This past week we searched for snook and sheepshead in the lower parts of Tampa Bay. Using a trolling motor, we moved slowly through the residential canals and looked under the docks for fish. Early afternoon provided the best light for sighting fish hanging in the shadow of a dock. The best canals had the least amount of water flow. Most of the snook were in the back of canals and the sheepshead would be close by. The hard part was getting them to eat.
We started targeting snook with free-lined live jumbo shrimp. When the shrimp swam into the school, the snook would part and let the shrimp swim away. After a few tries, we switched to lighter tackle and no leader. The 8-pound test and smaller shrimp did not interest these snook. The snook soon tired of our presence and moved out of sight.
We then moved a few docks down where the sheepshead were stacked around the pilings on the front of the dock. Using a piece of cut shrimp, we free-lined the bait up-current and let it drift back to the school. The first cast always produced a 4- to 5-pound sheepshead that put up a wild fight as it tried to keep us from pulling it from under the dock. The commotion during the fight spooked the school and sent the fish to another dock. I had to pull the anchor and start the process over. This was a lot of work for a few sheepshead.
The best part of the trip was finding hundreds of snook schooling close to the passes. These areas will be great fishing when there are scaled sardines to use as bait. March and April are two months when a snook seldom turns down a free-lined sardine.
Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.