[dropcap]F[/dropcap]ebruary has become my best inshore month for sea trout and redfish since the grass beds of the central Indian River Lagoon have diminished in recent years. Both trout and reds make their way into the shallow backwater bays in search of warmth and food in the latter part of the winter and early spring. Sight-fishing can be excellent in these areas where winds are blocked and waters stay clean. Pompano, bluefish, ladyfish and jacks are also targets for inshore anglers in February.
First, let us talk redfish. If the water is gin clear you can sight fish along the mangrove shorelines and pitch live shrimp, D.O.A. shrimp or flies to reds hanging around the pockets and points formed by the mangrove roots. The majority of the reds lately have been undersize fish. This leads me to believe that the larger reds (4- to 8-pounds) rely more heavily on the grass beds than the juveniles, and unless the grass bed habitat is available during the warmer months, the slot size reds will not just magically appear along the mangroves in the winter so we can sight fish for them. Some larger fish are still around, along with the smaller ones, and some of the bigger trout. It is worthwhile to work shorelines with live shrimp and artificials.
As for trout fishing, we have to divide trout into two categories, over 18-inches and under 18-inches. There are some overlaps on occasion, though overwhelmingly in February the two are found in different locales. Smaller trout are generally found in deeper open water areas usually relating specifically to a drop-off. Spoil island banks, sandbars, edges of flats, natural and man-made channels, these are good places to work a jig, D.O.A. shrimp, small diving plug or live shrimp to stay busy with small to keeper size trout. Bigger trout will be on the flats sunning themselves and ambushing the larger baits they prefer, on all but the coldest days. Anglers sight-fishing for reds are often amazed by how many 5-plus-pound trout they see sitting in inches of crystal clear water. Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to catch these gators when you find them. One out of a hundred may take a live shrimp or properly placed artificial if you see them before they see you. I take note of areas where I see numbers of these big trout and come back another day when I have some wind or cloud cover and wade fish the area or anchor the boat upwind and hope with some help from wind and current I can float a live shrimp through the area without spooking the trout. Be quiet, stay low and cast long.
Investing in a pair of waders can pay great dividends this time of year. Wade fishing spoil islands, flats edges and sunny shorelines with live shrimp, flies and artificials can lead to some of the best catches of the year. Use the wind and current to make long casts and natural drifts to get into gator trout and reds.
Pompano will still be a target of both surf and lagoon anglers in February. Sand fleas and cut clams are the preferred baits of surf fishermen who line up north and south of Sebastian Inlet. Yellow and pink Doc’s Goofy Jigs have accounted for most of my pompano in the last few years. Hopping the jigs along the bottom behind the inlet and around spoil islands is the best way to target the tasty hard fighting pomps. Look for “skipping” pompano in your wake as you run from spot to spot. If you see or hear them stop and fish the jigs, it could make your day.
The rest of the fishing available in the central Indian river Lagoon area includes some big reds, black drum and a few snook at night at the inlet. Use jigs, plugs and live baits. Warm days may activate some of the holdover snook and tarpon in the Sebastian River and bluefish and mackerel will be waiting along the beaches on the calm days.
Take a kid fishing this February.
~Capt. Gus Brugger, Pattern Setter Charters