Snapper out, sheepshead in: Welcome to winter fishing
Great grouper, Joey
Joey Hutchinson, 10, who attends Anna Maria Elementary School, caught this grouper while fishing with dad Joe in the bay near Longboat Key. He let the grouper go, by the way.
Offshore fishers are finding lots and lots of good catches of snapper, both mangrove and lane, out in the Gulf of Mexico.
At least the weather is starting to cooperate, with moderate winds and mild seas.
In the backwater, catch-and-release trout are a real treat for anglers now, with other action including some big reds and a few flounder.
And, of course, there are winter's mainstay of sheepshead around most structures at this time of year.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier said fishers there are catching sheepshead to 4 pounds, plus black drum, some small snapper and some oversized redfish.
Cliff Alcorn at the Anna Maria City Pier reports that sheepshead are the big ticket item there, plus some small snook caught at night as well as black drum and a few flounder.
Lee Gause at Perico Harbor Bait & Tackle said sheepshead are still a hot commodity off the Anna Maria Bridge and the Manatee Public Beach pier, with shrimp being a great choice of bait. On the seagrass flats, look for catch-and-release trout and redfish, with great results for backwater waders.
Capt. Thom Smith at Angler's Repair on Cortez Road said he's really killing 'em with artificial bait right now, with redfish and trout responding the best. Mister Twisters are the artificial of choice, Capt. Thom said, although he's also catching lots of sheepshead on the seagrass flats in the potholes and is finding that small treats of shrimp on a hook is good bait for a good hookup.
Capt. Larry McGuire on Show Me the Fish Charters said he is catching gag grouper to 20 pounds, red grouper to 5 pounds, limit mangrove snapper to 4 pounds, plus banded rudderfish and big sheepshead.
Bill Lowman at Island Discount Tackle said offshore snapper action is excellent right now, with good catches coming from fishers in the 6- to 20-mile range out in the Gulf of Mexico. Shrimp is the best bait for snapper, Bill added. Grouper action is also fair to excellent right now offshore, with pinfish the best lure, and for backwater anglers, look for lots of catch-and-release trout.
Dave Johnson at Snead Island Crab House said lots of boats are coming to the docks with mangrove snapper to 6 pounds, plus black drum to 10 pounds are still being caught in the Manatee River and those pesky catch-and-release trout are "everywhere" right now, Dave said.
Capt. Rick Gross on Fishy Business out of Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said he's catching lots of sheepshead, mangrove snapper, keeper-size grouper, triggerfish and redfish in the backwaters.
Capt. Tom Chaya on the Dolphin Dreams in Holmes Beach out of Catchers said he's putting his charters onto lots of catch-and-release trout, some sheepshead to 4 pounds, plus lots of keeper-size redfish.
Capt. Matt Denham on the Rip-Tide out of Catchers said he's finding that his offshore trips for gag grouper are producing fish everywhere, plus excellent snapper fishing for both mangroves and yellowtails. The grouper, by the way, are better than 20 pounds.
On my boat Magic, we have been catching sheepshead to 4 pounds, lots and lots of snapper to 24 inches in length, and catch-and-release trout.
Good luck and good fishing.
Capt. Mike Heistand is a 20-year fishing guide. Call him at 779-9607 to provide a fishing report. Prints and digital images of your catch are also welcome and may be dropped off at The Islander, 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach, or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include identification for persons in the picture along with information on the catch and a name and phone number for more information. Snapshots may be retrieved once they appear in the paper.