Fishing between weather fronts proves prosperous
Following the typical pattern for winter, island fishers are getting out between the cold fronts. Between fronts, the weather has been stellar. Eighty degrees and light winds make for some good Florida fishing in February.
On the other hand, during the fronts, temperatures are plummeting into the 50s and lower 60s. Add 20-knot winds out of the northeast and the fish can be on the borderline of lockjaw. All considered, it’s safe to say that consistency of the catch can be somewhat lacking.
Reports of sheepshead are good, especially from the Rod & Reel Pier. This bite had been hit or miss the past few weeks, but it’s time for things to start happening. Numbers of fish around the piers pilings should visibly increase. Hopefully, catches also will go up in numbers. The artificial reefs are holding some sheepies, and in mixed sizes, too. To fish the reefs, live shrimp is a great offering. If you decide to fish the piers, shrimp is working the best, but plan on baiting fiddlers and fleas as the fish settle in.
Rumors of pompano being caught along the beaches of Anna Maria Island are floating around. Try fishing at sun up with a yellow or pink pompano jig to get a bent rod. If you find the pompano are being reluctant, you can entice them with a fat live sand flea. That’ll usually do the trick.
Finally, redfish are gathering along the mangrove shorelines in between the fronts. These fish are being caught a number of ways so be prepared to be creative. Live shiners are working late in the day, if you can find them. Shrimp are working, but only if you’re dock fishing for reds. You’ll also hear about chunks of ladyfish working as bait for these reds. Some anglers say this method of fishing can be boring, but that only lasts until they have a big red on the end of their line.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting redfish and catch-and-release snook on the flats of southern Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay. Gross is using live shiners, although hard to come by, for bait. During afternoon high tides, Gross is locating schooling redfish close to mangrove shorelines. By free lining the shiners, Gross is catching fish in the upper-slot range.
Afternoon high tides are the key. Average size of the snook is 22-24 inches, although in recent trips Gross was finding lots of slot-size fish.
Spotted seatrout are in the mix. For these fish, Gross is drifting and jigging with soft plastics. The MirrOlure Lil John on a 1/4-ounce jighead will do the trick, according to Gross. Most of the fish being caught are in the slot, although some small fish are in the mix.
Capt. Warren Girle is adding a new bait to his repertoire for reds — fresh-cut ladyfish. By cutting small bite-size pieces of ladyfish and casting them into schooling reds, Girle is catching slot-size and over-slot size fish. He’s working grass flats adjacent to mangrove shorelines during the high tides to locate schooling reds. Fishing with cut ladyfish is a great alternative when other baits are hard to come by or aren’t working.
The highlight recently was a 38-inch snook that was caught on a chunk of ladyfish.
Spotted sea trout are being caught on Berkley Gulp shrimp jigged over grass flats of 3-5 feet in depth. Most trout being caught are in the 15- to 20-inch range although fish up to 24 inches are available.
Girle is still targeting pompano in Sarasota Bay with success. By tipping small pompano jigs with fresh-cut shrimp, his clients are reeling up 6-10 pompano per trip with a by-catch of mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish.
From the beaches, Girle is working the small artificial reefs to catch bonito, Spanish mackerel and bluefish. To catch these species, Girle is using a small silver rattletrap with a quick retrieve. To prevent losing lures to sharp teeth, Girle attaches 4 inches of light wire leader.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says pompano are making a showing along Anna Maria Island beaches. Keyes likes to use a pompano jig with a small stinger rig to attract the bite. By using these jigs, Keyes says you can catch a number of species. Bluefish, mackerel, jacks, ladyfish and whiting will anxiously snack on these jigs if presented to them.
Keyes is hearing of sheepshead action at the local piers. Best baits to be armed with are live shrimp or sand fleas. To catch live sand fleas, you need a sand flea rake — a handle with an enforced wire mesh basket/strainer attached. You simply drag this basket through the sand in the shore break and sift out until what’s left is sand fleas. If this sounds like too much work, you can find frozen sand fleas at your local bait shop.
From the flats, Keyes is hearing of decent spotted seatrout action on artificials. Most flats fishers are jigging with soft plastics to get a bite. Popular colors this past week were white and chartreuse. Keyes suggests DOA Cal jigs when the trout are biting. If the bite slows down, or it’s slow to begin with, Keyes suggests a 3-inch Berkley Gulp shrimp. He feels the added scent gives him an advantage when fish are finicky.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says the sheepies are cooperating and they’re eating shrimp. Pier fishers using either whole or fresh-cut live shrimp are going home with respectable bags of sheepshead fillets after a morning of fishing at the R&R. Average size of the sheepies is 1-2 pounds, although sightings of larger fish are being reported. As a rule of thumb, fiddler crabs and sand fleas will out-fish shrimp when targeting sheepies, but this week shrimp has been the bait of choice.
Similar to weeks in the past, black drum and flounder are rounding out the bite at the pier. Keeper-sizes of both species are being caught on live shrimp. If you’re specifically targeting flounder, try using a Berkley Gulp shrimp on a 1/4-ounce jig head. Cast along the edges of the pier and slowly drag your jig along the bottom adjacent to the structure.
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