Fishing for the inshore slam of trout, redfish and snook picks up this month. Spanish and king mackerel are cruising nearshore wrecks. Along the Pasco County shoreline, grouper have been close enough to avoid burning large amounts of fuel. Bait has arrived in all the normal haunts. Early risers will get the best bite, as has many boaters get on the water by 9 a.m.
The biggest asset that an angler can have is a livewell of frisky bait. Sardines, threadfins, pinfish and shrimp are the top choices. Fresh select shrimp can be purchased at the tackle shops, and the other three baits can be caught by a chumming the grass flats and tossing a 10-foot, 3/8-inch mesh cast net over them. Shallow flats just inside major passes are prime baitfish areas. A good mixture of corn meal, jack mackerel and menhaden oil will draw in bait.
Larger speckled trout are holding on the shallow flats around docks and oyster bars at the mouths of bayous and rivers. These bigger females have yet to spawn and are still feeding heavily around the faster moving currents. Larger greenbacks are producing 5-pounders that run off drag. These darker trout can be spotted holding in sandy pockets. The start of the incoming tide is best.
With larger tides coming this weekend, redfish will move onto the flats to feed as the tide rolls in. This first set of major high tides will bring schools together to forage across long shallow flats. Casting a copper spoon with a brown bucktail trailer allows a longer cast and can be thrown way ahead of the boat to intercept cruising fish. This type of lure resembles the many crabs and small baitfish that are a major part of early springtime redfish diets. As the tides come into the estuaries of mangroves, these gamefish will work along the treeline and ambush easy meals. Many little creeks that cut into the trees are sometimes covered for the smaller reds. The larger breeders hold among the mullet schools on the deeper part of the flats.
The water temperature has started to stabilize for a few days, and the snook fishing should improve. Most fish that have been caught lately have been the smaller males that move out first. Larger females start making the transition to the beaches as things warm and the days grow longer. Most will hold at the entrances of bayous and rivers until that next moon in April when more will start to school up along the passes. Clear water and boat traffic makes these fish wary. Use lighter leaders (20-pound fluorocarbon) and keep a good distance away from the target area.
The nearshore wrecks in about 25 to 30 feet are starting to hold mackerel. Spanish mackeral have been crashing the many bait schools holding over hard bottom and a few schoolie kings are cruising up the beaches. Use a 30-pound leader and a long-shank silver hook to disguise the presentation and increase hookups. Loosen the drag pretty far, as any tension will instantly cause a cutoff. Anchor and chum with live bait for best results.
The hard bottom off Pasco County in 20 feet of water has produced good numbers of keeper grouper when the weather cooperates. Using dead bait first and switching to live pinfish will bring in these hard fighter away from the structure. Oftentimes in shallow-terrain grouper fishing, the key is to take the time to draw the fish off the danger area and into the "flats" off the rocks.
Today's technical bay boats, such as the Shearwater 2200z or Pathfinder 2200, allow anglers to fish the nearshore wrecks in the morning and end the day on the flats in 2 feet of water. There's plenty of options available this time of year.
Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater and can be reached at (727) 439-9017 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.