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Captain Ray Markham's latest fishing report
. . . and other tall tales
Captain Ray Markham's
West Central Florida Fishing Journal
Captain Ray Markham in the News
4Cast - West Central Florida
January 27-29, 2023
By Captain Ray Markham
Regular winter weather patterns always have ups and downs affecting fishing. Incoming cold fronts typically have a big atmospheric pressure drop that is a signal to fish the coming changes that will make finding food more challenging, so they immediately forage for food. The plus is that feeding fish are easier to catch when they aren't so finicky. A feeding frenzy can erupt to a point when the pressure drop is extreme, then the bite and metabolism shut down. After the front passes and high pressure with clear blue skies move in, finding feeding fish becomes more challenging until the water warms back up and metabolism gets back to normal. Finding the times and locations before, during, and after these periods when and where fish feed are what fishing and catching are all about.
This weekend could be a mirror of what last weekend presented us. If you have the luxury of taking off and fishing whenever conditions are prime, you’re likely to get on a good bite.
Hogfish have been the star of the show for anglers getting out just off the beaches to about 70-feet of water. Live shrimp have been the top baits chewed on medium-light rigs with 20-to 30-pound braid with long 25-to 50-pound test fluorocarbon leaders 10-to 20-feet in length. Lane and mangrove snapper have also been in the catch in this range on the deeper side, and shrimp also work well for them.
Tripletail have been hanging on many of the stone crab trap floats, along the beaches on the swim buoys, as well as most any kind of floating objects offshore. Typically, hard bottom areas are the most productive and also hold baitfish that are attracted to these kinds of structure. Again, shrimp work well for trips.
Red grouper continue to please anglers fishing the bottom in 80+ feet of water where sand meets patches of hard limestone bottom or “Swiss Cheese” bottom that is pocked with holes. Productive areas southwest of Pinellas have been excellent for red grouper.
Trips that run out past 110-feet of water have been majorly productive for large red grouper for anglers fishing aboard the party boats out of Hubbard’s Marina in John’s Pass. They’re also bringing in good catches of mangrove snapper in the 120-foot range. They report catching scamp grouper out around the 200-foot depths.
High winds have hampered getting on the water in many areas, but for those who have made it out, turbidity has been an issue. Muddy water is not very conducive to catching a lot of fish, however, sheepshead and black drum seem to not care. Their sense of smell must be great to find food in these conditions. Live shrimp for each species works well, but sheepshead will also take fiddler and mangrove crabs rarely without hesitation. Marine worms that are found at dead low negative tides on the flats make for terrific bait as well for sheepshead. Assorted cut mussels or clams, barnacles, and more also work.
Black drum really take to areas around the base of bridge pilings. Tampa Bay black drum are known for eating crabs, but cut bait will also work. Many of the bay bridges produce black drum in the 20-to 30-pound class, so stout tackle is advised when fishing around the structures of bridges and rock piles.
Some decent action for redfish has taken place around the West Central Region. Good numbers of fish are being caught from Clearwater Harbor north to Anclote Key. Live shrimp under popping corks, and sinking artificial lures like CAL Jigs with Shad tails, MirrOlure MirrOdines, and gold spoons like the Johnson Silver Minnow or weedless Eppinger Rex Spoon all produce good results.
Speckled trout have been a pleasant surprise for most anglers, as they are finding an upswing in action with some decent sized trout above the 19” max. A reminder that only one of those big girls over 19" is permitted per boat. Live shrimp, DOA Deadly Combos, and MirrOlure MirrOdines have produced some great catches of spotted seatrout. Some silver trout have been caught just off Blind Pass in about 14-feet of water by anglers dropping tandem rigged jigs.
Disappointing results have been noted for anglers targeting flounder. Very few slot fish are being caught. For those lucky enough to find a flattie over the 14” minimum, be aware that these fish as well as others can shrink a quarter of an inch or more if put on ice in the boat. So that 14” minimum fish you take could end up at the ramp when you get back as undersized. A live well will keep these fish alive and measured at the same size when you return to the ramp.
Sarasota Bay continues to produce a few bluefish, a few pompano, and some trout around Long Bar, New Pass, and Jewfish Key along with the occasional redfish.
