© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003
Last week's warm weather brought big changes to Tampa Bay. Water temperatures have reached almost 70 degrees in some backwater areas. Large schools of scaled sardines are appearing, and snook are making their way to the flats.
Back-bay areas have yielded the first snook of the spring. They are skittish, but they are starting to feed. Loud sounds or excessive rocking of the boat will destroy any chance of hooking a "linesider" this early in the season. Even the slightest noise scares them. A canoe or shallow draft boat is ideal for these areas, and live greenbacks are the bait of choice. The greenbacks worked better free-lined than under a float on a recent trip. In one area, several hundred snook were sunning in the shallows. Get ahead of the fish and work back toward them to avoid spooking them. Soon the fish, which have not eaten much during the cold winter, will become more aggressive.
Schools of bait have returned to many parts of the bay. Look for birds diving along the edges of shipping channels. A large net, at least 8 feet, is essential to catching deep-water bait. Bottom machines are helpful to locate groups below the surface.
-- Dave Walker charters out of Tampa. Call (813) 831-0355.