Winter on the Gulf: First half of season was better

Published: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2004 at 12:00 a.m.

Freezing nights have thinned out the seaweeds from near shore gulf shallows.

Gone with the grasses are baitfish - and for that matter, nearly every other kind of fish. Deeper holes near shell bars and in creeks do hold some trout and redfish, but even there good catches are tougher to come by.

On top of all this, speckled trout will be illegal to possess through the month of February in North Florida. When it comes to winter fishing on the Gulf, the first half of the season is much better than the second.

While inshore angling is near low ebb, the Big Bend fishing picture is not totally bleak. The much-anticipated sheepshead spawn is beginning on natural and artificial reefs from Homosassa to Steinhatchee. Anglers tight-lining shrimp on these offshore structures will soon be picking up the year's biggest sheepies.

Already, fine sheepshead catches are coming from the southernmost of these areas - the "foul area" west of the St. Martins Keys between Homosassa and Crystal River. Sunday, Matt and Annette Scales of Leesburg pulled nine of the hefty banded brawlers from this area.

While the popular sheepshead areas off Steinhatchee, Suwannee and Cedar Keys have failed to produce noteworthy results, we expect that to change any day. Grouper fishers continue to take solid catches from waters at least 50 feet deep off most gulf ports. Both bottom fishers and deep trollers have scored well when the wind has calmed sufficiently to allow them offshore.

At the beginning of February, the fishing pendulum swings back to freshwaters as the best bets for angling success. Crappie fans are finding increasing numbers of specks in and around shoreline cover. On Alto, Little Orange and Lochloosa, folks fishing minnows or Beetle Spins near grass and lily pads are reporting more and more bites from big, spawn-minded specks.

The full moon in February is usually the prime time for catching shallow specks, so as the moon waxes toward that phase expect them to ease into shoreline weeds and brush. Presently, a 2-pound, 4-ounce slab leads Yankee Landing's monthly 'big speck' contest for January. A very good crappie, but it's a pretty good bet that a better Lochloosa fish will overtake it by Saturday night.

On Rodman, Santa Fe and Big Orange, specks seem determined to remain in deep water. Anglers dropping minnows and Mini Jigs through the raft of floating water cabbage packed along the Rodman shoreline at the Kirkpatrick Dam took good weekend speck catches. The water under the vegetation is about 20 feet deep, and the specks have been suspended at around 10 feet.

Along with Rodman Reservoir and Lake George, the Suwannee River is yielding excellent bass fishing action. In a recent club tournament out of Fanning Springs, six members of the Bassmasters of Gator Country scored nice five-bass limits. Crankbaits and spinnerbaits are often the lures of choice on the Suwannee, but the BMGC anglers say that soft plastics produced the majority of the club's catch that day.

The first fishing events of the year are being scheduled, and it's time for competitive anglers to start marking calendars. March 13 will see one of the larger events for saltwater fishers. The third Steinhatchee Community Fishing Tournament begins at 7 a.m. and wrap up at 4:30. Last years' event attracted 380 participants, and the payout this year will be increased for top fish in the categories of largest sheepshead, first and second largest redfish, first and second largest trout, and first and second largest grouper. As the name indicates, this tourney is a community-wide endeavor, so you can call any Steinhatchee motel, marina, or fish camp for more information or visit

The Hawthorne High School Booster Club will host a fund-raising bass tournament March 13 on Lochloosa. Twenty years ago, Lochloosa was the site for tournaments most weekends of the year. It has been quite awhile since an organization has chosen Lochloosa as a site for a bass tourney, so the weigh-in for this one will be most interesting.

Don't miss the third in The Tackle Box's series of free informative fishing classes beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday. Dick Hale will cover the subject, "Catching Springtime Bass with Soft Plastics."

You may just pick up the tip that will help you hook the trophy of a lifetime.

Gary Simpson is a veteran tournament angler who works at the Tackle Box.

Cedar Key

Day 1st high 2nd high 1st low 2nd low
Today 8:50 a.m. 7:38 p.m. 2:16 a.m. 1:15 p.m.
Sat. 10:33 a.m. 8:42 p.m. 3:36 a.m. 2:29 p.m.
Sun. 11:55 a.m. 9:49 p.m. 4:50 a.m. 3:57 p.m.
Mon. 12:45 a.m. 10:50 p.m. 5:47 a.m. 5:10 p.m.
Tues. 1:23 p.m. 11:43 p.m. 6:33 a.m. 6:06 p.m.
Weds. 1:54 p.m. - 7:12 a.m. 6:51 p.m.
Thurs. 12:30 a.m. 2:22 p.m. 7:47 a.m. 7:32 p.m.

St. Augustine

Day 1st high 2nd high 1st low 2nd low
Today 2:47 a.m. 3:05 p.m. 9:32 a.m. 9:32 p.m.
Sat. 3:43 a.m. 4:02 p.m. 10:26 a.m. 10:23 p.m.
Sun. 4:40 a.m. 4:58 p.m. 11:18 a.m. 11:14 p.m.
Mon. 5:33 a.m. 5:50 p.m. 12:07 p.m. -
Tues. 6:22 a.m. 6:38 p.m. 12:03 a.m. 12:53 p.m.
Weds. 7:08 a.m. 7:23 p.m. 12:51 a.m. 1:36 p.m.
Thurs. 7:50 a.m. 8:06 p.m. 1:35 a.m. 2:15 p.m.


Day Minor Major Minor Major
Today 12:00 6:05 12:15 6:25
Sat. 12:40 6:45 12:55 7:10
Sun. 1:25 7:30 1:40 7:55
Mon. 2:10 8:15 2:25 8:40
Tues. 3:05 9:05 3:15 9:30
Weds. 3:45 9:55 4:05 10:20
Thurs. 4:35 10:40 4:50 11:05

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