Capt. Rick Davidson (firstname.lastname@example.org), Editor
The spring season is here, which makes everyone happy. Except the fish. Inshore, redfish have finally arrived in numbers and are schooling. There have been some excellent catches in the past two weeks, with multiple limits (which are now two fish per angler per day). Trout are populating the flats and shallow structure, and the Spanish mackerel have arrived on the offshore bars. Some early cobia have been taken, along with a bumper crop of Florida snapper and black sea bass. Amberjack continue to provide some great action and great eating as well. Probably the biggest news is that the sheepshead have appeared on offshore structure for their annual spawn, and they have been really really hungry. I’ve had some fun trips now that the patterns have settled down and the seagrass is filling in. The redfish have been found, with the best numbers north of the river in the Dallus Creek and Fisherman’s Rest areas, with trout scattered in water from 3 to 5 feet in depth over sand holes in the grass. In spite of challenging weather near the end of the month, it’s been a great month at the Sea Hag. I’ve picked some pictures of some recent catches by our visitors.
Lots of good things going on this month, especially for the offshore anglers. Red grouper season is open again, and as a special treat, gag grouper are open in state waters in only four counties in the Big Bend, including Taylor County. The total limit of any grouper is four, only two of which can be gags. As the large schools of whitebait move into the area, kingfish will be appearing along with greater numbers of Spanish mackerel and bluefish, and cobia will once again be found on offshore structure and cruising the flats. If you’re fishing inshore, keep a sharp eye out for schools of redfish in shallow water. If you happen upon one fish, there may be more present. Try to land the fish quickly and make as little noise as possible. If you do find a school, they may move off so work the surrounding area carefully and quietly. If you’re stealthy, you can catch a number of fish out of one school without driving the school away. This time of year, you need to fish a variety of lures, including jigs with soft bodies or Gulp shrimp, suspending lures such as the Mirrolure Catch 2000 or Paul Brown Lures, crankbaits such as the Heddon Swim’n Image, or topwater lures like the Heddon Super Spook Junior or the Rapala Skitterwalk. You can also anchor and fish structure areas with live pinfish or shrimp. All these lures, as well as live shrimp and pinfish can be found at the Sea Hag’s Ship’s Store. Trout will be populating the flats as the pinfish population expands. Popping corks with jigs and Gulp tails or DOA shrimp fished around the sand holes in the flats will provide you great action. Live pinfish will also score well with grouper, fished over hard bottom in 40 feet of water and deeper. As of this writing, sheepshead are still being taken in good numbers on offshore structure such as the Steinhatchee Reef. Fish ½ ounce jigheads tipped with shrimp, and remember that these are spawning fish, so only keep those that you intend to eat, and try and release the larger females if possible.
There are two great tournaments in town this month, so come on down and compete:
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)
And here are a few more for the rest of the spring months:
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)
Things have really turned around and we have enjoyed excellent weather and seas throughout the month of March. We were looking hard for trout and reds at the beginning of the month and having marginal success, but the good news is the trout bite has come back to our trusted locations in force and the redfish are showing too, but just not biting as aggressively as we would like to claim the new 8 reds / boat limit with 4 anglers on board. We have been having the best luck with trout tighter in to shore than we typically do. The trick out there right now is staying on the move. When the bite is just not there try another spot and keep moving. You'll find your limit as many of our anglers have, especially here at the end of the month. With water temps in the low seventies we are seeing all kinds of stuff happening well ahead of schedule. We enjoyed an excellent Spanish mackerel bite on several occasions and have already landed a few cobia, and these guys are typically not here until May. I am expecting everything to be pulled forward a month to six weeks if the Chamber of Commerce days continue in Steinhatchee. This could be one of the best years we have seen in some time, since the grassy bottom never really died out this year and the bait has already moved back in. If you remember last year, it was May before the vegetation on the bottom was back in shape. One of the things I routinely forget to share is just how beautiful it is in and around the gulf this time of year. Check out a few recent pictures of the area that comes with our great fishing and you'll be asking yourself after you get here why you waited so long! Come see us before all of the best dates are booked.
Captain Steve Rassel http://www.lastcastras.com 352-359-5902
March was a great month for fishing the flats, with plenty of trout and redfish. April will also be very good. Still have a few days open---come on over and catch your limit with Last Cast Rass.
Capt. Scott Peters, Jr. http://www.captscottjr.com/ 352-356-7502
Bad To The Bone Charters
Capt. Tommy Thompson
What a great month for shallow water angling at Steinhatchee. The winds have finally calmed and the trout and redfish bite is ON! My best days were ones when I could fish the rising tides late in the day, when we found lots of reds and big trout in less than two feet of water. If you've never caught a fish on a topwater lure in shallow water, now's the time to do it. Longtime fisherman Bill Stein had a great trout experience on his first visit to our area, nailing a 7# seatrout--his biggest ever. And while Jim and Pat Wilson tried to re-make their 2010 winning of the Sea Hag's March Trout Madness, they only caught a bunch of 3 pounders. Pat really wanted to beat her winning fish's weight of 6.5 pounds, but I think Bill Stein beat her to the punch the day before. That's fishing.
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
March has been great for sheepshead but the bite is starting to slow down. Florida Snapper have been very plentiful along with nice sea bass in the 40'-50' range, so a nice half day charter can provide a lot of fun and fish. Red grouper will open on April 1 and hopefully with the warmer temps you will be able to find them in the 60' but don't be surprised if you have to venture deeper to find nice keepers. Amberjack are doing well and will remain open until Jun. 1 and at that time red snapper will open. Let's all hope that gas will get cheaper so that we can all go fishing.
Be safe and I hope to see you on the water soon.
Captain Brian Smith, www.bigbendcharters.com (352) 210-3050
Let me go on record saying, this has been a record March. Record Blue Bird Days! After a decade of blustery winds and choppy seas in March, I have always tried to move people to April. This year the lack of winter gave new meaning to March Madness, weather was perfect temperature, seas were calm and lines were tight all day long! Sheepshead started the end of February, which I missed, while refitting the TwinVee with new Suzuki motors and electronics. I did splash down mid- March and have been fishing hard ever since! My specialty this spring has been the PB&J Special: Pinks, Blacks and Jacks! The warm water has brought the amberjack closer in from the offshore wrecks I usually fish, and they are piled up on my Double Naught Secret Spot and added a lot of excitement to the day, and they are hungry and hunting for topwater lures! The sirens of offshore are calling me too! I need to see the deep blue, feel the yank of a grouper and the freight train of a king, and always ready for the hunt for cobia! April 1st begins grouper season. The aggregate bag limit is 4, and the good news you can keep 4 red grouper. For gag grouper, you can keep two, but there are all kinds of nuances to this rule. Kings and cobia are showing up and probably by the time you read this, I will have landed a few!
Off the record, our mascot Calcutta Marie has passed this week. Fresh out of Captain’s school, I went to look at our first boat to buy and start Big Bend Charters. April 3, 1998, we drove to Suwannee to look at a Robalo and that was the day that Callie was born. I loved the boat at first glance, but the clincher for Gina was that it came with a puppy. We didn’t pick her that day, but a few days before the pups were weaned, the little runt of the litter chose us and we took her home. She wasn’t much of a boat dog (who would want to challenge a great dane for the bean bags?), but she has brought us 14 years of love and joy! A reminder why we got into this business, like Callie’s motto: every day is a good day if you are with the ones you love, doing what you love to do.
Spring has sprung, now let’s go fishing! Tight Lines & Blue Skies!
SEA HAG GUIDES