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On The Hunt For Big Seatrout and Redfish in Natural North Florida? Try Soft Plugs!

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A couple of nice trout, caught while wading oyster bars south of Horseshoe Beach, In Dixie County

Getting a wary seatrout or redfish to attack an artificial lure isn’t always a problem.  However, if they’re big and trophy-sized, they’ll often spit the lure out just as they get to the rod tip.  Years ago, in a faraway place called Texas, Mr. Paul Brown, a retired postmaster, handmade soft lures called “Corkys” and sold them by mail order to anglers all over the gulf coast.  These $5 plugs were deadly on trout and reds, as they were soft-bodied and fish had a tendency to hold on long enough to be hooked by their treble hooks.  The only problem was that Mr. Brown would often run out of plugs and a “knock-off” market grew.  Lures with names like “Dorky” appeared on shelves,  manufactured by Kalin and Tsunami.  The only problem with those lures was that those mass-producers didn’t understand the weight and balance of the original lures.  I remember finding an entire table of the knock-offs on a remainder table in Jacksonville for .75 each!  I bought a bunch, was disappointed and lost most to a thief who robbed our fishing camp at Steinhatchee.  I hope they enjoyed not catching fish with them!

When Mr. Brown retired (again), he sold the lure design to the folks at MirrOlure, but only after he was sure they could successfully produce his lures.  The full line is now available from MirrOlure  or from almost any tackle shop in Florida.  Several varieties are now made, including the smaller Soft-Dine and the Devil.

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Paul Brown Lures, AKA Corkys, are available from MirrOlure

Another option to a big, chewy soft plug is the Airhead, from D.O.A. Lures.  These need to be rigged by the angler with a single, offset wide-gap hook, but that allows many options in terms of weight and fishing depth.  Most anglers like them to sink slowly or suspend in the water column and simply rig them with a 4/0 or 5/0 hook and no weight.

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D.O.A.’s Airhead Lures are soft and chewy!

 

A final entry into the soft plug world of saltwater (and maybe even freshwater?) fishing is Capt. Joey’s Slick plugs.  These are a cross between an Airhead and a Paul Brown Devil, offering the angler great fish-attracting action as well as the ability to slowly suspend at different rates, depending on which single hook the angler uses.  Joey’s lures are available at Gary’s Tackle Box in Gainesville, or directly from Joey at 352-226-3226

 

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Capt. Joey’s Slick Lures

Aside from all these plugs having a great advantage regarding how well they attract fish, is that they all sink slowly, allowing the angler to use them in very shallow water.  The Paul Browns (Originals, Fat Boys and Devils) all have treble hooks and are fairly snaggy.  However the Airhead and the Slick can both be rigged weedless and less prone to grab onto rocks or sea grass.  Weedless lures offer a big advantage in the late spring and summer, when grass beds shed and huge rafts of floating debris appear close to shore.

No matter which of these lures you choose, expect them to increase not only the number of bites you get, but also the number of fish you actually put in your cooler or release well.

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Gainesville angler Carlos Morales with a trophy 5.5# seatrout, caught on a Capt. Joey Slick lure at Cedar Key, in Levy County.


Fiddler’s Restaurant, Steinhatchee–The Place To See and Be Seen

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Fiddler’s Restaurant in Steinhatchee is the “place to see and be seen”!

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There’s no hiding out in Steinhatchee if you eat at Fiddler’s Restaurant. You’ll see just about everyone in town at this popular eatery, located at 1306 SE Riverside Drive, known for its great seafood, steaks, cold beer, generous cocktails, and professional service.  Even when the main dining room is busy and the crowd overflows to the lounge and the patio, the staff excels at smiling and getting your order right and to you in a reasonable amount of time. Fiddler’s hours are  Monday – Friday 4:00PM – 10:00 Pm, Saturday and Sunday 6:00 AM-10:00 PM. They serve a great buffet on Sunday 11:00 AM-2:00 PM.  Serving hours vary, with more options (including breakfast) being available during scallop season (June 27-September 24).

