Capt. Rick Davidson (email@example.com), Editor
Happy New Year to all from the Sea Hag Marina!
December, as it usually does, had its ups and downs, and not surprisingly it was based on the weather. This so far has been an unusually mild winter, without the hard freeze that will drive the trout into the river. The redfish bite has been great for oversize fish; this has probably been the best year for bull redfish that I have seen in many years. The smaller slot-sized fish have been a little harder to find. The offshore bite has been excellent when the weather allowed our captains to get out, and with gag grouper closed, there have been lots of black sea bass and Florida snapper brought in to the cleaning tables. Some offshore captains going out to much deeper water have had great success at getting limits of red grouper. When amberjack are active, they can provide a day’s worth of exertion in just a few hours, and some fine filets as well. The kingfish, cobia and Spanish mackerel have largely moved south along with a lot of the large schools of whitebait, and pinfish are harder to find on the flats; all that means that the resident fish are hungry, as long as they are warm enough to chase down a meal. My trips this month have all been better with warmer weather, including New Year’s weekend when I took Capt. Tommy Thompson out for a shallow-water trip on a warm sunny Saturday. We found lots of trout to four pounds and several redfish of 6 and 7.5 pounds. So far the trout have not come in the river in large numbers (although there are plenty of boats looking for them) but that will change soon. I’ve posted a few pictures from some of my December trips below.
It can’t stay this way, with the temperatures on New Year’s Day in the 70’s. An extended cold front with a hard freeze will move the inshore fish off the flats and into the river, where there will be plenty of folks to greet them with free-lined shrimp, 52M Mirrolures, Gulp baits and suspending plugs. Redfish will be lethargic until the afternoons warm up things a bit, and will head for deep holes in the creeks as well as the river. Most of the large redfish will have moved offshore to spawn (and never to return). While many people put up their boats when it gets cold, this is actually my favorite time of year when the warm-ups occur and the larger trout begin to school, the only time of the year that occurs. Offshore, with gag grouper closed, the emphasis will be on red grouper, amberjack, and Florida snapper and sea bass. Get your grouper this month because both species are closed beginning in February. Bottom fishing is the norm this time of year.
Remember that live shrimp, lures, rods and reels, line replacement and just about anything you need for your trip can be found in our Ship’s Store, along with daily reports. We’ve got several things to look forward to in the coming months: one, there should be an excellent sheepshead fishery when they move out to the reefs to spawn. Many large sheepshead have been seen and some caught in the river and on the flats. Additionally, there is no closed season on trout this February, and the recent change in regulations allows 2 redfish to be kept per person per day, a doubling of the current limit. So don’t put your boat up; just dress warmly and come to Steinhatchee for some fine winter fishing.
Here are some reports from our excellent guides:
Captain Randall Hewitt www.hookedonreds.com 386-208-3823 (C) 386-294-1257 (H)
Flexibility is the name of the fishing game this time of year and December has been a month of transition when the fronts are not rolling through. While some trout have hit the dock ... they have been few and far between. Without the bitter cold weather that we had last year the water has remained fairly warm impacting the typical cycles of fish migration that we can normally set our watch by. We have enjoyed several excellent days on the water despite the often challenging conditions. When the tides cooperate, there has been a solid redfish bite that we have been a part of with a few trout thrown in. On New Year’s Eve we found the conditions perfect for "near shore" fishing in 25 - 30 ft of water. Black sea bass and Florida snapper were plentiful and the action should only improve as the temperatures dip through January and February. Don't discount the sport of catching these guys ... black sea bass are members of the grouper family, and pound for pound they may be the strongest fighter in our local waters and are one of the best "eats" the gulf has to offer. We pulled out a little heavier tackle and added slip sinkers to our bottom rigs and really had a ball ... two of my clients landed 74 lbs of fish in less than 6 hours. The weather was incredible and the gulf was very calm ... it was one of those days that crops up every now and again in the winter. This type of fishing is great for kids ... the non-stop action keeps them real busy and gives them plenty of opportunity to hone their angling skills. Don't forget there is no closure for trout this year in February ... we often see the biggest fish this time of year. Visit www.hookedreds.com for more insight into the fishing action !
