Scallop season to start with plenty of success

Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:00 a.m.
In North Florida, few season openings in the realm of outdoor sports draw as much enthusiasm as the one at hand. Scallop season is probably appealing to so many folks because anyone can succeed at gathering the tasty shellfish.
Lots of people don't set foot on a boat for any reason other than to enjoy this summertime family tradition. And the first-timer or the youngest aboard may well harvest the biggest sack of the blue-eyed prizes.
Preseason scouting trips indicate better numbers of scallops this year than were available at this point last season on the Steinhatchee, Crystal River and Homosassa grass flats. As usual, however, their average early season size leaves something to be desired.
The daily limit for each person is two gallons of whole scallops in the shell, or 1 pint of scallop meat. Regardless of the number of people aboard, no vessel can have more than 10 gallons whole or gallon of scallop meat at any time. A saltwater fishing license is required if a boat is used to access the shellfish, and dive flags must be displayed when scallop seekers are in the water.
The big shark scare that's presently in the minds of Floridians will probably make snorkelers a bit more diligent this season, although realistically, fellow boaters that run on plane near boats anchored with dive flags displayed are a greater danger. Boaters must proceed at idle speed when near scallopers - but many fail to do so. On the Steinhatchee flats, the greatest scallop-finding challenge at this season's opening will likely be diminished visibility.
Some stretches of usually productive grass flat are presently much cloudier than ideal. Don't look for these drawbacks and concerns to discourage many in the army of hardcore scallop-seekers that views July first as the top on-the-water tradition of the year. The season that opens today will run through Sept. 10.
The mass of boats that will converge on the zones known to hold lots of scallops will create a real headache for fans of hook-and-line fishing. Earlier this year, anglers found far more trout and redfish around scallop hotspots such as Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Crystal River and Homosassa than on the darker flats off Suwannee, Cedar Key and Waccasassa.
Fortunately for anglers, the in-between stretch of coast has really come around over the last month, and fishers should have plenty of productive water free from the shellfishing masses. Although many are short of the 15-inch minimum length, speckled trout are abundant on Cedar Key flats. Many successful anglers are casting jigs with grub tails - with and without Cajun Thunder rattling floats.
Waccasassa Bay is likewise producing lots of trout. Jerry and Robin Weesner fished flats 8-to-9 feet deep with cut bait and jigs Sunday and Monday to box very nice trout catches. And Waccasassa anglers have come home with some of the Big Bend's most fetching redfish tales lately.
Live shrimp, cut bait and gold spoons are all redfish catchers when cast around grassy points and creek mouths within a few miles of the river mouth. Just make sure your
shallow redfishing is done near high tide. The Bay is a well-known skeg and propeller destroyer for anglers unfamiliar with it.
Flounder are the top targets of East Coast anglers working inland waters. Several good reports this week sounded similar, mentioning live mud minnows on jigheads dragged down sandy, sloping dropoffs in Matanzas River. No doormat-size fish have been reported, but flatfish from 13-to-17-inches long are plentiful.
Bluegill remain the stars of local fresh waters, congregated around shallow cover in Orange, Lochloosa and Newnans Lakes. Crickets, grass shrimp and wigglers are the favorite baits. Fishing crickets along a Lochloosa shoreline, Tracy and Connie Potwin iced 75 bream ranging from  to pound in Saturday's substantial breeze.
Roy and Harold Morman of Ocala docked at Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek last Sunday with a 64-fish mix of bluegill, speckled perch and warmouth. A while later, Bill and Myrna Jones of Citra idled in with 60 bluegill.
Keith Chapman has turned in an impressive and unprecedented bassfishing hat trick. The talented Gainesville angler has finished as the top angler in two local bass clubs for the 2004-2005 tournament season. And that's not the most impressive part. Both the Gainesville Bassmasters and the Bassmasters of Gator Country will be awarding their "Angler of the Year" plaques to Chapman - for the second year running.
Gary Simpson is a veteran tournament angler who works at the Tackle Box.

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