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West Central Florida Forecast

West Central Florida Forecast
West Central Florida Forecast

Capt. Ray Markham covers the fishing forecast from Aripeka to Longboat Key, including Hudson, Anclote Key, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Bradenton

January 21 - 23


Last Sunday saw some wicked weather move in on the Suncoast, ravishing the area with tornados, high winds, and rain. The days following brought sinking air and water temperatures and heavy seas, slowing the action down. Approaching the weekend again, another front is predicted to move south after a brief warming trend. As always, pay close attention to weather reports in both your planning and while on the water, as conditions can change quickly. FILE A FLOAT PLAN!


mangrove snapper tampa
Anglers fishing the half-day and all day trips out of Hubbard's Marina at John's Pass have been rewarded with good catches of lane snappers.

At the beginning of the week, we saw some tough conditions for anglers trying to get offshore. By mid-week things were calmer and warmer. Nearshore anglers working depths between 50-and 100-feet of water had to work for some red grouper action. Live pinfish with clipped tails seemed to work well, but a combo of cut squid and a frozen sardine got some action going. A few hogfish were in the catch along with some mangrove snapper, porgies, and on the nearshore artificial reefs, sheepshead and grunts. Some of the largest red grouper are being caught beyond 100-feet. 

Deep waters ranging from 150-to 250-feet will usually yield some larger red grouper as well as some scamp grouper. But in that range, anglers also have to deal with releasing out-of-season gag grouper and red snapper, and both that need venting to avoid barotrauma. Some excellent catches of mangrove snapper have been hitting the decks with that average size running about 5 or 6-pounds. 

Bluewater anglers trolling big plugs and hardware have connected with some blackfin tunas, the occasional wahoo, and kingfish. Always run a flat line, you’ll never know what hits on top.


tampa bay pompano and trout
Bill Morrison, of Anna Marina Island with his personal best tripletail on fly caught while fishing with Capt. Rick Grassett, fishing out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key.

While the snook fishery is closed during the wintertime, these fish will become very active on days where there are sunny periods and warmth. These fish will shut down as water temperatures drop into the 50’s. But on calm sunny days between fronts, water temperatures on shallow dark muddy banks can soar as much as 10-degrees above the temperatures in adjacent waters. Fish that seek these warmer temperatures can see their metabolisms spike, triggering the need to feed. Usually, this point is when water temperatures rise to the upper 60’s or above. Small crabs, shrimp, baitfish, and worms that inhabit the shallows become targets for snook to eat. Lures that imitate this forage can provide some fast action on warm days. MirrOlure’s Lil’ John rigged on a 1/16-oz. jig head perfectly imitates marine worms that can be found in these areas. Various natural colors such as Burbon, Tube Worm, Molting, and Golden Bream all resemble the natural colors of this forage, and when rigged on a light jig head will stand straight up as marine worms do when poking out of holes in the mud. Not only will snook hammer these, but any redfish in the area will fall for these same lures. Sheepshead foraging on the flats will also eat these. 

Shrimp bury tail first in the mud on super cold days during fronts. As the front passes, shrimp will emerge from the mud as the flat warms, leaving the tail a discolored look as compared to the rest of the body. The 3-inch DOA Shrimp perfectly mimics this look in several colors such as the #315 Near Clear/ Fire Tail, #316 Near Clear/ Chartreuse Tail, and #385 Nite Glow/ Chartreuse. The secret to fishing these lures under this condition is to work them naturally. Shrimp are not usually very active and spend a lot of time doing nothing but sitting on the bottom. When they move, they crawl. On occasion, if spooked, they will jump quickly once or twice but settle back to the bottom and crawl slowly again in a forward motion. This kind of action is very enticing to fish with metabolisms that are just restarting. Shrimp provide high protein, digest quickly, and are easy to catch, so are rarely refused. Not only will snook and redfish jump all over a shrimp, but flounder that are sunning on the mudflat and sheepshead that are foraging for food will pound a shrimp. DOA Shrimp are also the perfect skipping bait for fishing under boat docks. They fall slowly and in an upright position, so rarely hang up and are rarely refused by mangrove snapper, snook, redfish, trout, flounder, or sheepshead that live under docks in residential canals during the winter months. Older wooden docks provide the best habit for both forage and for fish that feed there. Docks that get the most sunshine early will usually produce the best action. 

Wind-protected residential canals and areas in Clearwater Harbor, Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island, Culbreath Isles, Apollo Beach, Little Manatee River, Snead Island in Palmetto, and Warner’s Bayou in the Manatee River are some of the most productive for dock fishing and catching a variety of species. 

Days following cold fronts can produce some excellent action if you can get on fish. Finding fish quickly requires throwing lures that can cover water quickly, efficiently, and effectively. By quickly, I don’t mean moving a lure so fast that it looks unnatural or too fast to catch before it leaves a fish’s strike zone. By efficiently, I mean coverage using the lure that will attract fish with the broadest strike zone. By effectively, I mean lures that absolutely trigger strikes to hungry fish. The lures I choose for this scenario are the CAL 3” Shad rigged on a ¼-ounce jig head, MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. rigged on a ¼ -ounce jig head, and the 1/4 –ounce Eppinger Rex Weedless gold spoon with a red feather trailer. These lures produce enough vibration or natural flash to trigger strikes in warming situations from fish that are in a reaction strike mode, so they can be worked fairly quickly and thoroughly in areas that are holding fish.


tampa bay pompano and trout
A few crappie in the box make for a great fish fry.

Well, this past week of cooler weather may have produced just the conditions that speckled perch have been looking for to begin schooling. Reports around the region from Lakeland to Hernando and down to Sarasota have shouted crappie! These fish love cold weather, and drift-fishing with Missouri Minnows under a small cork is a traditional method of catching them. Purists might prefer artificial lures such as those from the TTI- Blakemore Fishing Group. Visit for more information. The Roadrunner lure name has been synonymous with fishing for over 60-years. While Roadrunners come in a variety of sizes, colors, and configurations for everything from walleye to bass and even saltwater species, a special group is devoted to catching crappie, aka. specks or speckled perch. The Team Crappie Slab Stacker, Slab Caller, and Spin Callers are all effective lures for loading the stringer for a fish fry, but the Crappie Tamer series might be some of my favorites. Experimenting with color combinations will reveal the most productive colors for areas you fish. Most lakes that hold specks have good water depth ranging from the shallows to at least 10 or 12-feet. Submerged structure, fallen trees, stumps, and the like will hold schools of these fish. Grab a bucket of bait or your tackle box full of lures a go fishing!

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham
(941)228-3474 or (941)723-2655

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