Tag Archives: fishing

Cold fronts provide perfect sheepherding conditions

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Laney Snell and McKenna Killian of Minnesota show off a couple of sheepshead they reeled up March 15 while wreck fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Kevin, left, and Jennifer Hupp, age 11, and Joe Vich, all visiting Anna Maria Island from Iowa, show off a trio of redfish, caught on a March 15 charter with Capt. Warren Girle. The group fished inshore using live shiners to catch redfish, flounder and spotted seatrout.

As yet another cold front engulfed Anna Maria Island with chilly temperatures and windy conditions in mid-March, area anglers endured the elements in search of a bite.

And luckily, there was one — and it came in a black-and-white striped package.

Yeah, you guessed it. The sheepshead have arrived in full force and ,not only are they biting, they thrive in cooler water.          What a godsend during cold fronts.

To find these fish and get them to the hook is not rocket science, so long as you know some of their habits.

The first requirement is to be knowledgeable about what they eat. They like barnacles. And where do barnacles exist? Well, just about any structure that is under water will have them. The most obvious places are piers, docks, seawalls and bridges. If you would like to delve deeper into the sheepies’ attractions, you might consider artificial reefs and wrecks.

Sheepshead also like eating crustaceans — crabs, shrimp and sand fleas. So if you can find areas where these crunchy snacks are present, you’ll probably find a sheepie or two.

Oyster bars are another attraction, as they are host to many small crabs and pistol shrimp. Heck, I’ve even watched sheepshead on the grass flats foraging for shrimp and crabs.

Another habit to track in your sheepshead hunt is when they are spawning, which is now, chances of catching the fish in quantity increase because they are schooled up. The more the merrier. Especially for the anglers. If you can time it right, limits of these tasty fish — 15 fish over 12 inches per person — are attainable.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m doing my share of sheepherding. With air temps in the upper 50s to low 60s and water temps to match, the conditions are suitable to target the carnivorous convict fish. On windy days, I’m staying in the Intracoastal Waterway and local bays and finding good action around docks in the wind shield on the canals. Most catches in these areas are 1-2 pounds.

On the calmer days, venturing out to reefs, rock piles and wrecks is where it’s at. These areas are holding larger fish —some exceeding 6 pounds. Live shrimp on a bottom rig are producing plenty of bites.

I’m also finding some sheepies along sandy shorelines in the passes. What’s nice about this bite is there are usually black drum and redfish in the mix.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel is seeing the peak of the sheepshead frenzy as fishers flock to the T-end of the pier in search of the zebra-striped fish. Pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are catching near their limit. Most catches at the R&R are 12-14 inches, although fish up to 18 inches are coming to the deck. Casting baits under the pier deck among the pilings is proving to be the best method for a hook up. While targeting sheepshead, anglers also are reeling up flounder and an occasional black drum or pompano.

Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore in between the windy days and cold fronts. While patrolling artificial reefs, Stock is finding 15-pound kingfish for his clients. Trolling artificials or live baits is attracting these high-speed migratory fish. Moving to wrecks in 60-plus feet of water is providing excellent action on amberjack. Again, artificials are getting the job done, especially large poppers quickly retrieved along the surface. Moving inshore, snook and redfish are routine on his charters. Live shiners are quickly being inhaled by the snook. As for the reds, targeting them in skinny water with lures is providing the best action.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is taking clients on the hunt for sheepshead, black drum and redfish around residential docks and canals. Casting live shrimp around the docks and canals is yielding many nice catches of all three species. Using live shrimp is producing other catches for Lowman, including pompano and flounder.

Capt. Warren Girle is targeting redfish on the shallow flats of Sarasota Bay. Casting live shiners where mangrove shorelines and oyster bars exist is resulting in many slot-size fish, as well as a few over-slot fish. Most slot fish are 20-25 inches. The over-slot reds are up to 32 inches. Jig fishing for trout also is producing good action for Girle. Drifting over flats where water is 4-6 feet deep is resulting in many trout ranging 15-18 inches. Lastly, during the colder days of March, Girle was hooking up drum and sheepshead around local docks.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is using live shrimp as bait on cold days. Casting shrimp around docks and rocks is resulting in black drum, redfish and sheepshead. Bouncing jigs or deeper grass flats also are attracting a bite for White’s clients. Spotted seatrout are reacting to soft plastics combined with a jig head, especially when it is slowly bumped along the bottom around channel edges and deep grass flats.

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

Warm weather or cold, fishing remains hot around AMI

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Ken Voss, visiting Anna Maria Island from Minnesota, shows off the oversized redfish he caught and released March 9 in Sarasota Bay. Voss was using shrimp and his trip was guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

Anglers are experiencing both ends of the spectrum of fishing while venturing into the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island.

Spring-like conditions — where temperatures in the 80s are prevalent — is providing excellent action on the flats. Snook, trout and redfish are on the feed when the sun warms the water. Fishing offshore is proving good on the warm, calm days, with kingfish, cobia, mackerel and sharks being caught.

