Last call for sheepies comes on full moon
While the effects of the moon on marinelife may be apparent to experienced anglers, it can’t be thoroughly explained by science. However, this week’s full moon is almost guaranteed to improve your chances of a catch.
The March 16 full moon signaled the beginning of the end for sheepshead fishing. Generally, these fish spend the month of February schooling and preparing to spawn in the inshore waters. This being said, we target them during this time due to their abundance and accessibility.
You’ll probably see the bite wane with the moon as the sheepies start to disperse throughout our waters, although, the good news is that you still have time to go out and collect a few of these tasty fish for the dinner table. I hope you get your fill of these tackle-busting convict fish.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is taking advantage of the abundance of sheepshead, mangrove snapper and Key West grunts taking up residence on the local reefs and wrecks. There’s nothing better than filling the cleaning table with fish upon arrival back at the dock. With catches of sheepies ranging 4- to 6-pounds, combined with numerous grunts and snapper, sometimes a single one-gallon plastic bag is not enough to accommodate all the meat.
For bait, Gross is using live shrimp, which he cuts fresh into two pieces. Placing these halved shrimp on a 1/0 circle hook weighted with a 1/2-ounce egg sinker completes the rig. By dropping baits directly to the bottom Gross’ clients are catching fish on almost every try.
Once an ample amount of fish are iced in the box, Gross moves to shallower waters to target a variety of species. Pompano still are being caught on small jigs tipped with shrimp. In between pompano bites, Spanish mackerel and keeper-size trout are chomping his shrimp-tipped jigs, which provides variety and good action on light tackle.
Finally, during afternoon tides when the water temps have had a chance to warm up, Gross is fishing skinny-water grass flats where keeper-size snook are feeding on free-lined shiners around sandy potholes and mangrove edges. Fish exceeding the upper-slot limit of 33 inches are not uncommon.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay with great success. On deeper grass, Girle is finding a variety of springtime species, including spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle. Not only do these species provide great action on light tackle, the trout are good on the dinner table. Spotted seatrout in the slot of 15-20 inches are common, although fish up to 27 inches are hooking up.
Deep grass flats are providing good action on permit and pompano. Girle is using small jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp to get these fish to bite. Near limits of both species are being caught by drifting the flats. Permit up to 6 pounds are being caught as well as plenty of pompano of 1-2 pounds.
Moving offshore, Girle is catching and releasing plenty of keeper-size gag grouper. The sheer power of these fish on the hook is enough to gain an angler’s respect. Shiners and pinfish are Girle’s baits of choice.
The offshore bite is producing limits of mangrove snapper. Fish 2-3 pounds are being caught on shiners and shrimp. Along with the snapper, expect to catch Key West grunts and, if you’re lucky, you might even tie into a yellowtail snapper or two. Remember, the yellowtails aren’t quite as common here as in south Florida, so a hookup in our waters is a real treat.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel says fishing on the boards is on the upswing. Sheepshead have infected the waters under the pier and are readily tempted by shrimp, fleas and fiddlers. Most sheepies being caught are 12-14 inches, although if you look closely at the stringers hanging from the pier, you’re sure to see a couple of 20-inch whoppers in the mix.
Flounder are making a showing at the R&R this week. Most are being caught as a bycatch by anglers targeting sheepies. Fish 10-16 inches are being reeled up to the deck.
Migratory fish also are making an arrival at the R&R, where small jigs tipped with shrimp are doing the job. For the macks, you also can use Gotcha plugs or silver spoons. As for pompano, stick to jigs.
Finally, while fishing at the R&R, don’t forget to say “hi” to Bob Kilb. You can usually find him dipping shrimp or jig-fishing around the pier. If you’re looking for pointers on how to fish, he’s the man. He’s been fishing the Rod & Reel since I was a kid, so pay attention. You might learn something.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is fishing wrecks and reefs resulting in an assortment of species. Mangrove snapper and sheepshead are readily responding to live shrimp. You can expect to catch Key West grunts as well as catch-and-release gag grouper.
While fishing around structure, Lowman is finding good numbers of macks, and by free-lining live shiners on a long shank hook, Lowman’s clients are reeling up macks of 18-20 inches. Not only do these fish provide drag-screaming action, they also add variety to the trip.
On calm, warmer days, especially in the afternoon, Lowman is fishing the flats of Anna Maria Sound, using live shiners for bait and catching slot-sized snook along with keeper reds and trout.
Finally, pompano, bluefish and macks are being caught along the beaches. Gotcha plugs and silver spoons are hooking anglers up, and there’s slot-sized snook, too. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are the ticket for the pomps.
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