Weather report: The drop in water temperatures has lured larger speckled trout to the shallow flats while snook and redfish will work bayou mouths with docks and structure to find easy meals and protection from passing fronts. Most species change their eating habits from sardines to slow-moving shrimp and crabs. Artificials such as soft plastics often outproduce live bait. And by watching tides, anglers can increase the window of opportunity.
Trout: The rich grass flats of St. Joseph Sound will have the biggest speckled trout throughout the cooler months ahead. The spoil islands that line the Intracoastal Waterway have always been the staple of trout fishing in north Pinellas County. Large numbers of the breeder-sized fish will congregate on the deeper edges and use the swift current to spawn. These fish can become sensitive to the multitude of boats and will use the nearby shallows to feed. Deeper white sandy potholes worked with darker-colored pumpkin jigs can be effective. When drifting the grass flats, longer fan casts with the wind can help key in on the best areas. Once located, drop the anchor and slow the retrieve to work all levels of the water column. On windy days, use a quarter-ounce jighead to control the cast. Otherwise, an eighth-ounce works best in 2-3 feet.
Snook: Snook are using the spoil islands and main shore to make the transition to the back country. The dropoffs on the northern side of these dump banks will find many linesiders feeding on outgoing tides. Often, a fresh-cut bait will entice these finicky fish. On cooler days, snook will head to bayous and springs. Nearby docks facing south hold more warmth with numbers that will feed better. Select-sized shrimp work best. Place a small split shot to hold the bait in the strike zone longer.
Redfish: Many schools will be found on the flats from Clearwater to Anclote on higher tide levels. On the incoming tides, these schools will work down an edge and can be found with amberjack and bluefish. Often, a single-hooked spoon thrown into the commotion gets hooked up quickly. As the flat floods, they will push toward the trees and hunt around the mangroves. Cut baits such as ladyfish or pinfish will disperse a scent trail and attract the redfish.
Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater and can be reached at jim@ captainhud.com or (727) 439-9017