Fishing around Tampa Bay recently has been on and off, given the cold fronts that show up at seemingly unpredictable intervals. On a cold and overcast day, with a falling barometer, the fish like to eat. Once the front passes, skies turn blue, temperatures warm and the barometric gauge begins rising, the fish get lockjaw. Well, that’s fishing in Florida.
Shrimp fished on a free-line usually entices snook to bite. However, artificials typically work fine when fished correctly. Soft plastic jerk baits on a 1/16 or 1/8 ounce jig head will also produce the right action during the winter. Remember to slow it down in the winter–never work it too fast. Topwater lures worked slowly across a Tampa Bay broken bottom grass flat seems to provide a better response during early mornings. Snook, redfish and trout seemingly cannot resist a MirrOlure Top Dog Jr. Use a walk-the-dog action.
Sheepshead are everywhere during the winter months. This hard-mouth and toothy stripped convict means aggressive hook sets. Try fishing around markers, bridge fenders, docks, seawalls, rock piles, oyster bars or practically any structure. Shrimp, rock and fiddler crabs usually produce. Green mussels and oysters also work. Many anglers like oysters and mussels the best, and so do sheepshead. Don’t forget to smash the shells into small pieces in your bucket using it for chum. Don’t be surprised if you catch some gray/mangrove snapper at these same locations.
Artificials work for redfish, as well as, cut baits and small pinfish. Dead-sticking stinky baits usually attract a redfish’s attention. Try suspending some smelly bait like cut mullet or a chunk of crab. Let it sit and, if a redfish is close, they’ll find it. Grass flats with broken bottom, submerged oyster bars and mangrove shorelines like those found around Picnic Island, Simmons Park, Bishop Harbor, Joe Island, Weedon Island, Fourth Street, Cypress Flats, Rocky Point, Double Branch and Culbreath Isle Flats are good starting points.
You’ll find plenty of trout around deep water flats on strong tides. They eat shrimp, pinfish and greenbacks. A popper cork proves deadly at enticing trout, especially when rigged with shrimp–either live or artificial. Also, try bouncing a soft plastic jig off the bottom. Remember, the bite usually comes as the bait is falling. So, don’t be surprised to have a fish on just after the lure or bait hits the water and starts falling.
Also, don’t be shocked if you catch a flatfish (Southern flounder) like this one caught by Capt. Mark Gore’s client on a recent Tampa Bay charter. Look for hard sandy or rocky bottoms and broken bottom grass flats with plenty of potholes.
Cobia like to piggyback big stingrays and manatee. As the waters cool, you should see them around the hot water discharges of power plants. But, don’t think you’re going to be alone. There will be plenty of other anglers to keep you company. Get some extra-large shrimp, rig them on a ¼ to ½ oz jig head, and that should do the trick. Small or chunk crab also works. You’ll also catch plenty of smaller sharks, Spanish mackerel and some pompano. Also, watch out for the manatees, there are hundreds near the hot water runoffs.