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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides


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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HURRY! Enter TODAY! The 2016 CCA Florida STAR TOURNAMENT Is Up and Running!


CCA Star Header
The CCA Florida STAR Tournament started last weekend! This year CCA STAR has gone statewide and has over $500,000 in prizes & scholarships up for grabs, and all you need to do is sign up and get your clients to sign up as well!

The first captain who guides his client to the capture of a 2016 STAR tagged redfish during the 101 days of STAR will win a new Yamaha 150 HP motor.  The captain and client must be a CCA member and registered for STAR before the client/charter catches the STAR tagged redfish, all rules regarding the entry of a STAR tagged redfish must be followed in order for the captain to be eligible to win.

In addition, captains who are directly responsible for referring the greatest number of STAR participants to register for the tournament up until sunset on September 5, 2016 will be eligible for additional prizes in this category.
The most referrals by a captain wins a $5,000 prize package, the 2nd most wins a $2,500 package and the 3rd wins a $1,500 package.

In order to participate in STAR all captains must be current CCA members and registered for STAR before the date of any referral.  Captain referrals are EASY to get. What client would not want their shot at $500,000 in prizes & scholarships.  They can register via the website www.ccaflstar.com  and download the STAR tournament app right from their smartphone. Each client must indicate the captain by name in the appropriate blank during STAR registration, it’s that simple. Make sure you pick up the official 2016 STAR measuring device to have on your boat, this will make it even simpler for your client to participate in this catch/photo tournament.

You may have already received a STAR invitation in your mailbox if not you can click HERE to sign up now. If you have attended a CCA banquet or signed up online or via the mail in the last few weeks, thank you and please disregard or forward this note to one of your fishing friends.

By registering this week, you won’t miss a day of the 101 day tournament…and one day is all it takes for your client to catch a winner!

Click HERE or visit www.ccaflstar.com to see a complete list of rules, divisions, distribution locations and prizes as well as to get signed up today.

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Thoughts Regarding Table Value of Smoothback Pufferfish

by on May.27, 2016, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST

Smoothback Puffer Lagocephalus inermis, Family:Tetrodontidae

                               Smoothback Puffer Lagocephalus inermis, Family:Tetrodontidae

Since the spring of 2015, there’s been an “outbreak” of smoothback puffers along Florida’s Gulf Coast, from Tampa Bay to Pensacola.  Likely a deepwater species, I’d never seen one until I caught 4 off Steinhatchee on Florida’s Big Bend last year.  These are NOT the small porcupine blowfish that usually cut chunks from soft plastic baits and steal live shrimp.  So far, many specimens over 20-inches have been caught.  And they’re not coming from offshore waters.   Catches have been reported in less than 3 feet of water, over close to shore rock piles and oyster beds.  I’d never seen one in my 60-plus years of fishing in Florida, and many anglers and marine scientists are also baffled.

Many of my readers have asked about the edibility of these fish, having heard about some pufferfish that are poisonous, but still popular as food in Asia.  These puffers are not the same as fugu, often listed as one of the most dangerous foods, there is some concern that anglers might contaminate the flesh during the cleaning process.

At a recent meeting of marine scientists, I had the opportunity to ask one who is probably one of the leading experts on seafood safety about smoothback pufferfish.  His thought, “I wouldn’t eat one!”.

That’s good enough for me.  I’ll stick to catching them (they really fight well!) and practicing catch and release!

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Redfish daily bag limit in Natural North Florida’s Big Bend/Emerald Coast to change to 1 fish per person May 1. 2016

by on Apr.14, 2016, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST

davesharonmearsOn May 1, 2016, the individual bag limit for redfish (red drum) will drop from 2 fish to 1 fish on Florida’s Big Bend (Pasco County to the Alabama line).  The FWC’s Northwest Zone is affected, as shown on the map below:

