The St. Marks Stone Crab Festival has been an annual event since 1997. We know fall has arrived when our fishermen start hauling in the Stone Crabs. It is a celebration of the stone crab season opening in October. Originally started by Stan West and Dave Vailancourt, owners of the Riverside Cafe’, in recent years the event has grown into a community wide project with many local volunteers and sponsors.
Today the festival hosts thousands of visitors and provides a venue for local musicians and artisans. In addition to the great food and music, attractions include a parade, children’s activities, educational displays, and dozens of vendors. The main event is, of course, Stone Crab. Come and enjoy the day with us.
The St. Marks Stone Crab Festival, Inc. is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) operated by a group of volunteers. Proceeds from the festival are given as charitable donations to organizations in St. Marks and the surrounding area.
First settled in 1527, St. Marks is a historic little city at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge, it is located just 20 miles south of Tallahassee. Today, the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park and the Tallahasse – St. Marks bike trail, located on the historic St. Marks Railroad are permanent reminders of the colorful and eventful past that this community is preserving.
The St. Marks River opens into the Apalachee Bay, thus this sleepy village has a robust fishing and stone crab industry. Marinas and fine restaurants along with many eco-friendly guides can be found in the City of St. Marks. Two city parks, one on the St. Marks River and one on the Wakulla River, are convenient for boaters, canoeists, kayakers and families to enjoy.
10:00 Festival Opens
10:45 Opening Ceremonies
11:30 Mechanical Lincoln Band
Dan & Alana Wohlrab & Crew
Classic/Rock – Lincoln@myspace.com
12:00 St. Marks Pirates of the Caribbean Parade
12:30 – 1:30 Mechanical Lincoln Band
Dan & Alana Wohlrab & Crew Classic/Rock
*DONATED GIFTS WILL BE GIVEN AWAY AT THE STAGE AT VARIOUS TIMES THROUGH OUT THE DAY.*
**COAST CHARTER SCHOOL FALL FESTIVAL IN THE KID’S ZONE WILL BE OPEN 10:00 AM UNTILL 6:00PM.**
*** INTERNATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGY DAY @ SAN MARCOS DE APALACHE HISTORIC STATE PARK
10:00AM TO 4:00PM. FREE TRAM RIDES AVAILABLE FROM THE FESTIVAL TO THE STATE PARK.***
Late summer brought a bloom of Karenia brevis, a toxic algae, to the northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Yes, there were some minor fish kills, mostly offshore, but for the most part, the bloom died back after the waters cooled in early October.
K. brevis can be particularly harmful if it blooms early in the summer, when Gulf waters are hot. However, this year’s bloom seemed to stay mostly offshore.
As a precaution, anglers are advised to stay away from areas where fish are floating dead or seemingly confused and gasping. Most of these areas are at least 10 miles offshore of our shorelines.
For more information, see the FWC Red Tide Status Page
Florida’s Big Bend is home to some of the best stone crab grounds in the U.S., and we’re expecting a good year. You’ll soon be able to find these tasty delights in restaurants at Cedar Key, Suwannee, Steinhatchee, St. Marks and Panacea. Served cold or hot, with a simple mustard sauce or butter, Florida’s stone crabs are the ultimate in seafood!
