Gag grouper season starts fast

Following a long closure in gulf waters, a special two-month gag grouper season opened last Friday in the Gulf of Mexico for recreational anglers.

After the long separation from their deep-water favorite, the opening-day crowd arrived at nearly every gulf port. And Friday turned out to be the best day, wind-wise, of the special season’s first weekend.

At daylight, Tommy Hines of Newberry, Sidney Hazen of Lacrosse and Richard Shellnut of Archer left from the Cedar Key ramp on their way to secret, rocky-bottomed spots in water 60-feet deep. After anchoring, they dropped frozen Spanish sardines to the bottom. Right away, hungry grouper slammed the offerings. As Hazen put it, “It was Johnny-Get-Your-Gun.”

The three fishermen caught fish as fast as they could, filling a six-fish combined limit of gags up to 17 pounds in a hurry. Then they released several more gags of legal size while finishing their limits of red grouper. Before noon, the anglers were on their way back to port maxed out with both grouper varieties.

Generally positive reports came from anglers fishing out of most gulf ports. Captains Don Chancy, Todd Cornielle and Gator MacRae and their parties all docked at MacRae’s of Homosassa with impressive grouper limits. A number of Steinhatchee grouper seekers came in Friday with eye-popping catches.

But the increased Big Bend fishing effort last weekend produced much more in the way of big fish than just grouper. Cobia encounters were surprisingly common among both inshore and offshore fishers.

Out of Cedar Key, Martin and Chris Krpan, Dwayne Diehl and Sean Holt were anchored and faring well over a well-known amberjack spot when the squid Sean fished on the bottom was taken by another hard-pulling fish.

Soon, the men saw that this was a cobia — and a big one. When the big fish came into view, they could see that a shark was trailing the hooked fish. Not wanting their prize to be mangled or eaten, they decided to rush the fight and try to gaff the fish green. Anybody familiar with the ultra-powerful lings knows that this act often leads to damaged equipment — or angler injury. But this crew managed to expertly lift the beast directly into the fish box, suffering just one tail slap to Martin’s face. The cobia later weighed in at 62 pounds.

Earl Crews took a different angle Friday while fishing in 58 feet of water out of Steinhatchee. The veteran angler opted to troll a skirted ballyhoo for striking fish. The result was a king mackerel the likes of which is seldom seen in gulf waters. At the Sea Hag Marina later that day, Crews’ big king was hoisted up on hanging scales capable of weighing fish up to 50 pounds. This king bottomed the scale out. Its exact weight was never determined.

Inshore Steinhatchee guide, Steve Rassel and each of his weekend parties took excellent speckled trout limits — and encountered hefty cobia, to boot. Saturday, Capt. Steve’s party from Gainesville, Ga., iced a pair of 25-pound lings. Then on Sunday, his group from Tampa managed to whip a 42-pound brute.

Three friends fishing from kayaks launched Saturday at remote Cow Creek, a little south of Steinhatchee. Al Clements, Neil Duncan and Darin Topping paddled out past the Pepperfish Keys and cast various artificial lures to take numerous speckled trout. The thing about these trout is that several were large specimens better than 19-inches long.

The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club’s monthly meeting coming up Tuesday evening at the UF Equine Auditorium, will feature an exceptionally knowledgeable speaker. Jerry McBride of DOA Lures, (also past Associate Editor of Florida Sportsman Magazine), will bring a loaded fishing kayak for his “Shallow Water Kayak Fishing” talk and demonstration. McBride is active in battling a newly proposed opening of speckled trout to commercial fishing.

Capt. Rick Davidson says, “Jerry catches more big trout than anyone I’ve ever seen”… this from an angler who catches quite a few, himself. For more info, visit

World-class saltwater shrimping continues along 70 miles of St. John’s River, and, the delectable crustaceans are larger with each passing week.

And, remember — this is the final weekend of scallop season. The now uniformly large bivalves remain abundant out of Homosassa, Crystal River and Steinhatchee.

Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary’s Tackle Box at L & S Auto Trim.