On the other end of the spectrum are the days when air temps never rise above the low 60s. With minimal sun, the water temperature falls, creating a slightly different scenario. In these conditions, sheepshead, black drum and flounder are more apparent. Being more tolerant of the cold than snook or trout, the cold-catch species can make a cold windy day on the water enjoyable and productive.

On my Southernaire fishing charters, I’m jumping on those warm sunny days when snook fishing is exceptional. Fishing the high stages of the tide around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars is providing rallies of fish with multiple hookups for my clients. Spotted seatrout can be found in these same areas, where some fish are exceeding 20 inches.

It makes for a great day of fishing.

Now with sudden cold spells, water temps drop overnight, which results in different species being targeted. On cold, windy days, sheepshead are my preferred target. Fishing around rocks and docks — especially in the canals, where we’re sheltered from the wind — is providing good action on these tasty, convict-striped porgies. Targeting sheepies is resulting in redfish, flounder and black drum in the cooler, too.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing the numbers of sheepshead increase from one day to the next. Soon there will be so many sheepshead under the pier that they will appear to gnaw their way through the wooden pilings as they leisurely graze on the barnacles. Pier fishers lucky enough to get in on the sheepshead bite are reaping the benefits of large numbers of fish. Casting live shrimp under the pier is resulting in convict catches up to 2 pounds, with an occasional 4- or 5-pounder being reeled up. Mixed in with the sheep herd are black drum, flounder and redfish. And casting shrimp away from the pier is attracting a pompano or two, as well as whiting and the ever-famous ladyfish, according to Malfese.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting snook throughout the grass flats of Tampa Bay and southward throughout Anna Maria Sound. On warmer days, Lowman is finding good numbers of linesiders as they funnel out to the flats to feed. In areas where mangroves exist, Lowman is directing his anglers to cast baits to the edges of the shore, where the branches hang over the water. Live shiners are Lowman’s go-to bait. Numerous catches of 22- to 26-inch fish are being interrupted by an occasional 30-plus-inch fish.

Large spotted seatrout are present on the shallow flats close to shore. His clients are casting live shiners and catching trout exceeding 20 inches. Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman is finding good action with migratory fish, such as bonito, kingfish, spinner sharks and cobia. To find these fish, Lowman is patrolling artificial reefs and wrecks.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business also is working the flats of Tampa Bay with good results. Gross boasts of the warmer days when exceptional fishing is taking place — especially for snook and redfish. Keeper-sizes of both species are being caught around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars. Spotted seatrout are being caught on the flats, typically in depths of 4-6 feet. Rattling corks baited with live shiners worked over the surface of the water are attracting trout up to 18 inches.

On the not-so-warm days, Gross is using live shrimp as bait and fishing around structure in wind-protected areas for sheepshead. Keeper-sizes of these fish are in abundance.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore on days when the Gulf of Mexico is calm. While fishing ledges, Girle is finding numerous mangrove snapper. Live shiners, either free-lined or on a bottom rig, are attracting the attention of these small, tasty snappers. I use the term “little” loosely — some mangrove snapper being reeled up are in excess of 20 inches. Talk about a good fighting fish. And good eating, too.

Moving inshore to Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding spotted seatrout in good numbers. Live free-lined shiners or jig heads paired with a soft plastic are producing a bite for his clients.

On warm days, Girle is hunting snook on shallow flats where mangrove or oyster bars exist. Casting live shiners is resulting in numerous hookups.

Capt. Jason Stock is on patrol in the offshore waters west of Anna Maria Island, where fishing around wrecks and reefs is producing big amberjack. Casting poppers or swim baits is resulting in some aggressive strikes and back-breaking battles for his clients. Kingfish are present in these areas and are responding to Halco Lures, either trolled or quickly retrieved by hand. When switching to live bait, Stock is reaching in the well for a live pass crab. Casting these silver dollar-sized crustaceans around wrecks where permit lurk is leading to some large specimens on the hook.

Lastly, fishing the flats for snook is producing some fish in the 40-inch range, as well as some slot and under-slot fish.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is catching his share of snook. Live shiners cast around mangrove shorelines during the warmest part of the day is getting the job done. Many fish 20-25 inches are being caught by White’s anglers, as well as some slot fish for the lucky ones. Spotted seatrout also are being bagged, with some exceeding 20 inches and many more measuring 15-18 inches.

Moving inshore, White is excited to see the arrival of kingfish, Spanish mackerel and cobia. Live shiners are attracting all three species to the hook.

