Tag Archives: Fishing

February fishing consistent, despite inconsistent weather

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Brothers, Mike of Virginia, Steve of Colorado, Greg of Illinois and Jim Koemer of Texas show off some of their pompano, caught Feb. 18 inshore on shrimp and jigs. The foursome was guided to the fish by Capt. Warren Girle
Brayden Petrie, visiting with family from Rockford, Illinois, shows off a pompano. The Feb. 13 charter trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman produced a nice bunch of sheepshead, pompano and mangrove snapper — most caught on a jigs and live shrimp inside Tampa Bay.

Thanks to calm sunny days with temperatures in the 80s followed by a cold front dropping temps into the 50s, our weather is consistently inconsistent. However, the fishing around Anna Maria Island is holding true for February.

Typically, February means its sheepshead season around Anna Maria Island. And despite the crazy temperature fluctuations and fronts, the sheepshead are here.

To find the little buck-toothed barnacle grazers, anglers only need to go so far as the artificial reefs, wrecks and rock piles in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. If you want to stay closer to shore, the Rod & Reel Pier, residential docks and bridges hold fish, too.

Sheepshead love crustaceans — shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas. You can catch fiddler crabs and sand fleas yourself, but if you’re in a hurry or don’t have a routine spot to collect them, shrimp will entice the convict-striped fish to take the hook.

If you’re looking to target other species, try working in the residential canals. The water is typically warmer in the canals, plus, fishers are somewhat sheltered from the wind. The canals also can be deeper than the surrounding waters, which can provide a more consistent habitat for fish when we have temperature fluctuations.

Try casting live shrimp on a weighted rig along seawalls, under docks and even around mangroves and other trees hanging over the water. You’ll most likely find the catch-and-release trio of redfish, snook and trout along with black drum, sheepshead and flounder. Not bad for fishing in the backyard — from land or a boat.

On a conservation note, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released an executive order this past week that extends catch-and-release measures for snook, red drum and spotted seatrout for another year in areas impacted by red tide that occurred in mid-2018 through early 2019.

All three species will remain catch-and-release through May 31, 2021, in all waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County, including f course Manatee County. These temporary regulation changes were made to help conserve these popular inshore species.

For more information, visit: https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/FLFFWCC/bulletins/27cb1ef.

Capt. Warren Girle is working the inshore flats this week, putting his clients on pompano, spotted seatrout and Spanish mackerel.

Moving offshore to work structure in the Gulf of Mexico, Girle’s clients are having success on sheepshead, Key West grunts and juvenile grouper.

Capt. Jason Stock is working in the bay on windy days and reports great sheepshead action. He adds that the catch-and-release snook bite was on fire while fishing inshore.

Offshore, Stock reports a great flounder bite — and big ones too — over a dozen coming to the boat at 4 pounds in one morning of fishing. Also while offshore, Stock’s clients are hooking into kingfish and Spanish mackerel and some large catch-and-release gags and amberjacks.

Capt. Aaron Lowman says he’s finding a pretty good sheepshead bite inside the bay while working over structure. He adds that he’s starting to see bait in the bay, thanks to the warm weather we experienced before the weekend cold front.

After working the sheepshead, Lowman is taking clients into the Manatee River and around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to hook up with some catch-and-release snook.

Moving south to Sarasota Bay, pompano, spotted seatrout and bluefish are accommodating Lowman’s clients.

Finally, Lowman is working around docks and oyster beds for catch-and-release redfish and some keeper black drum.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters reports successful fishing trips despite a few windy days this past week. He says the sheepshead are lined up on the local reefs, making it easy for his clients to fill the cooler for a fish fry.

White is working inshore in search of pompano. Bouncing Doc’s Goofy jigs — the sand flea color — along the bottom is resulting in hookups.

Moving a bit further offshore, White is finding Spanish mackerel, an occasional kingfish and some nice hogfish. For hogs, White is taking his anglers to drop a live shrimp directly on the bottom.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing anglers baiting with live shrimp reeling up numerous sheepshead to the pier deck. They’re also being rewarded with redfish, black drum and flounder hookups.

Anglers casting jigs from the pier are hooking jack crevalle and ladyfish.

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


Sheepshead push is on, numbers increase in February

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Homer Frampton of Bradenton and Bob Perry and Kevin Goodrich, both visiting from Ohio, are bringing home some big sheepshead. The trio fished offshore and nearshore the morning of Feb. 11, using shrimp for bait, on a guided charter with Capt. Warren Girle.
Keith Stroobants, left, visiting from Wisconsin, shows off a giant amberjack Feb. 3. He caught the 90-pound fish after a fight “he’ll never forget,” according to his guide, Capt. Jason Stock. “My mate, Greiner Hobbs, is holding up the sea beast because Keith’s arms were too tired!” Running up to 125 pounds, amberjacks have been “crowd-pleasers this winter, for sure.” Stock said.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains good for targeting sheepshead, as greater numbers and bigger fish are showing up daily.

