A New Year’s Day Tradition
Once again we extended our tradition of fishing on New Year’s Day. January 1, 2019 found us in our kayaks on Shell Creek, east of Punta Gorda, searching for speckled perch. This was a completely different start to the year than last January 1 at Big Pass in Sarasota. That was a cold, windy, saltwater trip and this year was a warm freshwater adventure. Kimball caught numerous small bass and bream but no speckled perch and ended the day with a nice channel catfish for dinner.
Located east of Punta Gorda off Hwy. 17 on Washington Loop Road, Hathaway Park provides access to Shell Creek with its good kayak fishing. It’s about 40 miles and less than an hour drive from Englewood. Launching here let’s kayak anglers explore 5 miles of creek. That’s more paddling than we do since we stop to cast continuously. This creek has a rock bottom and is deep in most places. There are two launch areas at Hathaway Park and the one farther east has the kayak launch.
In the past, the launch at Hathaway Park was an easy spot to get on Shell Creek. After our recent storms, the launch became severely eroded and has yet to be renovated. A steep gravel ravine leads down to deep water making this one of the most hazardous launches in the area. The road to the loading area is closed so it helps to have wheels to haul a kayak to the launch site. It may be advisable to use the boat launch until repairs are complete.
Once on the water, we usually head upstream and fish the deep outside bends along the channel. Most of the motorboats go downstream because the creek is wider, so it’s relatively calm paddling upstream. On this particular trip, we took along some minnows to help find some speckled perch. Up north they are known as black crappie, but folks here just call them specks. Their reputation as a fine food fish brings anglers from all over to catch a few for a fish fry. The limit is a generous 25 per angler per day. Special regulations regarding minimum length may be enforced in management areas but 10” seems a reasonable size.
Specks can be caught on minnows or on small jigs using light tackle or even a cane pole. A popular option we call a “bream buster” is a 10’-16’ fiberglass, extendable design that packs easily on a kayak. This rig lets an angler drop a jig or minnow into a patch of water lilies vertically and with pin point accuracy. The issue with this rig on small creeks around here is the overhead foliage. To land a fish with a bream buster, the rod needs to be extended vertically which puts the pole in the trees and the resulting tangle will surely free the fish and frustrate the fisherman. On small creeks we use light spinning gear with a small float and jig head for making short casts to the edge of any structure.
Minnows can be either hooked through the lips on a small #6-#8 hook or presented on a jig head. When using just a hook, a small split shot above the hook will help keep it in the strike zone. A tiny jig head is better when trolling a minnow and keeps the bait swimming right side up. When we use braided line, we tie a 3’ piece of 6 lb. fluorocarbon between the hook/jig and the line. Specks are known for their “paper mouth” that will result in lost fish if an angler lifts one into the boat with the line. To increase the number of fish that actually get in the boat, be sure to bring a folding net to land specks.
Speckled perch in Florida can spawn nearly year around but the best months to find these condensed groups are right around the corner. February, March and April are the prime months for serious speck anglers and the most devoted ones fish the full moon at night. Speckled perch feed a lot at night but will rarely turn down a minnow or jig in the daytime if it’s easy to catch.