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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Horseshoe Beach


Coexistence–Getting Along With Others During Florida’s Bay Scallop Season

by on Oct.29, 2017, under Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, Horseshoe Beach, Ozello to Crystal River, Shell Point to Lanark, Ochlockonee Bay, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina, Steinhatchee

Big Bend Action Spotter, Florida Sportsman Magazine

September 2017

In last month’s Big Bend Action Spotter, I wrote about getting away from the scalloping multitudes by fishing in places likely less “infested”. This month, let’s consider coexistence!

 

I know lots of anglers who simply give up saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico during Florida’s recreational bay scallop season, which ends this month and includes the busy Labor Day weekend. Many head to the Atlantic side of the state, even to freshwater rivers and lakes. But there are options and complete abandonment of the Gulf isn’t necessarily one of them.

 

Know that for the most part, scalloping goes on in water that’s three to ten feet deep. At the deep end of that range, there are scallops, but only hardy divers with big lungs can get there. Deeper than that, it’s pretty much snorkeler-free. Sea grass flats, especially our big one that starts just north of Anclote Key off Tarpon Springs and ends at St. Marks, can run to the thirty-foot depths, depending on water clarity. And just like the three-foot flats, the deeper ones are peppered with patches of sand and live spongy bottom. Add to that some wrecks, rocky outcrops and ledges, you’ll have a good mental image of what the Gulf’s floor look like.

 

It’s those scattered bottom structures in the ten-foot-plus depths that should be of interest to fin fishermen who want to avoid the last of the 2017 season of “scallop madness”. All summer long, vast numbers of baitfish and yummy crustaceans have been flourishing, all while hiding from predators who lay in wait along the edges of sand patches, behind rocks, under ledges and among wreckage. And, depending on late summer rains or storms that might cloud the waters, it should be clear enough away from shore for you to visually investigate the bottom. Spotted seatrout, flounder, black sea bass, red grouper or mackerel are all good targets and you might even be able to bring home a gag grouper–if you’re in Dixie, Levy, Citrus or Hernando county state waters.

 

From Hernando County, you’ll have to run past the scallopers to get to the deep flats. Reaching the end of the Bayport and Hernando Beach channels drop you into water that’s too deep for the average snorkeler to access. Just beyond the three-mile limit, you’ll start to see good patchy bottom, as well as some big rocks.

 

If you depart Crystal River’s main channel, head northwest from Marker #1A towards the Duke Power channel and look for the “Hump”, a shallow rise in the bottom. It’s a good spot to try for trout before you head farther west to the two Crystal Artificial Reefs. They lie just south of the point where the Duke Power channel takes a turn towards the old Cross Florida Barge Canal channel. These “Fish Havens” are decades old, but still offer some relief and potential for reef fish and pelagics.

 

Cedar Key isn’t necessarily a scalloping destination, but you can find some deep, clear water there. I’d recommend you head south out the Main Ship Channel and drift the grassy top of Seahorse Reef for trout. Then, if you want deeper water or more structure than turtle grass, head west to the live bottom near the Kingfish Hole.   Staying south of the Cedar Keys archipelago will keep you in cleaner water than heading north towards the mouth of the Suwannee River, where the river’s outflow can muddle things.

 

The Suwannee’s darker waters will eventually dissipate and clear up between Horseshoe Beach and the Pepperfish Keys. The water will stay gin-clear beyond Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach in Taylor County. After navigating through the scallopers from any of those ports, you’ll be able to find lots of good, active grass flats, as well as lots of unmarked rock piles, some only as big as a small boat. You’ll find plenty of trout over the grass, and if you find your next “super secret rock pile” expect red grouper or big flounder to be the winning catch that day.

 

Water clarity to the south and southeast of St. Marks can be iffy. It all depends on recent rains and the dark water flow from the St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina rivers as well as the many creeks that flow into the Gulf along the Jefferson and Wakulla county coastline. If the water’s clear, there will be lush grass beds and a good trout bite. If you’re looking for reef fish or pelagics that chase bait over rough bottom, search northern Apalachee Bay. It’s the boundary of Florida’s natural Karst geology so there’s plenty of natural structure in the 12 to 20-foot depths. There’s no structure much better than ledges, rocks and small seeping springs when it comes to successful fishing—and there are plenty of them, some undiscovered, there.

 

Moving to deeper flats and the potential of inshore species as well as reef predators and pelagics, you’ll need to change your tactics and tackle. I suggest 3/8 to 1/2-ounce jigs to get to the bottom, and I’d put my money on chartreuse as a good color. Pair jig heads with a D.O.A. 4-inch Shad swimbait (Glow, with a chartreuse tail, is my favorite.) And consider using spinning combos larger than your usual 2500-4000 class gear in these deeper waters. If a grouper or a king mackerel unexpectedly comes to dinner, you’ll be glad you brought your 5000-class tackle!

