By DOUG HEMMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001
Trout fishing in lower Tampa Bay is starting to heat up.
Large numbers of trout in the 1- to 3-pound range are hanging around grass patches along the edges of the flats.
The most productive grass is 3-4 feet deep and has a blue or green hue. The water with a white or light brown color is too shallow to hold fish.
Most trout will lie against the grass with their bellies on the bottom. Cast to the edge of the grass and drag your bait slowly across the sand.
The strike will send a thump through the rod. Wait for the thump before setting the hook.
Larger trout move into deeper canals after every cold front. Look for them to feed best two days after the front.
Redfish are around the docks and oyster bars. Most reds have been small with a few in the 25-inch range.
Artificial shrimp skipped under structure is the fastest way to locate a productive area. When a good spot is found, switch to live shrimp to keep the bite going.
In the afternoon during the incoming tide, you can find reds working the oyster bars with a deep drop-off close by. Gold spoons and weedless sluggers have drawn strikes when the fish are not spooky.
When the reds avoid the artificial lures, switch to a free-lined live shrimp hooked through the tail. Cast the shrimp over the reds and slowly drag the bait near the fish and let it sit on the bottom.
When the red picks up the shrimp and you feel the pull on the rod tip, set the hook. Pinching a piece of tail off the shrimp puts scent in the water and helps the reds locate your bait.
Tampa Bay grouper are feeding as shallow as 10 feet. Now is a great time to troll rock piles for big grouper.
Gags as big as 25 pounds can be caught if you use the right gear and spend the necessary time to find them. Rigs in the 100-pound class are not too heavy, and the largest plugs are not too big when it comes to landing a monster grouper from among the rocks.
A good trick for keeping big grouper out of the rocks is to leave the boat in gear until the fish is to the boat.
The best part about trolling is finding new places to bottom fish. Most of the spots will hold more than one fish, and some will have a ton.
Trolling gives you the best chance of finding a super inshore grouper hole you can fish when the weather won't let you offshore.
- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.