Fishing structure — piers, bridges, wrecks, reefs and rock piles — are providing limits of fish for determined anglers using shrimp as bait. If you run across finicky fish, tantalize them with a fiddler crab or sand flea.

Moving to the grass flats is proving quite good for spotted seatrout. Although these fish are catch-and-release, it’s worthwhile to spend a couple of hours drifting over your favorite grass flat and casting some soft plastics on a jig head.

While doing this, you may be rewarded with a pompano bite here and there, as well as some mackerel, ladyfish and bluefish.

Fishing shrimp along the beaches is working well for whiting, black drum and flounder. The same applies while fishing at the local piers.

Moving offshore, big amberjack seem to be a mainstay for anglers looking to bend a rod.

Also offshore, you can expect red grouper and many different and delicious snappers, including lane, mangrove and yellowtail.

On my own Southernaire fishing charters, I’ve got my clients hooking into numerous sheepshead. Fishing over structure — reefs and wrecks — is resulting in limits of sheepies, with some topping 5 pounds. When targeting the sheepshead, we’ve also got mangrove snapper and Key West grunts showing up on the hook.

While fishing around docks with live shrimp as bait, we’re hooking into numerous black drum, flounder and catch-and-release redfish.

Lastly, during the higher stages of the tide, we’re drifting and jigging over deep grass flats. Casting a jig head combined with a soft plastic is resulting in many catch-and-release trout for my clients, as well as ladyfish, jack crevalle and a few pompano.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is putting anglers on sheepshead around nearshore structure in the Gulf of Mexico. Using live shrimp on a knocker rig is luring the convict fish to the hook. While targeting sheepies in these areas, the fishers also are hooking some mangrove snapper and Key West grunts.

Fishing deep grass flats with soft plastics is resulting in good numbers of spotted seatrout, as well as pompano. Using whole live shrimp on a weighted rig around docks is producing action, especially on the black drum and catch-and-release redfish.

Capt. Warren Girle is working nearshore structure in depths of 30 to 40 feet. By using live shrimp as bait, Girle’s charter anglers are catching sheepshead, as well as the usual suspects — mangrove snapper, juvenile grouper and Key West grunts.

Moving inshore, Girle is drifting over deep grass flats and casting jigs tipped with fresh-cut pieces of live shrimp. While jigging, Girle’s anglers are hooking a variety of species, including pompano, jack crevalle, mackerel, bluefish and catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Lastly, casting live shrimp around docks and canals is yielding black drum, sheepshead and some catch-and-release snook and reds.

Capt. Jason Stock is heading offshore in search of big amberjack. The week of Feb. 9, amberjack catches were topping 90-pounds. Live pinfish as bait are attracting these aggressive fish to bite.

Also, while offshore, Stock’s anglers are hooking into goliath grouper weighing up to 200 pounds. The goliath fish make for great trophy photos.

Fishing inshore inside Tampa Bay is producing action on sheepshead and snappers for Stock’s anglers.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is catching his share of sheepshead while fishing in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico. Using live shrimp as bait and working around structure is producing a steady bite. White also is putting anglers on black drum and whiting along the beaches, with pompano in the mix.

Moving offshore, White’s anglers are hooking into big amberjack, red grouper and mangrove snapper.

Jim Malfese at the R&R Pier says sheepshead are making a good showing. Pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are catching plenty of sheepies in the 12-inch range with larger fish sporadically mixed in.

As the season progresses, Malfese anticipates seeing an increased number of bigger sheepies taking up residence under the pier. Pier fishers bating with shrimp also are hooking into black drum, whiting, flounder and some catch-and-release redfish.

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

Cortez celebrates ‘steady’ roots with annual fishing festival

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For the 2020 poster and T-shirt, organizers looked back to 2010 and found: “Cortez is Still White Boot Ready.” Islander Courtesy Photo

Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.

And many lifetimes have been spent fishing in Cortez. The commercial fishing industry will be celebrated Feb. 15-16 during the 38th Annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival in the village.

Jane van Hahmann, vice-president of the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage and a key organizer for the event, told The Islander Jan. 29 the group expects more than 15,000 visitors to the two-day festival on the waterfront in the 4000 block of 119th Street West between the Florida Maritime Museum and the bayfront. Hours will run 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Admission to the fishing festival is $5, with proceeds to FISH and its mission to preserve the fishing way of life.

