Winter fishing thrives in area waters
With the gag grouper bite in full swing island fishers hope for light winds and calm waters to improve their fishing days. We have until Dec. 31 to fish federal waters for gag grouper, so plan accordingly.
Best baits this week seem to be a mix of frozen and live. Sardines, threadfins, squid and octopus for frozen baits, and pinfish, grunts and sand perch for live bait. Starting Jan. 1, gag grouper will be closed in federal waters. The closure will last for 180 days.
Moving inshore, sheepshead and redfish seem to be the targets species this week. Shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas are the way to go for natural baits, while soft plastics on a jig head will suffice for an artificial offering. Don’t forget spotted sea trout will be back in season beginning Jan. 1, in our region. Target deep potholes and sheltered areas such as canals and creeks to catch these “fattened up” winter trout.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle reported that with calmer waters, beach fishers were targeting pompano, jacks and ladyfish. Best scenario is to pack light and walk the beach so you can fish a greater area of water. Keyes suggested using jigs and silver spoons for best results.
The sheepshead bite is growing around docks, piers and bridges. “Fishers using live shrimp and fiddler crabs seem to be producing the most fish,” Keyes said. Keyes recommended using a No. 2 or No. 4 hook with a No. 2 split-shot set about 12 inches from the hook. “Throw a shrimp under a dock and retrieve real slow,” Keyes added.
In the local canals, fishers have been catching redfish and trout. Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head has been the most productive offering. A light twitch combined with a slow retrieve seems to work well.
Moving offshore, Keyes said the gag grouper catch is in “full force.” Best baits include frozen sardines, squid, octopus and fresh-cut mullet. While fishing for gag grouper, fishers are catching red grouper, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, triggerfish and banded rudderfish. “Don’t forget,” Keyes added, “gag grouper closes in federal waters starting Jan. 1.”
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters reported limits of gag grouper this week on the nearshore ledges starting at about 50 feet of water. McGuire referred to the bite this week as “gags gone wild” — which should give you an idea of how good the bite has been.
Moving out farther into depths of 115 feet, McGuire’s charters reeled up red grouper, scamp, mangrove snapper and amberjack. Large baits such as pinfish, sand perch and grunts are producing the larger catch.
In closing, McGuire added, “This time of year we have to be flexible and fish between the cold fronts. Doing this could produce the fishing trip of a lifetime.”
Brad Williams at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier said fishers this week have been catching keeper gag grouper and sheepshead. Drifting a piece of cut mullet under the pier has been a good bet. Remember, stout tackle is required for this kind of fishing, you never know when you might catch a big gag grouper. The sheepshead bite has been good with fiddler crabs, shrimp and tubeworms being the best bait. “At night, we’ve been catching bluefish, too,” Williams said.
Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters took advantage of the calm waters this past week to fish for gag grouper on the nearshore reefs and ledges. After the winds calmed down, Genthner said the grouper bite “went crazy.” Genthner fished “deeper ledges” in water depths of 40 to 50 feet for best results. “We limited out on gag grouper in 30 minutes,” Genthner added.
Inshore, Genthner put his charters on sheepshead, redfish, flounder and some small snook. He uses a 14-pound fluorocarbon leader when fishing this time of year in the bay waters. “With the water being so clear,” Genthner said, “you have to scale down your leader to get a good bite going.”
Capt. Warren Girle reported fishing in Sarasota Bay was a little tough this week. “The fish are really sluggish in this cold water.” Girle said. “You need to put your bait right in front of their noses.”
Girle managed to produce nice catches of sheepshead, black drum, redfish and flounder. He suggested fishing backwater bays and creeks for best results.
Girle said water temps in Sarasota Bay have been on average in the low 50s, but fishing backwater areas made it possible for him to find water temps as high as 58 degrees, which is where he’s finding the bite.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier said fishers this week have been catching some nice sheepshead, black drum, flounder and a few redfish. Most pier fishers are targeting sheepshead, using baits such as fresh-cut shrimp, fiddler crabs and tubeworms. “The sheepshead bite should only get better as the winter progresses,” Cassetty said. Most sheepshead, as of this week, have been in the 12- to 16-inch range. Bigger fish and greater numbers of fish are expected soon.
Cassetty added, “The fishers at night are catching bonnethead sharks.”
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters reported the wintertime fishing pattern is in full effect and the redfish are being cooperative. Howard said his charters were able to hook up with redfish to 13 pounds by fishing close to deep-water docks. Howard used “a lot of meat on the hook” this week. His bait of choice was select live shrimp, or two small ones rigged tandem on the hook with a split shot.
The extra low tides also provided excellent opportunities to wade fish for redfish and speckled trout. On the extreme low tides, Howard suggested wading to potholes surrounded by exposed seagrass. He said to use artificial baits or live shrimp and slowly work your rig through the pothole for “fishing-in-a-barrel action.”
Sheephead fishing is starting to come on and will only get better as the wintertime pattern advances, Howard said.
Remember speckled trout fishing season opens Jan. 1. Howard added. “This past year bodes well for the opening of the speckled trout season, as my parties have been having a banner year catching a lot of over sized ones.”
“Tight lines and have a safe and fun filled holiday.”
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