James Mendelssohn of New York shows off his catch-and release 30-inch snook. Aaron Newton, left, of Florida is looking on. Mendelssohn hooked up his linesider on a live bait Jan. 5 in the Sarasota Bay waters while on a charter trip with Capt. Warren Girle.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters shows off his prize winter catch — a blackfin tuna — caught Jan. 17 in 100 feet of water offshore on a freelined pinfish.
Area experts weigh in on cold weather fishing techniques
Once again we’re being struck with multiple, back-to-back cold fronts.
Dropping water temps and strong winds make fishing around Anna Maria Island challenging at best. If you’re attempting to fish during these conditions, here are a few pointers that may help you both stay out of the worst weather and bring home dinner.
First of all, don’t be concerned with getting on the water at the crack of dawn. You’re better off getting out around 10 a.m., after the sun has had a chance to warm things up. It’s more comfortable for you, too.
Secondly, take a critical look at where you’re planning to fish. You want to find an area that has warmer water temps than the surrounding area. Residential canals, creek mouths and small bays are a great place to start your hunt. In canals, the seawalls will warm up in the sun, which in theory will bring the water up a degree or two. Plus, some area of each canal is likely to be sheltered from the wind most of the day. And canals have docks, which not only provide a safe haven for cold lethargic fish, but also their food source.
Third, slow down your presentation. These fish don’t want to chase down a meal. They’re waiting for it to pass right in front of their noses. A live shrimp is a great wintertime bait for just about everything that swims in our waters. You can slow the shrimp down by simply adding a split shot to your rig.
Soft plastics such as Gulp baits and DOA baits can be equally deadly on the wintertime fish stock. Just remember to slow down your retrieve. Cast these baits under docks to find redfish and flounder. A lot of times you’ll get eaten on the drop, so be ready to set the hook as soon as your bait hits the water.
Lastly, and probably most important, is to be patient. Fishing during the winter can be challenging and rewarding. Be determined. If you normally do well in an area, fish it thoroughly. Take your time, too. Sometimes everything needs to happen just right for these cold fish to bite. And you don’t want that to happen after you’ve left the spot.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters says he’s fishing “rocks and docks” in search of a variety of wintertime fish. Sheepshead and flounder are being caught around docks with deep water. Depths of 8-10 feet and under help to keep water temps slightly more consistent than docks with 4 feet of water depth. This being said, fish seeking refuge from cold temperatures will eventually find the deepwater docks and take refuge around the pilings.
For bait, Gross is using live shrimp. A rig of some 20-pound fluorocarbon, a live bait hook and a split-shot is all you need, according to Gross. Flounder, sheepies, redfish and the occasional snook are responding to live baits fished in this manner.
On days when the winds are calm, Gross is exploring deep grass flats for spotted seatrout. He also likes to work the entrances to canals when searching for feisty wintertime trout. When targeting these fish, Gross likes to use artificials, such as DOA shrimp or DOA Cal jigs, to attract a bite. Live shrimp work well, too, although Gross says the artificials tend to produce more hookups in cold-water scenarios.
Finally, Gross has a few words of advice for wintertime fishing — he suggests being patient and determined. Sometimes the fish take a while to bite when it gets extremely cold. He also suggests thinking outside the box. If you normally catch fish on a certain spot but you’re not producing there, work the area surrounding your spot and you may get a surprise.
The fishing report from Island Discount Tackle is following suit for typical winter patterns prevailing for Anna Maria anglers. Most fishers venturing into the cold to fish are using live shrimp or artificials such a Berkley Gulp shrimp or DOA Cal jigs.
Those purchasing shrimp are generally targeting sheepshead, black drum, redfish and flounder, mostly around docks and piers, especially in the residential canals of Key Royale. Other areas producing a bite on shrimp include artificial reefs and wrecks in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico.
Fishers using artificials also are targeting the same canals and docks to locate prey, as well as scouring deeper flats in Anna Maria Sound. By casting Gulp shrimp on a jighead under docks, fishers are catching decent numbers of redfish. You can also expect to tie into a stray flounder and even a small snook now and again, if you’re lucky. Jigs are producing a bite on the flats, and deeper flats are holding spotted seatrout.
Try slowly presenting your jig through a sandy pothole. With a little luck, you might hit the mother lode. During the winter, it’s not uncommon to find a large school of trout hiding out in a single pothole.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing Sarasota Bay with good results on a variety of species. With numerous cold fronts and windy days, Girle is managing to find refuge in Sarasota Bay. Positive results include pompano, bluefish, mackerel and ladyfish.
For these fish, Girle is drifting and jigging to locate the bite. Pompano in the 15-inch range are the norm, although both smaller and bigger fish are being reeled up. Blues, macks and ladies are filling the gaps between pompano bites. For any of these fish, especially the pompano, Girle suggests tipping your jig with a small piece of shrimp. When conditions are tough for fishing, every little added advantage helps.
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