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Weather effects on fishing-
A big cold front over the weekend will bring with it some severe winds, waves, and cold. While this isn’t great for weekend plans and people getting out on the water, in the grand scheme it is somewhat a good thing. This will slow down the rapid warm-up we have seen and should help us slow down the early warming trend a bit. Prolonging that ‘transitional period’ and helping to curb early season warm waters which can cause water quality issues to fester early and allow a foothold too soon. Behind that front, we see a high pressure try to build before a little frontal boundary tug of war begins Tuesday into Wednesday before finally, some nice weather returns Thursday into next weekend. This looks to bring us a nice weather window just in time for that full moon bite next weekend as our full moon is Friday, March 18th. Should be a stellar bite end of the week as full moon tides ramp up and a long four to six-day period of nasty weather subsides. I would be targeting mid to late workweek and through the weekend for stellar action on the water with lots of moving water and hungry fish behind the prolonged weather disturbance.

Sheepshead have been active this week around the area from the flats to the structures to the passes and even near shore! We have seen extremely active, prolific, and aggressive concentrations of sheepshead around the area lately. Seemingly pretty focused on a very late season spawn, but would be willing to eat if you had the right bait. Around our docks, we were doing really well on barnacles and small crabs like fiddler or mangrove crabs. However, they wouldn’t take shrimp or even cut pieces or much else. Barnacles and fiddlers were producing nearly instant bites, while other baits floundered past the clouds of sheepshead without invoking a reaction. Light tackle, small hooks, and minimal weights were key. Often times just four to five barnacles were all we needed to produce the weight needed to get the hook drifting to the bottom and allowing the sheepshead the enticement they needed to feed. Fishing with barnacles can be tricky, often times it’s easy for them to strip them easily with a quick crack of the shell or husk. However, if you are watching your line free fall down and it slows or stops then it’s time to set that hook and start pulling them away as often times they have stopped it on its free fall to the bottom to munch your hook full of hard treats. Once you get the method down it happens fast. Many times during peak feeding times we were seeing guys limiting out in twenty minutes or less on their eight sheepsheads around the dock, piers, bridge, and jetties. However, the bite seemingly was best when water was starting or slowing on the outgoing or incoming tides.
Snook action was hot too this past week with warming waters the snook started to pour out of their back bay haunts they have been hiding in for the ‘winter’. They really got active on the flats, around the mangroves, and on those oyster bars near the mouth of the rivers, creeks, and bayous they have been leaving this past week. We saw anglers having banner style nearly summer days this past week. Even some snook made it to the passes with that warming trend. However, this weekend’s coming front could slow that outpouring of fish and hopefully, they will push back a bit in anticipation. Oftentimes, our biggest snook issues arise with super-strong late-season fronts cooling waters down fast and trapping snook in areas they shouldn’t be so early in the year. However, this is just one front so I am not super concerned. The big freeze back in 2010 was a few late-season strong fronts in a row that did just that, trapped a bunch of snooks that left their ‘winter’ homes too soon and really did a number to our local population. Luckily, while this one will be strong it is expected to warm up fast behind the front and shouldn’t really get the ability to cool the waters off too dramatically fast for any length of time. However, the fish that were feeding well this week loved the paddle tail soft plastics, live shrimp, and even the whitebait that is starting to return to the flats and some markers of the bay. White bait is getting more and more prolific which will start to change the diets of our inshore predatory species.
Redfish action went well this past week but the hungry and aggressive snook definitely dominated the inshore flats. However, when you were able you could find pockets of redfish on the flats moving in fairly good-sized schools. Plus, we were seeing them around the docks, bridges, and oyster bar areas when you could find those cuts or pockets adjacent. Like the snook, shrimp and soft plastic paddle tails dominated. However, the white bait is coming back and will become more a staple quickly.
Trout action was still steady around those areas you could find the fish. There are some trout on the beaches and around the passes of the area. The south shore and upper Tampa bay area are still producing well to the west side as well. However, the Pinellas point, fort de Soto and Boca Ciega bay areas are still a little more tricky to find the big concentrations of trout. However, we are seeing the occasional nice fish in those areas.
Pompano are really starting to pick up steam around local passes and on our beaches. We are seeing them more and more getting caught on those pompano jigs, live shrimp, and the doc’s goofy jig and similar baits. The bite this past week really improved with the clearing waters around the area from the longer period of calmer weather. This weekend’s cold front could disturb that action, but only time will tell and we are hopeful they will bounce back to biting well quickly as the waters calm and clear behind the front.

