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            The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!

             

             

            YANKEETOWN, FLORIDA
            "A northern beachhead on the sacred shores of the south."

            by Herb Allen 
            Spring 1999

             

             

            CURRENT MOON
            lunar phases

            "Nothing ever changes here," said noted writer and author Vic Dunaway who gleefully migrated to Yankeetown in Levy County several years ago to escape the hustle, bustle, crime and turmoil of Miami.

            And that's just the way Vic and other residents of this little laid-back community on the Gulf coast like it and intend to keep it.

            A former mayor, Bob Rousch, once said that most people simply don't want all the rapid growth, condos and traffic jams that have infected most other Florida communities for the past three or four decades.

            Another ex-mayor, Eugene Knotts, who also happened to be a judge, pointed that long ago residents learned to solve problems among themselves.

            "We could put people in jail," he once said, "but we don't have one. "Instead," he continued, "most every major dispute, such as neighbor dog problems or a resident needing a reminder that his yard is messy, is handled by phone."

            Knotts took pride in the fact that he never tried a case.

            A float trip down the Withlacoochee River which flows through Yankeetown and into the Gulf of Mexico is about as close as locals get to a rapid transit system.

            Logically, vistors to this quiet, quaint community might conclude that it was settled by Florida pioneers who never confused growth with progress.

            However, its name - Yankeetown - offers a clue to its origins.

            In 1919, Mayor Knotts' uncle, A. G. Knotts, who helped plan Gary, Indiana, purchased 2,000 acres here after traveling throughout the Sunshine State searching for a perfect place to hunt, fish and live.

            During the 20s, he hacked a trail through a thick jungle that eventually evolved into a sand, gravel and finally a two-lane blacktop road. He built the Izaak Walton Lodge, a two-story hotel named for a man whose writings are credited with establishing fishing as a sport.

            Soon, other northern families followed the founder to his Eden on Earth and it eventually grew to its current population of 800, or so.

            Describing it as a "Northern beachhead on the sacred shores of the South," a 1920s Florida Legislature good-humorously granted Yankeetown an official charter.

            Now as then, the oasis remains a mecca for anglers, hunters and naturalists because little has changed since A.G. Knotts first dropped anchor.

            With plenty of adjacent swamp, sand and moss-fastooned trees, all manner of wildlife thrives, while the Withlacoochee, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, provides more fresh and saltwater fish than the biblical Apostles needed to feed the multitudes. Fishermen can cast in one direction and catch a bass or fat bream, in another and capture a redfish or trout.

            Still unspoiled, the Withlacoochee is a quiet river that opens into endless salt marshes and grass flats stretching north and south beyond vision's limits.

            Compared to most other areas of Florida's Gulf coast, these vast aqua areas get nearly zero fishing pressure and a topo map exposes a myriad of backcountry nooks and crannies where redfish and trout lurk, ready to pounce on lures or live baits.

            Massive grass flats are home to saltwater trout from spring to early winter. Anglers can bag grouper out from the nearby Florida Barge Canal and from the Withlacoochee's mouth.

            Historically, two long chains of spoil islands are hotspots for redfish and trout, while sheepshead in colder months are plentiful and large, ranging from five to 15 pounds each.

            Spanish mackerel and bluefish often invade the grass flats during warmer months, mixing in with trout. Those wanting kingfish or migrating tarpon have to run a bit further offshore during spring, summer and fall.

            A rule-of-thumb for this region calls for one foot of depth for each traversed mile. In other words, if you're 20 miles offshore, chances are it'll be 20 feet deep.

            Those fishing inside have a legion of spots to explore, including East and Bungalow Pass, Jubb, Hodges, Pumpkin and Chambers Islands; and Jones Covas, Vassey, Fuller, Helvingston, Kelly and Bird Creeks.

            The previously mentioned spoil islands north of Yankeetown should certainly be explored when attempting to find finny foes.

            Gold spoons in the 1/4 to 3/8 ounce variety are especially effective when casting for reds around oyster bars and rocks.

            Trout are suckers for live shrimp or plastic-tailed 1/8 to 1/4-ounce jigs often fished here behind Equalizer or popping corks. Yellowmouths will also smack surface plugs, diving crankbaits, and that new Buttoneye Minnow by Cotee, the world's first combination soft and hard bait.

            Although not many flyrodders are seen in the vicinity, those who do belong to the wand-waver fraternity will connect with popping bugs or subsurface streamer flies.

            During the chilly months of January and February, the nearby Crystal River Power Plant outflow is a must stop for fisherfolks.

            Bass seekers in this lower section of the Withlacoochee are frequently rewarded with gang-buster results. During spring and summer, bluegills are plentiful.

            No need here for hefty tackle as most fish have acres of elbow room to run after being hooked. We'd suggest that 6 to 12-pound baitcasting or spinning tackle is adequate. Leader material is a matter of choice.

            Gulf Hammock, a 24,665-acre Wildlife Management Area abutting the communities of Yankeetown and Inglis, is a paradise for nimrods seeking deer, hogs and wild turkeys. Quite a few bears inhabit Gulf Hammock along with squirrels, quail, rabbits, coons, opossum, skunks, bobcats, otters, a growing population of coyotes, and all manner of waterfowl.

            In addition to the Izaak Walton Lodge, several mom and pop-type motels and RV parks are located on nearby U.S. Highway 19 .

            For those who like to eat well, we'd highly recommend the Lodge's Compleat Angler Restaurant for dinner, or its Little Angler Restaurant for a scrumptious breakfast or lunch. December's Restaurant in Inglis also gets rave reviews.

            Experienced and knowledgeable guides including Capt. Lamar Gay (352-447-3084) and Capt. Ky Lewis (352-447-3818) are available for half or all-day charters at this antiresort getaway.

            We redneck Crackers often are quilty of criticizing an annual "invasion" of snow birds.

            But, maybe, we should pause a moment to consider that it was a bunch of Yankees that originally saved this picturesque slice of the Old South.

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