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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: steinhatchee

Steinhatchee/Taylor County Scallop Report, July 23, 2014

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Jul.23, 2014, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Steinhatchee

The first month of Florida’s 2014 recreational scallop season has been a busy one at Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach.  Scallop season is always the busiest time of the year for these Gulf ports, with record sales at marinas, busy motels, waits for tables at restaurants, and busy boat ramps.  Rental boats are sometimes available on short notice, but for the most part, they’ve been reserved for months.  The same goes for lodging.

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Scalloping isn’t hard work.  About all you need to be able to do is snorkel in 3 to 6-feet of water and to scoop them up by hand.  This year, you’ll spend a bit more time catching your 2-gallon (in the shell) limit, but the scallops ARE there.  Scallopers leaving from the Sea Hag, River Haven and Good Times marinas seem to be having the best luck to the north, off Clay Creek, Fishermans Rest, Big Grass Island and Piney Point.  And unlike last year, the scallops are close to shore in very clear water.

The best time to scallop is during the lower phase of the tide, and while the sun is overhead.  The sunlight draws the scallops to the top of the grass, making them easy to spot and the low tide makes reaching down for them from a swimming position easier.

For a general look at scalloping, take a look at “Bay Scallops, The Gulf of Mexico’s Tastiest Treat“.

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Citrus and Taylor County Scalloping Guide Available, Summer 2014

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Jun.25, 2014, under Chassahowitzka and Homosassa, Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Ozello to Crystal River, Steinhatchee

The new Citrus County guide features completely updated boat ramp and marina locator that Florida Sea Grant has published for the last several years.


And don’t forget about the companion, the Taylor County scalloping guide and marina locator map.

Both guides feature historically abundant scalloping areas, boat ramp and marina locations, rules and regulations, and recipes!

Readers can order one free copy of each brochure by emailing us at info@flseagrant.org, or calling us at (352) 392-2801, or downloading the whole thing at  https://www.flseagrant.org/fisheries/scalloping/

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Enlarged and Improved Boat Ramp at Jena, on Steinhatchee River, Now Open–March 2014

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Mar.16, 2014, under Steinhatchee

After what seemed a pretty long time, the enlarged and improved boat launch at Jena, on the Dixie County side of the Steinhatchee River, is now open.  This free ramp is located at the end of CR358, just across the river from the Sea Hag Marina.  What was a single, steep ramp has now been extended to allow easier launching and has been doubled to two lanes.  Floating docks straddle both lanes.

In the past, this ramp has been the scene of many a traffic jam, and now, with the addition of the second lane and the opening of the new boat ramp on the Steinhatchee side of the river, access for fishermen and scallopers should be easier.  While there is still no “official” parking lot for the Jena ramps, street-side parking is easy and plentiful.

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

by Capt. Tommy Thompson 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 Capt. Tommy Thompson 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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Scalloping 101

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Feb.13, 2014, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, Recipes and Food

Anna Patterson, Chiefland Watermelon Queen, with a fresh-caught bag of scallops.

Recently, someone asked me if I could “teach him how to catch scallops”.   A more understandable request would have been asking me how to safely operate a boat in crowded waters, review with them the FWC’s rules and regulations regarding scalloping—or even show them how to clean and cook the tasty critters.  In a nutshell (or a scallop shell, for that matter), scalloping isn’t difficult, but there are a few basic things to know before you head out searching for them this summer.

Florida’s 2014 recreational scallop season begins on June 28 and lasts until September 24.  You may scallop in waters from the Hernando/Pasco County line, at the southern end of the Big Bend, to the Mexico Beach Canal, west of Cape San Blas.  Your catch must be landed, cleaned or intact, at ports within these boundaries.  Simply put, don’t run north from Hudson, in Pasco County, to the waters off Hernando Beach, catch a limit of scallops, and then land them back in Hudson.  The FWC knows all the tricks!  There are no size limits that apply to scallops, but there are bag limits.  Anglers may keep two gallons of unshucked scallops each (1 pint shucked), up to a boat limit of ten gallons (1/2-gallon shucked).  A shucked two-gallon limit works out to about a pint of those small white morsels which are actually the muscles that allow the scallop to open and close its shell.  Other rules that apply include the need for a recreational saltwater fishing license for everyone participating who would normally need a license, and a dive flag requirement for letting other boaters know you’ve got divers in the water.  It’s probably a good idea, even for scalloping veterans, to carefully review the rules and regulations, found online at: www.myfwc.com/RULESANDREGS/Saltwater_Regulations_bayscallops.htm

Bay scallops can be found all along the Gulf coast of Florida, including some areas that are well outside the harvest boundaries.  In fact, there have even been sightings of scallops in Tampa Bay in recent summers.  While scallops are likely to be found Gulf-wide at depths that are not practical for harvest by hand or with a dip net, it’s certain that what attracts them towards shore in certain areas, to spawn, is a combination of water salinity and clarity.  In some areas where darker water is the norm, particularly Yankeetown, Cedar Key, Suwannee and much of Apalachicola Bay, scalloping isn’t considered a worthwhile effort.   On the other hand, at Hernando Beach, Bayport, Homosassa, Steinhatchee, Keaton Beach, St. Marks, Lanark Village, Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach, coastal economies rely on visiting scallopers to make up for slow times and cold winters.  And to confuse matters, any of the places within the boundaries might have ‘off-and-on’ scallop harvests, depending upon rainfall, tropical storms or even abnormal river flows.

