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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: big bend


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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Just One Point North–Rocky Points Along Florida’s Big Bend

by on Oct.29, 2017, under Cedar Key, Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Steinhatchee, Suwannee, Yankeetown and Waccasassa

Big Bend Action Spotter, Florida Sportsman Magazine

October 2017

 

There are many rocky points along Florida’s Big Bend. And I suppose there are many places labeled “rock point” along the United States’ coastlines. After all, it’s not a particularly innovative name. But there’s only one Rock Point near Steinhatchee, in Taylor County.   And it’s one you should know about if you’re interested in some pretty good inshore fishing.

Unlike local Sponge Point, that has no sponges, and Sand Point, which has no sand, Rock Point DOES have rocks. Lots of them. While its rocks offer good cover for redfish and the adjacent flats and backwaters can also add good numbers of spotted seatrout, getting there can be a tedious exercise. Rock Point is only about 3 miles north of the Steinhatchee River channel, but to get there, especially on low water, you need to dodge some offshore sand bars and shallow inshore grass flats. My advice is that you take a northwesterly course from Marker #7 in the channel, staying outside the bars, and SLOWLY and CAREFULLY head towards Rock Point when you’re offshore of it. The shoreward approach towards Rock Point isn’t especially rocky, but it’s important you respect the integrity of grass flats you’ll cross. On low water, you may need to shift modes from your outboard to your trolling motor or push pole. On higher water, usually above 2-plus feet on your tide chart (Use the “Steinhatchee River Mouth” tide station.) you might be able to idle with your outboard jacked or trimmed up. In either case, be careful not to damage the sea grass. Doing so is a fineable offense.

The rocks at Rock Point are not pebbles. Some are boulder-sized and the niches and canyons between them offer shelter to predators waiting for schools of bait, usually small mullet, to cross the point with the tide. Knowing that, and that it happens on almost any tide and in any season, should give you a clue to fishing this point—and any others you might encounter that are similarly structured. The tide runs across the point, so set your boat up in order to make long upstream casts. Don’t crowd the point. This may mean casting into the wind, but larger and heavier lures will work here. The “hatch” you’re trying to match are likely to be 6-8inch mullet, so big lures like MirrOlure Top Dogs or D.O.A. PT7s are good choices. If the tide’s full, you might try something that suspends, like a Paul Brown Devil, but be careful not to work them too deep or too slowly. If you do snag one on a rock, break it off and try to fetch it after the catching’s done!

The fact is that “one point don’t make a whole day of fishing”.   So, while you’re in the neighborhood, take advantage of some other October options here. The seagrass beds you’ll cross on your way to Rock Point will finally be devoid of summer scallopers and the trout they scared away should have returned to fatten up for the winter. There are some deeper potholes to the southwest of the point, and more important, a deeper creek channel in the bay to the south. The small rock pile on the north side of the creek bed is a good place to try, and a drift into the southeast corner of the bay is a worthwhile exercise, if the mullet are jumping. The tip of Rock Point is actually a small island, and the north shoreline inside the cut that separates it from the mainland can also be fishy, provided you take a stealthy approach. For some reason—maybe lack of pressure—the redfish along this shore can especially spooky. Long casts and silent running are a must.

This particular Big Bend “Rock Point” is pretty typical of many similar points that you’ll find from the Suncoast Keys in Citrus County, all the way to the shoreline near St. Marks. Learning each one might take a lifetime, but having knowledge of just a few can make for lots of fun days of fishing.

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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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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.

snook-1

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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Kevin’s Redtrout Shootout, Wakulla County, May 30, 2015

by on May.12, 2015, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Shell Point to Lanark, Ochlockonee Bay, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina

redtrout

It’s back! The Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel Redtrout Shootout will take place May 30, 2015.

Cash rewards will be paid out to the top 10 teams weighing in the heaviest combined weight of (1) redfish and (1) spotted seatrout. With an entry fee of $75.00 per angler and a guaranteed cash purse, you and your crew will want to get registered today!

This unique inshore fishing tournament allows teams to launch their boat at any boat ramp, fish their favorite holes and then weigh their catch in at Jerry’s Bait & Tackle located at 664 Woodville Highway, Crawfordville, FL. Click here for map!

If all that sounds good wait till you hear the rest. We have everything from Banquets & Kick Off parties featuring live music. So be sure to take a few minutes and navigate the website to see what else we have in store for this years edition of the RedTrout Shootout.

Click here today to register!

