Offshore: After a 30-day closure, gag, red and black grouper are open again for recreational harvest in federal waters beginning Saturday. Unfortunately for anglers, the winds are forecast to be 15 to 20 mph, which is going to make fishing difficult if not dangerous for most boaters. Sunday is looking a little better with lighter winds forecast.
The scattered reports indicate that lots of gags have moved to the ledges and rock piles in 50 to 80 feet of water. Rodney Ristau made grouper one stop after amberjack fishing and caught and released 35 gags with several more than 20 pounds.
Because of recent winds, the gulf has been very turbid. Expect to find dirty water out to at least 60 feet. Divers are unlikely to find visibility suitable for spearfishing for some time. For anglers, dead baits will be the key in the murky conditions, where scent is a more important to hungry gags.
Sheepshead fall into the offshore category this month as the big schools of jumbos are stacked up over the artificial reefs and natural rock piles. They bite well in dirty water and will eat a shrimp or a fiddler crab. Though not considered a glamorous game fish, they are great to eat and put up a great fight on light tackle.
Kingfish, Spanish mackerel and cobia had arrived before the recent foul weather. Expect them to come right back as soon as the water settles. They do not like dirty water and have likely moved well offshore, along with the baitfish, for now.
Inshore: Flats fishing had really turned on before the weather change and is already starting to bounce back. Some scaled sardines have remained on the grass flats, and the snook and redfish have been eager to gobble them. Once the water temperature climbs into the mid 70s in the shallows, look for the big snook to be the first ones to venture out of the canals and creeks. Spring is great for oversized snook because they have not been exposed to much fishing pressure during the winter and let their guard down a little for the first wayward sardines they encounter.
The speckled trout stocks in Tampa Bay have made a comeback after the Red Tide a few years ago. Guides have reported more and bigger fish on both the north and south sides of the Skyway. In the north Pinellas area the trout bite has been decent, but there has been a great deal of pressure on them. Many of the well-known spots are fished at all hours by a dozen or more boats. This constant fishing has also attracted a few dolphins that have become conditioned into eating the fish released by fishermen. Since this is the beginning of the spawning season for the big specks, anglers may want to consider limiting their take while the fish are full of eggs.
Redfish action has been good from New Port Richey to Tampa Bay. In some cases, schools of oversized reds, those typically found offshore, have been seen cruising the shallow grass flats. The monster fish are almost always in the mood for a meal and will strike lures and live baits.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call (727) 944-3474 or
e-mail [email protected]