red drum management zones map

From: myfwc.com

Red drum, also called redfish, channel bass, spottail, red bass or reds, are one of Florida’s most popular sport fish and the state’s most widespread estuarine fish. Red drum are named after the “drumming” sound the make during spawning and when taken out of the water. The sound is produced by muscles rubbing against the inflated air bladder. Red drum inhabit the nearshore and offshore waters throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Key West. Juvenile red drum inhabit rivers, bays, canals, tidal creeks, and passes in estuaries for up to four years, after which they usually move to nearshore or open ocean waters as adults. Red drum in Florida can reach lengths of 45 inches and weigh up to 51 pounds. The world record red drum was caught off North Carolina waters in 1984 and it weighed 94 pounds, 2 ounces.The oldest recorded red drum in Florida was aged at 40 years. Floating a live shrimp under a popping cork is a good way to fish for red drum. They also chase crabs, mullet, pinfish and killifish (mud minnows). Casting soft-bodied jigs, spoons and even top-water plugs will catch the attention of these powerful estuarine musicians. Redfish make great table fare.

Management of red drum in Florida is considered a success story.  In the late 1980s red drum was overfished, thus several emergency closures were established to reduce fishing pressure. In 1989, the slot limit of 18-27 inches, the bag limit of one fish per person and a closed season from March-May were put in place. Since then, the only major regulation change has been the elimination of the closed season. Red drum stocks have rebounded and are currently meeting or exceeding the FWC’s management goal of 40% escapement in most parts of Florida. Escapement is the proportion of fish that survive through age four relative to the fish that would have survived if there was no fishery.

Regulations Northeast Zone Northwest Zone South Zone
Minimum Size Limit Not less than 18″ no more than 27″ total length
Daily Bag Limit 2 fish per person per day; 8 fish vessel limit 2 per person per day (changing to 1 per person per day starting May 1); 8 fish vessel limit 1 fish per person per day; 8 fish vessel limit
Remarks Bag limits apply in areas adjacent to fishing sites such as docks and parking lots

6 fish per person transport limit applies when traveling in a vehicle on land away from a fishing site.

Must remain in whole condition until landed ashore

Commercial harvest prohibited

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Chilling thoughts for winter fishing–By Capt. Ray Markham


Fish have to deal with the cold every day during winter. But being cold-blooded, cold weather doesn’t have the same effect as it does on humans. Living in sunny Florida, most of us don’t give much thought to the possibility of developing hypothermia. But with winter weather finally upon us, dressing appropriately for being on the water can be a matter of life and death, particularly if you fall into the water. The body loses heat 25-times faster in water than it does with exposure to the air. This is all the more reason to wear a personal flotation device in the event you do fall overboard.

Cold fronts that have been hitting us at about a weekly basis or more often have been driving the water temperature downward for the past couple of weeks. Sitting in the mid-sixties now, and with wind on the water, the wind chill factor drops the ‘feels like’ temperature even more. It’s important to dress in layers of clothing. Shivering is probably the first sign of the onset of hypothermia as the body core temperature drops. It’s better to have more clothing than you need, since you can always remove some as the days warm up.

Find areas out of the wind. Those spots will be more comfortable for both you and the fish. Warmer areas will also mean that fish appetites will be on the rise. Unlike cold-blooded creatures, we still need to eat on a regular basis. Fish eat when they feel hungry or the opportunity presents itself. Sheepshead are working the pilings around bridges, docks, piers and around most any structure. Most recently flounder are appearing in holes on the flats on these negative tide days. Dragging CAL Curly tailed jigs across the holes slowly will catch flatties. With the falling water temperature, snook are moving up inside the rivers. All of the Tampa Bay’s rivers are holding snook. Look for the power plants in the area to produce a plume of warm water around the outflows. Apollo Beach and Anclote Key both produce warm water on the coldest days. The most recent weather prediction is for the coldest days yet this winter to be the first part of next week. Cobia, snook, trout, pompano, sharks, ladyfish, jacks and more will be found around these plants. Warmer water will move up to a half-mile away from the power plant on still days.

Fish extra slow during cold weather and remember to dress for the occasion to stay comfortable and keep warm. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Making the most of winter fishing days — By Ray Markham


Fishing during the winter has both its good points and drawbacks. But over-all, if you work with what you have, you’ll find that your disadvantages can also work for you.

