I was lucky to have an opportunity to fish with Capt. Zack Lewis, an old friend’s son who is now guiding from the Blackwater Bar and Grill on the Withlacoochee River. They refer to this part of the state as the Nature Coast, and it’s a place that still retains its Old Florida charm and mystique.
I was blessed to enjoy many of our Nature Coast destinations while growing up in St. Petersburg. I visited on weekends with neighbors and friends families frequently during high school and while on leave from the Navy. It’s easy to forget how beautiful Florida’s natural coastal communities are.
Except for the Crystal River power plants, you see very few manmade objects along the shorelines. The different scenery was a wonderful change from our built-up shorelines. It was awesome to see the huge cypress trees still standing, and the dead horizontal massive logs fallen laying along the dark tannin-stained river shores. We observed impressive rookeries full of storks and spoonbills. I still marvel at their unearthly pink plumage.
Yes, we did get around to fishing, and it’s as good as the scenery. Oyster bars and rocks are abundant. You don’t just blast around north of Tarpon Springs without risking tearing up your gear. This natural bottom has rock outcroppings that easily rip off lower units and even shred hulls. The good news is a lot less cowboying around, with quiet places to enjoy catching fish. Local knowledge and a good guide are recommended up here. Otherwise, run at your own risk.
In the Big Bend, north of this year’s red tide troubles, redfish are still open to harvest — we even ate one. Their fishing uses similar gear and styles as ours, but the baits are different. Up here you get your shrimp in a plastic bag and put them in your cooler to sedate them until you reach salt water.
But mud minnows and pinfish are the hot tickets. Both can be caught or bought locally at Hook, Line and Sinker tackle shop. Ricky and Nancy will take good care of you. We used corks to keep our offerings above the rocks, enticing hungry fish out of hiding places.
It’s highly convenient flushing your engines as you return home, driving upstream into the freshwater rivers. Gear lasts longer with freshwater usage too. Everything’s different along the Nature Coast.
Capt. Zack grew up in a fishing family. His father is world famous Capt. Ky Lewis, one of the best billfish captains in the Gulf — maybe the best of them all. That’s a bold statement, but he’s earned the credentials to back it up. His mom Nancy paid her dues and then some deck handing, plus all the usual booking, bookkeeping and phone calls required to run a successful charter and tournament boat.
A few years ago, Zack had to drop out of school to keep the family businesses afloat when his dad got sick. Fortunately, Capt. Ky is back at it in the Dominican Republic catching blue marlin right now.
I really enjoyed this special opportunity sharing time on the water with a very knowledgeable Capt. Zack in this wild, natural setting. We shared ideas and thoughts on fish while poking around paradise. His skill and custom craft allowed us to explore the islands and shallow waters south of Yankeetown down along the coast almost to Crystal River.
These island and marsh areas are loaded with natural oyster bars and rocky areas holding redfish, trout and snook. The warm winters in recent years have been good to snook populations north of us and it’s a stable fishery now. We caught several. The treacherous rocky shorelines keep fish stocks higher because there’s a lot less boating pressure.
We fished brackish to high-salinity waters. You can distinguish the differences by vegetation. Marsh grasses and cypress show us fresher waters; mangroves and oysters saltier. Fish move into and out of different salinities to feed and remove parasites that can’t tolerate the variations. They also have an awesome shallow water gag grouper fishery if weather allows you outside to try it. You can experience many different adventures up in northern Central Florida.
If you want a change of pace, Capt. Zack has the experience to show you a beautiful Old Florida adventure. They even cook your catch back at the Blackwater Grill. Because the economy is very different up there, the rates are a pleasant surprise for anyone from here. You can do a room and a trip within in our local price range for the trip alone. Consider exploring new horizons and learning some new tricks to try back home.
Capt. Zack Lewis can be contacted at 352-302-7928. Go to http://bit.ly/2Dw887N to follow him on Facebook. For lodging, try the Nature Coast Inn — a nice B&B right on the river.
Here at home things change fast this time of the year. Weather is the forecastable changes; but the algae blooms are not. Warmer weather is due to leave, and we pray it takes red tide away with it.
I did go off shore from Stump Pass last Wednesday and we caught some decent snapper and a few grouper. The waters near shore didn’t look healthy — no dead fish but discolored waters. Things change rapidly; friends had caught bunches of Spanish mackerel off Englewood Beach a few days before. Every day is new and different.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.