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The lounge at Fiddler’s is where the “locals” meet!

Fiddler’s is known for its excellent seafood.  Choices usually include fried, grilled or blackened fish.  Their shrimp and crabs are always fresh, and if you’re a “landlubber”, you always get a steak for dinner (or a burger for lunch on weekends).  Fiddlers will also cook you catch.  Just clean your fish and bring them to your server in a zipper bag, relax and enjoy a cold beverage, and savor you fish at its freshest!

Try Fiddlers Famous Greek Shrimp

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Sauteed shrimp with garlic, green onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, black olives, parsley, a splash of white wine, topped with feta cheese. All over a generous serving of linguini.

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In the case of a wait for a table, browse lots of interesting art and gifts in the lobby at Fiddler’s.


Don’t Miss The BBQ at Hamaknocker’s in Wakulla County, Florida!

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Tired of seafood? Pig Out at Hamaknocker’s BBQ in Wakulla County!

I write about cooking and food in the monthly “Sportsman’s Kitchen” column in Florida Sportsman magazine, so I guess I’m qualified to make a comment on Florida’s BBQ tradition.  That said, in my humble opinion, Florida has NO BBQ TRADITION.  Yes, we have barbeque (and some folks still consider “grilling” to be barbequing), but mostly it’s done in the styles and traditions of other places than Florida.  For the most part, at Florida BBQ joints, you can expect what I call “red sauce” BBQ–smoked or roasted meat (beef, pork, poultry) covered in a sweetened and usually spicy tomato-based sauce.  We don’t see much of my all-time favorite, Eastern North Carolina chopped whole pig (with the skin) cooked and served with a simple pepper and vinegar sauce.

Hamaknocker’s is an excellent example of BBQ “done right”.  They take particular care in cooking and smoking, the service is excellent and friendly, and the food tastes great.  Red sauce or not, I’m a fan!

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Don’t be fooled by the unimposing front of this BBQ place. It’s all about the food here!

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Hamaknocker’s has excellent pork and poultry, served with a variety of red sauces

If you’re tired of seafood, and you’re in Crawfordville, a small coastal town in southern Wakulla County, don’t miss a meal at Hamaknocker’s, at 2837 Coastal Highway.  The first thing that I look for is smoke, and that’s what you’ll see (and smell) when you drive into the parking lot.  Inside, you’ll have a choice of lots of smoked meats, but my favorite is the smoked steak sandwich, sometimes available as a lunchtime special.  To see the full menu at Hamaknocker’s, click on this link to MenuPix.


Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Moonlight Walk, Gainesville, May 2, 2015

kana Kanapaha Botanical Gardens Moonlight Walk, Gainesville, May 2, 2015

Gainesville’s Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a great place to experience Natural North Florida’s botanical wonders.

Kanapaha’s Moonlight Walk is a magical experience where there will be twinkle lights, lanterns, and approximately 1500 luminaries along a 1.25 mile walkway. There will also be live entertainment and the Alachua Astronomy Club will be out with telescopes to view the cosmos. Fed Food Company and Dominos will be out selling food and refreshments! Feel free to bring out a blanket or lawn chairs. Fourteen dollars for adults, $7 for children ages three to thirteen. Members receive a $4 discount. No pets allowed during this event.

Address:  4700 S.W. 58th Drive Gainesville, FL 32608
Entrance on S.W. Archer Road (State Road 24) 1 mile west of Interstate 75 (exit #384)

Saturday’s Schedule of Events:

7pm: Gardens open and food vendors available for purchase, find your spot on the lawn, Alachua Astronomy Club out viewing the Moon!

8pm: Luminaries are lit, Alachua Astronomy Club out viewing the cosmos, and Keith Peters begins playing original music

11pm Event ends

Note: May 2nd the gardens will close at 5:00pm and re-open at 7:00pm for the Moonlight Walk!


