Inshore Fishing Report
White bait like green backs, threadfins, and others are once again prolific in the area moving around the flats, bridges, markers and has really made a comeback through the area. With this resurgence of white bait, we are seeing a lot of those fish changing their feeding patterns and starting to favor that white bait over the live shrimp more and more. However, its still that time of year when both work well. You are more likely to see more and more anglers targeting the white bait with cast nets and utilizing more of that as it continues to become more and more prolific. Fish are starting to get more energy and move around a lot more as the water warms up as well. The importance of working that lure more slowly becomes less and less important, but you still want to consider your target species and where they are going to feed and keep that bait moving so it stays in the strike zone.
Sheepshead action is still going well throughout the area but will slow down more and more as they spread out and the spawn concludes as waters warm. Really good time to get a few nice fish before the end of their concentrated behavior. We are seeing them bite well on the fiddler crabs and barnacles. The best areas remain around those bridges, dock lines, seawalls, jetties, piers, and rock piles. Virtually any structure where water is moving, especially deeper water you see more concentrations of these sheepshead right now.
Snook action is heating up well throughout the area with warming waters. These fish are pouring out of the back bay areas and really spreading out across our local flats, oyster bars, points, and mangrove islands. We have seen some of these guys return to the passes too. This week with another long period of temperatures north of eighty degrees it will continue to flush these fish back towards the passes more and more. I would imagine the beaches would start to even see some fish this week. There are reports of snook on the beaches around the mouth of Tampa Bay and that should hold true more throughout the area soon. Early in the year, but we have seen a big warming trend to help push these fish out more and more. They are even starting to bite better on larger lures and even the twitch baits as water warms, they get more and more aggressive.
Redfish action is going steady throughout the bay area. They aren’t as aggressive or prolific as the snook as of late. With the outpouring of hungry snook its much easier to get into an area of hungry snook compared to redfish. However, if you work for it, you can find areas the redfish are more stacked. They are in more concentrations but are very spread out. Still holding to more shallow waters around those bays, oyster bars, mangrove islands and even sometimes canals too. We are seeing some around the passes too, but snook are moving in more.
Trout action remains variable and sporadic but where you find them, they are often in some decent concentrations together. We are also seeing a decent average size as of late as well. They are mostly focused on those soft plastics, live shrimp, and the greenbacks now too. However, you can pick them up on small to medium sized twitch baits too. They are often stacked up on those deeper flats around 2-4ft right now and will push deeper as waters continue to warm, or hang off the flats in those potholes, cuts or drop offs adjacent.
Pompano are active in the area, but they really like that clearer water to feed more actively and with the weather being so turbulent lately its made it a bit more tricky. However, despite the murky waters you can sometimes find areas that are producing, but its much trickier. Often, you want to move around and catch that right tide around local passes or beaches to find that clearer water and then you will find more active pompano. We are seeing them on the beaches, in the passes, and in those channels or cuts leading to the passes.
Mackerel are showing back up in the area and we are seeing them really surge back strong with the warming trends and the resurgence of bait to the bay too. We are excited to see these guys back in the area and they make for added excitement when cruising between spots and you see in that deeper channel or cut or off the edge of deeper flats the baits pushed up to the surface with birds working you know that’s the mackerel working. Also, still some bluefish and jack crevalle heavily feeding around the bay too so either way going to be something hungry and ready to eat a faster moving flashy lure and give you a great fight too! Keep your eyes peeled while moving around the area and look for those deeper edges and fast-moving water where bait is present. The bridges of Tampa Bay are starting to hold plentiful bait and thus mackerel as well, especially around the skyway and the skyway piers. However, the Ana Maria piers, fort de Soto and clearwater beach pier are starting to see the mackerel heavily too. Even local jetties are seeing mackerel caught too, just depends on where the bait gets stacked up.
