As the second week of February arrived, indications are that above average temperatures will be the norm. This will only hasten the arrival of the increased fishing activity that marks every spring season. In years past, consistent temperatures in the mid to upper seventies were a March event...however the forecast for the next two weeks shows a mid seventies daytime high on most days. Whatever the case may be, it's a safe bet that Tampa Fishing Charters will continue to target the abundant large seatrout that frequent this area. Whitebait remains the bait of choice. In some years, when this bait disappears for a month or so, trout can become a little disinterested in it. Since it never really departed our area, these fish have continued to prefer this bait as they expect to see it. On colder mornings, it is difficult to catch and on some days, impossible, but it's always worth the effort to secure as it is clearly a difference maker. Tampa Fishing Guides often catch the largest trout of the year in the next few months so make sure to keep a camera handy as a big gator closer to 30 inches than 20 may make an appearance.
February is a transition month for redfish. Typically, more redfish are seen as March approaches. Potholes on sun drenches flats as well as oyster bars (on the higher tide phases) are the best areas to look. Small groups of fish are the norm....not the larger schools seen later in the year. Most Tampa Fishing Guides will target these fish with large shrimp, as winter redfish are more "crustacean oriented", however a chunk of long casting, durable ladyfish is seldom refused. Expect to have to work to find these small groups of fish. The efforts are generally rewarded though as, once found, fish may be caught in the same area, on the same tide phase, for a week or two to follow. The effort required to catch these fish will drop significantly as March arrives and redfish really start to repopulate local flats.
For a little variety, run to near shore rock piles or reefs. Mangrove snapper returned two years ago in excellent numbers and seem to have stuck around. Although cold generally chases these fish from shore, unseasonably warm weather may well have kept them closer than normal. "Mangos" provide great sport for a variety of reasons. First, they are very cautious. Most Tampa / Clearwater Fishing Guides know that a multitude of tactics will need to be employed to trick these fish. Free-lining both live and dead baits, dropping live and dead baits to the bottom and varying bait types are all part of this equation. On "good" days, fish will be careless and respond to a number of approaches. On others, only after trying five different presentations is the one that catches fish discovered. Unfortunately, as soon as the next day, everything may change. Aggressive chumming is a standard requirement for getting these fish in a biting mood. The second reason that these fish are great sport is that they pull like crazy and seek structure. Using medium action spinning rods, a 3 lbs snapper will give most anglers all they want.
Intersting local activities for the month of February include the Florida State Fair. This huge fair in Tampa offers amusement park rides, livestock contests, concerts and other entertainment. Visit Egmont Key State Park, a beautiful island at the mouth of Tampa Bay and home to what remains of Fort Dade, built during the Spanish American war.
Fishing over the next month will show improvement and, in the blink of an eye, our great spring fishing will return. Get the boat and tackle ready. It's about to go off. Good luck and good fishing.
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