Low water not preventing big catches

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 12:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 12:40 p.m.

Some area anglers seem puzzled that Newnan’s Lake rose a bit in June, while Orange and Lochloosa lost water during the same stretch. The disparity has started a “sink hole has opened up again” rumor.

But the real answer might be found looking at monthly rainfall amounts for Alachua County (where Newnan’s lies) versus Marion County (Orange sits on Marion’s northern border). Through June 28, Alachua’s total stood at 7.74-inches, while the Marion total was 2.65.

Though the low water doesn’t help with angler access to the lakes, the fish-catching on Orange certainly doesn’t seem to be suffering.

In a Fish Tales Bass Tournament out of Heagy-Burry Park on Orange last Sunday, yet another world-class catch was brought to the weigh scales. Stephen Gray and Jody Marriott teamed up to bag a five-bass tourney limit weighing 35.98-pounds. Yep, that’s five averaging better than seven pounds.

The Gainesville pair cast topwaters early and then settled down in mixed vegetation with soft plastics to finish the giant limit. Marriott’s 11-pound, 11-ounce behemoth was the best of the five bigmouths — and the heaviest of the contest.

And Gray and Marriott didn’t run away with first place. The Ocala team of David Hunter and Keith Sells had a 33-plus pound limit of their own, anchored by a 10.25-pound lunker. Even in the blazing heat of summer, there are trophy-size bass to be pulled from Orange Lake.

Bream catches probably peaked last weekend with the June full moon. While bluegills typically make up the lion’s share of panfish taken from Orange and Lochloosa, some panfish specialists have also located active shellcracker beds. Buck Ruffin and Phil Widler of Gainesville fished Thursday on Orange, using grass shrimp for bait. They stopped back by The Tackle Box at 3 p.m. with around 80 nice bream in their live well. More than half were hefty shellcrackers.

These are worrisome times for everyone who loves the Gulf of Mexico, and especially for those who make their living from it. But you sure cannot say Florida officials aren’t doing what they can for the saltwater fishing community. Since the BP oil rig explosion, we have seen three “free fishing weekends,” the renewal period for saltwater commercial fishing licenses was extended, scallop season was moved up 12 days and the state’s fee for Saltwater Shoreline Fishing Licenses was done away with. Most recently, the FWC issued an executive order to waive four previously scheduled 10-day blue crab trap harvest closures in July and August. They explained the move was to “relieve possible economic hardships on fishing communities.”

This all adds up to more concessions than we would normally see in years.

Gulf fishing remains good in our Big Bend stretch coast. Good speckled trout takes are common out of every port, and it’s still a very worthwhile bet to try for redfish and Spanish mackerel. Scallops are in excellent supply in the clear shallows near Steinhatchee and Homosassa.

Offshore, fine grouper and snapper action remains par. And, as is often the case, the farther offshore, the better.

Ken and Kenneth Tenney ran far out of Cedar Key last Friday with Doug Bily, Dwayne and Robbie Mumford, and Nate Weber. Around 83-miles off the Cedar Key headpin, the men slowed to study the fascinating bottom structure of the Florida Middle Grounds. The best spot they located was a 133-foot deep valley with 103-foot deep ‘walls’ on either side. Here, they pulled up vermillion, lane, mangrove and red snapper and gag and red grouper. By early Saturday they had a beautiful catch highlighted by a dozen red snapper the likes of which don’t come in to port often at Cedar Key. Most weighed in the mid-to-upper teens.

But anglers don’t have to run far at all to battle big gulf bruisers. This has been an exceptional year for big kingfish, and now, their fellow heavyweights — cobia and tarpon — are on hand. UF Fisheries faculty Mike Allen took friend and colleague, John Douglas and his sons, Blake and Scott, out of Cedar Key last Saturday. The Douglas men were visiting from Australia.

Not far from the island community, they located a pod of tarpon. Using cut bait, the four anglers jumped six fish and caught, photographed, and released two — one brought to the boat by each of the younger Aussies. The angling host estimated Blake’s fish at 80-pounds, while 16-year-old Scott whipped a giant, acrobatic silver king they figured to be in the 130-to-150-pound class.

“The guys from Down Under think the Big Bend is a pretty special place,” Allen said.

Amen to that.

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

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