Florida’s recreational and commercial stone crab claw harvest season opens Oct. 15 in state and federal waters. To ensure this valuable resource is available for generations to come, take care when removing crab claws, and follow all protective management guidelines for stone crab harvest. To be harvested, stone crab claws must be at least 2¾ inches in length when measured from the elbow to the tip of the lower immovable portion of the claw (see illustration). View a video on how to properly remove the claw, and increase the likelihood of survival of the released crab. Measuring stone crab claws Claws may not be taken from egg-bearing stone crabs. Egg-bearing females are identifiable by the orange or brown egg mass, also known as a “sponge,” which is visible on the underside of the crab when it is picked up or turned over. Recreational harvesters can use up to five stone crab traps per person. Stone crabs may not be harvested with any device that can puncture, crush or injure a crab’s body. Examples of devices that can cause this kind of damage include spears and hooks. Recreational and commercial traps may be baited and placed in the water 10 days prior to the opening of the season but may not be pulled from the water for harvest purposes until Oct. 15. Harvesters are encouraged to take only one claw, even if both claws are of legal size, so that the released crab will be better able to defend itself from predators. A crab that is returned to the water with one claw intact will also be able to obtain more food in a shorter amount of time and therefore regrow its other claw faster. There is a recreational daily bag limit of 1 gallon of claws per person or 2 gallons per vessel, whichever is less. The season will be open through May 15, 2015, closing May 16
Fall “officially” started this week (September 22) and that usually means that the chances of heat-driven thunderstorms dwindle and the chance of fronts bringing easterly or northeasterly winds increase. And when the winds blow from those directions, the impact is usually seen in the form of lower-than-predicted tides. High tides, especially during lesser moon phases (not full or new) will “buck” the winds, but still can’t muster enough strength to meet the estimates. Conversely, low tides are often driven lower my as much as a foot, and as much as two hours ahead of “schedule”
As winter approaches, anglers and boaters need to be aware of lower-than-predicted tides for several reasons. Either can run aground or become stranded by tides that are unpredictable, but most important, anglers can take advantage of the fact that fish (like smart boaters) abandon shorelines and head to holes and channels to escape the lack of water and cover. Baitfish are the first to head away from shore as the waters drop, followed soon by predators, and hopefully followed by you, armed with a rod and reel.
The best advice from seasoned Big Bend boaters and fishermen is to be prepared to move should the tide start moving quickly towards the west. Also, having a set of local charts, like those from Florida Sportsman or Navionics, can help youfind narrow channels and navigable submerged creek beds that are good “escape routes”.
Come celebrate Steinhatchee/Jena’s Culture and Wildlife at the 5th Annual Hidden Coast Paddling Adventure. This year’s event, scheduled for October 3-5 (with some great pre-event trips starting on the 1st!) promises paddlers a look at the spectacular Dixie and Taylor County coastlines of Florida’s Big Bend.
To register for the event, go to HiddenCoastPaddlingAdventures.com
There’s no better Gulf shoreline at which to snorkel for bay scallops than the shallow stretch between Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee, in Taylor County. The 2014 season ends on September 24 and limits of the tasty critters are still being caught (picked up!) daily.
Scalloping is a relatively easy process. In fact, cleaning your catch is the “hardest” part of the adventure. Luckily, at Steinhatchee, there are lots of willing folks at the Sea Hag Marina who will clean your catch for a modest fee. And if you don’t have a boat, rental boats are available at the Sea Hag, River Haven or Good Times marinas.
Look for scallops on the shallow flats off Big Grass Island or near the cuts off Dallus Creek, to the north of the Steinhatchee River. Just look for a gathering of boats and jump in! For complete information about scalloping, take a look at “Bay Scallops, The Gulf of Mexico’s Tastiest Treat”
With the addition of the Steinhatchee River, Florida now has 50 state paddling trails. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Greenways & Trails designated the Steinhatchee River during the Taylor County Commission meeting on Sept. 16.
