Tampa Bay is arguably one of the best saltwater fishing spots in the west-central Florida area. It’s a great place to fish for snook, sheepshead, gray snapper or some nice reds–especially in the early winter. With its many fishing piers and boat ramps, it’s convenient and easy to access fishing throughout the Tampa Bay area.
This dynamic fishing area is greatly influenced by the tides, affecting what you’ll catch and when. Fish are nearly everywhere, but if you know and use the tides to your advantage, you’ll maximize your success. Depending on your species favorites, and tidal flows, local anglers usually work the outside mangrove edges behind the mangrove islands during high tide. And then, work the inside and outside flats during low tides. There are plenty of fishing tackle dealers located around the Tampa Bay area. So, if you prefer, you can pack relatively light and just buy what you need once you’re in the area.
Snook fishing in February means chilly mornings and warmer afternoons. Low tides around new or full moons mean fish should congregate on potholes and the outside of bars. Remember, snook, redfish, and trout remain catch and release only. Search out deep-water canals, rivers and creeks with heat holding muddy bottoms. Bridges, pilings, and deep-water docks are also good places to look. Try using baits like finger mullet, small ladyfish, pinfish and jumbo shrimp. Later in the day, look for sandy shoals and sunning snook. Often, soft plastics worked slowly along the bottom should result in some nice fish.
Cold weather typically does not bother redfish. However, reds, like other fish subjected to cooler water temperatures, can get lockjaw. There are usually plenty of good fish hanging around areas like shallower grass flats, oyster bars, docks and jetties. Reds are not fussy about eating artificial lures, especially soft plastics on a jig head. Try tipping each jig with a small piece of shrimp.
Incoming or outgoing tides, live shrimp or artificial shrimp and any good grass flat should produce nice trout. Seek out and target potholes on broken bottom flats, because trout like to lay in and around the deeper potholes. Broken-bottoms means grass flats dotted with sandy potholes. Try drifting flats while tossing artificial lures; they should produce plenty of fun and often larger fish.
When we get cold fronts dropping the water temperatures, it should send the cobia looking for warmer water. The beaches and nearshore waters should start showing cobia sunning themselves near the surface. Whenever fishing sandy flats, keep an eye open for large rays or manatees since cobia often cruise with them. Big shrimp, small crabs, large greenbacks or pinfish should work.
Sheepshead should be everywhere this time of year, especially around docks, bridges, rock piles and oyster bars. Try using rock crabs, shrimp or oysters. Small jigs tipped with shrimp work well around docks, and Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish are always fun to bend a rod.