Up area creek with info

Published: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

This is the time of the year when redfish and trout typically move deep in the backcountry and the interior of rivers, creeks and canals as frequent fronts send them in search of warmer water.

And it is the time when savvy anglers follow them into the shallows.

In the Big Bend, winter is the time when both species head for the creeks and often get as far back in the marsh as possible.

Few guides understand that as well as Capt. Tommy Thompson. In January, you can usually find his flats boat well up a creek being propelled by a pushpole.

"I think the biggest trick is don't go into a creek unless the water's cold," Thompson said. "This is the time of year when you can really load up in the creeks."

From Yankeetown up to Steinhatchee, there are more miles of creeks than you could fish in a lifetime. There are a world of tributaries of different sizes and shapes along the Gulf Coast.

The key, Thompson advises, to finding the most productive creeks is being observant and looking for the presence of mullet. No mullet, move to the next creek.

"You want to fish a tide that's comfortable for your boat, but you also want to fish moving water," he 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."

From there, the key is being able to infiltrate and skinny water in the back of the select canal. Thompson's 18-foot Shipoke flats boat (powered by a 115-hp Yamaha outboard) is typical of most Big Bend boats in that it drafts just 12 inches of water.

"You have to think about creeks that are most accessible to most people," he 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."

"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."

From a story Thompson authored for Florida Sportsman magazine, here are a few of Thompson's favorite creeks in the Suwannee area.

· Salt Creek: "Salt Creek is easy to find. Just run out the Suwannee River until you see the sign marking the channel. Salt Creek is the only creek near with a marked channel, and you'll be able to maintain a safe cruising speed for most of it. Try fishing under some of the docks and then move on to fish the deep pockets near the creek's edges and bars. This is pretty much a small-boat creek and not one to be stranded in."

· Dan May Creek: "It's best reached by running upriver to East Pass (which actually runs south) and going almost to the Gulf. This is a deep river pass, and common-sense navigation will get you through it easily. Fishing here is good from the creek mouth all the way back to where the freshwater from the river slows the tide. It's not unusual to find bass fishermen making good catches in the upper reaches of Dan May Creek."

· Barnett, Big Trout and Little Trout creeks: "With some care to follow the shoreline along the grass and not approach these creeks head-on, you'll also find slightly saltier water. On some days, I think this has a positive effect on fishing, particularly as the water warms up toward spring. These creeks also have lots of scattered oyster beds and mud bars, which warm up on sunny days and attract bait and gamefish as the tide comes in. Try these three creeks on a day when the high tide is in the mid-afternoon, and you'll do well."

Thompson 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 address is tim@timtuckeroutdoors.com

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