With a skeleton crew of planners and help from Florida Sea Grant and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, van Hahmann said 54 artists will display their wares, food and drink vendors will be present and two full days of music is slated to entertain festivalgoers.

More than 20 food vendors will offer shrimp tacos, soft shell crabs, lobster rolls, grouper, fish chowder, mullet, gumbo and other seafood, as well as offerings for carnivores and vegetarians.

Ice cream, fudge and funnel cakes will be available for the sweet tooth.

Beer, rum concoctions and other libations will be available as well.

The festival released the following line-up for the mainstage:

Saturday, Feb. 15:

  • 10-11 a.m. Shanty Singers.
  • 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Doug Demming.
  • 1-1:30 awards and introductions.
  • 2-4 p.m. Eric Von Band.
  • 4:30-6 p.m. Jason Haram.

Sunday, Feb. 16:

  • 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Soupy Davis and his Band.
  • 12:30-2 p.m. Koko Ray Show.
  • 2:30-4 p.m. Karen and Jimmy Band.
  • 4:30-6 p.m. Ted Stevens & the Doo Shots.

Also, on Feb. 16, Eric Von will perform on the porch at the Florida Maritime Museum, 4415 119th St. W., Cortez.

Local Boy Scouts will guide festival parking for a $5 donation at the FISH Preserve along Cortez Road.

A remote park-and-ride offered by Manatee County Area Transit will be available from G.T. Bray Park, 5502 33rd Ave. Drive W., Bradenton, and from Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. The cost is $3.

On Feb. 15 only, a free park-and-ride will operate at the Cortez Baptist Church, 4411 100th St. W., Cortez.

For more information, visit the website at cortez-fish.org.

Unpredictable weather results in variety of catches

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Cody Black of Palmetto shows off one of the larger sheepshead he caught Feb. 8 on a guided fishing trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. He caught his limit of sheepshead, along with whiting, grunts and mangrove snapper for the cooler. Lowman said they worked areas of hard structure in and around Tampa Bay and shrimp was the bait of choice.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island seems to be following a trend much like the weather — unpredictable.

It has its ups and it has its downs as we seemingly experience every spectrum of Florida weather.

One day it’s in the 50s and, a day later, it’s in the 80s. Factor in some rain, wind, low pressure, high pressure and cold fronts, and it seems impossible to get a consistent read on the forecast.

As for fishing, I think your best bet is to persevere, which basically means you need to go out and fish to see what hand you’re dealt.

On the cooler, less windy days, fishing for sheepshead in Tampa Bay is heating up. I’m seeing smaller sheepshead in the 12-inch range but the 15- to 18-inch fish are becoming more frequent. Fishing reefs and wrecks in Tampa Bay is worthwhile.

Fishing along the island beaches is shaping up, too. Whiting and pompano are the primary catches, with some black drum and a few small sheepies mixed in. On windier days, try fishing residential canals and docks with live shrimp as bait. Black drum, flounder, sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish take refuge in these areas during the cooler months. And it might keep you out of the chilly wind, too.

Lastly, on those warmer days, its not a bad idea to drift the deep grass flats with some soft plastics and a jig head. Casting among the sandy potholes and channel edges yields good action on pompano and catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

On my Southernaire charters, we’re catching plenty of sheepshead. Although there are some smaller ones mixed in, we’re putting quite a few 15-16-inchers in the cooler. A variety of other species are mixed in with the bite, depending on where we target the sheepies. On the structure in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico, an abundance of small snapper, black sea bass and Key West grunts are present. While fishing along the beaches, black drum and whiting are available as well as pompano. And even the docks and canals where sheepies are present, we’re hooking up with plenty of catch-and-release redfish.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is seeing sheepshead on the rise as he works reefs, wrecks and rock piles in Tampa Bay. Sheepies in the 15-inch range are becoming more frequent with larger fish in the mix. While targeting the sheepshead, Lowman is putting anglers on Key West grunts and mangrove snapper. Fishing along area beaches with live shrimp also is producing action. Black drum and whiting are the most prominent catch, along with some smaller sheepies. Moving into the grass flats, Lowman’s clients are jigging with success for pompano and catch-and-release trout.

Capt. Warren Girle is putting pompano in the cooler by drifting and jigging over deep grass flats. Using Doc’s Goofy jigs tipped with shrimp is yielding the best action. While targeting pompano, Girle’s clients are hooking into a variety of other species — ladyfish, jack crevalle and plenty of catch-and-release spotted seatrout. Moving to residential docks and canals is providing good action. Rigging with a knocker rig and casting whole, live shrimp in these areas is resulting in numerous catch-and-release redfish, as well as keeper-size black drum and sheepshead.