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

March welcomes clear waters, great fishing

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Diana Liccardi, visiting Anna Maria Island from Rutland, Vermont, shows off a nice trout, caught — and released — Feb. 27 in Sarasota Bay using a live shiner for bait on a fishing charter with Capt. Aaron Lowman. The day also produced catch-and-release snook for Liccardi and her group of anglers.
Richard Scanlon of Minnesota shows off his snook, caught March 1 on a guided fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters. The slot size for keeper snook is 28-33 inches total length. Anglers are limited to one harvest per day, while the captain and crew “for hire” are limited to a “zero” harvest. The “catch” season runs to the end of April.
Bill Morrow of Florida and son-in-law Terry Talbert, visiting from Michigan, used shiners inshore March 3 to catch trout, snook and yellow-tail jacks on a fishing trip guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island keeps getting better and better as the days grow warmer and the waters remain clear.

Fishing the lush grass flats that carpet the surrounding bays and Intracoastal Waterway is exceptional. Snook season is open and the fish have all but invaded the shallows with an unmatched presence. Free-lining live shiners in areas where the snook are present is making even the novice angler feel as if he or she is a pro.

Spotted seatrout also are taking up residence on the flats, although they prefer slightly deeper water. Sarasota Bay — south of Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound — starts south of the Cortez bridge and is host to a bevy of world-class trout fishing spots. With a majority of the bay ranging in depths of 4-8 feet, trout find it most hospitable. So do the eager anglers who fish there on a daily basis.

On my own Southernaire charters, I’m taking advantage of both the snook and trout bites. For the snook, I’m fishing morning incoming tides around spoil islands. In these areas, the current seems to wrap around the little islands, creating great staging points for the hungry linesiders. Most catches are 20-26 inches, although a few bigger fish are being caught by lucky anglers. As for the trout, I’m finding respectable numbers of 12-16 inch fish in deep potholes and troughs throughout Tampa Bay. I’m also finding large “gator” trout, some up to 26 inches, but these fish seem to be rogues — solitary fish roaming shallow grass flats in search of a meal and probably a mate, too.

Other species showing up on the flats include jack crevalle, ladyfish and bluefish — all of which are mixed in when targeting trout on the deep grass flats. I’m also seeing a few flounder on the end of the line, especially coming from around the channel edges and the sandy potholes.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing sheepshead dominate the bite at Anna Maria’s northern-most pier. Pier fishers using live shrimp, fiddler crabs or sand fleas are finding success on the convict-colored fish. Other species worth targeting at the R&R include flounder, which can be caught on live shrimp, and Spanish mackerel, which will readily take a silver spoon or small jig.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is flats fishing with clients throughout Tampa Bay and beyond. Snook fishing is making up a majority of the catch during his morning charters, providing great action for anglers.

Spotted seatrout are being caught throughout the flats, mainly around deep sandy potholes where good current exists. The deeper grass flats are hosting pompano this time of year and, to catch these elusive little morsels, Lowman is baiting small jigs tipped with a fresh-cut piece of shrimp.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is suffering from spotted trout fever. He eats, sleeps and dreams of trout. This is probably due to the fact that he’s catching so many. Fishing deep grass flats in 4-6 feet of water is yielding a phenomenal trout bite, according to Gross. Free-lining live shiners or jigging in these areas is resulting in respectable numbers of the speckled favorites, with most measuring between 15-18 inches. Larger trout — “gator” trout as we refer to them — usually in the 20-inch range and up, are being caught, too, but in shallow areas mixed in with redfish and snook.

Speaking of reds and snook, both are being caught aboard the “Fishy Business.” Most snook are falling between 22-26 inches. As for the reds, slot fish are common.

Capt. Warren Girle is working his charters on the flats of Sarasota Bay, resulting in a variety of species for his client’s enjoyment. On the deeper grass flats, Girle is finding pompano, bluefish, ladyfish and large jack crevalle. To catch these species, Girle is drifting and jigging with small pink or chartreuse jigs tipped with shrimp. Spotted seatrout also are providing action in Sarasota Bay, where free-lining live shiners on the grass flats and over sandy potholes is providing excellent action on trout 14-22 inches. Some deeper potholes are holding even bigger trout. Girle likes to practice catch-and-release with these large female fish — some in excess of 26 inches.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing the springtime offshore bite, which includes a variety of migratory species. Kingfish and amberjack are just a couple of the drag-screamers you may experience on a charter with Stock. Cobia and permit also are on the agenda, which is a great combination for those looking for dinner and some bragging rights.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is concentrating his fishing time on snook. Most catches are in the 22- to 26-inch range, although slot- and over-slot fish are mixed in. To target these snook, White is using two methods. The first is the tried and true method — live shiners. The second is slightly more challenging — he’s using a fly rod.

Other species in White’s crosshairs include spotted seatrout, which are being caught quite regularly. Again, live shiners or a fly rod will attract a bite. Lastly, fishing over structure with live shrimp as bait is resulting in sheepshead and mangrove snapper.

