Articles from Captain Tony

The Hidden Coast May/June 2023

May is the beginning of Summer here along the Hidden Coast. Living in Florida, Summer comes early! This year we had a warm early spring, then April came along and we have had multiple windy and chilly days! But, by the time you read this, I figure the temps will be on the rise and the Summer heat will begin!

Living along the Hidden Coast we are blessed with an area that offers many different options for beating the heat. From inland Springs, Rivers and Lakes to hundreds of miles Coastline and Tidal Creeks the options to get wet and cool off are endless!

It would take pages to describe all the options that are available! So I encourage you to check out this online resource and download the app to discover what’s out there! From there you will find links to all the things to do here in Florida!

What better way to cool off than to get on the water or better yet in the water! Here along The Hidden Coast and more specifically the Lower Suwannee River Estuary there are a lot of options! Described by many times as a “Fisherman’s Paradise” the Lower Suwannee River Estuary is that! But, that’s just the beginning of what you can do here on or in the water!

The Lower Suwannee River is a hub for a couple of Paddling Trails here in Florida. The Suwannee River Trail and the The Florida Sea Island Trail. Both of these trails offer short trips you can take for a couple hours or longer trips that can take several days. All of this information can be found at the Visit Florida website!

The Suwannee River and Santa Fe Rivers are home to multiple Springs and spring runs that lead down to the River. What better way to beat the heat than to jump into that crisp, clean and cool spring water! At an average temperature of 73 degrees Fahrenheit it will feel cold on those hot Summer days! For more detailed information on the Springs of the Suwannee River you can checkout this link

After a pretty good annual spawning season for the Largemouth Bass here on the Lower Suwannee River. It’s now time for the “Panfish” to begin to do their thing! By the end of April the “redbellies will be going on the bed” preparing for the full moon on May 5th. This is the time of the year to break out the light n ultralight spinning gear and find you a bonnet bed or sandy area along a grassy shoreline where the “bream” (sunfish) are bedding. This time of the year I really like to throw a 1/32 or 1/16 ounce Beetle Spin. The color will vary depending on conditions like water clarity and brightness of the day. But, white with a red dot, green with black stripes and black with yellow stripes are several of my go to colors!

Get you a kayak and try some bream fishing here along the Lower Suwannee River or just get out and enjoy the wild beauty that surrounds us!

For more Local fishing info I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Fishing Lowdown or go online and check it out and get you a subscription!!

Until next time y’all be safe and enjoy “The Hidden Coast”!

Captain Tony Johns
Instagram- captaintonyjohns
FB- Lower Suwannee River Outdoor Adventures

TFL April 2023

The old saying goes, “April showers bring May flowers”. Well here around the Lower Suwannee River the month of April brings fantastic fishing opportunities with the weather improving day by day! Where should I start?

The Redfish is the most targeted species here in the Lower Suwannee River Estuary. You can find them on the outside oyster bars and reefs like the Suwannee Reef (white shell bar) and Lone Cabbage Reef. You can also find them on and around the oyster bars and grassy shorelines up and down the Coast. For the adventurous angler you can also find the resourceful Redfish in the backcountry as far up the tidal creeks as you dare to venture!

One of the great things about the Redfish is their willingness to eat almost anything they can catch! From a grass shrimp that’s smaller than your little finger to a whole blue crab the size of your hand! When the waters are warm they also “luv to chase a bait”! This makes them a prime target for the artificial bait Angler’s! The Redfish has an “underslung mouth” which is great for foraging on the bottom for benthic organisms like shrimp and crabs but doesn’t work real well when trying to engulf your topwater plug!

This means you will have many blowups and missed strikes for every hookup when fishing topwater baits for Redfish! “Patience grasshopper” for me that’s the key to a successful topwater pattern! Don’t jerk too soon and give the fish multiple opportunities to eat your bait, that’s what I have learned over the decades.

