Fishing – 02-24-2016

Sheepshead remain top target for anglers in local waters


Sheepshead fishing around Anna Maria Island is on the verge of becoming unhinged.

Increasing herds of sheepies are invading our local waters, especially around residential docks, canals and the fishing piers on the north end of the island. The rock piles, reefs and wrecks in both Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are host to large numbers of these convict-striped fish.

On my Southernaire fishing charters, we are targeting, yeah, you guessed it, sheepshead. Not only do these fish put up a great fight on light tackle, they are superb table fare. That being said, be selective on the sheepies you keep for dinner. I prefer fish 2-4 pounds as opposed to 6-8 pounds. The meat of the larger sheepies tends to be a little tougher and not quite as sweet.

In addition to sheepshead, I am hooking up my clients on mangrove snapper. A lot of times, we’re catching them mixed in with the sheepshead bite. Although, I am also putting anglers in areas of structure that are solely holding snapper. Most of the mangoes coming over the gunwhale are 12-14 inches, although fish up to 18 inches are not uncommon.

Finally, to add a little variety, I’m finding pompano and permit along the beaches, especially right along the shoreline. Jigging with hot pink or chartreuse jigs tipped with shrimp is proving to be the most productive. While targeting pomps and permit, we’re also hooking into Spanish mackerel, whiting, flounder and jack crevalle. It makes for a good day of fishing.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing inshore on days with strong winds and rough seas. By targeting the calm waters around residential canals and dock, Girle is managing to put his clients on a variety of species. Sheepshead, black drum and redfish, to name a few, are readily taking live shrimp on a weighted rig. Casting these baits under docks and along sea walls is producing the bite.

On days when waters are calm and wind is light, Girle is venturing offshore. By anchoring over hard bottom, ledges and artificial reefs, Girle is finding ample amounts of mangrove snapper. Keeper-size gags are being released — they’re out of season. As for the keeper reds, into the cooler they go.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is targeting sheepshead — the most abundant fish in our waters during the month of February. The convict fish are being caught around docks, oyster bars, artificial reefs and rock piles. For bait, Gross is using live shrimp. Along with sheepshead, Gross is hooking up keeper-size mangrove snapper in the same areas.

Dock fishing in the Intracoastal Waterway and the surrounding bay waters is producing catches for Gross. He reports redfish and black drum are readily taking shrimp cast under docks on weighted rigs. An occasional flounder is being caught using the same method.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is following a similar pattern to last week, as are most captains this time of year. Targeting rock piles, reefs and wrecks in Tampa Bay is producing respectable catches of sheepshead and mangrove snapper for his clients. Live shrimp on a knocker rig are Lowman’s bait of choice.

To switch things up a little, Lowman is venturing out into the flats of Anna Maria Sound to do a little spotted seatrout fishing. Drifting over the flats and casting soft plastics on a jig head is attracting attention from the cold-stricken trout. Live shrimp under a popping cork also are producing a bite. Slot-size trout are the norm with under-sized fish mixed in.

Aside from dipping shrimp in the bait tank, releasing pelicans caught by amateur anglers and making sure the pier functions in an orderly fashion, Jim Malfese, dockmaster of the Rod & Reel Pier, still finds the time to keep track of what’s being caught and what’s not.

According to Malfese, the sheepshead bite is ever-increasing as more and more of these tasty convict fish congregate around the pilings to munch on the barnacles. Live shrimp is still the most productive bait, resulting in catches 12-15 inches. With numbers on the rise, anglers are catching near limits — 15 fish —within a morning of fishing.

Other hungry fish being caught on shrimp include flounder, black drum and the occasional redfish. Using weighted rigs to keep baits on or near the bottom is required to be successful.

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