Warm winter ignites speckled trout action

Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 9:34 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 9:34 a.m.

Most gulf anglers would consider the first week in March a bit early to expect fast speckled trout action on the flats from Waccasassa to Steinhatchee.

Following a warmer winter, things might be different this year.

The sea grasses that attract baitfish and beckon early season trout back into the shallows are still a bit thin and patchy, but there is more end-of-winter grass than usual---and more fish, too.

When I called Capt. Jim Keith on Tuesday, he said big numbers of trout are already in their warm-weather hangouts.

“Everything seems to be ahead of schedule”, he explained.

To underscore that assessment, the popular guide reported his Friday and Saturday parties caught plenty of trout on the flats. Then, following an extremely windy Sunday his clients, a local angler and his son-in-law visiting from Alaska, really whacked the trout Monday. Despite another in the string of blustery days, more than 100 speckled trout came over the sides of Capt. Jim’s 24-foot Carolina Skiff. As is often the case early in the season, the fish were mostly small … and the anglers were able to harvest only 11 legal trout, plus a Spanish mackerel. Bass Assassin Sea Shads fished under Cajun Thunder rattling floats did the trick.

Dan Orr can attest to the presence of trout in the sheltered Big Bend backwaters, as well. The Gainesville angler launched his kayak last Thursday at Shired Island. An anglers range in a kayak is always somewhat limited, but the strong breeze that day further restricted his reach. Opting to stay in sheltered waters near the launch site, Orr cast white shrimp tails on light jig heads to catch and release eight trout.

While still a tad early for the best big-trout bite, gulf sheepshead fans know that this should be prime time to find the banded heavyweights out on natural and artificial reefs in water 10-to-20 or so feet deep from Cedar Key to Steinhatchee. The early March winds have, however, effectively held the anglers away from the spawning fish.

One unnamed group of determined Steinhatchee sheepseekers proved Monday that the fish are, indeed, right where everybody thinks they should be. Libby Patterson of Sea Hag Marina explains: “Three guys picked up shrimp and fiddlers from us Monday morning and headed for Steinhatchee Reef in 20-knot winds. I wasn’t sure how that would go, but later that afternoon they were back buying fillet knives to dress their 40 sheepshead.”

Intrepid Homosassa anglers also scored in Monday’s bluster. Capt William Toney and his party took limits of trout — plus several Spanish — while casting white Mirrolure Little John lures.

Alachua angler, Carlton Annis, fished Monday with Capt. Glen Touchton out of Ozello. The trout that day were unusually scarce, but the redfish cooperated quite well. With live shrimp and pinfish, the anglers boated and released 20 “slot size” reds between 18 and 27 inches long.

Wally Grant and Keith Chapman fished for bass on Lake Santa Fe last Saturday. The Gainesville men employed several techniques and spots during their day on the water, casting crankbaits, swimbaits and worms in shallow cover, over sand bars and on deep brush. While they caught fish with every variation, the best fish of the day, a fat six-pounder, took a crankbait on a shell bar.

Interestingly, during the time they spent in open water, Chapman and Grant watched anglers in another boat casting an Alabama Rig — a multi-lure contraption that has become all the rage among tournament anglers in some parts of the country. To their surprise, one of the fishermen chunking the unwieldy rig did catch a nice bass.

There are two public boat ramps on Lake Santa Fe. While the Melrose ramp on the south end is still usable (with difficulty), the north end ramp on Little Santa Fe offers easier access and a deeper canal out to the lake.

Local bass fans will be excited to learn that bass fishing’s newest superstar, Chris Lane, will be on hand at Millers Boating Center on Saturday for their 21st Boat Show and Fishing Expo. The brand new Bassmaster Classic champion will join a slew of fellow fishing icons at Millers, located on Highway 441 just north of Ocala. The show runs from Friday through Sunday. Visit millersboating.com for more.

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

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