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2017 bay scallop season in Dixie/Taylor counties set

by on Feb.11, 2017, under Hernando and Pasco Gulf Coast, Horseshoe Beach, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Ozello to Crystal River, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and St. Joseph Bay, Shell Point to Lanark, Ochlockonee Bay, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina, Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Yankeetown and Waccasassa

The 2017 bay scallop season for Dixie County and parts of Taylor County will be open from June 16 through Sept. 10. This includes all state waters from the Suwannee River through the Fenholloway River. These changes are for 2017 only and are an opportunity to explore regionally-specific bay scallop seasons.

These changes were discussed at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting on Feb. 8, where staff was directed to work with local community leaders on selecting potential 2017 season dates and to adopt changes by executive order.

At the Feb. 8 meeting, staff also updated the Commission on the status of bay scallops in St. Joseph Bay in Gulf County, and set a July 25 through Sept. 10 recreational bay scallop season off Gulf County, including all waters in St. Joseph Bay and those west of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County, through the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County.

A prolonged red tide event in late 2015 negatively impacted the scallop population in St. Joseph Bay, which led to modified local scallop regulations for 2016 that included a shortened season and reduced bag limits. FWC researchers conducted a scallop restoration project last year within St. Joseph Bay to help speed the recovery of the scallop population. These efforts have been going well and the scallop population has shown signs of improvement. Staff will conduct similar restoration efforts in 2017.

All other portions of the bay scallop harvest zone will be open from July 1 through Sept. 24. This includes all state waters from the Pasco-Hernando county line to the Suwannee River Alligator Pass Daybeacon 4 in Levy County and from north and west of Rock Island near the mouth of the Fenholloway River in Taylor County through the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County.

Bag and vessel limits throughout the entire bay scallop harvest zone will be 2 gallons whole bay scallops in shell or 1 pint of bay scallop meat per person, with a maximum of 10 gallons of whole bay scallops in shell or 1/2 gallon bay scallop meat per vessel.

At the December 2017 Commission meeting, staff will review public feedback on these changes and make a recommendation for future management. To submit your feedback on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/SaltwaterComments.

For more information on these changes, visit MyFWC.com/Commission and select “Commission Meetings,” then click on the link below “Next Meeting.”

For information on bay scallop regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Bay Scallops.”

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Four Florida Counties Open April 1, 2015 for Gag Grouper Harvest

by on Mar.25, 2015, under Horseshoe Beach, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina, Steinhatchee

From:  The Fishing Wire

State waters off the coast of Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties will open to recreational harvest of gag grouper starting April 1.

This regional season will remain open through June 30, with the first day of the closure being July 1. The season also includes all waters of Apalachicola Bay and Indian Pass, including those in Gulf County, and all waters of the Steinhatchee River, including those in Dixie County.

Gag grouper caught in state Gulf waters (from shore to 9 nautical miles out) off the four counties can be landed on the Gulf County side of Indian Pass and the Dixie County side of the Steinhatchee River, but may not be taken ashore in other areas that are closed to harvest. For example, a gag grouper caught April 1 in state waters off Jefferson County cannot be taken ashore in Levy County or parts of Dixie County outside of the Steinhatchee River. To see maps of these areas, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing and select “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Gulf Grouper.”

In the remainder of Gulf of Mexico state waters, anglers will be able to keep gag grouper from July 1 through Dec. 3, with the season closing Dec. 4. State waters off Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson and Taylor counties will not be open during the July-through-December season. Monroe County state waters follow Atlantic grouper rules.

The season in all federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico also opens July 1 but closes Dec. 3, with the last day of harvest being Dec. 2.

In the Gulf, the gag grouper recreational harvest minimum size limit is 22 inches total length and the bag limit is two gag grouper per person. Recreational anglers targeting groupers in the Gulf may harvest no more than four grouper per person per day (within this four-fish limit, anglers may keep only two gag grouper).

To learn more, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Gulf Grouper.”

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Cross City’s Historic Putnam Lodge to Re-Open in April 2014

by on Mar.13, 2014, under Horseshoe Beach, Steinhatchee

If you’re planning a fishing trip to Horseshoe Beach or Steinhatchee, consider making The Putnam Lodge your headquarters.  Yes, it’s a few miles from either port, but the accommodations are first class, with a touch of Florida history.  And on April 1, 2014 you can expect the lodge to be operating in full gear.

