February fishing action as hot as the temps

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Jerry Dye of Montana shows off his permit, caught Feb. 15 on a charter with reporter-Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Ed Curran, left, of New Jersey, Larry Clanton of Wisconsin and John Kroos of Illinois fished the inshore waters of Anna Maria Island Feb. 12 with Capt. Warren Girle as their guide. The trio caught their rewards of redfish and black drum with shrimp for bait.
Jennifer Myers, visiting Anna Maria Island from Henderson, North Carolina, shows off a nice sheepshead she caught Feb. 15 on a charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. Myers and her group also boated a bunch of catch-and-release grouper as well as mangrove snapper, hogfish, grunts and porgies — all on live shrimp. Lowman said “The weather has been perfect this week for fishing out in the Gulf.”

With temperatures in the mid-80s, Anna Maria Island fishers are enjoying springtime conditions.

God, I love it here in Florida.

Water temps are on the rise, which is allowing the flats to host some excellent fishing, particularly for those targeting snook and trout. Both species are working their way out of their wintertime haunts and onto the lush grass flats that exist in our inshore waters. And when these fish stage up in the grass, they are there for one reason — to eat.

Casting live shiners, shrimp and artificials is producing action for inshore fishers. If you’re looking for more variety, pompano, bluefish and ladyfish are present in the bays and Intracoastal Waterway. Sheepshead will be spawning in the upcoming weeks, which means they are feeding heavily.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m targeting a variety of species. Jigging the flats with soft plastics, such as the MirrOlure “Lil John,” is producing some great action on spotted seatrout. Slot and over-slot fish are being caught. While targeting trout, I’m seeing an array of other species on the jig — pompano, bluefish and ladyfish.

Switching over to live shrimp as bait is resulting in good action. Sheepshead, Key West grunts and hogfish are being caught around offshore ledges with some frequency. I’m also finding the sheepshead inshore on small rock piles and along sandy shorelines that have not been renourished. On the untampered shorelines, sand fleas and other small crustaceans and mollusks still exist, which in turn attract the sheepies. Casting live shrimp in these areas is proving quite effective. In some instances, when the water is clear, I’m sight-casting to the sheepies. How cool is that?

Lastly, working top-water plugs — MirrOlure 84MR or the Rapala Skitterwalk — is providing explosive action on catch-and-release snook and large, keeper trout. Both species are being found on shallow grass flats where clean, clear water exists. This bite requires a little determination, but when a big snook or trout explodes on a surface bait, it seems worth the effort.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing more and more sheepshead showing up around the pilings. With the spawn close at hand, these zebra-striped fish are packing on the pounds, so to speak, with hopes of having plenty of stamina to procreate. Live shrimp are producing a bite, although strategic sheepshead fishers carry an assortment of baits, including fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms. According to Malfese, the bite should steadily improve in the days to come. After the spawn, the bite will diminish as the fish disperse into the bay. So act now.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working the deep grass flats for spotted seatrout. Using artificials, such as a jig head and soft plastics is proving to be the most effective method to catch these fish, although live shrimp under a popping cork will work, too. Mixed in with the trout bite are pompano, bluefish and ladyfish.

Fishing offshore also is producing action for Lowman clients. Dropping live shrimp on a knocker rig to the bottom around edges and other structure is producing hogfish, mangrove snapper and plenty of Key West grunts. Sheepshead are beginning to make a showing on nearshore reefs.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is running his springtime pattern in February. With air temps in the 80s and water temps in the 70s, Gross has switched to using live shiners as bait instead of shrimp. Spotted seatrout 16-19 inches, as well as redfish and snook, are taking live shiners if they cross their paths. Spanish mackerel are taking shiners from Gross’ clients while casting over structure in Tampa Bay.

Capt. Warren Girle is taking anglers to the flats of Sarasota Bay. By the use of artificials — jig heads and soft plastics — Girle’s clients are hooking up numerous 15-20 inch spotted seatrout. Pompano and permit are foraging in Sarasota Bay. To catch these elusive fish, Girle is using small pink or chartreuse jigs tipped with pieces of fresh-cut live shrimp. The bright colors are catching to the eye while the aroma of fresh-cut shrimp makes the bait irresistible to the hungry pompano and permit. Moving offshore, Girle is finding hogfish and Key West grunts around ledges and reefs. Live shrimp is Girle’s bait of choice.

Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore for big amberjack. And by big, he means up to 75 pounds. Surface poppers retrieved quickly over offshore wrecks are drawing this aggressive fish to strike. Also, Stock is putting clients on some tripletail and hogfish. Moving inshore, catch-and-release snook, redfish and trout are being caught throughout the bays. Live shiners and artificials are proving to be effective for Stock.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is charging offshore despite some rough seas to fish for African pompano. The elusive fish are considered a trophy in our waters for two reasons. One, they are particularly odd-looking, and two, they taste great. These fish are averaging 20-30 pounds. When hooked on spinning tackle, they put up a ferocious battle. Also while offshore, White is catching tripletail around floating debris. Lastly, red grouper are being caught inside 120 feet of water.

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

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