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Date of Issue: March 20, 2010

Frigid water temps threaten snook, other species

Layton Warner from Lindley, N.Y., helped his family catch 21 Spanish mackerel on the Anna Maria City Pier on a rainy day in November.

Guy Liskey Jr., right, with a 20 ½-inch flounder caught off his grandparents’ dock on Key Royale Drive. Pictured with Guy is his father, Guy Liskey Sr., from Virginia Beach, Va.

Cold water temperatures have made for lethargic fish, and slow inshore action.

Some anglers are concerned about snook, arguably Florida’s No. 1 game fish. During the past week, the water dropped to around 50 degrees in the canals and down to 45 degrees on the flats.

The coldest month in Florida history occurred in January 1940, with a mean air temperature of 49.7 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Florida Citrus Mutual Web site. The freeze occurred at the end of the month, leading to the coldest temperatures growers had endured since 1899.

This month could come close, much to the dismay of the linesiders. Anglers are reminded that if they see snook floating on the surface, it likely does not mean they’re dead. More likely, they are stunned from cold temperatures, and often snook can revive once warmer temperatures arrive. Even so, anglers cannot keep out-of-season snook.

Many anglers also have been asking others not to target the snook. Catching an already stressed snook puts its life in danger, even after a fast release.

Capt. Scott Moore remembers some recent freezes, in 1985, notably in 1989, when he said it was snowing on the Island. “The 1980s were hard on snook,” Moore said.

“In 1977, I remember duck hunting,” Moore said. “And it was snowing as I was hunting in the dolomite pit [by the DeSoto Bridge].”

Better targets are trout, and especially sheepshead.

Any increase in water temperatures this coming week should trigger a fish bite.

The warm water runoff around the power plants in upper Tampa Bay will entice all kinds of species such as jack crevalle, snook and cobia, as well as manatees. And it’s a nice place to visit and throw out a line.

Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters said he’s been fishing under deep-water docks for redfish, including some keepers. He expects the trout bite to turn on anytime. “We’re just looking for a decent break in the weather,” he said.

Capt. Warren Girle said nearshore areas are still producing good catches of grouper and snapper. Inshore, he said a couple trips in canals led to catches of redfish to 26 inches, black drum, sheepshead and mangrove snapper. He hasn’t fished the flats because the water temperatures last week were down to 45 degrees. “You catch one of those fish and touch them and they’re like icebergs,” he said.

Capt. Zach Zacharias of the DEE JAY II out of Parrot Cova  reported that he checked out a number of places locally that usually harbor a lot of snook during a cold snap. He said there were precious few in many of the locales, and there had been almost zero cold stressed or dead fish around with the exception of a few jack crevalle and mullet.

“This is a good thing, but the temperature at noon [Jan. 9] is 37 degrees with rain, and the lows for the next few nights are forecast to be in the upper 20s,” he said. “It concerns me a lot that we are going to have a substantial fish kill in the Tampa-Sarasota area. I hope I am totally wrong.”

Zacharias said the upside of all the cold weather is there usually is a “bang up” bite when the weather moderates after a severe cold snap. He said the following spring can be off the charts when all of our local species come out of their winter hidey holes and the pelagics make their way back up the west coast.

He said when the weather breaks, look for find good action with trout, sheepshead, redfish, black drum, grouper and snapper. Anglers need to concentrate on sunny southern exposures with a lot of structure, depth, dark bottoms, good tidal flow and glass minnows.

He said the Gulf reefs can also be hot spots as well where live shrimp or jigs fished very slowly off the bottom will produce quite well.

Danny Stasny of Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said redfish, sheepshead and black drum are good bets. Anglers should try getting some sand fleas and fiddler crabs and targeting sheepshead. He’s also heard that trout are loaded in Bimini Bay, and can possibly be caught by slowly working a Berkley Gulp bait, and it might also produce a couple of black drum.

Capt. Rick Gross out of the charter boat Fishy Business at Catchers said anglers can try fishing baits slowly for trout, and hitting docks and other structure for sheepshead.

“It’s going to be interesting what happens after this,” Gross said. “I wish people would just leave snook alone when it’s cold like this.”

Gross said if the wind calms down there is still good fishing out on the artificial reefs.

“If you’re fishing inside, this is where the DOA shrimp comes into play,” Gross said. “Fish it real slowly, right on the bottom. Just kind of take it easy. Then when you’re around docks and stuff, remember their appetite’s not going to be big. It’s not jumbo shrimp time; it’s time for a piece of shrimp. If you’re free-lining shrimp, hook it in the head or the tail and let it do its thing. Fish slow and methodical.”

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters predicts that the recent bad weather pushed a lot of offshore grouper in close, bunching them up around ledges and rock piles. He said some areas may have received a lot of pressure over the holidays. McGuire also thinks the amberjack are biting well past 20 miles over springs, wrecks and artificial reefs. These same areas should be holding snapper.

“Usually the grouper bite very well when it’s cold,” McGuire said. “I still anticipate grouper biting well as soon as the wind dies down and it warms up.”

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