You need to Experience a Homosassa Shore Lunch
A Delicious Tradition of the Homosassa Guides Association
“Members of the Homosassa Guides Association have been doing shore lunches since the 1940s at least,” says Captain William Toney, a fourth-generation Homosassa fishing guide, while we are waiting for the skies over the Homosassa River to clear up.
We have rescheduled this outdoor adventure twice already. “Third time’s a charm. I want you to be able to get your story,” Captain Toney explains. “I believe the rain will clear enough for us to get out and have a good day.”
A rainbow can be seen over the dock next to the public boat ramp that locals and professionals use to launch their boats at. Still, it takes an experienced guide to know when to go out and when to schedule for another day.
I am bringing my son, Stephen, for his 27th birthday. It was March 15. It is the end of June. I know it will be worth the wait to fish with Captain William Toney. He has contributed weekly fishing reports to NatureCoaster for years. I haven’t fished in decades, so when I am going to fish, I know this is who I want to guide me.
With a break in the weather, Captain Toney, Stephen and I load into his custom built, 23′ “Tremblay” flats boat. It has a wide hull and spacious deck, built-in cooler, fish box, and dry storage and is powered by a “Mercury Optimax” to get us to the fishing grounds fast and safely.
We start out cautiously moving up the channel of the Homosassa River. Captain Will is watching the clouds and he makes a call that we should seek shelter in a boathouse along the banks.
“This is the island where Tiger Tail Plantation was built,” Will tells us.
Florida Senator David Yulee was an early Homosassa resident. He built a 5,000-acre plantation on this island where we seek shelter. As a Confederate sympathizer, his home was burned to the ground during the American Civil War. I was humbled to be at this historic location, even if you would never know but for local lore.
On the way to Old Homosassa, along Yulee Drive, is the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins State Park. It is worth a stop to view the placards and imagine the many people who worked to produce cane syrup at Tiger Tail there.
After some good-old Florida rain, the skies clear and we venture back up the river. As soon as the channel clears up, Captain Will opens up the Mercury outboard and we zoom up to the fishing flats.
First, we fish for Trout
At our first casting location, keeping an eye on the storm to our right and the clouds to our left, Captain Toney set us up to fish for trout. “Have a nice long cast, then after the bait sinks a bit, give your pole a quick jerk and reel it in nice and slow, allowing the bait to sink for the next one – kind of a popping action,” we were instructed. Will demonstrated the technique. Stephen and I got to fishing.
Stephen landed our first
Its body was eaten by a shark as Stephen was reeling it in. “Would’ve been a nice catch to start with,” Will said.
We continued casting and popping and reeling until Captain Will caught the first keeper. A nice trout.
The rainstorms we were watching were taking us over, so up came the anchor, the Mercury started, and we flew over the flats to our next location.
There Stephen caught a couple of nice trout and I caught one. Captain Will caught another.
Homosassa Fishing is too Good to skip Redfish
Now it was time to go after redfish. We moved to another location where mullet were seen jumping amidst sand and seagrass patches.
“You may notice the many dead trees on these little islands,” Captain Toney shared with us. “That is from salt creep. As the fresh water from our Florida springs is being depleted, the saltwater intrudes into the rivers, killing trees and vegetation on these islands, as well as challenging the freshwater fish who call these flats home. When I was a boy fishing out here, these islands were like forests.”
As I looked around, I was saddened by the thought of losing this ecosystem to changing tides and endless development.
The Homosassa Shore Lunch Experience is a true Nature Coast Tradition
We began fishing for redfish. It is a completely different technique. The bobbers were removed from our lines and our hooks were baited with cut fish or shrimp.
“Give the pole a nice cast and leave the bait where it lands. Then slowly, very slowly, reel it in. As soon as you feel a bite, set the hook and crank it in,” Captain Toney instructed us.
Stephen again had a fish on the line. He got our first redfish to the boat and Captain Toney netted the keeper. Then another.
I was casting as instructed with little results when, suddenly, I felt a tug on my line. I closed the reel and began cranking. I had a fish!
It took a bit of muscle, and a lot of persistence for me to land this redfish, along with encouragement and coaching from our Captain. Redfish are fighters – not tarpon level, but still fighters. We got my fish netted and in the boat. Time for photos!
All in all, we caught eight fish on our adventure. I caught the biggest one. Stephen caught the most fish. Captain Will made sure it was an entire pleasure.
Time for our Shore Lunch
Captain Toney piloted us to the Atlanta Club island. This group of sportsmen live in the Atlanta area and have a clubhouse in Homosassa for getaways. The Homosassa Guides Association has guided the club’s members for over 70 years. One of the traditions passed from generation to generation is the Shore Lunch.
This experience began with our captain cleaning the freshly caught trout and filleting them. Captain Will had the traditional shore lunch box with all his supplies and we got set up at the picnic tables on the island.
Everything is included in a Homosassa Shore Lunch Experience
Out of the box came hush puppy mix, a Heineken, a pound of bacon, cornmeal and spices, a can of baked beans, and some home-made coleslaw. Plates, silverware, paper towels and condiments were part of the package… and the most amazing cooker.
Captain Toney got to work filling his cast iron skillet with cooking oil, adding bacon to season. “It adds a nice flavor to the hush puppies,” he said.
As the bacon crisped up, he began mixing hush puppies, adding the beer for flavor until the proper consistency was attained. He added scoops of the batter to the hot oil, removing the bacon as it achieved perfection and then the pups as they did also.
Our freshly caught Fish is the Main Course
Out came homemade guava jam. He scooped out a spoonful and put it on a freshly cooked hush puppy. A piece of the seasoning bacon topped the jam. “That’s how to eat a hush puppy!” he exclaimed, grinning from ear to ear.
We joined in the feasting, while Will moved on to coating the fresh filets in a paper bag, adding them to the fry pan. Sizzle, crack, yum!
He retrieved our fresh trout filets, opened the beans, coleslaw, and condiments, and we each made a plate.
“The Shore Lunch is such a tradition. When youngsters start helping in the Homosassa Guide Association Shore Lunches, they learn by cleaning and filleting the fish. They clean up after the lunch. If they do well with this, they move up in responsibilities until they have learned it all and are ready to lead their own Shore Lunch. This is a time-honored tradition,” Will explained.
An apprenticeship of sorts, I thought.
Homosassa Guide Association Guides provide the service to make this Really Special
We so enjoyed each bite of our Shore Lunch and the service we received from our guide, as well as pride in having caught our fish.
We were taken out and guided to catch our fish. Our captain brought baked beans, coleslaw, and his favorite hush puppy ingredients, fish breading, and cooking supplies as well as a stove to cook the Shore Lunch on. He cleaned our fish, cooked our lunch and cleaned up after us, taking care of everything.
What a wonderful experience
Too soon it was over. Will packed everything up in his box and put our extras in large freezer bags. He gifted us with the rest of the jar of homemade guava jam, and we loaded back up in the Tremblay for the ride back to MacRae’s before the Florida summer rain might catch us yet again.
If you want to book your own Homosassa Shore Lunch Excursion, please contact Captain William Toney at [email protected] or visit his website, HomosassaInshoreFishing.com. The Homosassa Guides Association can be found at https://www.homosassaguidesassociation.com/