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To have a successful fishing trip target species that don't seem to mind the cold water. Trout, mango snapper and sheepshead are the easiest to catch when the water temperature hits the low 60s or colder. Grouper are available if you are patient.
Trout, ladyfish and bluefish are hanging on the edges of the flats in lower Tampa Bay, Fort De Soto and Boca Ciega Bay. Drift fish in areas that have grass patches in 3-4 feet of water. Dark green and root beer have been the most productive colors when dragging jigs across the bottom. In the early morning, trout are stacked in the potholes that have grass nearby. In the afternoon, the bigger trout move onto the flats. The bluefish and ladyfish are staying in the potholes with the 1- to 3-pound trout.
Redfish and snook can be found in the residential canals. A 1-ounce striped shad dragged near the docks will draw strikes during the warmest part of the day. Cover as many docks as possible.
Sheepshead are in the gulf and near the passes as they prepare to spawn. Look for them to be feeding on the pilings of docks and bridges when the tide is slacking or slack. Fish the areas the sheepshead are visible next to the pilings. In the gulf, most of the action will be on the artificial reefs, markers and rock piles. Dice some fresh shrimp in small pieces to use as chum. Save the center cut for bait. Toss the chum up-current so it will drift back to the structure. Put a chunk of shrimp on a No. 1 hook that is rigged to 20-pound line and a 30-pound leader. Free-line or use a split shot depending on the flow of the current. If you don't catch a sheepshead in 30 minutes, try a new spot.
Grouper action is good in Tampa Bay. Trolling is the easiest way to find them. Try the south end of Egmont Key, the edge of the ship channel and the rubble that lines the Skyway bridge. Grouper fishing has been good in 90-130 feet, southwest of John's Pass. Live pinfish and Key West grunts will get the big ones feeding. The bite is not as strong in the 40- to 60-foot range. Use frozen squid and give the spot time to heat up. When the grouper start feeding switch to live bait. A chum cage full of frozen squid can be dropped off the front of the boat to help get the action going.
-- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.