Anglers reeling in reds, trouts


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 12:13 a.m.

Occasionally, an especially frigid winter night will actually kill significant numbers of fish along the North Florida coasts. Mullet are most susceptible to the cold, but speckled trout have been known to succumb to very low temperatures as well. Although last week’s hard freeze must have delivered quite an uncomfortable jolt, it was not severe enough to turn predator or grass-eater belly up.

In fact, a number of anglers made very good catches in Big Bend waters over the weekend that followed the cold spell. Surprisingly, trout and reds were found by fishers searching both deep and shallow.

Fishing out of the Steinhatchee River last Saturday, John Palmer and Bob Foster proved that the cold shock had not kept their favorite inshore targets inactive for long. The Gainesville fishermen pulled in several big redfish, plus a couple of trout up to 28-inches long. That the water temperature was only in the 50s did not seem to slow down the game fish that took a variety of artificial lures in skinny water.

Frank Merillat fished Steinhatchee last Sunday, casting slow-sinking Mirrolures in deeper water near the river mouth. The Gainesville angler had scored very well there for several trips running, and he continued his hot streak by boating 15 good trout.

East Coast anglers have apparently had a bit more trouble relocating the post-freeze trout. Mike Sherman and George and Jeff Collins decided to try for trout around lighted boat docks along Matanzas River in the inland waterway last Sunday night. The local experts weren’t really shocked that no hungry trout were present ... but were pretty surprised at the fish they did find in the 59-degree water. “There must have been a 100 bluefish on every dock,” Jeff explained, “and that’s all we caught.”

Saturday will be the last day for North Florida fishers to take speckled trout for a while, as the recreational harvest will close through February “to help maintain spotted seatrout abundance.”

Gag grouper season also closes after Saturday in the Gulf of Mexico, and will be off limits to recreational fishers through February and March.

While saltwater anglers might be bummed about the upcoming closed seasons, excitement is building among their freshwater-fishing counterparts. Prime time for catching bass and speckled perch in shallow water is at hand.

Since last week’s extended freeze, reports from Lochloosa, Orange and Newnan’s Lakes have included frequent mentions of thick-bodied specks being located in shallower cover such as grass, brush and lily pads.

Last Friday, Billy Smith of Gladding, Colo., fished pads on Lochloosa’s north end with pink and white crappie jigs to cull a nice 25-fish limit from the 37 total specks he boated. The same day, George Dekle showed off eight big specks at Lochloosa Harbor. The largest of these, a 2-pound, 7-ounce slab, fell for a live minnow. On Monday, Bill and Brenda Smith filled their combined 50-fish limit while using little jigs — again, in a bed of lily pads.

After seeing these nice catches, Lori and J.J. Pease took a break from fish camp duties to check out the Lochloosa fishing first hand. The white and pink jigs they fished in the north end produced 18 specks up to a pound and a half, plus three big bluegill.

The parking lots at both Newnan’s Lake access points had been fairly forsaken for months, until last weekend. Things changed quickly, and the word was out in a flash among a network of friends that enjoyed outstanding speck fishing on their home lake last spring. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Johnell Young of Gainesville was among the anglers on hand to check out the early-season crappie-catching prospects on Newnan’s. Fishing both minnows and jigs near brushy stickups, standing in water 2-to-2½ feet deep, Young put 25-fish limits on ice each day. The season’s first good speckled perch bite on Gainesville’s closest major lake qualifies as very good news, but Johnell’s last comment regarding his catches offered even more promise for area anglers. “The average size is way better than last year,” he grinned.

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

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