Where are the big winter sea trout of St Joseph's Sound that show up every winter? By mid December, most local fishing captains just believed that this dependable fishery was off to a late start, as inshore water temperatures in early January were still approaching 70 degrees. The belief was that the fish were confused by the warm water. It's now mid February, so there is no denying it. This "best in the Tampa Bay area" big sea trout fishing is unlikely to materialize this year. Why this has happened is anyone's guess...maybe this summer's most recent red tide. Regardless, it has forced local captains to find new ways to entertain customers.

Historically, on a typical winter charter, a limit of large sea trout would be secured and then it was off to find a few redfish or sheephead to round out the day.  This year, trips have been planned around other species with just a small piece of each charter's effort directed toward big sea trout. Waiting for the highest tides of the day, which are always lower this time of year, has been one approach.  Rather than looking for periods of the fastest moving water and fishing these tides for trout, fishing the higher tides on local flats and along mangrove shorelines has produced some occasionally good redfish action. Some tides allow fishing along the mangroves, especially when a better tide is accompanied by strong south winds, which will push up additional water. On days where fishing the shorelines is not possible, it's best to fish mullet schools if available. Most productive baits have been cut ladyfish and live pinfish. Be patient and put out a good spread of baits.

 Seatrout Fishing in Clearwater

Certain flats are holding smaller sharks in the 15 to 20 lbs range.  These fish have, for whatever reason, been fairly abundant in the last few weeks and will put up a great fight on inshore rods.  A great inshore rod / reel combo would be the following: A Daiwa 3500 BG spinning reels paired with Shimano Teramar TMS-X76M spinning rod, spooled with 10 lbs test. For those interested in actually getting these fish to the boat, a small piece of steel leader is required. Cut baits and live pinfish have been most effective at eliciting strikes, but it unlikley that these fish would refuse any realistic bait. Any cold front could chase these fish but as of a few days ago, these fish were still here. 

Redfishing in Clearwater Florida

Another option would be to head off shore and test out the nearshore reefs. With the abundance of snapper being caught over the last year, it's likeey that there are still some holding on these structures.  Shrimp and small live baits are always a good choice here and with water temps being too cold to catch pilchards right now, very small pinfish are the best substitute. Fishing with shrimp may yield some decent sheephead as well.  This plan might be the best way to insure a good dinner at the end of the day.

There are some sea trout around but expect to fish hard to catch them.  Swim tail jigs, pinfish and shrimp will all work well.  The fish that are caught have, interestingly, been on the large side but catching more than 1 or 2 in the same location has been the exception.  In a normal year, 30 fish might be caught in one area. The hope is that this is just a one year anomaly that goes away by next November. Good luck and good fishing.


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