SaltyShores Close-Up: Crystal River, Florida By Jan Maizler



SaltyShores Close-Up: Crystal River


Jan S. Maizler



Planning and Hoping-

My return to fish the Crystal River with Captain Kyle Messier was more like a trip with many means and goals, hardly the stuff of a simple pleasure getaway. The express purpose of this was to encounter the big schools of black drum that migrate into the area every winter. I was going with Captain Ken Collette who would support the efforts with photographing and documenting big drums sight-fished, caught and released. However, the efforts and plans of people often are ignored by Fate: even when we did our best to time our trip in February when the drums were supposed  to migrate into the area, a warm winter turned all the strategies upside down. The fish simply got thrown a curve ball by Mother Nature and they altered their usual migratory routes and timing.

Yet Ken and I stuck to our guns and made the drive from Miami/Fort Lauderdale to beautiful Crystal River. Ironically, it looked like the second day of our trip might be effected by the arrival of a cold front during an otherwise ongoing warm winter. We traveled in the evening and had a safe and pleasant trip discussing all the angling and gastronomic adventures that lay ahead of us.



Since we’d be fishing three people with lots of equipment with an emphasis on many photographs, we knew that Kyle would employ his roomier 22-foot Sundance skiff instead of his 17-foot Maverick HPX-T technical poling flats boat. Ken also would be able to “shoot down” from the tower for more creative photo angles with the larger and “taller” boat. Because of the Sundance’s flat-bottomed configuration, we’d also be able to get into shallow water and use his electric trolling motor for propulsion versus the pushpole he uses on his Maverick.



Time to Fish-

Before we were to meet Kyle at the boat ramp just steps from our room, Ken and I had a leisurely and sumptuous complementary breakfast at the Best Western Crystal River Resort. After that, we drove to the local Subway to get lunch to have onboard.

Kyle was right on time at 7 a.m. and we climbed aboard. As we idled through this gorgeous area, the clouds threw off a mackerel sky that had Ken and I firing away only minutes of casting off from the dock.

When we put down our cameras, Kyle told us that while he had not seen any large schools of big black drumfish during the last few days, we would certainly go looking for them when the sun got much higher for good spotting. But for now, he said that he knew where some good schools of redfish were swimming and that would be the first leg of our hunt. Ken and I were all for it. Soon, we were in the main channel and open water. Kyle pushed down the throttle and the Sundance leaped up on plane and whisked us through the brisk cool air and over the slick, fish-rich waters of this magic region.

In about half an hour, Kyle came off plane and idled towards an island shoreline. He cut the engine and lowered his bow-mounted electric motor into the water. As we eased along one face of the island, we (Kyle and I from the bow and Ken from the tower) saw no pushes or blown-out fish. As we rounded a rocky point, we almost collided with a school of reds coming from the shoreline that we were headed to. They spooked but turned back.. Kyle thought they might settle down and dropped his Power Pole when we saw the fish circling. Ken called from on top that he saw a light-colored red pushing twenty pounds. Kyle and I cast out two shrimp and jig combos and let them sit on the bottom. After ten frustrating minutes, we moved to another island with hopefully fresher fish.

We spotted fish immediately and Kyle had me cast a shrimp in a clearing between some limestone lumps. I had an immediate take and soon we were posing a plump redfish for photos. I quickly released another fish and asked Kyle if we could leave and try for another species. He agreed and said we’d head offshore to some shallow rocks to fish for some large sheepshead that were prolific for the last few weeks.



This jaunt took about another half hour and Kyle slowed his vessel as soon as he was in the right area of the rock piles. After spotting a particularly big set of rocks, he anchored the boat and handed me the same spinning outfit. He had me cast to the edge of the rocks and let the jig and shrimp down to the bottom. He then told me to reel in a bit and wait for a take. While I was expecting the proverbial peck of a sheepie, my rod went down and I struck back hard. After a good tussle, I brought my biggest sheepshead to date alongside the boat. At four pounds, this specimen was a prize ! After photos we released the fish and took turns catching and releasing a few more.



The sky clouded over more and the temperature seemed to slowly drop. The talk amongst us turned just when tomorrow the approaching front might arrive. I felt that this created some urgency to change up our quest for other species even sooner. Kyle agreed and we ran south to the outside flats to search for pushing schools of large black drumfish.  In the three hours we looked we only flushed out of pod of a dozen spooky fish. It was time for another change.

Kyle suggested going for seatrout. We ran north almost due east of the power plant. Kyle said the fish were now in deeper water this time of year. He broke out three lighter spinners rigged with soft plastic swimbaits pegged to ¼ ounce jigheads. He told us to work the jigs slowly right off the bottom. We quickly got results with about a dozen nice fish.



Our day was sliding away and again -shamelessly, perhaps-I asked Kyle if we could try for some other species. Graciously, he was up for it and he took us fishing in the canals close to the power plant for snook, flounder, and possibly, more redfish. We continued using the same jigs and had a few strikes. In a couple hours, it was time to go in. I was satisfied that though we did not get our drumfish, we experienced and photo-recorded some great fishing for reds, sheepies, and trout.


Crystal River Resort-

The Best Western Crystal River Resort is a full-scale waterfront destination that can handle anything from hardcore traveling anglers to fun- loving families. The ample amenities and offerings include the Cabbage Palm Gift Shop, swimming pool and whirlpool, full-service dive shop and dive tours, boat docks with slips and a ramp, airboat and pontoon rides, guided manatee encounters, boat rentals, and the Nature Coast Fly Shop. Ken and I had our dinners at Crackers and Vintage on Fifth. The former eatery was next store and had good food and drinks. “Vintage” provided us with truly gourmet-style fare. Each morning before meeting Kyle, Ken and I enjoyed  the resorts’ complementary breakfast that included waffles, fruit, yogurt, breads, bagels, cereals, as well as fresh hard-boiled eggs, and full-flavored hot coffee.

The rooms at the Crystal River Resort are spacious, clean, and ideally, literally steps away from the boat ramp. In-room safes and coffee makers add to the features of each unit.



Capt. Kyle Messier
Phone- 352-634-4002
E- mail-


Best Western Crystal River Resort

614 Northwest   Highway 19

CrystalRiver, Florida, 34428

Toll Free- 800-435-4409  Phone-352-795-3171
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