Steinhatchee Now

Don’t procrastinate this trip. The redfish and seatrout are biting!

Brad Gill | April 2, 2021

It felt and looked more like a scene from a Saskatchewan trout fishing excursion. A mist was hitting me in the face as I gazed through a fog that hung just above the water. With the wind at my back, I made a long cast with a gold-colored Johnson spoon. With numb left fingers, I started a steady retrieve back across the shallow, rocky bottom.

“Whatcha thinking?” asked Capt. Matt Cowart.

Dressed in layers topped with a rainsuit, I was thinking it sure didn’t feel like I was standing in a boat looking across the shallow flats of Steinhatchee, Florida trying to make a redfish eat. Then I thought about the fish in the livewell behind me that would soon be making an icy ride back to Eatonton. Despite a cold day in north Florida last month, Matt had us on a great coastal bite.

Matt, 35, lives in Trenton, Fla. and has fished the inshore waters of Steinhatchee for 15 years and has been running 352 Inshore Charters out of Steinhatchee for the last five years. He’s also a regular tournament angler on the IFA Redfish Tour, Power Pole Pro Redfish Tour and the Emerald Coast Redfish Circuit trails.

When it comes to catching inshore trout and reds in Steinhatchee during the spring, Matt is the right guy to quiz. Even though our weather was far from ideal, it didn’t matter. When we fished during the first week of March, we were far enough along in the springtime that the techniques Matt taught us on a chilly, rainy day are the exact same tactics that you can apply on an 85-degree sunny day in April and May.

Steinhatchee fishing guide Capt. Matt Cowart with a nice slot-limit seatrout caught last month. He focuses on trenches and rocks to catch trout and redfish in April.

When it comes to inshore fishing in Steinhatchee this time of year, Matt likes to fish the period from dead low tide through the first part of the hide tide, so the timing worked out for a mid-morning pickup at the Steinhatchee River Club dock at 9 a.m.

Matt’s boat certainly fits the bill for anyone wanting to run the super skinny waters of Steinhatchee. I was trying my best not to covet as I stepped into the 25-foot Simmons Custom Revolution 25 with a 400 hp Mercy Racing outboard. On each side of the motor were 8-foot Power-Poles used to lock the boat in place when Matt wants to be stationary and make multiple casts to a certain area, something we would do dozens of times.

Matt’s 25-foot Simmons Custom Revolution 25 is the perfect boat for fishing the shallow flats of Steinhatchee, Fla.

In the center of the boat was an 80-inch tower used to spot fish for clients, and up front Matt had a 112-lb. thrust Minn Kota Riptide Ulterra trolling motor with i-Pilot and Spot-Lock features.

As I prepared for my ride to the fishing grounds, I plopped down in a bucket seat and found my eyes naturally drawn to the 16-inch monitor of a Simrad GPS unit mounted in the console. Yep, this ride was decked out.

“I want my customers to have the best of everything,” said Matt.

Did I mention the seat I was riding in felt like the same chair in my living room that I use to kick back on Saturday afternoons and watch college football?

From the Steinhatchee River Club, we idled under the Highway 51 bridge and eventually past Sea Hag Marina on the right. Because of all the boats, docks, homes and businesses in this stretch, it’s a long no-wake zone. We probably spent 20 minutes idling before we neared the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico and Matt hammered down and headed south.

The 5-mile run in the open waters of the Gulf from Steinhatchee River was across a large flat that ranged from 1 to 4 feet deep. As we approached our area for the day, we turned east into the mouth of a creek, idled across a shallow sandbar and fell into what Matt calls a trough.

“There’s 6 feet of water under the boat right here,” said Matt.

If you’ve never been inshore fishing at Steinhatchee, 6 feet is considered deep, and very fishable, water. Over the course of our time together, Matt took us to school on his simple technique for fishing troughs in April and May for redfish and seatrout.

“A trough is a deep trench, a riverbed through the flats is what it looks like on the map,” said Matt. “It starts out in deeper water, and it’s how the tide flows in and out. The tide, wind and waves is what creates a trough.”

