Homosassa to Steinhatchee
Includes Homosassa, Crystal River, Yankeetown, Waccasassa Bay, Cedar Key, Suwannee, Horseshoe Beach, Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach
Home Is Where The Boat Is…
It was good to be down in “Ray Markham” territory this past Friday and Saturday. Ray writes the West Central version of Florida Sportsman’s Fishing4Casts and I don’t get to get down to Tampa Bay, where I grew up, very often. So, with rain clouding the waters of the Big Bend at the end of the week, Capt. Rick Davidson and I packed up our fly rods and loaded his Young GulfShore 20 onto the trailer and headed south to fish the annual Salty Fly Tournament in Ruskin, on the eastern shore of Tampa Bay. Billed by promoter Sam Root as the “World’s Largest Saltwater Fly Fishing Tournament” a big crowd of about 200 anglers gathered to fish the waters of Tampa Bay on what was a spectacular Saturday. And despite the slow, 2-tide day, lots of nice reds and trout were caught and their photos entered. The winners Team Fly4Fishing (Chris Hargiss and Manfred Pailer) returned with their two reds and one trout measuring 83.25 inches—a great testament to their casting skills and fish-finding abilities.
Of course, Rick and I were having a grand time exploring the mangroves when the phone rang. Our buddy, Dr. Barrett, was calling to let us know he’d found reds at Steinhatchee and that the topwater bite was “on”. So, with the chance to fish our home waters on Sunday, we opted to get up at 4 a.m. (Which was really 3 with the time change!), we headed north and were on the water at Steinhatchee by 9. There, we found some reds in the clear well north of the river and away from the stained runoff that was turning the river to coffee.
All in all, the trip to Tampa was fun, but we’re spoiled by the fact that our Big Bend boat ramps are less crowded and by the fact that we don’t normally have to fish within a quarter-mile of other boats. We just had to prove the point that home is where the boat is kept, not necessarily where you take it!
Seeing lots of roadside ditches on the Big Bend filled with rainwater generally means one thing—the runoff will soon reach the shore via the creeks and rivers. The net result is water along the riverfronts and swampy shorelines that looks more like coffee or tea than gin or vodka. Personally, I don’t think the reds or trout leave the area, but I do know that they have a harder time seeing any bait that you throw near them. In clean, clear water, lure color likely makes a difference and you can get away with chartreuse or bone colors. But if the water’s brown, stick with dark plugs—even black flies or spoons work well and show up better. But there are two things that will help you get inshore fish to pay attention if the water’s dark—smell and noise. If you throw topwater plugs consider ones like Rapala SkitterWalks, Heddon Spooks or MirrOlure Top Dogs. All of these have rattles and even their treble hooks make some noise as you work the lure. Suspending and slow-sinking lures like Rapala Flat Raps, MirrOlure Catch 2000s or Live Target Scaled Sardines all have good noisemakers built in. If you’re bound and determined to use a D.O.A. shrimp or an Airhead, consider putting a glass bead rattle in the hole made by the hook. In addition to, or as an alternative to using live or cut bait (which might be best is the water is particularly nasty!), consider using stinky Gulp! New Penny shrimp or give your lure a coating of Pro-Cure gel or Lunker Sauce.
While inshore fishing is heating up, the calm seas between rainy days have been good to anglers wishing to head offshore. Sheepshead are still willing to bite, with the “bite” moving north towards Steinhatchee and slowing down south. However, offshore folks can still get to rocks and structure in the 30 to 40-foot depths and take home plenty of black sea bass and “Florida snapper” (grunts!). I urge everyone not to scoff at these two species, as I feel that despite their size, both are excellent table fare. You’ll have to do lots of cutting, but the end product is worth it. And if you want a real tug on your line, find a wreck or ledge and tease up some amberjacks or red grouper.
This weekend’s tides show a perfect bell curve on the graph. With low-lows in the morning and high tides ripping in by early afternoon, expect water to be moving quickly and the inshore bite close to points and creek mouths. I’d delay leaving too early in the mornings, though. Wait for the sun to warm up the water and head out after a leisurely breakfast!
