Saturday, February 25, 2023

Spring at Steinhatchee

 The time has come for the Spring Salty Gators fishing tournament. Considering how much fun the fall tournament was, I’d had this one marked on the calendar for a long time. On Friday after classes I met up with Talon, who drove us over to Steinhatchee. Unlike last time, it was much colder and overcast, with clouds staying very low. It was an interesting feeling as we were going west into the rural Florida farmlands and approaching the small gulf coast fishing town. As the ground became sandier, signifying our proximity to the coast, we stopped for gas and snacks to prepare for the big day we had upcoming. Once we got to the marina, Talon and I set up in the villa we had directly across the street from the marina.

As always, the night before the tournament was very fun. The group hung out and chilled at some restaurants and back in the rooms with anticipation of the next day.

The next morning I woke up with a slight hangover, but that was fixed with a shower and a Gatorade I bought at the store at the marina. Talon and I got on one of the rental boats we had, along with Spencer and Matty Smokes. This morning was not so different from last time, as it was also pretty cold on the drive out and very foggy. However, the fog did not let up until much later in the afternoon. The haze was so thick that we could barely even make out the pilings marking the channel. The sun was also blocked out by the fog and clouds, which made a sort of surreal atmosphere as we made our way on to the flat.

Remembering its success last tournament, I remembered to buy live shrimp for the trip. Luckily, it would prove to come in handy. Matt had some popping corks, so I opted to tie a jighead under one and cast that out with a live shrimp. Sur enough, I started seeing and feeling bites right away. Using the popping cork, I made sure to repeatedly jerk and pause in order to create splashes that would attract the sea trout. After a few of those, the bobber started going under consistently. The problem I had at first, however, was properly timing up the hook set. Especially with the notoriously soft mouths that Speckled Seatrout have, this is a task easier said than done. After about three failed hook sets, either by waiting too long or not reeling in enough slack, I was pretty irritated. Regardless, I kept at it and soon I finally did get a proper hook set. It wasn't the biggest fish, but the four of us were glad to have gotten a fish on board.

The catching continued very well on the popping corks; so much so that Matt and Spencer, who were using lures, switched to popping corks as well. The first spot on the flats consistently produced a lot of fish. It felt like each cast inevitably ended up with a fish at the very least taking the bait. I kept catching fish until we ran out of bait, at which point we switched to swimbaits. While drifting at the first spot for about two hours, I reeled in about 9 fish. The four of us together probably reeled in at least 40 - however, only a handful were keepers.

   We eventually moved on to look for Redfish, the other fish involved in the tournament. Considering the success of last time, we went back to Pepperfish Key. This time, however, we arrived to see that the tide was too low to get to the entry of the creeks where we expected the fish to be. Nearly avoiding getting stuck and having to push the boat out, we left and went back to the flats. At this point we focused our efforts on catching some more Seatrout. Hopefully we'd pull in some more keepers that would be able to place in the tournament.

    We finished successfully, with a few more hauls as the sky finally cleared up for our ride back. I had caught about 11 fish, and the four of us combined caught probably at least 50 Seatrout. Not all of them were big enough, but nonetheless it was a great day on the water. Once we got back, we cleaned out the fish and weighed in for the tournament. The weigh in was really cool to see, with anglers both new and experienced in Steinhatchee bringing in their big catches for sizable awards. It was the first time I was part of such a tournament, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next. I'd also be lying if I said I wasn't envious while seeing some anglers pull up with their overslot Redfish (kept alive and released after weigh in). I'll certainly be aiming for that next time, but as for now, I can't complain about the great day we had catching fish.

Afterwards, to top it off, Talon and I took the sea trout fillets and cooked it back at the dorm at UF. We unfortunately found lots of worms in fillets that we discarded, but we still had enough to eat. The worms are edible if you cook them, but we still kinda felt weird about eating them. Regardless, as we ate the fresh fish, talking and looking back on the day, life was good. Another great day of fishing in the books.