Here’s some history of the Putnam Lodge:

Putnam Lodge, built in 1927-28 by the Putnam Lumber Company, is part of a bygone era in Florida’s forestry history. Here, beside the old Dixie Highway, Putnam Lodge, part of the “company town” of Shamrock, accommodated tourists, transients and company executives and clients. The lobby and the dining room of the 36-room lodge were decorated exclusively with the still preserved, artfully stenciled “pecky cypress,” a now virtually extinct lumber product. In its day, the Putnam Lumber Company, founded by William O’Brien, a timber magnate of Irish descent, and associates including E. B. Putnam, employed hundreds at its two state-of-the-art sawmills in Shamrock. The mills annually produced and shipped worldwide millions of feet of “deep swamp tidewater cypress” and “dense Florida longleaf yellow pine” lumber, products that are now rare because the old growth trees are gone. Shamrock provided its residents and employees with comfortable homes, a commissary, a store comparable to “any city department store,” two schools, two hotels, the Shamrock Dairy Farm, and an ice plant producing 18 tons of ice daily. The lodge is representative of a time of local timber supremacy and economic prosperity.

And here’s what to expect from new owners, Ed and Beverly Pivacek, when the Putnam Lodge opens in April, 2014:

The restored and modernized Putnam Lodge will offer 25 guest rooms (kings, queens, suites–and even a bridal suite!), meeting facilities for groups of 25-30, facilities for weddings and parties of up to 250, and a full service restaurant and bar.  There are even plans underway for a paintball course on an area adjacent to the lodge.

Guests at the Putnam Lodge will be impressed by the quality of the restoration.  The dining room is almost in its original state, with hand-painted pecky cypress walls, ceilings and columns.  The dining room opens onto a newly-constructed deck designed to handle overflow from the dining room during special events.  The comfortable lobby and lounges also retain the original design of the Lodge.  Modern upgrades like central heating and air conditioning and plumbing make the guest rooms as comfortable as those found in upscale “big-city” hotels.  Along with the upscale restaurant offering the finest dining in the area, the Putnam Lodge facility is perfect for small meetings, family reunions, weddings or other social gatherings.

To contact the Putnam Lodge, email putnamlodge@gmail.com or call: (813) 390-4489

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2014 Steinhatchee Community Fishing Tournament, March 15

by on Mar.10, 2014, under Cedar Key, Horseshoe Beach, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Yankeetown and Waccasassa

The 13th Annual Steinhatchee Community Fishing Tournament is coming up on March 15.  With a relatively inexpensive $30 entry fee, 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.

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Cross City’s Historic Putnam Lodge to Re-Open in Early 2014

by on Jan.17, 2014, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, Horseshoe Beach, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Steinhatchee, Suwannee

Ed and Beverly Pivacek are excited about tourism in Dixie County and the Florida Nature Coastline.  As a result, they’re re-opening the historic Putnam Lodge in Cross City.  Licenses have been obtained and it will open its doors for business by early February, with its kitchen and restaurant likely opening by early March.  If you’re heading to Steinhatchee, Horseshoe Beach or Suwannee on a fishing (or summer scalloping) trip, this will be THE place to stay inshore of those ports.  Ed can be contacted at (813) 390-4489.

Putnam Lodge “Then”
Putnam Lodge “Now”

Here’s some history:

Putnam Lodge, built in 1927-28 by the Putnam Lumber Company, is part of a bygone era in Florida’s forestry history. Here, beside the old Dixie Highway, Putnam Lodge, part of the “company town” of Shamrock, accommodated tourists, transients and company executives and clients. The lobby and the dining room of the 36-room lodge were decorated exclusively with the still preserved, artfully stenciled “pecky cypress,” a now virtually extinct lumber product. In its day, the Putnam Lumber Company, founded by William O’Brien, a timber magnate of Irish descent, and associates including E. B. Putnam, employed hundreds at its two state-of-the-art sawmills in Shamrock. The mills annually produced and shipped worldwide millions of feet of “deep swamp tidewater cypress” and “dense Florida longleaf yellow pine” lumber, products that are now rare because the old growth trees are gone. Shamrock provided its residents and employees with comfortable homes, a commissary, a store comparable to “any city department store,” two schools, two hotels, the Shamrock Dairy Farm, and an ice plant producing 18 tons of ice daily. The lodge is representative of a time of local timber supremacy and economic prosperity.

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New (2013) Artifical Reefs off of Horseshoe Beach – GPS coordinates

by on Nov.12, 2013, under Horseshoe Beach

Thanks to the great volunteer efforts of Old Town resident, Charlie Fornaciari, with the support of the Dixie County Board of County Commissioners, Suwannee, Horseshoe Beach, and Jena/ Steinhatchee fisherman and women will enjoy a boost in our ability to offer great offshore fishing.  This improvement is based on the create and expansion of a artificial reef in the Gulf.  Here is a note from Charlie Fornaciari :

“Enclosed please find the coordinates for 5 of the nine new reefs. We are still refining the accuracy of these coordinates but I’m sure you will not have trouble finding the reefs.

