Water temperature rise gives fishers glimpse of hope
Three generations of Martins with a mess of sheepshead and a redfish, caught while fishing with Capt. Mark Johnston of Legend Fishing Charters.
Some big schools of redfish from the Gulf of Mexico invaded Sarasota Bay last week, although they reportedly were tough to track down.
Unfortunately for anglers, there has not been a break in the cold, windy weather. Some forecasters are calling for the weather pattern of a cold front every few days to continue for the next month. That means anglers will have to pick and choose their days to fish.
One of the best options has been fishing in canals for redfish and sheepshead. Also, the action can be hot offshore if an angler can dodge rough weather. Tight regulations the past two years on grouper and snapper, coupled with high gas prices, has resulted in fewer anglers plying the offshore waters. Grouper, meanwhile, is still catch and release until April 1.
Anglers are patiently waiting a run of Spanish mackerel and kingfish that, depending on the harshness of the winter, comes between February and April.
But bait is still scarce in the area, making shrimp, cut baits and stinky artificial baits a priority. Bringing a variety of baits along when fishing is important in such mercurial conditions.
James Followell from the Sunshine Skyway south fishing pier said he’s only seen anglers catch sheepshead and silver trout. “Spanish mackerel won’t come around until the water heats up and the bait is back,” he said. “There might have been a few Spanish mackerel floating around.”
Kim Shearer from Annie’s Bait & Tackle said that Capt. Mark Johnston of Legend Fishing Charters took three generations of Martins fishing. She said the grandfather was from Longboat Key, the father from Buffalo, N.Y., and the son from Houston. She said they caught lots of sheepshead and redfish. She added that Capt. Sam Kimball, also of Legend Fishing Charters, is doing real well with grouper, snapper and grunts.
Brady Robertson from Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina said he heard a report of a nice school of redfish in Sarasota Bay, and another of a man who came to the marina reporting amberjack, blackfin tuna and a 40-pound gag grouper in 60-foot-deep water. “I’m real surprised,” Robertson said. “I don’t know of any springs in 60 feet of water. But I don’t know everything, either.”
Bob Kilb from the Rod & Reel Pier said there’s been occasional sheepshead caught, but not much else. “I’ve seen people out here throwing jigs and they aren’t catching anything,” Kilb said. He said once in awhile an angler will catch a shark. “It just ain’t happening and ain’t going to happen until the water warms up.” Kilb said. “This time of the year, guys should be catching sheepshead like crazy. Guys are working their tails off to get maybe one or two.”
Rocky Corby from Anna Maria City Pier said there’s still no bait around. He’s only seen a couple sheepshead landed. “It’s pretty pitiful out here still,” Corby said.
Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Fishing Charters said that he has been concentrating on redfish and speckled trout, and that the redfish are feeding around deep-water docks. The speckled trout are in the deep grass, at the edges of potholes and in the canals. Howard’s bait of choice has been live select shrimp, and he expects shiners to make an appearance once the water temperature hits 68 degrees.
Capt. Warren Girle said he has seen a lot of redfish between 28-30 inches, or 6-10 pounds, showing up in Sarasota Bay. He said some new redfish schools from the Gulf, white in appearance, have shown. “There’s some other ones that got mixed in with the turtle grass and have got color to them now,” Girle said. “Beautiful bronze fish.” Girle said the Gulf redfish have been around for almost two weeks and have been hitting RT slugs in golden bream.
Girle said he’s also been doing well with trout and ladyfish, where seagulls are diving on pods of glass minnows. “Things are starting to pick up,” he said.
Capt. Rick Gross of the charter boat Fishy Business out of Catchers said he’s been hooking mostly trout and redfish. He’s also heard reports of sheepshead around Egmont Key. “There are a lot of fish in there, but they’re not biting well,” Gross said.
Gross said the best day he’s had was 3 miles offshore in 2-foot seas with a mix of fish. He also went 14 miles offshore and fished shrimp on a broken-up hard bottom and had mild success. “We’re just catching little pinfish at first,” he said. The action heated up, however, as Gross got into some white grunts, a hogfish, some triggerfish, a 5-pound mangrove snapper and a big porgy.
He said the trout fishing has been hot, but with fronts coming every few days, anglers have to pick optimal times to fish. Gross has noticed that with trout, jigs have out-fished shrimp. Many anglers are using Berkley Gulp baits, or other scented artificials.
Gross also noticed that snook in canals were hit particularly hard by last month’s freeze. “I think some survivors will come out of the river,” Gross said. “But the ones in the canals took a beating. I’m hoping too that there were a lot of snook that went offshore into artificial reefs and areas like that and those fish all made it. Those would mainly be breeder fish out there. They’ll come in and do their spawning thing and hopefully they’ll keep the fishery in decent shape.”
Gross said that, unfortunately, it may take about six years to replace the numbers of snook that were in the area before the freeze.
Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions said his anglers have done well with redfish to 32 inches, but the trout bite has been off. He said trout were hitting Tandem Rigs with CAL curly tails on lightweight jigheads, as well as Loves Lures. Trout, he said, were striking various MirrOlures. Flounder between 10-15 inches also are in the bays.
Markham said that many silver trout were holding in 12-13 feet of water in Joe' Bay. “And there aren’t a lot of places 12-13 feet in Joe Bay,” Markham said. Markham recommends fishing those trout with CAL shads.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters out of Cortez Fishing Center said in his couple trips he’s taken in the past week, there were as many amberjack as an angler can handle in 120 feet of depth, as well as banded rudderfish, mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, porgeys, triggerfish and lemon sharks. There were a few grouper, which remain catch and release until the open harvest begins April 1.
McGuire said his anglers were using live pinfish and grunts, as well as butterfly jigs and diamond jigs for amberjack. He added that a 4-5 ounce leadhead jig with a big twister tail in chartreuse has been enticing fish as well.
“If it warms up,” McGuire said, “we’ll start getting the kingfish runs through here, and cobia.”
Capt. Zach Zacharias of the DEE JAY II out of Parrot Cove Marina said that one trip this past week produced an exemplary catch of sheepshead, redfish, speckled trout and black drum. He said the Monday trip was on one of the only nice days of the week, and even then the wind was cranking out of the south in front of another cold front. “Folks that are not taking advantage of the few nice days between fronts are missing out on a lot of top-notch winter action hereabouts,” Zacharias said.
He said the redfish, sheepshead and drum have been found around highly structured areas in the local bays and have been feeding well when the tides are good. Incoming tides have been the best producers and live shrimp has been the ticket for rod-bending action. He said the speckled trout have been cooperating on a variety of artificial offerings and live shrimp in a wide variety of locales, ranging from the open bay waters to backwater canals, channels and bayous.
“The onset of yet another cold spell should reinforce this solid winter pattern for several more weeks,” he said. “If only the ‘El Meano’ would relax its grip on our weather, the offshore reefs should catch fire with big sheepies, snapper, grouper, flounder, et cetera. The windy weather that has kept most small-boat anglers plying the inshore waters has left the reefs with little or no pressure for weeks on end and when things settle the offshore structure should be hot.”
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