Fishing in February may go one of two ways. If we are fortunate, spring will arrive early bringing warm weather and a jump start to spring fishing, however there is also the possibility for the coldest weather of the year.
February generally brings our best sheepshead fishing of the year over inshore and nearshore waters. 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.
Remember, a small sharp hook works best when rigged with a small piece of shrimp or other crustacean 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.
The Lingwall family of Bokeelia had great weather and fishing with a mixed bag on a recent trip on nearshore waters with Capt. Bill Russell.
Sea trout fishing should get better as the month progresses, not just in numbers but also size. 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. Remember if it's cold work the bait 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.Towards the later part of the month we will begin to see a notable increase in the size of sea trout.
Targeting redfish is also a good possibility and we should note an increase in size with more fish falling in the legal limit as the month progresses. By the second half of the month, look for fish to begin feeding under the bushes on high water as we have higher daytime tides. Shrimp or scented artificials are the top baits. If you have the patience to soak cut bait on bottom, 1-inch ladyfish or mullet steaks are also deadly. 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 reds in the extreme shallows.
Anglers targeting trout and 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 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. Working the channel edges around the Gulf passes is also a great option.
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. You can really enhance these jigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp. With these jig-style bait,s a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait off bottom and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.
If you are entertaining the kids, look to the open grass flats for a mix of species including sea trout, ladyfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. They are often feeding over the same bottom and will provide lots of action and smiles. When looking for this type action inshore or offshore, keep an eye out for birds working the water, and surface feeding activity. Also a pod of bottlenose dolphin hanging around a likely area is a great sign fish are nearby.
Nearshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico should yield good opportunities for catching a mix of tasty bottom fish including snapper, sheepshead, grunts and porgys. Also larger fish including king mackerel, cobia, bonito, amberjack and an occasional blackfin tuna are a good possibility well within sight of land.
Offshore fishing really depends on the weather, but there should be some nice calm days this month.
As we move through the month the transition of seasons will begin from winter to spring as days become longer and water temperatures warm. This is great news as like many local anglers spring is my favorite time of year to fish.
Have a safe week and good fishin'.
As a native of Pine Island, 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.