Weekly cold fronts can stir up water, make seas and bays rough, and drop water temperature putting a virtual if not real lock jaw on fish. Even on the worst of days you can probably catch fish, as long as you deal with your conditions.

The most obvious change in winter will be water temperature. During the spring, summer, and fall, water temperatures will be up, making the metabolic rates soar. But during the hottest days of summer, the heat can be a drawback, forcing you to find areas with temperatures within the comfort range of fish. Offshore, you’ll need to find the depth where there is enough insulation between the surface and the bottom where fish will hold. In shallow water, you’ll still need to find some deeper areas for fish to comfortably hold, but that’s not all. Fish may hold in vast areas of small bays, but only feed in one area because of a difference in water temperature and water clarity. Temperatures can vary as much as 10-degrees in areas just blocks away because of the type of structure, bottom, or protection from the elements. Dead end residential canals protected from the wind that run north and south and with dark muddy bottoms and good depth will generally hold fish that will feed. The west side of that canal receives sun first as the sun rises and heats that side first making fish on that side of the canal more active. The east side benefits by the day-long heat produced by exposure to the sun and by afternoon will probably be the most productive.

Cold water kills off algae that grow during warm months improving water clarity. Sight-fishing is at its peak, but fish can also see you the best, making long accurate casts imperative to catching fish. On windy days, you can increase the distance of your casts by casting downwind, making the stealth approach to fish with your bait or lure easier.

High, cold winds stir up water and drop the temperature even more. Find areas with wind breaks or out of the wind and you’ll minimize that effect. Live shrimp are the most predominant inshore food source during winter and the slow movements they make are in tune with metabolic rates for fish. The DOA Shrimp that I throw is my go-to winter lure because it is the best imitation of what fish eat.

Dealing with the wind, cold, and water clarity issues can turn even slow problem days into productive days when you understand how to deal with them.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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2015 Reflections and New Year’s Fishing Resolutions– By Capt. Ray Markham


Every year I hear the same old resolutions from folks. Some they keep, but mostly they don’t. They want to lose weight. They want to strive to stay on a budget. They want to be on time. They will get more organized…and on and on. Well for this New Year I’d love to hear a few new resolutions.

Here are a few I’d like to hear. “I’m not out to keep my limit of fish. I’d just like to take enough fish home for dinner tonight.” “Hey, I know that one trout is 27-inches and legal to take, but why don’t we release him to spawn again.” “Let’s not get too close to those other anglers fishing. They need their space as much as we want ours.” “Hey, I’m just going to pull my boat and trailer over to the side and get it loaded up before I get on the ramp. I don’t want to hold anyone up.” “Yes, I remembered to put the drain plug in.”

While 2015 is now in the history book, the year ahead may be an interesting one indeed. During 2015 we saw record-breaking heat during the summer, fall, and into winter. It seems summer never ended and winter has yet to begin. A slow start to the year with snook saw a strong finish with good number of big fish being caught in the last quarter of the year in some areas, yet others seem to still lag behind. If we have a mild winter, those fish that spawned and the small fish that came from them should have a good start for this coming year.

If you’d like to make a difference and have input regarding snook, the 2016 Snook Symposium regarding snook research and management will be held January 13th at the Caribe Royale, 8101 World Center Drive in Orlando. This day-long discussion is open to the public and includes the results of the soon-to-be released 2015 stock assessment, population recovery following the 2010 cold kill, and will discuss opportunities for improving snook management. To register online and learn more, go to MyFWC.com/Snook2016. You can also email Marine@MyFWC.com or call 1(850) 487-0554 for questions.

The month of January will see at least 21 days where we will have negative low tides. These will be prime opportunities to do some scouting of new areas, to find holes and check out the exposed bay bottom for structure. It’s also a good time to wade fish, so get your waders ready and let’s go fishing.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Capt. Joey Landreneau’s SLICK LURES Now Available Online!



I’ve known Joey Landreneau for many years, and to call him obsessive about his terminal tackle is an understatement.  Joey chases Gator trout and big reds from his camp near Keaton Beach. And when he couldn’t find a lure that would not only look realistic and be snag-and-grass-free, Joey learned the ins and outs of soft lure making and came up with The Slick series of soft jerk baits.


