Smoking Springtime Fishing is Here!

Even though spring doesn’t officially start until March 20 this year, I’m really looking forward to it. This winter, the fishing was the most inconsistent that I’ve ever experienced. Cold fronts were few and far between and when we did get one, temperatures headed back north of 70 degrees the following day. This inconsistency prevented fish from settling into their normal winter patterns. That being said, there were a good number of days when sea-trout catches were outstanding. The next day, not so much.

The redfish bite was about the same, but with a slightly different twist. Some days, most of the redfish landed were in the mid to upper slot-size of 27-inches. Other days, most were under 18-inches. Still fun to catch, but a little disappointing if you were planning on a blackened redfish dinner. Fortunately, of late, schools of large redfish are once again prowling the grass flats.

Traditionally, St. Patrick’s Day marks the start of the annual kingfish migration run along the Pinellas County coast. Kingfish can be caught very close to shore with very little effort. Just run offshore about a mile or so and locate hard bottom using your sonar or by searching out crab traps. Crab fisherman, always drop their traps on hard bottom, because that’s where the crabs are. Go figure! Once you locate a decent spot, drop anchor, start a chum slick and put out some live-bait on flat lines.

Chumming for kingfish and waiting for them to come to you is productive, but luring the fish with a trolled bait is more proactive. Slow-trolling live bait also eliminates the possibility of catching non-targeted species like sharks. I always prefer to head offshore with some bait in the live-well, but you can catch it once you reach your destination with a Sabiki rig.

Kingfish are great table fare, if you stick to the smaller ones, because they’re common carriers of high levels of mercury. The FDA recommends eating fish under 30-inches to limit your mercury intake.

Personally, I like to smoke kingfish on my Big Green Egg and then make fish dip. If you’ve never done it, just Google smoked kingfish dip and you’ll find plenty of recipes.

The Large Sea-Trout Are Active

Lately, my clients have been catching plenty of large sea-trout.  Some days, most are at or over the 20-inch maximum slot-size, which is only one out of a four fish per person limit.  Sea-trout are mostly hanging out in deeper water.

The redfish have remained pretty active, although this time of year it’s not uncommon to catch a lot of fish just under the 18-inch slot-size, what we call “Rat Reds.”  Even in the winter, the key to success is to chum with live-bait.

One thing I notice about fisherman, most move around too much.  I understand the need to move to another spot if you’re not catching fish, but sometimes it takes 15 minutes or so for things to happen.  I like to anchor up on a spot, chum and wait awhile for the fish to get active if I know fish are there.  Many times, once one fish begins to feed, others follow suit.

Another thing about sitting tight and waiting for things to happen:  If you’re in a spot with a good tidal flow, fish will constantly be passing through your area.

Be patient my friend.  It is a virtue, after all!

Pictured:  Kory, Andrea and Ky finish up their charter with a big sea-trout rally.

January is an Outstanding Time to Fish!

When water temperatures drop into the low 60’s, fish go deep or to heat.  Let me explain what I mean.

Cold water slows the metabolism of a fish way down.  They move slower, don’t travel long distances or feed as much.  What they like to do, is drop off into deeper water for warmth.  Residential canals lined with docks are great areas to target winter fish.  Deep-water back bays and coves lined with mangrove and oyster bed shorelines are another.  These areas usually have muddy bottoms which warm up during the day and retain heat during the night.  If you should fish these areas early in the morning and it’s slow, give it some time.  As the sun rises and the water warms, the fish become a little more active and are likely to eat.

One of the biggest considerations this time of year, (for me anyway), is what to use for bait.  I always prefer to fish with live-bait.  Majority of the time it will be scaled sardines, but when we’ve had an extended period of extremely cold weather, catching bait can be difficult.  When that’s the case, I make a quick stop at the tackle shop to buy some regular sized shrimp.  Buying larger shrimp is a big waste of money, so don’t do it.

You won’t catch as many snook with shrimp as would with scaled sardines, but you’ll catch a few.  However, during the winter, shrimp are just as effective, if not a better bait choice for catching redfish and trout.  Another bonus fish you’ll catch with shrimp is sheepshead.  You definitely won’t be catching any sheepshead with sardines.

Most Floridians hate cold weather, but I love it!  I’ve had some of the most productive charters of my career during the winter.  There’s also less boat traffic and competition for the best fishing spots.  If you’re one of those people who like to sleep in on a cold winter’s morning, do so, just head out in the afternoon.  There are days when I don’t even start my charters until noon to take advantage of the tide or to let the water warm up a bit.  Despite the up and down temperatures, the fishing is steady.   Most days we’re catching the main three species to complete an inshore slam of snook, redfish and trout.

In all reality, there’s not much Mother Nature can throw our way this time of year that would disrupt the great fishery we have in Tampa Bay.

Pictured: Gerry Stosek from Bethesda, Maryland with a nice winter snook.

Cold Weather Fishing Can be hot!

