Abundance of new fish available this month

Published March 3, 2007

March is finally here and soon the spring thaw will begin. Depending on the weather patterns, warmer water and a subsequent influx of migratory fish could move in as early as mid-month.

One of the most important species that will show up is the scaled sardine. Though a handful of tight-lipped guides have been keeping track of an isolated mass of the coveted baitfish all winter, the arrival of the migrating schools likely will kick off the spring season.

With the baitfish come the pelagic gamefish species such as Spanish mackerel, kingfish and nonresident jacks. The mackerel are a favorite of many anglers since they appear on the inshore flats and beaches as well as the nearshore gulf and even offshore. They are fairly easy to hook and they put up great battles, especially on light tackle. When the water temperature reaches 72 or so, the action can be fast and furious.

If a large number of mackerel encounters a school of baitfish, they often churn the surface in a feeding frenzy. Pitching spoons, jigs or just about anything shiny with a hook in it into the melee produces constant strikes.

The area known to many commercial fishermen as "the big bank," which is 9-10 miles off the Hudson coast, has long been known as a Spanish mackerel hot spot. Years ago commercial net fisherman used spotter planes to find the unusually dense mackerel schools as they crossed this shallow spot in the Gulf. Today a few net fisherman still make a living landing mackerel for the market in federal waters where gill netting is still allowed.

Recreational anglers can find the big bank by looking for the casino boat that typically sits on or near the highest part of the bank in 9 to 14 feet. When the run is on, it is common to see pods of Spanish macks jumping and splashing at the surface. Sometimes there as so many mackerel it becomes difficult to land one due to interference from other fish.

Speckled trout action has been good and should remain so for the next month or two. Expect to see a shift in the patterns of the bigger specks as they begin their spring spawning season. The larger fish usually separate themselves from the smaller ones to begin their mating rituals.

A recent conversation with Sarah Walters, biologist and sea trout specialist at the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg, revealed trout spawn only at night and do not feed then. Another interesting fact is biologists often track the movements of the spawning aggregations by listening for them. Sea trout are a member of the drum family and make a distinct sound when courting. According to Walters, schools of trout can be heard by the well-trained ear on calm evenings.

As the water warms the grouper fishing should improve. Frigid temperatures have shut down the bite inside 30 feet. We had dismal results grouper fishing from Tarpon Springs to Bayport one day last week, eventually heading back into the flats where the redfish and trout saved the day.

Divers report the fish are there but getting them to bite has been difficult. Neoprene-wrapped spearfishers have the advantage. Even such well-known spots as the county artificial reefs often are stacked with gags that simply will not bite, which is no problem for a skilled underwater hunter.