If you’re new to scalloping you might skip the first week of July—for a couple of good reasons.  First, despite attempts by many marinas and editorial outlets to have their spies (usually local fishing guides) pinpoint the largest concentration of scallops, the best information normally follows a week or two of the actual harvest.  You’ll find that you’ll do a lot less running around once the best area is found.    Word travels fast and a simple visual scan of the horizon will quickly spot the ‘fleet’ anchored over the best areas.  And second, the first weekend of scallop season is usually the 4th of July weekend and a time when partying (on and off the water) sometimes trumps safety and good common sense.

However, if your Type-A personality requires that you be the first on the water on the first day of the season, keep in mind that scallops are likely to be found near the grassy edges of sandy potholes, and that they tend to come to the top of the grass when the sun’s shining brightly.  Early risers should consider using the rosy dawn to catch a close-to-shore gator trout or redfish, and then wait for the sun to get high into the sky before undertaking the search for scallops.  Start your scallop hunt by running your boat at idle speed in water that’s three to four feet deep, using polarized sunglasses or a 5-gallon bucket fitted with a clear bottom to carefully scan the bottom.  Once you see reasonable numbers of scallops nestled in the grass, anchor up, hoist your mandatory dive flag, and get your crew overboard.

Safety is always a consideration for boaters and fishermen, and scallop season demands special attention and awareness.  It’s important to recognize that you, or others around you, may not be regular boaters or snorkelers, and may not be accustomed to motoring a boat or diving in what are likely to be crowded waters.  Accidents, sometimes tragic, during scalloping season can be avoided by motoring at idle speed within 300-feet of boats flying dive flags or of swimmers and snorkelers.  In recent years, many local marinas have been selling and making recommendations that individual snorkelers tow dive-flagged buoys.  This is not a requirement, but certainly a great idea.   Make sure, too, that your boat’s operator remains alert and tuned-in to his or her task.  Even the slightest distraction, including casual conversation, can be disastrous, so let them concentrate on getting everyone out and back safely.  And while some in your party may wish to partake of an adult beverage while scalloping, boat operators should UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES participate, remembering that the FWC and local authorities frown heavily on boating under the influence.  Scallop season also coincides with Florida’s thunderstorm season, and maintaining a visual ‘weather watch’ (or an ear tuned to the WX channel on your VHF radio) is a good practice.  Also, avoid making a decision to run home too late, as some narrow channels and boat ramps get pretty crowded as storms force boats back to port.

In-the-water ‘essentials’ for recreational scallopers are snorkels, masks, swim fins, plus mesh bags for gathering your harvest.  Most folks simply swim along the surface in the clear summer water and dive down only when a scallop is spotted.  Depending on the bottom, you’ll likely see some scallops ‘face up’, looking at you with a row of brilliant blue eyes around the slightly opened shell.  Others will be lying flat, with either the light or dark side of their shell facing upwards.  It doesn’t take much practice to learn to spot them like a pro, and even the kids will become experts after just a few minutes.  If the water’s not in its usual gin-clear state, you may have to dive down and skim the grass tops, swimming into the current, to get a better view of the scallops.   Most scallopers simply pick up their catch bare-handed, but many prefer scooping with small bait nets.  Scallops don’t bite, but will sometimes try to flutter away from an incoming human hand and a net sometimes makes the gathering easier.  Once caught and measured in a bucket, put your catch under ice immediately.  This not only keeps them fresh but also makes the scallops open up for easier cleaning later.

Cleaning a catch of scallops is not nearly as much fun as gathering them.  The ‘goodie’ in a scallop is the white adductor muscle, and the rest of the bivalve critter is discarded.  Scallops, even those iced on board, should be cleaned quickly to ensure freshness.   Some scallopers clean the catch on their boat, but care needs to be taken to not throw the offal (guts and shells) into the water while snorkelers are about, as there have been instances of sharks being attracted to a ‘scallop chum line’.  Cleaning scallops isn’t difficult and simple tools like oyster knives, sharpened tablespoons and garden gloves speed the messy job.  Ashore, most marinas have good stand-up cleaning tables, and some even have professional scallop cleaners standing by who will, for a more-than-reasonable fee, clean, rinse and bag your catch.

