Author - “Ocklawahaman” Paul Nosca with the assistance of Captain Erika Ritter…..
IF a school of largemouth bass guards the Pearly Gates of Heaven, this old boy knows that he is definitely in a whole heap of trouble! Although I’ve never owned or fished from a “bassboat” since I started “bassing” in 1965, I have caught and probably kept more largemouth bass than all other fish species combined. Hopefully any possible “bigmouth” sentries on-duty “upstairs” will mercifully recall that “Ocklawahaman”, using man-power not horse-power, bamboozled all those bass sportingly into his grasp with artificial lures and then released the overwhelming majority of them (to live another day).
Let there be no doubt that I am a riverine bass angler first and foremost! For the past 25 years my preferred angling experience has been fishing freshwater streams for some 9 different bass species from my un-motorized canoe (or sometimes bank-walking/wading) using buzzbaits and spinnerbaits as lures. Less than 40% of my “bassing” has been in still-water lakes or ponds. I very rarely use plastic worms and don’t use shiners or any other live-bait for bass–nor do I ever “bed-fish”. I truly worship my technique of river bass fishing and pursue it ethically along aesthetically pleasing free-flowing segments of various Southern streams.
SOME CRAPPIE WINTER “SPECKLED PERCH” FISHING:
Believe it or not, North Florida experiences some cold weather for short spells every winter. Temperatures can range from the teens up through the 40′s with bright sun or overcast skies, with or without wind, and with or without variations of rain–maybe even snow flurries every decade or so. I used to hunt in the swamps with my double-barrel 12 gauge from my canoe on many of these raw days, jump-shooting ducks or gunning for deer, hogs and turkey (when legal). Up north, probably above that old Mason-Dixon Line, sportsmen with cabin-fever probably engage in some type of hunting or they ice fish! When a Floridian doesn’t hunt in the winter and it’s too brutally cold for any normal “basser” to think of bass fishing, many a Cracker goes “speck” fishing–which is probably the official Florida version of ICE FISHING! Heck, once in a while there will actually be some ice floating near the shoreline in the mornings–or it will warm-up for a couple of “crappie” days after the freeze and “Ocklawahaman” will “have at it” for “specks” anyway! Ha! Ha!
So let it be written that my favorite TOO COLD WEATHER FOR BASS fishing quarry is the spectacularly marked black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus) which almost all Florida anglers call “speckled perch”. We supposedly have none of the similar white crappie in Florida waters but they are present in our neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia. During my time in Oklahoma I caught some white crappies.
Crappies are incidental catches much of the year from the deepest outside river bends of the Ocklawaha River–either while bass fishing with spinnerbaits (I’ve never caught a speck on a buzzbait) or while bream fishing with beetle-spin type lures. To specifically target speckled perch in the wintertime my usual fishing technique is slow trolling (from my canoe) using small curl-tail jigs or beetle-spin type lures on ultra-light spinning tackle through the deep open still-water of cuts, oxbows, canals and lakes. I drift wind-driven or slowly paddle. Vertical jigging in thick aquatic vegetation also works well sometimes–crappies are an open-water, schooling fish except when they are actually in shallower water bedding among downed trees, lily pads or other water weeds. Bait fishermen buy “Missouri minnows” (fathead minnows) to use for specks. Speckled perch spawn earlier in the year than any other member of the Centrarchidae (sunfish) family in Florida–largemouth bass spawn ext.
Just how big do speckled perch in Florida get? Good eating size “slab” specks measure from 10 to 13 inches long. “Lunker” specks are 14 inches or more. Erika has accompanied me on some of these winter crappie days along the Ocklawaha and has done quite well. She caught 15-inch long specks two days in a row recently. The two largest Florida speckled perch that I ever actually saw caught (and measured) were 16 inches long and weighed 3 pounds (which matches the two biggest Suwannee bass that I have ever seen). My buddy Keith Alwine caught one of those 16 inch specks from Crescent Lake of the St. Johns River Basin while I captured the other 16 inch crappie from the Ochlockonee River Basin. The Florida Certified State Record black crappie was taken on 1/21/1992 and weighed 3.83 pounds. My best guess is that it was probably 17 to 18 inches long. Oklahoma’s State Record black and white crappies (as of 1993) were almost 5 pounds with lengths of 19 to 20 inches.
Creel survey records from Ocklawaha open-water trolling trips show that 80% of the catch is speckled perch with the other 20% comprised of bream, largemouth bass, bowfin, catfish and gar. Specks also tend to be here today and gone tomorrow like many other “school” fish species in a river system. I have feasted on 25-speck limit catches for a couple of trips in a row and then struggled on the next outing to get three in my canoe. When I used to perform my wintertime trolling in Tallahassee’s Ochlockonee Basin waters where striped bass and white bass were present, those two species were often part of the day’s bag. Striped bass are blocked from the Ocklawaha here (and natural reproduction) by the Rodman Dam some twenty miles downstream.
Here is some final interesting information about Ocklawaha River Basin speckled perch. They can be very invisible. I’ll often clearly see great numbers of crappie rolling on the surface of the open-water sector that I am trolling through during a moon influenced feeding period: moon over, moon under, moon rise or moon set. The water in those areas is usually stained and not very clear. But when the Ocklawaha is almost as crystal clear as its Silver River headwater–which is when Erika and I perform our fish species inventory research observations–I never see any black crappie!
