Ring in the new year with great weather, fishing action

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Kim Keleher of Carmel, Indiana, shows off a beautiful snook caught on live shrimp the morning of Dec. 29, 2020, with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.
Brian Waite, longtime client from Seattle, hoists a redfish caught Dec. 30, 2020, on a shrimp with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is beginning on a high note in 2021.

With mild temperatures and fairly calm seas, fishing inshore and offshore are quite productive.

While offshore, anglers are boating limits of hogfish, snappers and plenty of grouper, as well as some amberjack, porgies and Key West grunts.

Most of these catches are occurring on live shrimp as bait. For the amberjack and groupers, live pinfish is the bait of choice. Remember, gag grouper are catch-and-release until June 1.

Moving inshore, anglers can enjoy a variety of species, depending on location.

Those working along the beaches are hooking up with pompano, ladyfish and blue runners, as well as keeper-size whiting.

Moving out into the Gulf of Mexico, slightly deeper waters around the artificial reefs are yielding sheepshead, mangrove snapper and Key West grunts. Some lucky anglers are hooking into hogfish in water as shallow as 30 feet.

Fishing on the flats — primarily on the deeper flats of 5-8 feet — can yield great action. Catch-and-release spotted seatrout are the most apparent, although catches of pompano, bluefish and ladyfish are frequent.

Finally, fishing residential canals and docks can provide action on windy days. Casting shrimp under docks and along seawalls yields plenty of black drum, sheepshead, flounder and catch-and-release redfish. Some catch-and-release snook is being caught during the warmest parts of the day.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m patrolling the beaches. Casting live shrimp or jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp attracts pompano, sheepshead, black drum and whiting. I’m also seeing clients hook into ladyfish and jack crevalle, especially while throwing the jig.

On days when the Gulf waters are too rough nearshore, I’m fishing rocks and docks in Tampa Bay, where catch-and-release redfish are the most prominent bite. Black drum and sheepshead are in the mix, adding variety.

Fishing deeper grass areas also can produce action, especially on catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is finding plenty of action to keep his clients busy while using live shrimp as bait. Along the beaches, Lowman is finding sheepshead and black drum, as well as a few pompano.

Residential docks and canals are good spots for anglers using shrimp as bait. This bite is consisting of sheepshead, flounder and some catch-and-release redfish.

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico is producing the best action and most variety of species. In depths of 30-60 feet, Lowman is putting clients on mangrove snapper, hogfish, tripletail, porgies and Key West grunts.

Capt. Jason Stock also is working offshore, casting for a variety of species. Using live shrimp as bait over ledges and hard bottom results in catches of hogfish, Key West grunts and porgies. This action is occurring in depths of 50-70 feet of water.

Moving out to depths of 100 feet is producing plenty of action, too. Amberjack is the dominant bite in these waters, with the fish readily taking live pinfish as bait. In these depths, Stock is working areas of floating grass, which allows clients to sight cast to some large tripletail.

Lastly, for some catch-and-release fun, Stock is setting his clients up to battle some goliath grouper.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are the primary bite. It is winter, after all. Pier fishers using live shrimp or crabs are reeling up numerous sheepies in a few hours. Most catches are 12-15 inches, but bigger ones are in the mix.

While targeting the sheepshead, pier fishers are hooking into their share of black drum and catch-and-release redfish.

Lastly, casting jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp is yielding an occasional pompano at the pier.

Capt. David White is targeting his efforts in Tampa Bay. And for those efforts, clients are rewarded with catches of sheepshead, black drum, flounder and pompano. For the sheepies, drum and flounder, a bottom rig combined with a live shrimp is working nicely. For the pompano, drifting and jigging with shrimp-tipped jigs is producing the best action.

On afternoon excursions when the waters on the flats have warmed, White enjoys some good action on catch-and-release snook and redfish.

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