Be careful what you ask for. Anglers looking for the weather to make up its mind got what they were looking for last week when cold northern air approaching freezing temperatures arrived.
Several nights of cold left Gulf waters very chilly and put the Suncoast in a solid winter fishing pattern, and that means all the action is in the warmer haunts like canals, rivers, creeks and deep holes in bayous. Dark-bottom, shallow mud flats should not be overlooked. While the water is shallow and subject to quick cooling overnight, the dark bottom begins absorbing the sun’s heat once daylight arrives, providing an ideal place for fish to warm up.
Just remember the cold-water rules for success: Live shrimp rules, and if using artificials, slow them down. Cold fish are lethargic fish, and they don’t have the energy to expend chasing bait like they do when their bodies are warmer. Even live bait anglers will often cripple their shrimp to make them easier prey, as many an angler has watched a frisky shrimp leap from the water to escape a feeding fish, which in cold water may give up the chase after a couple of failed attempts.
One Stop Bait and Tackle, (727) 842-5610: Bait Joe says the cold has cooled the flats to the point that anglers are sticking to the canals and warmer backwaters, where they are finding sheepshead and trout in good numbers. The Anclote power plant outfall is holding a lot of trout, as well, with anglers also landing pompano and permit, though that fishing has been on and off. The cold-water species like whiting and silver trout have been around the barrier islands, including Anclote Key, as well as along St. Joseph Sound and at Three Rooker Bar. Both take live and frozen shrimp on the bottom.
Anclote Bait and Tackle, (727) 945-1808: Capt. Griff says the open flats have chilled to the point of chasing most species into the canals, creeks and rivers. Anglers are working the warmer waters for trout, sheepshead and reds. Snookers are finding fish between U.S. 19 and Alt. 19 on the Anclote River. The Anclote power plant outfall has been a go-to spot, particularly when the plant is pumping and expelling warm water. Trout, permit, pompano, mackerel and cobia have been taken since the cold weather set in.
Tarpon Fishing Outfitters, (727) 942-8944: Dan says the fishing has been limited due to the cold, with opportunities for anglers narrowed considerably. The key is to look for any water that is a couple of degrees warmer than the open flats. Deeper holes inside rivers, canals and other backwaters often provide that little bit of warmth that can draw fish and the bait they feed upon.
Pier 60, (727) 462-6466: Larry says the cold that arrived last week put the skids on the fishing. Until the first cold front, angler s were taking a mix of mackerel, trout, sheepshead and whiting, but with the cold only the hardier species have been actively feeding. Whiting and silver trout catches have been good, with anglers scoring by fishing live and frozen shrimp on the sandy bottom.
The Long Pier, (727) 391-9398: Tom says the cold has made fishing a challenge, but anglers continue to do well with the species less affected by the cold water. Sheepshead have been taking shrimp round rocks and pilings, and bluefish have shown up in schools. Drum fishing has been good around the pilings, and anglers fishing under the lights at night continue to take some nice trout on shrimp.
Nick Stubbs is founder and webmaster of Bitetracker.com, an interactive fishing website.