February 19 – 21
Some crazy weather continued this week with temperatures in the 80’s to begin the week followed by strong thunderstorms, high winds, and temps falling into the 50’s. Welcome to a Florida winter. Fear not, as spring is right around the corner.
Nice days with picture perfect weather windows made it easy for offshore anglers to head out to their favorite spots this past weekend for some snapper, red grouper, hogfish, grunts, and many other species. While some of the best opportunities to catch fish are during these periods of nice weather, taking time off when they conflict with work and other duties can make for bad scenarios. We live in an area where it seems the weather can change in the bat of an eye, so it might be wise to just wait for those weather windows to open and take advantage of them when you can.
Good action with red grouper has been noted by anglers hitting depths ranging in the 80-to 120-foot range west of Bradenton. Many of the best producing areas for red grouper are on bottom dubbed as Swiss cheese bottom, named for their pocked holes in limestone. They may not show on a recorder as big ledges or structure with a lot of relief, but reading your bottom machine to show how hard the bottom is might be the easiest way to find good productive bottom for red grouper. Areas beyond 120-feet through the month of March are closed for grouper.
Hogfish remain a good prospect for anglers looking to catch these delicious fish. Live shrimp will get the job done, but in the event your bait dies on the way out, hogs will still eat the dead bait as long as it’s kept fresh. By fresh, I mean it still has the same color it did when it was alive. Bait that died and sat in a bucket all day begins to turn color, and if it’s been dead too long it will take on a pink color that hogfish don’t find appealing. So, fresh is always better and live is best. Some anglers have found that blanched sand fleas also work well.
On some of the nice days with the horizon called, anglers found blackfin tuna, dolphin, wahoo, and other species out beyond 180-feet of water. Pick your days and be safe.
Trout fishing has continued getting better with larger fish each week. This is typical of this time of year. My biggest trout have nearly always been caught in March and April. Continued catch and release of these fish using barbless or circle hooks will help reduce release mortality. Look for areas with potholes and grass patches on the flats. In cooler temperatures, fish areas that are a little deeper, such as channel edges that are adjacent to shallow dark mud flats.
Trout have been closed for some time now, and the closure continues through May for snook, trout, and redfish from the Pasco/Hernando county line south to Gordon Pass in Collier County.
Redfish have been caught by a lot of folks this week, but schools of fish have been few and far between in most areas. Upper Tampa Bay has been holding some fish around Riviera Bay on the Pinellas side, and along the South Shore near Piney Point. Several areas along the west side of Sarasota Bay have produced catches of some nice reds. Gold spoons, soft plastics resembling crabs or shrimp, and small baitfish have been luring reds to strike. Fishing docklines with live shrimp will produce redfish, snook, sheepshead, and even trout. At night, dock lights can be excellent areas for all of these species. Live shrimp freelined work very well, but fly fishers can also take advantage of a good bite for these fish using shrimp or glass minnow patterns.
It won’t be long before snook get in the spawning mode. The string of recent warm days has sent good numbers of snook out on the flats to forage for food. Jigs resembling a baitfish such as the CAL Shad or MirrOlure Marsh Minnow have been producing some good action. When water temperatures climb back up into the 70’s you can expect these fish to get very aggressive, chasing topwater lures like a Zara Spook, MirrOlure Top Dog, or Rapala Skitter V.
It’s hard not to want to get on the water when the weather has been as nice as we’ve had this week. The warm days with lighter winds when the sun is up makes sight fishing spawning beds for bass easy. Almost any lake or pond with bass is showing these spawning potholes around the perimeter of lakes. Some may not be bass beds, but tilapia beds. Creature baits that appear to invade a bed to eat a bass’ eggs will get hammered instantly. Flipping this time of year can be deadly on big bass. Large soft plastic worms in black, purple, and green pumpkin all seem to work well. Bluegill beds might also be in our area. I love fishing small popping bugs on a 5 wt. fly rod for these fish. They may not be huge fish, but they sure fight like it. Get out and give it a try! ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
LEARN TO FLY FISH- SARASOTA
CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, 1249 Stickney Point Rd, Sarasota, FL will hold Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing school on March 13, 2021. The course, designed for beginning and intermediate fly casters, will focus on basic fly casting principles, improving casting skills, and correcting faults. Instructor, Capt. Rick Grassett, will also cover saltwater fly fishing techniques, leader construction, and fly selection. Cost for the class, which will run from 8:30 AM to 2 PM, is $195 per person and includes the use of Orvis fly tackle, workbook, and lunch. Optional instructional guided fly fishing trips are also available for an additional fee. Contact CB’s Saltwater Outfitters at (941) 349-4400 or email@example.com to make reservations.
‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham