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.

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