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

Sunshine, light breezes perfect combo for fishing success

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Mark Willis of Harbour Isle on Perico Island shows off a permit he caught while on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Katherine Sheridan of Chicago proudly poses with a 27-inch redfish she caught while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Jennifer Myers of Henderson, North Carolina, shows off a nice sheepshead she caught Feb. 15 on a charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. Myers and friends also boated catch-and-release grouper, as well as mangrove snapper, hogfish, grunts and porgies — all on live shrimp.
Tim, left, Doug and Gene Reiser of North Carolina show off some of their success with trout and pompano using shiners for bait Feb. 24 on a fishing trip in Sarasota Bay guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

The quality of fishing continues to increase as warm sunny skies and light breezes surround Anna Maria Island.

Backwater species — snook, trout and redfish — are gradually making their way back to the grass flats in the bays, rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway. Live shiners as bait are eagerly being taken by all three species. Also present inshore are ladyfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel, which add a welcome variety to the list of species to be caught.

Fishing near the beaches and passes is providing good action. Pompano, permit, whiting, black drum and sheepshead are present in these areas and can’t help but eat a fresh-cut piece of shrimp strategically placed on a hook.

Venturing offshore is yet another option — and a good one at that. Cobia, tripletail, amberjack and big permit can be found around the wrecks and reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Hogfish, Key West grunts and numerous varieties of snapper are being found around ledges and hard bottom.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m patrolling the beaches and passes for pompano and permit. These are two of my favorite species to target and catch. So it’s hard not to go hunting for them when they are around. Casting small jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp is working well.

Sheepshead are present along the beaches, as well as around structure in Tampa Bay. Not only do these zebra-striped fish put up a relentless fight, they’re great eating, too. I guess any fish that grazes on crabs and shrimp all day should taste pretty good, right? When beach fishing the sheepies, I’m finding whiting, redfish and black drum mixed in. When targeting them on the reefs, numerous mangrove snapper and Key West grunts are coming to the hook.

Lastly, casting jigs over the deep, lush grass flats of Sarasota Bay is producing some great spotted seatrout action. A 1/4-ounce jig head combined with a MirrOlure Lil John soft plastic is working great. Top-water plugs are working well on the shallower flats for large, over-slot trout.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier on Tampa Bay is seeing a good number of sheepshead taking up residence around the pilings of the pier. As these fish gather to nibble on barnacles and whatever other crustaceans cross their path, they make excellent targets for eager fishers. Casting live shrimp under the pier on a weighted rig is working on most days, especially when the sheepies are on the feed. When they are less motivated to eat a shrimp, try a fiddler crab or sand flea as bait. Flounder also are coming to the deck at the R&R. Most are being taken by anglers targeting sheepshead and using shrimp as bait.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting spotted seatrout on the deeper grass flats from Terra Ceia Bay south to Sarasota Bay. Live shiners placed under a popping cork are working well to attract a bite. Catch-and-release snook are being caught in the bays, although in much shallower water. Free-lining live shiners to these hungry snook is resulting in numerous hookups. On the nearshore reefs of the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman is finding a few hogfish, as well as mangrove snapper, porgies, sheepshead and tripletail.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is flats fishing for catch-and-release snook. According to Gross, the bite is “as good as it gets.” Snook 22-26 inches are in abundance and being readily caught. Keeper-sizes of snook are also in the mix, but not as gullible as the smaller fish. Also on the flats are redfish and spotted seatrout. The trout are being caught over deep grass during afternoon tides. As for the redfish, finding them mixed in with the snook bite is not uncommon. Moving out to deeper water, most structure in Tampa Bay is host to Spanish mackerel. To catch these high-speed fish, Gross is having clients free-line live shiners on Aberdeen hooks.

Capt. Warren Girle is running charters offshore for mangrove snapper. Ledges, reefs or rock piles are excellent places to find these tasty fish — and Girle has found them. Mixed in with the snapper are an array of other species, including porgies, hogfish, Key West grunts and flounder. Fishing with either live shrimp or shiners is producing good action. On the inshore bite, Girle is targeting pompano on the flats, where he’s coming across numerous trout, as well as ladyfish and bluefish.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore for a variety of species. Cobia and other sought-after species — permit and amberjack — are being found around offshore wrecks and reefs. When using lighter tackle than required for the cobia and AJs, Stock is reeling up flounder from the sandy bottom surrounding the reef. On windier days, Stock is enjoying the sanctuary of inshore fishing throughout the bays and Intracoastal Waterway, where snook, trout and redfish are rounding out the bite for his anglers.

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

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.

Fog might put a damper on pleasure boating, but not fishing

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Spencer Ash, 11, of Newfoundland, Canada, shows off the beautiful male hogfish he caught Feb. 7 on a charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. Spencer and his family caught more hogfish, as well as countless porgies, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, grunts juvenile groupers and more — all caught on light spinning gear using live shrimp as bait. Lowman took them up to 9 miles out in Gulf of Mexico to “live bottom areas.”
Sam and Sophie Schmid, left, Ed Wetherill, Mike and Leah Schmid and Chris Wibe, all from Minnesota, loved fishing and our weather, according to Capt. Warren Girle. The group is showing off the trout and pompano they caught Feb. 6 on an inshore fishing trip guided by Girle.

