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A wooly wilderness.

Despite significant damage from Hurricane Hermine's storm surge and wind just before Labor Day, the Big Bend is recovering. The first month after a big storm means dark tannic water as well as lots of rebuilding at boat ramps, motels and restaurants. However, the residents of this area are a resilient and hard-working bunch and you can count on everything (and the fish) being ready when you arrive to fish the area.

Now, if you're hoping, for some bizarre reason, to fish among crowds of anglers, don't go to St. Marks. To be more specific, don't go to the stretch of coastline designated the St. Marks Wilderness.

One of the great things about St. Marks is that it's not a big population center. Located about 20 miles south of Tallahassee on the upper Big Bend, it was one of the first Spanish settlements in the Americas. But since then (1528) St. Marks has morphed into a successful commercial fishing village, to a relatively busy port for oil barges, to the recreational fishing hotspot it is today. The town is located at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks rivers, and amenities there include the upscale Shields' Marina, Shell Island Fish Camp (One of the last "real" fish camps left!), a few restaurants and an excellent public boat ramp.

But the town of St. Marks isn't the story here. It's just the starting point. The St. Marks Wilderness is part of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The Wilderness reaches from the mouth of the St. Marks River eastward to just past the Aucilla River, about 40 miles. And while the upper boundary is shown on some maps and is to me somewhat arbitrary, I consider the backs of the local creeks and the tree line to be that limit. But that's not really important as the great fishing for inshore species is near the creekmouths and over the bars and rock piles that litter the Gulf front.

Launching your boat at the public ramp at the confluence of the two rivers makes for a 5-mile run to the Gulf. If time's no problem, it's a scenic cruise and when you launch and load you'll do so in fresh water. Another option is to put a few miles on your towing vehicle and use the saltwater ramp at the St. Marks Lighthouse, in the NWR. In either case, don't miss the opportunity to throw soft plastics or slow-sinking plugs over the flats to the east of the St. Marks River channel near marker No. 10. This is a great spot for seatrout and small pelagics like Spanish mackerel and bluefish.

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If you take a look at your Florida Sportsman St. Marks/Apalachicola Chart (No. 21), you'll see that the one-fathom (6-foot) curve zig-zags a mile or two off the coastline. In those depths, between the channel, on to Grey Mare Rock and on to Cobb Rocks, you'll be able to fish some pretty lonesome and untouched grassflats. There, in 4 to 6 feet of water, seatrout will be plentiful this month, with lots of those springtime sub-slot fish having grown into keepers. Shallower, and closer to shore, run slow, and be on the lookout for mullet jumping near creekmouths and over rocky patches, especially on sunny days with late-afternoon high tides. If you can comfortably navigate creeks, be sure to head up into Stony Creek, a couple of miles east of the lighthouse. It has multiple channels and lots of places for bait and predators to hide. Also, check out the bars just north of Grey Mare Rock, especially if the tide starts pulling water out of Porpoise and Deep creeks. Another option, but one that's closer to the Aucilla River, is Cow Creek and the bars that front it.

Likely you have a favorite inshore lure or bait, but here are a few to consider. In the creeks, toss a gold Eppinger Rex or Johnson spoon close to the banks. Around outside bars, try a slow retrieve of a slow-sinking plug. And if you're nearing the one-fathom mark, rig a live, GULP! or D.O.A. 3-inch shrimp under a popping cork. Just be sure to pay attention to the depth, as the bait should drift just above the grass tops.

Fishing a bit farther offshore here doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be much deeper. Grassflats extend well outside the 3-mile limit, still in less than 12 feet of water, and some exploration will yield some rocky outcrops or mixed bottom to try. And just outside the two-fathom curve are some nice artificial reefs. Of note are the two Wakulla Regional Reefs, south of the end of the St. Marks channel.

HUNTING General Gun Season for antlered deer starts Nov. 5 and ends Jan. 22,2017 in Zone C. Don't forget to purchase your $5 Deer Permit in addition to your regular hunting license. Fall Turkey Season also opens on Nov. 5 but ends on January 1. That should give you plenty of time to bag this year's two or four-legged trophy. For more details, go online to www.myfwc.com/hunting

* BEST BET

BIG BEND

November usually brings 3- or 4-day cycles of cool fronts arriving on the Big Bend. Try to avoid the first "bluebird" day that follows one, but after that look close to shore for schools of slot-sized redfish. They'll be spooky, so don't rush them and make long casts with slow-sinking plugs well in front of the school for your best chance of a hookup.
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Title Annotation:BIG BEND
Author:Thompson, Tommy
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Nov 1, 2016
Words:924
Previous Article:Fall finds.
Next Article:A good run.

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