Sometime this month the transition to spring well begin on the waters of southwest Florida. It all depends on the weather, if warm it should begin before the middle of the month, but if we have a cold front or two of any magnitude it could push the transition back a few weeks.
Inshore, look for sea trout fishing to get better and better as the month progresses, plus we will see a notable increase in large fish as this is the beginning of spawning season. If the water remains relatively cold, bait fish will be sparse and trout at times sluggish, shrimp or shrimp imitations should be the bait of choice. If we have a couple weeks of warm weather then you can expect bait to move back into the area, but for much of the month it’s hard to beat anything that resembles a shrimp.
Inshore sheepsheads fishing should peak this month as they finish up their spawning chores. Look for most of the larger fish around the gulf passes, on the beaches, and schooling around structure both inside the passes and a short distance offshore. Remember, a small sharp hook works best when rigged with a small piece of shrimp or other crustacean with just enough weight to keep it on bottom. Be patient and bring plenty of bait, these stripped bandits are notorious bait stealers until you get the feel for the strike. If you do not have access to a boat, try one of the many public piers or bridges. Not only do sheepsheads fight hard, they are also outstanding on the table.
Anglers fishing the previously mentioned areas for sheepsheads are sure to score with a few pompano. They feed off the bottom, often hang around the same areas and love shrimp. You can also expect to catch them in many of the same areas that attract redfish or trout, areas like sand or pot holes and sand bar transitions are feeding stations for pompano that often travel in schools. While a live shrimp is hard to beat and works great, those that target pompano often throw artificials to cover more ground. Small pompano jigs with white, pink, and yellow the most common colors have been catching pompano forever, you can really enhance these jigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp. Over the past several years, the Silly Willy jig has also become a pompano favorite. With these jig style baits, a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait off bottom and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.
Lots of flounder, mostly undersize were caught in January, over the next few months I would not be surprised if they grow a little and we have a good spring run. Also, as the water warms look for snook fishing to improve. Season is closed until March but there is a chance for some good catch and release action later in the month.
Although it is still officially winter, if we put a week or two of warm weather behind us, the gradual transition to spring will begin. I might be jumping the gun early but I am keeping my fingers crossed for an early transition, spring is my favorite time of year to fish.
“Catch the Action” with Captain Bill Russell