AREA FISHING REPORT

Newnans Lake produces noteworthy catch


Published: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 12:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 12:58 p.m.

Which is the more impressive fish: A 60-pound Big Bend cobia or a pound-and-a-half bream from a local lake?

Many would pick the ling — an impressive fish, incredibly powerful and sought by saltwater sportfishers everywhere they exist. But several examples of this size are caught from Crystal River to Steinhatchee every year. Until last Friday, I had seen only one bluegill of this size from any lake within 40 miles of Gainesville. Shellcracker of this size are fairly common … but not bluegill.

All this musing started last Friday when Gainesville angler, Charles Moore, better known locally as “Coach Moore,” came in the store with a dark, saucer-shaped fish in an extra-large ziplock bag. It seems he had been fishing Newnans Lake, using a telescoping fiberglass pole and tight-lining grass shrimp with a bare line only three-feet long.

He was catching nice-sized fish when this unusually large specimen bit. When he hooked it, Moore wasn't at all sure that this was another bluegill.

“At first, I thought it must be a tilapia,” he said.

It was, though, undeniably a bluegill. The bream might not have impressed every fisher, but it sure dropped my jaw.

I figured it had to weigh around a pound and a half … and, sure enough, on our brand-new Normark digital hand-held scale, the whopping “blue bream” weighed 1.54-pounds.

In August of 2006, Kenny Gaskins brought in to the old Tackle Box the biggest bluegill I've ever seen pulled from a Gainesville-area lake … a fat Orange Lake whopper that weighed an even two pounds. Coach Moore's dinner plate-sized fish ranks as the biggest since then — and the very largest from Newnans.

I launched Monday evening at Newnans to see how Gainesville's nearest major lake was looking. I was pleased to see the water so high … only a couple of feet from spilling out into the Powers Park parking lot. In the south end alone, cane pole fishers in more than a dozen boats swung live baits out around mixed vegetation and flooded brush.

Everyone said they had been catching plenty of big bream.

We who were around here back in the 1960s remember a state whose freshwater stood at levels higher that those we consider normal today.

Water seemed to always be standing in roadside ditches, and this had been the case for so long that fish lived and thrived in some of them. In some spots, it wasn't uncommon to see folks with cane poles sitting by the highway, pulling in catfish and bream.

After enduring just the opposite trend with only short term high water events for a couple of decades, North Florida is again soggy.

And, since this comes on the heels of a year with above-average rainfall, the high water might actually last a while.

However, with so many using Florida's freshwater supply, even an extended wet spell won't keep our surface water high for as long as it once did.

Many Florida sportspeople prefer to target the big pond that never goes dry.

The gulf scallop crop seems to be a good one this year in both of the Big Bend shellfishing hotspots — the northern one running several miles above and below Steinhatchee, and the southern, centered in the flats off Crystal River. Snorkelers seem to be filling scallop limits more quickly out of Crystal River. But that's not necessarily because more shellfish are nestled in the grass beds of the southern scalloping grounds. When they find clear enough water in the Steinhatchee area, snorkelers have collected all they could legally take there, as well.

Capt. Brad Riddle says he thinks the rain-darkened zones on the Steinhatchee flats are clearing every day. With a first-time scalloping party from Jupiter, Capt. Brad located a clear area north of the river Tuesday. The guide said, “When the sun popped out, you could see them on top of the grass all over.” The group was happy to harvest 7 gallons of the prized shellfish.

Richard McDavid of Sea Hag Marina says scallop limits are coming in commonly from a large, clear area north of Steinhatchee between the “Bird Rack” and Big Grassy Island. Trevor and Hayden Rhodes of Trenton enjoyed their first scalloping trip with several family members last Thursday. Each of the young men filled big bags with blue-eyed bivalves.

Hook-and-line fishers are outnumbered at Steinhatchee these days, but they are still faring just fine. Last Friday local fishers, Charlie and Carol Walters were catching smallish trout on a grass flat four-and-a-half feet deep with Gulp! shrimp when something considerably larger took Carol's float under. The big fish would later weigh 5.53-pounds — a heck of a summertime “gator trout.”

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

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