Nearshore Fishing Report
Mackerel action is back to the near shore waters in pretty good concentrations, plus we have seen some nice kingfish or king mackerel caught as well. However, they are not super thick yet. The mackerel are the most prolific starting around 15-25ft up to around 40ft of water hugging the beaches around artificial reefs, wrecks, and anywhere that will hold bait including some bigger rock piles and ledges. The skyway shipping channel is a great place to look for them along with those public artificial wrecks and reefs that are located from 3-9 miles along the coast. You can find most of those on most any chart or in your typical plotter, but if you don’t have them check out this link -> http://www.pinellascounty.org/reef/pdf/reef-map.pdf those will get you in the area and most of these areas are very large and sprawling and you can troll around them to find more structure, bait and fish. I suggest using around a number 1 or number 2 planner with about 15-18ft of 40lb mono behind it to a 4-6 inch drone spoon. You want to make sure to have a snap swivel on the back of the planner, and often people will put one on the front too. This will prevent your main line from getting spun up as that spoon spins in the water. To set the planner out, you just throw in the spoon let it pull tight, then put the planner over with your drag set and once it touches the top of the water keep your rod tip up and let it skip back keeping pressure on the reel with your thumb. Once its in the area you want, quickly lower your rod tip and it should set, if not pull up your tip as much as you can and whip some slack at the planner and then it should set. This will apply steady pressure and start to really pull, especially the further back it goes the deeper it will pull your spoon. If your using braid it goes even deeper. You want your drag just tight enough to stop it from being pulled out of the reel by the tension of the planner. You should be able to put that rod in a rod holder and barely pull the line with one finger to get the drag to pull. Then put on the clicker and your set. Hit the other opposite corner and repeat this with another rod but remember to stagger this one 20-30ft shorter or further than the first planner to avoid them from tangling as you make slow and soft turns around the structure you are trolling. Once you get a hit the planner will trip and bring the fish to the surface, and you will see it start to skip on the water behind the boat. Watch your rod tips, you will know you get a hit when it comes nearly slack showing the planner was tripped.
Hogfish action is steady near shore around that 40-80ft range. They slowed a bit for us, but we are hoping that had more to do with the weather than anything else. We are unfortunately experiencing some tougher conditions that make it more difficult to get out there to the hogfish, and then when we are able that water is murkier and the fishing has been a little tougher, but we are getting little weather windows that allow us a good shot at them. Like this past week we saw a great bite Tuesday and then again Thursday and both of those days were when we finally had a little reprieve from the more turbulent weather.
Black seabass have been biting well for us around that 30-90ft area lately too. We are seeing them on shrimp, squid and even cut threadfin but mostly on live shrimp. The average size has been large and it’s great to see them in such good numbers right now. We are hoping this continues as they are great eating smaller fish to add to the catch.
Lane snapper have been a little more sporadic but this past week we found them biting well in good numbers out towards the deeper end of our near shore waters. Once we got closer to that 100ft mark we were seeing them biting better and better. Definitely recommend targeting them closer to around 70ft of water or more using squid or shrimp.
Mangrove snapper are around near shore and we are seeing some big ones occasionally near shore too. Especially deeper, like the lane snapper, we are seeing more and more of those mangrove snapper. They love those live shrimp and smaller chunks of the threadfin on the double snell rigs. Using that lighter floro leader is important too around 30-40lb test.
Red grouper action has been spotty near shore. We are seeing a few of them here and there but not until we are deep and nearing that offshore range beyond 20 miles and beyond 100ft, but just inside the deepest near shore waters where we are picking a few up using pinfish, squid strips, and threadfins whole with just the tails cut.
Offshore Fishing Report
Red grouper action is going better offshore compared to the near shore waters, but tricky to find big concentrations of them. You must really stick and move and pick a few here and a few there and keep moving around to put together a good catch of the red grouper lately. We are catching them using the same methods as the near shore waters, just using a little heavier leader and maybe a size bigger hooks. When fishing inside 100ft typically I would be using 40-50lb and 6ot hooks while offshore I would be fishing 60lb and 7ot hooks right now while we have that deep water closure holding us inside twenty fathoms or 120ft.
Mangrove snapper are doing well offshore. We are seeing some good-sized fish in good numbers and were excited to get back out there this weekend on our 39 hour right ahead of this incoming front to hopefully capitalize on a good bite of mangrove snapper. They love that double snell rig and cut threadfin. Using around 40lb leader and 5-6ot hooks is a great choice to targe the mangrove snapper.
Lane snapper have been large in those shallower offshore waters we are targeting right now to keep the red grouper. We are seeing some truly monster lanes while using cut threadfin or squid strips. They are often caught while we are targeting the red grouper.
Triggerfish are open now but have been a little tougher to find in good numbers and keeper size inside that area we can keep grouper right now. We see them best once we are out there past 150ft of water. That will be one of our target species after March first when this deep-water closure ends.
This upcoming week looks a little bumpy offshore, but we should still be able to get out there on the mid-week 39 hour and we are currently doing well fishing deeper on the start of the trip at night to target bigger mangrove snapper then moving shallower during the day to target the bigger red grouper. This allows us to get deeper and catch plentiful larger mangroves around 140-180ft of water then fish that 120ft area during the day when red grouper is biting better and then we can keep them too!