We will get to the magic 70 degree water temperature, but it's going to be a while. On a trip Thursday we never made it to 60. Surface temperature was 58 when we left Boca Ciega Bay and 59 at 10 miles southwest of Pass-a-Grille. A variety of bottom huggers didn't seem to mind. Along with the must-release gag and red grouper, our nonstop bycatch included trigger fish, scamp, mangrove snapper, puffers and abundant Key West grunts. The largest grouper and mangos preferred our live baits. But squid and cut bait offered on 20-pound test and 1/0 hooks provided steadier action.
Tactics: Even in cooler conditions, a couple of throws with a 12-foot, three-eighths inch mesh cast net just before daylight provided a live well full of bait. The smaller mesh prevents the 3-inch whitebaits (preferred for snappers) from getting gilled but also catches full-grown baits better suited for grouper.
Tips: Sheepshead fishing will peak in March. With the full moon on the 10th, look for "sheepies" to fatten up at bridge pilings, jetties, marinas and the edges of the shipping channel leading to the Gulf.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 321-2142.