Third Annual Big Bend Kayak Fishing Classic, May 1 & 2, 2015, St. Marks

The Big Bend Kayak Classic  is a kayak fishing tournament benefiting Meals on Wheels in Wakulla County, FL
 

BBKC runs on a catch – photo – release (CPR) kayak fishing with prizes awarded for Biggest Redfish / Trout combo, Biggest Redfish, Biggest Trout, Biggest Freshwater Bass, & Biggest Red or Trout or Bass.  There are lots of options to win great prizes, including cash awards and fishing gear.

Location: Beautiful Downtown St. Marks, Florida

Registration Fee: $75 Adults & $50 Youth 17 & under / Fishing within 50 Mile Radius of Wakulla County

Prizes include: Kayaks / *$1,000 * $500 *$250 (Prizes subject to change.)

First 25 Registered Agnlers will receive a special prize! / First 100 Registered Anglers will receive Classic T-Shirt & Bag

 

Grand Prize! Red Fish & Trout Slam

Saltwater Divison: Red Fish & Trout

Fresh Water Division: Large Mouth Bass ONLY!

Youth Division: Ages 17 & Under / Fish by Length

Ladies Division: Red Fish / Trout Slam  (YES! We have added a Ladies Division this year!)

 Third Annual Big Bend Kayak Fishing Classic, May 1 & 2, 2015, St. Marks Third Annual Big Bend Kayak Fishing Classic, May 1 & 2, 2015, St. Marks Third Annual Big Bend Kayak Fishing Classic, May 1 & 2, 2015, St. Marks


SCUBA Diving At Its Best at Devil’s Den and Blue Grotto Springs in Levy County, Florida

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You’ll be greeted by the devil at Devil’s Den, near Williston, Florida

Many of Natural North Florida’s springs are unique.  In fact, in our 11-county region, we have the highest concentration of natural springs the world.  Many are just “seeps”, bubbling through the rock, but others, like Devil’s Den and Blue Grotto, are downright spectacular!  And while many of our springs, especially those in our Florida State Parks, are operated as “swimming holes”, these two geological wonders cater mostly to SCUBA divers and to recreational snorkelers.

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Devil’s Den is a a sunken cavern with a 60-plus foot ceiling. Below, cave divers can explore one of Florida’s most interesting springs.

Located just outside of Williston, in Levy County, Devil’s Den Springs is a private facility catering mainly to SCUBA enthusiasts.  However, there are open dive times available for snorkeling.  SCUBA instruction is also available through the Dive Shop.  Camping and picnic facilities are also available.  If you’re not planning to camp, consider staying in nearby Chiefland. There, you’ll find several motels and plenty of good eats.  Be sure to plan at least one meal at Bett’s Big T–a great “meat and three” restaurant on US19/98 just north of downtown!

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Not SCUBA certified? The Dive Shop at Devils Den can hook you up with qualified and certified instructors.

 

Just down the road, and likely tied to Devils Den by a flowing, underwater river that’s part of the Floridan Aquifer, you’ll come to recently renovated Blue Grotto Spring.  Another private spring, Blue Grotto offers SCUBA and welcomes cave-certified divers.  There’s been construction there lately, and if you call ahead, you can rent motel rooms or campsites.  You can also bring a picnic lunch or run into nearby Williston for some BBQ or a sandwich at Frog’s BBQ Pad.

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Blue Grotto, in Levy County. Florida, is more than just a small hole in the ground!

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Blue Grotto Springs’ crystal clear and constant 72-degree water is a great place to SCUBA or cave dive…

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…or to take dive lessons from a professional instructor!

 


Steinhatchee Scallopalooza–Saturday, June 27, 2015. The “Season” Begins!

scallopalooza Steinhatchee Scallopalooza  Saturday, June 27, 2015.  The Season Begins!

