So that we could get an early
morning start, we spent Thursday night in our vintage Airstream that I leave year round on
the outskirts of the Osceola National Forrest at Milton's Country Store and RV Park. The
next morning we awoke before dawn and trailed our boat the final leg to the Big Bend area
of Florida. An area we have visited so many times in the past few years it's almost like a
second home. As I drove down the final miles along River road to the boat launch a light
pre-dawn mist smudges the windshield on my GMC pickup. Going around a turn I place my
elbow on the armrest and ease my foot from the accelerator as the radio plays one of my
favorite country songs. As I am approach the fish camp I can see on a residential lots an
old camper with a boat parked next to. The old boat is on the ground leaning on its side
stacked full of rubbish and parts. I guessed the owner wants to fix it but does not have
the right parts or maybe his trailer broker down and he has no money to repair it. Virally
visible through the early morning hazy fog on the side of the fish camp hangs an American
flag, limp from the heavy morning air.
Always waiting with a hardy "how you doing Steve" Jeff of Ideal Fish Camp
hoists my boat off my trailer and ties it off at the fuel dock. Wasting no time Karen and
I speed down the Steinhatchee River headed for the Gulf of Mexico. It is early August and
yet the early morning breeze feels brisk on our faces as we accelerate around the last
curve before reaching the open Gulf. Our goal this day is to catch a few fish for dinner
first thing in the morning then spend the rest of the day snorkeling for Scallops. I knew
that west coast Trout are more than willing to provide us with some early morning action
so we headed to an area that had held Trout on our last trip. The sun is just staring to
give off a warm glow over the horizon as we travel northward along the shoreline. Coming
out of warp I hand Karen her rod already rigged with a Cajun Thunder, 2 foot of 20-lb test
leader and #3/0 X-Point hook. I reach into my tackle bag and then pause contemplating that
hard decision. What grub should we use? After some deliberation I select one of Saltwater
Assassin new Glass Shad's with a gold inner reflector. The tide is about half in and
already the Oyster beds are submerged. Using a 7-ft G-Loomis medium light action rod I
sing my grub rig toward the shoreline.
Upon my first yank of the line the Cajun Thunder sends out sounds that breaks the early
mornings serenity. As I finished retrieving my first cast I commit " If that clicking
is this load on the surface just think what it sounds like underwater". It's about
this time that Karen has made up her mind and decides to stay with her tried and true
4-inch split tail grub in a color Saltwater Assassin calls Trout pattern. Basically it has
a green back with a light pearl belly. I can't figure out why they call it a Trout pattern
unless they inferior that it catches Trout. And that it does. Not to mention Reds and
other verities of fish to numerous to name.
It's on my third cast that I set the hook on the first Trout of the day. Nothing
special just a small one but never the less it let's us know were doing something right.
Knowing that when you catch one Trout in this size range a school should be in the area so
I turned the trolling-motor into the current to hold our position. Within the next few
minutes a few more of his kin agreed to play and pull on our lines. While this is not the
Gator Trout we are after they still provided us some early morning excitement.
Agreeing that Trout over 5 lbs. was what we were after, I powered up and head further
north to an area we have visited numerous times before. There we set up another controlled
drift with the still incoming tide. Casually and peacefully drifting with the tide makes
little disturbance of the water and I find this best for catching old Mr. Trout unaware of
our presence. The slightest out of place disturbance can make a Gator Trout go to full
alert status. I start making long cast far back and over submerged oyster and rock piles.
Slowly with a pause every now and then I retrieved the Cajun Thunder and Glass Shad to the
boat. I jokingly say, "Please don't eat me I'm just a sick mullet trying to get
At around 8:30 Karen's G-Loomis rod gives her a tug and bends over as line quickly
departs. Knowing that Andy's new inshore eight-pound test line can more than handle any
Trout, Karen is confident, but still fearful of the Oyster beds. So she hold her rod high
to play out the fish. Then when he has stopped his run Karen moves her rod over to her
side and really start to put some serious pressure on him. Only after the first few cranks
of the reel we find out that it's not a Trout but a Red. Typical for a Red it sticks it's
bulls dog nose down against the bottom and takes off again in another direction. Reds are
known for trying to rub a hook out of their mouth against the bottom. That's why I use
20-lb test heavy abrasion resistant Andy leader material.
With a comment "This one sure put up a hard fight for just a 24 inch fish".
Karen holds him for a quick photo and tucks him into the live well to be the guest of
honor at dinner tonight.
