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July 14, 2008

Gem in the Bend

Rediscovering Florida's secret fisheries on the Nature Coast

Cornucopia of Catching

Whether inshore, nearshore or offshore, anglers fishing the Steinhatchee area can usually find  outstanding action. In addition to the species listed below, anglers might catch sharks, king mackerel, amberjack, sailfish, dolphin, mangrove snapper, black drum, jack crevalle and many others depending upon where they fish.

Black Sea Bass - Abundant and easy to catch, black sea bass seldom weigh more than 2 pounds. Most measure 8 to 10 inches long. They hit cut bait, jigs, shrimp or squid and offer excellent sport on light tackle.

Bluefish - Like ravenous sea piranhas, toothy bluefish in the 2- to 3-pound range devour live bait. They also attack chrome spoons, crankbaits, topwaters or anything that resembles a fish. When targeting bluefish, use a short wire leader. Watch for them attacking baitfish.

Cobia - Also called ling or lemonfish, cobia often hover over reefs, wrecks and humps, and may drift with weeds or debris. Many anglers "hunt" for cobia, especially during warmer months. They search around floating objects for opportune targets. When they see a cobia, they toss a live bait or large     plastic-tipped jig to it. Cobia may top 100 pounds, but most fall in the 10- to 40-pound range.

Flounder - Flounder congregate near the river or creek mouths during an incoming tide. With superb camouflage, they hide under sand or silt and erupt to ambush prey. Fish jigs sweetened with live shrimp, minnows or Gulp! bounced along the bottom. At night people can walk the sandy flats carrying lanterns to gig flounder.

Grouper - Starting in water about 50 feet deep, anglers may catch red or gag grouper by trolling or dropping bait to the bottom. They might also catch a big warsaw or goliath. Often, trout anglers catch juvenile grouper in the grassy flats where they live until they mature enough to go offshore.

Redfish - Although anglers can find redfish in deep holes, these spot-tailed marauders prefer weedy, shallow shorelines. During high tide, fish the marshy cuts or creek mouths with live mullets about four to six inches long. A live shrimp dangling from a popping cork also works. For lures, throw gold or chrome spoons, spinnerbaits, topwaters or any lure that makes noise and commotion.

Sheepshead - Sheepshead mostly feed upon small crustaceans and often congregate near docks, seawalls, buoys or oyster reefs. Fish small crabs on stout short-shanked hooks. Sheepshead frequently nibble baits but fight with brutish strength.

Spanish Mackerel - Use wire leaders when targeting Spanish mackerel, which can bite through line. Fish over sandbars with chrome spoons, lipless crankbaits or any flashy baits. Offshore anglers catch them while trolling for king mackerel or grouper.

Speckled Trout - Steinhatchee speckled trout generally run in the 1- to 6-pound range. From spring through fall, fish the grass flats of Deadman Bay. In the winter, specks move into deeper water in the Steinhatchee River. Popular baits include live shrimp or pinfish. For lures, try jigs tipped with soft plastics; Gulp! Topwaters also work.