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Anglers almost are off hook

By PETE KATSARELIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001


Warmer weather finally is here, at least for a week.

Flats temperatures, which have been in the 50s, should start inching their way up. And those inshore species, which have been bunkered down in deeper water, should begin pushing into shallow depths to feed.

After a few days of this warm spell, the redfish and big trout probably will spend their time in about 2-3 feet of water on the flats.

With the water being so clear, the fish might be somewhat difficult to approach, so be sure to have a long casting rod available. Top-water plugs and weedless jigs will work well, but I prefer a weedless gold spoon because you can cast it so far.

Drift or poll across a likely flat, fanning out casts in all directions. When you come across sandy spots or depressions in the flat, make sure to take a couple casts at them. You may go a while without a bite, but don't give up.

When you do find one, chances are it won't be alone. The fish probably will be somewhat concentrated so many of your bites will come all at once.

If you do get good bites on two or three casts in a row, it's probably a good idea to set the anchor and work the area a little more thoroughly.

Up river, large numbers of juvenile tarpon have been active in the further reaches of the Anclote and Cottee rivers. On average, these fish are 15-30 pounds with a few larger ones in the 60-80-pound range.

To find these fish, simply idle around up river until you start to see them roll. If you have a trolling motor to search with, that's even better. You're likely to find that these fish will be concentrated in areas where the bottom suddenly drops off.

Once you do come across these silver kings, anchor up so that the concentration of rolling fish is within casting distance. For best results, try using a free-lined live select shrimp on a light tackle set up. A sharp yet strong 1/0 hook, on three feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, should be the ticket.

Offshore, if you're not going to the middle grounds, it's been difficult. If you have a boat with the range to make it there, the fishing has been outstanding. The only problem is, to get there you sacrifice a lot of fuel and time.

On a recent trip to the grounds, our first drop produced a 19-pound gag grouper and the next drop a 17-pounder. We hooked and landed plenty more big groupers throughout the day, and even lost quite a few to the rocks.

Besides the great grouper fishing out at the grounds lately, the snapper has been excellent.

Snapper bites are subtler than those of grouper, so be sure to take a few lighter tackle rods.

Twenty five-pound rigs with sensitive rod tips and high speed conventional reels work best. You will want to use smaller hooks than what you would for grouper. A strong 3/0 or 4/0 works best.

For bait, small live pinfish are excellent. If you can't get any of them, a half of a frozen Spanish sardine works well.

On the same middle grounds trip, we used this tackle to limit out on big mangrove snapper -- the largest tipping the scale at 10 pounds. All in all, in just over four hours of fishing, we limited out on big snapper and caught 17 groupers, which averaged about 15 pounds apiece.

Suddenly, the 70-mile trip out didn't seem so bad.

- Pete Katsarelis charters out of Tarpon Springs and can be contacted at (727) 439-FISH.

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