Lastly, while fishing structure in the Gulf, Girle is seeing more and more sheepshead as the season progresses.

Capt. Jason Stock says big amberjack are the highlight for his charters this week. Fishing over structure in the Gulf of Mexico is producing AJs up to 100 pounds.

Large goliath grouper are in these areas. Goliaths in excess of 200 pounds are being reeled up for client photo opportunities. For those wanting to bring home something for dinner, Stock is leading them to a great bite on porgies, Key West grunts, mangrove snapper and red grouper. His anglers also are seeing a lot of catch-and-release gag grouper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing offshore on the less windy days. Fishing hard bottom areas for red grouper is paying off for White’s clients, with some catches reaching 20 pounds. Mixed in are mangrove and lane snapper, which nicely round out the bite. Moving inshore, White’s anglers are catching sheepshead around structure in Tampa Bay, where live shrimp as bait is working well. Also while inshore, White is finding black drum and catch-and-release redfish, as well as a good pompano bite.

Jim Malfese at the R&R Pier is seeing the sheepshead numbers rise. Pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are hooking into these popular pier dwellers. Most are running just barely legal — 12-13 inches — although a few larger fish are being reported. While using shrimp as bait, pier fishers also are catching black drum, flounder and catch-and-release redfish.

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


Cooler weather signals start for sheepherding season

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Sheepshead. Islander Graphic: Courtesy FWC

As we settle into February, you can expect the fishing around Anna Maria Island to settle into its wintertime pattern.       With stronger colder fronts moving in and cooler water temperatures, we should begin to see a good influx of sheepshead moving into our area.

As these tasty fish prepare to spawn, they school up, making them targets for anglers. They’ve also been feeding heavily, which makes them more apt to eat a bait on a hook.

The key to finding sheepshead is structure. And what’s great is, structure can be anything — docks, bridges, reefs, wrecks and rock piles. For those who fish from land, the fishing piers and bridges provide a great environment to target sheepies. For those fishing from a boat, wrecks and reefs are a go-to during sheepshead season.  And docks in residential canals offer a spot out of the wind.

Now that you know where to find them, you need to consider what bait to use to catch them. Sheepshead like crustaceans, so you’re going to want to think along those lines. Live shrimp work well and are probably the most accessible bait to everyone. Other crustaceans — fiddler crabs and sand fleas — are great for bait. However, these require some effort on the fisher’s part, as they generally have to be harvested.

You can probably buy the fiddlers and I know you can buy sand fleas, but the ones you catch are superior to the store-bought baits. The fiddlers are hard to buy consistently and the sand fleas only can be purchased frozen, which is not a good product.

So, if you want to use sand fleas, you’re better off hunting your own with a sand flea rake — a tool with a long handle and a wire basket fixed to one end. You drag the basket in the sand at the shore break and, with a little luck, you’ll sift out some fleas. This may not be as easy as you think. You may have to do some searching to find the right beach. With beach renourishment along Anna Maria Island, sand flea populations have diminished so some searching may be required.

As for fiddler crabs, they’re also not so easy to procure. First, you need to find areas where they are abundant. Usually, areas that are exposed during low tide along the shore where numerous mangroves exist are ideal. Again, doing your homework to find your target area may take a little time and effort. And once you find an area, you’ll want to keep it a secret, so no one else raids your bait spot.

I remember growing up here as a boy being sworn to secrecy by my father about our fiddler crab spots. Showing up to catch your bait and discovering someone else had already been there was never a good sign. Sometimes it would take hours to find a new spot. And those were hours you weren’t fishing.

Catching fleas or fiddlers may not be for the average angler, but, there’s always shrimp. Live shrimp are readily available for purchase at your local bait shop and don’t require a lot of hassle. A 5-gallon bucket and an aerator complete the preparation. And, with a bit of cash to purchase shrimp, you’re on your way.

For the experienced sheepherder, I’m sure you know a few other baits that work well, maybe best. And, you’re in luck because I’m not going to mention them. Your secret is safe with me. It boggles my mind the way people will give up their hard work to find fish just to post it on Facebook.

Now you’ve got bait and you generally know where to look for sheepies. As far as rigging goes, I suggest using a small, stout hook. Sheepshead have a boney mouth that can do a number on a normal hook. You’re going to be fishing around structure, so a fluorocarbon leader of 20- to 30-pound test might be a good idea, too. Add weight to the rig to secure your bait close to the bottom and you’re in business. And remember, a keeper sheepshead needs to be 12 inches in length and your daily bag limit is eight fish.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m seeing the beginnings of the sheepshead bite.

