By Rick Grassett
There should be good action with reds, trout and snook in skinny water right now as baitfish become more plentiful. Look for Spanish and king mackerel, cobia, tripletail and false albacore (little tunny) in the coastal gulf. Night snook fishing in the Intracoastal Waterway should also be a good option this month.
Regulations have returned to normal for reds and snook in Sarasota, except snook remains closed to harvest in the Charlotte Harbor area. Spotted seatrout have changed in southwest Florida to a three-fish-per-person bag limit and a six-fish boat limit. Trout must be from 15 to 19 inches with one allowed per vessel more than 19 inches. In my opinion it’s important to protect larger trout, which are usually female breeders. Full regulations and details for all species can be viewed at myfwc.com.
This should be a good month for snook fishing at night around lighted docks and bridge fenders in the Intracoastal Waterway. DOA Shrimp, CAL jigs with shad tails and small white flies, like my Grassett Snook Minnow, usually work well at night since glass minnows and shrimp are the predominate bait. Focus on shadow lines where light meets dark and fish strong tides for the best action. Although snook may also be found in rivers, creeks or canals this time of year, they will also start to move onto shallow flats — particularly on sunny afternoons when it’s warm. I like larger lures like CAL jigs with jerk worms, CAL 4-inch Shad Tails, DOA Baitbusters and the DOA PT soft plastic top-water lure or wide profile flies like Clousers, Deceivers and EP flies, for snook on the flats.
Look for early-season tarpon that may start to show in backcountry areas. These are usually adult resident fish that are making their way out of rivers and creeks. They may be “laid up” or rolling on deep grass flats, on edges of shallow flats or along bars when it is calm. An accurate cast with a DOA Shrimp, a Deceiver or Tarpon Bunny fly may result in an explosive strike! Look for them in areas of Sarasota Bay, lower Tampa Bay or in Gasparilla Sound on some of the same deep grass flats where you find trout.
Reds should be more active as the water warms and baitfish become more plentiful. Higher tides, as we head into spring, will allow them to spend more time feeding in shallow water. Look for them over shallow grass, along mangrove shorelines and around oyster bars when the tide is high. You should find them in potholes and along sand bars when the tide is low. I like the shallow flats of north Sarasota Bay for reds this month. I like 1/16-ounce CAL jigs with shad tails and jerk worms to locate reds. Fly anglers should score with my Grassett Flats Minnow fly, fished on a 10- to 12-foot leader. When using a long leader be sure you are able turn it over, otherwise you’ll need to shorten it until you can. The butt section should be at least 50% of the total length of the leader and stiff enough to transfer energy from your fly line to the leader.
You might also find reds around docks when the tide is low. Look for deep water under docks with a good tidal flow for the best action. A 1/8-ounce CAL jig with a shad tail or grub or a weighted fly fished on a clear intermediate sink tip fly line with a 6-foot leader with should work well for dock fishing.
You may find big trout in skinny water in many of the same places that you find reds. Blind cast seams where grass meets sand or focus on light colored bottom, in potholes on top of sand bars, where you may be able to sight fish them. These big fish, usually females, are important to the health of our fishery.
You should also find trout plentiful on deep grass flats along with Spanish mackerel, blues, flounder or pompano. I like to make a series of drifts, casting ahead of the drift with CAL jigs with shad tails, DOA Deadly Combos or an Ultra Hair Clouser fly tied on a long shank hook and fished on a clear intermediate sink tip fly line to locate fish. Also look for birds, bait showering out of the water or boils on the surface that will indicate fish feeding below. When mackerel and blues are around, you may need to add 6 inches of 40- to 60-pound fluorocarbon or wire to your leader. Top water plugs and fly poppers also work well when blues and mackerel are around and may help locate them by attracting them from further away.
Flounder may be found on sand or mud bottom areas on both shallow and deep grass flats or around docks. Pompano may skip on the surface when you drift or run past them, giving their location away. Fish deep grass flats with a mixture of grass and sand and a strong tidal flow for the best action.
You may also find Spanish or king mackerel, false albacore (little tunny), cobia or tripletail in the coastal gulf this month. Look for diving or hovering terns to find Spanish mackerel or false albacore feeding on the surface. Quarter-ounce CAL jigs with shad tails or jerk worms or top water plugs should work well for spin anglers. Fly anglers should score with small white flies, like my Grassett Snook Minnow or Ultra Hair Clousers fished on an intermediate sink tip fly line.
Run crab trap lines at various depths to find tripletail or cobia around crab trap floats. Fly anglers should score on tripletail with DOA Shrimp or lightly weighted flies with weed guards. Cobia may also be swimming on the surface as they migrate from south to north following warmer water and baitfish. DOA Baitbusters, PTs and large, wide profile flies, like Deceivers or EP flies would be good fly choices for cobia.
In the absence of any fish on the surface, check out one of the many artificial reefs or natural hard bottom areas that may hold baitfish and predators. Drift over structure and cast DOA Baitbusters or weighted flies on fast sinking fly lines to get deeper in the water column to catch them.
Conditions are usually good during the spring and fishing should heat up. Flats and night snook fishing are usually good options this month. I like to check the coastal gulf when conditions are good, since you could find something really good happening there.