As weather cools, switch baits to continue hooking up

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It’s a sure sign of cold weather to come — sheepies! Doug and Matt Gritter from Holland, Michigan, fished nearshore Dec. 7 using shrimp for bait and caught numerous sheepshead. They were guided to the fish by Capt. Warren Girle.
Ryan Barlow of Tampa shows off an amberjack caught on a Halco popper. Dec. 8. He also reeled up snapper, tuna, Goliath grouper and flounder on the fishing trip with JM Snooky Charters.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is showing signs of a change.

With cold fronts becoming more consistent, water temps are dropping, which is definitely affecting fishing.

Those of us who rely on live shiners are seeing less of the bait as the water cools. Plus, the fish are not reacting to them as aggressively as they could.

Needless to say, I see using live shrimp as bait in the near future.

And the winter catch is starting to show up in numbers.

Sheepshead and black drum are showing in the backcountry areas. Grass flats, docks and inlets are host to these fish as they begin to school up and forage for food.

Redfish will follow this pattern as they too like to dig around in the sand or grass for tasty morsels — shrimp, crabs or tubeworms.

For me, this is a welcome sight.

It will be nice to target different species and use different techniques to catch fish. Snook fishing with free-lined shiners is some of the best fishing ever, but, after seeing hundreds of linesiders being caught and released throughout the summer and fall, I’m ready for a change.

Fishing with shrimp as bait will open new opportunities on the water, which includes pompano. It’s always nice to hook into some stray pompano while shrimp fishing. And it’s even better when you come across the motherlode. I imagine we should start seeing more flounder in the mix, another welcome sight.

Either way, don’t be discouraged by the cooler weather. We may not be targeting the snook as much, but a plethora of other species await the hook.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing is quite good despite windy days and cold temps. Sheepshead and black drum are being caught with regularity by anglers using live shrimp as bait.

While targeting their prey with shrimp, fishers are finding success on flounder, redfish and pompano. Folks using larger baits — pinfish or ladyfish — are hooking into some over-sized snook. And, of course, releasing them.

Capt. Aaron Lowman says fishing between the cold fronts is producing good action on catch-and-release snook and redfish. Targeting areas near mangroves, oyster bars or docks seems to be most productive for sport fishers.

Moving out to deeper grass flats is resulting in a mixed bag — spotted seatrout for the cooler, as well as ladyfish and jack crevalle.

As the cold fronts become more persistent, Lowman is targeting sheepshead and black drum. To catch the convict-striped fish, live shrimp fished on the bottom on a jig head is attracting a bite for anglers.

Lastly, trolling grouper in Tampa Bay is productive. Some keeper fish are being caught as well as a few shorts.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding good action on the deeper grass flats for spotted seatrout.

Also in the mix are ladyfish, mangrove snapper and an abundance of jack crevalle. For bait, Girle says live shiners are working well.

Fishing around docks is proving to be good for Girle. Casting live shiners under docks is resulting in catch-and-release redfish and snapper for the cooler.

Moving to deeper water, where wrecks and reefs are present, is good for Spanish mackerel, bluefish and gag grouper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is switching gears to winter-time tactics while working his inshore charters.

Strong winds and numerous cold fronts make it tough to venture offshore due to uncomfortable conditions.

While fishing inshore, White is using live shrimp as bait, which is yielding a variety of fish — sheepshead, black drum and catch-and-release redfish.

For the sheepies and black drum, White is targeting areas along the beaches or fishing out of the wind in the canals around residential docks.

For the redfish, the same applies, although most of the bite is being found around the docks.

When able to run offshore, White is finding good action on hogfish and snapper, as well as migratory fish, amberjack and kingfish.

Capt. Jason Stock is finding great action on gag grouper on live baits, such as pinfish. He’s producing bites in Tampa Bay and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

While in the Gulf, Stock is putting his clients on cobia, kingfish and large amberjack.

On windy days, Stock is staying inshore to target catch-and-release redfish and snook and finding spotted seatrout also are willing to take the hook.

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

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