Levy County Saltwater

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Spring Means Return of Spanish Mackerel to North Florida Waters

By Amanda Nalley

Across Florida there are signs that spring has sprung, from the fine layer of yellow pollen coating everything in the north to folks returning to the water sans wetsuit in the south. Warmer water also means the return of Spanish mackerel, a feisty fish that migrates south when the water temperature dips below 70 and should be returning to north Florida waters right about now. Spanish mackerel are easy to catch, making them a great target for kids and those new to the sport, but their aggressive fighting behavior when on the line also makes them exciting for seasoned veterans.

Interested in catching a Spanish mackerel or two? Spring and early summer are a great time to target these fish as they move north along the coast. They frequent nearshore sandy and grassy areas, from bays to beaches and piers, but can also be caught farther offshore. Spanish mackerel typically follow baitfish, so look for areas where fish are jumping.

The main two ways to target Spanish mackerel are trolling for them (running a line behind your boat while it is in motion) and casting.

One of the identifying characteristics of a Spanish mackerel are the yellow spots found above and below the lateral line. MyFWC photo.

When it comes to gear, the goal is to replicate baitfish.

If you are trolling for them, many people use what is called a mackerel tree, a series of hooks on a line with pieces of tubing acting as lures near each hook followed by a trolling spoon.

If you plan to fish for Spanish mackerel by casting, then spoons, jigs or any shallow diving lure will work. Spanish mackerel are a fairly fragile fish that need to be handled carefully and quickly when catching and releasing. If your artificial lures have treble hooks on them, consider bending down all the barbs or replacing the treble hooks with single hooks. Treble hooks can cause significant damage to a fish.

Unlike some species, Spanish mackerel will go after a wide variety of artificial lures, but if you are a natural-bait fan, try threadfin herring, cigar minnows or finger-sized mullet.

Mackerel have extremely sharp teeth. So if you don’t want to lose your lure and your line, make sure to use a leader that is at least 30 pound test. Above that, a good light spinning rod with 10- to 15-pound test will be plenty to reel in the fish.

Whether or not you ever hit the daily bag limit of 15 Spanish mackerel per person in state waters, there are plenty of other fish nearby to target, such as bluefish and lady fish, which also follow bait around.

Be sure to keep a measuring device nearby. The minimum size limit for Spanish mackerel is 12 inches fork length, which is measured from the tip of the lower jaw with the mouth closed to the center of the fork in the tail. Be sure to use a straight line measurement and not a flexible tape, as this can throw off your measurement.

Size limits and bag limits help ensure the Spanish mackerel population remains sustainable for future generations. The first statewide daily bag limit was set in 1986 and was four fish per person. This was increased to five in 1991, to 10 in 1993 and to where it is today, 15, in 2000. The size limit went into effect in 1999.

Find a keeper or two? Spanish mackerel are best eaten fresh, not frozen, within the first three days of being caught. Make sure to ice them down good and keep them cold. They can be grilled, fried, baked or smoked.

Catch a really big one? The current state record is 12 pounds, caught off Fort Pierce in 1984, and the world record is 13 pounds caught in North Carolina in 1987. If you think you can beat that, visit the International Game Fish Association website at or, for state records, visit and click on “Saltwater” and “Grand Slam/Fishing Records.”

Learn more about Spanish mackerel at by clicking on “Saltwater,”

“Recreational Regulations” and “Mackerel, Spanish.” Email comments, questions, photos or suggestions to

Don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) scheduled the first of four license-free recreational fishing days on the first full weekend in April each year (April 5-6, this year), because it coincides with a productive freshwater fishing period, when the weather is usually pleasant. Many of Florida’s recreational sport fishes, including black bass, bluegill and redear sunfish, move into shallow waters to spawn during spring, making them more available for anglers to catch.

License-free freshwater fishing weekends are a great time to introduce other family members, friends and neighbors to fishing and see if they and you would like to take up the sport. Besides enjoying the fun of reeling in a fish, many people find recreational fishing to be a good motivator to enjoy the great outdoors and living a more active, healthy and natural lifestyle. During license-free freshwater fishing weekends (the first weekend in April and the second weekend in June), no recreational fishing license is required. However, all other bag limit and season, gear and size restrictions apply.

To further encourage recreational fishing, the FWC will conduct a special contest during April to collect photos of anglers. All you have to do is post a photo of your family fishing in Florida’s fresh waters on Twitter or Instagram with #FLfish (or you can use #FWC-FamilyFishing). In return for your efforts, the FWC will enter you into a drawing for one of six surprise packages, each including a $50 gift card from Bass Pro Shops, thanks to TrophyCatch; a Glen Lau video library on DVD; and assorted fishing lures, hooks, line and goodies to make your next trip even more productive.

