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Even though it's winter, local fishing piers are hot. The snook and tarpon may be gone, but there are plenty of other fish.
Clearwater's Pier 60, Redington Long Pier, the Fort De Soto bay and gulf piers and the piers along the Sunshine Skyway offer pretty much the same fish. Some vary, but each consistently produces sheepshead, whiting, silver trout, speckled trout and flounder.
Most of these species take live or frozen shrimp. Other natural baits such as mussels and fiddler crabs also work. Even frozen squid has a place, but to make it easy get a cup or two of frozen shrimp.
Artificial baits also work. Light jigs and sinking twitch-baits are most productive when the water is cold.
For sheepshead, a slack tide in daylight hours is best. Roe-laden females in the 4- to 5-pound range are there for the taking. Frozen shrimp works well, but it's best to use a small piece instead of the whole shrimp. Cut the shrimp into pieces and peel off the shell. Use the meaty pieces and chum with the head, tail and shells.
Since sheepshead have small mouths, a No. 1 circle hook is a good bet. A sheepshead's light bite is hard to detect, and the circle hook increases the hookup percentage since most fish hook themselves with this style hook. Target the downtide side of pilings and use as little weight as possible. Split-shot weights are great for sheepshead because you can control the amount of weight by pinching them on or off without rerigging each time.
Silver trout are not as big as speckled trout, but what they lack in size they make up for in numbers. Mainly a daytime feeder, silvers will devour shrimp, live or frozen, and will smack a small jig. Silvers like to hang out along the beaches, especially around hard bottom. Moving water increases the number of bites, but most important is clean water. Silvers won't eat in muddy water in which they can't see. You can get lucky dropping your bait on top of them, but otherwise you're wasting your time in dirty water.
Live shrimp on a slip-sinker rig will do the job. Either a half-ounce or three-quarter-ounce weight will work, depending on depth and tide. A No. 1 hook is all you need. Hook the shrimp beneath the horn. For artificials, tandem jigs are great. Use a light head on both jigs and dress them with a white, hot pink or chartreuse curly tail.
As for speckled trout and whiting, night is best. Many piers shine lights into the water, and that's where specks will be. A slip-sinker rig is great if you're using live or frozen shrimp; live shrimp draws more bites.
Speckled trout and whiting hit jigs. Again, a tandem rig is hard to beat. A sinking hard-body lure works well with speckled trout as long as the lure is moved slowly along the bottom. Whiting also will take a lure on occasion; they are most likely to take a jig.
Flounder feed day and night. They're being caught most on live shrimp with slip-sinker rigs, but they also will take a jig.
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