Winter creek fishing


Capt. Jim Keith knows that going as far back up a Waccassassa creek is the key to finding redfish in the winter.

TIM TUCKER/Special to The Sun
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 26, 2006 at 9:01 p.m.

Facts

If you go

Capt. Rick Bouley 352-542-7132, www.naturecoastflatsfishing.com
Capt. Tommy Thompson 888-843-9949, www.flanaturecoast.com/capttommy
Capt. Jim Keith 352-472-7296, www.cedarkeycaptainjim.com

For Big Bend inshore enthusiasts, this is the time of year when it's more about how far your boat can go rather than what you throw when it comes to consistently catching redfish, and to a lesser degree, trout.
Winter is the time when both species head for the creeks and often get as far back in the marshy interior as possible.
Few guides understand that as well as Capt. Tommy Thompson, who authored a story on winter creek fishing in the current issue of Florida Sportsman magazine.
"I think the biggest trick is don't go into a creek unless the water's cold.
"Right now, the trout and reds are starting to move back up in the creeks, especially the reds. The trout are moving on the outside. This is the time of year when you can really load up in the creeks."
There are a world of tributaries or various sizes and shapes all along the Gulf Coast from Steinhatchee down to Yankeetown. More miles of creeks than you could fish in a lifetime.
One of Thompson's rules of thumbs this time of year for pinpointing the most productive creeks is to look for the presence of mullet. No mullet means not stopping in that particular creek.
"You want to fish a tide that's comfortable for your boat, but you also want to fish moving water," the veteran guide said. "Ideally, on a cold day if you can get way back up in the creek, sit out the tide, let it fall from underneath you, find some nice holes and fish those real, real slow across the bottom you'll catch fish. Just be patient with it. Patience is a big deal. A lot of folks go into a spot, fish it for 10 or 15 minutes and expect to catch something, and that's not right. You've really got to work the tides.
"I think the most important thing about creek fishing is to do your research. Most folks, unfortunately, don't get to fish as much as I do. So they tend to go into a creek and expect to catch a lot of fish on their first day in there. First day into a creek, a big part of that is experimenting. That's critical."
It all begins with being able to penetrate the kind of skinny water that harbors this winter bonanza.
Thompson's 18-foot Shipoke custom boat powered by a 115-hp Yamaha outboard is typical of most Big Bend flats boats in that it drafts about 12 inches of water. Fellow guide Capt. Rick Bouley's Microdraft with its tunnel hull and jackplate, floats in about 6 inches and amazingly runs in as little as 3 inches of water. Bouley can run over mud flat and reach sections of the backcountry near the treeline where only airboats usually go.
"You have to think about creeks that are most accessible to most people," Thompson said. "Dan May, for example, is a real easy creek to fish for most people because you don't have to get involved with entrance bars and stuff. You run right up East Pass into Dan May and fish it. But I don't think it holds as many fish.
"Go around the corner to Barnett, which is a big, wide creek. You can catch a lot of fish in the first half-mile of that creek. You've just got to learn how to get into it. You have to kind of skirt the edge of those woods there."
Bouley, a former Florida Keys guide who recently relocated to Old Town, has spent the past eight months learning the intricacies of the Suwannee area tributaries - notably, Bumblebee, Moccasin and Hog Island creeks.
"To me, it's a one-creek- at-a time-adventure because it takes a long time to learn every nuance of each one of those creeks," he said. "And they are different. It's so funny, between creek to creek you would think they would be similar one after another, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
"Anybody that has spent time back in those creeks knows that each one of them has its own personality and fishes a certain way. They all have the same type fish in them, but they certainly have different ways to fish them."
Bouley's routine is to first learn the navigable paths through a specific creek and then use his depthfinder to locate any holes and depressions along the way (marking them on his GPS unit). Then he tries to determine the kind of bottom composition in each hole.
"The bottom seems to be the key," he said. "I've found out that most of the holes that have some type of shell or hard bottom will hold more fish than holes with just mud. If you find a shell or oyster bottom in a hole, you can just about count on it having some fish."
For creek redfish and the occasional trout, Bouley's No. 1 lure is a 8-ounce gold Johnson Silver Minnow spoon (with most its underside painted with red nail polish). Although he has become a believer in that spoon, Thompson also scores consistently by slowly trolling a MirrOlure TT (white sides, red black with black spots). Once he gets a strike, Thompson stops and casts the MirrOlure to the spot. Another prime bait for him is a bottom-bumping root beer-colored DOA TerrorEyz soft-bodied jig.
"I target reds, but you always catch trout," Thompson said. "And the trout that you catch are always 18, 19 inches long. They're always fat. And you catch them in the big wide holes in the front of the creeks. As you move farther back up you're going to catch reds."
Tim Tucker's e-mail is tim@timtuckeroutdoors.com

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