News From Around The Bend
In my ongoing quest to visit as many of the independent fishing tackle shops in our area as I can this spring, I spent Monday morning at Alachua Farm and Lumber on NW 145th Avenue in downtown Alachua. There, owners Wayne and Linda Tanner offer an excellent all-around selection of fishing gear. The “Fishing Department” is lined with racks full of Bass Assassin, Rapala, MirrOlure, Rapala, Live Target and Berkley Gulp! lures. I was lucky in that Greg MacLean, the salesman from Big Rock Sports, a major tackle distributor, was in the store making his weekly assessment of AFL’s tackle needs and was able to give me a good idea of what lures and tackle are currently popular. Greg said that while MirrOlure TTs had been popular throughout the cold months, AFL would start selling more Catch 2000s now that the Gulf waters were warming up. In terms of soft baits, Gulp! 5-inch jerk shads in “Pink Shine” has been a best seller recently (at the incredible low price of 4 bags for $20!), paired up with Bass Assassin jig heads. In addition to terminal tackle, AFL also sells complete lines of Shimano and Penn reels, Star Rods, and both Yeti and Engel coolers. And if you’re a fresh water angler, their selection of freshwater gear is equal to that in the saltwater section.
Do you want to know the only problem I have with shopping at AFL for fishing gear? The simple answer is that I have to hang on to my wallet as I pass through the hunting department to get to the fishing department. That’s a good problem to have!
An event this Saturday is the 13th Annual Steinhatchee Community Fishing Tournament. With a relatively inexpensive $30 entry fee and some nice cash prizes, this popular tournament attracts anglers from all over Florida’s Big Bend and Nature Coast. The event is co-sponsored by the Taylor County Tourism Council and the Steinhatchee Community Projects Board. For complete information, take a look at fish.naturalnorthflorida
Recent Fishing Reports
Homosassa: Capt. William Toney
I discovered some new areas on where sea trout are on the outgoing tides. I believe this is a seasonal thing but very productive. Homosassa Bay is bordered by gravel and sandbars running north and south of the channel, when the tide is ripping out I’ve had good action on the east side of these bars. The trout are waiting for bait to be pushed up against the shallow face of the bar and staging there. I have fished sea trout this way in other parts of the state and maybe just have been passing it by here in my own backyard. To try to catch some trout this way, find a likely bar, it will have a visible current flowing over it and look like a yellow ribbon. Anchor in front of it and use a 1/8-ounce jig to fan cast the east side of the bar. The best bait that I have use is the D.O.A. CAL Shad glow/gold rush.
Large trout are still sunning on the rocks during high tide and I have been catching some redfish mixed in with them. Most of the redfish are small but provide some good action. I have been getting the redfish on a Eppinger Rex ¼-ounce gold spoon and some of the gator trout on a MirrOlure MirrOdine. High incoming tide this weekend will be a strong one in the afternoon with a full moon.
Cedar Key: Capt. Jimbo Keith
Hey there folks! The big trout have finally shown up in Cedar Key along with a few nice reds and Spanish mackerel.
We are still catching them on the flats that have grass on them. The bigger trout and the reds are on the oyster bars. Saltwater Assassin’s Green Moon still seems to be the hot color.
Homosassa: Capt. Don Chancey
February has brought a lot of great trout fishing along Florida’s nature coast. As the weather warms up during the transition period from winter to spring, fishing shallow rocks on bright sunshiny days will continue to produce trout measuring more than 20 inches. The best bait has been white DOA jerk bait and the best feeding time is on an incoming tide. On recent trip with clients we were able to sight cast for trout, as conditions were perfect, clear water, no wind and bright sunshine allowed us to work the shallow water rocks in less than two feet of water.