Brisk winds have kept a lot of folks off open water of the Gulf and bays, leading them to get their fishing fix somewhere inland on lakes or rivers that are protected from some of the wind and cold. Such was the case for Jeff Martin of Venice and his buddy, Matthew Scott, of MGS Fishing of YouTube fame. The fishing bug was biting but windy weather nearshore and even inshore for most places was out of the question. The boat was already hooked up so off they went to explore some lake fishing for bass and whatever else they could find, and finding fish, they did! Dozens of bass of assorted sizes up to about 5-pounds, a personal best for Jeff, were hoisted over the gunnels during the day’s fishing. A combination of crankbaits, black soft plastic bass worms, and wild shiners produced their fish. It’s a typical case of a “bad day” made good. If you’re determined to go fishing, there’s almost always fishable water somewhere. Here’s a taste of the fishing and catching in a short video made by Matt.
‘Til then… I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham
4Cast - West Central Florida
January 20-22, 2023
By Captain Ray Markham
Typical winter weather patterns have fish adjusting to the changes. Fish seem to be holding closer to their winter haunts, making them easier to locate on the inshore scene. Offshore anglers will still find fish holding tight to structure during fronts and moving off to feed as the weather clears.
This week has seen some great weather as a steady warming trend moved into Suncoast waters. Much calmer seas early and at mid-week have allowed anglers to venture out to deeper waters as well as work the nearshore and shallows off the beaches. The results have been good.
Anglers working just off the beaches a few miles have been treated to some excellent action with hogfish, sheepshead, porgies, mangrove snapper, tripletail, and more. Settled seas have allowed water clarity to improve. Depths ranging from 30-to about 80-feet seem to be the most productive for a variety of fish right now.
Watch the incoming weather that’s expected around Thursday with winds picking up. Winds should come down within the next day or so, but be aware of the changes and adjust your plans accordingly.
Nearshore waters, when clear, have been producing some Spanish mackerel. Most have been on the small side from 12-to 16-inches. They’re still good for smoking or even fresh fried when handled correctly and consumed within the same or next day of catching. Trolling some silver spoons like the #1 Clark Spoon Squid or a Huntington Drone Spoon about 3-inches in length have been productive.
Fishing has improved for many anglers over the past couple of weeks. You may still find areas with few fish but finding productive areas will make for more consistent catches. Weather patterns may have much to do with improvement as anglers are finding more consistency. Fish continue to acclimate to the changing weather of warm and cold and have been holding closer to their winter haunts during the warming trends. If you had to choose areas to target, first choose places with deep water, preferably with some tannin or off-color with dark bottom. This will retain heat, especially if it’s sheltered from wind and exposed to direct sunlight. The perfect scenario will be these deep or dark protected areas that are bordered by shallow dark bottoms that have scattered sea grass and possibly some structure such as an oyster bar. Oyster bars nearly always have food, and so does sea grass. Schools of mullet are another bonus, as they attract redfish that move with the schools of mullet as they mill about the sea grass, kicking up small crabs and shrimp.
Lure choices this time of year are critical to catching fish. Lures that suspend, sink slowly, and that can be moved slowly across the bottom third of the water column will typically be the most productive. Choose lures that are smaller in size, ranging from 2-to 4-inches. On calm days with clear water, clear soft plastic shrimp or killifish imitations with either silver glitter, holographic glitter, or a combination of either with night glow. Stained and murky waters tend to be more productive with chartreuse, fire tiger, and hot pink colors. Basically darker and drab colors such as watermelon/ red glitter, root beer, and motor oil are excellent for this scenario as well. My personal preferences this time of year for soft plastics are the DOA Shrimp, because everything eats a shrimp, and the CAL 3-inch Shad or MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. In hard baits, it’s tough to beat the MirrOlure MirrOdine, (17MR18). These lures will catch just about every inshore species available in the West Central Region.
Working areas of hard bottom in Lower Tampa Bay, anglers are picking up some black seabass using jigs with curly tails tipped with shrimp. In addition, areas with good depth in Tampa Bay ranging from 10-to 20-feet of water are holding some silver trout and speckled trout. A top-producing rig for these is the DOA Deadly Tandem curly tail jig rig. Years ago, Love’s Lures produced a tandem rig that was the go-to for many anglers, and the DOA Deadly Tandem is a take-off of that rig.
Sarasota Bay anglers have been enjoying some action around the passes and in areas with deep grass like around New Pass and Sister’s Keys for speckled trout, bluefish, and pompano. Capt. Rick Grassett, out of C.B. Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key has put his spin and fly anglers on these fish regularly over the past several weeks.
