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Florida's Finest Fishing For 2008

Florida's Finest Fishing For 2008

In every part of the state, at any time of year, the Sunshine State has angling to please any taste. Here are three dozen trips you don't want to miss! (February 2008).

Polly Dean.

When you start talking about fishing in Florida, it's not really a matter of "Where to go?" With both an Atlantic and Gulf Coast, not to mention over 7,000 named lakes, rivers and ponds, no angler is more than a short distance from the water. Inside the city limits of a number of large cities, in fact, fishermen can find quality angling that rivals anything the "wilderness" can offer.

Here're 36 spots where you can enjoy fast action this year.


Spotted Seatrout

Steinhatchee River

Chilly weather brings hefty seatrout flocking to this Big Bend river. And with the season closing on trout in February, this month is the peak time.

Look for trout to gather in the deeper river holes. Those located on outside bends are often the most productive, but any hole with a hard rock bottom and a few sharply-dropping ledges can produce. The air might be cold, but the trout feed actively, generally within a few feet of the bottom.

Some anglers drift plastic jigs or sink plugs so that they just tick the bottom with the current. Others favor shrimp, live baitfish, or cut bait. Alternatives: Speckled Perch are on the move in Lake Woodruff and the connecting St. Johns River. A minnow-tipped jig can fool these fish.


Largemouths should be in full spawn on Lake Okeechobee. Look for them to be bedding anywhere they can reach the outer edge of vegetation in at least two feet of water.



Lake George

This month normally signals the first major spawn on Lake George. While eelgrass has been in short supply in recent years, it started to come back strong in 2007.

The eastern shore, from Georgetown to Pine Island, has the best grass and should draw a lot of bedding bass this spring. Veteran anglers often drift the grass with the wind while throwing a 1/4-ounce white spinnerbait or a swimming worm ahead of them.

Watch for freshly fanned beds, or patches of recently uprooted eelgrass, which mean bass beds.

When you find a concentration of beds, sight-fish with soft-plastic baits. But some anglers find that fishing subtle topwater plugs at dawn can produce hefty fish as well.

Alternatives: Lochloosa Lake has become a top producer of speckled perch, and February is a peak month. Drifting minnow-tipped jigs in open water can be deadly.

Rodman Reservoir will be drawn down this year, and that will make spawning bass much easier to find.


Striped Bass

Lake Talquin

Thanks to a state stocking program, this manmade reservoir produces Gulf-strain stripers up to 20 pounds every year. They're most often caught by casting artificial lures into surprisingly shallow water.

The key area in March is the lower portion of the lake near the dam. The rock riprap lining the dam is a good target.

So, too, are any of the numerous submerged points and sandbars extending outward from the shoreline.

During dim light, some big stripers can be taken as shallow as three feet Soft-plastic jigs in pearl white are a top choice, and a local favorite is a 3/8-ounce white Roadrunner jig.

Alternatives: Shallow vegetation in Lake Kissimmee yields a lot of bass this month to topwater plugs and plastic worms, although some of the larger fish may have to be flipped from heavier cover.

Anglers trolling chrome minnow plugs in the Oklawaha River below Rodman Dam catch the peak of the annual striped bass run.

Polly Dean.



Homosassa Bay

This month, cobia are migrating northward, following feeding rays onto the shallow flats in Homosassa Bay and offer an exciting sight-fishing opportunity and great table fare.

Look for the cobia to be holding in the maze of channels on the lower tide and following the rays up on the flood tide.

Timing the tide is key. As the water begins rising, veteran anglers start on the flats closest to the channels.

Polarized glasses are a must, and artificial lures normally out-produce live or dead bait. The cobia must first be spotted and then an accurate cast made to the biting end of the fish.

A 4- to 5-inch chartreuse, plastic-tail on a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce wide-gapped jighead is deadly. Savvy anglers fish it on a medium-heavy action 7-foot spinning rig spooled with 30-pound braided line and 3 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Alternatives: On the falling tide, spotted seatrout are feeding heavily at the mouths of tidal creeks in the Intracoastal Waterway in New Smyrna Beach. Five-pound trout are common.

