Suwannees and Sharks and Reds Oh My

For the last few years, a group of friends and I have been traveling down to Florida from North Alabama in order to partake in some saltwater therapy. We first started going to fish a tournament; however, after last year we agreed that the next trip would be for fun. None of the pressures that go along with tournament fishing. Just do what we want, when we want.

I headed down on Monday a few days ahead of the rest of the group on a mission to check the Suwannee bass off of my list. For this task I would enlist the help of fellow Jackson teammate Jean Wilson. Jean is known for the monster largemouth she catches and I knew she tangles with Suwannees from time to time. After a few chats, we had the trip details nailed down for Wednesday.

Jean, my friend Harry, and myself met up at the launch and started on our task. The water we were fishing is unspoiled. No signs of civilization to be had. Just the clear, cold spring water flowing quietly over what seemed an endless ribbon of grass dotted occasionally with an island. This truly is Florida in its natural state.

The Suwannee bass doesn’t grow nearly as large as their Largemouth cousins, seldom exceeding twelve inches in length. But Suwannees can be a very beautiful fish with a bluish color along its lower jaw and cheeks. The bite was slow to develop but I finally caught my first Suwannee by sight fishing it off of a sandy patch in the grass. The day would bring a mixture of Largemouth and Suwannees for the three of us. On the way back to the launch, I landed a Suwannee that was just a tad over fourteen inches. This would had qualified the fish for a Florida Big Catch certificate if I had gotten a picture of it on the bump board. Oh well, there is always next time.

The next day found the rest of the Alabama crew showing up in the afternoon. We spent the later part of day fishing oyster bars and the bay side of a large island.  The group managed a few redfish and one large trout.  Once night came, we transitioned to shark fishing from the beach.  This was a new experience for me, but it payed off.  We landed two Bull sharks
with biggest one being around seven feet long.  Reeling in one of these fish really is an experience.  The sheer power of the fish and the burning muscles in your arms and shoulders makes it worth every bit of it.

The following day we started off fishing the grass flats in the bay.  The wind sat up so that it would drift us across prime fishing grounds.  The group spread out and was catching a few fish here and there.  I was trying to catch a shark from my kayak, so I was soaking cut bait behind my boat.  I didn’t have any luck with the sharks but I must have caught almost every Hardhead catfish in the bay.  My Penn reel would start screaming and I would think this is it…going to get a shark…only to find yet another catfish on the hook.  Eventually I gave up and just settled on a popping cork in order to get some trout in my catch bag.

Jean met up with us for a late lunch at a local oyster bar.  While eating, she was sharing stories
and pictures of her famous bass.  Sitting and listening to her talk so nonchalantly about catching double digit bass was incredible.  Needless to say we were all in awe at her accomplishments and maybe a little envious.

After lunch we headed back to the campground and sat out in the lagoon to hit the grass lines and oyster bars on the outgoing tide.  I was working top water parallel to a grass line when the familiar gulp of a redfish broke the cadence.  On the hook set I could tell this was a decent fish.  It pulled my Kraken around a little bit before I could turn and gain some line on it.  The fish turned out to be a nice over slot red right at 27.75 inches.  After the measurements and pictures, the red was released to go on its way.  As the sun was setting I hooked up with another 27.75 inch red near an oyster bar.  After the fish was released, we paddled back to the campsite feeling pretty happy about the day.

On Saturday the wind had increased considerably.  Part of the group decided to head back home with a detour to the Chattahoochee River to try and catch Shoal bass.  The rest of us would hang around the area and scout possible fishing spots for our next trip.  We ended up on the gulf beach later in the afternoon as it was protected from the wind.  Over the course of the evening we would land four more sharks.

Our trips to Florida have become something we look forward to for almost the whole year.  It is a chance to spend time with friends and make new ones.  A chance for folks to chase new species, make new stories about the ones that got away and the ones that didn’t.  More importantly a chance to unwind and have fun doing something we all love.

And yes, the campsite for next year is already reserved…

Tight lines,
Robert Brown

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