Pretty much every fan of outdoor sports in North Florida knows that scallop season is underway in the gulf, and that this year's crop of shellfish is an exceptional one. But young Chaeli Norwood of Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee can help shellfish seekers zero in on a batch of unusually-large early season bivalves. “The big ones,” she offered, “are north of the river — but not too far north — a mile or two south of The Birdrack. And the very biggest ones are out in water eight-to-10 feet deep.”
Just after I spoke with Chaeli, Charlie Courtney came in the store with a tale about this bunch of outsized molluscs.
It seems that on a recent Steinhatchee scalloping trip, Danny and Amy Martin, Allen and Elaine Turner, and Charlie found a nice cluster of shellfish a little north of the river mouth. That they filled their 10-gallon boat limit quickly was no big surprise. The revelation happened later when they shucked the scallops and retrieved the prized muscles. The ten gallons in-the-shell produced 5.5-pints of meat. Florida law allows for a maximum daily boat take (if five or more are aboard) of ten unshucked gallons of scallops — or, a half gallon of scallop meats. This would seem to indicate that the ten unshucked gallons and the four shucked pints should be reasonably equivalent. The limit taken by this group of Gainesville scallopers produced a considerably better ratio.
Homosassa scalloping is also good, as evidenced by the hundreds of groups that have docked at MacRae's of Homosassa with full limits. The grass flats between the Homosassa and Crystal Rivers seem to have the best scallop concentrations.
And local hook-and-line anglers here are buzzing about an unusual bite out on the deeper flats with a mix of sand and grass. A few weeks back, the MacRae's folks started noticing more flounder than usual in the ice chests of anglers casting jigs with grub tails for trout. This has continued almost daily, and become more than a mild curiosity. Now, some Homosassa anglers like Matt Scales are actually targeting the revered flatfish. And, bouncing the trout jigs over the broken bottom, Scales has been hauling in a few sizable flounders a day.
Most of the best Big Bend catches of fin fish have come from the non-scalloping zone between Suwannee and Crystal River.
Shallow water sportsmen were impressed by a big flurry of Cedar Key tarpon hookups a few weeks back — but there has been little mention of the powerful acrobats since then. Until this week.
Gainesville's Mike Allen fished Cedar Key last weekend with his daughter, Natalie (10), and brother in law, Gerard Alcala. They jumped a total of thirteen tarpon, battling two in the 125-pound class to the boat for release. Mike said, “I wish I had a picture of Natalie's face the first time she saw a tarpon jump close to the boat”. They found the big fish while soaking “large sized cut baits” in deeper channels. The cut bait, of course, also attracted a few bull sharks…one of which took out about 300-yards of drag and heated up a Penn 4/0 reel. The trio was able to pull anchor, follow the beast, and get all that line back on the reel. Sounds like a great holiday weekend of giant-battling.
Reports from the Atlantic Coast are fetching enough to make even a staunch gulf fan consider heading east. Inland waters in the St. Augustine-to-Matanzas stretch are producing fine summertime angling fare. This includes nice redfish, black drum, and flounder action during the hot days. At night, the lighted boat docks along the Intracoastal Waterway have given up a number of very large trout to locals pitching live baitfish to the dimly-lit edge of illuminated water. Outside Matanzas Inlet, just a short distance off the beaches, another wave of migrating manta rays has brought with them the big cobia that always seem to tag along. And, even closer to the sandy beaches, tarpon are following big schools of mullet. One of these surprised Phil Buskirk the other day on St. Augustine Beach while he was fishing for whiting or pompano with his stout surf rig. The silver king ate the St. Augustine angler's bait shrimp, immediately took to the air, and then peeled most of the line from his reel before breaking off.
No matter how many he has seen or hooked, an unexpected tarpon always leaves the angler wide-eyed.
Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary's Tackle Box at L & S Auto Trim