Tampa Fishing Guides who are on the water two hundred plus days a year quickly learn the patterns of all the various species that are available to catch. Even with this knowledge, fish populations fluctuate from year to year which continues to challenge the skills of these experienced anglers. As fall approached this year, mangrove snapper populations near shore surged for the first time in 5 years. This increase in numbers was even more remarkable in that it occurred during a summer where red tide was prevalent from the panhandle all the way down to Northern Pinellas County. This red tide did, however, affect fall near shore grouper populations in a bad way...leaving many of these Tampa Fishing Guides praying for an early arrival of big winter seatrout. These bigger trout did start to show in early November...maybe slightly ahead of their usual schedule and brought some relief. Now, the challenge would simply be to get good enough weather to fish for them. Weather and fishing was good until about the first of the year and then, these big trout were replaced by smaller and smaller fish. Tampa fishing for big seatrout has gotten better and better over each of the last four years so this phenomenon was hard to fathom. Did red tide claim another species this year? Many fishermen believe that the big winter trout come from deeper grass flats up north. As red tide reached all the way into the shore up there, it may well have had an affect. With that said, there are still some real healthy sized fish around and there are months left in "big trout" season, so another strong push of fish could occur. With temperatures approaching the low forties in the coming days, fishing will remain a little challenging, but warm weather is likely just a few weeks away and excellent fishing is close to kicking off. Cooler water temps have kept the white bait away, so most Tampa Fishing Charters targeting seatrout have used select shrimp as the primary bait. As in previous months reports, bobbered or free lined shrimp are the two best approaches. Trout numbers remained good during January but, again fish size was noticeably smaller and therefore, securing a limit took significantly more effort.
On the bright side, the last few trips run in January produced big numbers of redfish. Although it is true that many winter redfish are on the smaller side, 15 - 17 inches, each of the last three trips produced multiple keeper fish from 22 - 25 inches. Total fish count on these Tampa Fishing Charters for redfish was probably 30 fish a day. Winter redfish tend to show a strong preference for shrimp and this was the case but small cut pieces of pinfish were also being accepted, especially by the larger fish. This trend towards pinfish will continue, especially once the water temperature rises up a bit. Most baits were fished with small split shot or free lined, as these winter fish seem to be a little spookier sometimes. A bobber is also useful when fishing oyster bars on real high tides. Towards the end of February, larger redfish begin to show in good numbers and will begin to eat aggressively at the first hint of spring.
Although big trout and redfish fishing will only improve in the coming weeks, don't forget about some of the other winter possibilities. Sheephead and black drum will bend a rod with the best of them and both represent good table fare. Smaller black drum...slot fish from 14 - 24 inches..are actually pretty good to eat, unlike full grown specimens which tend to be quite wormy. Sheephead is well known as a very good eating fish. Tampa Fishing is about to turn the corner from good to really good so get tackle in order. The spring fishing bonanza is almost here.
If this February is like most, there's still a strong likelihood that the weather will remain inconsistent for a few more weeks . If the day isn't right for fishing, there are many other activities available in Tampa. Here are a few suggestions. First, visit The Florida Aquarium. At the very least, this facility will allow you a good look at the snook or redfish you won't be catching that day....as well as other local species. Should relaxing and drinking a beer sound more appealing, stop by the Cigar City Brewing Company and try some of their craft beers. Tampa was rated one of the top ten emerging "beer towns" in the US.
Good luck and good fishing.