Sandwich fishing between fronts for best action

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Nico Davis, visiting the island area from New Hampshire, shows off a black drum caught Jan. 19 on a shrimp while on a guided inshore fishing trip. Capt. Warren Girle said Davis used his last few hours of vacation time to fish before heading back to the cold weather in New England.
Jerry Gerth of Palmetto and Tyson Peco of Bradenton show off their Jan. 27 catch, a mixed bag of hogfish, lane snapper, mangrove snapper and white grunts. They used knocker rigs and shrimp for bait. They were led to the fish at the nearshore reefs by Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters.
Larry Karlman of Minocqua, Wisconsin, hooked into this 20-inch sheepshead Jan. 24 on a charter trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire.

Slotting fishing times between cold fronts can make all the difference when fishing around Anna Maria Island in the winter.

This last front — with winds exceeding 30 mph and air temps in the 40s — put a damper on fishing for a few days. But the in-betweens can produce some great days on the water — and a good catch. Light winds and air temps in the 70s are ideal for getting out on the water.

Targeting such species as pompano, sheepshead and black drum can result in some great wintertime action. And all three species will readily take a live shrimp as bait, making it easy for those who aren’t into throwing a cast net for bait. You simply buy the shrimp by the dozen at your favorite bait shop.

If you’re fishing from shore, targeting sheepies and black drum may be as easy as going out to the dock behind your house or visiting the Rod & Reel Pier. Fishing around bridges and other areas where structure — rocks, docks and pilings — exists is also a good bet.

As for the pompano, you can try fishing the beaches on mornings when the tide is high and the Gulf of Mexico is flat calm. Casting shrimp-tipped jigs along the shore is a great way to hook a pompano — and you could hook into other species, too. Jack crevalle, ladyfish and whiting are present in these areas.

If you’re on a boat, try the artificial reefs and wrecks for the sheepies. Dock fishing will work for these buck-toothed convict-striped fish, too. Around the docks, you’ll probably encounter a black drum or two, as well as catch-and-release redfish. For the pompano, try drifting over deep grass areas and cast a jig into the sandy potholes. Tipping that jig with a shrimp will help. And, if it’s calm enough to get out in the Gulf, fishing the nearshore ledges is a great way to catch enough fish for a fish fry. Key West grunts, hogfish and porgies are great candidates.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m seeing plenty of black drum, sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish being reeled in by clients. Casting live shrimp around docks and other structure is yielding this bite. Although the real numbers of sheepshead have yet to appear, we’re still putting some good ones in the box.

Targeting pompano over deep grass areas and along the beaches also is providing action. Mixed in are some big whiting, as well as ladyfish and jack crevalle, which helps to fill the gaps between pompano bites.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding good action for his clients on catch-and-release redfish while working docks and canals. Casting live shrimp on a knocker rig in these areas is attracting reds to the hook.

While targeting redfish, Girle is putting anglers on to hooking into sheepshead and black drum, which makes it possible for clients to take home something for dinner if they so desire.

Casting jigs tipped with shrimp is yielding a variety of species when fishing over deep grass areas. In depths of 5-8 feet, Girle is hooking up with pompano, ladyfish and jack crevalle, as well as catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Capt. Aaron Lowman also is working nearshore structure for variety. By baiting live shrimp with a bottom rig, he’s leading clients to Key West grunts, porgies, hogfish and mangrove snapper.

Moving inshore, Lowman is baiting hooks with shrimp, which is resulting in sheepshead, black drum and catch-and-release redfish. Most of these bites are occurring while fishing around docks and pilings.

On the deeper grass flats, during higher stages of the tide, Lowman is finding ladyfish, pompano and catch-and-release spotted seatrout by drifting and jigging with soft plastics combined with a jig head.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing offshore on days when he finds calm seas. Red grouper and mangrove snapper are rounding out the bite for his clients. Large amberjack are in the mix. For the grouper and snapper, frozen sardines work well. For the AJs, live pinfish are White’s bait of choice.

Moving inshore, White is finding success with sheepshead. Fishing rocks and docks is customary to finding these tasty fish.  Finally, targeting pompano with jigs along the beaches and grassy bottom is producing action.

Capt. Jason Stock is getting clients offshore when the winds are manageable. While out there, he’s leading clients to big amberjack — up to 90 pounds.

Also, goliath grouper are being caught in excess of 100 pounds.

Just before the last cold front, Stock reported one of the best kingfish bites he’s seen in a while on both artificials and live baits.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier anticipates the sheepshead bite to be improving as we experience frequent cold fronts. As the water temps drop, the sheepies show in greater numbers around the pier pilings. As of now, pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are catching the beginnings of the sheepshead migration. Most fish are 10-14 inches, with a few bigger ones mixed in. Using shrimp as bait also is attracting black drum and catch-and-release redfish to the hook.

Don’t be surprised to hook into an occasional catch-and-release snook, too, although water temps are dropping. A few linesiders may await your bait.

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