Crystal River still dependable when cold fronts hit

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 10:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 at 10:57 p.m.

When the strongest cold fronts blow through, there are few spots that anglers can really depend upon to produce fish year after year. One of the best for folks seeking both fresh and saltwater fish is Crystal River. Here, the 72-degree spring water constantly pushing up and into King’s Bay, the river’s headwater pool, offers refuge for a multitude of species escaping nearby shallows that could be 20-degrees colder.

The great diversity of available fish in the gulf river was again demonstrated in a recent bass tournament held by the Bassmasters of Gator Country. The tightly-contested event was won by Keith Chapman, who docked with a five-bass limit weighing just shy of nine pounds. It was the wildlife that didn’t count toward club points, though, that had everybody talking at weigh-in.

Plenty of manatee and tarpon were spotted in the clear waters. Club anglers caught and released incidental redfish, ladyfish, jack crevalle, and trout. A pelican landed in Jason Howe’s boat … and the angler had a very hard time convincing the big bird to leave. Benny Beckham hooked and battled a large snook for several minutes until it finally broke his line near a waiting landing net held by tourney partner, Wally Grant. The men guessed the big linesider at about 20-pounds. “I didn’t mind losing the fish so much,” Benny said, “but I hated losing the eighteen-dollar Lucky Craft Pointer.”

Like a heated auditorium in the middle of a painfully cold world, King’s Bay is, and has been for centuries, a winter haven for marine animals of the gulf coast.

On Saturday the 10th, one of the few January days offering weather suitable for an offshore trip, Joe and Lana Angle found the near shore grouper in a feeding mood off Suwannee. In water just 23-feet deep, they caught gag grouper limits and released a few more fish of legal size. These were joined in the Angles’ fish box by a good mess of black sea bass and grunts. Lana’s first-ever grouper, a nice 29-incher, was a shining highlight.

Grouper fans are hoping for nicer weather soon, since their open season is winding down. In gulf waters, gag grouper will be off limits through February and March.

Choosing the week’s best freshwater fishing story was no problem.

Last week’s report covered Tim Clark’s fine speckled perch-catching day on Sampson Lake … but his week, the Gainesville angler made a considerably better catch on another area lake. Over recent weeks, Crescent and Rodman have been the two top speck-producing lakes in this part of Florida — and Clark decided to try Rodman on a windy Martin Luther King Day.

In the pool’s open water near the dam, Clark drifted minnows … with more than a little difficulty.

“The wind was bad,” he explained, “but I set up my drifts across a good spot where the water was about twelve feet deep. I had the minnows about eleven feet under floats. But the fast drift picked them up farther off the bottom — even though I was using quite a bit of lead. The wind was pushing me along fast, but the fish liked it fast. That surprised me, but it was a good thing since I couldn’t really slow the boat down.”

Clark was fishing alone, and there were no other boats around when he made the best speckled perch catch we have seen in a long while. By the time he made it by The Tackle Box to show off his fish, he had already given away part of his 25-fish limit. The 18 still in his cooler offered an inspiring sight to everyone around. On tested scales, the largest of the specks weighed 2-pounds, 12-ounces. There were two more that each pulled the needle around to the 2-pound, 3-ounce mark; and the smallest of the 18 fish weighed 1-02.

Most anglers tend to avoid fishing in unsavory weather. But, looking back, many of the all-time greatest catches I have seen and made have come in weather that offered a challenge of some kind. Tim’s catch counts as one more good example.

The speaker at the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s monthly meeting Tuesday, January 27th promises to bring local deep water anglers up to speed regarding a relatively new technique. Capt. Ron Barwick, Service Manager of Half Hitch Tackle Stores and field tester for Penn and Shimano will explain the latest tricks regarding “Deep Water Jigging” in Lecture Hall A at the UF Veterinary Academic Building.

Doors open at 7 p.m. and the meeting will begin at 7:30. For more, visit

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

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