Depending on the whims of Florida’s governor and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Florida’s recreational scallop harvest will begin in late June or on July 1, 2015.  As a prelude to the fun and good eating, the folks at Roy’s Restaurant in Steinhatchee are again sponsoring “Scallopalooza 2015″, a day of music and family fun.  The event starts at 3PM and ends at 10PM with lots of entertainment for the whole family.  Then, it’s time to go scalloping!

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For information on the how-to of scalloping, check out this article:

 


13th Gainesville Jazz Festival, May 2, 2015

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Don’t miss this great event.  It’s scheduled for Saturday, May 2, 7PM, at Tioga Town Center, just west of Gainesville.

7pm – Gary Langford and the EOS Band
8pm – Hard Luck Society
9pm – Chasing Time
10pm- Little Mike and the Tornadoes with Sheba the Mississippi Queen

 

gnvjazz 13th Gainesville Jazz Festival, May 2, 2015

*Funding for this program provided in part by the City Of Gainesville, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs.

*This event has funded in part by a Tourist Development Tax Grant from the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners in conjunction with the Alachua County Tourist Development Council*


Kick Off Your Spring Fishing at Keaton Beach, on Florida’s Big Bend

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An aerial view of “downtown” Keaton Beach, FL

 

I’m not April foolin’ when I say that when the grass flats start to ‘green up’ near Keaton Beach, the fishing there is hard to beat. It’s no secret that warm weather brings new life, especially in the form of spotted sea trout, to waters everywhere along our Big Bend. Unfortunately, that warmth can bring hordes (Or swarms, herds, gaggles or schools?) of eager anglers competing for the fish that come with the year’s fresh start, but not at isolated Keaton Beach and the inshore waters to its north along the Taylor County shoreline.

Keaton Beach is about 20 miles southwest of Perry and 15 miles north of Steinhatchee, on what’s probably the most undeveloped stretch of coastline in Florida. The northern settlements at Dekle Beach, Adams Beach, Spring Warrior, and Econfina are small, and all have some amenities catering to visiting anglers. However, slightly larger Keaton Beach is the last place before St. Marks, 35 miles to the north, with a true deepwater channel that offers less treacherous access to the grass flats, as well as a full-service marina.

Scientists estimate that about a third of the Gulf of Mexico is comprised of ‘shallow and intertidal’ areas less than 60 feet in depth. 60 feet may be shallow to some folks, but Keaton Beach anglers think differently. You’ll be lucky to find more than 6 feet of depth within a mile or two of this rugged shoreline–to reach 60 feet, expect to head west about 35 miles! Shallow waters warm more rapidly than deep, and that warmth speeds the seasonal growth of sea grasses. Those grasses form lush flats, to the south and north of Keaton Beach, that attract bait and the spotted sea trout for which the place is famous.

Taylor County’s Gulf shoreline is oriented northwest to southeast. No matter the direction you want to fish, I recommend you leave Keaton Beach by the main channel and go to marker #3 before you stray from its deeper water. Old bird racks (or places where they used to be) are good points of reference for navigating the shoreline here. Having waypoints for two of these are helpful and staying their distance off the shore will assure you’re in safer water.   One, off Dekle Beach, to the north of Keaton Beach, is at N29 50.091 W83 38.643. The other, off Sponge Point, to the south, is at N29 47.076 W83 37.129. But if you’re familiar with the local waters, or you don’t value your outboard’s lower unit, you might cruise closer to shore.

To the south of Keaton Beach, one fishing option is to concentrate on the flats that lie just offshore of Hagens Cove. Use Piney Point (N29 45.588 W83 37.300) and Sponge Point (N29 47.053 W83 35.273) as shoreline references and drift the flats between the two, staying about 500 yards off the points. Another spot to try is the Dog Head area, about two miles off Hagens Cove (at approx. N29 44.900 W83 37.049). Here, the water’s a bit deeper, and depending on water temperature, may attract greater numbers of (but not necessarily bigger) trout.