In an effort to catch one of these fish I makes a long cast up against the shoreline so
I can retrieve it through the same area. Working the Cajun Thunder with a yank and wait
allows the 4-inch Glass Shad to flutter down after every yank. Each yank of the Cajun
Thunder makes a clicking sound that sends out underwater vibrations and at the same time
this causes the Shad to dart to the surface. Sure enough on my first cast as I am working
the grub over a summered oysters bar when we see it. A swirl in the water just a foot away
from her grub. Then my cork goes under the water and I'm hooked up. But, this is just
another short Trout. I quickly reel him in so I can release him and cast right back in
there for a Red. As I am releasing the Trout I turn and watched as Karen lowers her rod to
her side, reels in the slack and snatches backward with one of those "Jimmy
Houston rods set". Then with a joyful shout " I've got him" I
see her raise her rod high to battle her second Red.
The surface of the shallow 2-ft deep water explodes as the Red feels the stink of the
hook. Then after a short battle that seems like eternity Karen brings the Red along side
for me to grab him with the Boga grips. After a quick photo session we allowed him to join
the other Red as our guest of honor for dinner.
At one time I thought that the magical twilight time just before dawn and sun set were
the only time of day for catching Trout, Reds and other species on top water plugs or top
water attractants like the Cajun Thunder. I dont know if its due to the
abundance of Mullet or that gill-netters are no longer molesting the fish. But, for some
reason Trout, Snook and Reds are now throwing caution to the wind (or current in their
case) and striking surface attractants anytime of day.
My all time favorite means of fishing for just about every species has always
been a jig and grub combination. Bass Assassin has introduced a new series of soft
plastics called Glass Shad that truly takes grubs into the 21 century. These next
generations of soft plastics are quickly gaining acceptance and respect of many seasoned
anglers. Not only do the have all the advantage of a Grub (life like action, soft and
natural feeling,) but now they have gained the technology of adding holographic metallic
insets for flash and reflection. When they were originally introduced they were only
available in one large 7-inch size. But, now the Glass Shads is available in 4-1/2 and
51/2 inch. When fished in shallow water I use the larger Shad with a light 1/32-1/8 oz jig
head or unweighted-fished bass style (hook rigged worm style inside the Shad) with a 3/0
This makes an almost naturally balanced 3/8-oz lure. Bouncing it along on shell bottom
or swimming it over the oyster beds has proven this combination to be deadly on many
species including Trout, Reds, and Flounder. In deeper water fished with a heavier 3/8-1
oz Jig head and you have a deep-water lure for Stripers, Reds, and Trout. Use a strong Jig
head like Bass Assassin' s Jighead in the 1/2-1 oz size and you have the perfect lure for
Cobia and Tarpon. Glass Shads are made of a new product called P-Enzyme that has hog lard
and freeze-dried crawfish additive to give it an added taste. This makes any fish want to
hang on. And when a fish is fighting to hang on it diffidently increased an angler's
chance of a hook set.
For fishing over grass flats my Wife Karen's all time favorite has been the 4-inch
split tail shad from Bass Assassin fish unweighted on a 24-inch leader and 3/0 X-point
hook (rig it hook exposed) underneath a 21st century float rig called Cajun Thunder. Each
time you yank the Cajun Thunder to you the split tail shad darts to the surface. Then when
your let it pause for a second it flutters slowly downward headfirst. Because it simulates
a wounded small fish so well it's when the grub is fluttering to the bottom that triggers
Whether I am fishing distant waters or fishing St Augutine's ICW basin I like to carry
a few different colors of grubs and a few different weights of Jig heads. Throw in a few
Cajun Thunders and I have an arsenal that is more than capable of catching any inshore or
nearshore species of fish.
As the early morning cool breezes departed and the August sun warmed temperatures into
the 90's we traded our fishing pole for a set of swim fins and mask. My wife Karen, our
Chocolate Lab named Cappuccino "Cappy" and I leisurely spent
the rest of the day snorkeling the shallow waters for scallops and enjoyed the unspoiled
magnificence of Florida's Big Bend area.
If you decide to visit Steinhatchee you will find it is a charming southern fishing
villages long know for it's laid back atmosphere and great Gulf flats fishing. In the
spring and fall months Trout and Red fishing is supreme while July and August are known
for scalloping. And offshore fishing for Grouper and Red Snapper is a year round staple.
"We here in the south" are blessed with the beauty of Gods creation
and the ability to enjoy this magnificence by participating in fishing and hunting. With
Florida's unrelenting growth in population todays Southern Outdoorsmen can only find
natures unspoiled splendor far backs off the beaten path in far-flung places I like
refer to as the backcountry. Were few, have the confidence or ability to travel.
Remember to always practice catch and release. Keep only what you need for dinner
tonight and release the rest for tomorrow.
Article by Captain Steven Holmes
Previously published in Florida Outdoors Magazine
copyrighted and all rights reserved.
authorization from Captain Steven