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Fishing the Sunshine State's "first key" - Cedar Key, Florida

The waterfront at Cedar Key, Florida in Levy County.
The waterfront at Cedar Key, Florida in Levy County.
JImmy Jacobs

Cedar Key is referred to as “Florida’s first key” in some advertising literature. No doubt, that’s due to its location on the Gulf of Mexico 90 miles north of Tampa. It is the first key one passes when heading south.

Capt, Jim Keith of Saltwater Assassin Fishing Charters shows off the kind of trout caught regularly on the Cedar Key flats.
Jimmy Jacobs

It also has some other things in common with the Florida Keys that stretch from Miami to Key West. Key West is often called the end of the line, having been the southern terminus of the Florida East Coast Railway. Cedar Key was at the western end of the Florida Railroad. It was the first line running across the peninsula from Fernandina.

The Keys originally depended on salvaging wrecked ships as a mainstay industry, but one that eventually disappeared. Cedar Key was founded on producing cedar slats for making pencils. That business also is now just a memory.

Like Key West, Cedar Key is quite old by Florida standards, having been established in Levy County in 1859.

Finally, the Florida Keys and Cedar Key both are surrounded by outstanding saltwater fishing opportunities.

Captain Jim Keith and his son, Capt. Jimbo Keith, run Saltwater Assassin Charters from the island town. They ply the waters around the collection of isles mainly for redfish and seatrout.

Redfish here are mostly in the range running up to 36 inches, while a good trout stretches to 20 inches. Both species are very abundant.

For the redfish, Capt. Jim targets areas around the grass isles where oyster shell bars line the bottom. Tossing a live shrimp under a popping cork is hard to beat for these fish. The areas around Corrigans Reef or Atsena Otie Key are good places to begin the search.

For the seatrout, he also uses the cork, but beneath it he rigs a ¼-ounce jighead with a 4-inch Saltwater Assassin Sea Shad plastic trailer in candy corn or a similar color scheme.

This time of year the trout are over any flats where the winter weather has not killed back the sea grass. A clue to finding those is to look for ducks on the water feeding on the grass. The flat between Cedar Key and North Key is one place to search for such flats.

While at Cedar Key you also should take a stroll down 2nd Street in the historic center of the town. Look for the Island Hotel & Restaurant. This building dates from the founding of the town in 1859 and now operates as a bed and breakfast inn.