Frank and Dotty Case of Romulus, N.Y., from left, and Dandra Ditch of Geneva, N.Y., caught these grouper while fishing with Capt. Scott Greer aboard the Stray Dog Charters.
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It's all trout all the time in the backwaters right now
Backwater fishing is pretty much all trout right now and, if anybody can get out into the Gulf of Mexico, it's snapper and grouper.
Reports of up to 50 trout catches per trip are pouring in from Sarasota Bay near Tidy Island and in Terra Ceia Bay, with a few catches up to 28 inches. Redfish action is slow, and snook are sluggish but hitting occasionally.
Grouper and snapper are hitting in the 135-foot depths in the Gulf, as well as some amberjack.
Flounder are also offshore, with some big flatties coming onto the line.
And of course there are sheepshead, with this time of year being about the best time of year to bring in the big striped fish, some up to 8 pounds.
Bill Lowman at Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said dealing with the cold fronts has caused fishing to back off a bit - except for trout and sheepshead. Trout action is "great on the seagrass flats," Bill said, "and they're taking the artificial baits now better than any other time of the year." He said the trout action allows anglers to bring in up to four fish per day per person,. The slot-limit for trout catches is 15- to 20-inches plus one fish larger than 20 out of the four permitted per fisher. Sheepies are reeling in up to 7 pounds, with live shrimp, sand fleas and fiddler crabs working best as bait. "Snook are sluggish right now," Bill said, adding that there probably won't be a whole lot of success for a lot of linesider hunters for the next few weeks because of the cold water temperatures. Offshore anglers have been tucked into port for the most part in the past week, but those who have ventured out into the rough seas have done well with grouper, snapper and amberjack.
Capt. Thom Smith at Angler's Repair on Cortez Road said he went out a couple time last week and found trout to be the best "fish du jour" around. Capt. Thom and co-radio-host and soon-to-be Capt. Keith Pratt went out last Wednesday and, as he put it, "Capt. Keith lucked-into a 28-inch trout" in Terra Ceia Bay. A Friday trip Capt. Thom ran resulted in better than 50 trout caught in the Tidy Island area, plus some reds and a few small snook. He's finding live shrimp working well for his better catches, plus he's getting lots of action off artificials like Mister Twisters.
On the party boat Sea Fox, Capt. Bill Sloan said the weekday offshore trips are bringing back lots of grunts, flounder, sheepshead and porgies. The longer weekend excursions out to 25 miles into the Gulf of Mexico are putting fishers onto keeper-size grouper, flounder, plus vermillion, lane and mangrove snapper. "Some of the flounder look like doormats," Capt. Bill said, "up to 26 inches in size. They're pretty much flukes." The sheepies are running up to 8 pounds, he added. Weather is weird, he said, because some days when it was rough close to shore it was calm outside. Octopus are an unusual catch farther out in the Gulf, something of a delight for the anglers on the boat. He mentioned that the Sea Fox would be going out on a 22-hour trip Saturday, leaving at 8 p.m. and hitting the 80-mile offshore reefs, with expected catches including snapper, amberjack, grouper and cobia.
Capt. Ray Markham aboard the Flat Back II said his charters have enjoyed Grand Slams in the past couple of weeks. "Snook have been exceptionally cooperative for February," he said, "but then again, for a February, this has been more like March. While water temperatures have been bouncing between 62 and 75 on the flats in the afternoons, the action has been steady. Larger snook are beginning to appear with these warmer days, and if the weather pattern continues as it has, I look for an early spring."
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier said there are a lot of fish around the pier, but not a whole lot of actual fishing coming through except for some sheepshead and small flounder.
Kevin Kiser at Perico Island Bait and Tackle said there are lots of reports of trout by the Intracoastal Waterway and whiting off the beaches of Anna Maria Island. Snook and redfish action are out there too, but slow, although sheepies are still thick around the structures in the bay and Gulf. Small shrimp and sand fleas are a good bait to reel in the bigger sheepshead, Kevin suggested.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters said he has been putting his clients on limit catches of red grouper up to 30 pounds as well as gags up to 15 pounds, amberjack to 40 pounds, mangrove snapper to 5 pounds and yellowtail snapper to 3 pounds. His clients have been fishing out to 135 feet of water off of Anna Maria Island, using live pinfish and frozen Spanish sardines as bait with great results.
Capt. Zach Zacharias on the Dee-Jay II out of Annie's Bait & Tackle in Cortez said he's putting his charters onto trout to 24 inches in Sarasota and Palma Sola bays on the deeper seagrass flats. He's finding a few redfish stretching to 26 inches by the docks and piers in the bays, plus sheepies to 7 pounds in both the Gulf and bays, as well as flounder to 16 inches. Pass and other action includes bluefish, ladyfish and some gag grouper, Capt. Zach said.
Good luck and good fishing.
Capt. Mike Heistand is a 20-year-plus fishing guide. Call him at 723-1107 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.