Schooling fish action will continue until the water temperatures cool down. As you travel the Bay, watch for diving birds indicating large bait pods and feeding fish. You can set up a drift near the activity. Or, if you prefer, anchor up and hang a couple of chum bags over the side. If you’re using live sardines, you can scatter some around the area and cut some up in the current around the boat. Cobia and sharks also show up around an anchored boat with chum bags over the side. So, be prepared and have a larger rig ready to toss a small pinfish or more substantial greenback to any passing cobia or shark.
Spotted sea trout are still catch and release only and will show up in good numbers as we get some cooler weather. The cooler water temps should start attracting the bigger “gator” trout to the shallower grass flats during the warmer part of the day. Target them on sandy potholes on broken bottom grass flats throughout Tampa Bay. The beautiful thing about seatrout is that they like artificial lures, sometimes as much as live bait. Try a topwater lure early in the morning, especially as the sun breaks the horizon, then try switching to soft plastics later in the morning. Remember, live shrimp hooked in the carapace under a popping cork always catches seatrout.
The snapper bite continues, and sheepshead should start picking up as the waters begin cooling. Sheepshead and mangrove snapper will start pushing onto the grass flats. You can also look for them in the deepwater creeks, canals and the many rivers opening into the Tampa Bay area. Tampa Bay has plenty of deep and shallow water rock piles and artificial reefs All of which hold plenty of sheepshead, snapper and grunts this time of year. Fish with pieces of shrimp or small crabs and remember, once hooked, they are all spirited fish having terrific power for their size.
Snook are still catch and release only and the bite has been okay through November. However, as the water temperatures start dropping, the bite might tend to slow down. You can still catch this wily, sometimes unpredictable, fish. Start looking in different places. Snook will migrate to areas with more tolerable water temperatures. As the water temperatures drop, their metabolisms slow considerably, and they tend to exert only enough energy to catch food. Use greenbacks and jumbo shrimp during cold water temperatures. Bridges, docks and deepwater structure results in a decent snook bite during cold water times.
Redfish are still catch and release only. Live greenbacks, dollar-size pinfish, shrimp and cut baits will catch plenty of reds. The redfish action should continue into the colder months. Artificial lures are always productive and loads of fun when fished around mangroves, oyster bars and open water grass flats. Topwater or soft plastics on light jigheads are your best bet.
Flounder is another Tampa Bay winter species and undoubtedly one of the best-tasting fish we have! Larger groups of flounder will move onto sandy areas and broken bottom potholes throughout Tampa Bay this time of year. Target them in potholes and creek mouths with substantial tidal flows. Use the same rigs for flounder that you use for sheepshead.