If you’re new to Steinhatchee and want to grab a buddy and go fishing for the weekend, your scouting should start at home. You won’t have a problem finding troughs from your laptop.

“Troughs are everywhere,” said Matt. “Google Earth is your friend. Once you find a trough, you get in it and start fishing it. Find where the fish are hanging out and find the pattern.”

Sounded easy enough, I thought, as we got down to why we came to Steinhatchee. Ever had fried seatrout?

“This is simple fishing,” said Matt.

He eyed several rods and pulled out a medium-light 7-4 Banshee spinning rod with an extra fast tip that was loaded and ready for duty.

“People can’t believe that all I will throw this time of year is a jig, a spoon and a topwater,” said Matt.

Matt’s simplistic approach would prove to work for us.

“Throw the jig out, let it sink to the bottom. Then just pop it a few times and let it fall back to the bottom again. They’ll hit it on the fall most times,” said Matt.

My spinning reel was a Shimano 2500HG loaded with blue-colored, 20-lb. braid and a 2-foot leader of fluorocarbon with a bowline knot tied to a 1/4-oz., 4/0 Predator jig head made by Slayer Lure Co.

“That bowline knot gives the jig better action,” said Matt.

My plastic offering was a 5-inch fluke-style bait in plum chartreuse called the Super Model Vapor Shad made by Down South Lures. Matt was slinging a 5.5-inch D.O.A. Lures Jerk Bait in Arkansas glow. He said he’s also a big fan of the 5-inch Twitch Bait made by Slayer Lure Co.

Matt’s 25-foot Simmons Custom Revolution 25 is the perfect boat for fishing the shallow flats of Steinhatchee, Fla.

“I like to begin my day when the water is dead low and starts coming back into the troughs,” said Matt.

This was exactly why our fishing day didn’t start until 9 a.m. By 9:30, we were where we wanted to start fishing and the water was at dead low tide.

“Right now a lot of those fish are on the outside shoreline and at the mouths of the creeks, and when that water starts coming back into the troughs, the bait and the fish move with it” said Matt. “Trout like areas where there is good flowing water.”

Our first casts of the day started on a bend in a trough along the edge of a sandbar. It was a spot that Matt knew about because he has thousands of hours of on-the-water information to pull from. Take good notes and mash that GPS button when you begin to unlock your own fish-holding spots.

I can’t remember who caught the first, second, third, fourth…. but the trout were coming in the boat pretty quickly. Just like Matt said would happen, every fish that nailed my soft bait came when it was falling.

We were having a blast!

Seatrout operate under a slot limit, so all those 15- to 19-inchers were transported into the livewell without discussion. One fish greater than 19 inches can be kept per boat per day. We didn’t get that fish, although we were close…

Since Steinhatchee is located in the “Big Bend Zone” of Florida’s Spotted Seatrout Management Zones, we were allowed five trout per angler per day.

Several times during the morning Matt would crank the Merc and move to another area along the same long trough. I asked him why we didn’t just keep the Minn Kota humming and follow the trough all morning, and he explained that not all areas along a trough are created equal in terms of where you’ll find fish.

“You will find your fish on the corners of the trough or along any irregularities on the trough,” he said. “Also look for those spots where a trough starts to break up or peter out. Those are the areas where the fish will stage as they get ready for the water to come up so they can move onto the flats.

“A popular place to see this is in Dallas Creek. That trough goes off and has little branches that break off.”

To help show our GON readers, I asked Matt to sit down in front of his GPS and point out exactly what he was talking about. I videoed Matt for about three minutes as he zoomed in and out and pointed out several different troughs, irregularities in some troughs and what it looks like when troughs begin to break up, which he confirmed are excellent locations to find trout stacked up on dead low tide as they anticipate rising water.

“The best trout bite comes on what I call a negative tide, which is just an abnormally low tide,” he said. “On those tides, all the bait and all the fish will be in those troughs because so much of the flats will be dry.”

