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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
March 22, 2004
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report

THE WAIT IS OVER!

When the azaleas and Bradford pears are in full bloom each year, you can rest assured that Spring fishing on the Forgotten Coast is blooming as well. Signs are everywhere! Yesterday, the channel behind my house was chocked full of trout pogies, luring me out with my trusty cast net. Last week on two offshore trips the Gulf was teeming with huge bait schools. The bobos (small football bonitos) were crashing the baits with their frenzied, greyhounding style. Inshore, I caught the first of the Spring-run Spanish mackerel. It is happening right now! The waiting game has become the catching game, let the fun begin.

The waters of the Apalachicola Bay and St. George Sound are alive with hungry fish. And it will only get better now that the sun is warm and the water temp rises to the high sixties. The trout are coming out of the rivers and showing up on the grass flats. Last weeks’ charters produced the first trout on the St. Vincent Dry Bar.

Reds are eating live shrimp in the Sikes Cut. You will catch many rat reds and a few slot fish. Live fiddlers are your ticket for the largest sheepshead of the spawning season. A trick for sheepshead is to cut your fiddler crab in half and impale it on a small, stout live bait hook. The scent enables the fish to find it down in the big granite boulders that make up the jetties at the Government Cut. Plus, you double your supply of fiddlers. As always, fluorocarbon leaders outperform mono with their superior abrasive quality. Fluorocarbon gives you a better chance when marauding schools of chopper Spanish show up.

Whiting are a dependable target in the surf now. These great-eating critters average better than a pound now and can be caught with fresh-dead peeled shrimp. Size your tackle to the species and enjoy the beach scenery. A mess of fried whiting is heaven on earth.

The first reports tell of pompano showing up near Panama City beaches. They are headed our way, so get your pompano jigs tied and dust off the sand flea rake. The arrival of these delicacies of the sea is imminent, be ready.

Offshore, double-digit gag grouper are eating live bait with a passion. On your favorite live bottom try squirrelfish, pig fish or pinfish. A few pinfish are being trapped inshore of St. George Island. My traps at the dock have not produced pins yet, but it won’t be long.

AJs are swarming on the offshore wrecks. A trip this week on the Exxon template produced amberjacks on live bait and six ounce diamond jigs. The trick is to mark the fish and fish up in the water column, so as to keep from getting cut off in the steel.

Parking over your favorite wreck and chunk baiting will yield a good catch of mangrove snappers. High quality fish to five pounds are available now. Some say that gray snapper are the equal to their red snapper cousins as table fare. They are targets of opportunity now, until red snapper season reopens on April 22nd.

Want to have some fun, try this. At the C tower, drop live shrimp down about twenty feet. There are some huge sheepshead feeding their on the tower’s barnacles. You will see them in the clear water. Use beefy gear to pull them up and away from the tower. And don’t be surprised if a sow snapper eats your shrimp.

When you see the huge schools of bonitos pushing up pogies offshore, take some time to have some more big-time fun. On a twelve pound class outfit with a silky drag and a capable graphite stick, tie a small white jig on 4 feet of fluorocarbon with a ball bearing snap swivel. Troll the jig across the leading edge of the school, so as to not sound the fish. About 1500 rpms of speed works for me, since bobos like fast moving baits. Don’t stop the boat on the first hookup, as multiples are always possible. Pound for pound, bobos pull as hard as anything that swims. Sometimes it is just about getting a hard pull on your string.

Till next tide, tight lines and solid hookups,

Captain Alex Crawford

www.topknots.com

Proud Member Florida Outdoor Writers Association

Proud Member Florida Guides Association

Proud Member Coastal Conservation Association

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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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