Area anglers find success catching specks in winter


Published: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 12, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

It's still 'speck' time in our nearby fresh and salt waters.

Experienced North Florida freshwater anglers know that, during the coldest conditions winter can muster this close to the equator, their angling success is most assured when they target speckled perch. Better known in other parts of the south as crappie, speck activity increases as fall turns to winter.

Even in last weekend's unseasonably warm weather, fishers located plenty of crappie in area lakes.

David Jamerson has been included in this report for three straight weeks now — and his Lake Santa Fe fish-catching roll has not slowed down. Friday, the Gainesville panfish specialist stopped by The Tackle Box with an ice chest packed with slabs. It was tough to pick out the two largest specks, but the pair we weighed went 2.03 and 2.01.

Most of Jamerson's recent success has come while anchored over deep brush piles. On this day, though, his bites all came while he covered lots of water, drifting minnows in the middle of Little Santa Fe.

Bob and Lloyd Miller docked at Lochloosa Harbor Saturday with 13 specks and 13 warmouth they tempted with minnows in the lakes' south end maidencane.

Ruby Atkinson's 25-speck catch was another highlight at the Lochloosa camp Saturday. Sunday, Milton Widener iced 18 good Lochloosa specks.

Speckled trout, the crappie's spotted coastal counterpart, provides one of the most dependable winter marks for lovers of salty creeks, rivers, and shell bars.

Unlike the crappie, however, trout don't seem to relish cold water at all. Their strong aversion to the cold is actually what makes trout fishing in December and January so good.

The delicate game fish react to the cold the same way many Floridians would — they pile up in the warmest, deepest water they can find. Rocky creeks with shallow entrances scattered along the long piece of coast between Steinhatchee and Suwannee might be the very best trout-fishing sites in Florida right now. But these creeks possess a built-in protection from all but the best-prepared trout seekers. Except in vessels capable of floating and running in the skinniest water, most are dangerously difficult to access.

Last week, I reported a Suwannee trout-catching day with a ten-to-one ratio of little fish to keepers. John Palmer and Brian Heckler enjoyed just the opposite situation while fishing Steinhatchee shallows Saturday afternoon during a rising tide. Casting Gulp! grubs and Zara Puppy surface lures in ultra-clear water, the men whacked sizable trout about as thoroughly as the Gators would thump the Buckeyes two days later.

"We had a tough time locating trout small enough to keep," said Palmer with a tongue-in-cheek tone of exasperation.

Each angler may keep five speckled trout measuring at least 15-inches — but only one of the five can be longer than 20-inches.

Of about fifty total fish, the stoutest trout that Palmer and Heckler put in the boat measured an impressive 28-inches and "probably weighed about six-pounds." The anglers released the big fish, watching it dart back into billows of seaweed.

A few easier-to-reach spots along the Big Bend also hold lots of trout. The kelp beds at the mouth of the Homosassa River continue to yield limit tallies for anglers casting Gulp! baits and Mirrolures.

They might not exactly have speckles, but the mottled gag grouper are a third high-percentage fish at which saltwater anglers should take aim.

Five North Florida friends got together for an offshore trip Saturday out of Steinhatchee. Rennie Tyson and Reggie Crum of Starke, Tim Clark of Gainesville, and Mike and Jessie of Jacksonville hit the end of the Steinhatchee channel around noon and didn't slow down until they sat sixty feet above fish-attracting rocky structure on the gulf floor. The grouper didn't bite well until 3:30 p.m., but then the proverbial 'light switch' flipped on.

After that time, a fish of some kind grabbed every sardine, herring, cigar minnow, and pinfish the men dropped to the bottom. Along with several short gags, three nice red snapper (out-of-season and released,) and four usually scarce hogfish, the five anglers boated 21 stout grouper before dark. Every one measured at least 26-inches.

Capt. Dan Clymer's customers all reached their grouper goals Saturday — and not at all far outside Crystal Rivers' mouth. Trolling with diving, minnow-mimicking lures over a "foul area" within eyesight of land, the anglers filled five-fish limits of chunky gags.

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

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