I’m putting 8-10 sheepies in the box a day and rounding out the bite with black drum and catch-and-release redfish.

I’m seeing an abundance of bonnethead sharks along the beaches, which is fun for some anglers but a nuisance for others. Jigging over deep grass areas is producing a few pompano, but I’ve yet to hit the gold mine. I predict that as we progress through February and into March, we’ll see better numbers of these fish — little golden nuggets in a fry pan.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is finding his best action while fishing ledges and other structure in the Gulf of Mexico. Finding a window to fish these nearshore areas can be challenging, but if you fish when conditions are favorable, be ready to hook into a lot of fish.

Using live shrimp on a bottom rig in these areas is resulting in hogfish, Key West grunts, porgies, mangrove snapper and sheepshead. All of these fish are suited for the frying pan.

On windier days when the Gulf is not accessible, Lowman is fishing docks and seawalls in residential canals, where the waters are calm. In these areas, black drum, sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish are being caught on live shrimp.

Capt. Warren Girle is following a winter-type pattern of fishing to lead his clients to successful days on the water. Casting live shrimp around docks and seawalls is resulting in numerous catch-and-release redfish, most measuring 16-24 inches.

Along with the reds, Girle is putting clients on black drum, sheepshead and an occasional flounder. This fishing is most effective on the colder days of winter. It also provides some shelter from the wind when the weather is less favorable for fishing in open waters.

On warmer, less windy days, Girle is fishing over deep grass flats in open water, where casting jigs is attracting variety, including bluefish, jack crevalle, spotted seatrout and, most importantly, pompano.

Lastly, fishing in the Gulf around reefs and ledges is producing action on sheepshead, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and juvenile groupers.

Capt. Jason Stock is keeping his clients entertained with big amberjack. These AJs come in the 80-pound class and are worthy adversaries for even the most experienced angler. Goliath grouper are another “big catch” that Stock is putting anglers on. These fish, which remain in the water for a quick release, are in excess of 250 pounds.

Catching fish for dinner also is on Stock’s agenda while offshore. Mangrove and lane snapper are being caught frequently, as well as Key West grunts, porgies and almaco jacks.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing inshore for a variety of species. Sheepshead are providing the best action, with some topping out at 21 inches. Using small pieces of fresh-cut shrimp on a weighted jig ensures a good set. Black drum and pompano are being caught on shrimp and are being found along sandy shorelines and some grass areas. Catch-and-release redfish are keeping White’s clients busy, too. These fish are being caught while dock fishing in canals.

Jim Malfese at the R&R Pier says pier fishers baiting with live shrimp are finding a bite. With patience and persistence, fishers are catching some sheepshead, black drum and whiting. Catch-and-release redfish are in the mix on some days.

Casting jigs from the pier is resulting in some action, especially on jack crevalle. An occasional mackerel is being caught on a jig as well, although targetable numbers are not apparent. The best bet for a bite is to soak live shrimp under the pier on a bottom rig.

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


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.

Spring-like temps set up shiners, shrimp for hookups

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Joey Rearden, visiting the Anna Maria Island area from Atlanta, shows off a healthy black drum he caught Jan. 17 on a live shrimp while on a guided fishing trip with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.

Fishing between the cold fronts is providing fairly consistent action for those trying to catch fish around Anna Maria Island.

With springlike temperatures, some anglers are continuing to use shiners as bait, resulting in good catch-and-release snook action in addition to Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Cashing in on these warmer conditions between cold fronts is great. For those looking for some fish to take home for dinner, switching the bait to live shrimp is where it’s at. Sheepshead, black drum, mangrove snapper and pompano are attracted to shrimp and are being caught with regularity.

Targeting structure is working for the sheepies, drums and snappers. As for the pompano, casting jigs tipped with shrimp along the beaches and over deep grass flats is proving successful.

Fishing offshore is producing action on hogfish, grunts and snappers with shrimp as bait. Using larger bait, such as pinfish, is working well for amberjack and grouper.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing nearshore over hard bottom with live shrimp combined with a bottom rig. Many species are being reeled up, including hogfish, mangrove snapper, porgies, sheepshead and Key West grunts. Lowman adds that the bite is fairly consistent. Moving frequently to new spots is key to keeping the action going, as well as to gather a good number of fish for the cooler.