Until recently, SLICK LURES have only been available at a few retail locations (or in my case, making a trip down the street to Joey’s home in Gainesville!).  However, now they’re available online and I suspect we’ll be seeing more and more of them in photos of trophy fish all over Florida.  SLICK lures are available in several colors and can be purchased with or without the recommended VMC hooks from THE SLICK LURES website.

You'll find complete rigging instructions and available color choices at www.theslicklure.com

You’ll find complete rigging instructions and available color choices at www.theslicklure.com

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Snook On The Upper Big Bend? You Bet–Provided We Have a Warm Winter!

by on Aug.28, 2015, under Cedar Key, Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, Ozello to Crystal River, Suwannee, Yankeetown and Waccasassa

Warmer winters mean the habitat for snook has moved north, into Levy and Dixie counties.

Warmer winters mean the habitat for snook has moved north, into Levy and Dixie counties.

Snook are probably the most fun and abundant gamefish in Florida.  They run, they jump, and if you want to keep one for dinner during open season, they’re delicious to eat.  However, they’re also highly susceptible to cold water temperatures and are some of the first fish to be found floating dead after a hard winter freeze.  Warm winters in recent years have allowed snook to migrate north from Pinellas and Pasco counties (Tarpon Springs’ Anclote Key was the northern edge of their range for many years.)  Now, with our recent warm winters, snook are regularly being caught well north of the Withlacoochee River in Waccasassa Bay and even as far north at Suwannee’s Salt Creek.


A Yankeetown snook.

Snook are ambush feeders, and prey on small fish (mullet, pinfish and sardines) as well as crustaceans (crabs and shrimp).  They will also readily attack artificial lures like the D.O.A. shrimp or slow-sinking MirrOlure Catch 2000s.  Rigging is important, with stealthy knots (Homer Rhode or Uni Knots work well) and tough, invisible fluorocarbon leader (24-30#) a “must”.  An interesting fact about snook is that they are picky about their prey.  If you’re using live fish for bait, don’t rig them like you do for redfish (through the back or tail) but hook them through their lips.  Snook attack from behind!    And they prefer fast-moving water, especially when it’s washing baits off shallow flats or bars into deeper troughs.

In 2015/2016, Gulf Snook “season” runs from September 1, 2015 to February 29, 2016 and from May 1 to August 31, 2016.  While you’re allowed to keep one snook per day, anglers are urged to have fun and release fish they catch.  Just remember–one cold winter and the snook will again head south and away from our Big Bend waters!

Complete information about snook and other saltwater gamefish species can be found at www.myfwc.com/fishing

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Tips For Successful Scalloping During Rainy Season on Florida’s Big Bend, 2015

by on Aug.17, 2015, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Ozello to Crystal River, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and St. Joseph Bay, Steinhatchee

In the late summer, water visibility can hinder and slow the harvest of bay scallops.  This year, they’re plentiful along our big Bend coastline, but are often hard to see.

You may not catch thousands of scallops in murky water, but if you work hard, you'll come home with a nice dinner!

You may not catch thousands of scallops in murky water, but if you work hard, you’ll come home with a nice dinner!

We’ve had more than our fair share of rain on the Big Bend, too. Mornings have been calm, but with high humidity and high air temperatures, thunderstorms have been building up every afternoon. Usually they form on shore, but some can eventually drift off the coast in the late afternoon, depending on the strength of the east coast sea breezes. What that means for you, the scalloper, is that you need to take your trips early, watch the radar (use the Weather Bug app on your smartphone!), and try to get back to port by mid-afternoon at the latest.

Snorkeling for bay scallops is a fun, family adventure!

Snorkeling for bay scallops is a fun, family adventure!

Despite the amount of rainwater we’ve seen in ditches and pastures miles from the coast, the visibility of the Gulf waters isn’t as bad as I expected.   Scallopers north of Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach are doing well, especially off Piney Point and off Dekle Beach.  The only thing I can’t predict is just how long the visibility will be good. It usually takes several weeks for the leaching cycle to complete.

Don't let thunderstorms like this one come between you and your home port!

Don’t let thunderstorms like this one come between you and your home port!



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