Submitted photos must be your own. Editing software must not be used, and the photo cannot include inappropriate content. Photos should be taken during April while freshwater fishing in Florida and include multiple anglers enjoying their day together on the water. The FWC may subsequently use the photos for educational or outreach purposes.

So where will you go for your next freshwater fishing trip? Plenty of resources are available online to help you choose. Start by visiting and under “Freshwater Fishing” pick “Sites/Forecasts.” There you can find the top destinations for pursuing bass, bream, catfish and other species in 2014, as well as regional forecasts and tips for local waters; information on all 80 FWC fish management areas; and links to our boat ramp finder and freshwater fish attractor locations. Another good resource is Freshwater anglers have enjoyed wonderful fishing so far in 2014 across Florida, and this spring should see a continuation of that trend.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) incentive-based conservation program, TrophyCatch, rewards anglers for participating in citizen-science, by catching, documenting and releasing largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds. Besides the immediate gratification of releasing these older bass to fight another day, anglers provide valuable information about the number and distribution of these trophy bass and what it takes to sustain a trophy fishery. Biologists compare the findings to existing conservation programs such as habitat restoration efforts, aquatic vegetation management strategies, bass stocking histories and various regulation management approaches to determine what works best.

Between Jan. 1 and March 23, 2014, anglers entered 220 Lunker Club, 89 Trophy Club and three Hall of Fame bass. That is a three-fold increase over the same period last year. Part is due to simplified rules and more anglers being aware. Nevertheless, it is clear that Florida is producing and recycling vast numbers of trophy bass.

You never know when you may find a lunker on the end of your line. To be prepared, go to now, register and check out the rules and prizing. Just registering makes you eligible for a random drawing in October for a Phoenix bass boat powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole. However, every time you have a TrophyCatch bass verified, your name is entered 10 more times. Moreover, every verified bass earns you not only bragging rights on the Web but also a customized certificate, decal and club shirt, plus at least a total of $100 in gift cards from Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and/or Rapala. Bigger fish earn greater rewards: Anglers who have 13-pound-plus Hall of Fame entries also get a $500 fiberglass replica of their catch.

So far there are already four Hall of Fame bass this season. Joseph “Brooks” Morrell’s 14 pound, 9 ounce-bass from Lake Kingsley in Clay County is the current season leader. If it holds up, he will earn the TrophyCatch Championship ring in October, which is donated by the American Outdoors Fund.

However, there is still a lot of fishing to be done before then, so get out there and see what you can catch.

Instant licenses are available at or by calling 888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling 888-404-3922, *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone, or texting to Visit and select “more news,” or for more Fish Busters’ Bulletins. To subscribe to FWC columns or to receive news releases automatically, click on the red envelope on any page of  



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April Freshwater Fishing in Florida

Talkin' Turkey

Hopefully, you’ve already started brushing up on your turkey calling, ’cause spring gobbler season is here. Whether you prefer to use a mouth call, box call, slate or any combination, March means it’s time to talk turkey and I, for one, am in full
turkey mode!

Youth hunters can benefit from the two-day, youth spring turkey hunting season the weekend prior to the opening of spring turkey season. This Youth Spring Turkey Hunt occurs on private lands and on 78 of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) wildlife management areas (WMAs).

South of State Road 70 this year, that weekend was Feb. 22-23. In the rest of the state, that weekend falls on March 8-9.

Only those under 16 years old are allowed to harvest a turkey while supervised by an adult, 18 years or older. On private land, no license or permit is required of the youth or supervising adult, unless the adult plans to help “call-in” the bird or otherwise participate in the hunt. In that case, he or she will need a hunting license and turkey permit.

Forty-nine of the 78 participating WMAs require a youth spring turkey quota permit, and if the adult supervisor is going to attempt to call in a bird on any of the 78 WMAs, he or she also will need a management area permit in addition to a hunting license and turkey permit.

But, keep in mind that adults are not allowed to do the shooting; only the kids may harvest a bird.

During spring turkey season on WMAs, firearms are restricted to shotguns and muzzleloading shotguns only, using shot no larger than No. 2. All legal bows and crossbows (on most areas) can also be used, but all rifles, pistols, buckshot and slugs are prohibited during spring turkey hunts on WMAs.

This rule does not apply, however, to private property, where any legal rifle, shotgun, muzzleloader, crossbow, bow or pistol can be used to take turkeys.

One of the most coveted and sought-after game species in Florida is the Osceola turkey, also known as the Florida turkey. This unique bird is one of five subspecies of wild turkey in North America.

The Osceola lives only on the Florida peninsula and nowhere else in the world, making it extremely popular with out-of-state hunters. They’re similar to the eastern subspecies (found in the Panhandle) but tend to be a bit smaller and typically are darker with less white barring on the primary flight feathers of their wings.

The National Wild Turkey
Federation and the FWC recognize any wild turkey harvested within or south of the counties of Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Union, Bradford, Clay and Duval to be the Osceola subspecies. Eastern turkeys and hybrids are found north and west of these counties and into the Panhandle.

