March fishing — in like a lion, out like a lamb
Springtime fishing for March remains consistent, although the weather is anything but consistent.
We’ve seen temperatures in the 80s and temperatures in the 40s in the span of a week. The same applies for the wind and rain. Short spans of calm, warm days have been interrupted by cold, rain and wind. It just goes to show that you never know what the month of March will have in store.
Snook fishing around Anna Maria and its surrounding waters is getting better as the spring advances. An abundance of keeper-size fish are being seen and caught — a welcome sight in these parts after a bad freeze a few years ago. What’s even better, I’m hearing a lot of reports of fishers still practicing catch-and-release for the most popular of local backwater species.
Another fish coming to the hook is the spotted seatrout. Good numbers of these fish are inhabiting our local waters. A lot of slot-size fish are being reported, as well as plenty of over-slot fish, which is really encouraging for those in search of a trophy fish. Fish exceeding 30 inches are being caught out there, so if you like big trout, start hunting.
Jim Malfese at the Rod and Reel Pier says sheepshead are still a mainstay for fishers using live shrimp as bait. Malfese believes these lingering fish are past spawning stage, primarily because most being caught are ranging 10-14 inches.
If you’ve fished sheepshead late in their season, this is the typical scenario. The larger females have already moved on to bigger and better things. As for the males, they still put up a good fight and are just as good on the dinner table. To catch these fish, live shrimp will do the trick, but if you find them being finicky, try fiddler crabs or sand fleas.
Flounder and black drum are being caught with some regularity at the R&R. Fishers using live shrimp while targeting sheepshead are catching both drum and flounder as a bycatch. Both species are taking up residence under the pier deck and around the pilings.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are making a showing for yet another week. Most catches are occurring on small jigs or Gotcha plugs. You can expect to encounter macks 18-20 inches.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore when the weather permits. In water depths of 30-40 feet, Girle is anchoring over small ledges and reefs, casting to a variety of fish. Live shrimp or fresh-cut shiners combined with a light leader and small circle hook are producing a bite.
To start, Girle is free-lining these baits behind the boat. As they slowly descend toward the bottom, hungry mangrove snapper are aggressively taking the bait. By using this technique, Girle is managing to put limits of these tasty fish in the cooler. Along with mangoes, Girle is reeling up keeper-size hogfish, the largest being 20 inches.
Also while free-lining shrimp or cut bait, Girle is finding king mackerel in the mix. Fish 15-20 pounds are being hooked as a bycatch to snapper. At times, the macks are so voracious that Girle is having trouble getting baits down to the target species on the bottom.
Red grouper are hooking up in the same areas as the snapper and kings. By adding a couple of ounces of lead to his rig and placing baits directly on the bottom, Girle is finding keeper-size red grouper. Typically, catching keeper-size red grouper in depths of 35-40 feet of water can be a challenge, but Girle is making it seem easy.
Moving inshore, Girle’s boat is becoming host to a number of sought-after inshore species. Trout are readily responding to soft plastics combined with a 1/4-ounce jig head. Live shrimp under a cork are another top producer for trout this past week. Expect to encounter slot-size fish — 15-20 inches — with a few larger ones mixed in.
Redfish are adding to the experience on Girle’s charters. Fresh ladyfish cut in chunks and fished in potholes is resulting in slot-size and over-slot fish.
Finally, winter’s migratory fish, such as pompano, ladyfish, jacks and bluefish, are still being caught on small shrimp-tipped jigs. Pink is the color of choice when selecting a jig.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is back into a springtime pattern, targeting snook, redfish and trout on the flats of both Tampa and Sarasota bays. To targets these species, Gross is using free-lined live shiners. When free-lining baits, Gross likes to rig with a 4 foot-stretch of 20-pound fluorocarbon combined with a live bait hook.
For the snook, Gross is fishing shallow flats with sandy potholes along the edges of mangrove shorelines. These characteristics combined with a good moving tide are resulting in slot-size and over-slot snook. You can expect to catch an abundance of fish 20-22 inches. And linesiders exceeding 36 inches are not uncommon.
Redfish are being caught in areas very similar to the snook. Lush grass flats littered with sandy potholes are producing a redfish bite. The key ingredient once again is good tidal flow, with the best response coming during the peak currents of the tides.
Finally, spotted seatrout are beginning to show in numbers. Gross is finding slot-size fish on deeper flats in both Sarasota and Tampa bays. Free-lining baits through sandy potholes is resulting in fish up to 29 inches.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says springtime fishing is in full force around Anna Maria Island. Both inshore and offshore fishers are reporting a good bite. For baits, the array of live, dead and artificials are producing catches depending on location.
Starting offshore, Keyes is hearing of good action on grouper. Keeper-sizes of both red and gag grouper are being reported starting at water depths of around 40-50 feet. Ledges, reefs and wrecks are top spots to search for these tasty fish. Offerings of live shiners or pinfish are resulting in keeper-size fish. Dead baits, such as frozen threadfin herring or squid, also are producing a bite. Keyes reminds us that gags are still out of season, but you can put four red grouper per person in the box.
Also offshore and even nearshore, Keyes is hearing of catches of mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and hogfish. This trio is being caught on live shrimp while anchored over structure or ledges.
Moving inshore, fishers using live shiners for bait are reporting catches of snook, redfish and trout. Keeper-sizes of all three species are being caught regularly. Presenting baits either free-lined or under a popping cork is producing the bite.
Good luck and good fishing to you.