The 7 mile stretch of flats between Keaton Beach and Spring Warrior Creek (entrance at N29 55.286 W83 41.297) can be a lonesome place. If you’re accustomed to crowded flats in your home waters, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Here, there’s plenty of room for everyone, and the word ‘everyone’ doesn’t necessarily mean a big number! Discovering exactly where to fish a new location can always involve some advance work with maps and tide tables, just guessing , or sneaking around and watching where the locals fish. Here, I’d skip the latter, not make guesses, and recommend you get your hands on a copy of Florida Sportsman’s Steinhatchee Fishing Chart (#020) and use it to carefully study the shoreline. A current tide table won’t hurt either. As waters warm seasonally, and tides fall daily, expect trout to move away from creeks and bars and spend their time feeding over grass. Two areas to consider are the notch between the two fingers of deeper water off Dekle Beach at N29 51.031 W83 39.547 or the trench off Spring Warrior at about N29 54.132 W83 41.482.

Live shrimp, pinfish and GULP! shrimp are popular trout baits here, usually drift-fished under noisy popping corks, pinned onto 2/0 hooks or light jigs. No matter what bait you use, it’s important that you rig it to hold just above the grass tops. If you prefer fishing hard baits, you can’t beat a MirrOlure 52M or MirrOdine in bright colors.   Jig fishermen are usually successful with soft plastics like D.O.A. CALs on quarter-ounce jig heads.

I think spotted sea trout make the Keaton Beach area ‘famous’ because anglers can keep five times more of them than redfish. That doesn’t say much for conservation, and here, ‘catch-and-release’ is a new-fangled concept. But don’t let yourself believe that reds are by any means scarce. Reds won’t be as deep as trout and are more likely to hang around shell bars, like those close to shore south of Spring Warrior Creek. In these shallows reds can sometimes be very spooky and are prone to run from the splash of a cork or heavy bait, so try to get their attention with small topwater lures, gold spoons or lightweight D.O.A. 3-inch shrimp. And remember, you can only keep one!

 

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The shallow shoreline of Taylor County, north of Keaton Beach


Along the Santa Fe at Chastain-Seay

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Entrance to Chastain-Seay Park

On a drive down US 121 in Union County, you may have noticed the entrance to Chastain-Seay Park in Worthington Springs. It blinks by quickly, as the highway continues down a causeway to the bridge over the Santa Fe River into Alachua County.

A hidden natural treasure and a local recreation area, Chastain-Seay Park sits at the bottom of a steep bluff below Worthington Springs. The namesake springs are here, but there isn’t much left of them. At the turn of the last century, they drew people from afar to soak in their healing waters. Today, scarcely a trickle emerges from the spring pool, which is fenced off, adjoining the nature trail.

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Start of the nature trail at Chastain-Seay Park

It’s the nature trail that guides you along an array of floodplain channels, which fill up when the Santa Fe overflows its banks. For nearly a mile, you can walk along a series of boardwalks that guide you through the bluff forests towards the river. In spring, fragrant wild azalea blooms along the path, and the puffy white blossoms of fringe trees catch your eye. The Florida fringe tree isn’t very common, but you wouldn’t know that with a walk along this nature trail.

Overlooking the river, a playground and picnic area provide a place for families to enjoy the natural setting. A boardwalk connects this high point under the oaks to a swimming hole, which gets busy during the summer months.

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Rope swing for old-fashioned fun

Accessed via the park road, a new boat ramp for the Santa Fe River was added in 2010 thanks to a grant from FWC, along with the fishing pier that makes it easy for everyone to reach the river from the park’s farthest parking area.

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View from the fishing pier on the Santa Fe River (John Keatley)

This town of Worthington Springs park is open daily from 8 AM to sunset. While the restrooms have been closed, there are some portable toilets on the property.