challenging when my GPS gave up the ghost just as we got out on the water. We found some nice redfish early, but no tournament fish, and when we moved out with the tide, and fished an offshore bar for trout, we realized that the electrical problems were continuing; my bilge pump had failed and we had a bit of water (actually more than a bit) in the bilge. Unfortunately we had no choice but to run in and get the pump replaced which kept us off the water for three hours (thanks be to Charlie Norwood, who managed to get us back quickly). We managed to get back out and caught a few more fish, but again no tournament challenging fish.
We had great hopes for the next day, and managed to find an excellent fish early that measured 26 1/2 inches, which ordinarily is a fine contestant.
We drifted out over some deeper flats. We had been catching lots of trout, but very few keeper fish, which has been a problem this year. One excellent boat caught 110 trout…and only one was a keeper. We actually caught about four or five keepers, but none were large enough to be tournament fish and were released.
We came in early because of other commitments and I was disappointed to find out that our redfish came in sixth place….which means there were five other 26 1/2 inch redfish that weighed more than ours. Mine had obviously been on a diet and just lacked that killer appetite that we needed. Two years ago we had the largest fish (also 26 1/2 inches) and a fish the same length beat us by almost a pound. Happens all the time.
In spite of not finishing in the money, we had a great time and we’re looking forward to next year. Here are some of the winners…The Master Offshore Team, the Williams team, caught a 16 pound red snapper, an 8.3 pound red grouper and a 30 pound kingfish to win the $5000 prize.
And my buddy Mark Brady and his team caught a 3.15 pound Spanish mackerel, a 4.3 pound trout and a 6.7 pound redfish to take the Master’s Inshore prize.
We had great food on Friday and Saturday night, great entertainment, and it was an all-around good time. Already looking forward to next year’s tournament. You should make plans now. Great thanks to Doug, Ken Fickett from Mirage Boats (who donated a boat for the raffle prize for the second straight year), Wiley Horton, and especially Laura Javidi from the Boys and Girls Club who makes everything go. You guys are great!
Capt. Tommy Thompson and I spent last weekend exploring for redfish. It’s been a tough year, actually, with good fish being widely scattered. With this being the warmest winter that I can remember, everything from the redbuds to the trout are confused. Fish are moving in and out of creeks with a pattern we haven’t figured out yet, but a recent warm spell sent us out to see what was up. Most recently, our usual spots haven’t been that productive, but low tides have made them challenging, and this weekend we had some good tides and excellent weather to get to some places we haven’t been to in months. We left the Sea Hag around noon to fish the flood and early falling tide. Although moderate winds were forecasted, NOAA was wrong again, but this time in a good way. We had light easterly breezes of about five knots. We ran to an area north of Dallus Creek initially, and found two smallish redfish and I found a nice 4 pound trout fishing an unweighted plastic jerkbait in a creekbed. However, the bite wasn’t that impressive so we ran to a rocky area nearby that had been very productive last year. Although we fished Paul Brown lures, jerkbaits and crankbaits, it became obvious that a nice school of redfish was primarily interested in topwater plugs. I was using the LiveTarget mullet, and Tommy a nickel Super Spook Junior. They both produced well. We were fishing an area of scattered rocks outside a creek mouth with a large sandbar nearby; mullet were everywhere, and there was a large school of slot-sized fish that were hungry.
We ended up with 10 nice redfish to 27 inches. We figured we’d try again the next day, but the school had moved on. We still ended up with three redfish and three trout, but they were relatively small and scattered. With the warm water temperatures, be on the lookout for mullet schools, especially around rocky points, oyster bars, and creek beds, and if there’s nobody home, move around. The schooling fish are hungry and feeding, while the solitary fish are more difficult to entice. Things from here on out should get nothing but better through the spring.
