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Captain Ray Markham's latest fishing report

           . . . and other tall tales  

Captain Ray Markham's

West Central Florida Fishing Journal

 

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Captain Ray Markham in the News

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Various publications with which Captain Ray is affiliated:

Florida Sportsman Magazine 
Tampa Tribune Newspaper
www.b3fishing.com
Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper
Florida Mariner Newspaper

Florida Marine Times Magazine

www.TheLedger.com 

(Blogs - For Shore Fishing)

www.Anglerweb.com

www.PolkOutdoors.com

www.saltwateranglersguide.com

 

 

4Cast - West Central Florida

January 28-30, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

It’s been a tough week for West Central anglers to get on the water, especially for those looking to get an offshore trip in. Some of the coldest weather of the week just passed, with some more on the heels of the coming weekend. Pick your days inshore, and find a good weather window if you’re looking to head to bluewater. As always, file a float plan.

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

Finding clean water offshore has made catching fish a bit more challenging this past week. Windy weather kept nearshore and some offshore waters churned up. Some anglers claimed that they didn’t hit clean water until they were beyond 110-feet, but others said it was at least 200-feet of water they ran to before finding better conditions. These kinds of conditions usually slow the bite to a standstill. After several days of this kind of weather, fish begin using any stored food, making them very hungry. But feeding usually occurs as seas settle. Most grouper will stack up around high relief. Nearshore fish find some tall structure, wrecks, boulders, or other means of holding tight to cover and begin to pull away to feed as conditions improve.

Nearshore trips to 80-feet of water over artificial reefs, wrecks, and hard bottom from Sarasota to Dunedin produced some hogfish, a few lane snappers, mangrove snapper, white grunts, black seabass, sheepshead, and a few red grouper, along with some gag grouper that were released. The nearshore grouper bite was slow.

Deepwater trips out of Hubbard’s Marina that were able to get out between fronts had good action prior to a big front. The 44-hour trip produced some nice mangrove snapper, vermilion snapper, porgies, yellowtail snapper, a few scamp and red grouper along with almaco jacks and a big cobia.

Anglers fishing with Captain Brian Morgan of Captain Morgan’s Fishing Adventures out of Marine Max in South Pasadena had a 6-man limit of red grouper by 11:30 in the morning. Anglers added a pile of lane snappers, hogfish, some big mangrove snapper, porgies, and were back at the dock early with tired arms. Capt. Brian runs split charters if you can’t book a boat alone and will add anglers to fill the boat for a modest fee. For information call Capt. Brian Morgan at (813) 516-9365 for bookings.

INSHORE

Water temperature at the beginning of this week at the mouth of Tampa Bay (Egmont Key) registered about 61-degrees. Inshore backcountry areas can be slightly cooler or warmer depending on the depth, the bottom color and make-up, and the protection from hard north winds. The key to finding some action inshore this time of year is finding areas sheltered from wind and cold. Temperature—it’s all about temperature and at times even a degree or two can mean the difference between fish chewing or not. The water temperature prior to the last couple of cold fronts was ranging in the mid-to-upper 60’s but in some areas, it even nudged the 70’degree mark. But with the most recent cold fronts, the drop in temperatures over the week drove down water temperature into the 50’s in some areas that contributed to lockjaw, especially for snook. It’s a shock to these fish that are temperature sensitive. Some anglers reported catching a few snook in some of the deep holes around the rivers and in deep residential canals, but with water temperature falling into the 60-degree range, snook can suffer from cold stress, and catching and releasing these fish can result in a death sentence. For this reason, I avoid targeting snook, even for catch-and-release with water temperatures in the 50’s and low 60’s

Anglers working some of the deeper holes to the north around Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands are finding some big trout and redfish. Most fish caught were reported to have been caught on live pinfish, gold spoons, MirrOlure Marsh Minnow, or CAL Jigs with Shad tails. Slow presentations have been the key to catching fish in colder conditions.

Capt. Rick Grassett, fishing out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key reported some good action by his fly anglers, catching snook at night around dock and bridge lights. Trips south to the Boca Grande area produced some nice catches of reds, snook, and trout on CAL Jigs with Shad tails.

FRESHWATER

You may not like fishing in the rain or the cold, but to fish, they’re already wet and for crappie and bass, the cold we feel is actually invigorating to them. Good catches around the state, as well as the West Central Florida area, are being reported. Crappie fishing, in particular, has really taken off. Speck fishing has been hot in this cold, and a limit of 25 fish per day has not been difficult to obtain. Some big specks have been caught to the south on Lake Okeechobee along with some big bass, according to a recent report by guide, Capt. Angie Douthit of www.southfloridabassfishing.com. Area lakes in the West Central Region around Polk and Pasco Counties are also showing some great catches. Many are using some of the Team Crappie Slab Caller and Crappie Tamer jigs by TTI Blakemore. Some other popular jigs include Hal Flies and Slater’s Jigs. Most tournament guys in Florida are saying that some of the most popular colors used include some chartreuse. Regardless of whatever color or brand you use, get a handful and get on the water.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

4Cast - West Central Florida

January 21-23, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

Last Sunday saw some wicked weather move in on the Suncoast, ravishing the area with tornados, high winds, and rain. The days following brought sinking air and water temperatures and heavy seas, slowing the action down. Approaching the weekend again, another front is predicted to move south after a brief warming trend. As always, pay close attention to weather reports in both your planning and while on the water, as conditions can change quickly. FILE A FLOAT PLAN!

