Just ask an old Florida cracker. We don’t have crappie here, only specks.
In Louisiana, where I came from, our crappie were sac-a-lait. No matter the name, there is no finer eating or better fun than our state’s speckled perch.
When I was a kid fishing the great Atchafalaya Swamp in Louisiana, sac-a-lait were not high on my list. My target was largemouth bass or those great more mouth the Cajuns called goggle eye. Those were both large and plentiful and, whenever I did catch crappie, they were small.
In 1968, I found myself on the shores of Lake Okeechobee in south central Florida. Everyplace I went bore some variation of the name “speckled perch.” There was a speckled perch lounge, bowling alley and diner to name a few. I didn’t know what a speckled perch was, but I was intrigued.
Once I found out that was the local name for crappie (sac-a-lait), I was less than impressed. That is until I saw the size of the perch that were coming from that big inland sea. My, oh My! Stringers of fat specks all weighing nearly two pounds were the rule. Back then the Okeechobee bait of choice was minnows, just like it is in Louisiana, but I soon learned the better catches came from using grass shrimp. Once I got into it, I was thrilled.
Our local speck season is just kicking off. Every year when the weather finally cools, they leave the shade of the lily pads and head for the center of the lakes to spawn. In the 1980s, I was introduced to that phenomenon by my neighbor Walter Anderson. He and I would troll the center of most of the lakes that are formed by the St. John’s River. We always brought home delicious strings of perch. If you have not sat down to a dinner of specks, know that they are the best tasting fish in Florida, bar none.
The fun of catching them in open water happens when you have two fishermen trolling six lines and three of them have fish on. We used tiny jigs on 1/64 oz. lead heads and added weight to the lines with split shot when needed. Hal Flies or Beetle spins were the preferred lures and we had them in all colors.
My all time favorite place for specks is Lake Woodruff. That beautiful lake may be accessed from Tedder’s Fish camp directly behind DeLeon Springs State Park or by launching at Highland Park Fish Camp. Crescent and Dead Lakes a little further north also provide great speck fishing. Both lakes have a suitable launch site.
Once Walter and I were fishing in Crescent Lake when the speckled perch were so thick, you could dip them up with a net. Back then the limit was 50 per person (now 25) and we had our 100-fish limit in an hour. Of course, that was one of those “you had to be there deals,” but that’s what makes fishing fun.
Still farther north is big Lake George and the speck fishing there is mighty fine. Going south to Sanford, Lake Monroe is another place where we scored heavily. That lake is the only one I know of where the state has a 12-inch minimum in place, but that won’t bother you. I don’t remember ever having to release any fish there because they were too small. Put in just west of the I-4 bridge and motor east. Good fishing there and in Lake Jessup farther east.
Folks, the state record for specks is right at 4 pounds and I know I have eaten some that would have been records up north. Fish over two pounds is not unusual at all. See the good folks at William’s Southeast Tackle on Nova Road in Holly Hill for all your speck needs and information. This is easy fishing and great fun and the eats are delicious.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to email@example.com. His book, “I Swear the Snook Drowned,” is available for purchase for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.