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A Plague of Puffers, May 2015

by on May.11, 2015, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Most times, especially in these spring months, anglers fishing close to shore along the Big Bend are plagued with swarms of flies and/or no-see-ums, gnawing at any bit of exposed flesh they can find. They’re there this year too, but have been joined by yet another pest, the smooth pufferfish. We’ve never seen these big voracious puffers in our inshore waters, and many of us are wondering just what sins we’ve committed to bring this “plague of puffers” upon us! I had never seen one of these fish before, so here’s a description so you’ll know just what chewed your bait in half:

Blowfish, Smoothback Puffer Lagocephalus inermis, Family:Tetrodontidae (Puffers) Commonly known as smooth-backed blowfish. Covered in tiny, sandpaper spines. Olive green to dark grey above with silvery yellow sides, belly white. Smooth sides, rough belly. Eyes are large and high on the head. Young fish have 3-4 brown patches and/or spots on the back. Grows up to 3 ft in length. Puff up to 2 times normal size when on the defensive. Two front teeth are fused to cut and crush. Feeds on foods like bits of worm, small shrimp, crabs, clams, etc. Found in shallow bay areas during summer, wintering in deeper waters in the south.

During the past week, my clients and I landed over a dozen of these fish, most in the 16-20-inch size range. They’re ferocious, attacking jigs, subsurface plugs and even topwater lures. And there was no particular structure involved. We caught them from one to six feet of water, over rocks and grass and even mud bottom.

I’m curious if my readers have experienced any catches of these pests. They’re not the usual “porcupine blowfish” that take chunks out of soft baits and I’m concerned that people will try to eat them. There’s a danger of saxitoxin poisoning from them, so don’t take a chance. In fact, it’s illegal to keep puffers in some SE Florida counties. Freezing or cooking will not kill this toxin, and it may kill you!

 

Please give me a holler if you’ve been catching any of these fish in your area. Email me at:  capttommy@me.com

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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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Be On The Lookout For Ling–Spring Cobia Are On The Loose On Florida’s Nature Coast!

by on May.28, 2014, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST

B.O.L.O. For Ling (Cobia, Crab Eaters)

Our Big Bend channel markers provide good cover for predators.  Proof comes in the springtime when visitors to our coastline question the appearance of boats circling almost every marker along either of the major channels at Cedar Key.  Spring is “cobia time” and lots of anglers are on the lookout for ling, crab-eaters, or lemon fish–as they’re called by many old-timers.  But finding these hard fighters usually isn’t as hard as getting them to eat or getting them to the boat.

Successful cobia hunters make a point of idling around every channel marker they encounter.  Big tripod-style markers are few and far between, but often hold more cobia than single markers.  If you’re on your way offshore and don’t have time to stop at every channel marker, be sure not to miss the tripods.  On bright days, and if the water’s clear, you’ll likely see cobia hanging close to the marker on slack or slow-running tides.  If the water’s moving quickly, expect them to hang back away from the turbulence caused by the structure.  In any case, their “game” is to ambush small baits like pinfish, white bait, eels or crabs that pass.  And don’t worry about noise.  Keep your motor running, as cobia are curious and will often come boatside just to see what’s going on.

As I said, finding cobia is sometime the easy part of your trip.  Getting these picky eaters to take a bait can be frustrating.  If I spot one, I anchor up (or use the Spot Lock feature on my Minn Kota iPilot), positioning the boat where I can cast my bait towards the marker.  I recommend leaving your outboard running and out of gear, as you’ll sometimes need to pull a big fish away from the structure once it’s hooked up.  Cobia are notorious for wrapping line around markers.  Crabs and live pinfish make excellent bait for cobia, however eels are like candy to them.  If you can find live eels, take them with you; otherwise Gulp! and Hogy make excellent plastic imitations.  Often, if the water’s dirty or dark, you’ll need to fish a marker where cobia don’t show themselves.  In those cases, and if you’re lucky enough to have a crew (two to fish and one to captain the boat), float one bait under a cork and put another on the bottom using a slip-sinker rig.

Landing a cobia can be an ordeal.  First, use appropriate tackle.  Big spinning outfits, spooled with 30 to 50-pound braided line and almost-invisible 80-pound fluorocarbon leaders will give you a chance against a big fish.  Second, when a cobia strikes, get any other lines back to the boat and clear the decks.  Fighting one fish at a time is about all any boat crew can handle.  And finally, NEVER bring a “green” cobia into the boat.  They’ve been known to break rods, gaffs, and even anglers’ arms. Get them covered by a towel, or better yet, into a cooler and locked down as soon as possible.

Fishing for cobia can be exhausting, in the hunt and in the fight, but if you bring home a keeper, expect some of the best eating of the spring.  Prepare some cobia steaks by broiling, grilling or smoking and you’ll certainly keep your crew happy.

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