Time of year for good fishing

Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 12:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 12:26 p.m.

For a few weeks now, gulf anglers have known of their presence on scores of man-made and natural reefs off the Big Bend coast. And it seems that the catches of spawning sheepshead have only improved by the day.

David and Greg Robinson and Ron and Dillon Rhodes headed out to a Cedar Key artificial reef last Friday morning. After hearing of numerous successful trips to various reefs all along the coast, the Gainesville fathers and sons hoped to also find a bunch of banded spawners. They located the structure in water 21 feet deep, anchored on it, and tightlined shrimp pieces on the bottom through an incoming tide. In three hours, they had 31 stout fish up to eight pounds.

Saturday morning, Gene Watson and James Hodsdon launched at daybreak. The Alachua men ran out of Cedar Key over nearly slick seas to a reef in 29 feet of water. They used one-ounce egg sinkers set above foot-long leaders of 20-pound test clear monofilament, broke their shrimp in two and put the halves onto 2/0 Eagle Claw hooks. When the shrimp made it to the bottom, hungry fish were waiting. The men hauled in 51 sheepshead, putting 30 on ice. The largest was a whopper of nearly 10 pounds. By the time other boats started to arrive, the father-and-son team was ready to head back home with their double limit.

By Tuesday, the sheepshead bite had not diminished. Wilder Ruffin, Richard Stringfellow and Bob Weimer fished off Cedar Key aboard Richard's “Jenny Bell.” Again, conditions were near perfect, with seas at just a light chop. The Gainesville trio ran to one of the artificial reefs not far past Seahorse Reef, anchored up and sent shrimp down to the sunken cubes. In only an hour and a half, they had a 45-fish triple limit aboard —

and these were mostly large specimens in the 7-to-8 pound class.

Sheepshead action has been just as outstanding on the reefs off Steinhatchee, where few are docking without full limits of fish. Among the successful sheepshead fans who have descended on the community are folks seeking the standard inshore game fish. Saturday, five-year-old Gunner Gonzalez had a great day of fishing in a Sea Hag rental boat with his dad and mom, Joey and Valerie. The Interlachen family caught several trout and Spanish mackerel with sinking Mirrolures as they drifted over the clear grass flats. They also boated a nice flounder that Gunner found pretty fascinating.

Inshore anglers are reporting good speckled trout action in the shallows all along the coast. Even out of Suwannee and Cedar Key, where the flats are tannin-stained from a high-water Suwannee River event, trout are biting. Cedar Key Capt. Jim Keith has consistently put his parties on limit catches of upper-slot fish. In the darker water, he says, a noisemaking float such as the Cajun Thunder is a boon, and Saltwater Assassin Sea Shads in brighter colors like “Candy Corn” and “Green Moon” are most effective.

Red grouper season opened in gulf waters Monday. On Tuesday, Gary Lowell and son, John, ran offshore from Cedar Key with Chris Edwards and Trevor Miller of Ocala. They started fishing in water 45 feet deep and bounced out to spots as deep as 70 feet. Fishing cut mullet, the anglers boated and released several undersize red grouper, along with 12 big out-of-season gags. They also iced nine nice, legal reds up to 25 inches. The deeper they went, Gary said, the better the fishing was, possibly, he theorized, because the water temperature rose as they traveled farther west.

The long lasting shallow speckled perch bite continues on Newnan's Lake. Monday evening, Joe and Amy Richard slid their canoe into Newnan's at 5:30. They cast small jigs with chartreuse grubs set under small floats, concentrating on brush and vegetation not far outside the cypress-lined shore. And, by sunset, the Gainesville couple had boated and released 25 nice-sized specks.

On Lochloosa, the fastest-biting panfish is one found bedding in April more commonly. One persistent but unconfirmed report holds that a local angler recently pulled in a 50-fish limit of shellcrackers that weighed 75 pounds in total. If it's true, then that was one incredible panfish haul.

Mack Edwards fished Lochloosa on Monday. Like dozens of others, he was after the bedding redears. The Gainesville angler fished grass shrimp in a lily pad bed on the lake's northeast side to bag almost two dozen shellcrackers. The bream were large enough that the 23 fish completely filled a five-gallon bucket — with no water or ice.

In salt and freshwaters, the springtime bite is on.

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

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