The Florida Paddling Trails Association also presented signs designating the communities of Keaton Beach and Steinhatchee as “Blueway Communities.” “We are proud to add the Steinhatchee River as our 50th designated state paddling trail,” said Florida State Park Director Donald Forgione. “Designation of the river creates well-deserved recognition of this excellent destination for paddling, fishing and wildlife viewing and will promote sustainable tourism and boost the economy for the local communities.” The scenic Steinhatchee River is the latest of Florida’s outstanding waterways to be designated a state paddling trail. The river’s spring-fed, tea-colored water meanders through a shady corridor of moss-draped trees flanking the river. It widens gradually as it flows through the colorful fishing villages of Steinhatchee and Jena before joining the Gulf of Mexico. The roughly eight-mile designated portion begins just below the historic Steinhatchee Falls, which has been an accessible river crossing for countless travelers through the ages. Wagon ruts can still be seen today where Native Americans, Spanish explorers and early settlers crossed the shallow limestone shelf that creates the low, cascading waterfall. Steinhatchee Falls offers a pleasant picnic area and hand-launch access for small fishing boats, canoes and kayaks. There is also a three-mile, multi-use trail that can be enjoyed by hikers, off-road cyclists and those seeking vibrant seasonal wildflowers and wildlife. Fishing from a boat or kayak is an interesting prospect for anglers, as both freshwater and saltwater species may be encountered depending upon the stretch of river. Delicious “pan fish” abound in the upper stretches of the Steinhatchee, while saltwater species appear as the river mingles with the Gulf waters. Improved boat ramps on both sides of the river in the towns of Steinhatchee and Jena mark the lower end of the paddling trail and provide good access for all types of boaters. Visitors are urged to bring binoculars and a camera to capture photos of the wildlife frequently seen along the river corridor and the Gulf coastline. In the fall, colorful monarchs and other butterflies feed upon wildflowers as they migrate southward. Spectacular flocks of white pelicans and other migrating birds are supported by vast tracts of public conservation land that bracket the Steinhatchee River, providing critical habitat for an array of wildlife species inland and along the coastline. For maps and information about the new paddling trail click here
With our abundant springs, spring runs and spring-fed rivers, the Natural North Florida region is the perfect place to spend a lazy day paddling.
In the southern regions, there are several springs that feed the mighty Suwannee River. County parks at Otter Springs and Hart Springs attract paddlers to their quiet waters. The State Parks at Manatee Springs and Fanning Springs are busy, but there’s always room for another paddler or swimmer.
Gilchrist County’s Blue Springs is a private springs resort, and offers a great family outing. It’s cool, blue headwaters is great for swimming and the spring run attracts paddle craft and tubes. If you want more of a lively place, try Ginnie Springs, just downstream on the Santa Fe River. And just up the road, in Alachua County at High Springs, Poe Springs County Park has been hosting paddlers and swimmers for decades. Ginnie and Blue Springs require modest fees to use the parks; Poe is FREE!
Taylor County’s Big Grass Island lies “slap dang” in the middle of the stretch of Gulf shoreline between Steinhatchee and Keaton Beach. And while the low island serves as a navigational landmark, it’s the shallow water near it that attracts the interest of inshore anglers.
From a geographic and geologic perspective, Big Grass Island was likely once the tip of what is now Crooked Point, which lies about a half-mile inshore, along the edge of Crooked Creek. Piney Point, to the north, and Long Grass Point, to the south, mark the unofficial boundaries of a large shallow bay.
While many “bays” typically have a deeper mid-point, this one is shallow throughout and generally not accessible, on low water, to boats with drafts deeper than flats skiffs, jon boats, airboats and paddle craft. However, as the tide floods, making access easier, seatrout and redfish move into the bay. There, they hunt baitfish over widely scattered clumps of rocks and along the grassy mainland shore. Good places to begin your search for structure is the short stretch of shoreline just north of Long Grass Point, the area around the mouth of Crooked Creek, or the northeastern corner of the bay, along the south shore of Piney Point. Depending on the amount of floating grass, this area is an all-round excellent place to throw topwater lures like MirrOlure Top Dogs or Heddon Super Spooks. But if the grass bogs you down, try that old-time favorite–a gold Eppinger Rex spoon.
As is typical of our waters, the flats outside of Big Grass Island don’t get deep very fast. You’ll have to run almost two miles west to get to the one-fathom curve and 6 feet of water. Anglers using jigs like D.O.A.’s CAL series, bounced off the bottom of sandy holes or drifted over the seagrass tops under noisy corks, will find easy limits of seatrout mixed with some fat bluefish and Spanish mackerel.
