The fishing is beautiful.
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Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains better than average for February.
Mild temperatures and light winds only briefly interrupted by a weak cold front are supplying excellent conditions for a variety of fishing.
Reports from offshore include catches of grouper, amberjack and hogfish. Inshore fishing is shaping up nicely with reports of catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout, pompano and sheepshead.
On my own charters for Southernaire, I’m finding an abundance of sheepshead. Using live shrimp on a knocker rig is resulting in fish up to 7 pounds with most coming in at 2-3 pounds. On calm days when the tide slacks, I’m actually switching to free-lining small chunks of shrimp to the sheepies as they rise from the bottom and curiously swim a foot below the surface of the water. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s a real treat when it does. Sight-casting to these fish in the clear waters of Tampa Bay is an experience any sheepherder would enjoy. These fish provide great table fare.
On the flats, I’m finding good numbers of spotted seatrout beginning to show. I’m fishing ditches and channels adjacent to shallow flats during the low tides to find concentrations of fish. Free-lining hand-picked shrimp or using soft plastics on a jig head is resulting in limits of trout for the cooler.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay, resulting in numerous species. By drifting and jigging, Girle is leading his clients to some sizzling action on spotted seatrout and pompano. Also in the mix are ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish.
Moving offshore, Girle is catching limits of mangrove snapper while bottom fishing around reefs and ledges. In these areas, he is catching hogfish, sheepshead and plenty of red and gag grouper.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing offshore ledges between 4-7 miles with good results. By using live shrimp on a bottom rig, Lowman is leading his clients to a variety of species — hogfish, mangrove snapper and sheepshead, to name a few.
Fishing inshore is proving productive for Lowman. Using artificials, such as the Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head, is attracting attention from redfish and snook. This bite is occurring in the afternoon after the sun has had a chance to warm up the waters on the flat.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is cashing in on the spring-like conditions by targeting catch-and-release snook on free-lined live shiners. According to Gross, some morning snook sessions are resulting in up to 50 fish, all released. Most catches are falling between 22-27 inches.
Fishing nearshore structure with live shrimp as bait is resulting in limits of mangrove snapper, as well as many sheepshead and white grunts.
Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore for amberjack. Using artificials, such as surface poppers, Stock is enticing these “reef donkeys” to explosive strikes as they attempt to eat the lure on the surface of the water. Once hooked, these overweight aggressive jacks fight a fierce battle to the end.
Also while offshore, Stock is targeting hogfish, white grunts and porgies via live shrimp for bait. A knocker rig or jig head combined with a shrimp is deadly for any of these species.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing inshore for sheepshead and black drum. To target these fish, White is pulling up around docks and bridges, using live shrimp as bait. Sheepies up to 5 pounds are being taken with some black drum to match.
Moving offshore, where White is spending most of his days, is resulting in catches of red grouper and amberjack. For the grouper, White is using a fish-finder rig combined with an array of baits, including pinfish, shiners and even squid. For the jacks, large baits such as big shiners or pinfish are producing for his anglers.
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