Anglers reported some pompano action around Pass-A-Grille, John’s Pass, and Clearwater Pass using Doc’s Goofy Jigs. Some of the spoil islands in the ICW have produced some trout, pompano, and redfish. Just inside the passes and around the bridges, black drum have been actively feeding on crabs and shrimp. Most have been in the 2-to 5-pound class. The bridges in middle and upper Tampa Bay have been holding some big black drum in the 20-to 30-pound range.
Redfish and a few snook have been caught around the mangroves of Weedon Island and across the bay in the Little Manatee River and Cockroach Bay. Live shrimp and whitebait have been top forage when available. Gold spoons like the Eppinger Rex Spoon have been go-to lures for many anglers working the south end of the Tampa Bay for redfish from Bishop’s Harbor to the Skyway Bridge.
Bass fishing has been picking up continually in area ponds and lakes. Stick baits like the Original Rapala have been consistent producers of bass around the edges of lakes where vegetation is available. Thick cover is holding bass that will chew creature baits flipped or pitched into holes. Black and blue, colored soft plastics have been a top choice of color for anglers.
Crappie catches have been good in just about all lakes that have been productive in the past. Lake Tarpon in upper Pinellas has seen some good catches. To the south, anglers fishing Lake Manatee have seen similar action. Anglers fishing the Braden River in Bradenton using grass shrimp are catching bluegill, crappie, and bass.
It’s a great time to be on the water in area lakes. Give them a try. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
FLY FISHING SCHOOL- SARASOTA
Capt. Rick Grassett will be the instructor for CB’s Saltwater Outfitters Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing school on Sat, Feb 4, 2023. The course, designed for beginning and intermediate fly casters, will focus on basic fly casting principles, improving casting skills and correcting faults. We will also cover saltwater fly fishing techniques, leader construction and fly selection. Cost for the class, which will run from 8:30 AM to 2 PM, is $225 per person and includes the use of Orvis fly tackle, workbook and lunch. Optional instructional guided fly fishing trips are also available for an additional fee. Contact CB’s Saltwater Outfitters at (941) 349-4400 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make reservations.
4Cast - West Central Florida
January 13-15, 2023
By Captain Ray Markham
Welcome to the second weekend of the new year. We are beginning to see typical winter patterns with weekly cold fronts dictating some of the best days to be on the water, typically a couple of days after the front passes. Cold fronts can bring strong winds with much cooler weather creating falling water temperatures that bring an important consideration to mind—hypothermia. It’s nothing to fool with and falling overboard in water temperatures that we are seeing currently can result in death in as little as 2 hours of exposure in the water. Absorption of water in layered clothing adds weight making it difficult, if not impossible, to get back onboard, especially for solo anglers. An important and MANDATORY rule now for anglers fishing with outboard powered motors is the use of a kill switch. This immediately shuts the outboard off when disconnected. The kill switch cord is attached from the ignition switch to the operator running the boat. It’s also important to have a spare cord onboard in the event the captain goes overboard in a windy situation, blowing the boat away from the ‘man’ overboard. The second switch lanyard can be attached to the ignition switch so another operator onboard can restart the engine and rescue the man overboard. Solo operators should always wear a PFD as well as those who may have issues swimming or who can’t.
Running offshore to depths ranging from 135-to 175-feet of water can be hugely productive for anglers looking to take home some big grouper without having to sift through a bunch of shorts. With gags being closed, anglers have been targeting red and scamp grouper in those depths with good success. Bring your venting or descending device because you’ll be releasing those big gags. For a limited time, anglers can get a free descending device valued at $100 by taking a brief online course from Return ‘Em Right by going to their website at https://returnemright.org/ . Mangrove snapper get larger in these depths and beyond and you’ll find plenty of them to add to your fish fry. You’ll also have a shot at yellowtail and vermilion snapper.
Nearshore anglers working between 50 and 80 feet can find some lane snapper. Lane snapper have been caught in depths ranging from 35-to 80-feet of water west of Pinellas and Manatee Counties. Similar depths have been giving up some hogfish on live shrimp and sand fleas.
Spanish mackerel have been around but not in great numbers. Most have been smaller, but over the minimum 12” size limit. Gotcha Jigs, or most any flashy jig, spoon or small plug will draw some strikes. For live baiters, shrimp under popping corks work well.
Tripletail continue to be caught along the beaches on crab trap buoys. Live shrimp or artificial shrimp such as a DOA Shrimp suspended under a cork rig with about 2-feet of leader will attract these fish. They can be sight-fished but more often, casting your shrimp up tide or up wind, allowing the bait to drift toward the float and line attached to the crab traps will get some action.
