Andrew and son Andrew Procter of Holmes Beach caught his 10-pound gag grouper while fishing their favorite spot offshore before gag grouper season closed in federal waters Dec. 31. Islander Photo: Steve Ward
Cold-water fishing productive
Fishers around Anna Maria Island last week managed to produce good numbers of fish despite cold-water temperatures.
Due to rough seas, most boaters remained in the backwater bays and canals. Redfish, black drum and sheepshead topped the species list for the week, with a few reports of flounder, bluefish, gag grouper and spotted sea trout coming on the hook.
The closed season on spotted sea trout ended Jan 1. One of Florida’s favorite backwater game fish, spotted sea trout makes great table fare. Cold-water tactics for these yellow-mouthed bruisers include both live and artificial baits. Live shrimp fished on deeper grass flats under a popping cork is a tried-and-true
method to produce good numbers of trout. Artificial baits in cold water include soft plastics on a jig head, as well as small crank baits.
If you’re going to harvest spotted sea trout, remember there is a slot limit of 15-20 inches. You’re allowed to keep four fish and one out of the four can be more than 20 inches.
Until next week, tight lines and stay warm.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier reported catches of keeper gag grouper in the 28-inch range last week. “People using fresh-cut pinfish are catching the gags,” he said.
The sheepshead bite is starting to turn on. Sand fleas have been a good bait, but fresh-cut peeled shrimp have been the producer. The pilings and rock structure of pier are where the sheepies are hanging out.
Fishers also are catching spotted sea trout on cut pieces of shrimp. “A small split shot and a No. 2 hook thrown up current, and letting it drift back toward the pier has been the ticket,” Medley said. “Using this same technique at night has been producing good numbers of bluefish.”
He added there have been a lot of stingrays caught as by-catch.
Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters said fishing in north Sarasota Bay was prosperous. Due to rough seas, Genthner fished all backwater trips . “I think I know every sheepshead in the bay after this week,” Genthner said.
He’s caught his limits of sheepshead on live shrimp. “Don’t forget,” Genthner added, “the water is super clear, so you have to use a light fluorocarbon leader and a small hook. Fourteen-pound fluorocarbon and a No. 2 hook, to be exact.”
Genthner also reported catching plenty of redfish in the north bay waters. He suggested waiting until afternoon to target the reds to give the water a chance to warm up. Genthner said he likes to find water temps in the mid-50s to find a good redfish bite. “Anything lower than that and you may find the reds don’t want to eat.”
In closing, Genthner said he too is anxiously looking forward to trout season. To target trout in cold water, Genthner suggested fishing the deeper grass flats and potholes.
Capt. Warren Girle reported that although water temps have dropped into the lower 50s, he’s been productive in north Sarasota Bay. “Deep-water canals with black muddy bottoms are where the fish are,” Girle said. Girle is fishing docks and canals and catching some black drum in the 8-pound range. Live shrimp is working well for the black drum, as well as for sheepshead and flounder. Girle also caught good numbers of redfish on shrimp, as well as soft plastics.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle said he’s anticipating a good spotted sea trout season. “From the looks of the tides next week, I think I’ll do some early morning wading,” Keyes said. He suggested targeting ditches, oyster bars and deep shorelines to find this yellow-mouthed game fish. Keyes’ favorite baits for trout fishing in cold water are DOA shrimp and soft plastics on a jig head.
Moving offshore, Keyes said, “The bite is still going strong.” Reports of nearshore gag grouper have been a daily occurrence. Farther out, fishers are catching red grouper, mangrove snapper and banded rudderfish. Frozen sardines, threadfins and squid have been the bait of choice.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier said fishers willing to brave the cold earlier last week caught good numbers of sheepshead. Live shrimp and oyster crabs have been the bait of choice for these tasty, striped porgies. He suggested an oyster crab on a stout No. 2 hook and a split shot for terminal tackle and drifting it under the pier. Other catches on the pier included some flounder, black drum and bonnethead sharks.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters said the inshore fishing around Anna Maria was exceptional the past few days. Howard reported, “Redfish have been very cooperative, chewing on a big chunk of live shrimp rigged with a split shot and fished tight to deep-water docks.”
Howard’s recent charters reeled up the gamut in sizes of redfish, from rat-size (less than 18 inches) to slot-sized (18 to 27 inches) to whoppers (27-plus inches). “This winter has so far proven to be a banner year on this hard-fighting and tasty game fish. Let’s hope the FWC increases the creel to two fish per person so you can have a nice meal for your family.”
Sheephead also have turned on around Anna Maria Island and the inshore reefs of the Gulf of Mexico, according to Howard. He said live shrimp have been his bait of choice, in addition to boiled sand fleas to change up the presentation. “The key to catching these bait stealers is to use rigs that are as light as possible and ultra sensitive.”
Howard said he expects speckled sea trout to be very cooperative this time of year. He suggested fishers head to the deeper grass flats and “utilize artificial baits to zero in on the school’s locations.”
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