Spanish mackerel arrive on area waters

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.

Something about fishing “firsts” brings a spark to the eye of the avid angler. From the opening of grouper season to the initial reports of warm-weather bream beds, fishers celebrate learning of new catching opportunities.

That's why the following report is likely to brighten a few days.

Last Friday, Capt. Jim Keith and his party were fishing the grass flats well off Snake Key when what must have been Cedar Key's first wave of Spanish mackerel arrived. Capt. Jim's clients for the day were newlyweds, Charles and Amber Finch of Oviedo.

Despite darkening water from a flooding Suwannee River, the fishers bagged a fine catch of sand and speckled trout. While they were catching trout, several of their brightly colored Saltwater Assassin grubs were cut off by unseen, sharp-toothed predators. And they brought four mackerel to the boat and ice chest.

While the arrival of mackerel is good news, the stained river water is a negative to keep an eye on. If the water clarity deteriorates further, the fishing that has lately improved fast is likely to go the other way.

Gulf fishers concentrating in the Horseshoe Beach area also have reported plenty of success, mostly with big numbers of trout. For a while longer, though, the brightest Big Bend spotlight will be on sheepshead. When the thick-bodied nibblers gather on offshore reefs to spawn, the fish-catching free-for-all can be remarkable. And that catching is wide open.

The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club's annual Sheepshead Shootout was scheduled pretty much perfectly this year. Twenty seven members participated and 18 of them brought fish to the weigh scale at Suwannee Marina. The top three individual sheepshead were taken by Phil Horn (an 8.06-pounder), Brittany Rothfolk (7.92), and Jack Cutright (6.15).

Steinhatchee seems to be home base for most successful sheepshead seekers. Last Friday, Mickey Ciavola, Ned Friis, Buster Van Zant and Jimmy, Melanie and Miranda Deuel took fiddler crabs 9.5 miles south out of the Steinhatchee River mouth. Once anchored, the six Keystone Heights casters hauled in 36 fish, all above 2.5-pounds. The Keystone group was one of many parties that loaded up on the light-biting convict fish. Nita Chester and Susan Adams, though, couldn't get a bite Friday on Steinhatchee Reef, even though people around them were pulling in fish. That evening, they sought advice from Capt. Brian Smith, who suggested they downsize their tackle and rigs.

The determined women returned to the spot early Saturday morning, and with lighter gear, they hauled in 10 stout sheepshead in the 5-to-6 pound range before the other boats started to arrive on the reef.

Anglers looking for shallow water trout are quietly finding their fish. Saturday, Ray Berkshire headed south out of the river in his shallow-water, Go-Devil-powered vessel. He was really looking for redfish, but had to be pleased with the whopping trout he found instead in Days Creek. Berkshire cast Gulp! baits in the New Penny color to fool five big fish. He kept only the largest, a “Gator trout” that would weigh 6.15-pounds on the Sea Hag scale.

In local freshwaters, the top bass (and bass tournament) season has arrived. Impressive weekend catches were reported from the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers, and from Santa Fe and Lochloosa Lakes.

Heavy South Georgia rainfall a few weeks back took the Suwannee River to flood stage. While the water is this high, the river bass are generally hard to find. An Xtreme Bass Series Tournament was scheduled for Sunday out of Fanning Springs, but the high water forced the directors to move the site to the Town of Suwannee, at the river mouth.

Few expected catches to be good, but Joey Wood and Lee Kitchens surprised everyone with a five-bass catch that weighed 20.58 and included a single lunker of 7.93-pounds. Second and third-place catches were good, too, at 15.19 and 13.61.

The water that had been this area's top bass producer, meanwhile, turned tough when the BASS Nation Northeast Qualifier went to Rodman Reservoir last Saturday. Practice trips through the week had been outstanding for many, and expectations for a big-weight shootout were high. But things rarely go as expected in bass tournaments. Bassmasters of Gator Country member, Chris Heron prevailed with a five-bass limit weighing 13.46-pounds. Fellow BMGC angler, Jim Keith won on the non-boater side with an 11.28-pound limit. Not bad catches at all, but far short of all predictions.

The coming weekend will offer Rodman a couple of good chances for redemption. Saturday, this area's longest-running annual bass tournament, the Gator Open, goes out of Kenwood. Then on Sunday, the Military Support Group of Alachua County will hold its 3rd Benefit Bass Tournament.

It's a good bet one or both of these tourneys will produce eye-popping catches.

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

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