So, what’s the big deal about scallops and scalloping on Florida’s Gulf coast?  First, and foremost, if you’ve never eaten a Florida bay scallop, you’ve never really eaten a scallop.  Those bagged, frozen imports from South America that are regularly found in fish markets can’t compare in terms of taste, and store-bought ‘sea scallops’, though bigger, are often textured much like overcooked pork chops.  Our bay scallops are small, tender and best eaten the day they’re caught.  Preparation can range from sautéing in butter and garlic (served over pasta) to deep frying–just be sure not to overcook them.  Actually, they’re pretty darned good right out of the shell, raw, or as the basis for a simple lime and hot-pepper ceviche.   And second, eating your scallops is only half the fun.  A summertime scalloping trip to Florida’s Big Bend coast is an excellent opportunity to get family and friends—even the ‘Moms’– together for a fun day on the water!

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New Buckeye Artificial Reefs Coordinates Off Steinhatchee, Keaton Beach in Taylor County, FL

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Jan.14, 2014, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Steinhatchee

From: Geoff Wallat, UF / Taylor County Marine and Natural Resources Agent
During this past summer and fall, Taylor County deployed 2 new artificial reefs on the
permitted Buckeye Reef site. This site is approximately 26 nautical miles off Keaton Beach. The
first reef deployment consisted of 120 constructed concrete cubes. The cubes were placed in
patches of 4 cubes per patch, for a total of 30 patch reefs. The center coordinates for this
deployment are 29  38.879 North, and 83 54.767 West. The additional patch reefs were
spaced at approximately 200 feet between each patch, in a cross pattern. The cubes extend out
North and South, and East and West from the center coordinates. This deployment
was funded by a cooperative grant agreement funded bythe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission (FWC) with a match from the Taylor County Board of County Commissioners

The second deploymentent consisted of concrete culvert pipe and concrete material, donated by the local Florida Department of Transportation. Total weight of this deploymentwas 75 tons. This second deployment was made possible by the contributions of local Taylor County organizations and private citizens. The collective group included the Florida Departmentof Transportation (Cindy Dunkle), the Taylor County Tourism Development Council (Dawn Taylor), the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club(Lou Graf, Richard McDavid and Jay Peacock), theTaylor County Reef Research Team (Jody Courtney and Mike McKinney), and land ownersGeorge Edwards and John Taliaferro who permitted the group to stage and load the materials. The coordinates for this reef are 29 38.441 North, and 83 54.748 West

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Both artificial reef coordinates will be posted to the Taylor County Extension  webpage, at
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Artificial reef systems have shown to have positive impacts on natural fish populations
by providing additional habitat for marine life. The artificial reefs support new reef
communities of marine life, which serves to promote the conservation and management of
several relationally important fish species such as gag grouper and red snapper. The artificial
reefs also provide increased angling and diving opportunities, which have positive economic
impacts for local businesses in Taylor County
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2014 Steinhatchee Fishing Tournaments List–Thanks To Sea Hag Marina For Hosting

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Dec.25, 2013, under Steinhatchee

Thanks to the Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee for posting this list early–and for hosting!

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Improvements to Boat Ramp at Jena in Dixie County to be Completed December 2013

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Nov.12, 2013, under Steinhatchee

If you’ve ever launched at the boat ramp at Jena, on the Steinhatchee River, across from the Sea Hag Marina, you know the perils.  However, the ramp is being re-built and hopefully the problem of the bad drop-off will be fixed.  No details, but based on a quick tour of the site, it looks like the ramp will be doubled in size and extended much farther into the river.

The Jena boat ramp is located at the end of CR358 on the south side of the Steinhatchee River, in Dixie County

According to good sources in Dixie County, the construction should be completed by mid-December, ahead of schedule, and just in time for this winter’s influx of seatrout in the river.  In fact, a favorite wintertime seatrout spot is the “suicide hole”, just downstream from the ramp.  That’s where seatrout go to commit suicide in the winter months!!!

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Sand Trout/Silver Trout Invade the Flats of Taylor County!

by Capt. Tommy Thompson on Nov.12, 2013, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Steinhatchee

The waters at Steinhatchee have cooled (to the high 50s) and cleared!  That means “silver” or “sand” trout have invaded the 5 to 6-foot flats between Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach.  These fish are better fighters than their spotted seatrout cousins and are actually better to eat.  Generally, they’re smaller, but we’ve seen some 18-inchers come to the docks.  And, in my opinion, they are better table fare, as they have no “protein deposits” (worms).  Silver trout are also easy to catch, with most anglers using simple jig head/grub tail combinations, worked slowly along the bottom or under corks.

It doesn’t take a big boat to fish the flats at Steinhatchee–especially on calm fall days.

Trout are also showing up in the local deep-water trout holes.  Anglers have caught a few spotted seatrout in Dallus Creek, north of Steinhatchee and in the river holes near marker #26 in the Steinhatchee River.  In those places,  plugs (MirrOlure TTs or Paul Brown Devils) or live shrimp moved slowly across the bottom work well.

The silver trout invasion should last a few more weeks, and the deep-water trout fishery will last through the winter month.

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