Bass anglers find evidence of a successful spawn


Published: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 26, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Achillier week interrupted the balmy weather that mid-winter anglers have been treated to recently. This apparently helped the feeding attitude of speckled perch, but it seems to have made things a tad tougher for bass casters.

Several area bass anglers have been spending time on Orange Lake in preparation for the Bass Champions Senior Tour and Xtreme Bass tournaments coming up Sunday. From my own practice time, I can report one pleasing observation — last year's bass spawn must have been incredibly successful.

Just cast a small worm or spinner around the abundant grass beds almost anywhere on that lake and you can expect lots of bites from almost-yearling fish ranging from 8-to-10-inches long. Of course, this is great news. But bass of that size won't help competitors this weekend.

Out in the less grassy depths, Orange Lake speckled perch seekers are still having success with abundant fish. John Courtney is among the regulars pulling in 25-speck limits every trip. Courtney made an epic catch a year ago when he pulled an incredible 3-pound, 5-ounce speck from Orange.

While the Hawthorne speck specialist has had no trouble filling limits over the last few weeks, he has failed to locate the outsize specimens that he caught with uncanny regularity last winter. "Sunday," he said, "I caught eighty or so and kept 25 of the biggest ones — but they just don't seem to be as big overall this year." Courtney's favorite crappie-catching baits are dark-colored Hal Fly Jigs with minnows added.

Lochloosa speck fishers, too, are reporting excellent results. Last Friday, local angler, Larry George showed off a bunch of nice-sized fish topped by a 2-pound, 9-ounce slab. He drifted with cane poles and minnows in water 5-feet deep. Then on Saturday, Jack and Randy Suggs docked at Lochloosa Harbor with a 27 speck-stringer anchored by a 16-inch whopper that weighed 2-pound, 7-ounces. The brothers fished maidencane growing in water four-feet deep on the south end.

Speckled trout and grouper remain the top targets of gulf anglers — at least for a little while longer. Sunday, Mark Eiland and Jimmy Padgett ignored the largely negative 'dock talk' at Horseshoe Beach and struck out southward across impossibly shallow flats on an unusually low tide. The Gainesville fishermen found a deeper trough and drifted through it casting Daiwa Dr. Minnows.

In short order, Padgett and Eiland hauled in about 50 trout that went on a serious feed when the tide started in. "They were all good-sized," said Eiland, "no short fish at all."

Regardless of size, trout will be illegal to possess in less than a week. For the entire month of February, trout season closes in North Florida waters.

Sunday, Gator McRae of McRae's Marina on the Homosassa River visited one of his secret, near-shore spots that holds big grouper during mild weather. Along with his wife, Pam, and son, Daniel, the lifelong Homosassa angler cast big plugs to pull five good gags from water just 10-feet deep. Gulf grouper fishers also have a short fishing window before a new Federal recreational closure goes into effect from February 15 through March 15 for gag, black, and red grouper. This closure coincides with the commercial grouper closure established back in 2000. The NOAA Fisheries Service, author of the declaration, believes that a gag grouper population assessment compiled last August indicates the stock is being overfished. Dr. Roy Crabtree, the NOAA Fisheries Service's Southeast Regional Administrator, said, "There is no question that the closure is needed to protect and conserve these grouper populations."

When Tuffy Wheeler and his canine bass-fishing buddy, Booder, arrived at their favorite spot on Rodman Reservoir early Saturday morning, another angler was already anchored very nearby.

"I guess I had inadvertently found his best hole," Michael Bush would later say. Wheeler anchored a respectful distance away, on the spot he considered the sweetest in that area.

Both anglers free-lined wild shiners, letting them swim deep in the scattered hydrilla. Bites did not come fast, but when they did come, the fish were big. Bush and Wheeler released nine stout largemouths over the next few hours, including lunkers of 10-01, 7-06, and 7-04. They weighed the largest three on a hand-held digital scale and photographed each others' best fish while Booder leapt from boat-to-boat.

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

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