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Cast eyes on bayous and rivers

With cold and windy weather dominating the scene the past couple of weeks, flats fishing has not been at its best.

Even if fish were to press on to these flats, the strong north winds keep the tides low, making it difficult for anglers to work the areas. In some cases, the extreme low tides make the flats completely inaccessible. Therefore, concentrate your efforts in the many bayous, rivers and canals that litter the North Suncoast. The Anclote and Cotee rivers are stacked with large numbers of ladyfish, jack, bluefish, trout and small reds.

Though the first three aren't too good on the table, they can be a lot of fun to catch _ especially on light tackle. Try using 4-8-pound spinning tackle with a couple of feet of 15- or 20-pound leader connected to a ]-ounce jighead.

Root beer, smoky and gold should be productive colors when the water is stained. White, silver or chartreuse seem to be more effective when the water is clear.

Try anchoring within casting distance of the drop-offs of these channels, making sure that you're not in the line of traffic. Most of these less sought-after fish should respond well to jigs worked from the bottom to mid-level.

If you would rather target the reds and trout, oyster bars and shrimp seem to be the ticket.

Find bars with points that stick out into channels or slightly deeper water. This usually will mark the area where the current moves best.

Anchor uptide of the point and drift back live shrimp on corks or free-lined. Many of these redfish will be "rats," but there should be plenty of them.

Once the weather does come around, we should have a fantastic trout season.

Every year since the net bands, there has been an increase in trout populations and in their average size. This is a good sign for all flat species because it shows the net bands are working.

Trout have a faster maturing rate than snook or redfish, so it makes sense that we would see their increases first.

Before the net bands, it seemed as if an 18-inch trout was a prize. Over the past few winters, 18 inches is at the bottom of the average. In fact, it's not uncommon to go out and catch 50 trout or more over 20 inches in a single outing. Try casting soft plastic jigs on light spinning gear.

The key to fishing the flats for trout in the winter is finding the depth of the fish. On sunny days with clear water, you can drive along until you see them. On days when the water is a little stirred up, set your drifts through different depths.

Pay attention to how deep it is when you get your bites. Often, you will get the majority of your bites in one area or depth. Once this happens, concentrate your efforts in that depth.

Adjust the weight of your jighead and body accordingly. If the fish are deep, a {-ounce or ]-ounce jighead with a smaller body seems to work well.

When shallow, try using a \-ounce or [-ounce head. If your lure doesn't stay out of the grass, try switching to a long shank hook with a weedless worm body. This is effective when the trout are in two feet of water or less.

Though you may not catch as many big fish this time of year, there usually is plenty of action. Scaling down your tackle or trying new methods helps maintain the challenge and keeps the fishing fun and interesting.

Capt. Pete Katsarelis, (727) 439-3474, charters out of Tarpon Springs.

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