Fishing between cold fronts brings on winter bounty

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Rick and Ralph Platz of Canada and Rachel and Kieran McSweeny from the United Kingdom show off their Dec. 20 catch. Using shrimp, they caught numerous gags and hog snapper with Capt. Warren Girle.
Nick and Kiersten Percoski show off some of the keeper gag grouper they caught in 45 feet of water off Anna Maria Island while fishing aboard the Reel Cortez with Capt. Philip Watson.

Once again fishing the calm weather before the cold front is supplying excellent fishing experiences for the fishers of Anna Maria Island.

Venturing into the Gulf of Mexico seems to be the ticket for the most consistent action.

Bottom fishing around ledges, reefs, wrecks and hard bottom is resulting in a variety of species, including Key West grunts, hogfish, gag grouper, amberjack, kingfish and tuna.

Also present are a variety of snappers — mangrove, lane, vermillion and yellowtail. Most catches are occurring on live bait, such as shrimp and shiners, although artificials — surface poppers and lipped plugs — are drawing a bite, especially for migratory fish like kings, tunas and amberjack.

In the back country, live shiners free-lined under a cork are attracting spotted seatrout, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Fishing over deep grass flats seems to produce the most action for these fish.

In the bays, casting shrimp around residential docks and seawalls is resulting in sheepshead, black drum, redfish and flounder.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a wintertime pattern developing as we begin to experience cold fronts sweeping down from the north. Pier fishers using shrimp as bait are catching a variety of fish, including black drum, sheepshead and redfish. Those fishers casting jigs are hooking into pompano, but the bite is sporadic.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is running charters to the nearshore structure in the Gulf of Mexico for a variety of species. Hogfish, snappers, flounder, kingfish and gag grouper are being found where ledges or hard bottom exist. In the bays, Lowman is working around structure, although residential docks and seawalls make up the environment. In these areas, redfish, black drum and sheepshead are the primary catch. Live shrimp on a knocker rig is proving to work the best as bait.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is fishing offshore for catch-and-release amberjack. Free-lining live shiners over reefs and wrecks is luring these “reef donkeys” to the hook. After wearing out his clients on big jacks, Gross is hunting kingfish. Again, free-lined shiners are resulting in bent rods and sore arms for Gross’ clients. Lastly, Gross is anchoring over structure and having clients drop shiners to the bottom. This results in catches of mangrove snapper up to 5 pounds.

Capt. Warren Girle is taking clients to an offshore structure with good results. Numerous snapper — lane, vermillion and mangrove — are being reeled up. Also present on offshore structure are hogfish, gag grouper and kingfish. Live shrimp and shiners are the preferred baits. Moving onto the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is targeting spotted seatrout, bluefish and mackerel.

All three species are being taken by using live shiners as bait or artificials such as soft plastics on a jig head.

Capt. Jason Stock is patrolling offshore for a variety of fish, including kingfish, blackfin tuna and amberjack. All three species are being taken on surface poppers that are quickly retrieved across the surface of the water. Bait fishing around ledges and reefs is producing action on mangrove and yellowtail snapper, as well as some keeper-size gag grouper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing inshore throughout the bays and Intracoastal Waterway. While using shrimp as bait, White is finding good action around structure — artificial reefs and residential docks. Sheepshead and black drum are the primary species being caught, although a few flounder are mixed in. Switching to live shiners as bait is proving to be good over deep grass flats. Spotted seatrout, bluefish and macks are ready to take the bait in these areas.

Capt. Philip Watson of Reel Cortez Charters out of the Seafood Shack Restaurant and Marina is taking clients offshore to depths of 40-55 feet. Using live pinfish, frozen threadfins and live shrimp for bait is resulting in gag and red grouper, mangrove and yellowtail snapper and a variety of other table fare for his clients.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

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