Moving inshore, black drum and sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish are being caught around local docks and seawalls. Also inshore, on the deeper grass flats, are pompano, ladyfish and catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working inshore on windy days, producing action for his clients. Big black drum and sheepshead are being caught along sandy shorelines and docks and seawalls. For those looking for sport, jack crevalle and catch-and-release snook are providing action.

While fishing offshore, White is hooking into some big amberjack, as well as red grouper and mangrove snapper.

Capt. Jason Stock is enjoying watching his clients get sore arms while wresting with big amberjack while anchored over offshore wrecks and hard bottom. For those looking to pull on something big, these fish fit the bill.

Other species being caught while offshore include gag grouper — up to 25 pounds — and red grouper in the 15-pound class. Mangrove snapper, another option, are coming in at 8-9 pounds.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing is a little sporadic at the north end of Anna Maria, but determined anglers, especially knowledgeable ones are finding success. Using live shrimp as bait is attracting catch-and-release redfish. Black drum, sheepshead and flounder are vying for shrimp. Macks are being caught — despite being in the middle of January. Casting speck rigs — in white or pink — seems to be attracting the most attention from these toothy fish.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding a good bite on a variety of species by drifting over deep grass areas and casting jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp. Bluefish, macks, ladyfish, jack crevalle and catch-and-release spotted seatrout are being caught in this fashion. And, as a bonus, lucky anglers are hooking up with a handful of pompano to take home for dinner.

On days when the Gulf of Mexico is calm, Girle is venturing out to the artificial reefs to bottom fish. Live shrimp on a knocker rig is attracting mangrove snapper and juvenile grouper, as well as Key West grunts, to the hook.

Lastly, fishing residential canals and docks is providing action on catch-and-release redfish and some black drum.

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

Weather, fishing patterns change daily — plan accordingly

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Luke and Alisa Conzet, visiting the area from Maple Grove, Minnesota, show off a 30-inch redfish caught in the Manatee River on a fishing charter with Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business.
Aaron West Minnesota, shows off a 3-pound sheepshead. The Conzets and West caught their fish on live shrimp pinned on a jighead while working the waters in the Manatee River with Capt. Gross.
John Wong, visiting Anna Maria Island from Campbell River, British Columbia, shows off one of a handful of nice sheepshead he caught Jan. 6 while on a guided fishing trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. Lowman said Wong used live shrimp on light tackle to “fool the convicts in Tampa Bay into taking his hook.”

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is about as predictable as the weather.

When the seas are calm, anglers are venturing into the Gulf of Mexico to target snappers, groupers and hogfish.

When the cold fronts come, the wind blows and the Gulf is too rough, it is time to move inshore to target sheepshead, black drum and redfish around inshore reefs, bridges, docks and canals.

On my Southernaire excursions, I am watching wind patterns and choosing my fishing spots accordingly.

When the wind blows, I’m working residential docks and canals, where clients are hooking up black drum and catch-and-release redfish. This type of fishing is always good to do on cold, windy mornings when getting around in open water can be less than comfortable.

When the winds are calm, I’m working the beaches and my clients are jigging for pompano. Also, around the beaches are bonnethead sharks, which are fun fighters, as they are feisty on light spinning tackle.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is taking clients to work the nearshore deep grass flats. Trout, ladyfish, bluefish and pompano are readily taking the hook for Lowman’s clients.

After fishing the flats, Lowman is moving to structure, including docks and seawalls, to focus on sheepshead, black drum, redfish and mangrove snapper.

Lowman reports the nearshore bite slowed down this past week due to inconsistent weather patterns, but he’s finding plenty of grunts, hogfish and snapper to keep his clients busy and the coolers topped off.

On calm days, when he’s able to venture into the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman reports catches of tripletail are topping the chart.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is sticking inshore due to the recent windy days. He is finding success with sheepshead, as they are on the move, thanks to the cold. Also, White is having luck when targeting black drum and pompano.

As a bonus, White is putting his fly fishing clients on tripletail.

Capt. Jason Stock reports excellent catches so far in 2020 on a variety of species. The show-stealers are giant amberjack, which are coming in at weights reaching 125 pounds. Big gag grouper — which became catch-and-release Dec. 31 — blackfin tuna, bonito mangrove snapper and hogfish are accommodating to his clients. Red grouper are taking the hook, but they are closed past depths of 120 feet.

Hamilton Brown at the Rod & Reel Pier reports anglers dropping live shrimp under the pier deck are hooking into a variety of species, including sheepshead, flounder, whiting and catch-and-release redfish.

Brown reports mackerel are being caught on speck rigs, Gotcha plugs and silver spoons when cast away from the pier and retrieved quickly.

