Dolphin show up just in time for Mahi Madness

CONTRIBUTED Local angler Joe Stewart with a jumbo speckled trout caught Wednesday afternoon in the ICW near Crescent Beach. The speck hit a dead shrimp soaked on the bottom.

The St. Johns River and area lakes: The number of panfish being caught right now is an embarrassment. One group of Alabama anglers in two boats fished two days out of Dunn’s Creek and cleaned over 400 shellcracker and bluegills. And that was legal.

The shellcracker are especially hot right now, because they began to spawn on last week’s full moon. The bluegill are just stupid.

But all these panfish are extremely big and fat this year, probably due to the big run of shrimp earlier.

To give you an idea, one guide on Lake George fishing with his wife caught 26 shellcracker off one bed – and just the bag fillets weighed nearly 9 pounds. That’s some whopper fish. The bluegill are likewise hefty. But these won’t bed in earnest until the moon in May. It’s almost spooky imagining how good that bite will be, considering what they’re doing already.

The bedding bass bite has pretty much petered out south of Palatka and is slowing in the lower reaches of the St. Johns as well.

Catfish are thick, but very few anglers are targeting them with all the panfish biting so hard.

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The Intracoastal Waterway: The fishing has been OK, but most of the guides are having to work to find the fish. Seems like the slowest bite this week was on redfish. Trout were bunched up, and if you found the bunch and had live shrimp and float rigs, you were in business.

The best news of the week is that the flounder have shown up in the ICW and they’re being picked off at creek mouths on falling tides and pitching mud minnows under docks.

The bad news is that the commercial divers have figured it out, too. And the word is they’re killing them spearfishing the local reefs and wrecks.

Some black drum are hitting fresh dead shrimp in the channels. Sheepshead are around, but the West Coast fiddlers will probably be coming to an end this week or next. You’ll have to get your own. The good news there is it looks like a good year for them – no big freezes.

And the scads of jacks, ladyfish and bluefish have slowed down some, which is good news for anyone using live bait. But those big blues are schooling tight in spots around the inlet (a couple days ago outside the Camachee Cove rocks) so don’t be surprised if you run into a 15-pound meat-rocket.

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The Atlantic: The dolphin showed up this week, a little late, but in swarms. The Jodie Lynn had 30 one day this week and 35 the next. The fish ranged from 10 to 35 pounds. And it seems like they were caught all over the place, with some reports coming in 200 feet of water and some in 600 – and everywhere in between. So they’re spread out, but still in big numbers. It might be a banner couple of weeks for dolphin.

Wahoo and blackfin took a back seat all week long.

The inside reefs and wrecks were holding lots of flounder and a few cobia. But the consensus is that most of the cobia have moved out to the 100-foot area.

There were a few rays on the beach and the pogy pods are thick. But, but from what I’ve heard, the cobia are not in there with them. Some sharks and over-slot reds are.

On the beach, whiting fishing has been slow. But the yellowmouth trout are biting hard, at least at the county pier where Donna says it’s on. There are a few blues, Spanish, drum and sheepshead too.

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The weather: Looks like winds will come in from the south Saturday at 15-20 knots. Seas will reach 6 feet. Sunday look for winds to diminish to 10-15.

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Calendar: The Mahi Madness dolphin tournament will be fished either today or Saturday out of the Conch House Marina. It’s captain’s choice, meaning crews can fish either day, but not both. But most all the crews should be fishing today. Saturday’s weather looks way worse. The tournament is for the aggregate weight of two fish. Last year it took nearly 62 pounds to win it.

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