Many anglers write off fishing our Big Bend waters in summer, simply giving in to the crowds of scallopers who invade our coastal ports, boat ramps, restaurants and motels. But we do have excellent summertime fishing opportunities in our less-busy darker waters. And Suwannee Sound, between the towns of Suwannee and Cedar Key, tops my list.
The Suwannee River flows through Florida from the Okefenokee Swamp in south Georgia, and empties into the Gulf about 90 miles north of Tampa Bay, just about in the middle of the Big Bend. As it flows, it picks up fresh spring water, tannin and particulate matter, making the flats and nearshore waters darker and brackish, rather than the salty “clear as gin” quality that scallops and scallopers desire. And Cedar Key, while essentially a point of land jutting well into the salty Gulf, doesn’t have much scallop-friendly water either. Its local waters, especially to the north and east, are darkened by runoff from numerous tidal creeks and by the freshwater outflow of the Withlacoochee and Waccasassa rivers. The net result is a vast system of live and dead oyster bars, along the coast of Levy County, between the two towns.
Take a look at a Florida Sportsman Suwannee Fishing Chart, Suwannee #019, and direct your attention to the shoreline between Cedar Key and the mouth of the Suwannee River. You’ll see a ragged coast, created by creeks and their adjacent oyster bars and reefs. There, you’ll find some of the best fish habitat in our area. On early morning flood tides, fish the mouths of creeks and points of bars and islands for slot reds and huge, 30-pound-plus, black drum. Reds will be particularly interested in topwater plugs, jigs like the D.O.A. TerrorEyz (#304, “root beer/gold glitter” is a good choice) or cut mullet. Black drum are natural “suckers” for chunks of blue crab or dead shrimp. Remember that reds will attack their prey on top of the water, but that black drum feed facedown along the bottom. The shoreline just west of the primitive boat ramp at Shell Mound has been especially productive for the last few summers.
If you’re interested in catching spotted seatrout, move a bit more offshore to the flats along edge of the one-fathom curve, along the bars that make up the Suwannee Reef. There, free line live or 3-inch D.O.A. #321 shrimp (“copper crush”) alongside your drift. And don’t forget to pack a big spinning outfit, rigged and ready with a black eel look-alike, just in case a tarpon or cobia comes along. I prefer the 10-inch tandem rigged Hogy.
Suwannee Sound can be reached easily from the north or the south. Cedar Key and Suwannee are both angler-friendly with good restaurants, lodging, boat ramps and sources for bait and tackle. However, from both directions, and depending on the tide, you’ll encounter some rough bottom and tricky turns, making thoughtful and careful navigation essential to a successful day on the water. So plan well, and take it easy in this special part of what’s known to many as “Natural North Florida”!