If you’re looking for some consistent action, you might give sheepshead fishing a try. Most areas with seawalls, rock piles, pilings, docks, bridges, and piers are holding good numbers of these fish that will be spawning over the next couple of months or so. The fastest action has been around new and full moons. They are tricky bait stealers, so close attention to any kind of tap tap on your rod will indicate some action. The “double tap” is the sheepie signal as the pick up your bait, and begin to slowly swim off. Once they do, if you don’t immediately set the hook, they’re usually gone. Baits like smaller shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas, and even barnacles will get the nod here. If fishing around pilings, fish straight down. Scraping some barnacles off pilings at low tide will make for great chum, but don’t over-chum. Thread a few on a hook then chum and drop the baited hook in your chum line and wait for the double tap.
Overall, action on the flats has been fair to good depending where you are in relation to red tide that has moved around from the beaches off south Pinellas down to Sarasota. If you move enough you’re bound to find the fish. Good reports of trout have been noted in some areas while other areas are like a barren wasteland.
This time of year, finding bait can be a shore, but most areas with structure such as bridges or range markers will hold bait in the shadows of the structures. The easy choice this time of year is live shrimp, which is the predominant forage for inshore fish during the cold weather months. Both live or artificial shrimp will work for most inshore species like trout, redfish, flounder, or snook.
Snook have moved up rivers and creeks or well into backcountry areas with deep holes. My go-to lures this time of year are the DOA Shrimp and MirrOlure Mirrodines. Both can be fished very slowly along the bottom third of the water column to draw strikes. The strike this time of year will generally be a small tap. Fishing braided lines will enhance the feeling for strikes and allow for better hook sets. As soon as you feel a strike, set the hook or you’ll risk hooking these fish deep in the throat increasing the chance of release mortality. If you’re fishing live shrimp, circle hooks are a must for the lowest possible release mortality during this closed season. Deep residential canals are some of the best hangouts for big snook that seek warmth. Fishing the sunny sides of canals can be the most productive, particularly where concrete seawalls absorb the heat. Most of these fish will be right next to the sun-warmed concrete seawalls, so your cast should be made there. Early morning starts are not usually the best time, but about after 10 a.m. when temperatures start to climb, you’ll find better action with increasing metabolism rates. It’s best to avoid targeting snook during periods of extreme cold when water temperatures fall below 60-degrees. Hooking and fighting these fish during a period when they are cold-stressed can result in dead fish.
Redfish can be very frisky this time of year, with much higher levels of oxygen in the cooler waters. Jerk baits such as the 4 or 5.5-inch CAL Jerk baits can be fished on light jig heads with good success. For the 4-inch Jerk bait I use either a 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce jighead. I like the 5.5 Jerk Bait rigged on either a 3/0 or 4/0 Owner live bait hook. It casts well and lands fairly softly. For very shallow reds that are laid up on dark mud banks, it’s tough to beat a 3 inch DOA Shrimp for a soft landing to avoid spooking fish, and usually they will be eaten without hesitation.
Flounder have been few and far between, but where you find one, there are usually more. Sandy passes or cuts between mangroves or along sand bars with good water flow will hold these fish if they are in the areas you’re fishing. Quarter ounce jigs dragged slowly along the bottom produce fish. You can cover water with these lures too. Shrimp-tipped jigs also produce some flatties as long as you maintain contact with the bottom.
Crappie are fired up on Lake Okeechobee. The Big O, as it’s sometimes called, has had a hot bite for the past several weeks. Capt. Angie Douthit has been on these fish as they school up in areas. She says bass have also been available in the same areas. Live Missouri Minnows have been scarfed up quickly when presented on ultralight and light tackle. For artificial bait users, small crappie jigs in an array of colors are working well.
Bass are slamming topwater lures, crushing Zara Spooks and frog popper imitations. Soft plastic lures imitating creature baits like lizards or salamanders worked around grass beds have been effective as well. The action will continue throughout the winter months. To find out more information on rates, hotel accomodations, and what’s biting on the Big O, and booking a trip with Capt. Douthit, go to her website at www.southfloridabassfishing.com.
‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham
Various publications with which Captain Ray is affiliated:
Florida Sportsman Magazine
Tampa Tribune Newspaper
Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper
Florida Mariner Newspaper
Captain Ray Markham
Owner/Operator: Backwater Promotions