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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
January 16, 2007
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report

Grouper and Snapper Offshore and Trout and Reds Inshore

Offshore guides who fish out of Apalach and Carrabelle report improvement in the grouper bite now that water is warming somewhat in the Gulf. Artificial and natural reefs are covered up with aggressive red snappers, although the red snapper is not open to recreational anglers until the end of April. So its catch and release until then. Gray snappers, triggerfish and sea bass are available as great-eating substitute fish on wrecks and reefs. If fact there are many fishermen who consider triggerfish and sea bass superior in taste to other highly-prized species.

Since live bait is hard to find, try frozen squid, cigar minnows and cut pogies for bottom bouncer baits. Squirrel fish and grunts make good live baits for groupers and big snappers. Use small pieces of squid on sabiki rigs.

Another fun winter technique is to troll large lures over natural live bottom. Big gag groupers will swim up to eat a sexy looking lure like a CD Rapala or Stretch 30. Try the mackerel patterns of these popular lures. Or, put your downriggers in the game for some fun action. You may find a drag-scorcher wahoo or a school of football blackfins.

One brief word on the status of the proposed changes (read interim rule) to the red snapper recreational red snapper fishery; NMFS has proposed changes to the commercial and recreational regs that govern the red snapper fishery. Of particular note to recreational anglers, NMFS may shorten an already too short season in the Gulf. It is possible that the bag limit may become more restrictive. For hire trips could disallow the Captain and mate’s catch to be included in the total bag limit. Overall fish size could be reduced. In part or in whole these kinds of restrictive measures will impact the fishing economies of the Gulf states in a dramatic way.

Until the issue of bycatch and shrimp trawls is solved, the future of red snapper in the Gulf will continue to be open to conjecture. The NMFS violates the Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standards that requires that management measures achieve optimum yield from the fishery on a continuing basis. Further, it is required that the allocations be fair and equitable and promote fisheries conservation. The interim rule clearly does not consider the economic impacts on coastal fishing communities.

It would not be a surprise that new law suit is filed to stop NMFS from proceeding on the red snapper issue. The argument would probably be comparable to the issues raised in the red grouper suit of a few months ago. NMFS lost that suit.

Back to fishing best bets. Inshore it is reds and trout around oyster bars in the Apalachicola Bay. Live shrimp are hard to beat. As always off and on during winter, the Saint Vincent Dry Bar is a great place to hang out on an incoming tide for nice trout and redfish. The Bob Sykes Cut is a perfect choice if your targets are bull reds and chunky sheepshead. You will fair better with small shrimp and fiddler crabs for the convict fish. In the Cut you will have opportunities for flounders as well.

As the water temps in the bay drop into January, the reds and trout go up into the River and deeper creeks to take up residence in more comfortable water. During periods of heavy rain, they will reenter the Bay to find a more comfortable salinity level.

Another winter opportunity is striped bass up in the Apalachicola River and bigger creeks. It is common to see largemouth bass fishermen zooming around the rivers north of the Apalachicola Bay. But there are not many that specifically target stripers. They fight just as hard and taste just as good as their largemouth brethren. Just remember to possess stripers you must have a freshwater license. Frisky shrimp are one of the best striper baits. Keep them in your aerated live bait bucket. They will die in fresh water up the rivers. Around the Forgotten Coast you can find live shrimp (call ahead) at Fishermen’s Choice Bait and Tackle in East point (850) 570-8808. In the Port St. Joe area try Half Hitch Bait and Tackle, (850)227-7100 and ask for Bill. He always knows what’s biting in his area. If you need boat or motor repairs while visiting the Forgotten Coast, call Wefings Marine in East Point (850) 670-8100. Wefings runs a quality operation that is boater friendly. I now take my business to Wefings because of their outstanding customer service. Talk to Lee in service and Mark in sales.

In winter there is not much boat traffic in the rivers and bays. It is the perfect time to get out on the water for a peaceful and relaxing day of fishing. Watch the weather and dress warmly.

Till next tide,

Tight lines and solid hookups

Captain Alex Crawford

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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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