Timing around cold fronts will usually determine what kind of conditions you’ll encounter and what kind of bite is on…or not. The past week’s warming trend barely took water temperatures up over their frigid state, but those temps may have raised just enough for fish to begin feeding, for those fish that survived the past cold front. Just in time for the weekend, another front is on the way, predicted to move into the Suncoast by Friday night, bringing rain and falling temperatures once again for the weekend.
Calmer seas this week allowed a few anglers to get offshore despite some foggy. conditions at times. Water temperatures in the Gulf are ranging from about 60-to 70-degrees. More consistent temperatures around 70-degrees are found out beyond 100-foot depths, according to NOAA weather buoys.
Anglers fishing the nearshore waters for hogfish have been rewarded with fair catches of these tasty fish. Live shrimp seems to out-pace other baits, particularly when downsizing tackle. Captain Dylan Hubbard, of Hubbard’s Marina at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach says they have been having good success with hogs using longer 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders on light tackle. Typical rigs that work for him are knocker rigs and Nekid Ball jigs or regular jig heads tipped with shrimp.
Hubbard’s 44-hour offshore full moon trip on the New Year was outstanding. While there were only 18 anglers aboard, they had limits of big red grouper, scamp grouper, mangrove, lane and vermilion snappers, porgies, and several other bottom species to show for their sore muscles. In addition, there were plenty of blackfin tunas and some smoker kingfish. They also got a boat limit of grey triggerfish. Hubbard says boats will be targeting amberjacks up to the closure January 27th and triggerfish up to the closure January 15th. For more information on the different trips out of Hubbard’s Marina, go to www.hubbardsmarina.com.
Inshore fishing during the next two months can be a challenge for most species. However, sheepshead that are in the prep mode for spawing can be the most cooperative, even when weather can get snotty. (Look at this weekend’s weather forecast for the definition of snotty). Icy cold winds blowing can put many other species down but not the sheepshead. Finding them now is easy. Most any docks, piers, bridges, rock piles, jetties, and sea walls will hold them. They are noted bait stealers, but brining baits like oysters and clams will toughen them up so they stay on the hook better. Live shrimp works, as do fiddler crabs and barnacles. The old trick of using a spade or shovel to scrape some barnacles off pilings to chum the waters has been around forever. This gets the fish feeding and then they drop their guard and will feed with little hesitation.
Incoming tides can bring cooler Gulf waters into the bays, slowing metabolisms of fish and turning on the lock jaw. As the sun heats the shallows, metabolic rates rise. By the time the tide is up and begins to ebb, fish have been chewing. The trout bite has been good in many places. We’ve been whacking trout to 23-inches on TTR MirrOlures with good success. Good action with jigs has produced somewhat smaller fish, but those have been the most active. Most fish have been caught in 4-to 6-feet of water. The spoil islands around Dunedin have been consistently holding big trout. The South Shore near Bishop’s Harbor and Ruskin has held some nice trout as well.
There has been very little bait in the bays but we are still having pinfish chew off some of the tails on our jigs. Where we are finding pinfish, the Eppinger Rex Spoon and MirrOlure 37MR MirrOdine XXL have both been producing some quality fish. Many times while reeling a nice trout to the boat, a big bluefish will chomp the trout in half or all the way up to the gills!
Snook have been hanging in deep water…at least most of the survivors have. Anglers at many passes report seeing some snook that are totally ignoring baits on the incoming tides and chewing on the warmer outgoing tide. It’s best to just not target these fish with water temperatures where they are right now.
The mid-week red tide report noted some concentrations from Sarasota south to Fort Myers. But Captain Rick Grassett out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key and his clients still found some feeding redfish, trout, and pompano in Sarasota Bay that chewed their CAL Jigs with Shad tails.
A walk around most any area lake or pond will reveal some dished out potholes where tilapia, bass, and some other species are preparing for a spawn. Several kinds of “creature” style baits are very good at enticing the bite from bass. Imitations of salamanders, eels, snakes, and the like are known to elicit violent strikes from male bass guarding their nests. With cooler water crank baits with rattles like the Rat ‘L Trap will draw strikes when many others won’t. Jerk baits can also do the trick when worked erratically.
Crappie fishing is on the upswing. Look for some schooling activity from these fish in larger lakes like Lake Tarpon or Lake Manatee. Drifting a lake with several rods suspending baits or jigs at different depths will key you in on the best depth to work. Catch one fish and toss a marker buoy. If you continue catching, keep tossing markers until the bite stops. Returning to the first marker and fishing the same track will keep you in the right zone for these schooling fish. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham