Capt. Sergio’s Corner By: Capt. Sergio Atanes

Putting the Heat on the Fish

January weather determines what kind of fishing we do and, under normal conditions, we should be in the low 40’s at night and high 60’s during the day. Using this as a guideline, I am going to fish the warm water runoff at the Apollo Beach power plant at first light.  My experience tells me the snook, redfish and trout are most active early in the morning as the sun rises and, as the surface water warms up, the jacks, sharks and catfish seem to take over.

Little Manatee River is brimming with action this month.  Snook are in the creeks and cuts along the river. Redfish and trout are looking for food and jacks are on the prowl for anything they can sink their teeth into.

I prefer using artificial baits in the winter months keeping me moving in search of the prey and, at the same time, teaching myself new spots that I would not try during the summer.  For soft baits, I prefer Saltwater Assassin paddle tails (P. Seed/Chartreuse Tail, Plum/Chartreuse Tail, Chicken on A Chain and Avocado/Red Tail) this time of year working them slowly along the banks and edges of drop-offs.  I can cover more area and increase my chances of finding fish.  Look for holes along the mangrove lines or points where the currents have dredged cuts or pockets. Any change in the depth of the water will make a big difference to fish during the winter.  For hard baits, my go to has always been the MirrOlure 52M11 red head silver sides and white on top and bottom.  Although, this past year, they introduced the SKIN series (CS17MR PIN, CS17MR PRD and CS85MR Mullet) and they have been a killer for me.  Early in the morning, I work them from the shallows and over the holes to produce the most action.

If you like live baits, shrimp works great this month, with a 1/0 circle hook and a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader about 36 inches long. Remember, this time of year, the water is extremely clear, so the light leader helps in getting more strikes.  I use a small split shot placed about 4 inches from the hook–this allows me to keep the bait close to the bottom where the fish are feeding.  You can use the same method of fishing with artificial baits by working the artificial shrimp along the bottom with a slow retrieve, which helps in locating where the fish are staging.

Sheepshead are one of my favorites during the winter months, as they prove to be great fighters on light tackle.  Feeding mostly on shrimp, fiddlers, small crabs and barnacles, they are considered a great table fair. Some anglers even call them chicken of the sea. The big females prefer the deeper waters of the Tampa Bay, hanging around the ledges, wrecks and rock piles in anywhere from 12 to 30 feet of water and averaging in size from 4 to 12 pounds.  Here, I prefer to use medium tackle, a 7’6” medium action rod with a larger spinning reel loaded with 20-pound test braided line and a 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader tied with a loop knot to a number 1/0 J hook.  I use a Texas rig where the sinker slides on the leader just ahead of the hook.  I also use a small glow soft bead, because this keeps the sinker from hitting the knot and the glow beads seem to draw the attention of the larger fish. Live shrimp, fiddler crabs, bloodworms and sand fleas are some of their favorite baits. Smaller sheepsheads prefer docks and oyster bars in shallow water, so just downsize your tackle and enjoy catching a great fighting fish.