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Trout are the most willing of the bunch

By ED WALKER
Published February 17, 2007


Speckled trout and redfish continue to be the primary target species for many inshore anglers. Both have been fairly active from Tarpon Springs to Cedar Key.

The medium and larger sized "specks" have been mixed together in many areas, which is a bit of a change from their normal size-segregation habits. Simply drifting the grass flats in 3 to 7 feet of water and casting jigs has produced bites.

Although this is the area most anglers target, do not be afraid to make a few casts into dirty or turbid water. By fishing a dark purple or black jig in murky spots, we have had good success away from the better known areas recently. Deep water can also be productive. One of my favorite spots is in 15 feet of water with hard sand bottom and a heavy current. When the temperature drops below 60, the trout stack up there and the bite can be steady for a long time. The key is experimentation and taking the time to veer off the beaten path.

The redfish bite has been decent for the past few weeks, when the weather allows access to the water, that is. Sightcasting in shallow water is what guides have been doing lately. The size of the fish has varied greatly. Some flats are holding swarms of 16- to 20-inch reds, while others have fewer but bigger ones. The rocky coastline north of Pine Island has been producing great catches of redfish for those who know how to get a boat in and out of there. The area is littered with boulders and rock formations and is not a good place to run if you haven't been there before.

Bluefish have shown up in a variety of spots. The bigger concentrations often hang around rises or high spots on the bottom. Once a school is located the fun begins. Flinging topwater plugs and retrieving them rapidly across the surface produces strikes on every cast. On some occasions we even land two fish in the same lure at the same time. Most of the bluefish are 1- to 3-pounders but few 5- or 6-pounders may be mixed in. When they are thick, adding a short section of wire leader will save you money on lures.

Huge spawning aggregations of sheepshead are holding on virtually all of the artificial reefs within 9 miles of the coast. Schools of 100 or more are common, with some of the larger females weighing more than 10 pounds. By bottom fishing near these structures with fiddler crabs or sand fleas, it is easy to catch a respectable quantity for dinner. Recent freedive trips to these same reefs have also shown that there are quality gag grouper mixed in with the sheepshead, although they have been somewhat difficult to coax into feeding when the water temperature is below 60. Soaking a fresh cut bait on the bottom while you are pulling in sheepshead will give you the best shot at a keeper gag that has been drawn in by all the underwater activity.

Keep in mind that no gag, red, or black grouper may be kept in federal waters, which include everything west of 9 miles, until March 15. State waters - those east of the 9 mile mark - will remain open. Recent reports indicate that there is a decent quantity of gags in state waters but you will definitely need to be patient to catch them.

Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call 727 944-3474 or e-mail info@lighttacklecharters.com.