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Date of Issue: March 20, 2010

Water temperature rise gives fishers glimpse of hope

Don Brown, from Toronto and Longboat Key, with grandson Johnny Brown, 3, and his sheepshead, caught on Johnny’s first fishing trip.

Inshore anglers are thanking the cold-tolerant sheepshead, redfish and trout.

Those species have been keeping anglers going throughout a harsh winter, but an increase in temperatures during the past week may be just what anglers need.

At least it will get them putting baits in the water.

Most reports from local piers indicate that the piers are void of fishers. Even the bays have not been hammered by boats.

Although sheepshead are tough to clean, their pure white meat is valued table fare. The good news is that the sheepies are plentiful, ranging from thick around the Skyway fishing pier, to congregations around local docks and pilings. The sheepshead, with small, hard mouths, prefer crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp.

Trout also are plentiful over deep seagrass beds, although there are reports that the January freeze that killed millions of fish statewide has left the trout skinny.

Spanish mackerel could migrate north into our area within the next month if temperatures remain warm and steady.

Capt. Logan Bystrom reported catching sheepshead, trout and redfish. “The fishing should start getting a little better,” he said. “Everything starts moving around and biting more” as the temperature warms up.

Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions said he has been catching flounder, trout, and redfish in Miguel Bay, Joe Bay and Terra Ceia Bay. He said most of the trout, which had been as big as 18 inches, have been in Terra Ceia waters and have been caught on D.O.A. Deadly Combinations. The flounder, to 15 inches, were hitting CAL jigs with shad tails. He said he hooked up some ladyfish and a couple bluefish as well.

Markham predicts that clearer and warmer water should produce better action with sheepshead. “I think the stirred up conditions are bad for fish that eat any bait,” he said. “About the only thing I’m seeing in the fish’s stomach is shrimp. The redfish still have a few crabs in them, but they have some shrimp. There really aren’t many bait fish around.”

Markham reported that fishing in this cold weather has required more than the normal patience levels, and high winds have clouded up inshore waters in unprotected areas, typically where the majority of trout are — in grass flats with 3 to 6 feet of water. “In some cases, the sea conditions don’t allow us to target trout, but when conditions do allow, we are catching trout to 22 inches on DOA Deadly Combinations.”

Markham said in rough conditions that won’t allow fishing open areas, he heads for backcountry spots where waters are flat and sheltered from the wind. He said fishing the lee sides of the mangrove islands that are exposed to the sun have been most productive when the sun is out late in the day.

“Water temperatures where we’ve been fishing in open waters have been in the 55- to 57-degree range, but these sheltered areas have been holding fish in areas where 60 to 61.4 degree water temperature is present, and that’s been the difference between catching redfish fish or not,” he said. “Water depth in this temperature range has been 6-12 inches, and anglers have been finding some schools of 20 to 40 fish per school of hefty redfish up to 12-pounds.”

Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Fishing Charters reported that in spite of the cold, the fish have been on a heavy feed. He said his parties have been landing a lot of keeper-sized speckled trout up to 22 inches. “The redfish are swarming around docks with keeper-sized fish mixed in with many small sized ones,” he said. “Sheephead are still slow. With a warm up, they should come on strong. I have been using select live shrimp for my charters.”

Capt. Warren Girle said a recent trip of fishing docks produced redfish, black drum, sheepshead and a 3-pound flounder. Girle used a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, a split shot and a live shrimp. He reported that the water temp on the flats was still 55 degrees. He said there had been some trout to 20 inches on the flats, but most had been skinny. “I was surprised to see the flounder though,” Girle said. “That was the highlight of the day.”

Capt. Zach Zacharias of the DEE JAY II out of Parrot Cove Marina said consistent temperatures in the 40s at night, and barely breaking the 60s in the day, does not help to increase the water temperatures. “Thankfully the sheepshead, redfish and sea trout do not mind the cold and continue to be the mainstay of the catch,” he said. “Actually there have been many days when the bite has been off the charts with at least one of the aforementioned species. All of my efforts have centered on bay fishing as of late. The relentless winds have kept the Gulf of Mexico roughed up and muddy in close to the beaches of Manatee and Sarasota counties. Anglers need to run around 5 miles offshore to find any relatively clear water.”

He said some of the trout have been running in the mid-20-inch range and have been found in a variety of locations from the open bay waters to canals and bayous. The presence of glass minnows is a tip for where to fish, as the trout are primarily feeding on them. He said the sheepshead, redfish and drum have still been holding tight to heavy structure, but some big redfish have been cruising pretty shallow water. The big reds have been a tough target, he said.

“We are a month away from the spring equinox,” Zacharias said. “The length of daylight is increasing and will trigger many pelagics to start moving. Usually Spanish mackerel are the first to start migrating north. They begin to show hereabouts around the first of March, but the water temperatures need to rebound by at least 10 degrees and clear up substantially before anglers can expect any really big action with the Spanish.”

Kyle Dodrill from the Sunshine Skyway south fishing pier said anglers there have been getting a lot of trout, sheepshead and grouper. “The sheepshead have been here for a couple weeks,” he said. Dodrill said the sheepshead have been hitting best on peeled shrimp.

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