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Trout, redfish have been in rare form

Posted Feb 15, 2013 by The Tampa Tribune

Updated Feb 15, 2013 at 06:44 PM


Before this crazy weather rolled in, fishing was about as good as I have seen it in February.

Big gator trout are dominating our attention, with schools of oversized redfish mixed in for good measure. Even the snook were eating as if it was late March and not mid February. We had several of our 866-GAMEFISH guides reporting getting each client on their boat an inshore slam with relative ease.

The key to this madness has obviously been the great weather and the abundance of bait that has been around all winter thanks to mild weather. Free-lining medium pilchards worked best for me on the big trout, and cut bait was the trick for the big redfish. Place a small split shot just above your hook while using cut bait to help fend off birds if they become a problem.

On the artificial side, we are still having our best luck on the KVD Swimming Caffeine Shad in white and baby bass colors. Rig it on an eighth-ounce Strike King jig head and go to work fishing the pot holes in 2 to 3 feet of water.

Remember to pick areas of big mullet concentrations for best results. The low incoming tides were best for the big trout, and the high outgoing tides seemed to get the redfish going.
For great top water action try the Strike King KVD Sexy Dawg in chartreuse. The trout have been crushing this bait first thing in the mornings.

Catch Billy Nobles and Mike Anderson on the “Reel Animals Fishing Show” on Saturdays from 6:30-7 a.m. on WFLA, Ch. 8, and from 6-9 a.m. on 970 AM, and on Sundays from 7-9 a.m. on 620 AM. To book a charter, call 1-866-GAMEFISH or visit

Winter action keeping anglers busy

Posted Jan 31, 2013 by The Tampa Tribune

Updated Jan 31, 2013 at 05:51 PM


Red tide is generally not a problem inside Tampa Bay at the moment, and the usual winter action is on tap with the cooler air coming through on the tail of the front. Trout will continue to be active on deep grass flats like those between Port Manatee and the Skyway; seek out areas with clear water and visible plant growth in 6 foot depths or more, and fish them with quarter-ounce jigs and 4-inch shad tails hopped on bottom, or drift a DOA Shrimp (or live shrimp) about 3 feet below a popping cork.

Grouper are biting like crazy from 60 feet on out, but the season is closed from today through March 31. Plenty of gray snapper take up the slack offshore, but for those who want heavyweights, you’ll have to wait. The snook season has reopened on the east coast, but it remains closed on our side of the state through August 31 pending further action by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Captain Mike Shellen continues to catch whopper bass on wild shiners at Lake Okeechobee around the bulrushes on the north end. He said the fish spawned on the full moon last week, so the bedding action has slackened a bit, but lots more fish will move to the marshes on the new moon and full moon in February. Shellen said speckled perch fishing has slowed a bit, but lots of fish have moved into the reeds to spawn. Best areas, he said, are around Tin House Cove, Harney Pond, the North Shore and J&S Camp.

Shellen said speckled perch fishing has slowed a bit offshore, but lots of fish have moved into the reeds to spawn.

“Where you smell fish, there are a bunch of specks spawning,” Shellen advises. Live minnows and tiny jigs do the job. He said all area canals, Harney Pond, Indian Prairie, the lower Kissimmee River and the reeds around the bird islands are all producing. To book a trip, visit

Captain Van Hubbard reports plenty of red tide still around the Venice/Englewood/Charlotte Harbor area, but he says there are vast areas of clean water where fish are biting well, too.

“Ride until you see mullet jumping and wading birds feeding — the gamefish are in those areas, too,” Hubbard said. He said his clients have tangled with everything from ladyfish on every cast to keeper trout, tailing reds and some big snook in the past week;

Anglers from Weeki Wachee to Crystal River are finding plenty of mangrove snapper in rocky holes, easily caught on live shrimp on 6-pound test line and a bit of shot. Light tackle is key to fooling these wary panfish. Captain Scott Moore visited the Homosassa Springs attraction last week and posted YouTube footage of dozens — maybe hundreds — of snook 30 inches and up all piled into the warm headwaters. Though most of us consider Homosassa north of snook territory, when March comes all these fish are going to slide out on to the flats to create some great catch-and-release action.

