Fishing report: Fish and shrimp all around

Mason Wilson with his big tripletail
Mason Wilson with his big tripletail. (Photo by Bo Wilson)
Photo by Bo Wilson

Bo and Mason Wilson enjoyed a great morning of fishing at Cedar Key on Saturday. Casting soft plastic artificial lures, the pair started the day by tying into several sizable tripletail. 

Twelve-year-old Mason caught the first three, including an outstanding specimen 27 inches
long and weighing 17 pounds. Mason’s big tripletail was both powerful and feisty, clearing the water three times. 

“He got it to the boat six times but then it screamed out drag again,” Bo said.

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Finally, Bo was able to get the net under Mason’s fish. The Wilsons went on to catch four more of the unique pelagic battlers, for a total of seven.

From there, they motored out to a grass flat where they found a multitude of speckled trout.  Of the dozens boated (again with soft plastics), they harvested eight sizable fish.  Just a little after noon, the father-and-son duo headed back home to Windsor.

Snook and trout have been featured lately in most inshore tales from the Big Bend, but tripletail stories are also quite prevalent. Thomas Gougherty, fishing with Capt. Hunter Brasington on Tuesday, caught three Cedar Key tripletail with fly tackle. 

“They were the first tripletail I’ve ever caught,” Thomas said. “We spotted them just hanging under a big clump of floating seaweed and it was cool to catch them on a fly.”

Fishing and scalloping along the Gulf Coast have always provided sporting folk with seafood-harvesting opportunities. 

Shrimping, on the other hand, has never really been a thing in these waters — at least over the last several decades. It’s been known, of course, that some shrimp were around — but they’ve never been large or abundant enough to draw the efforts of cast-netting individuals. 

Inexplicably, that all changed a couple of years ago.  This year, netters really became aware of the Gulf shrimps’ ridiculous size and numbers across several miles of coast and have really gotten after them.

Along with friends, Dale Reed has been able to fill 5-gallon limits of the whopping white shrimp near Cedar Key for five weekends running.

The Gainesville angler said he has located the crustaceans in a wide range of depths. 

“The shallowest ones were in water two feet deep and the deepest we’ve found were in 11 feet of water,” Reed said.

Following a remarkable spring and early summer, most shrimping enthusiasts thought the swarms of Suwannee-centered jumbos were thinning out, but then better numbers of the whopping crustaceans were caught again over the weekend. 

One Cedar Key netter claimed he had one throw that produced “a little over a hundred” of the precious critters. 

The best Gulf Coast shrimping in anyone’s memory seems to be center near the Suwannee River’s mouth, with good results being seen as far north as Steinhatchee and throughout Cedar Key waters to the south.

Over on the other side of the state, the St. John’s River shrimp run is cranking up in earnest.

The folks at Messer’s Westside Bait in Palatka keep close track of the size and progress of shrimp during their annual late summer run up the mighty St. John’s.  Most years, the prized crustaceans are present in the river and as far south as Palatka as early as July, but things don’t get really interesting until August, when the numbers and size have both increased.

For decades, I’ve called Messer’s for accurate shrimping info, and I spoke to Jimmy at the shop on Thursday. 

“They’ve been catching ‘em for a week or so, but most are still ‘bait size’ (small),” Jimmy said. “‘Medium’ is about as big as we’re seeing.” 

Most people equate a medium shrimp to a small ‘keeper’-sized fish and consider this size harvestable.  When these are present in numbers sufficient to fill a 5-gallon-per-vessel legal limit, a trip to the river is in order. It seems that we are on the cusp of arriving at that milestone.  To boot, river conditions seem favorable (so far) for a strong run this year.

In the daytime, the shrimp travel along the deep river channel and here, a cast net equipped with duct tape or sewn-in webbing just above the lead line is best. The webbing holds the net open as it sinks through the depths and over the shrimp.

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