The Fish We Catch...
Redfish are one of the Big Bend’s top game fish. They can be found from the open gulf and passes, to water so shallow that their backs are exposed. Crystal River, Ozello, and Homosassa have some of the best rock flats for finding schooling redfish any where in Florida. Redfish mature in the backcountry shallows until they are around 3 or 4 years old, which puts the fish around 8-12 pounds. At this point the fish move offshore to spawn. The average fish is around 4 or 5 pounds. They can be caught on a variety of natural and artificial baits. Redfish are tireless fighters, capable of long powerful runs. These runs are most enjoyed on 8-12 pound test line, saving 15-20 pound line for the big bull reds. Redfish can be caught year round, but March through December are the prime months.
Speckled trout are one of the most abundant inshore game fish in the state of Florida. These fish can be found almost anywhere we fish in the Big Bend. Targeting Speckled Trout is extremely fun and exciting mainly because they are a schooling fish, and usually when one is caught there likely will be many more. Trout eat a variety of baits, but one of the most exciting ways to catch a trout is on a top water plug. We also tend to catch many of our bigger trout on lures such as jigs, MirrOLures, and soft plastics. However, fishing a live shrimp or baitfish under a popping cork is about as sure a thing as you can get. The average trout caught in our area will be in the lower end of the 15-20 inch slot limit, but there are days when numerous fish are landed over the 20 inch slot. No matter the size, there is nothing more exciting than seeing a hefty sea trout thrash its golden mouth on the surface, just after eating your topwater lure.
Tarpon are one of the premier game fish in our waters. The Silver King has been known to challenge every aspect of an angler’s skill. The flats off Homosassa are world renowned for their abundance of world class fish. The Flats of Homosassa is the area where the first tarpon over 200 pounds was ever landed on a fly. A favorite of mine the Tarpon it truly the most challenging game fish in our area. The fish are usually spotted rolling from a distance. Once spotted a stealthy approach is necessary for anglers to present a bait or fly to a hungry Tarpon. Top baits include threadfin herring, pinfish, and crabs. But if you would like a real challenge try throwing a fly in front of a hefty Tarpon. Hold ON ! For years, Tarpon fishing has been regarded as one of the most exciting forms of fishing Florida has to offer, mainly because of the Tarpons unforgettable acrobatics after it is hooked. One jump from the hooked Silver King will have you hooked for life.
Tripletails are one of the strangest looking and best eating fish in the Gulf. They can be found hanging out under crab trap buoys, markers, and just about anything else that floats. Tripletail will eat almost any bait you can get in front of them. They may seem like an easy target at first, but they take full advantage of their surroundings. Hooking them is the easy part, keeping them on the line is the problem. Tripletails use the buoys, ropes, markers, or what ever other structure they are on to get you wrapped around or broken off. Fishing for tripletail is unique in itself. It usually consists of running to particular markers and then looking for weed lines. When a good weed line is spotted I usually run a good distance away keeping an eye on the weeds for something unusual. When fish are spotted, you take a wide circle and proceed close under trolling motor power. This is feast or famine fishing. Some days you see ten sometimes none. Conditions have to be right, and when they are this can be a nice change from the flats.
Cobia are full time residents here in the Big Bend of Florida. They migrate north in the spring and south in the fall along both coasts. Cobia can be caught almost anywhere. Gulf wrecks, open bays, and backcountry grass flats can all hold Cobia. Hands down, the hardest fighting fish in the area are Cobia. The forked tail of the Cobia is meant for one thing speed and power. A popular method of Cobia hunting is running from marker to marker dropping baits as you go. The minimum length for Cobia is 33 inches. Tackle depends on where the fish are spotted. When spotted in the open, line as light as 12 pound test is adequate, but for the most part 15-30 pound is ideal. Cobia are wonderful on the table, so it makes sense to use tackle suited to the surroundings you are fishing. Hook one and you will most likely be hooked forever.
