Abnormally warm temperatures were the big factor as March came to a close. Certain species were significantly affected by this. Fishing for big seatrout, usually a dependable fishery through March for Tampa Fishing Guides in northern Pinellas County, became very sporadic. The largest trout were generally caught as "bycatch" while redfishing. Although some fish appeared to return to "where they should be' towards the end of the month, fishing became unpredictable enough that other species became the primary targets for most Tampa Fishing Charters.
Warm waters did kick snook fishing off a little early however. Back country fishing for these gamefish heated up early in March and, as of this writing, fish are already showing up in their summer locations. Something is telling the snook that it is a little early however as these "beach fish" are not yet biting as aggressively as expected. With warm temperatures continuing to be forecast though, the bite should rapidly improve. Grass grunts and larger whitebait will lead the list of favorite baits for these fish and, as is always the case, strong tidal movement will drive the bite. Do remember that the snook population is still recovering. Make it a point to handle all fish, especially the larger breeding females, with extra care. Keep them in the water until a photo is ready to be taken and when holding the fish, make sure to properly support the fish under the belly so that a fish is not hanging by it's jaw alone as this can do irreparable damage.
Late March usually signals the arrival of kingfish to near shore waters and the expectation was that this arrival would be early. Fish did show a little early but seemed to hang at the 10 - 11 mile mark...just outside the range of most inshore / near shore Tampa Fishing Guides. In the last week or two though, these fish have crept in a little closer and there is now activity on the 5 mile reefs. Mackerel are here in abundance as well and are guaranteed to add to the entertainment on any near shore trip. In an attempt to get past the mackerel and target kings, larger baits such as small mackerel, cigar minnows out outsized white baits are a good choice. These can be 'ballooned" and dropped to the back of the chum slick or can be slow trolled. Although it's hard to beat slow trolling as a method for catching kingfish, it's a whole lot more fun to hook them on light tackle, with rod in hand, while free swimming a bait behind the boat. Either way, a screaming drag will be the result. Temperatures are right at the top end of the range for kingfish now though so there's no telling how long these fish will be around.
Another lesser known phenomenon happening right now is the mangrove snapper bite. Offshore sized mangrove snapper have invaded near shore reefs and are there in abundance. This does not mean that these fish are easy to catch. The use of light tackle is required and multiple approaches and baits must be tried to determine what will catch the fish on any given day. Oftentimes,several fish will be caught using one approach, only to have the fish "smarten up" and stop eating. The angler must then go back to the drawing board to figure out another technique that will produce fish. Small pinfish, shrimp and whitebait are the baits of choice. Limits have been achieved on about every other Tampa Fishing Charter with fish ranging in size from 15 to 18 inches.
As happens every March, redfish again become a significant target as numbers of quality sized inshore fish increase. Most fish have been in the 23 - 24 inch class but on some trips a few "freighters" in the 28 to 32 inch range seem to show up. These fish are being found on open flats and along mangrove shorelines on the higher phases of the tide. Cut baits and whole, medium sized pinfish seem to be preferred. Mullet activity in the area is always a plus. Also, don't spend too much time on any one spot. These fish want to eat this time of year so, chances are, if redfish are around, the bite will come sooner rather than later.
If visiting the Tampa / St Pete / Clearwater are in the coming month and if fishing isn't on the agenda, there are numerous other activities available. The Florida Aquarium is a great way to see what's swimming in local waters. If a sporting event is in order, yes, spring training is over but the Rays season has begun and most of the games in the second half of the month are home games and against strong teams like Boston and New York.
Good luck and good fishing.