Weather has been consistent lately, consistently crazy. Ups and downs in temperature and barometric pressure can either make fish chew or shut down a bite. The high pressure side of the barometer can slow things, but incoming fronts with rapid pressure drops can make fish chew. Perhaps part of that has to do with fish sensing the change and knowing that food sources may be more difficult to find, so they eat at any opportunity. When fronts bring strong winds that build seas, turbidity makes the conditions in the water unclear, making if more difficult for fish to breathe and to find food. Some fronts make for extreme drops in temperature too, slowing down metabolism. Waiting a couple of days or so for water to clear or temperatures to rise can make for better fishing days. The crazy ups and downs and changes are typical of winter fishing here, and understanding these changes and how they affect fish can help you be a more productive angler.
I normally think of mangrove snapper fishing in relatively shallow water as a fish that gets targeted around June or July when these fish spawn and move into shallower water in schools. But lately, it seems that some pretty large mangrove snapper have been hanging in depths from 30-to 80-feet, according to Capt. Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard’s Marina out of John’s Pass. Good numbers of mangos are being brought aboard most of their trips out on the Gulf. An assortment of other species is being caught as well, including yellowtail and vermilion snapper. On a deep drop one lucky angler banged a big scamp grouper. Pretty good numbers of hogfish continue to be caught from Tarpon Springs and south from 40-to 100-foot depths. The red grouper bite continues to be pretty picky and spread out.
Nearshore artificial reefs are holding grunts, mangrove snappers, a few hogfish, and some flounder as well as sheepshead.
This week we’ve had some cooler weather but the days have mostly been sunny with winds that haven’t stirred up conditions that much. That should continue into Saturday with air temperatures climbing into the low 70’s. Sunday, changes are predicted again for another cold front that will drop temperatures and might possibly see winds blow at 15 mph or greater.
Anglers who fished the beginning of this week reported a mixed bag. Everything from snook, speckled trout, and redfish to whiting, pompano, sheepshead, black drum, mangrove snapper, and silver trout. As the temperatures began to fall, the bite slowed. That’s pretty much normal for many species, but sheepshead fishing continued to show more promise for bigger numbers and fatter fish. While I mentioned last week that the peak spawning time for sheepshead is around the full moon this month, that’s not so. Truthfully, these fish usually peak in February but can be found to spawn from late January through March, but peak in February. Anglers will likely prove that during this weekend’s 29th Annual Old Salt-Johnny Kellar Inshore Fishing Tournament, being head out of Bay Pines Marina. Last year’s winner in the sheepshead category weighed-in a sheepie that tipped the scales at over 8-pounds. But the big fish was in the black drum category that was well over 40-pounds. Those big drum usually come from the Tampa Bay bridges. Since this tournament has boundaries within the Colregs, which are essentially within Tampa Bay waters anglers in the tournament will be confined to this area. Captain’s meeting is on the 10th with fishing on Saturday the 12th. The weigh-in will follow on Saturday around 4 P.M. at the Bay Pines Marina.
Capt. Rick Grassett out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key reports some action down south near Gasparilla with fly and spin anglers. CAL Shads are a top draw here for their artificials. Grassett reported steady action with snook, some trout, and large jack crevalle.
Some of the largest spotted seatrout reported this week were coming on the northern half of the West Central Region from Clearwater north to Hernando Beach. Anglers fishing the river mouths up around Weeki Wachee and Chassahowitzka Rivers are reporting some of the largest trout. Some are pushing 30-inches. Capt. William Toney, reporting in the Big Bend area likes fishing the big 5.5 CAL Jerk Bait from DOA Lures nose hooked on a 4/0 or 5/0 Owner live bait hook. These jerk baits produce some big specks for his clients.
One of the most celebrated outdoor writer’s of our time, and certainly Florida’s favorite, is Frank Sargeant. For years, Frank’s articles in the Tampa Tribune, Florida Sportsman and many other magazines, and his dialog on B.A.S.S. kept anglers riveted to the page and screen. But not too many know that in his early years here, Frank was a professional guide up in the Homosassa River area for bass, trout, reds, and whatever else was biting. Frank ran out of Mason Creek, just off the Homosassa and bass were always one of his top targets. I asked Frank what some of his favorite lures for bass were. Here are a few of his top choices. A perennial favorite of Franks is the Rapala F11, the original balsa wood lipped floating stick bait. A sharp twitch of the rod would make the lure dive, then giving it slack, the lure would return to the surface. It’s a great calm water bait. Frank likes working that bait the first hour of daylight for big bass, and it’s a great bait to produce steady action under the right conditions. Some of the larger topwaters like the Strike King Sexy Dawg are also effective, Frank adds. Bass will be spawning in the shallows around the perimeter of lakes from around February through April here and Frank’s pick for spawning bass is a big soft plastic worm on a single 5/0 Gamakatsu or similar worm hook tossed to bedding bass. Soft plastic crawfish patterns work well too. After the spawn, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits are a top choice fished around maidencane. Fishing deeper water in lakes, lipless crankbaits like the Bill Lewis 1/2 ounce Rat-L-Trap can be very productive. Frank likes the new lipped crankbait from Bill Lewis, the MR-6, a mid-range crankbait that runs about 6-feet deep. Perhaps these lures will work for you too. Give them a try and send me some photos! ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham