Conditions continue anglers guessing

Published January 27, 2007

Abnormal and unpredictable conditions have kept anglers guessing about where to look and which species to target. A week ago, it seemed as if spring was here. Kingfish were being caught in solid numbers on the reefs and wrecks as shallow as 32 feet, Spanish mackerel were showing up and pods of threadfin herring and Spanish sardines could be seen.

What happens next depends entirely on the temperature. With the gulf teetering on the threshold of 67 degrees, the migratory fish will move in or out depending on how the thermometer moves. The forecast is calling for cooler but steadily increasing temperatures through the weekend. This should be enough to hold the pelagic fish in the area.

What does this mean for the trip you have planned? One suggestion is to have a rod or two rigged and ready to go for kingfish. Scattered reports of kings had been coming in for the past month, but last week things really broke loose. At the 3 mile artificial reef off Clearwater Beach, the charter boat fleet found a giant school of kings. Not only did all of the boats limit out, they reported seeing fish in the air and crashing pods of threadfins throughout the area. If the water gets a little warmer, those fish should continue to move our way. Closer to home, there have been some kingfish holding near the deeper wrecks such as the Misener Crane and the Tug and Barge.

Even if you are not targeting the kings, you may score a bonus fish for the cooler by keeping a freelined or floated bait out behind the boat while bottom fishing.

In deeper water you do not even need livebait on your flat line. By rigging a dead sardine on a wire leader and letting it hang back behind the boat in the current, you can catch kings and even grouper. A few years ago, while fishing in the Florida Middlegrounds, we employed this flat line with a dead bait technique in 135 feet of water. When our bottom rigs began producing nice gags, the flat line reel screamed and the rod doubled over. Eventually, we landed a 15-pound gag grouper which had risen at least 80 feet from the bottom to find the bait as it twirled in the heavy current.

Cobia are another possibility. They, too, are generally not seen in quantity until spring. But, with the unseasonably warm water, there are surely a few moving around out in deeper water.

Inshore fishing has been good for speckled trout and redfish. We have been fishing for trout out on the deeper flats during the lower parts of the tide, then working the mangrove edges and oyster bars when the water rises. There is a possibility of running into a school of giant redfish on the flats as well. A week ago, several schools of the breeder-sized reds more common in the open waters of the gulf were spotted close to the barrier islands. Sometimes, these monsters will work their way up onto the flats where they mingle with the smaller, more normal-sized inshore reds.

If you are lucky enough to find them, the action can be memorable. They will eat just about anything, put up a great fight, and usually stay in the same areas for several days.