Fishing Reports

The redfish should begin to bunch up together, leading to bigger schools roaming the flats. This can lead to some epic days, often with multiple fish hooked up at once. With the crystal clear water we have been seeing, it should make locating these fish a bit easier. However, with that crystal clear water your approach and rigging will need to be on point to get them to slow down and eat. Be sure to approach them with stealth, remaining conscious of the noise you are making. Don’t come up on them too fast either, you don’t want to alert them of your presence.
While the braided line strength we choose may vary from 10#-20#, our preferred leader strength is usually 25# fluorocarbon. Sometimes conditions may even call for moving down to 20#, especially when using artificial lures. If you want to target them on artificial, anything that mimics a baitfish will be your best bet. Paddle tails on jigheads, swimbaits rigged weedless, or a suspending twitchbait will all do the trick.
However, there is no substitute for a live greenback this time of year. If you can load up your live well with these and throw a scoop of chummers out to these fish you are likely to end up with sore arms. A 2/0 or 3/0 circle hook is usually perfect when tied on the end of a 3’ piece of 25# fluorocarbon leader.
 
With water temps on the rise and the cold fronts behind us (hopefully), we should begin to see an influx of the bait populations further inside the bay. These baitfish will be closely followed by mackerel, both Spanish and King. While the King is usually considered the prize fish, the Spanish Mackerel can often provide more excitement and definitely offer higher catch totals. When trying to locate these fish, focus your attention above water, looking for bait flickering the surface or birds diving on pods of bait.

You can start your search in the deeper portions of Tampa Bay, near shipping channels, markers, or the artificial reefs. Once found you have several options to get one on the end of your line. If you would like to get them on artificial, using trolling spoons through these bait pods, or even casting spoons out to the bait schools, would be best.
If you want to use live bait then pilchards, threadfin, or Spanish sardines are great options but don’t be afraid to use them dead as well. Creating a chum slick in the current with the dead stuff can get these fish really fired up.
 
As for terminal tackle on the live or dead bait, our preferred hook is a Long Shank J Hook, any size from 1/0-4/0 will do the trick. These hooks offer a little more forgiveness when dealing with the sharp teeth of mackerel. Attaching a piece of wire may prevent break-offs, but we typically use a longer mono or fluorocarbon leader of 30#-50# test tied to our mainline. Rigging with the mono or fluorocarbon leader will lead to more bites and typically provides enough strength to land several fish before needing to re-tie.

 

With a mild February and warming water temperatures, the March bite is setting up to be excellent. Bait has begun to fill the bay and the fish are ready to leave those wintertime hiding spots. This time of year is the perfect opportunity to get a kid out fishing, as it is not uncommon to have days with catch numbers well into the double digits. Snook, Trout, and Redfish will all be cooperative so it is realistic to land the elusive "Inshore Slam"!
Look to target these fish on flats near canals, rivers, and creeks as they will be leaving those areas in search of prey. On the lower tides look for potholes that are slightly deeper than the average depth of the flat itself. Expect the fish to stage in these potholes, waiting on prey to enter the "danger zone". If live bait fishing, feel free to add a popping cork to your rig when casting in or near these potholes. With artificials, make sure to cast beyond the pothole itself and retrieve the lure through the pothole. Paddle tails on jigheads or swimbaits rigged weedless are the go-to bait here. With fish hunting aggressively, the vibration from the paddle is sure to get their attention.
When the tide approaches the higher stage, the fish won't be moving far, but rather closer to the shore and even into the mangrove shorelines. Approach the shorelines with stealth and if you have a pair polarized glasses you can likely spot them in the sand. I like to start where the grass edge meets the sand as the fish will use this change in terrain to provide themselves camouflage while stalking prey. 

It will be tough to beat a live greenback in this situation, but shrimp will still get you bites. Freelining either bait is generally preferred up closer to the shoreline, but if you need some extra weight to back a long enough cast feel free to add a cork or split shot. When throwing artificials you can still use the paddle tails you had tied on while pothole fishing, but I'll also use a jerk bait rigged weedless which can be worked a bit slower and keep the bait presented in the strike zone longer. This can be especially effective when the fish are up to the mangroves. As always, we love talking about this in the shop. Stop by and join in the conversation and we can show you some of our staff picks!

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