Patience is a virtue in cold-water fishing
Island fishers who braved the cold were rewarded with decent catches of inshore and offshore species.
With only a couple days this past week with light wind, offshore fishers reported limits of gag grouper, Key West grunts, porgies and mangrove snapper.
Most of the action was on nearshore structures and ledges. When the water temps drop to the low 50s, you need to be patient. You may not get bit on your first drop, but that doesn’t mean the fish aren’t there. They’re just sluggish because it’s so cold. Kind of like us, I guess.
Frozen threadfins and sardines are the preferred baits, with squid coming in a close second.
Inshore species include redfish, black drum and sheepshead. Trout season is open, but the bite has been a little off due to the cold. As local waters warm, the trout bite should get better. Natural baits, such as shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms, are working well in our chilly backwaters. Artificial baits such as Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head, are producing trout. Remember, slow down your retrieve when the water is this cold.
Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters said he’s been catching some keeper gags in 45 feet of water. With water temps in the mid 50s, Genthner said he had to “adapt to the conditions to find the bite.”
“The bite was slower than normal,” Genthner said. “We had to wait as long as 15 minutes in some spots before the fish started biting.”
Along with a lot of patience, Genthner suggested using 25-pound fluorocarbon for a leader and baiting with frozen threadfins.
Moving inshore Genthner said he’s been targeting redfish in Sarasota Bay. He’s trying to fish the backwater in the afternoon. “This gives the water temps a chance to come up a little,” Genthner said.
“A rise of 2 or 3 degrees in water temperature can make the difference when targeting redfish,” he added. Fresh-cut shrimp has been working well for the redfish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle said redfish have been the best bet. “Most of them are undersized, but there’s a lot of them around,” Keyes said. Best baits for these reds have been fresh shrimp or live crabs. Most fishers are targeting docks and canals to find the bite. “While fishing the docks, you can also catch sheepshead and black drum,” Keyes said.
“Reports of trout have been coming in as well,” Keyes added. “Try targeting deeper grass flats, and use a slow retrieve if you’re fishing artificials.”
Moving out to the beach side, Keyes said he’s heard of some fishers catching whiting. Sand fleas and fresh-cut shrimp have been the bait of choice. Gag grouper, porgies and Key West grunts still inhabit nearshore wrecks and reefs. “Frozen threadfins and squid have been working pretty good,” Keyes said. Moving out past 9 miles, fishers are catching good numbers of mangrove snapper and red grouper using the same baits.
Capt. Warren Girle said his charters are catching some nice mangrove snapper 7 miles off of the beach. Frozen sardines and shrimp have been working well. Girle is finding some sheepshead out there as well. “You really need to pick your days to fish offshore,” Girle said. “There’s only been a couple days a week that are feasible to get out there due to strong wind and large swells.”
Inshore fishing for Girle resulted in redfish, black drum and sheepshead. He said he’s mainly fishing local canals with deepwater to find the bite. He also suggested fishing the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay to find spotted sea trout.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters reported catches of Key West grunts, sheepshead and porgies on the nearshore structures off the beaches. Kimball has been targeting water depths of 30 to 40 feet to find tasty porgies and grunts. Shrimp and squid have been a good offering to entice the fish. Moving offshore, Kimball said he’s seeing a lot of gag grouper in the 12 to 14 pound range.
Moving inshore, Capt. Mark Johnston also of Legend Charters, said due to the cold weather, backwater fishing required a little more work than normal. Johnston said he’s been catching sheepshead, flounder and redfish around local docks and canals. Live shrimp on a 1/0 hook has been Johnston’s bait of choice. “You have to be patient,” Johnston said. “A lot of the fish are nosing the bait.” Johnston suggested waiting longer before you set the hook when this happens. This gives the fish ample time to eat the bait and take the hook.
Johnston said he’s also catching a lot of slot-size trout while fishing deeper holes and ditches in the bay.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters said, “The key to successful fishing is to adapt your fishing trips to what Mother Nature sends your way.” Cold and blustery days have not been conducive to fishing the open waters of Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, this is the weather pattern that has presented. Howard has changed his fishing patterns accordingly. Fishing tight to the leeward shorelines and docks of the Intracoastal has been his method of catching fish, in spite of the bone-chilling temperatures and howling winds. Howard has been targeting redfish, black drum and sheephead—with some excellent results. Howard’s last four charters limited out on keeper redfish and released many others.
Speckled trout are staging at the mouth of deepwater canals of Anna Maria and along the drop offs of the Intracoastal Waterway. Howard suggested using the temperature gauge on your depth finder to help in the hunt for speckled trout. “A 3 degree change in water temperature can be the difference between a few fish and strikes on every bite,” Howard said.
“Jigs with soft plastics will help you locate the schools of these tasty fish.”
Looking forward, the tides will be exceptionally low in the mornings, which Howard thinks will be excellent for exploring and finding the potholes and natural highways the fish use.
“Mark these spots on your depth finder and you will have staging areas of the fish schools for the spring time,” Howard said. “These exposed highways will be the path the fish will take onto the flats as the tides go from low to high.”
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