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Date of Issue: March 20, 2010

Fishing excellent between fronts

Grouper for Christmas dinner

Brendan Murphy, 9, and brother Keegan Murphy, 11, with grouper they caught on squid at the 3-mile reefs off Anna Maria Island. They were aboard their father’s boat, the Miss Allegria.

Cold fronts continue to put a damper on fishing, but fishing has been excellent in between fronts.

This weekend’s full moon should induce some big, sow sheepshead in nearshore and inshore waters. Some anglers have reported hooking into some little sheepshead over nearshore structures.

The trout season opens Jan. 1. Anglers can keep five trout per day between 15-20 inches, and one of those trout can be over 20 inches.

Grouper season will be open in federal waters — past 9 nautical miles offshore — Feb. 1 to March 31.

Capt. Danny Stasny from Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said some big snook have already begun to move to the canals and docks, such as those at Catchers. Lethargic fish will require a slower presentation of stinky baits, such as Berkley Gulp.

He said some sheepshead already have started showing up over the 1-mile reefs, and more should come around the local structures. He suggests using jigs tipped with fiddler crabs, sand fleas or shrimp over wrecks and reefs.

Stasny said he would begin fishing docks in Palma Sola Bay with a D.O.A. shrimp, jig or Gulp, drifting along the docks to locate fish. Once the fish are found, try fishing the spot with a live shrimp. “See if there’s one fish,” he said, “or 20.”

Joe Hosner from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south fishing pier said anglers there have been catching grouper, sheepshead midway on the pier, and an occasional bluefish. He said the grouper bite seems to improve as the weather gets colder. Squid has been effective bait.

Capt. Steve Salgado of the Compleat Angler said action has been good between cold fronts with good fishing close to the shore and some nice-sized grouper inside 20 miles.

In the bay, he reported redfish, sheepshead and flounder. “You’ve got to wear a jacket and go out there and handle the cold weather,” he said. “Otherwise, fishing’s been good.”

Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters said the shiner fishing is done. He suggests looking for redfish under docks, and shallow-water fishing for grouper and mangrove snapper. “I’m looking forward to trout season opening up,” he said.

Capt. Rick Gross of the charter-boat Fishy Business out of Catchers fished Dec. 23 and reported catching grouper, flounder, mangrove snapper, lane snapper, porgies and a bunch of Key West grunts 6.5 miles offshore.

“To be honest, mainly what I cleaned was grunts,” Gross said. “They’re excellent eating. The people were occupied the whole time. Their rods were constantly bent.”

Gross was using live shrimp and 20-pound test line for light-tackle species such as mangrove snapper, and 80-pound test line with frozen threadfins and heavy outfits for grouper.

“We had our shots,” Gross said. “I bet they caught — between red and gag grouper — about 40 grouper.”

Gross said he saw bonito crashing the surface in the area. “I don’t think they’re going to go anywhere, either,” he said.

Gross said pompano were still all around the local bays. As he mullet fished last week, he saw them skipping from the water off Emerson Point and off the bulkhead in the mouth of the Manatee River. And, he added, the best success he’s had with pompano has been with Doc’s Jigs.

Bob Kilb from the Rod & Reel Pier said the fishing has been slow there as of late. “Go watch TV,” he suggested. Kilb said there have been a few sheepshead around, but that’s about it.

Dave Sork from the Anna Maria City Pier has seen some bonito and Spanish mackerel hitting the bait around the pier, but he has yet to see any sheepshead.

Capt. Mark Johnston from Legend Fishing Charters out of Annie’s Bait and Tackle said he’s been getting small redfish, lots of black drum, trout and at least two flounder, in the local bays using shrimp and pinfish.

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish charters out of the Cortez Fishing Center said gag grouper are pretty much at the peak of their season, and he has been catching a lot of them fishing between 50-70 feet of water depth. Using live bait and frozen sardines and squid, he’s also got catches of red grouper, mangrove snapper and triggerfish.

He added that he’s hooked into some kingfish in 50-foot depths.

McGuire said the best grouper fishing has come before cold fronts.

Capt. Tom Chaya of Anna Maria Fishing Charters out of Catchers said he’s been working docks in Palma Sola Bay and the Manatee River, catching mostly redfish 16-28 inches, with a few 20-inch keepers. He said any rock pile or hard bottom has been holding at least a few sheepshead.

Capt. "Zach" Zacharias on the Dee Jay II out of Cortez says he managed to get in a couple of trips before Christmas and did OK. “The fish we did catch were not huge but they kept rods bending. One exception was some hefty black drum encountered under docks in a couple of locations.” The drum ran up to 15 pounds and Zach and his fishers were “smoked by a number of larger specimens. Flounder were coming in regular, but not the doormats of a few weeks ago.” They got into some rat reds that were eager to chew, but some larger reds found in Sarasota Bay were not eager at all. Zacharias said the water was extremely clear and the tide lackluster, resulting in fish that rejected all offerings. He reports decent action with trout, bluefish, large ladyfish, and some straggler Spanish mackerel. Live shrimp and soft-bodied leadhead jigs were his ticket for success. “Unless we get some extreme cold, the mackerel may hang around all winter. A lack of really cold weather has the sheepshead bite lagging at this point of the calendar, but January and February should be hot” for the convict fish if the weather stays cold.

Capt. Warren Girle reported mangrove snapper up to 3 miles offshore, mixed with undersize red and gag grouper. “But the highlight of the trip was kids catching an octopus,” he said.

Inshore, Girle reported redfish to 28 inches, trout to 23 inches, Spanish mackerel to about 3 pounds, and lots of bluefish and ladyfish.

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