Redfish, sheepshead best bets at structures, docks
From left, Denise and Bill Garrett, of Mountain Home, Ark., and Lee Fisher, of West Virginia, with a trio of redfish caught while fishing with Capt. Warren Girle.
George McClinton with his largest amberjack of the day caught on a live pinfish 55 miles offshore of Anna Maria Island while on a charter trip with Capt. Larry McGuire.
As fish rebound from the severe cold waters that killed a record number of fish, it seems that redfish and sheepshead survived best and make for good inshore targets.
Both species are tight around docks and structures and hitting live shrimp. When fishing docks, anglers should make sure their leaders are heavier than they would be on the flats. The fish have been hanging in warmer water on the bottom and a 25- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader should be sufficient.
Also, white bait has come back in around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, while some anglers expressed concern about an adequate food source for bigger fish, saying some trout to 25 inches had sunken bellies.
Danny Stasny from Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina said he’s seeing a lot of redfish in Palma Sola Bay, with an occasional trout to 25 inches. “We were throwing into pot holes on the shoreline, and one hole we caught about six to eight trout and the bite was done,” Stasny said. “We never did see the trout again.”
He said he also saw some big snook in Palma Sola. “That was encouraging — to see some big snook,” he said.
Stasny said anglers who came into Catchers reported there had been some good action on red and gag grouper 20 to 30 miles offshore. Because said he heard reports of fish hitting different baits, he suggests taking a variety, such as live pinfish, squid and threadfins on trips this week.
Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters fished Jan. 29 with live shrimp in the Intracoastal Waterway and Manatee River for at least 15 redfish to about 25 inches. Stewart said there were some fish on the edges of flats on an extremely low tide where the sand edge falls off into deeper water. Stewart had also been looking for schools of mullet to locate redfish.
His catches also included a mix of trout, flounder and a sheepshead. Stewart said the best sheepshead fishing is on the nearshore 1-, 3- and 7-mile artificial reefs.
Stewart noticed the fish are recuperating from the freeze. “The fish in the bay haven’t been acting right,” he said. “It should pick up. For the most part we’re catching redfish using shrimp and throwing some Berkley Gulp shrimp.”
Capt. Warren Girle reported a slow bite, although he reported clients on a Jan. 27 charter caught redfish to 27 inches, and trout between 15 and 18 inches. “But we really had to work at it,” Girle said.
He saw redfish around docks, but not on the flats. “I went to two of my better redfish spots on the flats and didn’t see a single fish,” he said. “The fish are still deeper or snuggled up to structure. They’re still recovering.”
Girle said he thinks there may be little food for fish, as was evidenced by concave bellies on the trout his anglers caught. He guessed that perhaps the trout were getting ready to feed all night on last week’s full moon.
Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters said last week he fished areas under docks for redfish, and had success. One of his anglers, Ian Gilchrist from England, caught one that was 28 inches, as well as two over slot and 10 under slot. Howard also reported a couple black drum caught while fishing the docks, Intracoastal and Manatee River. He used live shrimp with a split shot, casting tight to the pilings.
“The key is to have good, fresh, live bait and fish the start of the tides, when the tide is moving,” Howard said. “The other day when I went, the tide started moving at 8 a.m. and we started catching fish at 8:30. The tide stopped at 12 and that’s when we stopped fishing.”
Howard added that speckled trout over 20 inches are coming in over deep grass flats.
Capt. Zach Zacharias of the DEE JAY II out of Parrot Cove Marina said water temperatures are slowly rebounding and the fishing action is picking up. He reported that the Gulf water several miles off Manatee County continues to be muddy and the action on the nearshore reefs has been minimal as a result.
Zacharias predicts when the water clears there should be some good action with big sheepshead, snapper and flounder on hard bottom in the 20- to 40-foot depths over structured bottom.
Inshore, he reported decent action most days by concentrating on deep-water docks. He said his clients caught redfish to 23 inches, average-sized sheepshead and black drum in a wide range of sizes with live shrimp on a low, incoming tide.
“It’s still wise to sleep late and fish after the sun has worked on the water a few hours,” he said. “One trip last week produced a nice catch of speckled trout in Palma Sola Bay. A good tide and slight breeze made drifting for the specks productive. Interestingly, the bulk of the larger specimens were taken on Cotee Jigs, while live shrimp bombed out except for a couple dink trout and ladyfish. Most of the jig-caught trout were in the 15- to 20-inch slot.”
“The weather has been so crazy with the El Nino this year that all bets are off for trying to look ahead with any certainty,” he said. “All we can do is hope for an early spring, but another freeze is possible before it’s all over.”
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters said the best action last week was with big amberjack. He said his clients also caught grouper, huge mangrove snapper, porgies, and sharks. McGuire said due to the cold weather, it is best to head out to 150 feet of water or more for big amberjack, or closer for smaller jack crevalle.
Capt. Mike Greig reported some nice trout in the bays. He also went fishing in the Gulf and caught gag grouper to 12 pounds and mangrove snapper to 3 pounds in 50 feet of water. He said the 12-pound gag hit an 8-inch octopus hooked in the top of the head.
Kyle Dodrill from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south pier said the bait is back around the bridge and so are sheepshead. He said the white bait is a mix of medium and big shiners. He also reported that some anglers are catching trout and an occasional grouper.
Dave Sork of the Anna Maria City Pier said he is still seeing some floating fish. The only fish being caught are sheepshead around pilings. “No monsters, though,” he said.
Bob Kilb from the Rod & Reel Pier said a few sheepshead are being caught there. He expects mackerel and pompano to possibly come through in a month if the waters warm. “We’ll play it by ear,” he said. “See if we can get some bait in here.”
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