Well, how about that fog? Yes, I was fortunate to have charters numerous days and go fishing in near-zero visibility. It’s not that the fog affects the fishing one way or the other, but it sure makes it hard to get around. Safety is the most important factor on any trip on the water. So remember, go slow in the fog because you never know what you’ll encounter.

I’m really glad it hasn’t been cold this past week. Aside from the fog, fishing around Anna Maria Island is steadily improving as we approach spring. On my Southernaire excursions, I’m doing a variety of fishing depending on what the weather provides. On calm days, I’m venturing offshore to ledges, reefs and wrecks, which is resulting in a variety of species. Hogfish, Key West grunts and snapper are being caught around the ledges. Reefs and wrecks are producing two predominant species — sheepshead and flounder. On calm days, fishing the beaches and passes is proving to be good for pompano and whiting. Lastly, fishing the bays and Intracoastal Waterway is producing decent action on spotted seatrout and an occasional bluefish. Skinny water redfish and trout that are taking residence on shallow grass areas also are taking our bait.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is starting to see the sheepshead bite take hold. In the days to come, these convict-colored fish will be gathering by the hundreds to munch on the tasty barnacles on the pilings at the R&R Pier. They’ll also be there for another reason — to spawn. If you time it right, these fish will eagerly take shrimp, crabs or sand fleas in their pre-spawn mode. This is when they’re trying to store up energy for you know what. If you’re into catching and frying up sheepies, the R&R should be on your list of places to watch so you’re there at the peak time.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing offshore with good results. Combining live shrimp with a 1-ounce knocker rig and dropping the combination around ledges and reefs is providing good action for his clients. Hogfish, porgies, mangrove snapper and catch-and-release gag grouper round out the bite for Lowman’s anglers this week. Moving inshore, Lowman is putting fishers on sheepshead, black drum and redfish around residential docks and canals. Lastly, lucky anglers are hooking into pompano while working the passes and ledges.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is patrolling nearshore reefs for a variety of species. Using live shrimp as bait is resulting in numerous sheepshead, as well as mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and hogfish. Moving inshore, Gross is targeting spotted seatrout in Sarasota Bay. Working a measles-colored DOA shrimp in 3-5 feet of water over the flats is working well. Gross says pompano are being caught on the flats with a 1/4-ounce jig head combined with a green grub tail.

Capt. Warren Girle is working offshore for a variety of species. Fishing ledges, reefs and wrecks in 40-50 feet of water is resulting in hogfish, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and porgies. All of these species are being caught on bottom rigs baited with live shrimp. Moving inshore to the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is enjoying watching his clients reel up spotted seatrout and pompano. Shrimp-tipped jigs are working for both.

Capt. Jason Stock is finding good action while fishing “skinny” water grass flats. In depths of 2-3 feet of water, Stock is instructing his clients to cast an array of artificials, including top-water and sub-surface plugs. While doing this, hungry “gator” trout are “taking the bait,” which is resulting in some trophy-size catches. Trout in the 26-inch range are common. Moving to slightly deeper water on runs offshore to the wrecks, reefs and ledges, Stock is putting clients on sheepshead, flounder, hogfish and tripletail.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is catching his share of red grouper in 100 feet of water. For bait, frozen sardines or live pinfish are luring these “fire trucks” to the hook. Moving inshore, White is casting soft plastic jigs over deeper flats to hook up with some spotted seatrout. White says his clients also are casting shrimp around the bayside docks, where they’re finding action on sheepshead and black drum.

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

Winter might last another 6 weeks, but fishing is heating up

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Chip Legassey of Harbour Isles on Perico Island shows off a couple of nuggets — pompano — he caught Feb. 1 while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Sue Chaney of Carterville, Illinois, holds up her catch, an 11-pound gag grouper. Chaney and her group caught a bunch of hogfish, mangrove snapper, porgies and grunts Feb. 2 — all in the Gulf within sight of land, on live shrimp, while on a charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman.
Rick Platz of Ontario shows off an American Red Snapper caught offshore Feb. 2 and released after the photo. The day produced numerous hog snapper and mangrove snapper using shrimp as well. Platz was guided to the fish by Captain Warren Girle.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is providing some good wintertime action, especially between cold fronts.

Most everyone is using live shrimp as bait as it seems to be the top ticket for a variety of species. Casting shrimp under docks and residential canals is attracting sheepshead, black drum and redfish. The small crustaceans are working well around the ledges and artificial reefs for sheepshead, grunts, snapper and hogfish. And finally, casting shrimp along the beaches is resulting in pompano, permit and plenty of whiting.

On my fishing excursions with Southernaire, I’m opting for the beach bite. Catching pompano and permit along the shorelines in the Gulf is one of my favorite pastimes. And I think my clients enjoy it, too. Using small jigs tipped with shrimp or just simply casting shrimp out on a small knocker rig is sufficient to catch either species. The key is finding them — and that’s not always easy.

