On the Water: February: beginning to the end of the cold season
Winter in Southwest Florida is no comparison to the colder climates to our north. However, as a Florida boy, I do not like cold of any kind and look at February as the beginning to the end of the cold season. We really haven’t had to bad a winter a far as cold is concerned, but we have had more than our share of wind and rain. Sometime this month the transition to spring fishing should begin, it just a question of when. It all depends on the weather – if warm, it should begin the first couple weeks, but if we have a cold front or two of any magnitude, it could push the transition back a few weeks.
Inshore, look for sea trout fishing to get better and more consistent as the month progresses, plus we will see a notable increase in large fish. If the water remains relatively cold, bait fish will be sparse and trout at times sluggish. Shrimp or shrimp imitations should be the bait of choice. If we have a couple weeks of warm weather, then you can expect bait fish to move back into the area, but for much of the month it’s hard to beat anything that resembles a shrimp for bait.
Redfish fishing should improve in both numbers and size as the month progresses. By the second half of the month, look for fish to begin feeding under the bushes as our tides will bring us higher water than previous months. Shrimp or scented artificials are the top baits. If you have the patience to soak cut bait on bottom, small ladyfish or mullet steaks are also deadly. Of course, when the bait fish return, live or cut pilchards and pinfish are hard to beat. Also, look for redfish in sand potholes on low water and feeding along sand and oyster bars with the rising tides. There will also be some extreme low tides that give great opportunities for stalking tailing or waking reds in the extreme shallows.
In and nearshore, sheepshead fishing should peak this month as they finish up their spawning chores. Look for most of the larger fish around the gulf passes, on the beaches, and schooling around structure both inside the passes and a short distance offshore. Anglers fishing the previously mentioned areas for sheepshead are sure to score with a few pompano. They feed off the bottom, often hang around the same areas and love shrimp. You can also expect to catch them in many of the same areas that attract redfish or trout – areas like sand or pot holes and sand bar transitions are feeding stations for pompano that often travel in schools. While a live shrimp is hard to beat and works great, those that target pompano often throw artificials to cover more ground. Small pompano jigs with white, pink and yellow the most common colors have been catching pompano forever, and you can really enhance these jigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp. In recent years, the Silly Willy style jig in various colors has also become a pompano favorite. With these jig-style baits, a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait off the bottom and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.
Snook season remains closed through the month on our coast. If we get a week or two stretch of warm weather, you can expect snook to gain energy and a strong appetite with the potential to provide good catch-and -release action. Generally during the cooler months, the warmest part of the day may be the best time to find snook on a good feed. They feel about like I do about cold weather and don’t deal with it well.
Nearshore, we can expect a variety of fish over natural and manmade structure including mangrove and lane snapper, sheepshead, pompano, grunts, porgies, mackerel and others. Mangrove snapper are also a good target in the Gulf passes. The best bet is to fish the passes on days with slower tides or plan to fish the slack tide. Again, shrimp is the best bet in the passes and nearshore structure. Further offshore, look for red grouper, a variety of snapper including yellowtail, and possible cobia or king mackerel working back up the coast, plus amberjack over deep water structure.
Although it is still winter and spring doesn’t officially begin until well into March, if we put a week or so of warm weather behind us this month the transition to spring could begin.
I might be jumping the gun early but I am keeping my fingers crossed for an early transition, spring is my favorite time of year to fish.
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Have a safe week and good fishin’.