For us adults, the highly anticipated spring turkey season comes in first south of S.R. 70 and runs March 1 – April 6. In the rest of the state (except for Holmes County), it runs March 15 – April 20. In Holmes County, the season runs March 15-30.

Hunters may take bearded turkeys and gobblers only, and the daily bag limit is one. The season and possession limit on turkeys is two, except in Holmes County, where the season limit is one. Shooting hours on private lands are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset, but on WMAs, you must quit hunting at 1 p.m.

To participate in spring turkey hunting, you’ll need a Florida hunting license and a turkey permit. If you plan to pursue a gobbler on one of Florida’s many WMAs, you also must purchase a management area permit.

All of these licenses and permits are available at county tax collectors’ offices, most retail outlets that sell hunting and fishing supplies, by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356), or online at

And if you didn’t put in for a special-opportunity or quota permit, don’t worry; several WMAs don’t require them. Visit and click on “Where to spring turkey hunt without a quota permit” to see a list of WMAs where you need only a hunting license, management area permit and turkey permit to hunt spring turkeys.
Tony Young and his wife, Katie, have a turkey hunting trip planned in South Florida with old friends, and they are really looking forward to going after an Osceola for their first time.

" Outta' the Woods'

By Tony Young

Along the race route, competitors will see spectacular beauty and wildlife (if there’s time to look) as they navigate around submerged logs and climb over or duck below fallen trees partially in the river or completely across the river.

For spectators there will be free drawings all day, a bluegrass band, barbeque chicken dinners for $6 per plate and barbeque sandwiches, hamburgers and hotdogs, rib dinners (by the slab) and swamp cabbage.

Raffle drawings include the grand prize, a 16-foot Indian River canoe; 1st prize an Apple iPad; 2nd prize, a large flat pane TV: 3rd prize, chainsaw; 4th prize, $75 gift card, 5th prize, $50 gift card, 6th prize, $25 gift card; 50/50 tickets will also be sold.

The race starts at 9:30 a.m. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m.

Spectators generally line the river bank at the finish line to watch canoeists and kayakers climb over the final two log crossings. For the kids, there will be a bouncy house, big slide, pony rides and this year, hay rides.

Paddles will be awarded to the 1st through 3rd place winners, except in the recreational class where 1st through 5th place winners.

There are 10 classes:

· Experienced Class – If you have won the race in the Recreation Class in the past, you need to enter the Experienced Class.

· Recreation Class – If you have never won the canoe race previously in a 2-person canoe, you need to enter the Recreation Class.

· Mixed Class – If you are a man and a woman racing a canoe, you will need to enter the Mixed Class.

· One-Person Canoe Class – If you are racing a canoe alone you will need to enter the one-person canoe class.

· Parent-Youth Class – If you are racing with a child under 17 years old, you will need to enter the Parent Youth Class.

· Senior Canoe Class – If you are 55 or older and racing a canoe you will need to enter the Senior Canoe Class.

· Women’s Canoe Class – If you are racing a 2 person canoe and both of the occupants are women you will need to enter the Women’s Canoe Class.

· Men’s Kayak Class – If you are a man racing a kayak, you will need to enter the Men’s Kayak Class.

· If you are a woman racing a kayak will need to enter the Women’s Kayak Class.

· If you are 55 or older and racing a kayak you will need to enter the Senior Kayak Class.

Those who wish to be a race sponsor can contribute $200 to become a Bronze Sponsor, $300 to be a Silver Sponsor, $500 to be a Gold Sponsor and $1,000 to be a Platinum Sponsor.

Donors who give $200 will receive a replica of a race trophy paddle and a t-shirt with your company name or logo which will be added to the back of the shirt along with other sponsors of the race. Your donation also allows you to sponsor a racer(s) in either the canoe and kayak category.

The race is not LARC’s only fundraiser. During the year, volunteers work to prepare for the race by holding yard sales, bake and craft sales and raffles.

But the race makes a big difference for LARC and its clients.

Additional information about the race can be found at or at

Annual Wild Hog Canoe and Kayak Race Slated for April 26


By Terry Witt

Senior Staff Writer


The 37th Annual Wild Hog Canoe and Kayak Race slated for April 26 on the Waccasassa River is more than a wild 15-mile race on one of the most scenic rivers in the state.

The race is the biggest fundraiser of the year for the Levy Association of Retarded Citizens and assists LARC in making up for state budget shortfalls that would damage LARC’s ability teach and educate its clients.

When the race began three-and-a-half decades ago, it was strictly a canoe race, but as time has passed kayaking has become a popular sport and kayakers are a significant part of the race.

The race itself begins at the Waccasassa River Bridge on State Road 24 six miles south of Bronson and ends 15 miles later at the Waccasassa River Bridge on U.S. 19 six miles south of Otter Creek.