Capt. Warren Girle is working the deeper grass flats for catch-and-release trout. While on the trout bite, Girle’s clients are hooking into ladyfish, bluefish jacks and, an added bonus, pompano. Live shrimp under a popping cork or goofy jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp are working for all species mentioned.

Dock fishing with live shrimp is attracting black drum, sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish according to Girle.

Capt. Danny Stasny had a medical emergency in the past week and wife Rebekka took over and compiled his report from the information provided by the local guides.

Thanks to Rebekka!

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

New year turns on typical winter action for AMI-area anglers

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Sam Hart and brother Nick, visiting Anna Maria Island from Wisconsin, show off two of their pompano catches — hooked on shrimp — while fishing inshore with Capt. Warren Girle.
Noah Breuer, 15, visiting Anna Maria Island from Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, shows off his Dec. 29 catch, a red grouper caught on a dead sardine in the Gulf of Mexico, 25 miles offshore of Holmes Beach, while on a guided fishing trip with Anna Maria Charters. The Gulf waters were a little rough, but the winter fishing trip was rewarding for the family of 

The first week of the new year provided the typical wintertime action we’ve come to expect in January around Anna Maria Island — and the trend continues.

Starting with the inshore bite, casting shrimp around residential docks and seawalls is resulting in a variety of species. Black drum, sheepshead, mangrove snapper, flounder and catch-and-release redfish are rounding out the bite.

Fishing the deep inshore flats is producing action — especially on ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish. Mixed in the grassy areas are pompano and catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Moving deeper into the Gulf, the offshore captains are finding plenty to keep clients busy. Bottom fishing is resulting in red grouper, hogfish and a variety of snappers and grunts, while fishing baits toward the surface is luring many migratory fish to the hook. Amberjack — now catch-and-release — are in abundance and anglers also are hooking into kingfish, bonito and blackfin tuna.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m fishing along the beaches, which is resulting in pompano and numerous ladyfish and bonnethead sharks.

Moving inshore over the deeper grass areas is yielding my clients good action on mackerel, jacks, ladyfish and catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Lastly, fishing around docks and canals is providing action on some typical winter targets, black drum, sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working over rocks and along the shoreline docks on the windier days. Casting live shrimp in these areas is yielding sheepshead, mangrove snapper and some catch-and-release redfish.

Fishing the inlets and passes also is providing action for Lowman’s clients.

Deep grass areas in close vicinity to passes are producing pompano and catch-and-release trout. To target these fish, Lowman is rigging pompano jigs tipped with shrimp.

Lastly, nearshore structure is holding lots of Key West grunts and some mangrove snapper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working offshore when the winds allow. Bottom fishing is going well, with typical catches of red grouper, almaco jacks and mangrove and yellowtail snapper.

White’s clients are hooking into the blackfin tuna action with free-lined baits on the surface.

Moving inshore, sheepshead and black drum are providing action for anglers looking to take something home for dinner. Other action while inshore fishing with White is coming from catch-and-release snook and redfish.

Capt. Jason Stock is finding great catch-and-release action on amberjack while fishing wrecks and hard bottom in the Gulf. AJs up to 100 pounds are being caught by free-lining live baits and artificials, such as surface poppers. Other migratory species taking the hook include kingfish, bonito and blackfin tuna.

Bottom fishing over ledges and hard bottom is a good bet on a Stock charter. Catches being reeled up include hogfish, red grouper and mangrove snapper.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of fish reeled up by anglers visiting the pier. Catches occurring on live shrimp include sheepshead, black drum and catch-and-release redfish. Anglers casting jigs from the pier are finding action on Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle in the 6-pound range.

Lastly, a few catch-and-release snook are being hooked by patient anglers who are soaking large baits under the pier deck.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding a variety of species to take the hook on shrimp-tipped jigs cast over deep grass flats. By placing a small piece of fresh-cut shrimp on the hook of a jig and then drifting and casting to cover a lot of water, Girle is leading his clients to bluefish, macks, jack crevalle, ladyfish and numerous catch-and-release spotted seatrout. The bite is consistent, providing great action on light spinning tackle.

Fishing artificial reefs in the Gulf also is producing a bite. While bottom fishing with live shrimp, Girle’s anglers are consistently hooking up on sheepshead, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and juvenile grouper.

