Big catches where you least expect it

Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 11:14 a.m.

Through the years, serious anglers develop a pretty good knowledge of the habits and hangouts of the fish they seek. Now and then, though, a popular species is caught far outside its known territory. Capt. Brian Smith happened upon such an out-of-place occasion last weekend.

The well-known Steinhatchee guide was out deep with a party when he saw on his sonar what appeared to be a bunch of fish over a bit of hard bottom 77 feet below. After they anchored over the spot, Capt. Brian's customers dropped threadfin herring to the bottom.

An immediate bite produced a fish. As the angler brought the fish over the side, he announced, “It's a trout.” The longtime guide responded, “It can't be a trout.”

After inspecting the fish, however, he agreed that it did appear to be a sand trout — the unspotted relative of the popular speckled trout that more inshore gulf anglers seek than all others. Another herring produced another “sandy” … and then a couple more 16-to-18 inch fish took bucktail jigs.

Because they were really after red grouper and red snapper, Smith pulled anchor and left. But we who have long wondered where the big sand trout go when they can't be found in the sand trout spots now have a clue.

Capt Brian, by the way, reports the more typical deep-water favorites are also doing well. Along with consistent red grouper action, he and his parties have caught several big red snapper up to 15 pounds since red snapper season opened June 1.

The Donnie Ellington party from Gainesville docked at the Sea Hag Marina last Sunday with limits of red snapper and several nice red grouper. They also released a few nice out-of-season gags that took frozen bait and live pinfish.

Capt. Joey Landreneau has been catching large redfish lately near Steinhatchee. Sunday, while the inshore guide push-poled his neighbor, Bill Stanley, through the clear shallows, Stanley caught a whopping 40-inch red with a topwater lure. Landreneau is always a threat to win in the inshore categories of Doug Johnson's Reeling For Kids Tournament going Friday and Saturday at Steinhatchee. But even though they are impressive, for sure, such red giants would not help his cause in the contest. The maximum length for redfish is 27 inches.

The tournament, benefiting the local Boys and Girls Clubs, has lots of inshore and offshore categories. The offshore competitors seem confident. But curiously, the inshore faction looking for winning areas and lures early this week reported having an unusually tough time locating large trout and upper-slot reds.

As always, it will be interesting to see who finds the right fish — inshore and offshore — to claim bragging rights in the pinnacle of Gulf Coast charity tournaments.

Might be worth a Saturday afternoon trip to Steinhatchee to watch the weigh-in excitement.

The annual Cobia Big Fish Tournament out of Homosassa and Crystal River last weekend drew a large field of 187 boats. Larger lings had been on the scarce side along this stretch of coast, but Butch Balengit did manage to locate a willing whopper. His 61.12-pound giant was the tournament winner, far outstripping the second and third-place fish that weighed in at 39.44 and 39.24 pounds. These were caught by Larry Naylor and Tony Abraham, respectively.

Ron Pigott and Nick and Frank Warrington have consistently made great catches for a couple of months, and the Hawthorne anglers kept up their sterling record Sunday. In water around 55-feet deep off Cedar Key, they took nine chunky red grouper averaging 10 pounds. Then, they added a pair of 25-pound cobia and released six smaller lings. The three experienced only one problem, the handles of their ice chest broke off as they tried to hoist the heavy catch into the truck bed.

Over on the Atlantic side, fishers working inland waters near Matanzas Inlet have been mighty happy with a major flounder bite that cranked up several days ago. Sunday, one angler told the folks at Devils Elbow he had caught 37 flounder, releasing all but 10. Another man docked with a limit of doormats up to 7 pounds, and said he caught a total of 20. After seeing big flounder catches all day, young Fletcher Hallett had to try for himself. In short order the Devils Elbow employee hauled in six good flatfish.

Saturday, June 16 will be Fathers Family Fishing Day at UF's Fishing for Success ponds. The family-oriented morning of fishing will be a great way for kids and their dads or grandads to celebrate the day. As always, the Family Fishing Day is free, open to the public and catch-and-release. For more, visit the Fishing for Success website.

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

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