by Capt. James Vadas
Winter time fishing is hotter than normal on Anna Maria Island!
I’m certainly not complaining about the warm water, over the last few weeks it has been nearly 68°, compared to last year’s water temp which was closer to 60°.
During a particularly memorable trip from last year, our guests caught over 30 big sheepshead in Longboat Pass. It was the first day of their two-day trip. After cleaning the fish and sharing the Poor Man’s Lobster recipe with them, someone asked if we could catch a snook on tomorrow’s trip. I told them that snook can be pretty lethargic when the water gets cold and they can’t even survive if the water gets below 60° for an extended period. The next morning I’m on my way to pick up these same guys up for day #2. I came upon about 40 snook, just sitting in a canal soaking up the warm morning sunshine like dogs laying on a porch. How ironic? The air temp was 48° and the water was only 59°-burr. When I reached their dock, I mentioned a surprise to show them. So we quickly departed back towards those snook. As we approached, they were easy to spot near the surface. From a distance, we tried casting some plastic swimbaits and live shrimp in various sizes. These fish showed no interest whatsoever, eventually they moved toward us. We watched as they slowly surrounded the boat, and just continued to swim right on by. My guests gazed at these beautiful fish in amazement. I thanked God for the opportunity to see all these snook and my guests really enjoyed watching them, but we needed some action. So, then we headed over to Palma Sola Bay. I positioned the boat in front of an oyster bar, intentionally fishing with the direction of the tide. We used live shrimp on a ¼ oz. jig head. We released every black drum and redfish caught.
However, this year we have been catching snook and sheepshead every other day, so be prepared to target snook or sheepshead depending on the water temperature. I picked up a family of 4 from Rod and Reel Pier on a warm sunny morning a few days ago and spotted some live bait hiding under the pier. I proceeded to cast a net on them, while the Dad was helping his 5-year-old son put on the approved life jacket before coming aboard. We headed over to Palma Sola Bay and fished along the docks on the east side with an incoming tide. We caught and released snook with the shiners from under the pier. We also caught some redfish with big shrimp on a ¼ ounce jig head, hooked in the tail. Let it sit there awhile after casting, but keep the line tight. Give the redfish a chance to find it. The real fish of the day award goes to a couple of pompano caught near Longboat Bridge on a pink and white pompano jig tipped with a piece of live shrimp during a slow outgoing tide.
On the days with no live shiners and you are just using shrimp, especially when the water temp drops, switch back to targeting the sheepshead, redfish and black drum. We have been catching some nice sized sheepshead fishing near the barnacle covered structures of the Skyway Bridge, Egmont Key, and Long Boat Bridge. I use just the tail of a live shrimp threaded onto a jig head. I throw the ripped off head of the shrimp in the water to chum up the action.
Offshore from Anna Maria Island right now, the hogfish snapper are biting. We are using live shrimp on a knocker rig to catch them. A knocker rig consists of a 1 to 2-ounce egg sinker, 4 feet of 20# fluorocarbon leader, and a #2 circle hook. We generally use a 5000-series spinning reel spooled up with 40lb braid on medium heavy rod. You will also catch lots of nice mangrove snapper and gray snapper “Stackers” over the reefs, wrecks, ledges, and hard bottoms right now. Bring plenty of live shrimp. Don’t forget to grab some frozen squid and 40# leader for those big grouper.
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