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Visiting the Waters of Steinhatchee
Nestled on the west coast along the northern side of the Florida Peninsula, lies a fisherman’s paradise. Each year thousands of anglers travel to this small coastal township seeking Trout, Red-fish, Cobia, Drum, Spanish Mackerel, and Blues. With the slow moving tide, oyster beds and sandbars strewn up and down the coast, it makes for a great fishing environment. If Scallops are to your liking, you can reserve cabins for the open scallop season. However, you might want to reserve it well in advance, as the cabins fill up fast and boat rentals are impossible for last-minute-Lucie’s.
But there is another side to Steinhatchee. The township population of 21,000 people offers a friendly atmosphere that makes even strangers feel they've lived there all their lives. This simple fishing village offers numerous craft stores, quilting shops, antiques, and thrift stores that will fill a shop-a-holic with hours of exploration.
But if you want to experience real beauty, you may have to take to the water. I left the east coast area of central Florida with my friend JW, at 4am. To say it was an early start would be no understatement. Leaving my home at 3:15 am to rendezvous with JW in Astor, I had my fishing rods, tackle and a big thermos of coffee. We loaded up his boat, with ice, food and drinks, and headed out.
The trip took us two and a half hours but the conversation made the time go quickly. JW’s knowledge of Stein Hatchee came from years of research, exploration and records. But his love of the area was almost hypnotic and contagious. If his descriptions and stories about experiences he’d made weren’t enough to keep you enthralled, the beauty of Steinhatchee’s waterways would certainly do the trick.
We trailered JW’s boat, a fully restored and remodeled Chris Craft Open fisherman, to our destination, driving through the Ocala National Forest, drinking coffee, enjoying the view and talking about the day’s expectations. We had our fishing gear, but this was more of a dry run, to check out the boat’s newly re-designed and rebuilt power plant, and it’s custom-made Propeller. The boat originally titled as a 21’ open fisherman, now measured 25’6 from the extended motor platform to the front anchor platform. JW purchased the boat with outboard about five years back. Knowing the transom needed to be re-done from age and moisture damage, JW will tell you he never expected to run into a travesty of repairs it needed.
Not to be daunted, he found a boat craftsman who opened an indoor stall for JW, and allowed him to disassemble the vessel, remove the top-cap and completely re-wire, and rebuild the boat from the hull up. JW, with expert advice and assistance, performed the work himself, and resulted in a finished project with a much better craft than when it was new. People seeing this boat when we arrive at a marina, can hardly believe it is as old as it is, and even more surprised the hull is all original paint. Riding on the open water in the boat, really helps one to respect his accomplishment and the quality the craft possesses.
We arrived at our destination about 6:40 am, paid the $5.00 ramp fee; JW went through the safety checklist (A must for safe boating) and backed the boat in the water. The motor came to life with the first hit of the ignition and started that sweet sound that makes a boat-lovers heart beat faster. We cast off and headed to the Sea Hag Marina. When we arrived and tied to the dock, we went inside to check on any changes in water conditions, pick up some bait in the off chance the fish were in early this year, and headed out.
The early morning water was calm and peaceful, with only the ripples from other boats traversing the river heading towards the gulf. When we reached the Gulf, the water had a slight chop with a nice cool morning breeze coming from the west. JW put the boat through the courses alternating speed, and trim to see how the new power plant would perform. But it did great and we spent most of the day searching for new areas to visit once the fishing season came in. We wet a few lines and even caught a couple, lost a few more, but mostly enjoyed a great day on the water.
Having accomplished our goal for the day we now felt the boat as well as ourselves were ready; all we needed to do was make plans for our return in a month and do some serious fishing. I hope you enjoyed this little virtual visit to Stein Hatchee, and thanks for taking the trip with us. I look forward to writing about our next trip, and I hope you will visit again, when we spend the day again in this beautiful area.
For those interested, the Boat is an antique and over 25 years old. Anyone want to take a guess at the year this boat was originally manufactured?