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Patterns pay off in winter


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2000

When I go fishing during December and January, I try to stick with the same patterns.

In the early morning, my partners and I will work deep canals for reds, big trout and snook using hard-body plugs that sink or a 3-inch striped tailed jig.

The best places are old docks, big boats and drain pipes that stick out of the sea wall. These lures need to be worked slowly across the bottom with an occasional twitch of the rod tip. When the action slows, it's time to break out the shrimp and start fishing for sheepshead and mangrove snapper.

Diced shrimp is a great chum to get these fish feeding. Toss the pieces around dock pilings and free-line a chunk of shrimp in the area you chum. It's not easy to feel the hits, but if you watch the line where it enters the water you will see it move when a fish grabs it.

When the sun heats the water, it's time to work the edges of grass flats for trout. The bait of choice has been a strawberry slugger or jig. The barbs should be pushed down for easy catch-and-release action. The best places to fish are the grass piles just off the flats in 3-4 feet of water. The trout like to hide where the grass meets the sand. Concentrate your cast in those areas to increase your strikes.

When fishing offshore for grouper, I like to start about 9 a.m. by stocking up on frozen squid and sardines plus a good supply of big live baits. We troll the areas of hard bottom in 40 feet of water until we get a strike. Then the jug is tossed to mark the spot and the area is surveyed using the depth recorder.

If there is no structure to mark, we will drift-fish until someone catches a grouper. Then we will rejug the spot and start bottom fishing. Don't use the live bait until the frozen bait stops working and give each spot plenty of time to produce. The cool water will make the fish slow to feed. Anglers who have good numbers for grouper 30 miles or more offshore should give these spots a try.

Fishing 35 miles west of John's Pass with Tommy Butler produced a limit of gags, reds and scamp. It sometimes took an hour to zero in on the spot, but the wait was worth it.

The piers are holding trout, pompano, whiting and flounder. The best time to fish is when the water is not dirty.

Party boats are catching gray snapper, sea bass and grouper. Winter is the best time to go party-boat fishing because the big grouper invade the shallow waters these boats like to fish.

- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.

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