From: Capt. Jim Hammond
Date: December 25, 2001
Time: 9:20:25

Cooling Water Spells Specks

Some of you readers are thinking specks, does this mean speckled perch or speckled trout. Well it means both, although we are going to talk about speckled perch, (crappie, slabs, paper mouths).

When I was a young fellow my dad and I did a lot of things together and some of the best times were in the boat at Lake George, fishing for specks. He had a knack for finding these humongous schools of fish and I do mean humongous. He said he could smell them. We mainly fished with cane poles, real cane poles, as the fiberglass telescopic poles that so many of us use today had not yet been invented or if they had we didn't have any of them.

Back then (40 plus years ago) there was none of the fancy rigs that we use today, no Hal-Fly's, no Foxee Jigs and no fancy Lowrance X-15 Fish Finder.

Here is how we did it then:

We started by tying a piece of 10 to 12 pound test monofilament from the tip of the cane pole. The length of line was almost as long as the pole. From there we slid on a small cork float, then a split shot and to the end of the line we tied on a gold hook. The idea was to have the corks set at different depths as the fish were not always at the same depth.

Locating a proper depth at which crappie are feeding is vital. Sometimes they'll be just a foot or two from the surface while at other times they may be a foot or two from the bottom.

We then purchased 500 or so minnows and headed for Volusia Bar Fish Camp on Lake George. My dad felt the same way that I now feel about fishing, "the early bird gets the worm" or in this case the fish, so we always left the house around 3:00 am and were usually putting the boat in the water just before daylight.

We usually ran to the bomb target or one of his other spots, that always produced fish. Upon arrival to "the spot" we started baiting the gold hooks with one minnow per pole and sending them over, in search of Mr. Speck. Once we had all of the poles baited and in the water, we drifted with the wind or dad would use a paddle to keep the boat in the area that he wanted to fish. Back then there were no trolling motors either. It usually didn't take long before we had float after float being pulled under by a nice speck. Many times, the action was so fast, you could only fish one pole per person. When we had days like this we almost certainly had our limit of 100 per person by noon and were back at the camp for some lunch and a nap. Back then the possession limit was two days limit so we almost always went back out for the afternoon bite and usually did as well as in the morning. Back then, 40 years ago there seemed like there was an un-exhaustible supply of fish and no one practiced catch and release. I wish that we had put something back once and a while.

Times have changed, we now have telescopic fiberglass speck poles, foam floats, Hal flies and a Lowrance LCX-15 MT Fish Finder with plotting and GPS capability. How could we ever not, find the fish. There are a lot less fish out there than 40 years ago and I think the ones that are left have become trained or are a lot smarter.

Here is how I speck fish when I want to drift a lake in search of the "not so humongous" schools that are left today.

I start with my new fangled Shakespeare Wonderpoles. These are fiberglass telescopic poles that are designed to be used like the old "cane pole". They come in sizes from 10 feet to 20 feet in length and are made of the same quality and durability as the Ugly Stik. The fish seem to be smarter so we now use 4 and 6 pound test monofilament and sometimes that new stuff called fluorocarbon. We still slide on a float, but now they are made of Styrofoam and come in so many shapes, sizes and colors, you could get confused just trying to decide which float to use. I like the kind that you can use as a slip bobber. I first tie a slip knot on the line then slide a float (a cigar bream cork, about 3 inches long) on the line. I then tie to the end of the line several types of lures. On some poles I will use the old stand-by "Hal-Fly" on others I will tie a "Foxee Jig" and still others a gold hook. The Hal-Fly's and Foxee Jigs are weighted so these poles need no other weights. The poles with the gold hooks do need a small split shot or two. The purpose of the lead is to keep the minnow at the desired depth.

All that we need do now is get some minnows and get to the water. Once in the water we head for the middle of the lake or head for the big group of boats that have already found Mr. Speck. If there are not any other boats in search of your quarry, then head for the middle of the lake, bait up all of the dozen or so poles that you have brought with you, send out the baits, place the rods in the rod holders and start drifting. When you catch the first fish, make note of what he bit and how deep it was. After you have caught several fish, take a tally of the depth and rig that they ate and make most of your rigs like that on. Establishing a pattern is VERY important when it comes to speck fishing.

Keep in mind that specks have extremely tender mouths and a hook that's set too hard will likely tear out. It's best to gently raise a rod or cane pole after a bobber has gone under and smoothly swing the fish aboard without giving it any slack line.

Here a few lakes in the Sunshine State that will hold pretty good numbers of specks.