Near shore-
Black sea bass are showing up in force near shore which is a welcomed sight. These are the monster 4-5lb models they see in the mid-Atlantic to new England areas, but we are seeing some solid 2-3lb hump head male seabass coming up with plentiful solid keeper sized females too. They are really biting much better than they have the past few years. We typically see and expect a bit of a push of them this time of year, but this is a really good showing this year and we’re hoping it lasts. They will take a bit of everything but we see them most often while using shrimp and lighter tackle while targeting the hogfish. However, they will take squid and even cut pieces of those threadfin too. Mostly shallower from around 30-40ft up to around 50-70ft is where we see them most. However, you can see them deeper from time to time and we often will see them shallower just not in big concentrations.
Hogfish continue to impress near shore especially around 10-20 miles in around 40-90ft of water. However, we are really dialing into them closer to 50-70ft of water on our ten-hour all days and those 6-8 hour private fishing charters aboard the HUB and Flying HUB 2. We are still catching some on the 5 hour half day too, but you get more fishing time a little deeper and more time to target them on our 10 hour all day. Lighter tackle and live shrimp still are key while going after the hogfish.
Mackerel are starting to show up in really good numbers. However, they are still small and we aren’t seeing huge schools of them. When you can find the bait on those hard bottom areas, especially around those lines of crab traps we are starting to troll up big numbers of the mackerel on our 3, 5 and 6 hour private fishing charters when guests opt to troll instead of heading offshore for bottom fishing. Our party boats are even starting to troll up some mackerel on the ride out and back too. Plus, we aren’t far from seeing those bigger concentrations and the kingfish showing up too.
Lane snapper and mangroves are also around near shore. The mangroves are mostly around 14-20 miles when fishing beyond 50ft of water and they get more concentrated and aggressive and prolific the deeper you get. However, the lanes are prolific and aggressive and continue through the near shore waters. For lanes, you can use pretty much any set up and bait. However, the mangroves are much pickier and leader shy and require lighter tackle and that double snell rig with a small piece of threadfin or the hogfish set up with shrimp works well too!
Red grouper action is happening near shore, but really not super concentrated or aggressive. We are definitely seeing better action beyond 100ft but there’s still a chance for a decent number of red grouper near shore if you are grinding it out and sticking and moving around that 70-100ft area at around 18-20 miles.

Offshore –
The red grouper action is slower than we would like but we are putting together nice catches on days they cooperate by really soaking it out and sticking and moving between spots during the day. You pick up a few here and a few there and just have to keep bouncing around to find the numbers you need to put together a good catch fishing inside the deep water closure fence. Although some days are great, we are having to do many stops to put together a good number of keeper red groupers right now. Its been tough to find those weather windows and when we have lately it’s been less than perfect variables between the moon phase, moving water, and those static high pressures.
However, the mangrove snapper fishing has cooperated well and seemingly is never ending with great catches of solid mangrove snappers pretty continuously. We are still utilizing the double snell with around 40lb leader successfully but when the bite slows or gets picky and the gags are closed we will sometimes even drop it down to 30lb and smaller hooks and smaller chunks of threadfin to entice that more picky bite to happen.
While the big mangroves we are seeing when the bite is on and popping are loving the live pinfish in that 3-5 inch range and we are letting them eat them with 40-50lb leader and 4-5ot hooks.
We have been seeing a few triggerfish too. These guys opened up march first and we are catching them using squid or threadfins. You can target them or at least try with small strips of squid and smaller chunks of threadfin with those smaller hooks around 4-5ot but its tough to set out to target them especially when we are inside that 120ft mark due to the deepwater grouper closure. Once that ends at the end of March we will be fishing much deeper closer to that 160-200ft area where we find bigger concentrations of those larger triggerfish.
Pelagic action has gotten better offshore too lately. Finally, longer periods of nicer weather have gotten those blackfin tuna in striking range and we are seeing more of them coming up on the trollers and the flat lines too. We are expecting the kingfish to start showing up anytime and we still have a shot for the wahoo as well too! Sailfish become a more likely possibility as we move into early spring too!

Dylan Hubbard

Author Dylan Hubbard

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"If you are too busy to go fishing, you're just too darn busy"