2020 has been off to a great start as far as fishing goes. January shaped up to be abnormally warm and as a result, the fish in Tampa Bay have been happy. As we move through February, I think we can expect a few more cold fronts but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. If anything, it will keep our “winter” season somewhat normal and keep fishing patterns predictable. Right now, the bay is full of options. The inshore fish have staged up in the backcountry creeks, residential canals, and rivers to ride out the cooler temps leading into Spring. With weather permitting, snapper, sheepshead, and grouper are plentiful if you want to do some bottom digging.
Although some days are tougher than others, live bait is still accessible and will make any inshore trip a success for Snook, Redfish, and Trout. Look around the major bridges and deeper range markers if you are searching for bait. A good bottom machine will be key in locating it, as it will most likely be hugging the bottom. The good thing is, you won’t need much. Don’t stress on “blacking” out your livewell as chumming is not nearly as necessary. Especially on the colder days, the response to chum will be minimal. Sometimes it’s best to just fish and not even chum at all. Look for Snook to be hanging around mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, docks, seawalls, and bridge pilings. Redfish have been broken up cruising the shallow flats adjacent to deeper channels, troughs, and creeks. Finally, Trout have been sitting a bit deeper in the 3-5ft range in large numbers. Focus on larger bodies of water, especially protected bays with a decent amount of flow. As far as bait goes, use what you have! Live bait, shrimp, cut bait, artificials – all of it will work. The key is finding happy fish and try not to fish the day of or after a frontal system. The barometric pressure mixed with changing temperatures will usually shut the inshore game down.
On the other hand, if you are into bay fishing. The sheepshead spawn is getting ready to go full swing. You will still catch plenty of snapper, grunts, porgies, and a few groupers while targeting the convicts but when you find them – it’s a blast. I specifically like to target them this time of year as they will be in large aggregations of bigger fish. They provide an excellent fight and even better table fair. I prefer to only keep the bigger fish (i.e. 15”+) if we are on them pretty good. Although the state minimum is 12”, the yield of the fillet is much better on a bigger fish. The best part is, you don’t need any live bait. Shrimp, fiddler crabs, mud crabs, sand fleas, or even muscles (i.e. oysters) will do the trick. You will want to downsize your hook to a 1/O or so and pair that with 24” of 25lb leader. Add a split shot heavy enough to gently keep your bait on the bottom and get ready! The bite will be soft most of the time and don’t be afraid to have an anxious trigger finger. Hook sets are free! If you think you got bit, your bait is probably already gone. This is the one fish that you want to use your bass angling skills and make use of that famous Bill Dance hook set. To find the bigger convicts, you have to dig deep. A good place to start is searching the local reefs, bridges, and rock piles throughout the bay. If you have any “go-to” Summer time snapper spots, I would start there. Sheepshead will utilize the same areas this time of year for their spawn.
We’ve got a few more weeks until some of the best inshore fishing is upon us. If we’re lucky, we will dodge any major cold fronts moving forward to March and stack the cards for an amazing Spring fishery. Make sure you get all your boat repairs and maintenance done now. You don’t want to be left sitting at the dock over the next few months! Until next time – tight lines!
The Suzuki Repower Fishing Report is sponsored by Suzuki Repower and Mastry Engine Center.
Stay dialed-in to what’s biting in Tampa Bay! Capt. Travis Yaeckel, Capt. Jason Prieto, Capt. Ric Liles, & Danny Guarino bring you the full report each week. Listen every Sunday Morning 8-9am on 1040AM ESPN Sports Talk Radio. Watch LIVE on Facebook and YouTube every Wednesday 6-7pm. Or download the podomatic app on your phone or tablet and listen anytime. Search “ Tampa Fishing Outfitters Radio Show “ to follow us and find current and past shows.
Read some of Capt. Travis’ other recent posts for Old Salt including: The Hunt For Red October