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 Hernando's Hideaway

by Dick Mermon
Jul-Sep 2005


lunar phases

When John Heidleback, an old angling buddy called and invited me and my son-in-law Ray Marshall, to work the shallow grassy areas between Hernando Beach and the Hudson Channel marker, there were no second thoughts about going for we had fished this region together several times before with great success, especially for tripletails.

This shoreline territory is part of what is known as "St. Marks Reef", which runs along Florida's Gulf Coast, beginning just slightly south of Hudson, up into the Crystal River area extending from the main beach and marsh to about fifteen miles out where it only then begins descending into deeper expanses.

Although water depths throughout this westward span run from total shallowness to slightly over the ten foot level which is said to be about one foot decline every mile. Still, this entire reef, from beginning to end maintains not only grassy ranges which support existence year around for speckled trout and redfish, but supports backwaters during early summer tarpon migrations, mango snappers, various species of shark, catfish, along with other piscatorial and in certain areas, the rarely seen "tripletails".

However, not only does this reef preserve vast sections of grass patches, but also provides hidden slab crevasses and mini caves of limestone rock. Within these covert dwellings small gag grouper regularly tuck themselves in with an occasional big one that usually never gets caught when hooked.

Not only are these grassy regions and rocks available upon sighting, but slightly closer to the shoreline there are decaying wooden pillars that can be found which supported "stilt houses" of years ago, until Ol' Mother Nature said they had to be removed and her hurricane forces did so. Furthermore, remaining there are aged submerged wood navigational channel markers that lead from the shoreline out into much deeper water and permanent metal tower buoy. Such immersed structure and they are well hidden below a low tide mean all support various marine life along with predators including the tripletails, especially during warm water periods.

Our first stop was at Hernando Beach Tackle Shop, for live bait shrimp and information from Nancy Forshier (shop owner) about tidal changes. Since we were going to fish waters south of the Hernando Beach channel, it was best to launch the boat at the county ramp in Hernando Beach, then head out the channel towards out first stop just south of the marker buoy which was Gomez Rocks. Here, we decided to work around the exposed rocks as well as those extended submerged ones with free-floating shrimp rather than any lures. This way we would not disturb the territory with splashes or restrain from snagging up a lure in the weeds or rocks and will be able to see better if there were any redfish or trout positioned in the slough between the grass and rocks themselves.

Knowing that the area was not really a tripletail haunt, it was sort of a "we're here, lets try it anyway" type of decision. Just about fifteen minutes of working Gomez Rocks with live shrimp merely produced two undersized speckled trout, a sail-catfish, several small jack crevalle and three mango snappers. Hence, it was time to move further south, down into the Arepika channel which contained several of the submersed decaying wooden stanchions we really were seeking for the tripletails.

Although there is a boat launch ramp on Arepika's backwater and much closer to our known structure, however it is but a dirt slop and the channel, although relatively shallow at times is marked by widespread wooden poles all the way out to somewhat deeper water. Here in this outer depths are usually tripletails haunts which are those sunken pillars where the "above water houses" once stood.

One feature that an angler seeking tripletails anywhere along this shallower central Gulf coastline is boat noise, for these fish have a tendency to be extremely noise-shy, especially from an outboard motor. Thus, once we entered into the fishing zone of the pilings John, began employing the bow-mounted electric motor to get within best casting range of our underwater target.

Since surface water was relatively flat with only a slight wind ripple, we focused our attention to possibly spotting a flat-floating tripletail, but none were seen. Although this marine species feed upon small baitfish of all types, I suggested to Ray that he should hook a live shrimp through the body-tail section rather than just below the head-horn. This way, a shrimp will swim along vigorously instead of being dragged straight downward by the hook's weight. Following instructions thusly, he tossed the weightless and bobber-less shrimp out towards the submerged structure and allowed it to descend in a natural manner. Almost instantly the bait was picked up by something which turned out to be a small mango snapper, landed and released. John did the same with his live shrimp and he also received a greeting from an undersized mango snapper. However, there was an indication of a large surface boil behind the mango as it was brought in and this could mean there was something else lurking in the structure which we could not see.

Being there were mangos in this location which instantly attacked a live shrimp, along with the surface swirl, I decided to cast a M52 Mirror-Lure into the area and either get snagged onto one of the posts or see if there were any tripletail's there. Upon a distant cast, further than anticipated, the lure no more disappeared from sight when a strike came and hookup was solid. Sure enough, it was a tripletail and a nice fish at that.

Both John and Ray once again tossed live shrimp, but the offerings merely produced a snapper along with a large pinfish. It was time for them to shift techniques from natural bait offerings to artificial. Within a few minutes of casting similar lure's each landed a tripletail. Seems as though the "TTs" were hiding further out than we estimated, whereby schooling smaller mangos took cover amongst those decaying sunken upright shafts. Actually, John and I did not realize that tidal flow, although ever so slight in movement, was outgoing and the tripletails actually had positioned themselves along the channel drop-off edge which sustains a slight bottom decline where grass ends and muddy deterioration begins. The mistake we made was to head into somewhat shallower water boarding the structure then cast into it, allowing the live shrimp to work this region. Once we learned as to where the tripletails had stationed themselves, which was beyond this structure and why they were there, we landed five and then moved out to search another sector of similar bottom terrain a little further south.

Tripletail are a very unusual marine species due to their awe-inspiring habits; whereby, in some regions they can be found around crab-pot buoy markers. Other places such as butting against navigational channel posts or around deeper weed beds where there are some rocks and the most unusual is their surface flotation, laying on their side to offer a "shaded spot" for small baitfish to seek shelter. When prey takes refuge the shade-volunteer becomes a predator. At such time floated shrimp, with or without a float-bobber can be employed, but the offering must be done in a quiet tone and permitted to drift past the fish. Lure's, similar to which we were employing are excellent, but here, too, it must be cast away from the tripletail and worked past it. Even a salty-fly fisherman can be successful at such time.

However, once again a word of caution; quietness on the water at any time is essential, but especially more-so when seeking this particular piscatorial. And then, there are occasions when tripletails will be caught in open water hanging around some type of unknown bottom debris or on simple grass flats where boats have disturbed. With such an occurrence, be sure to remember or mark its location; for there must be something holding them in that territory and a revisit is advisable.

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