What's hot: With our warmer-than-usual winter, whitebait has been abundant off the beaches and given anglers opportunities to catch the snook and redfish that are roaming the shallows. The grass flats just off the Intracoastal Waterway are holding good-sized gamefish in the deeper, sandy potholes. These depressions work as ambush areas for snook looking for an easy meal. The higher water temperatures have made these fish aggressive on the first part of the incoming tides. The lower water level also allows increased current during winter's slower-moving tides. By placing a sardine under a cork with a short leash, anglers can "pop" the cork to help draw attention to the offering.
Redfish focus: Redfish will work along the edges of a shoal and can be seen chasing small-finger mullet and pinfish. In the clear water of St. Joseph Sound, a cut bait often works better than live on these bottom-feeders. Mullet, ladyfish and pinfish are the top scent-laden dead baits of choice. The best way to rig cut baits is to free-line line without added weight and let it lie on top of the grass to help disperse the smell. Most reds have been in the 22- to 27-inch range and are traveling in schools of around a dozen.
Pro's tips: When pushing into a flat, approach from the south and allow the sun to be at your back. The darker images of snook and redfish are easily seen against the lighter-colored turtle grass, and anglers can keep a good distance away for proper presentation.
Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater, and can be reached at [email protected] and (727) 439-9017.