No shadows, AMI groundhog finds fog, fabulous fishing
If the groundhog was looking for his shadow, he likely couldn’t find it for the morning fog that limited visibility around Anna Maria Island.
As long as no major cold fronts sweep through our area, the fishing should steadily improve.
Boating conditions are superb, except on those foggy days — and even on those days, the seas have been calm. You just need some navigational skills and familiarity with the area to safely get to your favorite fishing spots.
Sheepshead are gravitating toward nearshore structure, as well as residential docks and piers. Numbers should increase as the weeks of February pass. Offerings of live shrimp are producing a good bite on the reefs. While fishing piers and docks, try fiddler crabs and sand fleas for bait, or even tube worms, if you’re determined enough to dig them up.
Pompano are still lingering around the beaches of Longboat Key and in Sarasota Bay. Limits are attainable with fish ranging 1- to 2-pounds. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are the ticket, especially if the fish are being finicky. Try drifting and jigging to locate a bite.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore with good results. In depths of 20-40 feet, Girle is locating a variety of reef species. Catch-and-release gag grouper are readily taking both cut shiners and live shrimp. Along with gags, red grouper are in the mix, although keeper-size fish are sporadic. Other catches include mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and porgies. All three species are great table fare, which is always welcomed.
Moving inshore, Girle is fishing pompano in Sarasota Bay. By drifting and jigging, Girle’s clients are catching near-limits of 1-2 pound pompano. Along with pompano, expect to catch mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish and jack crevalle. Spotted seatrout are also in the mix, which adds a little to the cooler for dinner.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says sheepshead action is steadily increasing as we approach the middle of February. Nearshore reefs in the Gulf of Mexico are providing catches in the 3-pound range with numerous fish in the 1- to 2-pound range. Fresh-cut pieces of shrimp are working just fine. The usual alternate baits, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms, also will arouse a bite.
Reports of Spanish mackerel are buzzing around the island and at the tackle shop, where Oldham says be prepared for the mack bite if fishing the nearshore reefs. An ample number of Gotcha plugs, silver spoons and crappie jigs will ensure some nice-sized fish
Finally, due to the recent fog, Oldham suggests check the sound devices on your boats, as well as the compass and GPS. Don’t get caught on the water, unable to find the way home.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing offshore with good results on a number of fish. In depths of 40 feet of water, Gross is anchoring over structure and dropping live shrimp to the bottom on a fish finder rig —an egg sinker, a swivel, a couple of feet of leader, and a hook, all in that order. The length of the leader can vary, depending on its purpose.
For example, when Gross is targeting hogfish, he chooses a leader of 3 feet or more as to not spook the fish. Hogfish, at times, can be leader-shy, so a longer leader keeps the bait that much farther from the sinker and swivel, hence not spooking the fish.
Along with keeper-size hogs, Gross is catching respectable-sized sheepshead and triggerfish. There’s nothing wrong with returning to the dock with a cooler of these three species. They’re three of the best for a fish fry.
Gag and red grouper are getting in on the action. Attracted by the commotion of catching hogfish and sheepies, keeper-sized gags are making the mistake of eating Gross’ bait. Luckily for them, they are out of season and they’re returned to the Gulf. As for the red grouper, keeper-size fish are still a little hard to come by in shallow water.
Send fishing reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.