Tribune correspondent Frank Sargeant can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Red tide, cold a mild nuisance

Posted Jan 24, 2013 by The Tampa Tribune

Updated Jan 24, 2013 at 05:54 PM


Captain Van Hubbard reports patchy red tide around Venice Inlet and Lemon Bay as well as in Gasparilla Sound, but he’s still been managing to find some big snook for catch-and-release as well as trout and tons of ladyfish. Hubbard said waters around the inlets tend to be clear, while those in the Intracoastal Waterway have “bad” water in some areas. For details, visit
From Homosassa, Captain “Red Ed” Brennan reports spring fishing in winter — he’s been catching Spanish mackerel, sea bass, blues, sheepshead, trout and pompano around rock piles in about 6 feet of water.

He said some nice reds are prowling the clear flats, and a bit of everything stacks into the deep holes in the lower creeks and spring-fed rivers when a cold snap blows through. Jigs or live shrimp are the ticket;

Captain Ray Markham notes the big tides this weekend will drain many flats, and cooler weather may move some fish to creeks and holes, but the sunny afternoon forecast for Sunday should turn on the bite again. Markham said his anglers were catching big pompano on the outside bar from the Manatee River to Piney Point before the most recent front, and that may pick up again with warmer weather. His anglers also have been catching trout to 4 pounds on deeper flats on shad-tail jigs.

Despite cold, the South Shore often has tailing redfish on full-moon low tides, though it’s a wade-fishing-only situation. DOA Shrimp or Gulp Crabs are the best baits for these skittish fish;

In fresh water, George “Ol’ Bear” Henson of Plant City and pals caught 20 nice catfish at Medard Park Reservoir on live night crawlers. George, 77, complained about the $7 admission fee at the park, but said stocking programs there are apparently doing a good job with the fishery.

At Okeechobee, captain Mike Shellen reports the speckled perch bite is off the charts, with the easy place to get them straight off the mouth of the Kissimmee River drifting minnows just off bottom in the fleet. They’re also around the bulrushes, in some of the same areas where lunker bass are in spawning mode and will take live shiners or weedless plastics;

Tribune correspondent Frank Sargeant can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Redfish, snook still out there

Posted Jan 17, 2013 by The Tampa Tribune

Updated Jan 17, 2013 at 05:50 PM


Strong winds Thursday and part of today will mean murky water in beaches and passes where pompano action had been good — if the water clears by Saturday, the bite should pick up again, with sand fleas the best bait. (Red tide continues to be an issue in some areas between Manatee and Collier counties — if you see dead fish or discolored water, go elsewhere.)

Captain Ray Markham reports that snook on the south end of Tampa Bay are in their usual spring locations, which is dangerous for them this time of year.

“If we get hit with a hard freeze, many of these fish are on the open flats in shallow water, and the lack of depth as an insulator could be devastating to our remaining fish stocks here on the Gulf Coast,” Markham says.

For the time being, the linesiders have been aggressively hitting topwater lures like the MirrOlure MirrOmullet XL and Rapala Skitterwalk as well as the DOA Shrimp in the gold-and-glow color. Larger jerk baits like the 5.5 CAL Jerk bait, MirrOlure Provoker, 12-Fathom Slam-R, and Texas Shad Assassins. He said big trout are hitting these latter soft plastics rigged on light jig heads in the shallows. Some of the top action for big trout continues to come from the Clearwater Bay/Dunedin area around spoil islands in the Intracoastal.

Redfish action continues to be good in the Fort De Soto area. South Shore anglers on Tampa Bay have had banner catches of slot reds lately. Everything from jerk baits to jigs and spoons are catching redfish. But find them in clear, calm waters and they may be skittish. Some of the more wary fish seem to eat cut baits like mullet or ladyfish, or one of the heavily scented baits like Berkley Gulp or Mister Twister Exude baits.