New Year’s weekend was a great example of how weather affects the bite. The mild winter so far has played havoc with inshore fishing. We haven’t had any frigid extended fronts that will drive the trout into the rivers and creeks for any extended time, so as things warm up they move back onto the warming flats. The fishing was reasonable last week until a mild cold front came through early in the week. Some of the very best inshore guides at the Sea Hag Marina came up empty and were putting their clients on black sea bass for substitutes (tasty, but still substitutes). The forecast mid-week looked excellent, with winds of 5 to 10 and warming temperatures and sun. Sounded good to me, so I drove over on Thursday, only to find the forecast had changed to 10 to 15 and clouds for Friday. However, we don’t always get to choose our days so I figured I’d give it a try on my own and try and locate some fish. Capt. Tommy Thompson had fished on Wednesday with little success, and the guides I talked to were shut out on the same day. A pretty challenging situation. There was a significant late morning low tide which didn’t help, but I was hopeful that the afternoon would warm up. I left the marina around 10 in cloudy conditions; in fact, as I pulled away from the dock it started to rain….which wasn’t on the forecast or the radar. However, it was just a shower. As I came around the bend at Roy’s Restaurant, the full force of the 15 knot south wind hit me. Things were not looking good. The water temp was 58 degrees…right in the area that confuses fish and fishermen. I fished a number of my favorite spots while I waited for the tide to turn so I could get in close to shore. Things did not go well. Not only didn’t I catch anything, I didn’t see anything. No bait, no lethargic fish, no nothing. Finally I tried running to some of my close-in spots to find the wind had actually picked up and there was 2 foot chop on the flats along with the darkening sky. Enough. I decided to go back, have some lunch and see what happened. Lo and behold, around 3 the sun came out and I started back out. The wind was still howling, but it was warming a bit. I managed to get to the area I was headed for in the morning, but it was very choppy and by now the wind was closer to 20 knots. I fished the area and caught nothing. Again, no mullet, no whitebait….nuttin, honey. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one. Again, none of the guides caught fish. However, the forecast still looked excellent for Saturday….sun, 5-10 knots, and a high in the 70’s. I managed to convince Tommy Thompson to drive over the morning so we could give it a try. At 9 AM, things were looking good at the marina.
We left the Sea Hag around 10 to glassy conditions and warming temperatures. We found some of our best spots to be placid, the water to be crystal clear, and nothing there. Initially, no mullet jumping, no pinfish, no whitebait. We decided to wait as the tide came in, and slowly more and more mullet and some schools of rainbait showed up. But in spite of the improving conditions, all we could manage was one short trout to the boat, a few follows and two fish lost. The water temperature was up to 62 degrees. We were dejected but the rising tide made it possible to get to the exact spot I had fished the day before, so I put the tabs down, jacked up the motor and ran across some shallow flats to get to the area. Lo and behold, there was an airboat camped out right in our area, with a large family on board fishing live shrimp on corks. We moved a bit to the north and started fishing some sandy and rocky areas mixed in with grass, and immediately began catching fish. We drifted in with the tide, Tommy fishing a crankbait and I was fishing a small suspending plug. We caught around 15 trout, and only one was short. This stocky four-pounder was the largest.
As we drifted in a little closer to shore, still catching nice trout, we got into redfish territory near some rockpiles and I had a huge fight with this 6 pounder; I was fishing with my lightest reel, and one of the trebles became caught in some rock grass. Amazingly he stayed hooked and we were finally able to free him from the structure.
We redid the drift several times, and Tommy nailed this perfect tournament fish: 26.5 inches and 7.5 pounds. Those are the ones you just can’t find when you need them, but I’ll take them anytime. This was the best trip we’ve had in several months, with lots of large trout and reds.
It’s always worth reflecting on what you learned on every trip. When we got back to the docks it turned out that the other inshore fishermen hadn’t caught very many fish; as best we could tell, based on Shane the fish-cleaner’s report, we caught the best trout and redfish for the day, at least at the Sea Hag. In his Action Spotter column in Florida Sportsman this month, Tommy had noted the importance of sun in the winter months. Conditions change over several hours, because being cold-blooded, fish will seek out any area that is slightly warmer than the surrounding water, and bright sun warms the flats, rocks, oyster bars, and mud flats more than the surrounding areas. This is especially true on severe low tides when these areas are exposed. Then when the tide comes in, these locations are several degrees warmer than other areas, and that attracts both baitfish and predators. In this case, the exact same location was packed with fish when it had been barren 24 hours earlier. The primary difference? Heavy cloud cover and high winds giving way to a slight ripple and bright sun. The other take-home lesson is that we fished for four hours on Saturday until we found the right combination. Patience, grasshopper. Sometimes it takes a really awful day like Friday to clarify just how important attention to the conditions and knowledge of the weather changes and tides can pay off on Saturday.