Capt. Rick Davidson (email@example.com), Editor
It’s been a good month at the Sea Hag Marina, in spite of the lingering effects of Tropical Storm Debby. The scallop season began with a bang, with limits within a few hours, but as the continued outflow of upriver rainfall made its way into the gulf, the challenge became finding the scallops that were there. At times the tannin-stained water provided limited visibility, so scallopers moved north and south of the river looking for clearer water, finding some good limits in the Pepperfish Keys area. Constant west winds also brought in a lot of floating grass, but the committed scallopers managed to find some tasty meals. The same issues made fishing a challenge as well. Fresh water close to shore and floating grass impacted both redfish and trout fishing, but there were fish available. Capt. Tommy Thompson and I went out for a very brief trip on the last weekend and managed a number of keeper trout and missed some redfish strikes on shore
lines to the north of the river. Offshore, the grouper bite was inconsistent, but there were some fine catches and there were lots of Florida snapper and black seabass for fish fries.
We get a lot of questions about how to fish inshore in floating grass, so I thought I’d describe some of the techniques we’ve found to work over the years. Grass is a major challenge to me, since I fish almost exclusively with artificials, with topwater plugs being my favorite. However, grass puts a major damper on just about any fishing with plugs. Probably the most successful method of fishing in heavy grass is using cut pinfish fillets under popping corks. You will still be clearing a lot of grass, but having a piece of cut bait suspended just off the bottom, with the occasional pop of a Cajun Thunder rig will attract the trout and redfish when they are present. Substituting a jig with a Gulp bait or DOA shrimp will also produce, but fishing them without a popping cork will result in lots of grass on your jig. Try to keep your baits in one area without retrieving them too rapidly. Since I try to stick to artificials, I use two major lure choices: first, a simple gold spoon with a weedguard. Capt. Mark Brady recommends bending the very end of the weedguard downward to keep redfish from feeling the sharp end of the wire when they hit the spoon, which makes them drop it rapidly. Work the spoon close to the bottom, bouncing it along. Heavy thumps usually signify a redfish is interested in the spoon but not committed. As a follow-up lure, or as the single lure I use most frequently, use a Texas-rigged soft jerkbait, using an offset worm hook or an Owner soft-bait hook that comes with a small weight attached to the bottom of the hook. When fishing very shallow, I use an unweighted jerkbait from 4 to 6 inches in length. The crucial aspect of fishing these baits is to make sure the very tip of the hook is slightly buried in the top of the bait. I’ve included a brief video link that shows how to make this simple rig here.
There are a variety of jerkbaits that can be rigged this way, including the DOA CAL tails, Salt Water Assassin shad tails, and Gulp makes a jerkbait as well. My particular favorite is a Salt Water Assassin Die Dapper, which is a long jerkbait with a shad tail, but any of these will work excellently. A huge selection of jerkbaits, along with a great selection of hooks for rigging them, can be found in the Sea Hag Marina’s Ship’s Store. On a light spinning rod with 10 pound braid, these baits can be thrown for surprising distances. They can be worked in a variety of methods until you find one that seems to be working in your area. I will occasionally reel them quickly across the top of the water, letting the shad tail vibrate back and forth, similar to a freshwater buzz bait. Sometime I will let it sink a few feet, then work it as if it a topwater plug, walking the dog just under the surface. Sometimes, letting it suspend and giving it quick jerks, then letting it sink slowly toward the bottom will work as well. The largest trout caught on my boat this year was a 6.5 pound gator caught by Dr. Bob Watson on a jerkbait rigged in this manner, and of all the lures I use, it is by far the most weedless when correctly rigged; it will almost never pick up any grass, no matter how thick it is.
Offshore, keep in mind that amberjack season is open beginning August 1. If you want some exercise and some great eating, target these great fighters with one of our offshore guides. Gag grouper remain open as well. We expect the water to gradually clear inshore over the next few weeks. There are scallops present, and as the water clears, limits will be taken easily. Summer is traditionally slow for inshore fishing, with lots of scallopers and high water temperatures, but trout will be found in deeper water, up to ten feet, and solitary redfish will be planning for their schooling behavior in the fall. Don’t forget to drop by the Ship’s Store for scalloping supplies, fishing licenses, rod and reels combos, and any lures and terminal tackle you might need for a great time on the water.