Largemouths are spawning in Lake Seminole. Look for them on the hydrilla flats near the mouth of the feeder creeks.


Spotted Seatrout

Horseshoe Beach

If there's a better month than May to fish for seatrout in Florida, good luck finding it. When it comes to limits of trout, the grass flats in the four- to seven-foot depths off of Horseshoe Beach are some of the best places.

Hit the grass bars on the rising tide and drift. A live shrimp under a cork works well, but also collects trash fish. A better bet is a rattling cork with a 1/4-ounce plastic-tailed jig on a 2-foot fluorocarbon leader. During the early morning hours, don't overlook a compact topwater plug, since it can often draw larger trout.

While the grass flats produce limits quickly, experienced anglers often follow the rising tide into the oyster-laden creeks and back bays where larger trout tend to roam.

Alternatives: Big seatrout are prowling the mangrove shorelines in the Fort Pierce portion of the Intracoastal Waterway. Topwater plugs at dawn can produce trophy fish.

Look for largemouth bass to be feeding heavily along shorelines and midriver bars in the St. Johns River near Palatka.


King Mackerel

First Coast Wrecks

This month, the near-shore wrecks in the 9- to 15-mile range offshore from Mayport to St. Augustine can be gold mines for "schoolie" kings of up to 15 to 20 pounds, and experienced anglers normally count on limits.

Slow-trolling live bait over the wrecks is the most productive tactic, and Sabiki rigs can collect all the bait you need right on the spot. Carry plenty of rigs, because big barracuda like the wrecks too, and will take some of your rigs from you.

You can also expect to lose a king or two -- or major portions of them -- to the 'cudas. But that drawback is tempered by the fact that in recent years, dolphin and even sailfish have been caught on the wrecks by anglers trolling for kings.

Alternatives: Anglers in the Port St. Joe area find migrating schools of king mackerel moving inshore as close as the first buoy line. Slow-trolling live bait is normally the most productive tactic.

This month's full moon sees many big mangrove snapper gathering on rockpiles, reefs, and wrecks in Tampa Bay. Lighter lines combined with scaled sardines or shrimp work.

Polly Dean.



South Biscayne Bay

Permit are roaming the hard-bottomed flats bathed by the ocean side waters from Soldier Key south to Ocean Reef. Though it gets blistering hot, permit don't mind the heat. They can be caught as they cruise the flats throughout the day.

This is sight-fishing at its finest, and polarized glasses are a must. Spot the fish, make the cast, and pray for the best. Those favoring flies or skimmer jigs take some fish. But if success is mandated, a small silver dollar-sized blue crab hooked in the corner of the shell on a straight-shank 1/0 to 2/0 hook is hard to beat.

Fish this on a 7-foot medium action rod spooled with 8- to 10-pound monofilament, and don't worry about a weight or leader.

Alternatives: Snook are roaming the Gordon Pass area at the mouth of Naples Bay. Lures work early and late, but live bait is best at midday.

Some of the biggest bluegill in Florida are nestled in beds of lily pads in Leon County's Lake Iamonia. They hit crickets, worms or popping bugs early and late in the day.



St. Augustine

Schools of migrating tarpon find the near-shore waters just off St. Augustine's beaches a convenient place to spend the summer, as they feed on pods of pogies and by-catch from shrimp boats. They can be huge. In recent years, at least one fish over 200 pounds was caught and released.

Most tarpon are caught in 25 to 50 feet of water, using 50-pound tackle, and within a mile of the beach --quite accessible to smaller boats.

The procedure is rather ritualized. Chum is first collected from shrimp boats, or cast-netted from pogy pods. Establish a chum line to draw the fish, and float baits within it.

Those trying it for the first time are advised to hire an experienced guide. Capt. Dennis Goldstein is a good choice. Call him at (904) 810-2455.