I’m noticing an abundance of whiting mixed in on the bite. Whiting up to 16 inches can be more apt to take the hook than the pompano. Sheepshead, black drum and redfish are included in the “shoreline shrimp bite,” although they are a little random compared to the other species.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing sheepshead, mangrove snapper and a few black drum being reeled up to the deck. All three are being taken by pier fishers using live shrimp as bait. Casting shrimp-tipped jigs is a good bet for fishers at the pier. Pompano, jack crevalle and ladyfish can be caught in this fashion.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is dock fishing for a variety of species. Casting live shrimp on a knocker rig around such areas is helping clients attract sheepshead, black drum and redfish to the hook. On warmer days between cold fronts, Lowman is putting anglers on a decent bite of spotted seatrout on the deeper grass flats of Anna Maria Sound.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting sheepshead. On days when the wind is light, Gross is venturing out to the artificial reefs to find a bite. A knocker rig consisting of a 1/2-ounce egg sinker and a No. 2 circle hook combined with a piece of fresh shrimp is luring these “convict” fish to the hook. Most catches are in the 1 1/2- to 3-pound range, although don’t be surprised to reel up a few 5-pounders in the mix. While targeting sheepshead, Gross is seeing a variety of fish, including mangrove snapper and flounder. To round out the day, Gross is catching redfish around local docks and seawalls.

Capt. Warren Girle is taking a run offshore when the weather permits. Fishing ledges and hard bottom is yielding good results for Girle’s clients, especially on mangrove snapper and Key West grunts. Hogfish and some lane snapper are being reeled up by his anglers.

On windy days, Girle is staying in Sarasota Bay, working the Intracoastal Waterway. Fishing around docks and canals is resulting in redfish and black drum. Fishing the deeper grass flats is supplying good action on spotted seatrout.

Capt. Jason Stock is targeting “gator” trout in shallow water among the grass flats in the bay waters. On days when the sun has had time to warm these shallow areas, large spotted seatrout are on the prowl and Stock is there to feed them some bait. Best results are coming from artificials, such as subsurface and floating “twitch baits,” that are slowly retrieved through the water. Trout up to 26 inches are being landed by Stock’s clients and many are over 20 inches.

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

Wintertime fishing proves productive inshore, offshore

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Chase Stevens, 12, of Suffield, Connecticut, each with a very large sheepshead, show off their catch, the result of a winter fishing trip under the guidance of their grandfather, Connecticut-snowbird Dick Stevens, on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dick Stevens said, “Their smiles tell it all.” Islander Courtesy Photo
Fischer Stevens, 10, of Suffield, Connecticut, each with a very large sheepshead, show off their catch, the result of a winter fishing trip under the guidance of their grandfather, Connecticut-snowbird Dick Stevens, on Jan. 15, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Dick Stevens said, “Their smiles tell it all.” Islander Courtesy Photo
Kathy Coleman, visiting Anna Maria Island from Virginia, shows off the sheepshead she caught Jan. 19 on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Warren Girle, son Andy More and husband Sam Coleman. The group also caught redfish in Sarasota Bay using shrimp and were pleased the cold weather didn’t thwart their efforts.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island continues to follow a wintertime pattern for yet another week.

Spring doesn’t arrive until March 20. And as water temperatures both in the bays and in the Gulf of Mexico are striving to reach the upper 50s, fishing may require a little patience. On the calm days, when the waves are a foot or less, venturing out into the Gulf of Mexico can produce great results. Fishing ledges, reefs and wrecks is providing action on porgies, grunts, snappers and hogfish.

Also in the mix: catch-and-release grouper and amberjack. On windier days, staying in the bay and Intracoastal Waterway is the best bet. Casting live shrimp under docks and along canal seawalls is a way to attract sheepshead, black drum and redfish. In some of the deeper canals, free-lining a shrimp can attract large, spotted seatrout and snook.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing the typical wintertime species reeled up on the deck:  Sheepshead, black drum, flounder and redfish. Pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are having the most success. Those opting to use artificials, such as small jigs, are hooking up with an occasional jack crevalle.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting ledges and rock piles in the Gulf of Mexico when the weather permits. While in these areas, Lowman’s charter clients are reeling up numerous porgies, as well as some hogfish and mangrove snapper. Live shrimp fished on a 1-ounce knocker rig is producing the bite. Moving inshore, Lowman is targeting sheepshead and redfish around local docks and oyster bars.

Capt. Warren Girle is working offshore when the winds are light and the seas are calm. By fishing ledges, reefs and wrecks Girle is producing good action for his charter clients on a variety of species. Key West grunts, mangrove snapper and catch-and-release grouper are in the mix. Fishing inshore also is productive for Girle’s charters. Residential docks and canals are holding redfish, black drum and sheepshead. To lure these fish out from their wintertime haunts, Girle is using live shrimp as bait.

