Scallop season gets an early jump
Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:34 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 11:34 a.m.
Annual season openings always generate plenty of excitement, and folks have been fired up for the start of scallop season for a while now. But imagine being an excited child at Christmas time and learning that the big day would be arriving early.
To avid shellfishers, Florida Governor Rick Scott must have sounded a bit like Santa on Wednesday when he announced gulf scallop season would be lengthened … moved up two days to commence Saturday.
The water clarity is fine (notably better than last year), preseason scouting reports suggest healthy numbers of bivalves present, and the weekend weather forecast doesn't look bad. Sounds like the scalloping season will start with a bang Saturday — two days early.
Monday, another much-anticipated season, this one for gag grouper, will open as scheduled. For weeks, offshore anglers seeking in-season red grouper and snappers have reported catching and releasing bunches of big gags in water ranging from 35-to-100 feet deep.
Finished after today, the gulf red snapper season seemed more productive early on than toward its end. But the final-week snapper seekers caught some noteworthy fish aside from their primary red targets.
Last Saturday, Gainesville's Capt. Wiley Horton took four visiting anglers out from Steinhatchee. Tyler Dean, Jordan Johnson, Morgan Lewis and Josh McCarty, all from Douglas, Ga., were picking up occasional red and lane snapper and red grouper while at anchor on one of Capt. Wiley's productive spots.
While the Georgia anglers sent their baits to the bottom 85 feet below, Horton set out a “flat line” with a live baitfish near the surface. This resulted in a drag-screaming strike and, eventually, a big 40-pound kingfish for McCarty. Once this fish was unhooked, the guide chunked out another weightless baitfish. And just a few minutes later, the drag-ripping scene was repeated. This king would be an eye-popping 48-pound “smoker” that Dean bought to gaff. Kingfish of this class don't often come along back-to-back.
Gainesville anglers Ken Knopf, Ed Ellett and Don Hickman made the long run out of Steinhatchee to the spot where Knopf recently set a Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club kingfish record. Like the Horton group two days earlier, they found the snapper fishing to be slow. But live pigfish set out under Knopf's innovative slip float rig again drew interest from king mackerel. Ken and Ed each took a 23-pound fish.
Big Bend hook-and-line anglers thought they had one more weekend to cast for trout and mackerel before the shellfishing and grouper-digging armies descended on west coast launch sites. Now, the inshore casters might consider ports like Suwannee, Cedar Key and Waccasassa since big crowds will surely flock to the clearer scalloping shallows out of Keaton Beach, Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach, Crystal River and Homosassa.
Last Sunday, John Stork and Jane Inouye of Gainesville fished out of Suwannee with Mike Fowler of Bronson. On the big area known as “Spotty Bottom” a few miles out of the river, the three found a feeding frenzy with baitfish terrorized by toothy predators from below and by birds from above. The jigs they cast were tracked down by mackerel so regularly that Stork said it became a game of “cast and try to get your lure back.” They filled an ice chest with nice-sized mackerel and also sand and speckled trout. When they returned to the same spot Monday in similar conditions, the melee had quieted.
Rodney Rucker has seen the water level rise dramatically and quickly during recent trips to the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers. He has also been surprised to see the panfishing remain very good. Saturday, flyrodding the newly established Suwannee shoreline just above the Santa Fe River mouth with sons, Rodney Jr. and Thad, produced 25 unusually large redbellies. Then Tuesday, the Ruckers fished a couple of miles up the Santa Fe. Again, the little popping bugs the Gainesville trio laid against the river bank drew steady strikes. They boated more than 100 of the brightly colored bream.
Competing in the Junior Bassmasters Florida Championship last weekend on Lake Okeechobee, Trenton Penuel showed his stuff. The Ocala 17-year-old tallied more than 20 pounds on his five-bass Day One limit (anchored by a fine 7.5-pounder). Then on Day Two, Trenton hauled in the tournament's largest-single bass, an 8.81-pound whopper that anchored a 16-plus-pound bag of fish. With his impressive two-day catch, the young angler finished atop the 90-angler field to win the event. Now he will advance to the Junior Bassmasters National Championship next April on Lake Eufaula in Alabama. Gainesville's Freddy Pearson served as the Trenton's boat captain for the tourney and said, “Trenton is a really versatile angler — a natural talent.” The competitive bass fishing world will most likely hear more from Trenton Penuel.
Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary's Tackle Box at L & S Auto Trim.