Anglers fight past cold spell


Published: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2008 at 12:20 a.m.

Area anglers knew that the frigid front that blew through North Florida last week would have a big effect on the fishing scene. The only question was how dramatic that effect would be.

For the most part, game fish seemed to handle the extended freeze pretty well, escaping in fine enough shape to bite well in the days that followed.

Jim Myles of Micanopy and Doug Hancock of Alachua found the big trout in a feeding mood south of the Steinhatchee River last Sunday morning around low tide. Casting white plastic twitchbaits in very shallow water, they boated 30 trout (with most more than 20-inches long) and also released a couple of legal redfish.

It was apparently the shallower tidal creeks in the long stretch of coast from Suwannee to Waccasassa Bay that saw the worst works of the cold snap. When I called Spek Hayward of the Waccasassa Fishing Club on Tuesday, he didn’t bother to break the news gently.

“We have thousands of dead mullet out there,” he said flatly. “Most of ’em are in the creeks between the (Waccasassa) river and Turtle Bay. In a couple of creeks, the grassy edges are white with mullet bellies.”

Fortunately, Hayward and his friends have not seen any belly-up species other than mullet — and these are almost altogether small mullet. Still, like all old Florida salts, Spek loves mullet and understands the importance of this one fish to the big picture of coastal health. He muttered with heartfelt melancholy, “It couldn’t have happened to the damn catfish.”

Russell Elliott witnessed a similar scene Monday on a trip to Suwannee. Although he caught plenty of trout, the veteran angler was unhappy to see a multitude of fish that had succumbed to the rapid drop in water temperature.

“The bottom’s littered with dead mullet in spots from East Pass to Shell Mound,” he reported.

Out deep, weekend grouper catches seemed as good as ever. The best results, though, did come from a little farther offshore.

Homosassa Capt. Bill Musser guided a party of four to hefty grouper limits Sunday. Musser’s group fished Spanish sardines in water 45-feet deep.

Capt. Bill Blair’s five-person weekend party filled grouper limits while bottom-fishing in about 70 feet of water off Cedar Key. But that’s nothing unusual for Capt. Bill. Dating to early November, his customers have taken grouper limits on 13 consecutive trips.

During a post-Christmas fishing trip with relatives to Crystal River, George Papadi pulled off a personal fishing first. Along with visiting relatives, the Gainesville angler was content to catch ladyfish and jack crevalle in the clear, spring-fed waters of Kings Bay while casting a variety of minnow-imitating lures. With light spin tackle, these objectives were plenty formidable, but a tougher foe would also find Papadi’s Yozuri Minnow.

Next to an often-productive bush on an island, the lure was engulfed by something big and fast. When the angler managed to turn the powerful fish away from the submerged hazard it made a beeline for the boat, where a rod-bending stalemate ensued for the next five minutes.

Finally tired, the fish came out and to the surface and Papadi was able to land a beautiful snook with a lip-gripper tool. After being measured at 32-inches and held briefly for a photo, the highlight of a happy anglers’ good fishing season swam away.

Now in its fully drawn-down state, Rodman Reservoir is the best all-around North Florida freshwater fish-catching destination. Kenny Brown and Cedric Ferguson are among the Gainesville anglers regularly taking advantage of the fast bite. Launching at Orange Springs, the men have a productive routine as they work spots along the Barge Canal cut that dissects the pool.

“We pull up and beach the boat, then put out minnows in the deeper water,” Kenny explained. Both Saturday and Sunday, their minnows produced nice catches consisting of speckled perch, bluegill, warmouth and catfish.

Michael Bush of Gainesville fished Rodman last Thursday with his dad, Jim Bush of Crestview. Yes, that was the windy day after the 20-degree freeze.

“We waited until 9 to go out, but it was still freezing,” laughed Michael, “and we only saw one other boat.”

The Bush’s dedication would pay off handsomely. They anchored their boat in vegetation on the edge of the old Ocklawaha River channel and freelined wild shiners.

“When I finally did get a bite just after noon, it was the fish I’ve been looking for,” said Michael. On his Boga Grip, the lunker weighed 10 pounds, 4 ounces. After a quick photograph, the men slipped the big bass back into the chilly river channel.

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