A little snooky never hurt anybody
Snook season is officially open in our local waters.
Remember, the slot on snook is 28-33 inches and you can keep one fish per day if you have a snook stamp. The open season ends April 30.
I’m seeing decent amounts of linesiders gathering along mangrove shorelines, docks and canals, where the bite is occurring on live shrimp and shiners.
Typically, since the water temps are still in the upper 60s to low 70s, the best bite is occurring during the afternoon outgoing tides. By this time of day, the sun has had a chance to warm the water a couple of degrees, which seems to make a difference.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore with good results on mangrove snapper. Limits of these fish are being caught on fresh-cut pieces of scaled sardines and shrimp. Most catches are ranging 12-15 inches, although some fish up to 18 inches are mixed in. While targeting snapper with shrimp, Girle’s clients are reeling up the occasional hogfish, which is always a welcome sight. To finish out the bite, porgies, also are responding to the shrimp offering.
Gag and red grouper are being caught on offshore ledges in good numbers. Keeper-size gags are not uncommon, although the red grouper are a different story. Most red grouper being caught are 15-18 inches, which is just shy of keeper-size.
In the backcountry, Girle is catching good numbers of snook, redfish and trout. By using live shiners for bait, Girle is hooking up with keeper-size snook. The same applies for the redfish, with some fish well exceeding the 27-inch max limit. As for the trout, quantity is available, although most fish are in the 14-16 inches.
Finally, pompano are a mainstay for Girle on the flats. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are resulting in near limits of these tasty fish.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are dominating the bite. Expect to see stringers of these black-and-white striped fish dangling from the pier on a daily basis while the bite is on. Fish up to 3 pounds are being caught on live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas. While targeting sheepies, R&R fishers are reeling up flounder, spot tails and juvenile grouper.
Spanish mackerel are being caught at the north pier on small speck rigs. Colors include white, chartreuse or bubble gum. Macks 15-20 inches are the norm, although Malfese is seeing fish landed up to 28 inches. While targeting macks, expect to tie into ladyfish, bluefish and jacks.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is finding a good bite on nearshore and inshore structure — whether it be reefs, docks or wrecks. His clients are filling the cooler, with sheepshead and mangrove snapper. Both species are readily taking live shrimp fished on a knocker rig. While targeting these fish, Lowman is producing Key West grunts, flounder and black drum.
Moving to the beaches, Lowman is finding migratory fish — pompano, mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish — all attracted to small jigs tipped with shrimp. Expect to get your arms worn out jigging. The bite can occur on every cast when everything is right.
Finally, flats fishing is on the verge of getting really good and Lowman is cashing in. Keeper-size redfish, snook and trout are being caught in the usual spots — right in the lip.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing nearshore structure, resulting in a variety of wintertime reef species. Sheepshead are readily taking small pieces of fresh shrimp. Fish up to 6 pounds are being reeled up along with plenty of fish 2-3 pounds. Along with sheepies, Gross is catching limits of mangrove snapper as well as plenty of Key West grunts.
Spanish mackerel are abundant on nearshore structure. For Gross’ charters, this adds variety to the reef experience. Expect to encounter macks 18-22 inches using mall jigs or Gotcha plugs.
After reef fishing, Gross is moving to the shallow flats of Tampa Bay in search of a variety of backwater species. By using live shiners for bait, his clients are reeling up keeper-size snook, redfish and spotted seatrout.
All three species seem to be feeding during afternoon tides, according to Gross.
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