© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2002
Inshore fish come out of deep freeze
There finally is light at the end of the tunnel for inshore fishing enthusiasts. Water temperatures on the flats have climbed above the magic 60-degree mark, which is often the difference between good fishing action and no fishing action. Many inshore species have resumed feeding after several weeks of near hibernation.
A marked improvement in speckled trout fishing is the big news in many bay area locations. For steady action, drift over grass bottom in 4 to 6 feet of water while casting a quarter-ounce plastic-tailed jig. This method has been producing trout from 1 to 5 pounds. It is not uncommon to catch 50 trout or more along with a mixed bag of bluefish, ladyfish and flounder.
Bunces Pass, the east side of Honeymoon Island and much of the deep grass between Anclote Key and the mainland shore have been productive. If you prefer working a little harder for a shot at some really big trout, try fishing soft plastic jerkbaits in shallower water. Target areas with patchy grass bottom in 2 to 3 feet of water. You won't get as many bites, but the trout that inhabit the extra-shallow water are typically much larger than their relatives in the deeper water.
During the past few weeks, most of the redfish taken were caught in deep canals and around docks. Now, with the warming trend, many are moving back onto the shallow flats. Try looking at dead-low tide during the first hint of incoming water. This often is when the reds start to move up onto the flats to feed. By wading or from a shallow draft boat, you can approach "tailing" fish as they root around in the grass for a meal.
A little farther offshore, grouper fishing has been outstanding. Gags to 20 pounds are being caught in water 60 feet or deeper. There are some fish available in shallower water, but the best action has been well offshore in the 60- to 90-foot range. My party also caught a surprise 20-pound kingfish along with a nice batch of grouper while fishing in 90 feet of water last week off Tarpon Springs. Dead bait has been all you need to bring. Frozen sardines are the most readily available, but it is a good idea to have a few alternative baits to mix it up a bit. Try adding other dead baits such as ladyfish, mullet and cut grunts to your bait box. Occasionally, you will find there is a big grouper down below who won't eat one kind of bait but will jump all over something different. Be sure to use a hook big enough to match your bait. Use a 5/0 or 6/0 for sardines or smaller cut baits and go up to an 8/0 for big pieces to avoid missing bites.
-- Ed Walker charters out of Palm Harbor. Call (727) 944-3474 or e-mail TarponEd@aol.com.
(All phone numbers begin with 727 unless noted)
FISHING REGULATIONS: Snook season opens Thursday; spotted sea trout season closes Feb. 1 in the northeast and northwest regions.
SATURDAY: 12th Annual Johnny Kellar Inshore Fishing Tournament, late registration available today at Ultimate, Betts and Dogfish Tackle, Bay Pines Marina, St. Petersburg, Old Salt Fishing Club, benefits All Children's Hospital, 397-9835.
WEDNESDAY: Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club meeting, with guest speaker Kenny Carman, Compton Park Recreation Center, Tampa Palms, 866-8682.
SATURDAY: Fly-casting, Bill Jackson's, 576-4169.
SATURDAY: Fly-casting, World Class Outfitters, (813) 968-3736.
SATURDAY: Fly-casting, Saltwater Fly Fisherman, Clearwater, 443-5000.
TUESDAY: Fly-tying clinic, Saltwater Fly Fisherman, Clearwater, 443-5000.
WEDNESDAY: Fly-casting, women only, Saltwater Fly Fisherman, Clearwater, 443-5000.
WEDNESDAY: Snook, redfish and trout fishing with Woody Gore, Boater's World, Brandon, (813) 620-0997.
THURSDAY: Grouper fishing with Bob Blomberg, West Marine, Clearwater, 536-4002.
TONIGHT: USF Sail Club meeting, Bayboro Campus, 821-4840.
SATURDAY: Safe-boating course, Clearwater, 462-6368.
SATURDAY-SUNDAY: Windmill, Moth, Jet 14 and Snipe Midwinters, St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 822-3873.
TUESDAY: Safe-boating course, St. Petersburg, 898-8774.
WEDNESDAY: Boating skills and seamanship course, Tampa, (813) 835-4118.
THURSDAY: Safe-boating course, Madeira Beach, 587-7873.
THURSDAY: Safe-boating course, St. Pete Beach, 867-3088.
SATURDAY: Guided hike, Brooker Creek Preserve; 943-4003
SATURDAY: Weedon Island Preserve guided walk, 3 miles, reservations required, 217-7208.
SATURDAY: Birding 101, Moccasin Lake Nature Park, Clearwater Audubon Society, 789-4603 or 538-8688.
THURSDAY: Day hike, 5 miles, Upper Hillsborough Wildlife Management Area, Florida Trail Association, (813) 899-0666 or (813) 920-0702.
-- Send information to Outdoors, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. All items must be typed and arrive 10 days before the event. Include event name, time, address and phone number.