Wintertime fishing produces various results
Wintertime patterns are following suit for yet another week for islander fishers.
On calm days, you can venture into the Gulf of Mexico to nearshore and offshore structure to produce a variety of species. Keeper-size gag grouper are responding to live and dead baits, but all have to be released. Red grouper also are feeding — primarily dead baits — although keeper sizes are hard to come by in state waters.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission will not be closing Gulf grouper recreational season Feb.1 through March 31. The closure would have applied to black, red, yellowfin, scamp, yellowmouth, rock hind and red hind, so this is good news.
Gag grouper, which has its own season, will be open July 1-Dec. 3. More information regarding Gulf grouper fishing regulations is available online at myfwc.com/fishing. Click on “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Gulf Grouper.”
On structure in slightly shallower water, sheepshead, mangrove snapper and Key West grunts are readily taking live shrimp fished on the bottom, and keeper-sizes of all three species are attainable. You should start seeing big sheepies showing on shallow-water structure any day now, if you haven’t already. I’m seeing fish of more than 5 pounds coming over the gunwale more frequently as we get deeper into February. If you like catching big sheepshead, your time is near.
As far as the inshore fishing is concerned, there are some options. Beach fishers are catching decent numbers of mackerel, jacks, bluefish and pompano all cruising along the surf. Try tipping your jig with fresh-cut shrimp or a sand flea to get a bite.
The canals of Key Royale are producing a bite for fishers using live shrimp. Try casting your shrimp on a knocker rig under docks with deep water under them. Redfish, black drum, sheepshead and flounder are just a few of the species with potential.
Finally, backwater trout fishing is proving prosperous for some flats fishers. Plastic baits such as DOA Cal jigs are producing a bite. Most of the trout being caught are shy of the 15-inch minimum, so handle with care. Keeper-size trout are attainable, but are sporadic at best.
Capt. Warren Girle is venturing out to offshore structure on the calm days between the cold fronts. By using whole or fresh-cut shiners and the occasional shrimp, Girle’s clients are reeling up a variety of species. Keeper-size gag grouper are moderately responding to whole dead shrimp fished on the bottom. These catch-and-release fish are worthy adversaries for even the strongest of fishers. Along with gags, Girle’s clients also are hooking up red grouper, mangrove snapper, porgies, Key West grunts and flounder.
Moving inshore, Girle is targeting pompano on deep grass flats with good tidal flow. He says the bite is thinning out, although a break from the back-to-back cold fronts could result in some pomps. Mixed in with the pompano are plenty of mackerel, jack crevalle, ladyfish and bluefish, which fill the void. After all, a bent rod is a bent rod.
In residential canals and around docks, Girle is producing action on sheepshead and black drum. Both species are responding to pieces of fresh-cut shrimp placed on the sandy bottom. Keeper-sizes of both are being caught, although the sheepies are still on the small side due to it being early in the season.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is targeting pompano along the beach and bay shorelines surrounding Anna Maria Island. By using small jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp, Lowman is putting clients on limits of the tasty golden nuggets. Color selection on jigs includes chartreuse, hot pink or school bus yellow. To target these fish on the beaches or in the bays, Lowman is simply drifting with the tide while his clients cast jigs in all directions. Once the fish are located, everyone works the spot.
When finished targeting pompano, Lowman is moving to reefs and rock piles in both Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico. By anchoring over these areas, Lowman is producing a number of species, including sheepshead, mangrove snapper, flounder and Key West grunts. Fresh-cut shrimp is the bait of choice. For rigging, Lowman is using either a knocker rig or a typical bottom rig — a swivel, some 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a circle hook. For weight, Lowman is using anything from a 1/2-ounce egg sinker all the way up to a 3-ounce egg, sinker depending on the current.
While on duty at the tackle shop, Lowman is hearing of decent action along the beaches of Anna Maria Island.
Beach fishers are saying that plugging with jigs and spoons is producing Spanish mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle. In tow with these migratory fish are numerous bonnethead and juvenile blacktip sharks, so be ready for a big one.
In the canals of Key Royale, dock fishers are catching black drum, flounder and a few sheepshead. Live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas are producing the bite.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is finding variety on nearshore reefs resulting in a variety of species. Sheepshead, flounder, grouper, snapper and Key West grunts are responding to live shrimp. While anchoring over structure, Gross instructs his clients to drop their baits straight down to the bottom to find the bite. Although most of these fish are in the 12- to 15- inch range, they provide great potential for the night’s fish fry.
Gross also is working residential docks and canals with good results. The species remain the same as the reefs, although you can add black drum and some redfish to the mix. Live shrimp is still the bait of choice. These sheltered areas are great on those windy days when you can’t get to the reefs.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters reports good action on redfish, sheepshead, mangrove snapper and black drum. Howard has been bring Redfish of varying sizes from 12 inch rats to 30-inch stumps to the boat from under deep water docks. Howard suggests using a live shrimp rigged on a size 1 hook tied to a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader with a size 5 or 7 split shot.
Sheepshead have been feeding heavily as they are starting to gather in big schools. Using the same rig as for the reds, Howard’s clients have brought 18-inch convicts to the fillet table. Mangrove snapper and black drum also are coming to the party, Howard adds.
Looking forward, the spotted trout fishing will start to turn on as the fish will school in deeper water and in areas where the water temperature is a few degrees warmer.
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