If you swing by Marjorie K. Rawlings Park in Cross Creek one day this weekend, you’ll likely see a parking lot full of tow vehicles and empty boat trailers. Checking the license plates, it’s also likely you will see that quite a few of the anglers out on Orange or Lochloosa are from somewhere other than here.
Since last year, top-notch panfishing and fast-improving bass fishing has been the rule here. Anglers familiar with the history of — or who still remember — the times that first made these lakes famous, have noticed. As they were throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, our premier fishing lakes are back on the radar of anglers throughout the south.
Over recent weeks, we’ve seen them at Gary’s Tackle Box. Stopping by on their visits to the lakes, they tell us they’ve traveled from places like the Northwest Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
If the well-connected bassers are really paying attention, tournaments held last weekend will raise Orange and Lochloosa’s stock further. Saturday, a tournament held by a Jacksonville bass club reportedly saw a winning five-bass limit of 30 pounds. The big bag of bass was anchored by a 10-plus pound beast.
And then there’s the Xtreme Bass qualifier held Sunday. When the 16 competing teams had weighed in at Marjorie Rawlings Park, the lakes’ comeback seemed apparent. The team of Joe Yarborough and Joe Mizerak won with a five-bass limit weighing 29.27-pounds. That’s plenty impressive, but that’s not what hotspot-seeking anglers will see. The thing that will serve to rekindle the Orange Lake mystique is this: In a post-spawn tournament just a few years after Orange was all-but dry, Joe Yarborough caught an 11.07-pound bass. And it wasn’t the biggest bass of the tourney. The team of Devan Marinello and DeWayne Moore docked with an 11.15-pounder.
Anywhere, this is pretty rare — even during spawning time. In a June tournament, it isn’t seen often at all…reminding old timers of — well, Orange Lake in the 1980s.
Presented by the Steinhatchee Community Projects Board, the 9th Nauti-Girls Fishing Tournament went off Saturday in Steinhatchee to favorable weather and tides. The steadily-growing event set a new Nauti-Girls record with 230 lady anglers registering to fish.
The unique women-only tournament allows men only as boat drivers — not at all as fishers.
The women caught fish quite well. The Redfish category saw tightly packed weights, as Ashley Walker caught a 6.50-pound red, Camilla Pace was close behind with her 6.40-pound fish, and Angela Dailey docked with the third-place red at 6.20.
The Trout category produced a number of great catches, topped by Laura Gauronsky’s 5.15 whopper. Linda Pena’s 4.30 beauty earned her second place, and Chelsea Morrow had the third-place trout at 3.95. Diane Watson caught the day’s best flounder, a fine 3.15-pound flatfish.
A special category, Biggest Ladyfish, garnered its captor a nice piece of jewelry designed by a local artist. On this day, Presley Baggs earned the bling with a pound-and-a-half ‘lady’.
Brittany English caught the redfish with the most spots (10).
Offshore categories consisted of Heaviest Red Grouper and Heaviest Gag Grouper. Kelly Driggers caught the heaviest of the red variety at 5.10, while Ashley Ward docked with the second-best, a 4.55-pound keeper. As expected, the gag grouper entered were larger. Chloe Green won with a nice 15.80-pound fish, and Claudia Green hauled in a 13.10-pound gag for second place to wrap up the Nauti Girls winners.
Early-season gag grouper reports have been good … and now, we’re hearing results from red snapper trips to the gulf. Not surprisingly, the just-opened seasons have already produced great fishing stories.
Rod Bryan’s report this week was typical. Bryan fished Monday out of Cedar Key with Marty and Ryan Meisner and Joe Smith. The anglers ran out to water 60 feet deep and fished cut bait to haul in three legal gag and one red grouper, and a four-man limit of red snapper up to 10 pounds.
In Gainesville’s nearest gulf waters, the bay scallop season opens July 1. In Steinhatchee waters, however, the season opens Saturday. The early start applies only to waters off Dixie County and a portion of Taylor County, roughly from Suwannee, north past Keaton Beach.
The Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club will change up its June 26th monthly meeting, moving it to Gary’s Tackle Box and turning it into a fish fry. The get-together lasts from 6:30-8:30 p.m., and it is free to current club members only. If you’ve thought about joining GOFC, consider the fun events like this (and come enjoy some fish).
The 2018 Fightin’ Gator Touchdown Club’s annual fishing tournament is set for June 23 out of Crystal River’s Plantation Inn. Featuring several offshore and inshore categories — and even a freshwater bass division — this event is always a popular one. Anglers must pre-register by June 22, but can also pay a bit more and enter on the morning of the tournament. Contact Gordon Sellers 352-266-0730 or Adam Blake 352-682-9839.
Gary Simpson, a veteran tournament angler, operates Gary's Tackle Box at L & S Auto Trim.