On the Water: Looking ahead to fishing in February
This past week brought Southwest Florida cold, wind and plenty of rain – not the best fishing conditions, that’s for sure. With a new month at our doorstep, let’s look ahead at the possibilities.
Inshore, look for sea trout fishing to get better as the month progresses, plus we will see a notable increase in size. Trout were sparse over the past couple months; however, catches were on the rise the past week or two. If the water remains relatively cold, small baitfish will be absent and trout at times sluggish. Shrimp or shrimp imitations or artificials should be the bait of choice and fished slow and low. If we have a couple weeks of warm weather, then you can expect bait to move back into the area, but for much of the month it’s hard to beat anything that resembles a shrimp.
Catching small or “rat” redfish over the winter is a common problem, that’s a great sign for good things to come. We should note an increase in size as the month progresses, by the second half look for fish to begin feeding under the bushes on high water. Shrimp or scented artificials are the top baits. If you have the patience to soak cut bait on bottom, ladyfish or mullet steaks are deadly. Also look for redfish in sand potholes on low water and feeding along sand and oyster bars with the rising tides. There will be some extreme low tides that give great opportunities for stalking tailing or waking reds in the extreme shallows.
If we see a stretch of warm weather, look for snook to make their way to feeding stations around the inshore waters. Areas may include oyster bars, shorelines, sand holes and structure with moving water such as docks, piers and bridges. If the water temperature stabilizes around 70 degrees or higher, they should feed heavily on a wide variety of natural and artificial baits. Both snook and redfish are closed season with no harvest at the present time. Make sure to unhook and release them quickly to ensure their survival.
Sheepshead fishing should peak this month as they finish up their spawning chores. Look for the larger fish around the Gulf passes, on the beaches and schooling around structure both inside the passes and a short distance offshore. Remember, a small, sharp hook or jig head works best when rigged with shrimp with just enough weight to keep it on bottom. Be patient and bring plenty of bait, these stripped bandits are notorious bait stealers until you get the feel for the strike. If you do not have access to a boat, try one of the many public piers or bridges. Not only do sheepshead fight hard, they are also outstanding on the table. It’s been a great winter with lots of fish, get out there and catch a few before they’re gone.
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 depressions 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. With small pompano jigs with white, pink and yellow – the most common colors have been catching pompano forever, you can really enhance these jigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp. With jig style baits, a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait off bottom and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.
We should see some days with light winds and calm seas in the upcoming weeks. This is a good time to target the many artificial reefs in our Gulf waters. As mentioned, sheepshead should be on many of these areas, plus a variety of other species from large to small and everything in between. Your best bet is to bring tackle from light to heavy, a selection of baits, and be ready for anything.
This month can go a couple ways, we may break out of winter and get an early jump on the warmer days of spring, or, we may be in for several more weeks of cool weather. I’m keeping my fingers crossed we get an early jump on spring. That’s my favorite time of year to fish our waters.
If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us at: Gulf Coast Guide Service, 239-283-7960 or visit www.fishpineisland.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a safe week and good fishin’.
As a native of Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.