At its February meeting in Gainesville, the FWC announced a change to conserve spotted seatrout impacted by the prolonged red tide in southwest Florida. Beginning Friday, February 22, recreational anglers will no longer be allowed to harvest any spotted seatrout over 20 inches total length when fishing in state or federal waters from the Pasco/ Hernando County line south to Gordon Pass in Collier County. This rule change will remain in effect through May 10, 2019.
Also at this meeting, the American Red Snapper season was declared for June 11 through July 12 for the 2020 season with possibly more days later this year.
Within the past few weeks, bottom temperatures in the 40-to 60-foot range were just below 60-degrees in the Gulf. Anglers dropping baits to the bottom that some areas were not producing. But looking at the sonar revealed that many species were not on the bottom and were suspending in thermoclines above their usual habitat. With the recent very warm weather, bottom temperatures and throughout the water column have been on the rise, stirring appetites in all ranges. Hogfish, sheepshead, porgies, and good numbers of mangrove snapper have produced a steady bite in that 40-to 60-foot range for those looking for food for the table. There have also been plenty of gag and red grouper under limestone ledges in that range, but with the season closed, they get released. But in the past few days, it’s been game on for just about everything below.
The nearshore bite has been off around the full moon, according to Capt. Dylan Hubbard, out of Hubbard’s Marina at John’s Pass, although anglers fishing the half-day boats are still doing well with gray snapper, hogfish, and sheepshead. Their deep water trips are providing good action with a variety of snappers, including vermilion, lane, and mangrove snappers, porgies, plus some hefty cobia, and a few kingfish. Whiting and a few pompano continue to run in the surf along the beaches from John’s Pass to Clearwater.
Capt. Dave Zalewski of the Lucky Too, www.luckytoocharters.com, had some encouraging words this week as he reported that his pinfish traps have been full of small to medium-sized pinfish. He says between 2 and 3 miles from shore the activity for bait has increased dramatically. With no red tide at all, this is usually the case just before we start seeing a strong run of mackerel, both king and Spanish. Anglers fishing off Clearwater Beach are catching a few Spanish now, so, the kick-off for the mackerel run is not far away. Zalewski said he noted water temperatures near shore just over 70 degrees this week.
Air temperatures have been at or near record highs, bringing inshore water temperatures up to the mid-70’s. This is the beginning of what fish here prefer. Look for more of the same for the weekend. Light winds in the morning have given way to a seabreeze in the afternoon with some increasing winds. This has been an excellent week for inshore anglers as water temperatures are starting to climb into the comfort zone for most species that live hear year-round and a few that move in when the temps climb. For trout anglers from the Pasco/ Hernando county line south, the FWC made a change this week in that NO trout over 20-inches may be in possession through May 10 when it may be reviewed. This conservation measure is due to the extreme numbers of trout that were killed during red tide periods last year in southwest Florida. Anglers fishing St. Joseph’s Sound still report good action with keeper sized trout.
To our north, anglers in the Hernando County area continue to see good action with some nice trout and redfish. Trout have been outside on the rocks and limestone flat wherever there is some kelp. Redfish have been in various locations with much of the action taking place inside in backcountry areas. Capt. Lowell Bebout who fishes the area, has been seeing some good action with CAL Jigs with Shad tails, MirrOdines, and with whitebait for snook, trout, and redfish.
Snook continue to be in numerous areas. Some are out on the open flats and many are still in creeks, rivers, and backcountry areas. Upper Tampa Bay has produced some very nice snook for catch and release action. The upper portions of Tampa Bay are showing some big snook in the creeks and on points. Anglers along the South Shore have also found some big snook near the Little Manatee River and in Cockroach Bay. Redfish numbers seem to be increasing slightly, as more are being caught, but both snook and redfish continue to be on the no take list due to the emergency closure.
Bluefish come and go, and small jack crevalle have shown up recently along with a few more ladyfish. Most have been holding in deeper water over 6-feet deep. Guys throwing cast nets for bait are seeming to struggle a bit lately but are still finding pilchards in lower Tampa Bay.
Climbing air temperatures with little rain have been heating up area lakes and ponds considerably. Bass have been on the beds and this week’s full moon produced some nice action for anglers working these beds with an assortment of ‘creature’ baits. Soft plastics like lizards, crawfish, and just jerk worms have been productive for anglers who have been flipping to active beds. Darker colors like June bug, black, or purple have been productive.
The edges of hydrilla beds have holding fish early in the day and crankbaits like Rat ‘L Trap have been catching good numbers of stout fish at Lake Seminole. Some of the Wake Baits might be worth a try near the shallows. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham