Milder winter weather produces top-notch fishing
Inshore fishing around Anna Maria Island remains consistent due to mild cold fronts and light winds.
Flats fishers are catching good numbers of spotted seatrout in water 3-5 feet in depth. Redfish are congregating around rocks and docks, creating opportunities for fishers to cash in on some rod-bending action. Redfish also are following schools of mullet across shallow grass flats on higher tides. Find the mullet schools and try working a soft plastic on a jig head to hook up with the reds while in transit.
Sheepshead are gathering for their winter spawn around local piers and bridges. Try using live crabs, sand fleas or shrimp to get the bite going.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says more sheepshead are arriving daily around the pilings under the pier. Pier fishers targeting sheepies are using an assortment of live baits, but mostly oyster or fiddler crabs, sand fleas, tube worms and live shrimp. “The sheepshead are biting pretty good,” says Kilb, “but we’re still waiting for real numbers of fish to appear around the pier.”
Black drum are being caught on a daily basis, mostly as bycatch by pier fishers targeting sheepshead. Black drum, like sheepshead, will eat an assortment of baits, including shrimp and other crustaceans.
To target both of these species, make sure to use a small, stout hook. Try to match the size of the bait you’re using when selecting a hook, too. And 20-pound fluorocarbon leader should be sufficient, although 30-pound leader is slightly more resistant to barnacles on the pilings. Finally, add some weight to your line to stay near the sandy bottom around the pilings.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says sheepshead fishing is on the top of the hit parade this past week. Sheepshead in the 2- to 3-pound range are being caught daily with some anglers taking home their daily limit of 15 fish. Most Skyway fishers targeting sheepies are using fiddler crabs or sand fleas, but those willing to do a little digging are using tubeworms.
The next best bite around the pier has to be bonito. With late-season schools of greenbacks still gathering around the pier, bonito are cashing in on the abundance of available food. To target these high-speed torpedoes, fishers are using Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or live greenbacks under a popping cork.
Fishers opting to bait up with live shrimp are catching a mix of both mangrove snapper and flounder under the pier. A small hook tied to 20-pound fluorocarbon is the ticket to target either of these fish. Don’t forget to add the right amount of weight to your line based on the current flow. If you can’t keep your bait on the bottom, you won’t get bit, especially when it comes to flounder.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend charters is fishing offshore with good action on a variety of species. Kimball is carrying an assortment of live and frozen bait to catch multiple types of offshore species.
In his bait well, Kimball usually has live shrimp, shiners and pinfish. In the freezer, Kimball likes to stock sardines and squid.
Greater amberjack are on the top of the chart this past week for Kimball’s charters. He likes to use live pinfish or large shiners to get these fighters to bite the hook. With amberjack of 30 pounds or more being caught, you can get away with using fairly large bait, which Kimball likes to do.
In water depths starting at 100 feet, Kimball is catching keeper-size red grouper up to 15 pounds, and keeper scamp are hooking up in the same areas. For these fish, Kimball is using frozen sardines or squid to get the bite.
Last but not least, Kimball is moving to slightly shallow water and fishing wrecks and ledges for mangrove snapper. Although the snapper will hit frozen baits, Kimball likes to use live shiners and shrimp to get the bite. Mangrove snapper in the 2- to 6-pound range are the norm.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the deeper flats of Sarasota Bay targeting pompano. Girle is consistently catching at least a half-dozen pompano per day by drifting over grass flats and working a small pompano jig tipped with fresh-cut shrimp. “The fish aren’t concentrated in one area,” says Girle, “so we’re drifting over the flat to cover more area.”
The average size of the pompano encounters is between 2 and 3 pounds, exceeding 33 inches in length. While drifting in search of pompano, Girle reminds us that it’s non-stop action while working a jig. “We’re catching bluefish, jacks, ladyfish and a few Spanish mackerel in the same areas as the pompano,” says Girle.
Moving to shallower grass flats, Girle is catching redfish among schools of mullet. By using an Exude Dart in the golden bream color on a 1/4-ounce jig head, Girle is hooking up both keeper and over-sized reds on the shallow flats of Sarasota Bay. Spotted seatrout also are being caught using this same method.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing about sheepshead action in the canals of Bimini Bay and around the local piers. An assortment of baits are producing catches, although it depends on what the sheepies are biting by day. Fiddler crabs, sand fleas, shrimp and tubeworms are some of the baits that can produce a sheepshead for dinner.
On the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound, especially out on the Key Royale flat, fishers are catching good numbers of spotted seatrout, although most are undersized. Try using soft plastics on a red 1/4-ounce jig head to target these yellow-mouthed flats predators. The best way to find concentrations of trout is to drift over the flat and cast in multiple directions, toward sandy potholes and depth changes. Once you catch a couple of fish, drop anchor and thoroughly work the areas with your jig.
On a final note, redfish, black drum and sheepshead are gathering under local docks to spend the winter. Try using live shrimp on a small circle hook and a little weight to get your bait to the bottom.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is catching good numbers of spotted seatrout in both the Intracoastal Waterway and in north Sarasota Bay. “There are good numbers of trout out there,” says Johnston. “But you have to catch 10 before you get a keeper.”
Around canals and docks, Johnston is catching good numbers of redfish and a few black drum. Johnston is using live shrimp to get the bite. “If the fish are biting really good,” says Johnston, “you can even try using half of a live shrimp.”
Keeper-size reds and black drum are coming to the boat daily, he says.
Johnston’s charters are catching flounder by working a Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head around structure in Sarasota Bay. Again, Johnston says you have to catch a few before you get one that’s big enough to keep, but there are keeper-size fish out there for the taking.
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