Capt. Rick Davidson (email@example.com), Editor
While Zeus was the king of the Greek gods, Poseidon had exclusive control over the sea….including the weather. Unfortunately there is no primary season for elections for Greek gods, because he needs to be replaced. February had all the makings of a great fishing month, especially inshore; trout were available for the first time in many years, the redfish limit increased to two fish per angler, and while both red and gag grouper were still closed, amberjack, Florida snapper and black seabass were available for our offshore fishermen. But Poseidon blew that up. Almost every weekend was windy, and most added some fine rain to the mix. The temperatures were ridiculously mild for February, confusing fish, redbuds and dogwoods as well as fishermen. There were fish around; Capt. Tommy Thompson and I found them, but it was a very challenging bite. We found both trout and redfish to be very concentrated. On the Saturday of the Fiddler Crab Festival we fished in the morning, going to several of our favorite spots and finding nothing, and then tried one more location and found a large school of 19 inch trout and several tournament-sized redfish. We literally were catching trout on every cast. This pattern was true another weekend; we found an excellent school of redfish, catching 8 or 9 fish in an hour or so. We came back the next day, same tide, same place and found nothing there. Take home message? When the fishing gets tough, keep moving. Try different depths, different lures or baits, and be patient.
I’m a little anxious to make any forecasts given the horrifying weather we’ve had, but assuming things stay as they usually do, March is one of our better months for inshore fishing. Unfortunately red grouper are closed until March 31 (gag grouper are closed until July 1). Amberjack are open for lots of hard-pulling fun, and kingfish and Spanish mackerel should be arriving soon (they already are appearing in good numbers in Homosassa so they're on their way). As always, offshore bottom fishing should be excellent for seabass and Florida snapper, and sometime this month the sheepshead spawn will begin on offshore structure. Keep track of the action by checking with the Ship's Store at the Sea Hag Marina to find out how the bite is. Inshore fishing should be excellent as the seagrass is already growing in and pinfish will increase in numbers on the flats. Redfish should become more numerous as they move out of the creeks and deeper water into the shallows, and will be continuing to school in good numbers through the spring. Cobia should arriving this month as well.
There are several important items we’re including in the report this month. First, SeaTow is sponsoring an automated radio check for Sea Hag. When you want a radio check, please call on channel 26. You will get an automated message that will let you know your radio is working just fine. Thanks for using this great service; it will clear up Channel 9 for other calls. Second, following is the list of spring tournaments in Steinhatchee.
March Trout Madness: Sea Hag’s own trout tournament. Weigh in your trout at the Sea Hag for an automatic entry. Largest trout will win a Shimano rod and reel combo, and everyone weighing in a trout will win a prize!
April 21: Steinhatchee Community Tournament (weigh-in at the Steinhatchee Community Center)
April 28: Shands Fishing for Kids tournament (weigh-in at Sea Hag Marina)
May 5: Optimist Club Saltwater Tournament (weigh-in at Sea Hag Marina, Econfina and Keaton Beach)
PLEASE NOTICE: THIS YEAR THERE WILL BE NO OFFSHORE OR SPEARFISHING PRIZES FOR THE OPTIMIST TOURNAMENT; IT WILL BE INSHORE ONLY.
May 12: Big Bend Redfish Club (weigh-in at Sea Hag Marina)
May 26: Wildwood Athletic Club tournament (weigh-in at Sea Hag Marina)
June 8-9: Doug Johnson Reeling for Kids tournament (weigh-in location TBA)
June 16: Steinhatchee Nauti Girls tournament (ladies only; weigh-in TBA)
Lastly, we get frequent questions about the open seasons for fish in our area. Sometimes this is a challenge because they change frequently based on federal and state rulings. As of today, this is a list of the seasonal regulations for grouper, amberjack and red snapper.
GAG GROUPER: State waters open April, May and June for Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla and Franklin Counties. July 1 thru October 31 Federal waters open but STATE waters will be closed to above counties. BAG LIMIT 2 per person within the 4 Grouper aggregate bag limit, minimum size 22 inches.
RED GROUPER: CLOSED FEBRUARY AND MARCH. BAG LIMIT 4 PER PERSON, MINIMUM SIZE 20 INCHES.
AMBERJACK: CLOSED JUNE AND JULY. 1 PER PERSON, MINIMUM SIZE 30 INCHES FROM THE FORK.
RED SNAPPER: NOT SET YET. LAST YEAR JUNE TO JULY 18, 2 PER PERSON, MINIMUM SIZE 16 INCHES.
Here are some reports and photos from our excellent guides:
Captain Randall Hewitt www.hookedonreds.com 386-208-3823 (C) 386-294-1257 (H)
Wind, rough seas and all around lousy weather coupled with less than accurate forecasting have taken their toll on fishing the Nature Coast this month. We got out twice this month and continued to enjoy the success we have had in January in 25-30 feet of water over hard bottom with Black Bass and Florida snapper. Our efforts to locate sheepshead over some of the rock piles were met with little success, though. We unfortunately did not get to leverage this February's open season on trout! What a missed opportunity! With all of that said, we are counting on March's weather being better and much milder. If you remember last year, it was brutally cold in March and we could hardly get out then either! So with all of that bad news, we are looking forward to April and May ... some of the best times to be on the water. Enjoy these photos from the www.hookedonreds.com archives!
