Another cold front dampens fishing outlook
From left, Larry Garvin, Geoff Worthing, Dennis Wickie, Don Kirkwood, Bill Rolston and George McMillan, from Bradenton, with a catch of amberjack pulled from about 155 feet of water depth using live and artificial baits with Capt. Larry McGuire.
Another cold front blew through on the first weekend of February, topping off a slow week of inshore fishing for most anglers.
And the front could once again set inshore fishing action back.
The best bite reported by anglers was with redfish around docks. Baits must be cast tight to structure and worked very slowly, as fish have not been feeding heavily. Best baits have been live shrimp and Berkley Gulp baits.
The best overall action may be on the nearshore artificial reefs. Look for sheepshead, mangrove snapper, smaller grouper and porgies to be abundant. Remember that grouper fishing in all waters is closed until April 1.
Capt. Warren Girle reported said on a Jan. 4 trip that the flats were giving up a bunch of trout. “We probably caught 30-plus trout,” he said. “They were all skinny as can be.”
But he was encouraged by a few schools of bait fish, as well as some smaller trout. “That showed me the little ones weren’t affected by the cold,” he said.
He also reported redfish, sheepshead and black drum under docks. The biggest redfish was 26 inches.
“This is probably the toughest winter I’ve seen in a long time,” Girle said. “It’s going to be tough to fish nearshore because it’s so riled up out there. Unless you can find cleaner water, it’s just going to be a real slow bite with this weather. It doesn’t warm up enough to get the fish on a feeding frenzy.”
Girle added that the fish are still lazy. “You’ve also got to hand feed them,” Girle said. “You have to get the bait right in front of them or nothing’s going to happen.”
Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters said the winter fishing pattern is still in full effect. “It’s great,” he said. Howard said redfish are still biting under docks. “I whacked a few nice ones yesterday,” Howard said. “Two were over the slot and the rest were small. So there’s still a mix under the docks.”
Howard said he fished some artificial reefs in the bay and caught some sheepshead. “That should only get better in the next few weeks,” he said.
Howard said on a recent trip he caught about a dozen trout — five of them keepers — on a 1/8-ounce jig head with a pearl white Berkley Gulp bait.
Capt. Logan Bystrom said this week he’ll be fishing the flats for trout and hitting docks for redfish. He’s heard there have been some smaller grouper caught on the inshore artificial reefs.
James Followell from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south fishing pier said that anglers had been catching grouper to 30 inches on pinfish. Grouper, of course, are out of season in state and federal waters as of Feb. 1. Followell said that sheepshead also had been hitting shrimp around the pier.
Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions fished for two hours before the rain came Feb. 5 and had a better bite than the previous few days.
Markham said his clients caught about 15 trout, a redfish and a few ladyfish. “I figured as long as the barometer had been going down, and it had been going down all night, I figure the fish might not bite at all,” Markham said.
Markham said the bite came in less than 2 feet of water using DOA CAL shads and DOA shrimp, as well as a Mister Twister Exude DART. Markham said the DART gets slippery like slime when wet. “It works well,” he said. “I’ve caught a lot of fish on them.”
Earlier in the week, his catches consisted mostly of redfish, trout, ladyfish and a few flounder using the same artificial baits around Terra Ceia Bay.
“Last weekend’s cold front knocked things back a little bit again,” he said. “It hasn’t been good for awhile. It hasn’t been normal ever since the freeze. I haven’t even seen a snook.”
Bob Kilb from the Rod & Reel Pier said a few sheepshead have been caught, along with an occasional bonnethead shark or stingray. “That’s about the extent of it,” Kilb said.
Capt. Zach Zacharias of the Dee Jay II out of Parrot Cove Marina said fishing action has been decent. “For once we had a string of mild, calm-weather days that were very fishable,” he said. “Water temperatures are so critical this time of year. The frigid water from the big chill had started to moderate nicely but suffered another setback with several cold nights in the first week of February. The length of day helps substantially to perk up piscatorial appetites though. The days are nearly an hour longer than they were back at Christmas.”
Zacharias said the bulk of the action for his clients was with speckled trout, redfish, sheepshead and black drum. He said the trout caught were 10-20 inches. “Live shrimp and a variety of soft-bodied plastic jigs did the trick with the trout,” he said. “An incoming tide seemed to produce best and the specks were found in a variety of locations from the open flats of Sarasota and Palma Sola bays to backwater bayous and cuts. The presence of glass minnows in the area is a big key to finding the fish.”
Zacharias said the key was fishing tight to structures. He said the reds, drum and sheepshead were all found tight to deep-dock structures and taken with live shrimp. “At the start of last week, the reds came on really strong and then waned a bit,” he said, “but the sheepshead took up the slack considerably by week’s end.”
On a side note, Zacharias said jumbo ladyfish and bluefish have provided good sport. He said since the January freeze he had not encountered any pompano, but they should be coming on strong with the longer days headed into spring.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters said amberjack and snapper have been the best bets offshore, starting in 125 feet of water depth.
His catches have included mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, porgies and sharks. He said on one recent trip a 9-foot hammerhead shark followed an amberjack to the boat.
McGuire said that despite the closing of grouper season, there’s a good chance for blackfin tuna in 125 feet of water over wrecks and steep ledges using live baits and butterfly jigs.
He said closer to shore, including the 1- and 3-mile artificial reefs, anglers can look for monster sheepshead, along with mangrove snapper, porgies and loads of Key West grunts.
Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters said he’s been fishing some nearshore artificial reefs because last week’s easterly winds made for relatively calm conditions. He said the reefs held a good bite of sheepshead, grouper and snapper.
But he said the inshore bite has been tough. “If you catch 10 fish, that’s a pretty decent day,” Stewart said.
Stewart expected the sheepshead fishing to be better than it was. “I don’t know why the sheepshead haven’t moved back in the bay,” he said. “Generally we catch them around docks and structure, and we’re catching them here and there, but it’s been a slower bite for them.”
On a brighter note, Stewart said one of his clients last week caught a 24-inch redfish with 81 spots. “It was wild,” he said.
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