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

Fish canals, docks, out of the wind for winter 2020 hookups

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The Stephen twins, Drew, 14, left, and Jack, right, of Manchester, New Hampshire, pose for a quick photo Dec. 25 with their redfish and Dad, Rob Stephen, before releasing the fish. The trio, while dining outdoors with family at Paradise Bagel Cafe Dec. 27, told The Islander they enjoyed their Christmas charter, which included some keeper fish for dinner at grandfather’s island home.
Jon Klein, visiting family on Longboat Key from California for the holidays, fished inshore Dec. 23 for catch-and-release redfish and snook and found success with shrimp as bait with Capt. Warren Girle.

With numerous windy days, Anna Maria Island anglers are becoming acquainted with fishing residential docks and canals to find a bite.

This type of fishing requires a little homework and trial and error, but it sure beats fishing in windy, choppy conditions. And, you’ll find it can be productive.

A variety of species will frequent these areas during the winter. The usual suspects — fish that enjoy being around structure — include redfish, snook, sheepshead, flounder, black drum and small snappers and groupers. Other species you may encounter are jack crevalle, bluefish, spotted seatrout and ladyfish. That’s not a bad line up for the canals. You may not catch all of these in one day, but it is possible.

As for bait, I like live shrimp. Every species listed will eat these tasty morsels. And, if shrimp aren’t available, don’t hesitate to cast some artificials. Soft plastics on a jig head work wonders when canal fishing. And the scented ones, such as Berkley Gulp, can be downright deadly.

So, now that you know there are fish in the canals, it may help to know why. There is method to this madness. During the winter months, when water temps drop, most fish we target are in search of warmer water. Canals provide such a refuge. Lined on either side with concrete seawalls, canals keep the waters calm and slightly warmer than open waters. When the sun beats down during the day, the walls warm up and heat the water. Even if only slightly, it seems to do the trick.

Also, many canals have dark, muddy bottoms, which help absorb heat from the sun, further raising the water temps.

Lastly, the seawalls and dock pilings that over time become encrusted with oysters and barnacles provide an abundant food source for small fish, which attract larger predators.

So next time you’re staring at the boat, debating whether to fish in the strong wind, have no fear. Jump in and explore the canals on Anna Maria Island, bait some shrimp and see what you turn up.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m hiding from the wind. Catch-and-release redfish are dominating the bite at most docks. Mixed in are some keeper sheepshead and mangrove snapper. Live shrimp on a 1/2-ounce knocker rig is working nicely in these areas. The shrimp are drawing reactions from black drum, flounder and ladyfish, too.

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico on calmer days is yielding good action on bonnethead sharks, whiting, ladyfish and a few pompano. The bite is occurring close to shore, so calm waters are a must.

On a conservation note, during its December meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission changed the rules effective Feb. 1, for spotted seatrout. Although the new bag limits are in effect, it does not remove the closure due to red tide in southwest Florida. In our area, when seatrout harvest opens May 31, anglers will be allowed a daily bag limit of three spotted seatrout and the slot limit will be 15-19 inches. Also, a fisher may keep only one fish of three over the slot.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting the catch-and-release redfish for sport around residential docks and canals, where he’s also finding keeper sheepshead and mangrove snapper. Casting live shrimp is attracting the bite for Lowman’s anglers.

Moving into the passes to the north and south of Anna Maria Island, pompano are being caught on casts of shrimp-tipped jigs. Lowman is finding the pompano while targeting catch-and-release spotted seatrout over the deep grass flats. In these areas, soft plastics combined with a jig head work well.

Lastly, venturing to nearshore structure provides action on mangrove snapper and Key West grunts.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working offshore during the calmer days and red grouper and catch-and-release amberjack are providing action for his clients. White says some of the amberjack are in the 100-pound range, and live sardines and pinfish are working well for the AJs. As for the red grouper, White says frozen sardines work just fine. While targeting amberjack, White’s clients are enjoying the hookups with some blackfin tuna.

Moving inshore, White is finding sheepshead, black drum, catch-and-release redfish and some pompano are taking live shrimp as bait for his clients.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore on days when the weather cooperates. He says targeting kingfish around wrecks and reefs is quite good, as limits of these fish are available. Bottom fishing around structure is good for mangrove snapper as well as keeper-size gag grouper. Amberjacks are present around structure for some great catch-and-release action.

Capt. Warren Girle is working a good inshore bite. Casting live shrimp under docks and along seawalls is yielding his anglers a variety of species, most notably black drum, sheepshead and catch-and-release redfish. While fishing the docks, the reds are the predominate bite, providing great action for Girle’s sport anglers.

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Girle is working the artificial reefs. These areas are abundant with species waiting to take the hook. Live shrimp is attracting some tasty lane and mangrove snapper. Gag and red grouper, as well as some keeper-size sheepshead, are intrigued by the shrimp. Jack crevalle and blue runners also are present.

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