By Rick Grassett
There should be good action with reds, trout and snook in skinny water this month 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.
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 above 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 aong 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.