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This is arguably the best place to catch spanish mackerel in all of Florida from May to October. Seahorse Reef, a 10 mile long sandbar extending offshore in a southwesterly direction from Seahorse Key to the Steel Tower, is the dominant offshore structure in the Cedar Key area. Look for a large expanse of grass in 8-12 feet of water on the southeast side of Seahorse Reef, about 5 miles offshore of the entrance to the Cedar Key Main Ship Channel on a heading of 217 degrees. The shallow sand to deep grass transition at the edge of the reef makes a 90 degree bend, creating a corner in which baitfish and their predators accumulate. On calm days you will see pods of bait disturbing the surface and birds diving into them. The fishing is best when bait pods and birds are abundant. Troll Clark Spoons or Floreo jigs at 4-6 knots around the edges of the bait pods and along the transition edge form grassy to sandy bottom. Troll a Clark spoon 10-15 feet astern in the froth of your wake and Floreo jigs (or small rattling metallic plugs a bit farther back). Be sure to troll the edges of any bait pods you come across. Once a concentration of spanish mackerel has been located, stop and cast to them using a rapid, jerky retrieve. Alternatively, you can anchor up and drift live shrimp back in a chum line.
If you want to troll something different, try my favorite -- a soda straw lure. To make one, first get a soda straw from MacDonald's. The management at MacDonald's complains a lot less if you buy a soda to go along with the straw. For some reason, straws from Wendy's, Burger King or Hardee's don't do as well. They seem to be a little thinner-walled and lack the colored stripes of the MacDonald's straws. Or maybe the mackerel just like MacDonald's TV ads better. For whatever reason the MacDonald's straws simply work better. Cut the straw in half at a 45 degree angle. Thread a wire leader attached to a shiny, chromed treble hook through the straw with the angled end of the straw towards the eye of the leader. Trolled fast enough to "smoke" in the water (leave a trail of bubbles), a soda straw lure will be jumped all over by Spanish mackerel much to the delight of any children on board.During the heat of summer, spotted seatrout will be here -- drift along while jigging.
In the late summer schools of small bluefish and acrobatic ladyfish further liven things up. This is also a good place to catch baitfish to slow troll in the kingfish hole 3 miles away across Seahorse Reef.
This is a large area of flat, rocky "swiss cheese" bottom in 20-24 feet of water on the northwest side of Seahorse Reef, about 5.5 miles offshore of the entrance to the Cedar Key Main Ship Channel on a heading of 260 degrees. Troll live or dead baits for King Mackerel in April and May and again mid September to mid November. Grouper may also be caught during this time as well as fewer, but much larger, Spanish Mackerel than are seen in the "Hook" of Seahorse Reef. For those wanting panfish for the freezer, black seabass and Cedar Key snapper (gray grunts) are plentiful and easily caught on shrimp or cut bait.
This is a 30 foot tall lighted tower marking the end of Seahorse Reef. The remains of an earlier tower, destroyed by the March, 1993, "Storm of the Century" lays alongside it in 6-8 feet of water. This is an excellent spot for cobia May through October and giant spawner sheepshead January to April. Catch the former with live pinfish and the latter with live shrimp. This is also a good place to catch baitfish.
Located about 10 miles from the entrance to the Cedar Key Northwest Channel on a heading of about 300 degrees, this is a very large area of flat, rocky "swiss cheese" bottom in 30-35 feet of water interspersed with areas of barren sandy bottom. Troll the area with red and white magnum Rapalas on downriggers during winter, spring and autumn to locate the best spots -- when you catch a grouper, save the location in your loran or GPS and return to bottom fish it with live or dead baits. Likewise save the location of any spot where you see a sea turtle at the surface. Look for grouper all year and king mackerel in the spring and autumn. Vast schools of baitfish and spanish mackerel may be present in summer and autumn -- watch for bird activity. Areas of hard bottom also hold seabass and grunts.
Located about 15 miles south southwest of the entrance to the Cedar Key Main Ship Channel, this is a very large area of flat, rocky "swiss cheese" bottom in 35-45 feet of water interspersed with areas of barren sandy bottom. Look for grouper all year, cobia spring through autumn, and king mackerel in the spring and autumn. Vast schools of baitfish and spanish mackerel may be present in summer and autumn, and sometimes concentrations of mangrove snapper can be found. Areas of hard bottom also hold seabass and grunts. Troll the area with red and white magnum Rapalas on downriggers during winter, spring and autumn to locate the best spots -- when you catch a grouper, save the location in your loran or GPS and return to bottom fish it with live or dead baits. Likewise save the location of any spot where you see a sea turtle at the surface. Several underwater springs are scattered throughout this area, but their locations are closely guarded secrets, i.e. you won't see them posted here. They will hold grouper, cobia, amberjack, barracuda, snapper, king and spanish mackerel, and sheepshead.
Once you leave the marked channels, most of the bay and outer keys are surrounded by extensive shallow grass flats. Spring through autumn, these flats are home to uncountable numbers of bait-stealing pinfish -- the bane of those fishing with live shrimp -- and lots of tasty spotted seatrout. Unfortunately, these same flats become as barren as a desert in winter.
Drift the flats while casting shrimp-tipped jigs. If you catch a keeper trout, throw out a marker and fish the area. Schools of trout often hold tight to a single location, giving fast action once located. Pay extra attention to the grassy edges of deeper channels and especially "white holes" -- almost round areas of deeper white, sandy bottom surrounded by grass. If you catch a pinfish, drift him under a float behind your boat. You may catch a big "gator" trout, redfish, shark, or cobia.
Some of the most productive flats are located all around Snake Key, outside Seahorse Key, either side of Deadman's Channel that runs between Seahorse Key and North Key, and outside North Key. Be sure to depart the flats well before low tide in all but the shallowest draft boats. Also take care that you do not stay so long into a falling tide that your propellor "scars" the grass.
A small island located on the inshore grass flats between Seahorse and North Key, Deadman's Key is a good bet for redfish on high tide, especially during warmer weather. Try fishing the bars that surround Deadman's Key with gold spoons, jigs, live shrimp or live pinfish. All but the most shallow draft boats should depart well before low tide or make plans to stay awhile!
Looking east from Deadman's Key, on the other side of the North Channel, you can see the end of the airport runway. The oyster bars off the end of the runway are another good spot for redfish.
The shallow grass flats southeast of Snake Key are pierced by several northward-running finger channels up to 16 feet deep. Fish the flats on the edges of these channels and the channels themselves spring through autumn. Jigs or live shrimp will yield trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and spanish makerel. A live pinfish may tempt cobia, sharks, "gator" trout or redfish.
Last updated 6 February, 1998
Charles H. Courtney (email@example.com)