Alternatives: This month, tripletails running to more than 20 pounds -- a 25-pounder was caught in the summer of 2007 -- are snuggled up to channel markers, crab floats, and other manmade objects on incoming tides at the Cedar Key area.

Bull reds gather in the cuts running through and around St. George Island in Apalachicola Bay. Cut crab baits on an outgoing tide are your best bet.



Marco Island

Look for bruiser snook to be cruising the beaches around Marco Island. Massive schools of baitfish, including shiners, thread herring and sardines, are running the beaches, and the snook are right behind them. The morning bite is normally the best, but action can continue all day.

The procedure is simple: Walk the beach and spot the fish before casting to them. Or fish near pods of bait. Beach regulars often pull a cart with an aerator bucket to hold bait they have cast-netted, but artificial lures also work.

Pearl-white plastic-tail jigs are a top choice. But if the light levels are low, a big surface bait can be deadly.

Alternatives: Wahoos are following bonito schools off the coast from Palm Beach to Miami.

Trollers who catch a few bonito and turn them into bait are scoring on 50- to 80-pound 'hoos.

Tarpon are still running the pass at Boca Grande, but the hordes of anglers pursuing them have thinned out considerably.

Polly Dean.



Florida Keys

Cooling temperatures spark some life into the Keys' resident bonefish population. Now, instead of hoping to catch the right tide early and late, anglers can just fish the rising tide whenever it occurs, and expect success. Bonefish move shallow to forage on rising water on the ocean side or bayside. But this time of year, savvy anglers spend a lot of their time on the bay flats. Even the smallest hump can hold a few bones.

This is sight-fishing for individual fish, although small schools of bones may show. Fly-rodders and skimmer-jig anglers can score, but a simple shrimp rig is best for the novice.

Spool a 7-foot medium-light action spinning rod with 8-pound monofilament. Forget a leader or weight. Just tie on a short-shanked 1/0 hook. Pull the head from a fresh shrimp, thread the body on the hook, get it in front of a bone, and hang on!

Alternatives: Large schools of redfish turn the water bronze on the Cedar Key flats between Seahorse Key and Deadmans Key.

Anglers trolling jigs or minnow plugs with downriggers in the Egmont Shipping Channel in Tampa Bay run into grouper.


Bull Redfish


Recent years have seen a world-class fishery for bull redfish of 20 to 60 pounds developing along the First Coast during the fall months. One easy place to tap in is on the St. Johns River upstream from Mayport.

Reds show up with the annual fall mullet run and stay through the winter. Favored hangouts are the rock jetties at Mayport, but they range farther upriver to Blount Island. In the river, they favor deeper 25- to 45-foot holes, especially those along the edge of the main channel.

Jetty fish often hit a variety of live baitfish. But once they enter the river, they seem to prefer a cut, half blue crab to anything else. Stout gear is needed to prevent killing the fish -- these brutes are far over the slot length limit and cannot be kept.

Alternatives: Blackfin tuna and even a few yellows gather at the Bar off Key West, and other structures like the Islamorada Hump.

Trout will shortly be moving into Big Bend rivers for the winter, but many gather this month on the grass flats off Keaton Beach.


Speckled Perch

Santa Fe Lake

It's not widely advertised, but Santa Fe Lake produces some of the largest specs in Florida.

Two weighing more than 3 pounds were caught within the last few years, and 1 1/2- to 2-pound fish are relatively common -- the result of deep, stable water and an excellent population of threadfin shad.

Begin targeting specs in 20 to 25 feet of water. Have a spread that puts some baits right on the bottom, others five feet above it, and more at an eight- to 10-foot depth. If you don't find them, move to 16 feet of water and repeat the process. Once you contact fish, concentrate on that depth.

Minnow-tipped jigs work well, but often a No. 4 gold hook with a single minnow is the best bet.

Alternatives: Large numbers of sailfish are working the color changes between 80 and 200 feet off the coast from Palm Beach to Stuart. Red snapper -- along with a variety of other bottom fish -- are available on the near-shore wrecks from nine to 15 miles off the First Coast.

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