Cold water slows the metabolism of a fish way down. They move slower and don’t travel long distances. What they like to do, is drop off into deeper water for warmth. Residential canals lined with docks are great areas to target winter fish. Deep-water back bays and coves lined with mangrove and oyster bed shorelines are another. These areas usually have muddy bottoms which warm up during the day and retain heat during the night. As the sun rises and the water warms, the fish become a more active and are begin to feed.

One of the biggest considerations this time of year, (for me anyway), is what to use for bait. I always prefer to fish with live-bait. Majority of the time it will be scaled sardines, but when we’ve had an extended period of extremely cold weather, catching bait can be difficult. When that’s the case, I make a quick stop at the tackle shop to buy some shrimp.

We don’t catch as many snook with shrimp as would with scaled sardines, but we’ll catch a few. However, during the winter, shrimp are just as effective, if not a better bait choice for catching redfish and trout. Another bonus fish we’ll catch with shrimp is sheepshead. We definitely don’t catch any sheepshead with sardines.

Despite the up and down temperatures this month, (mostly up), the fishing has been steady. I’ve only had one slow day and that was right after the passing of a cold front. Most days we’ve caught the main three species to complete an inshore slam of snook, redfish and trout.

Pictured: Brian Brown achieved an inshore slam recently aboard Afishionado while fishing the shorelines of St. Petersburg.

Some Cooler Weather Has Arrived

My redfish charters kicked into high gear last month with multiple trips catching well over 20 an outing and I look for that to continue throughout the month of November.

The key to this kind of success is to find areas in no-motor zones that are void of other boats. On one trip, I had in Mid-October, I sat in one spot for four hours and caught redfish and snook non-stop.

Some of the key factors that day: I was in a no-motor zone with no other boats around; I arrived at my spot at the top of an extremely high full moon tide to fish the outgoing tidal flow and I live bait chummed until the cows came home. When I chum, I really chum. By the time we left the flat to head back to the dock, I had completely emptied a 55 gallon live-well crammed full of bait.

When I’m not catching snook while fishing for redfish, I’m finding snook schooled up in different areas. Unlike catching lots of snook while targeting redfish, I rarely catch many redfish when strictly going after snook. That’s mainly due to the fact that large concentrations of snook prefer a little different habitat such as, deeper water with a stronger tidal flow and/or around structure.

Cooler temperatures translate into cooler water, which in turn, triggers the fall kingfish migration. This month the Pinellas County coastline will be dotted with boats pursuing kingfish. Kingfish are an easy species to target and can be caught within a mile from shore. Most anglers anchor their boats over hard bottom or an artificial reef, start a chum slick, stream live baits behind the boat and wait for a strike.

I prefer to take the bait to the fish by slow-trolling live bait. This method allows you to cover more water and at the same time troll your baits around the numerous large schools of bait you will encounter this time of year.

Kingfish follow these massive schools of bait as they leave the cooler waters of the Panhandle and head south. By early November there is bait everywhere just offshore and the kingfish are in a feeding frenzy.

Towards the end of the month, as cold fronts move through our area, it’s time to think about hitting one of our power plants for some warm water outflow action. It just might be the right spot to work off that Thanksgiving turkey dinner while fighting a big cobia.

October Redfish Schools Have Arrived, Hallelujah!

It’s been a long and miserable summer and I for one, I’m glad fall is finally here. And even though it still feels like summer, the fishing has fall written all over it. Despite the continuous daily heat, the dew points are dropping, the days are getting shorter and most importantly, the water temperature is falling. This my friends marks the beginning to some excellent inshore action.

October has always provided some of the best opportunities for catching massive amounts of redfish during a single outing. Looking back in my archives, reminded me of a charter with three clients who caught and released 96 redfish in just five hours on October 12, 2007. I have yet to repeat such a feat, but catching 40 or more is possible if you encounter a large school of redfish. To do so, the conditions have to be perfect and you need a little luck.

First off, you have to locate a school of redfish in a no-motor zone, because schooling fish won’t tolerate a lot of boat traffic. Once you enter a zone using your trolling motor and find fish, it’s important to set up quickly and start to bombard the area with live-bait chum. Doing so, will keep the redfish actively feeding at your boat side for hours on end, if you’re not interrupted by other boats.

Cooler water temps this month will trigger larger snook to feed more aggressively also. Last month the snook fishing was pretty good, but not many big fish were being caught. That will all change this month, especially as we get closer to November. Mangrove shorelines and docks are good areas to pursue snook.

Mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel will still be active this month and in most cases they can be caught while fishing over of the same structure provided you have a good fresh cut-bait chum slick going. Don’t be surprised if you catch the occasional cobia, tarpon, ladyfish and jack crevalle while doing so.

Monday, October 10 is Columbus Day, which typically kicks off the fall kingfish migration. I’m not so sure about this year. It’s been too hot, but trust me, they’re on their way.