What's hot: Recent cold fronts and windy conditions have kept much of the offshore crowd in port, and even inshore activity has been a challenge. One reliable winter mainstay is sheepshead. They can tolerate the cold and often are found in shallow water. Residential canals, marinas and the lee side of jetties offer protection even on the windiest days. Now is when the large roe-laden females bunch up and begin staging as they work their way to the gulf. Some will hug the shoreline and travel in large schools. Many will gang up on rock piles and artificial reefs in the bay. Others will gorge on the barnacle-crusted pilings at bridges as part of their pre-spawn ritual. Still others will use the ships channel. The rockiest edges of the channel provide a consistent food source and often hold sheepshead for weeks.
Tips: Baits vary. Green mussels that were among my favorites were nearly wiped out by the freeze that devastated our snook population. Fiddler crabs, alive or frozen, work well. Barnacles are good when you get the hang of hooking them. Fresh shrimp is the old standby not only for sheepshead, but mangos, grunts and sea bass that share the same domain.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.