The redfish action has been continuously getting better as the water warms up fish are lingering around the outside rocky points off of the mangrove islands. A great tactic for reds that are finicky feeders is to try freelining a live shrimp or a piece of cut bait and let it lay on the bottom; the scent will catch the attention of a curious red. My last trip out of Homosassa, I came across a school of more than 75 redfish, most of them over the slot limit of 27 inches.
In a little deeper water, small rock piles in six to eight feet of water are producing some Spanish mackerel action. Try free lining a shrimp on a number two extra longshank hook with a 30-pound leader while chumming. Occasionally a hungry gag grouper will hit your bait, but remember its catch and release this time of year as the season for gags on the Nature Coast opens July 1.
Crystal River: Capt. Marrio Castello
It looks like the cold weather of winter has finally passed by and we are now starting to transition to our springtime patterns. Pollen seems to cover everything and that is my best indicator that the Spanish mackerel are about to invade our waters.
The Spanish mackerel bite has fired up along our deeper grass flats all over our area. We have been catching them on jigs, spoons, and plugs worked quickly and erratically. These fish are starting to school up in the hundreds and they are hungry. Most fish are between 15 to 22 inches with a few of them over 24 inches. These fish are pretty good table fare as long as the red line is removed from the fillet. They should also be eaten fresh because the meat does not freeze well.
Redfish and trout are feeding more consistently along oyster bars and rocky shorelines. We have been catching them on the DOA Cal shad tail on a 1/8-ounce jighead bouncing the bottom. Try working them very close to the bottom because the Spanish mackerel will surely take them if worked off the bottom.
Crystal River: Capt. Kyle Messier
March has always been a month Nature Coast anglers look forward to as it symbolizes the beginning of our spring season. Spring is highlighted as a time of year when many migratory birds start making their trips back north but it’s also a time to look to the water as many fish species begin returning to the bountiful feeding grounds found along the inshore waters of Crystal River and Homosassa. Local anglers will start to notice that most of the flats and mangrove shorelines that have been deprived of life during the winter will now find a plethora of jumping mullet along with schools of pinfish, pigfish, crabs, mud minnows, and shrimp. All of these species make great prey for a variety of gamefish including redfish, speckled trout, black drum, Spanish mackerel, cobia, tripletail, pompano, and flounder. The best aspect of this month is that all of these species tend show up at once. One day it will be a few mackerel and a cobia sighting and then the next day dozens of mackerel will be skyrocketing at a time along with dozens of cobia ready to chomp on what ever swims by. Nature Coast Anglers just need to gear up and be ready for everything.
At the moment most Nature Coast anglers are looking ahead to the stabilizing weekly weather patterns that will finally stabilize over the next few weeks. With stabilizing weather comes pattern changes and no pattern will change more over the next few weeks than the sheepshead fishing. With the recent warming trend driving in many grouper, snapper, Spanish mackerel and sea bass to the many structures that were holding sheepshead anglers will now find that the competition along many of these same structures will be fierce. Although this doesn’t bode well for sheepshead or anglers interested in pursuing them, this will however be very favorable for all anglers looking for bites. The same rocky structures that we have been targeting for the last few months will now have to be approached differently in anticipation of the added species. Larger rods for grouper and cobia and rods rigged with wire are a must for the Spanish mackerel. With many of these rocks becoming inundated with a variety of baitfish including sardines, pilchards, and glass minnows, lures and baits that resemble these baitfish will provide anglers with the greatest chances for success.
For anglers looking for a little more of a challenge targeting pompano this time of year is a sure fire way to make your drag scream. Pompano are one of the more commercially sought after gamefish and make some of the best ceviche on the planet. They key when targeting pompano this time of year is to run your boat along any form of sandy areas or light shell beds and look for these fish to skip along the side of the boat wake. If there are pompano any where around these structures you will visually see these fish shoot out of the water almost like a scared mullet. Once you have found an area holding pompano all it takes is a 1/8-ounce jig and a shrimp tail and it’s game on. Keep in mind that many of these same areas that hold pompano this time of year could also hold a permit or two.
Inshore Light Tackle and Fly Fishing