Prime fishing season approaching


Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 3:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 3:00 p.m.

Freshwater action is finally heating up in local lakes and the much-needed rain that fell earlier this week will allow more anglers to enjoy it, as the most prime season for fishing approaches.

Though access at many boat ramps remains sketchy for larger vessels, any upward movement of a water line that has only moved downward for months is a big deal. And that line had moved up the bank a few inches by the end of this week.

The annual speckled perch spawn almost always peaks at the full moon of either January or February. This year, at least some of the nesting crappies got started at the first of the two lunar peaks and fishers have continued to find specks in the shallows since then.

On “full moon day” last Wednesday, Richard Bullwinkel and Mel Davidson fished water three feet deep in the north end of Orange Lake. The McIntosh men used Missouri minnows to catch 25 specks and four bass. The next day, Mike and Alicia Bass of Cross Creek tried their luck in lily pads on Lochloosa’s west side. The minnows they fished in the shallow pads yielded 20 slabs — all between one and two pounds. Then on Friday, Roger Elliott headed out of Twin Lakes Fish Camp just after noon to dip minnows among bonnets at the north end of Lochloosa. The veteran speck-catcher returned after just two hours of fishing with 15 good specks already in his ice chest.

Speckled trout will be off limits to North Florida saltwater anglers through the month of February. Casters looking to box up a few last open weekend fish might do well to head for the Steinhatchee River. Trout catches there were very good through last weekend, and especially Sunday, the nicer day, weather-wise.

As the tide turned and started to rise, bent rods could be seen all along the river, from its mouth, all the way up to channel marker 45. Anglers casting slow-sinking baits such as Mirrolures and Paul Brown Originals filled limits, as did jig fishers and folks at anchor with shrimp on the bottom. Trout reports from the other gulf rivers were less impressive.

Out of Homosassa, however, guides fishing rocky areas five to six miles out of the river mouth have located the first Big Bend spawning sheepshead of the year. This bite will soon spread to the traditional sheepshead spawning spots off Cedar Key, Suwannee and Steinhatchee, where the toothy battlers will likely replace trout as the top angling target for a few weeks. Homosassa Captains Gary Cox and William Toney and their parties both filled limits of hefty sheepshead Sunday.

And another report from Homosassa was equally uplifting. Members of the Homosassa Guides Association annually donate time to take children from Homosassa Elementary School for a day of fishing on the river. Last Wednesday, 52 kids and their chaperones hit the river with 15 guides. Using bait donated by MacRae’s Marina, they pulled in a few trout, redfish and various other interesting species. The children will now write papers about their experience.

Chuck Baldwin has dreamed of competing in bass tournaments since childhood. Saturday, the High Springs angler fished in his first — a small contest held by the Florida Bass club called “Bringers of Rain,” on Hernando Lake, at the north end of the Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes. Of the nine competing teams, Chuck was the only angler fishing solo. In his small Bass Tracker, he cast a Bomber crankbait along a stretch of lily pads through the cold morning hours to take his first fish, a nice four-pounder. Later in the day, he added a barely legal ‘squeaker’ to his total with a shallow-running jerkbait. Those two bass, though, would make up his total catch for the day.

The tournament rookie was sure that he had not done very well in his competition debut, and considered not even weighing in his meager catch.

“I was pretty embarrassed, really,” he said, “and I thought they might pick on me a little bit.”

But nobody at weigh-in was in a position to pick. In fact, none of the two-angler teams had a catch better than the one weighed in by Chuck Baldwin, a young angler with a perfect tournament record.

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

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