Moderate water temperatures and large amounts of baitfish have produced great fishing for a variety of game fish.
Inshore, snook fishing has been fantastic in northern Pinellas County. Full-moon tides this week had them eating scaled sardines like popcorn. Docks, mangrove points and even potholes in wide-open grass flats gave up many snook from 22 to 30 inches and a handful as long as 36 inches.
Bigger baits are helpful because they cast better, provide more vibration and seem to tempt even the experienced snook. Be sure to use a hook large enough to get past the bait and into the snook's mouth. While 2/0 hooks are preferred when casting average sardines, 3/0 or even 4/0 hooks have a better percentage when the baits are extra large. The leader should be 30-pound fluorocarbon - any lighter and the bigger snook may chew through it, and heavier leader makes it more difficult to attach to light line and may be visible to fish.
Giant speckled trout have moved closer to the gulf, where they spawn each spring. They congregate in sand-bottom channels and passes between the open water and the grass flats. Because the schools can include 100 fish or more, rod-bending action can be nonstop after you find them. We usually release these or keep just a few, because nearly all of them are full of eggs.
Cobia have appeared on the flats from Tampa Bay to Homosassa. The numbers vary day to day depending upon conditions, but there have been great catches and several fish over 40 pounds caught. Stingrays are the key to finding the big cobia in the shallows, as the rays' feeding exposes small crabs and shrimp. Cobia pounce as the crabs and shrimp dart away.
Out a little deeper, the kingfish run should be getting back up to speed after last weekend's weather sent the majority of them elsewhere. Before that there were lots of big smokers within a mile of the beach and lots of smaller school kings in 50 feet and deeper.
Grouper have moved into water as shallow as 20 feet, and the visibility has been excellent. This adds up to prime time for trolling plugs for gags. Many large-lipped lures can get down to 25 feet or more without a planer or sinker, and they are very effective.
Clean water also helps in finding new spots. On a clear day, rock bottom appears as dark spots in the otherwise sandy bottom. Logging these areas in a GPS machine helps you find fish later when visibility is poor.
The best technique for checking a dark patch on the bottom is to hop over the side and have a look for yourself. Free-dive spearfishing is a challenging and increasingly popular method of putting fish in the cooler, and there is no better way to learn the habits and preferred habitat many species.