I hope that you enjoy these photos of some of our recent Ocklawaha speckled perch fishing trips, most of which were taken during winter warm-up “crappie” days!
Listed below are 6 other “non-bassing” angling techniques that I have used from time to time, mostly during warm weather, in Florida or other parts of the South fishing freshwater streams or still-water canals, lakes and ponds.
1.) Ultra-light spinning tackle fishing with in-line spinner (or beetle-spin type) lures in cold-water streams for the trout of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains or Oklahoma. These delicious fish would include stocked or naturally reproducing (but still exotic) rainbow, brown and brook trout–plus the true native “speckled trout” only found in the Southern highlands above the “tin can line”. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett could only have caught these “mountain specks”–the exotic rainbows and browns were not yet in Southern Appalachian waters during the lifetimes of those legendary frontiersmen. My largest mountain stream trophies were 19 inch rainbow trout. Occasionally, while fishing Blue Ridge cold-water streams, I have also caught redeye bass, smallmouth bass, creek chub or fallfish.
2.) Ultra-light spinning tackle fishing with beetle-spin type lures in warm-water streams for the various bream (sunfish) species: bluegill, green, longear, redear (“shellcracker”), redbreast “redbellies”, spotted (“stumpknocker”), warmouth, etc. This method is somewhat similar to and was my in-Florida elementary education for successful mountain trout fishing trips later-on. My Ocklawaha River computerized data shows that this method yields about 80% of the various bream with the other 20% of the catch comprised of: bass (usually but not always under 14 inches), crappie, bowfin, pickerel, gar and catfish.
3.) Ultra-light spinning tackle bottom fishing using live earthworms as bait mostly for the several bream (sunfish) species of the Ocklawaha River. This is my sweetheart Captain Erika’s angling specialty when she is “a cruising down the river”. She runs an Ocklawaha River tour business with her 24-foot pontoon boat booking trips with sightseers, nature photographers, family or friend outings, environmentalists, birdwatchers, and yes ANGLERS. Although Captain Erika Ritter takes out bass fishermen using shiners for bait, she has many more bream “fishers” using earthworms on the bottom as clients. Maybe it is because Erika usually offers to fillet those bream along with the occasional “speckled perch” or catfish for her customers? A plastic bag full of these fillets to take home is mighty tasty in the pan–we call them Ocklawaha River fried “shrimps”!
4.) Bait fishing for catfish with rod and reel, bush-hook or trotline in flowing or still-water. Channel, flathead or white catfish and brown or yellow bullheads share the same quality–their fillets are all good in the pan. Channel cats, of course, may exceed 30 inches and 10 pounds. Sometimes while “catfishing” with non-live bait; I have hooked bowfin, softshell and snapping turtles or even alligators. In the wintertime catfish usually still bite well but the gators don’t molest your bush hooks or trotlines!
5.) Surf (heavy-duty) spinning tackle “sight fishing” (more like hunting game by slinging a grappling hook) using giant treble snatch-hooks for big longnose gar and large catadromous striped mullet in the Ocklawaha River during clear-water periods. This is perfectly legal to do for these two species. Longnose gar top-out at about 6-feet long and 50 pounds. They are the “billfish” of the Ocklawaha. My biggest longnose gar, so far, was 54 inches and 20 pounds. Each longnose gar yields 2 “backstraps” that resemble those cut from a deer (but tasting somewhat like lobster). Our largest striped mullet “snatched” has been 25 inches and 6.5 pounds plus it was full of roe–mullet can exceed 10 pounds in freshwater environments. When snatch-hooked both of these powerful fish will attempt to yank your arms out of their sockets!
6.) Gig (4-prong spear) “sight fishing” (more like hunting with a spear) for Florida or longnose gar, bowfin, and exotic armored catfish (pleco) in the Ocklawaha during times of clear-water. Florida gar and bowfin can reach 30 inches long while the exotic armored catfish (pleco) seems to max-out at possibly 25 inches. Gigging for these species is legal in Florida and they all can be processed into edible “outlast, outwit survival eats”!
OH, JUST FOR THE RECORD, I HAVE BASS FISHED A FLORIDA RIVER ON A BRUTALLY COLD DAY: Back on Sunday February 4, 1996 it was 19 degrees F when I launched my canoe into the St. Marks River near Tallahassee, Florida at 0800 hours. The high that day was 35 degrees F and I constantly had to dip my rod guides into the river to de-ice them. 51 degrees F was the river temperature which usually ranged in the 60′s that time of year in that spring-fed stream. Wearing just about all the cold weather G.I. survival clothes that I owned and using a white 3/8th ounce spinnerbait, my catch was 4 keeper largemouth bass up to 16 inches. All of the bass came from the shade with strong current and all were good in the pan, for true! Didn’t I mention earlier that no NORMAL “basser” would even think of bass fishing on such a day? Ha! Ha!
If “Ocklawahaman” is nowhere to be found–blame it on “riverbassing” ague!
Over and out for now,
“Ocklawahaman” Paul Nosca