Chill should heat things up for spring fishing

Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 12:15 a.m.

The big chill that arrived this week should really shake things up in the North Florida fishing world. Fish might not respond positively at first, but the cold shock is likely to produce considerable benefits in the long run. The best spring fishing seasons always seem to follow colder winters. And the decent rainfall just ahead of the cold blast was another much-needed blessing.

Local anglers seek two fish most avidly following a major cold front — and both are often referred to as “specks.” That’s speckled trout in coastal salt waters and speckled perch in the freshwater lakes.

The speckled perch fishing buzz has quieted a bit locally since the flurry of good catches around the Crappie USA tournament almost two weeks ago. But the drastic cool down should change that.

Pre-spawn specks typically become considerably friskier when water temperatures fall, and this freeze should do the trick. Feeding up for their soon-to-come spawn, most specks are presently in the open water depths in area lakes.

Almost all of the top catches taken recently from Orange, Lochloosa, Santa Fe, Rodman, and Crescent Lakes have been pulled from deeper locales. While the same should be true on Newnan’s Lake, some puzzling mystery makes the open water specks on that lake very hard to locate and catch. When the specks make their move into the shallows in a few weeks, fish-catching here will immediately resume and Gainesville’s closest major lake will again become a top speckled perch fishing destination.

The above-mentioned larger bodies of water handle the lion’s share of speck fishing traffic, but several smaller and less-fished lakes including Crosby, Hampton, Sampson, and Wauburg are also popular with crappie seekers.

Tim Clark stopped by The Tackle Box Tuesday with a dozen big Lake Sampson specks that he fooled while drifting minnows in a chilly, drizzling rain. We weighed the largest of the thick slabs at 2-pounds, 3-ounces.

In winter, crappie experts set up drifts, allowing the breeze to push their boats along while they fish crappie jigs or live minnows. Most have multiple lines out and, at first, set the baits at varying depths.

The speed at which the baits are pulled is important. If the day is calm, they might use a trolling motor to move the baits along more quickly. If it’s very windy, they sometimes use the electric motor for the opposite purpose — pointed into the wind to slow down the drift.

When the bites start coming it becomes apparent where, in the water column, the fish are hanging.

Once they get a read on this, the anglers set more — or all — of the rigs to that depth. The fish do, however, often move up or down in the column through the day. Local speck fishers can glean a few valuable tips from comments made by Daryl Cole, one of the Crappie USA winners in the Semi-Pro Division two weeks ago. Cole said, “We were spider-rigging and slow-trolling at about .6 or .7 mph and caught most of our fish on orange/chartreuse or pink/chartreuse Ron’s Zip Jigs. Early in the morning, the fish were right near the surface. Later, they dropped to about three feet down.”

Speckled trout fans on both coasts like to see cold snaps, since their thin-skinned favorites predictably gang up in deeper holes when the shallows cool quickly. Even through the unseasonably-warm conditions that persisted through the earliest weeks of winter, speckled trout dutifully reported to many of the gulf rivers and deeper creeks.

But, following an unusually-chilly fall season, even more fish had moved back out to nearby shell bars and grass beds.

Saturday, Paul Hildebrand and Denny Smith fished out of Cedar Key. The men located hungry redfish right away and caught several good fish quickly. With red limits filled, they decided to try for trout in and around tidal creeks. The reds, though, continued to bite best. Along with one solitary 20-inch ‘speck,’ several more reds were unhooked and released. When the Gainesville anglers did connect with another trout just outside a creek, it was a fish of eye-popping proportions. The whopping trout that took the shrimp Smith floated in a cut between oyster bars would weigh 6.26-pounds on certified scales and rank as one of the largest Big Bend trout reported so far this season.

Just 8-ounces shy of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s all-time record gulf trout, it was a great catch to start the new year.

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