I always thought Horseshoe Beach was an out-of-the-way and rather desolate spot to begin a fishing trip—until I discovered Shired Island. Located about 5 miles south of Horseshoe Beach at the southern end of Horseshoe Cove, mile-long Shired Island is likely an ancient kitchen midden composed of discarded shells. Prehistoric Americans no doubt found plenty of fish, game and shellfish along the Gulf shoreline and in the local creeks. And what they left, post-feast, is one of the great ‘secrets’ of Florida’s Big Bend.
Located between the entrances to Shired and Johnson Creeks, Shired Island’s only improvements are a primitive campground and a paved single boat ramp.
The recently-improved boat ramp puts you right into the mouth of Shired Creek and within easy reach of some the best and most uncrowded Gulf shoreline remaining in the State. Of course, ‘easy’ is a relative term. Shired Creek, like many others flowing into the Gulf between the Suwannee River and Horseshoe Beach is navigable by small boats at high tide, but is not the place to launch even a small ‘bay boat’. However, small shallow-draft boats, such as ‘jon’ boats, flats skiffs, canoes and kayaks, are usually able to exit the creek by skirting the numerous oyster and shell bars lining it’s front, except on extremely low tides.
If you measure a 6-mile stretch of the Gulf coast and put Shired Island smack in the middle, you’ll encompass seven major creeks and their estuaries. Butler, Amason, Fishbone and Shired are to the north; Johnson, Sanders and Bumblebee are to the south. Each is deep enough to have some holes in which fish hide during the coldest of winter days, but more important, each has multiple shell and oyster bars fringing their Gulf front. It’s these bars that offer the best fishing this time of year. Most are barriers to the creeks, but some are located well offshore and may very well be the tops of creek shorelines eroded millennia ago. Examples are some of the large bars off Butler Creek which are barely covered at high tides, but with adjacent deep cuts, probably ancient creek channels. For the most part, anticipate a circuitous journey through shallow rough bottom to reach the mouth of any of these creeks. Be careful; be brave– I promise it’s worth it!
Fishing creek-front bars in early spring is an exercise in patience and stealth. With warming waters and the resultant emergence of bait, trout and reds come out of their cold-weather hiding places in the creeks and begin to hunt along the shallow shoreline. As sunlight warms the bars during the early hours of the day, baitfish naturally move to the bar tops and become perfect prey for predators. Fast-moving tides wash bait towards the bars on the up-tide side and off the bars on the down-tide side. Depending on the strength of the current, game fish are likely to be on whichever side involves them expending less energy to catch their dinner. It’s essential that you fish both sides of any bar you encounter and probably safe to assume that the fish are closer to the bar on the down-tide side. It’s also important that you take special care not to disturb the careful natural balance of tide and bar-top activity. These variables don’t simultaneously come into play every day, on every bar, so your lack of stealth can ‘shut down’ the action rather quickly. Approach bars with a trolling motor or push pole, ease your anchor into the water, don’t slam hatch covers, and most important, get out of the boat to fish. This is perfect wade-fishing territory and wading is the best way to get close to the fish.
If you like to fish topwater lures, save them for a summertime trip to the Shired Island area. Early spring trout fishing here is best using either live shrimp or shrimp imitations (D.O.A. glow) rigged under popping corks for trout. Reds tend to feed along the bottom and jigs bounced slowly along the bar edges do well. I prefer a light-colored D.O.A. TerrorEyz, as it’s oriented hook-up and is less likely to snag on clumps of oysters. You don’t need big tackle, but fluorocarbon leader is a must as it’s invisible and less subject to abrasion. Reds are also likely to be cruising the bar edges and tops while trout are just off the bars and schooling this time of year. Fish until you find one of any species and you’ll probably find others nearby. If you don’t get a hit within ten or so minutes, move along to another bar—there are hundreds in the area.
Getting to Shired Island isn’t difficult. Travel CR351 towards Horseshoe Beach from Cross City and take a left, about halfway, on CR357 to Shired Island, which is located within the Lower Suwannee River National Wildlife Refuge. The total distance is about 20 miles. As there are no amenities at Shired Island, many anglers take advantage of those at Horseshoe Beach or Cross City. Horseshoe Beach, located at the end of CR351 (about 10 miles past the CR357 turn to Shired Island), has a small marina (with a lift for launching), a boat ramp, a convenience store and a few restaurants. There are rental homes, but no motels–or beach, either! Cross City has it all—fast food, sit-down restaurants, motels, gas and groceries. Shired Island and its adjacent creeks can be reached by boat from Horseshoe Beach, but it’s not a trip for the faint-of-heart. From marker #10 in the Horseshoe Beach channel, you can run (slowly and carefully) due east and find yourself near the mouth of Butler Creek. From there, you’re on your own, with lots of creek front opportunities to your south.
There’s a sign at the city limits of Horseshoe Beach welcoming visitors to ‘Florida’s Last Frontier’. Now that condos have been built there and cell phone coverage is promised, it’s probably time to pass that slogan along to another place at the end of another road—Shired Island.