I will have to say that my go to Redfish bait is a ⅝ or ¾ ounce gold spoon. With this bait you can cover a lot of water both vertically and horizontally, with a long cast that can be worked either deep or shallow. This is a great bait for locating the fish. I have caught Redfish here around the Lower Suwannee River from 12 – 44 inches on gold spoons.

If you prefer the added advantage of a scented artificial bait then there is none better than FishBites! The FightClub Lures, Scented Strips and E-Z Baits offer you a choice that fits most conditions! For the Redfish in April and May I like the FishBites FightClub 5″ Brawler Jerkbait, I will rig it on a jig head ⅛ or ¼ ounce or for a stealth rig I will switch to a weighted weedless hook in varying weights to match specific conditions, many times just a plain hook and let the lure do the work. Based on the brightness and time of the day, along with the clarity of water I may choose any of the colors they offer. Lighter brighter conditions, lighter brighter baits.

Historically next in line as a targeted species here in the Lower Suwannee River Estuary is the Speckled Trout. The Speckled Trout was at one time the most prolific fish in the Estuary, with schools of fish numbering in the millions! No this is not old history, as recently as the 90’s there were still schools of thousands of Speckled Trout in the Lower Suwannee River Estuary and adjacent Waters. Now as we are only in the first part of the second decade of the 21st Century the population of Speckled Trout has crashed in this area!

I know many of you are surprised that as a Guide I would write something like this. Believe me it grieves me much more that we have lost this awesome resource than the Guided fishing trips I am losing!

Why, what has caused the decline in Speckled Trout populations in the Lower Suwannee River Estuary? Maybe there will be a fisheries biologist that reads this and will contact me with their thoughts and ideas! I would like to hear what the “professional” people think.

The State of Florida has determined that this area is in a “red zone for habitat loss, specially seagrasses”.

As a multi-generational local fisherman that has spent thousands of hours on these waters you do not need a college degree or any kind of sophisticated equipment to see the loss of inshore and nearshore seagrass beds from the Horseshoe Beach Channel to the Derrick Key Channel! There are thousands of acres of barren bottom that used to be covered with lush grasses with a thriving population of clams underneath! Both are gone now!

Do we need to look further for the answer to the question of the declining Speckled Trout populations? I do not think so, the harvest of Speckled Trout in the Lower Suwannee River Estuary is in comparison to the Sea Grasses of the Estuary. Both have declined to the point of being almost gone!

As the Sea Grasses go so goes the Estuary. They flourish together just as they die together!

As a Guide my job is to ensure my clients have a safe and enjoyable experience! Most of the time this means catching fish and specific fish. Nowadays this means we have to travel further to catch certain species of fish that we used to catch “here at home”. So don’t worry if you come to the Lower Suwannee River for a fishing trip, we are still catching fish in one of the most beautiful and wild places in the State!

As an added bonus we now have a Snook population that is large enough that they can be targeted and are caught many times while Redfishing in the Creeks and along the sawgrass shorelines (not to be confused with seagrasses). To date my client’s top catch is 43 inches while my personal best is 37 inches.

If you’re an offshore angler then you know your opportunities to catch fish are limited nowadays with Grouper and Red Snapper being closed more than they are open! But, this is the time of the year when the Spanish Mackerel and their larger cousins the King Mackerel show up! While maybe not the best to eat, they are a fantastic and fun fish to catch! With blistering runs on 3000 and 4000 size tackle outfits these fish are just plain fun! Many people will troll for them and this is a very good method. I find if fishing multiple people that casting and jigging works better. This allows everyone to be fishing at the same time! If you want to add in a little chum or even anchor up there are several techniques you can use that will catch fish.

Best bait will be something that you can cast further and is flashy or a bright color. The ½ to ⅝ ounce bucktail jigs are the old go to baits for both trolling and casting, these baits are tough and you need that with the mouth full of teeth the Mackerel have! Don’t forget a short piece of wire leader or you will lose lots of baits!

Until next time come and enjoy the wild beauty of Old Florida! Way down upon the Lower Suwannee River!

Captain Tony Johns
Instagram- captaintonyjohns
FB- Lower Suwannee River Outdoor Adventures

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