Fishing the shoreline of Big Grass Island can be iffy. There are two deep sloughs that run along the north and south shores of the island. Both have good potential for seatrout and pelagics on fast-moving tides. However, the island can host a fleet of picnickers and partiers on weekend days, making fishing away from the island a better choice.
According to Dunnellon resident Buzz Phillips, who’s been fishing Waccasassa Bay his entire lifetime, the fishing’s not as good there as it was twenty or thirty years ago. That may be true, but the unspoiled waters reached by leaving the Waccasassa River are hard to beat when many other Big Bend ports are crowded with boats and eager snorkelers in search of bay scallops. Don’t get me wrong–there’s nothing wrong with scalloping, but some of us really need to wet a fishing line every so often!
There’s not much “civilization” on the Waccasassa River. In fact, despite the private fishing club and public boat ramp located about a mile west of US19/98 on CR326 at Gulf Hammock (Located between the rural crossroads of Lebanon Station and Otter Creek) it’s still in the middle of nowhere. And that’s a good thing. As you travel out the river, you’ll see what many consider the most beautiful stretch of untouched north Florida. And upon reaching the river’s mouth, you might find your boat one of the few along the rugged coastline between Yankeetown and Cedar Key—even on a “busy” weekend day.
While there are some undefined boundaries here, I consider Waccasassa Bay to include the waters between Yankeetown and Cedar Key, in Levy County. It’s unique position on Florida’s Gulf coast acts as a natural catch basin for bait, pushed into the bay by tidal flow. And the outflow of the Waccasassa River, the Withlacoochee River and numerous feeder creeks provide just the right amount of fresh water to create an oyster-encrusted shoreline that’s well over 25 miles in length. Those two facts combined are the basis for an exceptionally rich fishery.
As you exit the river, you’ll encounter several channel markers, now privately maintained, to guide you through the shallow bars making up the Waccasassa Reefs. Once you leave the “channel”, you’re on your own, with ten or twelve miles of rugged shoreline to your north. Proceed with caution, and don’t bring your big boat. Here, shallow draft vessels and airboats find comfort among the rocks, oysters and shallow bottom. Afternoon low tides during summer months are usually extreme, but more so here, where 3-foot depths are the rule, rather than the exception. As you approach the northern shore, be on the lookout for rows of bars several hundred yards out and parallel to the shore. Those bars create the ebb and flow of water and bait that interest big redfish, gator seatrout and big black drum. One good bet is to cast topwater plugs near and over the bars east of Tripod Point. If you think the north shore of the bay is rugged, wait until to venture south from the river’s mouth towards the mouth of the Withlacoochee River. You’ll encounter a similar fishery as that to the north, but the number of miles of shoreline is amplified by the jagged landmass that makes up Turtle Point and Eleven Prong. If, after several trips, you tire of fishing those points, ease your boat south and east into Lows Bay and try the mouths of Spring Run, Demory and Jones creeks.
While Waccasassa Bay’s big attraction is the nearshore fishery, there’s still plenty of action out in the middle of the bay. Take a look at a #019 Florida Sportsman Fishing Chart (Suwannee) and you’ll see a stretch of deep-water sloughs and holes southwest of the mouth of the Waccasassa River. Those spots hold cobia and tarpon in the summer months, and hordes of slot-sized seatrout infest the vast grass flats that stretch all the way west to Cedar Key.
Waccasassa Bay can be accessed not only from the public ramp upriver, but also from the ramps in Cedar Key or at the end of CR40 in Yankeetown. In any case, be sure to pack your GPS to help you on the trip back to port. This bay is bigger than it appears on charts, and unless the weather’s perfect it may be hard to see land, or the familiar landmarks of the power plant at Crystal River or the water tower at Cedar Key, from the middle.