Weather may be chilly but AMI fishing is hot

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Capt. Jason Stock and Rob Harris of St. Pete show off a nice male hogfish caught by Harris lat in January in a light tackle battle. Stock said it made “amazing table fare for dinner that night!”
Dylan Ciocca, visiting Anna Maria Island from Philadelphia, shows off a beautiful red grouper, caught on cut mullet last week while fishing offshore in 120-feet of water with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.
Jerry Oliver, visiting Anna Maria Island from Pennsylvania, shows off one of several redfish he caught and released Jan. 24 in Sarasota Bay using shrimp for bait. Oliver was guided by Capt. Warren Girle.
Capt. Jason Stock and Rob Harris of St. Pete show off a nice male hogfish, caught last week on a light tackle battle. Stock said it made “amazing table fare for dinner that night!”

It may not seem cold to the snowbirds, but to Floridians, it was a chilly week.

As for fishing around Anna Maria Island, the sheepshead for dinner fare and the catch-and-release redfish bite remain steady.

With numerous days of cold temperatures and windy conditions, fishing our local and inshore waters has been challenging. The bite is fairly good — the challenging part is dressing warm enough to be on the water. With temperatures in the mid-40s, traveling across the water at 30 mph in a boat can be uncomfortable.

Fortunately, once the rod starts to bend and you’re reeling in the fish — just like in the summer heat — you forget about the temperature.

On the warmer, calmer days, when the Gulf of Mexico is navigable, venturing offshore to ledges, reefs and wrecks is worth a look-see. In depths of 35-50 feet, mangrove snapper are abundant, as well as Key West grunts and porgies. If you’re lucky, you may reel up some hogfish, too.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m staying inshore to concentrate anglers on sheepshead and black drum for the cooler and catch-and-release redfish. Fishing rock piles in Tampa Bay is producing some respectable sized sheepies. I’m seeing quality-size sheepshead being caught around docks and seawalls. As far as the black drum and catch-and-release redfish, dock fishing is where it’s at. Casting live shrimp in these areas is yielding many reds. Most are 18-24 inches, but the number of catches outweigh the small size. On some mornings, I am seeing as many as two dozen redfish reeled to the boat. And, with a few black drum and some fat sheepshead, it amounts to a decent morning of fishing.

Jim Malfese says sheepshead fishing is the highlight of the week at the Rod & Reel Pier. He says when using live shrimp, fishers are doing well on 1-2 pound sheepies. Alternative baits, such as fiddler crabs, sand fleas or tube worms, are producing action on sheepies. While targeting sheepshead, you can expect to encounter a variety of other fish, including black drum, flounder and catch-and-release redfish. Casting baits from the pier into Tampa Bay is worthwhile for anglers looking to catch a pompano or possibly some jack crevalle.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing the bays and Intracoastal Waterway for sheepshead, as well as a variety of other backwater species. Casting live shrimp around docks is resulting in the winter trio of numerous sheepies, black drum and catch-and-release redfish. On calmer days, when the Gulf of Mexico is accessible, Lowman is venturing out to depths of 25-50 feet, where clients are dropping shrimp on a knocker rig around ledges, reefs and wrecks for a bite. The result is an abundance of mangrove snapper, sheepshead and Key West grunts. Tripletail are present in these depths, milling on the surface, mixed in with the floating debris.

Capt. Warren Girle is working inshore most days to avoid rough seas that result from cold fronts. By fishing docks, canals and seawalls, Girle is leading his clients to numerous fish and some shelter from the cold and wind.

The winter trio are rounding out the bite in these areas. Using live shrimp as bait is working well. On calmer days between the fronts, Girle is venturing to nearshore ledges and wrecks within 9 miles of shore. In these areas, many mangrove snapper are being caught, as well as Key West grunts, porgies and some catch-and-release gag grouper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is targeting sheepshead throughout the inland waters from Tampa Bay to Sarasota Bay. Casting live shrimp on a bottom rig around structure is resulting in sheepshead up to 21 inches. Fishing around docks for sheepshead also is producing black drum and catch-and-release redfish.

Fishing the flats is working on calm, clear days. Jigging over deep grass flats for pompano and trout is producing action for those willing to work out their arms.

Lastly, fly fishing for trout and catch-and-release snook is a good bet on the night charters with Capt. White. Shrimp and baitfish patterns are working well.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore out to depths of 80-100 feet when the weather permits. By travelling, Stock is putting clients on plenty of big amberjack. Fish 60-70 pounds are not uncommon. Bottom fishing offshore with Stock is providing action on red grouper, hogfish and some large mangrove snapper.

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