By noon, Matt wanted to show us a few redfish. We went to one of his favorite areas, which was about a 20-acre rock flat along the coast that ranged from 1 to 4 feet deep.

He handed me a spinning rod with a gold-colored Johnson spoon and told me just to sling it with the wind and then just steadily reel it back while keeping it off the bottom.

A gold Johnson spoon works on redfish targeted over shallow rock flats. Just steadily reel it and keep it off the bottom. Expect to get hung in the rocks some.

“It takes some homework, but you want to find rocks for redfish,” said Matt. “These rocky places are all over the place and can be from a quarter acre in size up to 100 acres. During low tide is when you want to scout for high-tide spots.”

Many of these rocky areas will be out of the water on low tide, or are just inches deep and will have birds sitting on them.

“The redfish like those rocks for the little extra warmth they provide,” said Matt. “On low tide the rocks are exposed to direct sunlight. They warm up and then when the tide comes up, they have that extra warmth and the fish like it.”

Steinhatchee is located in Florida’s Northwest Red Drum Management Zone, which meant we could keep one redfish per angler per day in the 18- to 27-inch range. We had no trouble giving two keepers a boat ride.

“Some rocky areas hold fish at certain times and some don’t, but sooner or later, the fish will be there,” said Matt. “I’d recommend looking for rocky areas on the outside shoreline along the coast. Rocks are north and south of Steinhatchee River, and both can be good at times. It all comes down to doing your homework and taking notes. Mark every patch of rocks you find and continue to check those areas.”

Even though it was cloudy and rainy, making it hard to spot fish in the water, Matt stood on top of his 80-inch tower trying to locate some reds as Shannon and I blind-casted our gold spoons. By peak high tide, Matt was slinging a Rapala Skitter Walk topwater plug and had a gator trout smash it. That joker was every bit of 24 inches and came off right at the boat. I swear I heard him say something like, “see you next trip.”

Capt. Matt’s 80-inch tower lets him spot redfish and trout for his clients.

Our tally for a rainy Tuesday was 27 trout and 15 redfish. Nine of those trout and two of the reds found their way in a freezer outside of Eatonton.

If you’re without a boat or just want to learn more about catching these inshore fish, I absolutely recommend a day with Capt. Matt. He is a top-shelf kind of guy who did everything in his power to put us on fish and make us feel comfortable for the day. He did both very well.

To book a trip with Capt. Matt, call him at 352.284.6311. You can also keep up with him at

Here is one of Capt. Matt’s happy clients with a 27-inch redfish that weighed right at 9 pounds.

Steinhatchee River Club Offers Four Cabin Options For Visiting Anglers

Driving from middle Georgia, we needed a good place to stay for our fishing day with Capt. Matt Cowart. We opted to try one of the cabins at Steinhatchee River Club, and it turned out to be a fantastic decision.

The Steinhatchee River Club offers four different styles of cabins you can rent, and they range from $149-$179 per night. We stayed in the “Egret Cabin,” which goes for just $159/night. The Egret includes a room with a queen bed, a room with bunk beds, one bathroom/shower with on-demand hot water, a full kitchen and a screened-in porch. Linens and dishes/kitchenware are provided, along with WiFi and cable TV.

This brand new Egret Cabin was home sweet home for the author as he fished with Capt. Matt Cowart in Steinhatchee.

The location of the Steinhatchee River Club gets an A+ rating from me. Located directly on the Steinhatchee River with its own private ramp, dock and cleaning table, it was a 100-yard walk from our cabin to meet Capt. Matt. Talk about convenient!

The Egret was very clean, quiet and comfortable. It gets a thumbs up from me as a place to take the family or get a few of your fishing buddies together for the weekend. The Steinhatchee River Club has boat and kayak rentals, boat slips, trailer parking and even a house rental that can accommodate up to 14 people.

With scallop season around the corner, the rentals at Steinhatchee River Club will fill quickly. Make your reservations at the Steinhatchee River Club now by calling 352.498.3222. Please visit them online at

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