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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
February 6, 2004
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report

EARLY SPRING MEANS HOT ANGLING ACTION

On the Forgotten Coast, March means an end to hunting seasons and a return to hot fishing action. The water temperature inshore is climbing from the low sixties. Offshore, depending on how far south you go, the temps are in the mid seventies. Warmer waters signal the pelagic species that it is time again to gorge on the huge bait schools of spring. As we get closer to the magical number of 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the first pelagics show up. Spanish mackerel are first, followed by their big brothers, the king mackerel. First reports of cobia on the beaches will begin in early March.

Pompano will be moving into the surf and passes all along the Panhandle. A legion of dedicated, cabin-weary anglers will be in hot pursuit of this delicacy of spring. Out with the newly risen sun, these pompano pursuers are way pumped. But this season the game has changed a little. Due to stock assessments and long range sustainability issues, pompano bag and size limits have changed. The bag is decreased from 10 to 6 per angler per day and the size limit has been increased from 10 inches to 11 measured at the fork of the tail. You can still possess one pompano over 20 inches per day, if you are lucky enough to catch one that big. Permit bag and size limits are identical, but we donít have permit this far north in Florida.

Offshore, gag grouper are coming to the end of their spawn, however red grouperís spawning season is just beginning. Everyone knows that live bait, especially pinfish is the best grouper bait. But in the early spring the water is too cold and pinfish are still offshore in warmer waters. So what is the serious grouper angler to do? Simple solution. Just take one of your best pinfish traps offshore with you. Rig it with a stout hand line, a heavy sinker in the bottom so it will stand upright and deploy it with a float on your favorite offshore bait numbers. Fish the area with squid-tipped sabiki rigs for a while and, when you retrieve your trap, it will be loaded with frisky pins. Then you will be ready for some high fun on the high seas.

Early spring is the time to get your fishing boat ready to catch Ďem up. Annual maintenance and service is a ritual for me. Here is a list of things that you may want to consider on your annual boat/motor checklist.

OUTBOARD MOTORS

*Change gear lube (high quality synthetic lubes are best)

*Clean, inspect, change plugs

*Inspect/change water separators and fuel filters

*Inspect battery and electrical connections (add distilled water)

*Inspect props, seals, cotter pins and lube prop shaft

*Lube motor fittings and inspect power trim/tilt

*Add hydraulic steering fluid

*Inspect all pumps and replace worn hoses

*Spray motor with Corrosion X

*Add ring-free fuel additive

*Change water pump impeller

BOAT HULL

*Wash and wax (marine Teflon wax works well)

*Polish all bright work with chrome polish

*Tighten all fittings and cleats

*Check power anchor windlass (inspect chain connections and chafing anchor lines)

*Repaint hull with high quality bottom paint (inspect for fiberglass work)

*Clean electronics and lube connections

*Inventory and update safety gear

*Check First Aid Kit

*Test Nav lights

*Inspect through-hull fittings and seacocks

*Test motor alarm

*Inspect and clean gauges

*Test hour meter

This is only a partial list of considerations. The bottom line is that conscientious annual care of your boat and motor will allow you to spend more trouble-free, fun time on the water catching fish. Itís just about the sheer love of fishing!

Till next tide, solid hookups and tight lines,

Captain Alex Crawford

Proud Member Florida Outdoor Writers Association

Proud Member Florida Guides Association

Proud Member Coastal Conservation Association

www.topknots.com

captainalex@topknots.com

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Captain Alex Crawford is a full time guide who has fished the Florida Panhandle offshore for 26 years. He specializes in grouper and snapper trips with light tackle on live bait. Custom trips for companies with multiple boats will be arranged. Inshore trips targeting specific species and custom eco trips are available for birding, gator watching, shelling, picnics and barrier islands. Contact Captain Alex for a fun and productive trip on Florida's Forgotten Coast.

Contact Info:

Topknots Charters
P. O. Box 1029
Carrabelle, FL 32322
Phone: 850-697-8946
Alt. Phone: same
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