The Ranger Ghost with Captain Hoginator at the helm. Thanks to a number of tracks on our GPS we can travel relativley easily and safely to our favorite fishing areas North and South of Cedar Key.
Our first stop was to a flounder area we like. We quickly caught two flounder, a short Red and Black Drum then moved on to areas North into the backwater on the rising tide.
The flounder we caught were over hard shell bottom. A lesson learned about finding that king of bottom is pole the boat or throw a gold spook with a slow enough retrieve to "feel" the type of bottom.
The next few spots only produced short Redfish and Trout. But after running further North we found some keeper Redfish. And finally Captain Hoginator connected with a nice Redfish (the last few trips he has been wasting time, incessantly throwing his top water lures, while I catch our limit of Redfish).
Captain Hogintator also caught the smallest fish of the day, a juvenile Trout.
The backwater fishing has been great. Redfish, flounder and an occasional trout are now dependable catches. We have caught more flounder recently then every before, not sure why but we are enjoying it. We are finding the flounder around the oyster bars and shell bottom where we would typically look for redfish.
A circle hook under a small weighted float with a mud minnow, shrimp or cut bait are working. Keep bait bumping along the bottom and if you can do it wait a second or two before setting the hook.
When the tide is up, don't forget to fit the grass edges and a gold spoon through the grass or a top water lure.
The fish tacos have been nice to have on a regular basis too!
Dr. "Red"riguez pulled in some nice Redfish, two of them being 25+ inches in mid-April. The waters around Cedar Key haver been steadily warming and the Trout and Redfish have been prowling the grass and oyster bar edges.
Shrimp, Gulp, pinfish and cut Mullet are good bait choices. Suspending the bait just above or bouncing the bait over the oyster clumps or fishing the steeper bank edges are all good choices. The standard 1/4 or 3/8 oz. jig head is popular and some of us, myself included prefer a circle hook with no additional weight on a 20# leader under a popping cork or cajun thunder.
Walking the shell and oyster bars is a great way to cool off and sight fish.
Tips, Lessons learned:
>Fishing the rising and falling tides are preferable to a slack tide.
>Fish the "cut's" between oyster bars and anywhere else water is moving.
>Look for Trout over the grass flats, especially the spotty bottom.
August is hot and the weather unpredictable but when you have an early AM rising tide, leave as early as possible and start working the backwater cuts and oyster bars with water flow over and around them.
Capt. Hoginator demonstrated how it was done. Bait used was Gulp or cut Mullet on a circle hook or 1/4 oz. jig head on 20 lb leader, under a popping cork or Cajun Thunder. Keeping the bait bouncing along the top pf the oysters or along the shell bottom will produce bites.
With the Ranger Ghost 169 back into service after sitting idle for a few years, we have been prowling around the Bid Bend, looking, learning and fishing.
As we have explored some favorite areas not fished for years we have found very productive fishing.
Our main targets, Redfish, Trout and of course Black Drum are plentiful and dependably caught on live shrimp, cut mullet and artificial baits.
Thanks to large amounts of mullet and pin fish, a small 5' diameter cast net is all thats needed to keep the live well stocked.
Captain Hoginator and I have co-ventured to bring the boat back into service. I can without hesitation state that this renewed relationship with the Ghost has been great. The boat is very high quality...... dependable, pleasurable and an excellent platform for stalking fish in the backwater.
After the typical electrical system repairs, fluids replacement, new batteries, water pump service, and of course the inevitable trailer repairs, the boat is in fully operational while the small ongoing items are dealt with.
If you could imagine about a million acres of protected backwater and seagrass flats fed by countless springfed streams and one of America's largest and most beautiful rivers with miles and miles of protected and undeveloped shoreline and all of it with some of the finest backcountry and flats fishing to be found anywhere, then throw in many thousands of acres of state and federal refuge and wildlife management areas with great deer, hog and turkey hunting opportunities….. you would be imagining a place called Florida’s Big Bend region. From St. Marks NWR to the north and traveling south to Chassahowitzka NWR and anchored by the great Suwanee River and barrier islands of the Cedar Keys. There simply isn't any wilderness like it in Florida or the continent for that matter.
Now imagine a beautiful blue skies November day where you can backcountry fish and hunt all in the same day and all within minutes of one another. That's what happened a couple weeks ago thanks to an invitation to go fishing with my close friend Bob. It started when Douglas and I helped load our gear on Bob's airboat as the tide was still falling under perfect early morning weather conditions in Cedar Key. As Bob's house and the Cedar Keys disappeared from sight the wilderness shoreline of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge opened up. The Big Bend at low tide in the backcountry is sensory overload. There's just too much of interest to look at. The oyster bars, mud flats, creeks, islands, birds, sky is overwhelming. I snapped a few photos on our way to our fishing grounds however, the none of them seem to do justice to the experience.
When Bob brought the airboat to rest perfectly positioned on a sandbar in a creek no wider than about 20 feet across we baited our hooks with cut mullet or mud minnows and cast to the rock formations that are found in many of the creeks in the region. There are countless creeks with countless areas where the current has scoured the bottom and ledges exposing craggy, swiss cheese-like limestone formations where the redfish often reside during the low winter tides. Some of these spots are coveted and held in confidence within a close knit group of trustworthy men. It goes without saying that experiencing this type of fishing is a privilege.
Within a very short time we had each caught our limit of legal sized redfish with a couple of them pushing towards the upper size limit. Throughout the morning and into the early afternoon Bob expertly piloted the airboat into creeks where we continued to catch many redfish. In those few hours we caught and released over 50 fish. Bob is one of those rare individuals that has earned the skills and expertise necessary to navigate the backcountry and handle boats of all types and sizes with expert precision and its all coupled with his great attitude.
By midafternoon we had our fish cleaned boat washed and Douglas and I were on our way to spend the last few hours before sunset hunting. After a quick switch from fishing to hunting gear we set off into one of our favorite swamp and hammock areas. We each went separate ways and set up approximately a quarter mile from each other with a fairly thick swamp between us. I chose a palm tree in this swamp with a view of the edge of a hammock to climb. Not long after I was set up I heard that familiar rustling of palmettos that a hog will make when he's looking for acorns or tubers. In a minute or two a large black boar hog came into view about 40 yards away. With the density of trees and brush I was only afforded temporary and narrow shot windows. As soon as the hog entered one of those windows and turned broadside I squeezed the trigger of my rifle. The shot was well placed and the hog fell over in place.
When I fired, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a buck running away from the sound about 50 yards further than the hog. Perhaps the buck had come into my grunt call but hung up about 70 or 80 yards away as the younger bucks will often do? I don't know how long he'd been there but he stopped his run at just the right moment and just the right place to give me a narrow window of opportunity. I put the crosshairs on his vitals and squeezed the trigger. That shot found its place also and the buck fell over in his tracks. The bullet had hit a shoulder and passed through his heart, an instant kill.
This is a short video clip of the expert air boat piloting that Bob did to maneuver through the mudflats while avoiding the oyster bars. You can also get an idea of the pine and palm hammocks that grow in the salt marshes on this section of the Gulf Coast. Spectacular scenery!