What's hot: As the sun rises a little earlier with the time change, anglers can take advantage of the low light to catch speckled trout and redfish. With sardines getting scarce, get to the bait shops early to ensure the best select shrimp. Larger shrimp mean longer casts, helping anglers stay far off the oyster bars these gamefish are invading. Use long fluorocarbon leaders in 15- to 20-pound test to help disguise the presentation. On higher tides, use an adjustable cork to keep the bait at the desired depth. Popping the cork will stimulate trout to feed.
Tackle: Working the large mullet schools that cover the grassflats, anglers can still pick up some quality redfish. Darker jerkbaits, bucktails and spoons are great artificials that can be tossed into the muds left behind from flushing mullet. Freelining a medium-sized pinfish (about 4 inches long, rigged with a #4 split shot just above the hook) will make the bait try to flee upward and draw strikes from reds. On the wintertime negative tides, work the sandy potholes just off the shallowest flats where land is exposed. These dropoffs will hold the biggest fish as it is a staging area before the tide swings back in and spreads the fish out again.
Tip: Pick up a couple of bags of frozen shrimp. Most of the time, this is the leftover smaller selection. But it pays dividends when working the shallows this time of year. Spreading out a few handfuls of these chummers will draw in nearby gamefish that may not be on the agenda, like flounder and sheepshead.
Jim Huddleston charters out of Tampa, Palm Harbor and Clearwater and can be reached at (727) 439-9017 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.