Wandering angler and photo hack, Chris Funk first visited the Wakulla River to shoot Jackson Kayak’s Kilroy. Between photos, Funk hooked his first Suwanee bass. Infatuated with the little, tiger-striped bass’ feline attitude, Funk returns regularly for a tryst with St. Marks Suwanee.
There are great bass fishing destinations and great inshore fishing destinations, but find a spot offering both and you have a real gem. St. Marks, Florida is a real gem. The little town is rich in history. On one side, the Gulf of Mexico hosts oyster bars and grass beds littered with sea trout and redfish.
On the other side, cool, clear spring-fed rivers are chocked full of huge largemouth and Suwannee bass. Suwannee bass may be diminutive in size, but their larger-than-life attitude draws fans to St. Marks.
Speaking of large, the area is home to big, lumbering manatees. Don’t be frightened when one exhales a few feet from the kayak. Best of all, I can target bass in the morning and redfish and trout in the afternoon.
Local guide Robert Baker knows each fish by name. Reel Fin Addict Kayak Fishing (850) 210-4375-6527
Shell Island Fish Camp, 440 Shell Island Rd, St. Marks, stocks the best selection of local tackle and live bait. Rent a kayak at T-n-T Hide-a-Way in Crawfordville, Florida. 850- 925-6412
Shell Island Fish Camp boasts rustic cabins and several block-style motels, a launch and a well-equipped bait and tackle shop. Launch from the camp on the Wakulla River where one cast may catch a bass and the next score a redfish. For a more economical option, pitch a tent at Newport Campground, 8046 Coastal Hwy, Crawfordville.
Hamaknockers BBQ, 2837 Coastal Hwy, Crawfordville. Get the sliced, smoked steak sandwich on Texas toast. Savannah’s Country Buffet, 968 Woodville Hwy, Crawfordville, serves a mighty-fine country cooking breakfast.
Freshwater targets: Suwannee bass, largemouth and bowfin. In the salt, sea trout, redfish, sheepshead, bonnethead and blacktip sharks.
Each season has a bright spot, but Wakulla is best in winter. February is a good bet to find largemouth and Suwanee bass on their beds and in the reeds.
With so many diverse fishing options, a trip to St. Marks requires me to empty my garage of rods, reels and tackle. A good shot at double-digit largemouth, gator trout and big redfish calls for medium to heavy spinning and baitcasting combos.
For freshwater, expect to fish heavy vegetation where a heavy-action rod and strong braided line will pull a big fish out of the rough. Use weighted and weightless soft plastics. Bring a few jigs to explore the bottom.
A Strike King Bitsy Bug tipped with a Paca Craw is lethal on the Suwannee bass. On the saltwater side, an eighth-ounce jig tipped with a paddletail is a favorite. I change lure color obsessively, but glow is usually the most productive. A bone-colored Zara Spook is perfect for long casts to search for fish.
Choose a kayak comfortable for standup fishing to spot spawning bass or reds hunting the flats.
Rig-up an anchor trolley and stakeout pole to anchor in shallow water.
Chase largemouth and Suwanee bass in the morning, then hit a falling tide for trout in the evening. Or, if I’m on a hot saltwater bite and the wind kicks up a fuss, changing locations to chase bass is easy. Launch sites are within minutes of each other. Paddle upstream for bass. Expect to fish heavy vegetation flipping and punching or burning a frog.
Head downstream to target sea trout, redfish and tarpon. Light jigs and soft plastics or the classic popping cork work for any species. Whatever you do, don’t give into temptation. Ten-pound bass and 150-pound tarpon call the marina home, but they’re considered “pets”. Catching fish is easy around St. Marks, Florida, the hard part is deciding what species to target.
Sunshine state lives up to its name | Featured photo: Chris Funk