Catching Fish in Changing Times
In the last three years, I have noticed a change in our weather patterns. We have had more windy conditions causing many cancelled trips and the need to adjust our fishing techniques to compensate. If the weather allows us to get across the open waters of Tampa Bay, the Apollo Beach Power Plant would be a good location to fish.
I have two methods for fishing the power plants. The first method is to work my way as far up as I can toward the hot water runoff and start a slow drift using a light jig head with live medium shrimp hooked from the tail. Slowly bounce the jig head along the bottom for flounder and sheepshead. The good thing about doing this is that, if you see a manatee, there is a good chance a cobia could be hanging around it. Please be careful not to cast too close to it. Let the cobia come to you and in most cases it will.
The second method is to find a spot where the water tends to swirl and try to anchor. If you are lucky enough to own a trolling motor with a spot lock, use it to keep you stationary. I like to use a #4 split shot about six inches from the hook. A 2/0 circle hook works great. Bite or cut the tail off the shrimp and thread the hook from the bottom up through the back part of the tail. A note of caution: Make sure the shrimp are of medium size. There are some places that tend to have smaller size medium shrimp. In this case, I recommend moving up to a large shrimp.
In my experience, the best time to fish has been from sunrise to 10 am, depending on cloud cover. On cloudy days, you can stretch it a couple of extra hours and on bright sunny days, maybe sooner. Once the sun’s rays start to warm the water, the fish tend to move toward the outer edges of the channel and even into deeper flats to feed and return at sunset.
Two things to take into consideration are water temperature and tides. The lower the water temperature–the better the bite. Combined with low tides, you have the perfect ingredients for a successful fishing trip. The low winter tides, due to high pressure systems, force fish into deeper, warmer waters for self-preservation. This will then give the angler the advantage.
Other areas to explore:
Docks make the perfect spot to hide from the wind and catch fish. Here is where we have structure, depth and warmer water. The docks take in the sun’s rays and act as a radiant heater. This increases the water temperature as much as 3 to 4 degrees higher than the surrounding water.
Concrete seawalls will act as a heater with the help of the sun. Ever notice how many fish you see swimming along many seawalls during the winter months? It is simple. The water temperature tends to be 2 to 4 degrees warmer, thanks to the rays from the sun heating the concrete and creating a highway of warm water for them to travel through.
Find the out-of-the-way cuts or small channels used by boaters with grass or rocky edges. As the tide drips with winter negative tide, the fish need to find refuge and warmer water.
Look for dredge or bomb holes, whether man made or caused by natural water movement. Fort DeSoto still has many bomb holes from the early 50’s when the area was used as a bombing range. Weedon Island has several nice deep holes if you take the time to look for them.
Rivers and creeks are all a good source of warm water during the winter months. The decaying leaves and dark muddy bottom help to increase water temperatures.
Believe it or not, some of the big snook have been caught during the winter months while fishing for sheepshead and trout using live shrimp around artificial reefs. The four best reefs are Port Tampa, St. Pete in front of the old Million Dollar Pier, Apollo Beach and Port Manatee reefs.
Now for best baits: In all my years of fishing Tampa Bay, I have found that live shrimp is the over-all best bait for late fall and winter fishing–December through early March. Fiddler crabs are second on my list. During the winter months, not only are they a favorite of sheepshead but redfish as well.
If you would like more information on increasing your catch, please contact Capt. Sergio Atanes for dates on his upcoming Saltwater Fishing School. This is a two-day weekend event with five instructors for anglers to learn as to when, where and how to catch more fish in Tampa Bay.