February is a prime month for catching a winter inshore triple play, which is catching a redfish, speckled trout and sheepshead.
Let’s start with the schooling fish, speckled trout love to eat and enjoy cold weather unlike many of their counterparts. The best time to target trout is ahead of cold fronts with northeast winds which drain the bay of water forcing them into the canals and potholes. Anywhere you can find deep water close to the flats, that’s where they’ll be.
The D.O.A. CAL Shad #351 (rootbeer/chartreuse tail) with a quarter ounce jighead for deeper water and #304 D.O.A. three inch shrimp (rootbeer/gold glitter) are my two favorite artificials for trout.
Regarding live bait, try medium live shrimp with a small split shot worked along the bottom of canals or under docks. Also, try free lined medium shrimp along the edges of the flats or potholes. Trout are leader shy, so I tend to downsize my leader to 15 or 20 pound instead of my usual 30; I also like to make my leader longer. Additionally, I go up on my hook size from my everyday 1/0 circle to 2/0 or 3/0 circle depending on the size of the fish.
Redfish seem to gather around docks with structure and can be found in anywhere from four to eight feet of water. Try cut pieces of blue crab, it’s like candy to them. Also, medium live shrimp with a small sliding sinker set up can work since redfish are bottom feeders.
Last but not least is the old winter standby the convict fish, AKA sheepshead. These fish love rocky residential canals and rocky bottom along the edges of the shipping channels in 10 to 20 feet. Sheepshead’s favorite meals are oysters, mussels, barnacles, fiddler crabs and of course, shrimp. Fresh dead shrimp work as well if not better than live in my opinion. The average angler will use shrimp; so, here is a tip–cut the shrimp according to size, large shrimp in three pieces, medium in two, and small whole. The size of this is based on the size of the fish, if they are running under 14-inches I prefer #1 circle hook, if they are running bigger I switch to #1/0 circle hook.
All circle hooks are not created equal and for the money I found Trident hooks hold up and have the best pricing.
· Rod: Okuma SSG-S-751M seven and a half foot rod.
· Reel: Okuma Helios SX HSX-30 spinning reel.
· Line: Fins Superbraid 15 pound Windtammer.
· Leader: Ohero 30 pound fluorocarbon.
Captain Sergio Atanes is a native resident of Tampa and has been fishing the water of Tampa Bay and Boca Grande for over 45 years. He is owner and operator of S & I Charters which is one of the largest charter booking services on the west coast of Florida, with 55 professional captains on staff. Capt. Sergio Atanes can be reached at (813) 973-7132 or www.reelfishy.com