gone fishingHey everyone.  Travis back with information about great things to do in Tampa Bay.  Local Capt. Stewart Ames has sent his latest fishing reporter, so all your fishermen, and fisher-ladies, listen up -

December was a difficult month to fish.  Persistent cold fronts pushed through every four to five days, keeping water temperatures unseasonably cold.  Although these colder temperatures are required to initially bring these larger seatrout into St Joseph's Sound, warmer weather after the fronts allow fish to get comfortable and school up in their normal haunts. 

This did happen for a short time at the beginning of December as some Tampa fishing excursions produced quality fish, but then the fronts rolled in.  Longer term forecasts are that our weather will moderate so, with a little luck, January and February will produce some of the stellar large trout fishing that this area is known for. 

The best methods for landing these big trout are bobber fishing with large select shrimp, positioned about a foot off the bottom.  Another highly effective approach, especially when fish are scattered is throwing swim tail jigs.

When preparing for a day of jig fishing, rig two rods.  On one rod, put a 3/8 ounce jig head with a 3 to 4 inch "shad type" swim tail.  Rig another with a 1/8 ounce jig head and a long worm like jig with a split tail, like those made by Pumpkin Jigs, the slammer.  The first is used in water over three feet deep.  The other set up is used in water less than three feet deep. 

stewartBoth are fished using standard jigging technique...raising the rod tip, then lowering it while reeling in the slack.  Almost all fish will be felt on the "lift".  When resistance is felt, quickly reel down while lowering the rod and set the hook. Advantages of this approach are that a lot of water can be covered in a short time and getting a hit on a jig is a lot more exciting than hooking a fish on bobbered shrimp. 

Amidst these cooler temperatures, there are certainly other fishing opportunities.   On the coldest of days, when water temperatures flirt with fifty degrees or below, it's time to target sheepshead.  Oyster bars with deeper water immediately adjacent or oyster encrusted dock or bridge piling are structures that these fish call home.  To set the stage to catch them, most Tampa fishing guidesput out some free dinner to start. 

When fishing bridges, this is easy.  Just bring along your trusty hoe and scrape the oyster and barnacles from the pilings.  The buffet table has now been set.  Rig your rod in the following fashion: use a four foot length of 20 lbs flourocarbon leader, a number one hook and a split shot tied about 6 inches above the hook. Bait this with a chunk of shrimp, brined oyster, small crab or sand flea  and lower it to the bottom. 

Wait for the tell tale sheepshead bite...a sharp thump.  Two approaches are used to hook these effective bait stealers.  One is to immediately try and set the hook on the first tug.  The second is to reel down to see if resistance is felt...indicating that the fish is still there...and then set the hook. 

If fishing an oyster bar, bring some extra frozen shrimp and scatter it off the deep edge of the bar.  Take a small piece of live shrimp, or a whole small live shrimp, and place it on the same rig mentioned above.  Cast it into the area where them chum has been broadcast and wait for the bite.  On days when you just want to be on the water, a Tampa Fishing excursion targeting sheepshead can be quite enjoyable.

Redfish are also still a viable target although the fish tend to be smaller in size.  Many times, when reds are found, it is a small schools of "rat" reds....14 to 17 inches long.  Although these fish won't serve up any drag screaming runs, or provide dinner as they are smaller than the regulations allow, they do pull well for their size,
Also, there can be 50 of them in one area, providing fast action.  That is not to say that larger redfish are an impossibility.  Religiously working docks and oyster bars on the higher phases of the tide will produce occasional larger fish, but expect to earn them through hard work.  Slot fish are typically found swimming alone or with one or two other fish in the winter...a far cry from the large schools available in summer.

Tampa fishing during winter can be challenging but, on warmer days, large trout can be caught in amazing numbers.  By watching the weather and tides, there are some great days to be had on the water before spring arrives.  Good luck and good fishing.

And there you go...get out there and get fishing. 

And of course we'll see you back here for more great Tampa Bay Entertainment options and other Tampa Bay area events.