Additionally we have now started the mapping on the 4 remaining new reef sites. It will be up to the seas and weather.

There is a lot more structure in the area than expected. Most likely they are reef balls from previous deployments back in the mid ‘90s and ’05. The dives of September 9th prove some of that out.

We use a letter / number pattern to lay out the entire project plan. Location D3 is the very most center of the reef building project and the coordinates are provided as follows for location D3.

We will be refining the coordinates over time and we will provide the coordinates of everything else on the project area, such as reef balls, hard bottoms, etc.

Although plant life and fish are starting to show up it will take about 18 months for the reefs to mature. This allows for the marine plant life and invertebrates to colonize the limestone and pipe that has been placed.

All reefs are made up of approximately 30 tons of limestone and culvert pipe.

Some of the people working on this project, Horseshoe Beach Artificial Reef, believe the reef will attract Sheepshead this winter. If you are a diver or a fisherman please let me know what you can via email. Photographs are always welcome and some will end up on the Dixie County Tourist Development website and the artificial reef site when set up. Keep your clothes on when taking pictures of the fish! We do not want to scare anybody.

The other reef site coordinates so far:

D2: Lat. 29°19.682’ / Lon. 83°26.313’

D3: Lat. 29°19.692’ / Lon. 83°26.252’

C3: Lat. 29°19.720’ / Lon. 83°26.247’

C4: Lat. 29°19.750’ / Lon. 83°26.192’

E2: Lat. 29°19.624’ / Lon. 83°26.299’

All material height is between 3’ and 5’ off the bottom.”

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Scalloping and Fishing Report, Steinhatchee, FL, July 8, 2013

by on Jul.08, 2013, under Horseshoe Beach, Steinhatchee

Anglers and scallopers hoping to be on the water at Steinhatchee during the 2013 July 4 holiday weekend were met by rain squalls on both Thursday and Friday.  However, by Saturday the humidity fell,  the skies (and the water) cleared, and limits of bay scallops, sea trout and redfish were seen at the cleaning table at the Sea Hag Marina as early as 11AM.

Don't want to clean your catch? See the "scallop cleaning crew" at the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee.

As is usually the case during the early days of the recreational bay scallop season, snorkelers find that they often have to move around to find concentrations of the tasty bivalves.  Several areas within easy reach from the mouth of the river are considered “trustworthy” and those were the sites of huge gatherings of boats flying dive flags.

To the north, the grass flats near the Big Grass Island bird rack were busy.  This area is about 9 miles northwest of the Steinhatchee #1 marker.  Here, reports for the past weekend  were of better catches in the deeper cuts, with the scallops on the small size, with smaller muscles.  Water clarity was good, depending on the tidal flow.  The weekend’s pre-new moon tides were strong, and did affect water clarity.  The upcoming weekend’s neap tides will be slower, making sighting your prey easier.

To the south of Steinhatchee, there were three areas that attracted scallopers this past weekend.  Most popular was the area of grassy flats north of the Pepperfish Keys.  The run to Pepperfish is about 9 miles from either Steinhatchee or Horseshoe Beach.  This past weekend, snorkelers reported “hundreds” of boats in this area.  Other options for Steinhatchee scallopers are the areas off Rocky Creek or Hardy Point, just south of the river mouth.  At the southern spots, scallops seemed to be larger and more mature, with a higher yield of meat. The waters to the south were more clear and than those to the north.

For a detailed story on scalloping, please see:  Bay Scallops–The Gulf of Mexico’s Tastiest Treat.

Scallopers don’t usually get very close to shore, so anglers targeting reds and seatrout have lots of shoreline all to themselves.  Capt. Rick Davidson and I fished the weekend, and found the fish hungry and eager to eat topwater lures.  Floating grass was an issue in some areas, but the best bite seemed to be in  shallow water (1 to 2- feet), right along the grass, at the bottom of the tide, after the grass had washed away from shore.

Capt. Rick Davidson with a nice mid-summer redfish.

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2013 Bay Scalloping Season to Open Early–June 29!

by on Jun.26, 2013, under Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, Horseshoe Beach, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Ozello to Crystal River, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and St. Joseph Bay, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina, Steinhatchee, Suwannee

The FWC has just announced that the season for harvesting bay scallops has been extended and will now open on June 29, rather than July 1.  That means there will be an extra weekend to have a great time and bring home some good eats!

If you’re not a seasoned scalloper, you might want to read “Bay Scallops–The Gulf of Mexico’s Tastiest Treat“.  Just click HERE

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