Paul Schwarz escapes the cold Mountain Home, Ark., weather to reel in this sheepshead while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Legend Charters.
Fishing, weather get better by the day
With water temps on the rise, be prepared to encounter a variety of species while fishing the local waters of Anna Maria Island.
Schools of juvenile white bait are beginning to show on the grass flats and beaches. As these bait schools arrive, there’s a good chance you’ll find hungry migratory species such as Spanish mackerel and bluefish right behind them. It’s also a sign to start carrying some silver spoons and crappie jigs in your arsenal.
Inshore fishing has heated up with great spotted sea trout action occurring in the deeper grass flats. Berkley Gulp shrimp and DOA Cal jigs have been working well. There is still an army of rat reds moving throughout Sarasota Bay, eating every crab and shrimp they can find. The sheepshead this season have made a weak showing on the nearshore wrecks and reefs, but fishers at the Sunshine skyway fishing piers are catching limits of these convict fish.
Hungry Spanish mackerel and bluefish have joined the repertoire from the nearshore reefs to Egmont Key, chasing schools of glass minnows and small white bait.
Offshore fishers are reeling in catch-and-release gag grouper as fast as they can drop down a bait. Mangrove snapper action is beginning to warm up with reports of fish up to 4 pounds. Amberjack are clinging to wrecks 20 miles offshore waiting for a tasty pinfish to be thrown their way. There has been good porgy action on hard bottom using live shrimp for bait.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says fishers are doing “unbelievable” on Spanish mackerel. “It’s really weird,” Medley says. “There is no bait around, but there’s plenty of mackerel.” Silver spoons and white jigs are the lure of choice, although fishers using live shrimp and Sabiki rigs are reeling fish in as well.
The sheepshead bite is still going strong at the pier and the size range has increased from just barely keeper-size, to fish in the 4- to 5-pound range. Medley says fresh-peeled shrimp is working great, as well as the usual fiddlers, tubeworms and sand fleas.
Spotted sea trout are still being caught using small jigs tipped with shrimp. Keeper-size fish are being reeled in but most have been undersized. You can also try a live shrimp weighted with a No. 2 split-shot. Throw your shrimp up current and let it drift back toward the pier.
Nighttime pier fishers are being rewarded with the arrival of mangrove snapper. Keeper-size fish are being caught on shrimp and small pieces of squid fished around the structure under the pier.
Capt. Mike Greig says catch-and-release gag grouper fishing is still going strong offshore. On a recent charter, Greig said his clients caught almost 50 grouper with some of the biggest topping out at 15 pounds. Also, while offshore fishing, Greig has been targeting amberjack. Most catches have been in the 20-pound range. Live pinfish and frozen sardines have been Greig’s bait of choice to target these offshore tackle-busters.
Moving inshore, Greig says he’s been reeling up limits of spotted sea trout as well as “tons” of small redfish. Live shrimp and jigs have been the key to success with these fish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says offshore fishing has been exceptional despite having to return gag grouper. On a recent charter with Capt. Mac Gregory, Keyes saw plenty of catch-and-release gag grouper action with most of the fish in the keeper-size range. Along with gag grouper, Keyes caught some amberjack in the 20- to 30-pound range, as well as and limits of mangrove snapper up to 4 pounds.
“The water out there was really clear,” Keyes says, “so we scaled down to 20-pound fluorocarbon with 1/0 circle hooks to get a good bite going.” Keyes and Gregory fished in about 100 feet of water and used pinfish, frozen sardines and threadfins as bait.
Moving inshore, reports are coming into the tackle shop of catches of whiting, sheepshead, redfish and spotted sea trout. Most of these catches are a result of using live shrimp. Keyes suggests peeling and using a piece of live shrimp to target the whiting just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead has still been the main target at the pier. Fishers using oyster crabs and tubeworms are getting the best results, and fishers using shrimp are catching a few, too. Most fish have been barely keeper-size, although a few have been up to 2 pounds. “Give it another week or two,” Cassetty says, “It’s going to get better and better.”
Other species being caught at the Rod & Reel Pier include flounder, whiting, pinfish, snakefish and one Spanish mackerel. Cassetty also mentioned he’s seeing the first traces of whitebait in the mornings.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says even with cold weather early last week, the fishing was “red hot.” Howard reports catches of redfish on deep-water docks. These redfish have been feeding during the moving tide and chewing on live select shrimp. Howard suggests using a split-shot to get the bait deep under the dock where the redfish are staging. “You should have no problem culling thru the small ones to get the one keeper-sized redfish you’re allowed to harvest,” Howard says.
Sheepshead are starting to swarm around artificial reef areas off the beach, and according to Howard, around structure in Tampa bay getting ready for their spawn. Shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms will get these tasty, hard-fighting fish to bite. “Just make sure your knives are sharp to be able to get their nice white fillets,” he says.
“With the wintertime pattern at its peak, fishing should stay exceptional for the next few months,” Howard says. Howard suggests fishing the incoming tides in the early afternoon for the best chance at bringing home some nice fillets for the dinner table or just some exciting catch-and-release fishing. And look for the transition from wintertime patterns to springtime patterns in the next few weeks.
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