And now some reports from some of our excellent group of guides….
Captain Randall Hewitt www.hookedonreds.com 386-208-3823 (C) 386-294-1257 (H)
July's bite has been tough. The impact of the tropical storm and the influx of murky fresh water has made inshore fishing challenging. Despite the challenge we have been landing a few. Have to remind myself that a tough day in Steinhatchee is better than a great day in most places. Finding scallops has been another story. They have been plentiful and once again families have been having a great time hunting these tasty mollusks!
Captain Steve Rassel http://www.lastcastras.com 352-359-5902
Fishing the flats for trout and redfish continues to be very productive. While the abundance of fresh water has made scalloping harder it has cooled the shallows and the fish are responding. I’ve been getting nice limits of trout with a few red fish sprinkled in. The water to the north of the river is very red from all the rain so if you are searching for scallops---go south.
Capt. Tommy Thompson
Based on the number of emails I receive each month asking about fishing information at Steinhatchee, I'd have to say the the past month's scallop questions outpaced fishing questions by about 5 to 1. However, my answers to both sets of writers has been about the same: "Don't worry about the color of the water; worry about the clarity". For scallopers, dirty water means you can't see the critters and for fin-fishers, dirty water makes the reds and trout look for water in which they can see their prey. Low salinity caused by runoff is important, more so for scallops, so look for them away from shore. Trout and reds really don't mind a bit of sweet water and they can be caught in their usual habitats--if they can see or hear your bait. Of course, the recent southwesterly winds have increased the amount of floating sea grass in the water, making some styles of fishing almost useless. I'm a big fan of topwater plugs, but that option is off the table for now. I recommend soft jerk baits or even D.O.A. shrimp under popping corks to get the job done. And, by the way, all that excess grass isn't the fault of scallopers. It's due to the natural cycle of growth and re-growth of our healthy sea beds.
I recommend you fish for trout and reds early and then scallop as the sun comes up. Scallops are more likely to move to the top of the grass as the day brightens. That's when they're easier to see, too. Also, try to plan your scallop expedition a couple of hours before and after the low tide. Snorkeling or wading is much easier then.
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
Captain Steve Hart, www.legallimitscharters.com (352) 498-0299
Fishing in July and August is a challenge; it’s HOT! You have to keep an eye out for storms and most of the time the bite is slow, but with that being said, I have been catching some grouper on all my trips. I have fished from 40' to 75' and one seems to work about as well as the other. Grouper may be slow but the Florida snapper are doing great and are really nice sized; I’ve been finding them in 40' to 50' . I am still seeing the occasional cobia so keep a rod rigged and ready to toss a bait. Due to Tropical Storm Debby scallop season has been a little bit of a challenge with poor visibility in some areas, but I have been getting a limit most days and hopefully the water will get better in the weeks to come. Don't forget that gag grouper will be open until the end of October and amberjack will reopen August 1 so plan those fall trips now. Please be safe out there and I hope to see you on the water soon.
Captain Brian Smith, www.bigbendcharters.com (352) 210-3050
Rough weather plagued July. Debby dumped a lot of water that continues to flood the gulf with fresh water. The change in the salinity has altered the fish’s habitat, changing our usual summer fishing patterns. Morning and/or afternoon thundershowers either delayed departure or made the return to the dock urgent in the afternoon. Good News! July is behind us and August 1st is the opening of amberjack! Amberjack are the thrill in the day, adding a 15-20 lb reef donkey to the box is exhilarating and makes great table fare. Grill, fried, in chowder, AJs are versatile. Take your leftovers and make an AJ salad, just like you would your tuna salad -- Sorry Charlie, AJs are the chicken of the sea! You will never open a can of tuna again. Grouper are still finicky, gag grouper being the best bet with a few red grouper thrown in the mix. You will need some fresh, frozen and cut bait and a lot of patience to find them this summer. As some of this fresh water dissipates, you will see the grouper bite pick up. Best bet for August, Florida snapper and sea bass, with AJs for the fight. A little more than 2 weeks left before school starts, take the family for a relaxing, fun trip. No need to spend the money for the long hot ride offshore, enjoy the day catching these tasty fish, and have a fish fry for Labor Day. Save your money for offshore fishing in the fall! “Born anglers love fishing regardless of the catch” -- T Morris Longstreth
SEA HAG GUIDES