On the beautiful St. Johns River and its assortment of lakes, speck season is always strong and only intensifies as winter spawning approaches.
It’s the perfect time for a little competition.
At the right time, DeLand and the St. Johns will host the first-ever Winter Classic Championship, a Friday-Saturday speck tournament sailing under the flag of Louisville-based Crappie USA.
The “speckled perch”, or simply dots, is what we call crappie in this part of the world, but whether you’re the tomato or tomahto type, all agree that the abundance of sunfish enlivens winter fishing and, if you have a sharp knife, also dresses up a plate.
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If you enjoy a bustling tournament weigh-in site (don’t knock it), catch the drama at the St. Johns Resort and Marina, which begins shortly after 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday afternoons.
Fishing hours are 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the “playground” extending from Lake George south to the I-4 bridge.
Plus, as part of its ongoing efforts to attract the next generation of anglers, Crappie USA is hosting a free “Fishing Rodeo” for kids 12 and under on Saturday at Highland Park Fish Camp. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and fishing, in the pond at Highland Park, runs from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Crappie USA is entering its 26th year of sanctioned tournaments. The Winter Classic carries a $15,000 purse. More info: CrappieUSA.com.
Now, as for what’s in store for this weekend’s contestants, let’s begin the weekly West Side roundup…
“It’s slowed down a bit, but trolling anglers are bringing in 20 points a day,” says captain Bryn Adams of Highland Park. “Size is always good and artificial jigs are the best bait.”
The official daily limit of 25 bags tells you just how abundant the spots are in the St. Johns.
As for the king of freshwater targets, Adams says bass fishing is pretty “stable” but a few trophies are starting to return to the docks.
As for bait, “we mainly use wild river chub,” she says.
They sing blues and that’s not a bad thing, frankly.
“The bluefish invasion is upon us,” says Craig Patterson, owner/operator of Donald’s Bait & Tackle on Port Orange Causeway. He gets reports of blues doing their thing (attack, attack, attack!) in the surf and Ponce Inlet, and in the Tomoka River to the confines of Spruce Creek.
“Schools can be easily located by slowly scanning the channel with jigs or ponytail spoons,” says Patterson. “Once the schools are located, blind casting around the boat will continue the capture.”
The daily sack limit is three and the minimum goalie height is 12 inches.
Search the words on the web bluefish and voracious and you will have the drift concerning the blues. They can make a school of hungry valets look like a church picnic. Plus, you don’t want to learn this the hard way: watch those teeth when you stall.
Meanwhile, Tomoka Basin continues to provide a boon for Captain Jeff Patterson and his Pole Dancer charter boat. As the sun rises, he says he’s had reds while freely lining up live mules or hanging one under a popping cork.
But the fish of choice for the past two weeks has been trout, which are apparently hungry after their two-month catch-and-release season ended on January 1.
“The pond has been very productive for sea trout,” says Patterson, who catches them with live shrimp and DOA artificial shrimp on a popping plug.
“We had our limit on sea trout in 10 minutes one morning,” he says. “We were literally getting stings on every cast at the first place we tried.”
By the way, this daily bag limit is low: only two per angler. And there is a narrow slot to put on: 15 to 19 inches.
Gene Lytwyn (The Fishin’ Hole at Daytona Beach) says the gloomy weather has kept many anglers huddled around the structure.
“Coastal activity was strong with sheep and black drum,” he says. “Fishing just against docks, bridge piles, and rock piles with fiddler crabs or shrimp works really well for these species.”
Same, same around Granada Pier, where Ike Leary operates the bait shop.
“Not much different from last week,” he says. “Everyone is waiting for snook season to reopen (February 1).” Meanwhile, Ike says, “we’re scavenging snapper from the mangroves and black drum from the pier.”
According to Captain Mike Vickers (Hammock Bait & Tackle), the seasonal weather made it “hit or miss” from High Bridge to Matanzas Inlet. Just a few scattered reds, black drum, mutton, whiting, blues, etc.
“The bright spot in the fishing last week was creeks, flats, creek mouths and canals,” says Vickers. “All produce good numbers of reds, trouts, drums, mutton, plaice, mangrove snappers and blues. The best fishing has been on the flats, with big sheep, drums and lots of reds.
Most reds, he says, have been under the 18-inch minimum.
Vickers leaves us a piece of advice: “If you are fishing in the main river, use a hanging bait to quickly cover a large amount of water and locate fish. Then switch to live bait and be prepared to repeat this process throughout the day.
Who are you kidding?
Captain Mike Mulholland (Sea Spirit, Ponce Inlet) said midweek that the tough conditions had kept them docked since January 5 – however, they got a good shot that day. They will try again on Saturday, one of the few days to come without ominous winds.
Meanwhile, it hasn’t been much nicer for the people ashore.
“Surf and ocean pier anglers tried to resist, but it wasn’t very productive,” says Lytwyn of The Fishin’ Hole.
And you certainly can’t look north for relief.
“The beaches in Flagler County were blown away by high winds and waves,” says Captain Vickers. “Before this last front we were seeing good catches of large whiting, bluefish, and we had drum, reds and trout around the rocks on the northern beaches.”
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