Homosassa is one of the oldest residential communities to be found along Florida’s west coast. Once a major sugar growing and refining town, it now supports some of the finest redfish, tarpon and grouper fishing in the state. With this in mind, I was determined to test the ability of Capt. Howie Green, a well-known local guide and personal friend.
I called Howie and suggested we use his 17-foot skiff to do one of his double bagger trips–grouper fishing in the morning and redfish in the afternoon. Capt. Howie agreed, and we found ourselves leaving River Haven Marina on a cold February morning with the anticipation of catching grouper. What most anglers do not realize is that grouper tend to migrate closer to shore during the winter months, making them more accessible from a small boat.
As we made our way through the many “no wake” and “manatee” zones, Capt. Howie explained our goal for the day. First, we would head three to four miles offshore to an area of scattered rock piles no deeper than ten feet. Here, we would find grouper. Later, we would venture inshore among the mangrove islands and grass flats that adorn the Homosassa coast for redfish and large trout
Once we reached the mouth of the Homosassa River, we made a quick detour to pick up some live pinfish from one of Capt. Howie’s bait traps. Howie’s thoughts are always to be prepared, as some days, fish prefer live bait and other days the rattle and movement of a fast-retrieved plug is what turns them on.
With a slight northeast breeze, Capt. Howie opened the throttle to the 115hp outboard, and the small skiff responded without hesitation. We traveled in a westerly direction for fifteen minutes–keeping a careful eye on his GPS. As we reached our destination, Capt. Howie brought the skiff to an idle speed and the search was on. Being in only ten feet of crystal-clear water, there was no need for a depth sounder. We just started looking for the dark spots among the sandy bottom and, within minutes, we could see the large boulders–some almost reaching the surface as if the fish were saying, “Here I am, come and get me.”
On our first try, we drifted within casting distance of two large rocks. Capt. Howie had live pinfish and I had my favorite lure F633 YO-Zuri Mag Minnow. On my third cast, I picked up the speed on the retrieve and, with a hit much like hooking into a fast-moving train, my rod bent double and the line screamed. Before I could adjust the drag, the large gag grouper had worked me over making his run home and leaving me with dreams of what I had lost. Capt. Howie smiled, knowing there was more to come. Two hours later, we had boated eight grouper and lost five to the rocks. Now, it was time to head toward the mangrove islands visible in the horizon for some redfish action.
Homosassa boasts some of the most beautiful flats along the west coast–a mecca for tarpon in the spring. and redfish and trout all year long. The endless chain of mangrove islands and shoreline create a haven for above-average redfish and gator trout. Boundless acres of grass flats with crystal clear water make flats fishing a new experience.
Capt. Howie picked an area with a salt and pepper bottom (grass flats with sandy potholes) on the outer edge of St. Martins Key. This would give us a double shot at catching fish. Trout would hang around the sandy potholes and redfish along oyster beds that surround the Key. Within minutes I hooked a redfish, realizing my carefully placed cast alongside an oyster bar had paid off. Like a bull on the loose, the redfish made his move, kicking into high gear heading for the oyster bar. I was grateful I had chosen my bait caster over my spinning outfit. The 20-pound Fins Windtamer braided line held on and after what seemed an eternity, the redfish gave in and came along boat side.
As the tide dropped, we worked around the points where the current forced the bait through the cuts made by centuries of erosion. Here the redfish would sit and wait for the current to bring their brunch and, once again, we struck gold. The redfish were hungry and attacked our gold spoons as if they hadn’t eaten in a week. Score for the day was eight grouper, six red fish and four trout. Capt. Howie had done the job and I got my story.