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
December's always a fun month to fish, but sometimes the fish don't cooperate. I'm not saying it was slow, but some days started that way. Rick and Nanette O'Hara came up from Tampa to fly fish one day and it took us a long time to find a warm spot that was holding trout and reds. No whoppers, but it doesn't take much to put a bend in an 8-weight fly rod. I also did a fun trip with Tom Tumbleson from Gainesville. We managed a couple of trout, but fought the winds (predicted at 5 knots but actually 20!) all day. A post-Christmas trip with my dad and daughter was a nice outing. No trout that day, but we did catch some reds and a nice flounder for dinner. The final trip of the year was a fun outing with friend Capt. Rick Davidson. You can read about it and see the results in his report, above. I'm expecting January to show us some cooler water temperatures, nice redfish and some whopper seatrout.
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 in February, 2012 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
Happy New Year and let's go fishing. Many of you may not know that red grouper season is open until the first of February and the limit has been increased to four per person. If you go I recommend that you start in the 70' plus range, deeper is better. As for bait, both cut and frozen have been working well. If you choose to stay closer in you can catch nice sea bass starting in the 20' plus range and the Florida snapper are large and plentiful in 48' and deeper. Don't forget that all grouper will be closed February and March with gag season not opening up until July. But don't forget, the good news is that we can keep four red grouper.
Time for the Lazy Fishermen to Arise
Although it could be in second place to February, January can be an undesirable month to fish because it can be cold, not because fish aren’t biting. Most folks approach fishing in January as if they are fishing in June. They start off on the wrong cold foot and once their feet, hands or anything else gets cold, it is a downhill slide from there. However, the fish are biting. They have to eat for a living and with the bait pods wintering in the south, the resident fish are hungry, wanting and waiting for their next meal. A meal you will enjoy delivering. Here is an easy, cheap and rewarding January game plan:
First thing, pick your day well. If it is predicted to be cold and nasty, don’t go fishing. The best way to stay warm is not to get cold, right? You need to dress appropriately. The best dress code is layers with a waterproof outer shell so you can peel away layers as needed. The best way to stay warm is not to get cold. The coldest day temperatures are usually at daybreak. So, why deal with that? Sleep in, wait for the air temps to increase and the subsequent morning winds to decrease. Be lazy, stay warm. Remember: the best way to stay warm is not to get cold. If it is exceptionally cold, if you can see or feel ice anywhere that is not refrigerated, it means one or more of the following. A: You are not in Florida. Ask someone for directions south. B: You started too early, go back inside. Or, C: Do not go outside the river mouth until temperature rises. And, while in the river, slow work Mirror lures or jigs along the bottom for speckled trout; they will be there because they are also avoiding the cold. If you don’t know a special place for trout fishing, just look for boat clusters. Be polite and respectful and you’ll be welcomed in the cluster.
If temperatures are comfortable, have a five-pound box of durable squid and ease out to hard bottom spots 20-35’ deep. The less you need to ride, the better. I selected the word ‘ease’ because even if the seas are conducive to wide-open throttle, wind-chill makes cold and cold is bad. You don’t need to go that far so why bring misery upon yourself and others? An extra few minutes of good ride time is far better that an unnecessary warm up period. Remember: the best way to stay warm is not to get cold. If you’re fishing during a typical “bluebird” day, fooling around with the anchor may not be necessary. Be lazy, stay warm and drift fish. For the most fun, use light tackle, trout gear. For whatever rig, always use the least amount of weight to hold the bait on the bottom. The bait, squid, is best cut into three-inch strips thumb width. Thin wire, long shank hooks help hook removal and will bend out when hung up on bottom. The next part is the fun part; Florida snapper (pink mouth grunts) and sea bass swarm these near shore hard bottom patches and every drop will get bit. I call it yo-yo fishing, up and down action. Bop around from one patch to the next collecting a fine fish fry, and then leave early before the chill of the late afternoon. Remember? The best way to stay warm is not to get cold. And have a Happy New Year from Big Bend Charters. We hope to see you this year! Capt. B and Gina
Captain Wiley Horton http://www.tunersportfishing.com/ 352-284-0990
SEA HAG GUIDES