Florida's speckled perch go by lots of other names around the country. I suppose the most popular being crappie. When I was a kid in the Louisiana bayou country they were called sac-a-lait. That is French for white perch and is the actual official state name for the fish.
Whatever you might call them, specks are fun to catch and are second to none on the dinner plate. If you are a northern transplant, you probably caught some version of them back home, but take my word for it, you didn't catch anything like the crappie that lives in our local lakes.
Back in 1968, when I first arrived in the state, I found myself in the little cow town of Okeechobee in South Florida. That town is famous for its big lake that is more like an inland sea. Within a few days of my pilgrimage there I naturally began to think about fishing.
Lake Okeechobee is surrounded by a rim canal that empties into the lake through the occasional huge culvert. At one of those I happened upon an old black man who may have been 65 or 95, it was hard to tell. What I could tell was that he was catching the biggest crappie I had ever seen. He had a string of six or seven fish that were about 15 inches long and probably weighing two to three pounds each. I was floored. The sac-a-lait in the bayou don't get nearly that big.
Needless to say, the next morning I was there with a bucket of minnows for bait. Where I came from everyone knew that if you wanted to catch 'em, you had to have minnows. I sat across from the old black man and didn't get a bite as he pulled up one after another. This went on for days. Soon it was clear that he was using some other type of bait, but I couldn't see what that was and he wasn't talking. Each day I would show up and catch nothing while the fellow took home the same string of six or seven of the fattest crappie the world has to offer. Frustrating? You bet!
Finally after I had paid my dues, the old man showed me what he was doing. He had a small hand dipper of the type you would use in an aquarium. He would whisk it under the vegetation and catch tiny glass shrimp. Unless you were right next to him, they were so small they could not even be seen. For the specks it was candy. Right away my sac-a-lait fishing improved dramatically.
Years later here in Volusia County I became a dedicated speck fisherman. Within a few miles of us all is some of the best found anyplace. I will start with little Lake Disston up in Flagler County. Hard to find, but perhaps the most beautiful lake in the state. Fish along the cypress on the north side or in front of the homes on the west.
Dead Lake and the connected Crescent Lake gave me some of the best speck fishing I had ever done. Once my buddy, the late Walter Anderson, and I got into them so thick, they would bite a bare hook. Big Lake George has some prime speck fishing and I scored near the rocks.
Without a doubt the best speck fishing I ever found was in Lake Woodruff. Back in the 1980s the lake was clear of hydrilla and each winter the specks would move into open water where we would troll up huge fish in big numbers. The fishing there is still tops.
A bit further south, fish Lake Monroe for hot speck action. Andy and I always began trolling just after we cleared the I-4 bridge and just south of the channel markers. East of the little town of Osteen, put in at the ramp on State Road 46 and fish either the lake or the St. Johns. Now is also prime time for shad fishing there. Once that was a fun bonanza, but it has tailed off in recent years. Still, the shad migrate there each winter to provide leaping good fun. They will hit most any small artificial, including flies. Do yourself a favor and go after tasty Volusia County specks. You won't be sorry.
The Flagler Sportfishing Club will be at the Flagler Home Show on Saturday, Jan. 26, and Sunday, Jan. 27. Seminars will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday and noon on Sunday. It should be fun and informative. On Feb. 4, I will be at the club's monthly meeting at the Palm Coast VFW to talk about some of the finer points of catching flounder. That will begin at 7:30 p.m. Check the club's website fcsportfishing.com for info on all of the above.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.