Markham said sand bars from mid-Sarasota Bay and the Sarasota Bay Middle Grounds flats have been productive for pompano, as have the long sand bars extending from Joe Bay to Cockroach bay along the south shore. CAL Jigs with Shad tails along the shallow bars, and Doc’s Goofy Jigs in deeper water have been the most effective artificial lures. Sand fleas and fiddler crabs account for the largest numbers caught on live baits along the passes near Fort DeSoto and Pass-A-Grille, but live shrimp will work well also.

Some lunker trout are still being caught around the spoil islands from Clearwater Beach northward on live shrimp under popping corks. The rocky bays between the Anclote and Pithlachascotee rivers remain good for both trout and reds. For more info, visit

Captain Mike Shellen reports the EverStart FLW event at Okeechobee last weekend put 177 boats on the water, but catches were less dramatic than last year, with winning weight for the three days around 60 pounds. He said the top two anglers fished around the north side of the lake, with the winning catch coming from the northeast shore. Shellen says high water this year has allowed fish to disperse into the marshes and made them a bit tougher to find. Best action is flippin’ and pitchin’ soft plastics to the cover. Look for a spawn around the coming full moon on the 27th unless a cold front pushes the fish out of the shallows;

Captain Angie Douthit has been catching lunkers for her clients on the south end, both on live shiners and on topwaters. Bulrush areas are frequently good targets from now through spring. She suggests fishing Pelican Bay; Long Point; Buzzards Roost; Rita Island; parts of the East wall, Coots Bay, West Wall and Observation Shoal; 863-228-7263 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Tribune correspondent Frank Sargeant can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Offshore sites produce during cold snap

Posted Jan 3, 2013 by The Tampa Tribune

Updated Jan 3, 2013 at 07:39 PM


Captain Mark Hubbard reports loads of keeper-sized mangrove snapper from 20 to 24 miles offshore being caught on his party boats out of Madeira Beach. Hubbard also said there are incredible numbers of gag grouper and red snapper on most drops, but both must be released due to closed seasons.

He said lots of sheepshead are hanging around Johns Pass and other large passes from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater Beach and will take live shrimp or fiddler crabs. Rates start at $50 for a half-day on the party boats;

Captain Ray Markham reports good action in lower Tampa Bay on bluefish, trout to 4 pounds, pompano to 4½ pounds, redfish to 8 pounds and dozens of flounder on trips over the holidays.

Eppinger Rex Spoons, DOA Shrimp, CAL Jigs with Shad tails and MirrOlure Lil’ John jerk baits were consistent producers, with the CAL Shad being the best all-around option. Markham said his anglers found good action from the Bulkhead near the mouth of the Manatee River all the way to Cockroach Bay;

Captain Mike Shellen reports that the cold weather slowed bassing action somewhat at Lake Okeechobee, but it should be great with the coming warm-up. Grassy Island, J&S and the North Shore are all yielding good numbers, says Shellen. Flippin’ and pitchin’ with creature baits in heavy cover produce the larger fish, and live wild shiners are still catching fish.

Shellen said specks are biting at the mouth of the Kissimmee River, as well as along the North Shore, Harney Pond and Observation Shoal areas — live minnows in open water and on weed-bed edges, tiny jigs inside the cover;

Captain Sean Rush is hitting plenty of trophy-sized bass at Rodman, all on big wild shiners fished under the hyacinths next to the river channel. And Bob Wattendorf of the FWCC reports that Istokpoga has been on fire for big fish, producing over a thousand largemouths of 8 pounds or better in the past year, an apparent result of the intensive habitat management a decade ago.

Most of the jumbos come on live shiners, but soft plastics in the holes and spinnerbaits or buzzbaits over the peppergrass also do the job. Most of the big fish were released after being weighed and measured, Wattendorf said.

Tribune correspondent Frank Sargeant can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)