The big mouth bait stealer is a better name for this light tackle target. The Sheepshead is a welcomed surprise here in the Big Bend. A local favorite, the Sheepsheads availability and table fare make it one of the most sought after game fish in the area. Sheepshead can be a challenge due to the structure they are extracted from. They tend to inhabit areas which have lots of rocks and or a lot of food (barnacles). During some of the winter cold fronts, Sheepshead are about the only fish willing to bite. That is a plus considering that these fish usually school up in the hundreds on many of the local pilings and honey holes during the cooler months. A variety of crustaceans are their preferred food, with a shrimp or fiddler crabs being the best baits.
Mangrove Snapper are one of the most abundant fish in the area. They are mainly caught as a by catch while fishing for other targeted species but their fight and table fair make these Snapper well worth the effort. They are mainly caught on or near hard bottom or where in areas where there is a strong tidal flow. Small baitfish and shrimp are the preferred live baits. Mangrove Snapper make great light tackle targets, and are a favorite of mine for small children. It isn’t uncommon to catch over 50 to 100 in a day.
There are a variety of grouper available in our area. The most commonly caught is the gag. Mostly considered an offshore species, juvenile gags mature in the bays and deeper grass flats, which make them a great light tackle possibility. Slot fish are rare inshore, but still a possibility. A majority of our grouper fishing is done by SIGHT CATING! That is right, we fish for grouper in water as deep as 20 ft, but if you are looking for a unique angling experience the Big Bend area has many shallow rocks, wrecks and reefs in less than 10 ft of crystal clear water, which makes sight casting for grouper a real possibility. Many of the little rocks and reefs we fish, will be teeming with life, Snapper, Trigger fish and Sheepshead are just a few of the species that inhabit the local inshore rocks with the Grouper. This is truly a scenario where you will actually feel as if you are fishing in a aquarium.
Flounder are a bottom dwelling fish found in a variety locations. Passes, backwater bays, beaches, and anywhere there is hard bottom are some of the many spots Flounder can be caught. Once again, Flounder are not usually the target species, but are a welcome addition.
Mostly associated with sight fishing in the keys and tropics, but through out the winter months Permit can be one of the best bets at power plants and on the flats. Usually, targeted with light tackle the Permit is one of Florida’s most prized fish mainly because of its illusiveness and size. The Permits reputable fighting power draws anglers from all over the world to our area in hopes of tangling with one of these silver bullets. The Permit has an erratic fighting style that can only be described as down right dirty.
Close relative of the Permit. Found in inshore and nearshore waters. Beaches, grass flats, and passes good spots to start looking. Usually not a target species, but when found, they make great light tackle targets, and are wonderful on the table.
Mackerel may be encountered under bait schools in the gulf, the bays, and anywhere in between. Fights consist of fast runs and occasional jumps. One of the most abundant and exciting fish in the sea, they make great fun and memories for young children and adults who act like children. Their meat is good fried, broiled, grilled, and smoked. A variety of artificials resembling baitfish work well, and live pilchards are hard to beat. No matter how you hook one, I can guarantee you that the Mackerel will put up a fight all the way to the cooler.
These fish are caught around oyster bars, docks, and structure, usually while targeting another species. However, during the winter months these fish become a prime species mainly due to the large schools they travel in. Black drum are close relatives to the Red fish and thus can be fished for in the same manor. A crab or a shrimp in front of a hungry Black drum could spell instant success.
Jacks may be encountered anywhere you fish in Florida. Pound for Pound Jacks are one of the hardest fighters in the water. These fish generally run in schools, which can make them easy to see and catch due to the thrashing water they create while feeding. Not as glamorous as a Snook or Redfish, but nothing that swims will hit a fast worked top water lure harder than a Jack Crevalle.
Ladyfish are often referred to as the poor mans Tarpon due to their drag screaming runs and acrobatic jumps. These fish can be encountered almost anywhere, but are most often caught under bait schools or while drifting the flats for Trout. The Ladyfish is a schooling fish and during the spring, summer and fall month’s schools in the thousands and even the millions can turn the water literally into a silver mass. And as you guessed it just throwing a bare hook into the mass can ensure a hook up. It is not uncommon to catch over a hundred in a day. But the best part about lady fishing is that they are fun to catch, and as an added bonus, they make great redfish bait.