Capt. Jason Stock is running charters offshore when the opportunity presents itself and the weather allows. Using live shrimp as bait, Stock’s clients are reeling up numerous grunts, porgies and hogfish. Switching to large baits, especially artificials such as top-water poppers, results in large amberjack. Moving inshore, Stock is fishing shallow flats for gator trout. Artificials, such as Sebile “stick shad” or the DOA CAL jig is producing a bite. Lastly, catch-and-release gag grouper action is entertaining Stock’s clients in Tampa Bay.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is dock fishing on the Manatee River and in the Intracoastal Waterway and Sarasota Bay. Casting live shrimp under docks is resulting in sheepshead, black drum and redfish. Fishing shallow flats on the warmer days is producing some schooley snook, as well as spotted seatrout.

It’s a great time to go fishing!

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

Don’t let the cold weather put a damper on your fishing plans

After experiencing some of the coldest weather of the year, it’s hard not to get discouraged when trying to catch some fish.

But, you’re in luck. Wintertime fishing around Anna Maria Island can be quite productive if you practice some tried and true methods.

First, you’ll want to target species of fish that can tolerate cooler water temps. Sheepshead are a good bet. In fact, they thrive in the cooler water and will take a shrimp when it’s offered.

Black drum and redfish also are a good bet in cool conditions.

Next, you need to give some thought on where to fish. For the sheepshead, reefs, wrecks, piers and docks are the preferred habitat. For the black drum and reds, try fishing docks in areas that are sheltered, such as residential canals. In these areas, the water is slightly warmed by the seawalls, which can make a big difference in the bite.

Fishing offshore is a good bet as long as the seas are calm. Fishing deeper water when the temperatures are most consistent can be quite good for a variety of species — including hogfish, Key West grunts, flounder and even a few snapper.

Lastly, bait choice can play a major role in the overall success for cold weather anglers. Live shrimp are a great bait for wintertime fishing. If you’re into artificials, I suggest using soft plastics combined with a jig head. However, when using artificials like these, you want to slow down your retrieve, or the action of the jig. In cooler waters, the fish are less active because they are trying to conserve energy to keep warm. This being said, a fast erratic retrieve will most likely turn a fish off or even spook it. Slow your roll and you might have better success.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is targeting sheepshead around the artificial reefs in both Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. A small piece of shrimp combined with a 1/2-ounce knocker rig is attracting sheepies up to 5-pounds, although most average 2-3 pounds. Casting shrimp under residential docks and canals is yielding success for the anglers on the Fishy Business. In these areas, redfish and black drum are cooperating.

Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore when the weather permits. While offshore, wreck fishing with surface poppers is still driving large amberjack to the surface in some explosive strikes. AJs up to 74 pounds are hooking up in this fashion for Stock’s clients. Fishing ledges while offshore is resulting in hogfish and lane snapper. And Stock reports there plenty of ripletail being found offshore around floating debris.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing inshore, waiting out the rough waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing residential docks and canals throughout Sarasota Bay is putting fish in the cooler for Girle’s anglers. Using live shrimp as bait is attracting the attention of keeper-size sheepshead, black drum and redfish. Also in the canals are random jack crevalle and bluefish, which adds a nice mix to the bite.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is running charters to nearshore and offshore ledges when the seas are calm. By using live shrimp on a knocker rig in these areas, Lowman is finding a variety of species, including hogfish snapper, porgies and flounder. On the windier days when the Gulf of Mexico is too rough to navigate, Lowman is working around the Intracoastal Waterway and its adjoining bays. In these areas, dock fishing is proving prosperous for clients, who are reeling in catches of sheepshead, black drum and redfish.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says despite the cold temperatures, pier fishing is producing action. Pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are catching black drum and sheepshead with some frequency. Redfish are in the mix for anglers with a little luck on their side. To target any of these species, it’s always good to use a weighted rig so the shrimp sits on the bottom, allowing the fish to easily swim over and eat it.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is targeting pompano along the edges of any of the grass flats where the shallow water dumps into a channel. He’s also finding fish along the beaches. To catch this much sought-after dinner fare, White is using Doc’s Goofy jigs or a reasonable facsimile. To sweeten the deal, a small piece of shrimp is added to the jig. This adds scent, which often results in more bites. Sheepshead are being found by White, especially around docks and bridges, where his clients are taking home a fish fry. Live shrimp on a bottom rig is producing the bite.

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

Careful timing can put you on the trail of fish

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Thomas Hickey and wife Danielle, visiting from Columbus, Ohio, teamed up Jan. 10 on this nice 12-pound tripletail a few miles off of Egmont Key. It was hiding under a patch of floating grass when it ate the large shrimp on Hickey’s hook. The family also caught plenty of snapper, sheepshead and grunts for dinner on their charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman.
Thomas Hickey and wife Danielle, visiting from Columbus, Ohio, teamed up Jan. 10 on this nice 12-pound tripletail a few miles off of Egmont Key. It was hiding under a patch of floating grass when it ate the large shrimp on Hickey’s hook. The family also caught plenty of snapper, sheepshead and grunts for dinner on their charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman.
Nick, Adam, and Rob Seal of Burlington, Ontario, show off their limit of tripletail Jan. 10, caught on live, select shrimp as bait on a charter trip with Capt. David White.
Scott Willis, left, and dad, Mark, both of Bradenton, show off their tripletails from a Jan. 11 guided fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny, center, of Southernaire Fishing Charters.