TURKEY LAKE. This small 339-acre spot located just off International Drive in Orlando. Although lacking a launching ramp, pier and bank fishermen can, at times, make outstanding catches near brush and rock pile fish attractors, as well as at feeders.

LAKE HARRIS. Don't be surprised if you catch some hard-fighting sunshine bass while targeting speckled perch in this 13,788-acre lake on the Ocklawaha Chain at Leesburg. In cooler months, it may be wise to use Missouri minnows in shallow grassy areas and switching to Hal-Flies and Beetlespins when things warm up. Harris has two popular public fishing piers and several Commission fish attractors located within casting distance from shore. Launching ramps can be found at Hickory Point ($2), on Highway 27 (free) and near Venetian Gardens (free) in Leesburg.

LAKE MONROE. Thanks to an ongoing FWC habitat restoration project began in the late-1980s, this 9,400-acre water body near Sanford is regaining its reputation as a quality crappie lake, according to Fisheries Biologist Joe Jenkins (904-985-7880). With a 12-inch minimum size limit in effect, anglers here will have an opportunity to collect some real "slabs" by using small jigs, Bream Killers, Hal Flies or Beetlespins, along with live earthworms, crickets, Missouri minnows and grass shrimp.

LAKE TALQUIN. Located west of Tallahassee, this 8,800-acre reservoir, which produced the current Florida record for crappie (a fish weighing 3 pounds, 13-1/4 ounces) is always high on any speck angler's agenda. Due to submerged stumps and standing timber, boaters are urged to use caution when venturing out in search of another record crappie. Numerous fish camps located off State Road 267 south of Quincy have launching sites.

LAKE OKEECHOBEE.While the "Big O" isn't what it was because water levels are being held at above 15 feet, thus killing productive bottom grass cover, speck anglers can still do well by picking their spots.

LAKE WIER. "We shouldn't overlook this 5,685-acre water body located southeast of Ocala when talking about excellent speck lakes,". Crappie, which disappeared here in the mid-1980s, are back in healthy numbers following continuous Commission restoration and stocking programs. Lake Wier is unusual in that its open waters can range from 20- to 25-feet deep with some holes dipping from 30 to 34 feet, a far cry from most Florida lakes which are frequently described as "shallow saucers."

TENOROC FISH MANAGEMENT AREA. Think quality when venturing here for crappie, especially in the facility's unreclaimed lakes. With its 14 (more to come) intensely managed lakes, Tenoroc, near Lakeland, has gained a deserved reputation as being one of the world's leading all-around fishing sites for bass, bream and specks.

LAKE-WALK-IN-WATER. Located east of Lake Wales, 7,523-acre W-I-W gets high marks for its super speck hauls both in bedding season and during the warmer months when anglers drift or slow troll in open areas with Missouri minnows. A public and a private launching ramp is located at the end of Walk-In-Water Road off Highway 60.

LAKE MARIAN. For those "in the know," shallow 5,739-acre Lake Marian, located east of Haines City, appears on most lists of Top-10 speck sites. During the cooler months, crappie move in to the bulrushes, cattails and lily pads to spawn. In warmer months, they're found by drifters and slow trollers in open water areas. Cane polers are likely to employ Missouri minnows here, while those using light spinning tackle claim nothing beats Hal-Flies or Beetlespins.

LAKE ISTOKAPOGA. Is always "high" on Istokpoga's red-hot crappie fishing, since the lake annually records one of Florida's highest crappie catch ratios. The biologist also points out these fish run larger than normal, averaging between 10 and 12-inches in length. Here again, Missouri minnows, Hal-Flies and Beetlespins are the most popular angler baits and lures. Launching ramps are available at several fish camps including Henderson's, Mossy Cove and Trails End. 27,000-acre Lake Istokpoga, which also plays host to numerous major and minor bass tournaments, is located southeast of Sebring.

Here's a listing of some others getting high marks: Lake Kissimmee, Lake George, the Ocklawaha Chain, Eagle Lake, Lake Jessup, Johns Lake, Lake Woodruff, Lake Beauclair (where crappie average 2 pounds or more), Lake Kennansville, Saddle Creek Park, Lake Reedy, Lake Arbuckle, Lake Rosalie, Lake Tiger, Lake Pierce and the Waccasassa River.

For charter information you can call me at 757-7550. This is also a good time to think about buying your significant other a gift certificate for Christmas. Think of the excitement on Christmas day when they open up a gift certificate for a fishing trip. For gift certificates for fishing trips you can call me at 757-7550.

Good Fishing

Capt. Jim Hammond

Remember mom and dad, spend some time with your sons and daughters taking them fishing and you will not be looking for them come Friday and Saturday nights, as they will be home in bed waiting to go the next day.