Tampa Bay Fishing Report By: Wade Osbourne

Shrimp, the “Sara Lee” of Bait!

The reason? During the Winter months, there’s nothing that doesn’t like a shrimp in Tampa Bay. With water temperatures in the Bay right now in the upper 50’s, the fish are lethargic. Their slow response attacking a bait is the ideal time to deploy live shrimp. Shrimp are slow moving, unlike white bait which take more effort for fish to eat.

On the way to the boat ramp, stop at a bait shop and buy some medium-size shrimp. How much you need depends on the number of anglers and the amount of time you’ll be actually fishing. I normally figure about a dozen shrimp per person, times the number of hours fishing. Typically, on a four-hour charter with two people, I’ll buy 10 dozen. That way I won’t run out. You never want to be on a really good bite and run out of shrimp.

At the end of the day, don’t do what I see many people doing, throwing out their leftover shrimp. To quote Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, “What are you thinkin’?” Don’t toss them, keep them. If you’re going back out the next day, keep them alive with an aerator. If you won’t be going fishing again for a while, bag them and stick them in the freezer.

Frozen shrimp attract and catch fish. I freeze shrimp all of the time and take it with me the next time I hit the water. Sometimes, I will put one whole thawed out shrimp on the hook just to see if the fish notices a difference. I don’t think they do!

Now that you know I’m using shrimp for bait, here’s what I’m catching.

Sheepshead have been one of my targeted species of late, and that will only increase as their spawning season begins this month and runs through April. Sheepshead love shrimp, even pieces of shrimp. Let’s say you get a bite and reel in to check if you still have a bait and it’s only half a shrimp. Toss it back out there, and you very well may catch that fish on the next bite. Sheepshead also like fiddler crabs, mangrove crabs and pieces of barnacles.

Redfish are also plentiful throughout Tampa Bay. Even though I’m not catching them on every outing, on the days that I do there have been numerous hookups. These aren’t your typical slot-size redfish that you catch other times of the year, they’re “rat reds.” They’re usually only 12 to 17 inches, but they’re still fun to catch.

The key to finding a school of “rats” is to fish along mangrove shorelines next to some oysters. They like to hang out just under the branches around the roots, so bait placement is critical. A low sidearm cast is preferred and helps to keep you out of the trees.

Seatrout and sand trout are two fish that are very cold water tolerant and fairly easy to catch right now. Both species of trout spend more time in deeper water in Winter than at other times of the year, with sand trout being in the deepest. Seatrout tend to be in water in the three-to-ten-foot range, while sand trout can be found in water as deep as 20 to 40 feet deep.

As for tackle, I like to downsize my leader material and hook size in the Winter, due to water clarity. I go with a 25-pound fluorocarbon leader and a size one hook. Most of the time, I’m freelining my bait. If I’m fishing in deep water, I add just enough weight to get the bait to the bottom.

As for that frozen shrimp, I like to use it for chum. Just as broadcasting live white bait around your boat attracts fish, so does frozen shrimp. So, when I Power Pole down on a fishing spot looking for sheepshead, redfish, and seatrout, I blanket the area with pieces of frozen shrimp. Try it, you’ll be amazed at how many fish are attracted to the “dinner bell,” the smell of shrimp in the water.

Afishionado, “Always an Adventure.”

Tampa fishing guide, Wade Osborne of “Afishionado Guide Services” has been plying the waters of Tampa Bay as a professional full-time captain, since 1997. Osborne has been featured on numerous TV shows and has written for multiple publications. Osborne offers multi-boat, corporate and private inshore fishing on light tackle spin, fly or plug. He also offers eco tours with an emphasis on photography. For more info visit Afishionado.com or find Afishionado Guide Services on Facebook and Instagram. Email: wade@afishionado.com Call/Text: 813-286-3474