Simpson: Salty waters beginning to stir

Fish on display
A recent catch by the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club.
Courtesy John Ebbs

The most prime for catching big speckled perch in shallow water has arrived on our nearest lakes. The crappie spawn locally is expected to peak at the second or third full moon of the calendar year. Often that’s the February FM—but if this occurs early in the month and conditions still aren’t right, the best spell might well be the next FM arriving in early March. 

So far this is year, the best all-around speck catches have happened through the second half of February and good action should last through the big moon to arrive on March 7th.

Our best speck lakes (Orange, Lochloosa, Newnans and Santa Fe) have all been good, but the favorite of many, Newnans, has been tougher due to low water. During the crappie spawn, slab-sized specks are found best around near-shore cover rather than out deep, where they live the rest of the year. 

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Most of the traditionally-productive spawning cover in Newnans is currently high and dry or in only a few inches of water. Still, this lake, along with these other major lakes, continues to put out fine 25-speck limits regularly.

The recent catches of giant bass weighing in the teens have been well documented—and Orange Lake’s boat traffic has increased greatly (and understandably) as a result. 

Melrose angler, Don Bunting is certainly a believer. His last couple of mid-week trips to Orange produced catch-and-release whoppers of 12-09 and 8-pounds. Bunting’s big fish have come as the result of no special secret bait or technique. He says he is “just casting a plastic worm in open water.”

The 2023 Orange Lake Mud Run is set to go out of Marjorie K. Rawlings Historic State Park with an expected attendance of more than 100 poker-running mud boats. 

Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club angler John Ebbs with sheepshead and Spanish mackerel.

Now, that parking lot would be full by mid morning anyway, and add more than a hundred boat trailers … and you get the idea. Barring bad weather, it’s gonna be double crowded Saturday at the park and on the lake.

Recently, while the fine freshwater catches have taken center stage, the salty flats have begun to stir. February is not a favorite month of many inshore fans, but it sounds as if Gulf action is coming along nicely. 

Five members of the Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club went out of Cedar Key Saturday, scouting ahead of the club’s annual Sheepshead Shootout event coming up next week. On the way out to an artificial reef known to attract spawning sheepies, the group ran past Seahorse Reef and noticed birds diving on baitfish—of course, an excellent sign.

They ran on to the wreck, found that it was indeed holding a nice number of sheepshead, and hauled in several with shrimp tight lined on the bottom. Satisfied that their fishing event would be timed well, the five anglers headed back to port, but they couldn’t resist stopping on Seahorse to troll for a while. 

It was still February and the water was still just a touch chillier than mackerel specialists would prefer. But their trolled spoons and bucktail jigs were met right away with Spanish mackerel for which “The Reef” is famous. 

In just 45 minutes they caught a bunch, putting 15 on ice and releasing several more.

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