Crappie in Orange Lake continue to bite like mad

Published: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 2:37 a.m.
The new year began beautifully for anglers. A pair of warm and reasonably calm days gave lots of folks good starts to a fish-catching year. Then on the heels of the nice spell, a wave of heavy thunderstorms pushed through to further ensure excellent lake levels in the months to come.
As expected, the top weekend speckled perch catches came from Orange Lake, where the bonanza of impossibly large slabs continues.
In impressive succession, huge New Year's weekend crappie were flopped onto the weigh scales at A Family Tradition Fish Camp on Cross Creek. On Saturday afternoon, Joe Lyons expected to sneak a fat 2-pound, 4-ounce crappie under the wire for the fish camp's monthly "big speck" prize. He didn't know, though, that another outsize speck had pushed the needle on the camp's scale all the way down to the 3-pound mark the day before.
Mike Baker boated that overgrown crappie while slow-trolling a plastic-tailed Culprit crappie jig with a minnow added - and this was his second Orange Lake slab weighing exactly three pounds in the last five weeks.
Baker said that, according to his GPS unit, he caught the monster speck "within 25 feet of the last one." The big fish was later weighed on tested scales, again reaching the magical 3-pound mark.
It is no accident that the Silver Springs angler has located and boated two crappie of nearly unheard-of size since Thanksgiving.
Baker, the president of the Florida Crappie Association, is as dedicated a speck angler as anyone in these parts. While very few Florida fishers can honestly say they have caught even one 3-pound crappie, he now has four fish of this size to his all-time crappie-catching credit.
Fishing alone with 12 rods of varying lengths and various baits and line sizes, Baker is able to narrow down the crappie's preferences on a given day.
When Saturday's trophy slab bit, another of the long rods went down at the same time. "I had to decide which rod to grab," Baker said, "So I just grabbed the one that was bending most."
He caught the whopper using 4-pound-test monofilament, and is in the process of filling out IGFA forms to apply for a Florida line-class record.
While the Marion County angler will collect the prize for December's top speck weighed at the Cross Creek camp, Larry Jones set a tough-to-beat standard for January crappie seekers with a 2-pound, 10-ounce fish he enticed with a minnow Monday.
Lochloosa crappie also seemed easier to locate over the weekend, and several near-limits were reported. The average size of the fish from Lochloosa, however, remains notably smaller than the fish being pulled from the lake at the other end of Cross Creek.
Young Lucas Hamilton lugged the biggest fish of the week in to Lochloosa Harbor on Monday. Fishing a live minnow with his dad, the seven-year-old Reddick angler hooked and eventually landed a whopping 9-pound catfish.
Bass have been relatively scarce on Orange and Lochloosa, but anglers soaking shiners and casting soft plastic lures have reported much-improved largemouth action on Rodman over the last week. And Rodman crappie have finally started showing up in coolers and live wells.
Willie Wims took four fine Rodman specks last Thursday that weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces in aggregate.
Saltwater anglers continue to score nice trout and redfish catches, but successful anglers warn that the fish are concentrated and tougher to locate than during warm weather. The top trout results have come from the Steinhatchee and Homosassa areas - at the north and south extremes of our Gulf Coast coverage area.
Between these ports, trout results are hit-or-miss, with more missing than hitting. Redfish, on the other hand, seem most plentiful in creeks near Waccasassa, Shell Mound, and Suwannee.
The majority of the winter spot tails are sub-legal, but reds of any size are fun to catch.
Offshore anglers are very pleased with the numbers and size of the grouper they're locating when the weather allows them.
Good catches in less than 40 feet of water have all but ceased now off most ports. However, good near-shore fish can still be located off Homosassa.
On Sunday, Capt. Bill Musser and party fished Spanish sardines in water 35 feet deep to box 17 legal gag grouper.
Gary Simpson is a veteran tournament angler who works at The Tackle Box.

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