Fishing around the barrage of cold fronts we are experiencing can be quite good — if you pick the right days.

You must pick your days. And you can pick your fish. But the days have to be the calm ones between cold fronts.

A lot of action is occurring, but it’s got to be calm in order to have a good experience out there. Big amberjack are being caught around the wrecks offshore, while hogfish, grunts and snappers are being taken around the ledges and artificial reefs.

Don’t forget about tripletail. As elusive and confusing as these fish can be to figure out, they can be simple to catch when you find them.

Speaking of tripletail, on my recent Southernaire charter, I found myself floating in and out of patches of thick fog as I patrolled one of the trap lines, giving everything a mysterious and eerie feeling. But let me tell you, the tripletail were in abundance. I couldn’t believe it. So, there I was, up in the tower cruising the trap line and literally stopping at almost every buoy.

Mark Willis and his son Scott, both of Bradenton, and their friend Chip Legassey of Harbour Isle on Perico Island were busy baiting up as we slowly approached the fish. Scott cast to the first fish, a 12-pounder, which immediately hit the bait. Scott tightened up and set the hook, letting the fish make a straight shot toward the boat. It spit the hook and slowly swam back to its buoy.

“Cast another bait in there!” I hollered down from up in the tower. Scott did just that and the fish hit again. We were cheering as Scott fought the fish to the boat.

Next, it was Chip’s turn. Same deal. We approached the buoy. Chip placed the bait perfectly in front of the fish and it ate the shrimp without hesitation. Chip quickly set the hook and cranked the tripletail boatside. This one fell just short of the 15-inch minimum and we gently put it back and watched it swim away.

The third fish, another big one — coming in at 10 pounds — was hooked by Mark. This stubborn fish took a few tries before it would take the bait. In fact, Mark cast so close to the buoy, the shrimp was flush against the trap line.

“I’m hung up,” Mark said.

“Let it sit. See if he’ll eat it off the line for you,” I replied. And sure enough, that’s what happened.

Drag peeled off Mark’s reel as the “crappie on steroids” turned sideways trying to get away. Persistently, Mark fought the fish until it was finally boat side, photographed, and in the cooler.

After a day like that, everyone was stoked. Instead of seeing double though, I guess you could say we were seeing triple.

Capt. Warren Girle is working charters inshore on the recent cold, windy days and, despite the conditions, he’s doing quite well. Targeting sheltered areas such as residential canals where seawalls and docks hold fish is proving to be an excellent choice for Girle’s anglers. Sheepshead, black drum and redfish are being caught frequently with a few flounder and catch-and-release snook in the mix, with live shrimp as the preferred bait.

On calmer days when venturing into Sarasota Bay is more welcoming, Girle is finding exceptional numbers of spotted seatrout and rallies of 50-60 fish.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is guiding anglers in the back bays, canals and creeks for shelter from the cold and wind. By doing so, he’s running across sheepshead and redfish, both indulging themselves on live shrimp. Casting around docks, rocks and bars is proving sufficient to locate the fish. Along the beaches, Lowman is finding pompano and plenty of whiting hungry for shrimp. On calm days, while in the Gulf of Mexico, tripletail are at the top of the menu.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters took advantage of a couple of calm days to venture offshore. The predominant bite — when you can get out there — is grunts, snappers, hogfish and tripletail, all readily taking live shrimp.

Moving into the bays, pompano and spotted seatrout are dominating the bite for White. Both species are showing interest in small jigs garnished with a piece of fresh-cut shrimp — especially the pompano.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing redfish being caught in respectable sizes and numbers. Slot- and over-slot reds are being caught by anglers willing to chill and wait for a bite. Live shrimp cast under the pier deck is yielding results. Mixed in with the redfish are sheepshead, black drum and flounder. On the calmer days, when the weather is warmer, bouncing a shrimp-tipped jig along the shore adjacent to the pier is resulting in a look from a pompano or two.

Capt. Jason Stock is patrolling offshore wrecks when the weather permits, where persistence pays off, especially for amberjack. Casting top-water plugs such as surface poppers in these areas is attracting AJs — the largest weighing in at 18 pounds. Yes, that’s right. Talk about some sore arms for the unsuspecting angler who reeled that one in. Aside from gigantic amberjack, goliath grouper are on Stock’s offshore agenda. Fish in the 100- to 200-pound range are the norm. Go big or go home, cappy.

            For more of the past week’s fishing photos, go to www.islander.org.