Lee Smith, left, needs help from Linda Schultz, Peter Dangler and Pam Turner to hold up his catch, a monster cobia caught using a live pinfish in 130 feet of water off Anna Maria Island while on corporate charter with Sun Hydraulics Corp and Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters.
Dock fishing prospers in cold weather
With temperatures dropping into the low 40s, fishers last week were migrating into the local canals, creeks and rivers in search of a bite. Most inshore species, in search of warmer water, migrate to these areas. Not only do these areas provide a warmer environment, they also provide a food source. Small bait fish congregate in these areas for warm water, creating an ample amount of food for predators.
Some of the preferred cold-weather targets are docks, piers and bridges. Anna Maria Island and the local waters host ample residential canals, which in turn hold hundreds of docks. What is nice about these spots is they are usually sheltered from the wind. When the wind is blowing 20-30 mph out of the north, it’s good to find a warm, sheltered area.
Tactics for fishing docks and pilings can be simple. You may want to bump up your gear to a stout spinning rod with 20-pound braided line spooled on your reel. Generally, 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon for leader is a good bet. If the water is clear, you can always scale down to a 20-pound leader. For hooks, I like to use a No. 2 or No. 4, thick gauge, extra-sharp hook. A medium split-shot set at 12 inches above your hook and the rig is complete. You can also use a jig head, which has the weight and hook all in one.
When choosing baits for dock fishing, it’s wise to carry varieties. Baits for dock fishing include shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas, tube worms and cut bait such as mullet, ladyfish and frozen threadfin herring. If you notice, none of these baits are highly active. Typically, fish that are staged under a dock aren’t looking to chase bait. The closer you put your bait under the dock, the better chance you have at hooking up.
Typical encounters while dock fishing include redfish, snook, trout, sheepshead, grouper and mangrove snapper, to name a few. Some of these species can grow large, so be ready. You may also find that once you find a dock that has fish, it will typically hold fish all winter.
Next time the wind is blowing, try fishing some sheltered areas like docks and canals. Not only will you be warmer, but you might catch some fish, too.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle reported that canal fishing was the best strategy last week. Fishing around local docks was producing redfish. “Most of the reds have been in the 15- to 17-inch range,” Keyes said. “But there are some keeper fish being caught as well.”
Fishers are using live and fresh-cut shrimp as well as using Berkley Gulp shrimp for bait in the canals. Other species being caught in the canals and around docks have been black drum, sheepshead and trout.
Keyes suggested carrying a full arsenal of varied artificial baits. “When the water temps drop like this, you never know what kind of mood these fish will be in,” Keyes said. “They may want root-beer colored Gulp shrimp or they want to hit a hard bait. You just never know.”
Keyes also suggested carrying a few fresh baits, such as fiddler crabs, tubeworms and shrimp.
“Fishing the beach side of the Island was a little tough this week,” Keyes said. “Once the waters calm down, try walking the beach using a banana jig to catch pompano.” Other species to look for from the beach include ladyfish, bluefish and jack cravalle.
Capt. Warren Girle reported catches of keeper grouper, mangrove snapper, flounder and Key West grunts being caught before last week’s cold front rolled through. “Nearshore fishing was productive,” Girle said. “But you had to put the bait right in front of their noses.” Live shrimp and cut threadfins were top choices for bait.
Moving inshore, Girle said he’s been catching some keeper redfish in the bay. Soft plastics on a .25-ounce jig head with a slow presentation seemed to be a good target. Moving into the deeper flats resulted in nice catches of catch-and-release trout on the same jigs. “After this front came though,” Girle added, “the fish seemed to be a little stunned from the cold. Slow down your presentation and be patient.”
Girle said he’s expecting good fishing as soon as the water temperatures come back up a few degrees.
Jeff Medley at the south pier on the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers said there haven’t been many fishers on the pier, but the ones there are catching fish. Daily catches of keeper gag grouper have been reported. “The grouper are just away from the bridge on the rubble piles,” Medley said. “Best baits have been fresh-cut mullet or Spanish mackerel.” Medley added. “You have to throw out a bait and let it rest right in the structure to get a bite.”
Other catches on the pier include bluefish, mackerel and bonito. Using live greenbacks for bait has been the first choice to catch these migratory species, while spoons and jigs come in at a close second.
Medley also reported that the flounder bite has been good this week. “Try using a greenback with the tail cut off and drag it on the bottom,” Medley said.
Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters said although conditions were less than favorable, fishing has been good. Genthner reported limits of gag grouper earlier in the week before the front brought conditions that made it impossible to get out on the Gulf of Mexico. Most of his gags were caught within 2 miles of the beach.
Inshore, Genthner’s charters are catching lots of redfish in the bay. Fishing local docks has been the key to catching reds. Genthner said he likes to use hand-picked shrimp on a jig head and fish under and around docks. Other species lurking in these areas include black drum, small red grouper and sheepshead.
Genthner added, “There’s a lot of fatty sheepshead schooling up in the backwater creeks of Sarasota Bay.” Again, fresh-cut shrimp has been the bait of choice to catch these tasty striped fish.
Genthner added, “Deeper water is warmer water, so look for docks with the deepest water you can find.”
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters reported that the winter pattern has arrived with full force. Redfish and sheepshead are holding up around deep-water docks. “A nice live shrimp rigged with a split shot and 1/0 hook will fire up the bite for excellent table-fare,” Howard said.
“Sheepshead also will start to load up on the nearshore reefs and wrecks around Tampa Bay,” Howard added.
Egmont Key area has many artificial reefs that will hold sheepshead, grouper and mangrove snapper. “The inshore grouper bite is off due to the cold, but with warmer weather compared to last week, they should fire up and chew.”
Howard suggested using a variety of baits to find out what they’re biting.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters reported that due to the weather, he only made it offshore once last week. “We had that window of opportunity between cold fronts,” said McGuire.
Limits of gag and red grouper were caught as well as some mangrove snapper. The bite was ranging from water depths of 40-50 feet. “Live pinfish and grunts were our best bait,” McGuire said, “but frozen sardines and cut-bait also worked.”
Moving out past depths of 100-feet, McGuire is catching amberjack and big mangrove snapper on the wrecks and springs.
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