C-54, where are you?Bass spawning generally winds down by April in most of East Central Florida. But that's not the case at the C-54 Canal on the Brevard/Indian River county line north of the little town of Fellsmere.
Knowledgeable regulars who frequent this major east-west drainage will tell you that the canal's largemouth are on a bit of a different spawning schedule. It's more apt to occur later, usually starting in early February and continuing through March and maybe until the end of April. The schedule might even run a little later this season considering the cold winter temperatures.
The C-54 was dug between 1966 and 1970 as a major flood relief channel for thousands of acres of farm and ranch land in the western portions of Brevard and Indian River counties. The canal, now managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, is 12 miles long, starting at the famed Stick Marsh-Farm 13 impoundment and ending on the channelized north fork of the Sebastian River.
It was dredged to depths of 16 to 18 feet, and is 300 feet wide. The design included an 8-to 10-foot-wide shelf extending out-from the shorelines before dropping off to deep water. This time of the year, the district regulates the water depth to 5 to 6 feet over the ledge.
Most of the bedding activity will be close to the shoreline side of the ledge, especially in areas where vegetation extends over the shelf. With that factor in mind, the better fishing is east of Bab-cock Street (CR 507) where lily pads and emergent grass form good cover for wary spawners. Areas to the west of Babcock offer mostly cattail and emergent grass. Unfortunately, periodic spraying controls the growth.
The canal water is tannin-stained, making black and blue plastic lures a good choice.
Once the bass complete their spawning, some of the fish feed along the deeper outside dropoff. When they go over the edge, try crankbaits, Carolina rigs or suspending jerkbaits.
Keep in mind that the bass are spawning and it's important that they be released.
A single-lane dirt ramp on the south side of the canal a quarter-mile west of Babcock Street Bridge is the only launch site on the canal. The ramp is at the midway point on the canal, so there's plenty of fishing in either direction. Water control structures are at both ends of the canal.
Tackle shops, gas and restaurants can be found in Palm Bay 11 miles north or at Fells-mere three miles south.
In the spring, anglers may have to share portions of the canal with high school and college rowing teams which use the canal for practice and regattas. Multi-team regattas usually are held on weekends, and can involve hundreds of people bringing day tents, RVs and loud music.
Usually you can beat those crowds by launching at first light, but you'll have to deal with the hordes upon your return. It's important to be considerate of the rowers by slowing to a no-wake speed when passing their low-profile rowing shells. Most of the rowers will be within a mile of the ramp in either direction, leaving the rest of the canal to anglers.
Offshore, anglers will be concentrating more on kingfish this year, given current snapper and grouper closures. Kings should be holding over ridges in 70 to 90 feet of water out of Ponce, Canaveral and Sebastian.
There are times when those same reefs produce free-swimming cobia. A couple of the better cobia reefs out of Canaveral are 8-A and Chris Benson. If inshore water temperatures are above 67 degrees, cobia should also be cruising within two or three miles of the beach pretty much anywhere along the coast. Those going out of Ponce should check the inshore Port Authority reefs, including the County Reef about six miles northeast of Ponce.
The spring dolphin surge has a way of developing overnight as they make their way northward. Last year, dolphin came through early and fast because of a quick water temperature change in the Caribbean. Anglers who hesitated were sorry.
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We're going into the third spring since the re-opening of the Canaveral Bight and that small area of beachfront in the shadows of the launch gantries at Canaveral Air Force Station can offer impressive catches of cobia, kings, tripletail, tarpon and some sweet-tasting whiting.
The 5-mile stretch of inshore water between the mouth of Port Canaveral and the tip of Cape Canaveral is a haven for small boaters who can make the run on a gallon of gas and be home by noon. What's more, they're protected from any west, northwest or even north wind.
The schools of baitfish that seek out the sheltered confines, especially in the spring when mullet, menhaden, greenies and other baits move inshore, are the keys to productivity.
Believe it or not, whiting are the top choice among many anglers who anchor up just outside the surfline and cast sand-fleas, peeled shrimp or soft, scented fake baits like Gulp! on jigs toward the beach. You definitely must pick your days for fishing that tight to the beach. You don't want an unexpected roller to catch you off guard. Bring a heavy anchor and plenty of anchor line.