A high pressure system that’s been sitting on our area continues to make for a somewhat sluggish bite both inshore and off, but with some time, patience, and diligence anglers are able to put a few fish in the cooler and a bend in some rods.
A little breezy and warm weather for this time of year has continued under a high pressure system that’s been over us this week and should continue into the weekend. Anglers had to work hard to get some legal red grouper inside of the 120-foot depths where the season remains open. Beyond 120-feet red and scamp grouper are closed along with some others until April 1, as Captain Dylan Hubbard points out. Hubbard runs party boats out of Hubbard’s Marina at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach. On their 39-hour trip Hubbard reported catches of mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, porgies, and inside 120-feet, some red grouper. Beyond that mark they have been catching lesser amberjack and blackfin tunas as well.
The first kingfish of the year on Hubbard’s boats were landed this past week, but several other reports in the last week have noted catches of both king and Spanish mackerel.
Nearshore waters from 30-to 50-foot depths are beginning to hold bait. Waters in this range and out to 60-feet are also continuing to produce some hogfish.
Early mornings along the beaches are seeing some action with Spanish mackerel for anglers tossing Gotcha Jigs and trolling spoons. The Clark #1 size has been a top producer on flatlines and pulled behind #1 and #2 planers to cover the water column off the beaches.
A variety of fish are being caught inshore up and down the coast. But some of the best action continues with speckled trout. Some hot spots this week have been St. Joseph Sound, Caladesi Island, Anclote Key, and Weedon Island, the South Shore of Tampa Bay, Joe Bay and portions of the northern end of Sarasota Bay. With water temperatures hitting as high as 78-degrees in some of these areas, a variety of lures are working well, including topwaters. Some hot producers on top have been the 5M MirrOlure, Rapala Skitter V, and DOA PT-7. A couple of MirrOlures, the Poppa Dog and Poppa Mullet, kind of crossover walking/ poppers, have also been getting some huge blow-ups from snook and trout. Of those lures, only the DOA PT-7 is a soft bait. Other soft plastics that are producing some excellent catches of trout are the CAL Shad, 5.5 CAL Jerk Bait, MirrOlure Marsh Minnow, and some of the Tidal Surge baits. The Egret Wedgetail Mullet, with their unique swimming action are also taking some nice trout.
Anglers aboard my boat, the Flat Back II, caught trout, permit, and pompano on CAL Jigs with Shad tails and MirrOlure Marsh Minnows in lower Tampa Bay along edges of sand bars on incoming tides. Bait schools are showing up inside Tampa Bay around the channel markers but continue to move around. My guess is that they are moving with water temperature changes. Gulf water temps are 72, where the bay temps vary from 75-to 78-degrees. The incoming tides bringing in cooler temperatures seem to be moving the bait schools at different times of the tide.
Snook are showing up on the flats in better numbers now. Anglers who have been tossing live pilchards at them are hanging some pretty large fish, with many being in the slot of 28-to 33-inches. The season reopens for two months beginning March 1, but because of the recent fish kill in January due to the cold weather, many guides are urging anglers to practice catch and release during this spring opening to allow these fish to spawn for the summer to increase fish numbers that were lost earlier this year.
Sheepshead fishing has been on fire since last week’s new moon. You can expect that action to continue, especially on the upcoming full moon March 1 when these fish will wrap up their spawning activities. These will be some of the largest sheepshead of the year. A top live bait for sheepshead is a fiddler crab. The bait shop at Hubbard’s Marina now sells them, and reports from some jumbo sheepies are coming from the John’s Pass Bridge and jetty.
Record setting heat for the month and high pressure sitting over Florida are both creating some interesting fishing. Normally, crappie will be in their top form for the year, but the bite has been slowing a little more each day. Bass seem to be getting more into a late spring or early summer pattern as opposed to where they should be. Perhaps the top producing lure right now for bass in the area has been a spinnerbait in white or white and chartreuse. Topwaters in frog patterns have also accounted for some bass in the 5-pound class on Lake Tarpon this week. You may have to switch around to different lures to find the one that is producing best for where you are fishing right now. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham