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Hoochie-Coochie Bay.

Long ago, and in a not-so-faraway Levy County bait and tackle store, I once heard a fellow ask directions to the boat ramp on the "Hoochie-Coochie" river. Well, as you likely know, Florida doesn't' have a Hoochie-Coochie, but we have two Withlacoochees. One, near the Georgia border, flows into the Suwannee River at Ellaville; the other, and the one of importance to Big Bend anglers, flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Yankeetown, about 90 miles north of Tampa.

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Anglers sometimes refer to the entire 18-mile-wide body of water between Cedar Key and Yankeetown, bounded on the south by the spoil banks alongside the Progress Energy shipping channel, as Withlacoochee Bay. But to be more accurate, and since its structure is the direct product of the Withlacoochee River's outflow, the eastern half of this body of water is more deserving of that name. Ageless, wild and natural rivers like the Withlacoochee don't just take one course over their lifetimes. Rains and storms divert river water, creating swamps--and droughts force the enlargement of feeder creeks. The ebb and flow of time and tide, with the power of a large river, is what has made this little stretch of Big Bend coastline such a popular inshore fishing destination.

During warm weather, the flats between Cedar Key and the mouth of the Withlacoochee are brimming with seatrout, but cool water temperatures move them closer to shore, particularly near small islands and inside some of the many creeks and bays that make up the mainland shore. It's here that you'll likely have mixed bag limits of trout and redfish. As cold mornings turn to warmish afternoons, bars like the Withlacoochee Reefs (runs from the river channel northwest into Lows Bay) heat up and attract baitfish and predators. Another good spot to try is the Eleven Prong shoreline that stretches from Turtle Creek Point (29-60.397'N, 8248.830'W) around to Mangrove Point (2940.307'N, 82-48.743'W), just south of the mouth of the Waccasassa River. To the south of Yankeetown, a good bet for wintertime reds and trout is the shoreline between the never-completed Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Progress Energy complex. It's likely that the water at the power plants' hot water discharge won't be much warmer than the Gulf's ambient temperature, but the bars behind Luttrell Island and Drum Island will still hold fish.

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Sunshine is one key to successful wintertime fishing, and cold, gloomy days will push the fish into deep holes, often stunned into "lockjaw." If your fishing trip coincides with weather like this, you'll do best using natural bait or slow-moving artificial lures to provoke your prey.

This area is, with the exception of the rocky bottom, fairly boater-friendly. There are good public boat ramps upriver in the Waccasassa River, at the west end of SR40 in Yankeetown, and next to the FWC station where US19/98 crosses the Barge Canal. There's also a primitive ramp in the backwaters of Vassey Creek, just north of Yankeetown (off CR40A), that's excellent for paddlecraft or boats with super-shallow drafts. And upriver on the Withlacoochee River, there's a free ramp near the Coast Guard Station as well as the ramps at Yankeetown Marina or B's Campground.

Don't forget that the dredging of the Barge Canal and the Progress Energy Channel produced lots of small lime rock piles, each capable of holding a school of sheepshead for your fishing pleasure.

HUNTING December is a popular hunting month, as Fall Turkey and General Gun seasons are in full swing in Zone C, where we live and hunt. It's also time to bag that trophy buck or gobbler, and receive recognition in the form of an entry into the Florida Buck Registry or an Outstanding Gobbler Certificate. Complete information on these and other Sportsman's Recognition Programs is available online at myfwc.com

RELATED ARTICLE: BEST BET BIG BEND

This short and rough stretch of Levy and Citrus County shoreline isn't necessarily unique on the Big Bend. With thousands of bars, hundreds of points, and scores of creeks, you'll find similar inshore action just about anywhere Gulf waters hit our shoreline. If you take the time to study your charts and explore the area around your favorite port, you'll likely have many successful December fishing trips.
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Author:Thompson, Tommy
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Dec 1, 2012
Words:714
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