February is just a few days away and hopefully nicer weather is coming with it. February is usually a transition month for fish and their feeding patterns. Early in the month winter fishing rules apply, but as we move later into the month spring tactics are more in line.
As I always say in my winter fishing forecast, following a few key rules can improve your catch ratio. Slowing down your presentation of both artificial and natural baits is one of the most important factors. Picking your day to fish is another. I like to fish two days after the passage of a cold front right up to the passage of the next one. As we get later into February, I begin to use more live pilchards as bait. I’ve found as fish transition into spring they crave more and more food, and are more inclined to chase the more active baits we present.
The snook action in January was a little slower than I like but it was much better than I expected. Snook seek out warmer water like springs, rivers and power plants with warm water discharge during the winter months and begin to transition towards the many passes found in the Tampa Bay area. Please remember if you catch a snook handle it with care.
Trout have been very active this past month. Look for them in the deeper grass flats and some of the deeper spots of the Manatee and Little Manatee rivers. Try fishing trout with some of the soft plastic artificial baits. DOA makes some very good plastics. One of my favorites is the DOA Paddle Tail. It works well this time of year because you can fish it at different speeds.
Small redfish can be found near the many oyster bars that fill the backcountry of Tampa Bay or in the deeper swash areas on the outer sand bars lining both the east and west side of Tampa Bay.
Try using a large shrimp or pilchard under a bobber. One of my favorite artificial baits for redfish is a gold ¼-ounce spoon, which you can work at different speeds. I usually slow my retrieve down when fishing the colder months of the year.
January and February are the months that sheepshead make a big showing in our area. Find structure in deeper water and most likely you’ll find a number of sheepshead hanging around. Shrimp combined with a little weight – a No. 2 or No. 4 hook – will do the trick. With these fish you need to remember the old saying, “If you feel the bite it’s too late to set the hook.” Sheepshead have a very light bite, so be ready.
I’m very optimistic February’s bite will be much better than January’s. Of course, it’ll all depend on the weather.
Be safe out there.
Danny Guarino is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 956-2010 or email@example.com.