Expect cold weather, emergence of sheepshead
Kate DeLuca, 7, shows off her first sheepshead catch, which she reeled up using a live shrimp for bait in Sarasota Bay while fishing with Capt. Terry Frankford aboard his Reelin & Chillin charter boat. Frankford said dad Matt DeLuca and grandparents Terry and Wayne had more fun watching Kate catch fish than they did fishing themselves.
The sheepshead invasion is coming. In fact, the convict fish may be the only reliable target for fishers as the weather dampens overall action. Last week’s blue moon, the second full moon of the month, brought in some big sow sheepshead from offshore, and the colder it gets, the more the sheepies will come inshore.
Anglers will have to find areas with water temperatures a few degrees above average, such as in canals, deep waters, shallow water that has been heated by the afternoon, or the side of a seawall that has been warmed up by the sun.
When anglers can get offshore, the 3-mile artificial reefs have been hot for a variety of species, even some possible keeper grouper.
On Jan. 1, the recreational harvest of trout opened, while the grouper season closed for four months.
Capt. Warren Girle said the mangrove snapper bite continues to be good 3 miles offshore, and he’s getting a lot of undersized grouper and occasional flounder. Inshore, Girle has been avoiding the cold fronts by heading into canals for snook to 27 inches, redfish to 28 inches, trout to 18 inches, as well as jack crevalle, bluefish and mangrove snapper.
Capt. Rick Gross of the charter boat Fishy Business out of Catchers Marina has been hitting the artificial reefs 3 miles offshore and live bottoms with ledges for red and gag grouper, including one gag to almost 30 inches. He also caught hogfish, a bunch of porgies and a few sheepshead.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters said the main thing he’s been catching is grouper, especially gag grouper. Anglers can head to between 45 and 95 feet of water depth for some good grouper action.
“I’d imagine further out would be good this time of the year,” McGuire said. “I just haven’t had to go that far out.”
He said in the same areas that have included rock piles, ledges and natural reefs, he’s been getting a few lemon sharks, mangrove snapper, triggerfish and porgies. He’s been using live bait, such as pinfish, and cut bait, such as squid and sardines.
“The fishing for grouper is the best I’ve seen in years,” he said. “With the regulations and the economy, there’s just not that many people going offshore.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Legend Fishing Charters out of Annie’s Bait and Tackle said he has been finding a lot of redfish under deep-water docks around Anna Maria Island. On a trip last week, he reported catching 20 redfish, a lot of them oversized, along with mangrove snapper, flounder and black drum. He suggests using a 1/0 circle hook with live shrimp and enough weight to keep the shrimp on the bottom.
Jason Chase from the south Sunshine Skyway Bridge fishing pier said anglers have been catching sheepshead, flounder, grouper and a few black seabass.
Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters said he’s been fishing docks, catching a lot of redfish between 16 and 30 inches. He said sheepshead are starting to show in all their traditional spots, such as rocks and docks. He also has been trolling for grouper, and on Dec. 30 reported a client catching a 10-pounder from an artificial reef in Tampa Bay.
“With this cold weather,” Howard said, “you have to be patient with your fishing.”
Frank Whitney at the Rod & Reel Pier said anglers have been catching a few sheepshead, occasional flounder, but not much else.
“Except for some sting rays, which is kind of a bother,” Whitney said. “It’s kind of sleepy here. Usually when it gets cold, the fish head out to warmer water and wait it out, then come back in and graze.”
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier said there’s not much going on at the pier, besides a few shark catches. “Just the usual pile of stuff,” Sork said. “In all honesty, watch TV for a couple days.”
Danny Stasny from Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina said there had been a lot of big trout around the flats off the mouth of the Manatee River, and a decent snook bite in north Sarasota Bay. Anglers can target the snook on top-water plugs with some of the cloudy mornings that are inevitable throughout this winter. He said anglers also have done well on grouper, trolling the Sunshine Skyway Bridge shipping channel or fishing some of the rock piles in the bay. He’s also heard of good Spanish mackerel and bonito bites off Bean Point.
Capt. Zach Zacharias of the DEE JAY II out of Parrot Cove Marina saw his first good sheepshead bite of the season. His clients boated about 16, including 10 keepers, on a recent trip.
He also said there has been good action on the open grass beds of north Sarasota Bay with spotted sea trout and some fat pompano. Mixed in were ladyfish and bluefish. Zacharias said numerous big black drum, up to 12 pounds, are coming in from around deep-water docks as well. He said a few scattered snook and flounder found their way to their hooks as well.
Zacharias looks for a bolstering of the winter fishing pattern with the prolonged cold fronts. “It has always been my contention that a spate of real winter weather in our area bodes well for the spring-time action, when the pelagics return and the backwater species native to our area tend to bust out of their winter haunts en masse and hungry.”
Zacharias said there are a lot of spotted seatrout around the area, ranging in size from 7 to 27 inches. When the weather is cold, look to find seatrout bunched up in deeper holes in the bay and over hard bottoms close to the beaches in the Gulf. These fat winter trout will go for live shrimp and any number of artificial offerings that mimic live shrimp. He predicts there will be a lot of gray trout available, especially at the nearshore Gulf reefs, and they will go for the same offerings intended for specks.
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