The Phelps family of England shows off their catch of redfish from a recent trip with Capt. Danny Stasny.
Cooler weather prompts changes in bait choice
The combination of full moon tides and a break in the cold weather, this week looks prosperous for backwater fishers.
Extreme low tides in the morning hours are a great time to find concentrations of backwater species waiting to move back on the grass flats to feed. For success, target edges of channels and ditches or look for deep sandy potholes adjacent to or smack in the middle of shallow flats. These areas of deeper water create safe havens for snook, redfish and trout on full moon low tides.
Once you get dialed in on where to hook up, you can rely on these spots all winter.
With falling water temps, now may be the time to switch to live shrimp instead of shiners while fishing the backcountry. Although hungry pinfish that inhabit the flats can make fishing with live shrimp difficult, it’s good to know you have some when the fish you’re stalking turn their noses away from a live shiner.
Redfish, spotted seatrout and snook will readily slurp up a select shrimp if placed in front of their noses — as well as every other species you encounter on the flats.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business fishing charters is fishing the backcountry in search of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Gross is fishing mangrove shorelines adjacent to lush grass flats to locate reds and snook. For the spotted seatrout, Gross is looking toward deeper grass.
Gross feels the fishing could be better. “Hopefully the warmer weather and strong tides will improve the fishing this week,” says Gross. “A couple of degrees warmer for the water temps would do wonders.”
Due to the cooler water temps, Gross agrees with switching from shiners to live shrimp for bait. He says artificials such as DOA Cal jigs are a good option, too.
Finally, Gross adds that location is a key factor as the water temps drop. He suggests working the back bays, canals and creeks.
For the spotted seatrout, Gross is using DOA Cal jigs, resulting in slot-size fish as well as a couple of whoppers measuring close to 30 inches.
For the catch-and-release snook and reds, Gross is using live shiners or shrimp, depending on what the fish feel like eating in the area at that particular time. Slot-size reds are being caught as well as plenty of undersize “rat reds.”
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says sheepshead are the highlight of the week. Keeper-size fish are being caught by pier fishers using live shrimp or fiddler crabs for bait. Average size of the sheepshead is ranging 1-3 pounds, although the Skyway fishing piers are known for attracting some very large sheepies. While targeting sheepshead, expect to catch black sea bass, small grouper and even a few porgies.
Capt. Warren Girle is working Sarasota Bay for redfish and spotted seatrout. Girle is using live shiners or artificials such as MirrOlure Lil Johns or Mister Twister Exude Darts to get the bite.
For the trout, Girle is fishing deeper grass flats that contain scattered sandy potholes. Girle is drifting the flats, working soft plastics through the potholes to find concentrations slot-size fish.
Redfish are gathering around sandy potholes in water depths of 3-4 feet and around docks in residential canals. For these fish, Girle is using live shiners to get the bite. Slot-size fish up to 25 inches are the norm this past week.
Off the beaches, Girle is targeting Spanish mackerel and black tip shark. For the macks, Girle is using live shiners. For the black tips, he is putting out chunks of mackerel.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says he’s seeing shrimp sales on the rise as water temps drop. “More and more people are switching to shrimp rather than shiners,” says Oldham. “And it seems to be working for them, too.”
Reports of sheepshead, black drum and redfish frequenting local docks in Anna Maria Sound are increasing. Especially through Bimini Bay and Lake LaVista. Spotted seatrout also are frequenting these waters. Oldham suggests fishing the mouths of canals or deeper grass beds to find some tasty fish.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are still being reported from bait masters at the local piers. Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or white crappie jigs are getting the job done.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing is a little slow, although pier fishers with a little determination and patience are managing to catch something for dinner. Live shrimp are the bait of choice this past week since the mackerel bite is sporadic at best.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are bottom fishing to target a number of species with success, including sheepshead, black drum and redfish in the keeper-size range. Try casting your bait under the pier around the structure to get a chance of catching these fish.
Flounder also are being caught by bottom fishers using live shrimp. Fishing under the pier, as you would for the drum and sheepies, is a good idea although you can also find these tasty, flat fish around the edges of the pier and hiding in the sand just away from the pier.
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