With good weather, February fish rallies continue
Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains constant as long as the weather follows suit. Calm days and clear water are prime opportunities to get out and target nearshore and inshore species.
Pompano are readily available and are being caught on a variety of live baits and artificials, or a combination. Small pompano jigs are producing good numbers of fish, especially when tipped with a piece of fresh-cut shrimp. For those using live bait, shrimp and sand fleas are the ticket. While targeting pompano, expect to catch mackerel, ladyfish and bluefish. Remember, if using jigs, carry an ample amount — the macks, ladies and blues will cut your line more than once when they start to rally.
On nearshore structure, sheepshead, snapper and Key West grunts are lining up for your menu. Sheepshead up to 6 pounds are being caught on live shrimp. As for the snapper and grunts, fish 10-14 inches are the norm.
Finally, bonnethead sharks are infesting the waters at the mouth of the Manatee River, especially around the bulkhead and Emerson Point. Although these aren’t the biggest sharks in the world, they do provide a good fight on light tackle. For bait, a fresh-cut piece of shrimp will get the job done. Don’t forget to handle these little sharks delicately and, after removing the hook, release them back to the water as quickly as possible.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are still taking up residence around the pilings of the pier, chewing barnacles at their leisure. Pier fishers with hopes of putting a few of these tasty striped fish on a stringer are using a variety of baits to achieve their goal. Live shrimp are readily available, and most frequently used bait.
Early in the season, like now, live shrimp are a great choice. As the season goes on, professional sheepherders will start getting strategic with their choice of bait. Whether or not the sheepies get used to the shrimp and stop eating them, I don’t know. But, switching to fiddler crabs, sand fleas or tubeworms will keep the bite going after the shrimp lose appeal.
Flounder are next on the menu for pier fishers at the R&R. These flat fish are readily responding to a live shrimp dropped on the bottom. Most catches are occurring while targeting sheepies with shrimp, since the technique is the same. Expect to catch flounder in the 12- to14-inch range.
Finally, a new addition to the list is the arrival of Spanish mackerel. Speck rigs in either white or bubble gum colors are attracting feisty macks to bite. Mackerel 12-15 inches are the norm, although, rogue fish exceeding 22 inches are not uncommon. As warmer weather approaches and bait schools being to gather, you can only expect this bite to get better and better.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore with good results on a variety of fish, including some elusive and rare species for this area.
The elusive species, hogfish, are coming to the hook on live shrimp combined with a light fluorocarbon leader, a small circle hook and a split shot. Hogs up to 7 pounds are the norm for Girle this past week.
The rare species, schoolmaster snapper, is being caught on the same rig of either shrimp or fresh-cut scaled sardines. Girle has only caught a handful of thee schoolmaster snapper in his 40 years of fishing Florida’s Gulf coast, and this bite is considered a real treat.
Other catches offshore include limits of mangrove snapper, as well as plenty of Key West grunts. Both of these species are being caught on fresh-cut scaled sardines. Mangrove snapper 12-15 inches are making up the majority of the catch, although fish up to 18 inches are attainable.
Red and gag grouper are readily taking baits. Gag grouper in the 15-pound class are being reeled up, only to be released back to the depths. As for the red grouper, fish reaching the minimum size of 20 inches are sporadic with most catches occurring in the 16- to 18-inch range.
On windy days, Girle is moving inshore to target pompano. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are enticing these high-speed fish to bite. Along with pompano, expect to catch mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish and some keeper-size spotted sea trout.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is getting good results on small jigs tipped with shrimp. Colors such as bubblegum or chartreuse are producing catches of pompano, mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish. All four of these species are worthy adversaries on light tackle and the pompano is delectable on the plate, too.
Once his clients’ limits of pompano are in the cooler, Lowman is moving onto nearshore structure in search of sheepshead, snapper and grunts, all readily taking fresh-cut shrimp. Sheepshead up to 4 pounds are attainable, with most being 1-2 pounds. For the snapper and grunts, expect to reel up fish 12-14 inches.
Finally, Lowman is locating large black drum around small rock piles in Tampa Bay. Most are in the 7- to 10-pound range, although fish exceeding 30 pounds are coming to the boat. Select live shrimp are producing the bite.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing deeper grass flats with good tidal flow in search of pompano. By using small jigs tipped with shrimp, Gross is locating schooling pomps, which is providing great light-tackle action for his clients. Mixed in with the pompano are ladyfish, mackerel and bluefish. Although these fish may not be considered the best tablefare, they at least provide rod-bending action.
After rallying on pompano, Gross is moving to the nearshore reefs to target sheepshead and mangrove snapper, both readily taking fresh-cut shrimp. For the sheepies, fish 2-3 pounds are a good catch. For the mangoes, expect fish in the 12- to 14-inch range. While targeting these two species, you also have the opportunity to hook into hogfish, Key West grunts and triggerfish.
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