Captain Steve Rassel http://www.lastcastras.com 352-359-5902
Capt. Scott Peters, Jr. http://www.captscottjr.com/ 352-356-7502
Bad To The Bone Charters
Capt. Tommy Thompson
Spring 'sprung' early this year, and the inshore waters at Steinhatchee look great! Seagrasses are greening up and in fact, some never died due to cold water this winter. March is looking up in terms of our ability to throw topwater plugs for reds and trout. I'm really looking forward to hitting some of my favorite shallow rockpiles--those special places where big trout and reds like to hang out during the spring months. Let's go fishin'!
If you're interested in some more in-depth information about fishing Florida's Big Bend, take a look at my weekly Fishing4Cast on the Florida Sportsman Magazine Web site at http://www.floridasportsman.com/4cast/bb, the Florida Sportsman Big Bend Action Spotter column in each month's issue. All of the Big Bend fishing 4Casts are now available to to viewed on my editorial website. And starting this month, I'll be taking over the 'Sportsman's Kitchen' column in Florida Sportsman magazine. I like to fish, but cooking and eating are a close second-place!
My award-winning fishing guidebook, The Saltwater Angler's Guide To Florida's Big Bend and Emerald Coast, might be a help to you if you spend lots of time at Steinhatchee (or anywhere from Chassahowitzka to Pensacola). It's got LOTS of secrets, tips and tricks, so don't forget to pick up a copy at the Sea Hag Ship's Store the next time you're at the marina. You can learn more about the book at www.saltwateranglersguide.com
Also, my book, The Inshore Advantage, Aerial Photos of the Shallow Waters near Steinhatchee, Florida is again available ONLY at the Sea Hag's Ships' Store. Although pricey ($75), the hardbound book with its 26 high-resolution color photos, taken at very low tide will give you a decided advantage in that you'll get a close-up look at the details of the shoreline from Pepperfish Keys to Sponge Point. The photos are also overlaid with GPS numbers and place names to help you better understand the shoreline. Also included are two articles, Steinhatchee Inshore Waters and Navigating Steinhatchee's Rocky Shoreline.
Captain Steve Hart, www.legallimitscharters.com (352) 498-0299
Sheepshead take center stage in March. I think of sheepshead like the opening act for the fishing season. They mark the beginning of a wonderful show you’ve been waiting to see for months. Though not the premier upcoming acts, they are a lumbering, well-loved warm-up that folks are used to enjoying. Whether watching a school of sheepies mill around your boat or waiting for the ‘no-touch’ bite, sheepshead fishing is all good. The first sheepshead fishing trip of the year always brings back memories of the previous trips and those that were with you at that time, the memories that make fishing such a great sport. Most of the sheepshead locations are historically well known; some are even listed on local charts. If you’re not that familiar with the area, simply hire a guide. A good guide is a great fishing companion and can in short time provide you with a wealth of information. Considering that that and the expense of dealing with your own boat, the extra cost for a guide is money well invested. Why not treat yourself and friends and let someone else take ya’ll fishing for a change?
Surprisingly, the principal diet for most of a sheepshead’s life is plant based; however, the best two baits to use are fiddler crabs and shrimp. As for tackle, typical trout gear is awesome. It puts the fight in the fish. Hooks (1/0 is a good size) should be of sturdy build and long shanked. The longer shank facilitates hook removal from a vise-like mouth. Quarter-ounce jig heads are often used to eliminate the need for rigging with a sinker. If you do use a sinker, use the least amount necessary. A lighter weight allows you to better feel the light tap that says “bite”. A short twenty to thirty pound test leader is a bit of bite-off insurance, but if that seems to kill the nibbles, tie straight to the main line. You always have a chance at a fish that will bite as opposed to one that won’t.
The bag limit for sheepshead remains at fifteen per person per day. Considering that the fish are in the act of reproducing and most vulnerable to the hook, taking fifteen fish per person out of the spawn seems strangely wrong. The larger fish are egg-laden females capable of releasing 250,000 eggs several times during the spawn. In effect, taking a very large sheepshead is equivalent to taking thousands of sheepshead from next year’s season. So why take the future? Release the big girls and in so doing show others you do care about the fishery. You’ll still have plenty of good eating. The federal government thinks we’re all out to trash what we so enjoy. Let’s show them otherwise by taking pictures that are captioned “released”. After all, a picture is worth a thousand fish. Enjoy fishing for a lifetime.
Captain Wiley Horton http://www.tunersportfishing.com/ 352-284-0990
SEA HAG GUIDES