Different start to fishing year

Published: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 1:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 1:16 p.m.

The first hard freeze of the season finally pushed through after New Year’s Day, and maybe now things in our fishing world will move nearer to what we consider normal.

By the time the New Year arrives, North Florida speckled trout are supposed to be snugged up in deep holes in creeks or rivers along the Gulf Coast. Some fish, the inshore sages say, opt to winter out in water 20 or more feet deep. But the one place to forget about searching for winter trout is on the frigid, shallow flats.

This year, things have been different.

Last Thursday, Jim DuBois and a couple of visiting friends headed for the Waccasassa River, not a bad bet for a post-Christmas speckled trout trip. Action in the river, though, was poor. DuBois had just one more day to show his buddies some Big Bend trout. Because the fish weren’t in the river, he decided to try a warm-weather spot … on a Cedar Key grass flat. Friday, the three anglers drifted over crystal-clear water three feet deep near Seahorse Key while casting Gulp! grubs and Jerk Shads on quarter-ounce chartreuse jig heads. In short order, they filled limits of fat trout.

It’s unlikely that the trout will still be on the flats following the icy blast that arrived earlier this week, but DuBois’ success is still a reminder that, while we anglers often fish by the calendar, our quarry only reacts to current conditions.

A beautiful weekend at Suwannee saw lots happy redfishers, buoying the hopes of those planning to participate in the Santa Fe High School Raider Slam Saturday out of Suwannee Marina. The redfish and bass categories are likely to be real shootouts, as both of these species have been abundant and willing. Trout have not been as easy to locate here, but the mid-week cold front might finally have the fragile sportfish congregated in deeper spots.

Offshore gulf anglers have had uniform praise for the grouper fishing since the daily red grouper limit was increased a couple of weeks ago from two to four fish per recreational angler. Actually, the red grouper action is very good and the gag grouper bite is great. Unfortunately, gags are strictly off-limits.

Bobby Bounds, Lance Avera, Bruce Henley and Keith Gober were among the first Gainesville grouper seekers offshore after the limit was upped. Fishing frozen herring, sardines and squid at several stops in water from 47 to 75 feet deep, the four fishermen easily filled limits of chunky red grouper. They also released dozens of beautiful gag grouper that would have weighed up to 18 pounds.

“I’ve never released so many nice gags,” Bounds declared. As a rare hook-and-line bonus, Avera hauled in a nice hogfish.

The Gainesville crew returned to their best spot the following Thursday and harvested 12 more nice red grouper.

A drawn-down and crowded Rodman Reservoir remains the focal point for area freshwater fishers. Seven-feet low at present (as it is every three years or so) Rodman has been a mighty popular fishing destination since its temporary boat ramps went in a couple of weeks ago.

Ren Gallon of Gainesville has been one of the most faithful Rodman visitors since its lowering, and he maintains a finger on the fish-producing pulse of the pool. After launching Friday morning at Kenwood Landing, Gallon and a friend fished live minnows all day in water around 15-feet deep to take 38 big specks. Although the waterway was more crowded Saturday, the men found the fish in a better feeding mood than they had been the previous day. Just after noon they ramped out with 33 slabs already on ice.

Robert and Cody Black also found Saturday to be a great fish-catching day after launching Saturday at the Orange Springs access point. The Waldo father-and-son cast small crappie jigs with black and chartreuse grub tails in the river channel. At one spot next to a couple of stumps, they hauled in 15 big “fillet size” shellcrackers as fast as they could cast back to the spot.

After leaving the shellcracker stumps, they moved downriver a short distance to a sand bar. In this spot, they filled limits of speckled perch … and each hooked and battled a large bass. Rodman Reservoir might not be the place to go right now for angling solitude, but it has to be the best spot around for catching freshwater fish.

Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary’s Tackle Box at L & S Trim.

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