NEARSHORE/ OFFSHORE

At the beginning of the week, we saw some tough conditions for anglers trying to get offshore. By mid-week things were calmer and warmer. Nearshore anglers working depths between 50-and 100-feet of water had to work for some red grouper action. Live pinfish with clipped tails seemed to work well, but a combo of cut squid and a frozen sardine got some action going. A few hogfish were in the catch along with some mangrove snapper, porgies, and on the nearshore artificial reefs, sheepshead and grunts. Some of the largest red grouper are being caught beyond 100-feet.

Deep waters ranging from 150-to 250-feet will usually yield some larger red grouper as well as some scamp grouper. But in that range, anglers also have to deal with releasing out-of-season gag grouper and red snapper, and both that need venting to avoid barotrauma. Some excellent catches of mangrove snapper have been hitting the decks with that average size running about 5 or 6-pounds.

Bluewater anglers trolling big plugs and hardware have connected with some blackfin tunas, the occasional wahoo, and kingfish. Always run a flat line, you’ll never know what hits on top.

INSHORE

While the snook fishery is closed during the wintertime, these fish will become very active on days where there are sunny periods and warmth. These fish will shut down as water temperatures drop into the 50’s. But on calm sunny days between fronts, water temperatures on shallow dark muddy banks can soar as much as 10-degrees above the temperatures in adjacent waters. Fish that seek these warmer temperatures can see their metabolisms spike, triggering the need to feed. Usually, this point is when water temperatures rise to the upper 60’s or above. Small crabs, shrimp, baitfish, and worms that inhabit the shallows become targets for snook to eat. Lures that imitate this forage can provide some fast action on warm days. MirrOlure’s Lil’ John rigged on a 1/16-oz. jig head perfectly imitates marine worms that can be found in these areas. Various natural colors such as Burbon, Tube Worm, Molting, and Golden Bream all resemble the natural colors of this forage, and when rigged on a light jig head will stand straight up as marine worms do when poking out of holes in the mud. Not only will snook hammer these, but any redfish in the area will fall for these same lures. Sheepshead foraging on the flats will also eat these. 

Shrimp bury tail first in the mud on super cold days during fronts. As the front passes, shrimp will emerge from the mud as the flat warms, leaving the tail a discolored look as compared to the rest of the body. The 3-inch DOA Shrimp perfectly mimics this look in several colors such as the #315 Near Clear/ Fire Tail, #316 Near Clear/ Chartreuse Tail, and #385 Nite Glow/ Chartreuse. The secret to fishing these lures under this condition is to work them naturally. Shrimp are not usually very active and spend a lot of time doing nothing but sitting on the bottom. When they move, they crawl. On occasion, if spooked, they will jump quickly once or twice but settle back to the bottom and crawl slowly again in a forward motion. This kind of action is very enticing to fish with metabolisms that are just restarting. Shrimp provide high protein, digest quickly, and are easy to catch, so are rarely refused. Not only will snook and redfish jump all over a shrimp, but flounder that are sunning on the mudflat and sheepshead that are foraging for food will pound a shrimp. DOA Shrimp are also the perfect skipping bait for fishing under boat docks. They fall slowly and in an upright position, so rarely hang up and are rarely refused by mangrove snapper, snook, redfish, trout, flounder, or sheepshead that live under docks in residential canals during the winter months. Older wooden docks provide the best habit for both forage and for fish that feed there. Docks that get the most sunshine early will usually produce the best action.

Wind-protected residential canals and areas in Clearwater Harbor, Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island, Culbreath Isles, Apollo Beach, Little Manatee River, Snead Island in Palmetto, and Warner’s Bayou in the Manatee River are some of the most productive for dock fishing and catching a variety of species.

Days following cold fronts can produce some excellent action if you can get on fish. Finding fish quickly requires throwing lures that can cover water quickly, efficiently, and effectively. By quickly, I don’t mean moving a lure so fast that it looks unnatural or too fast to catch before it leaves a fish’s strike zone. By efficiently, I mean coverage using the lure that will attract fish with the broadest strike zone. By effectively, I mean lures that absolutely trigger strikes to hungry fish. The lures I choose for this scenario are the CAL 3” Shad rigged on a ¼-ounce jig head, MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. rigged on a ¼ -ounce jig head, and the 1/4 –ounce Eppinger Rex Weedless gold spoon with a red feather trailer. These lures produce enough vibration or natural flash to trigger strikes in warming situations from fish that are in a reaction strike mode, so they can be worked fairly quickly and thoroughly in areas that are holding fish.

FRESHWATER

Well, this past week of cooler weather may have produced just the conditions that speckled perch have been looking for to begin schooling. Reports around the region from Lakeland to Hernando and down to Sarasota have shouted crappie! These fish love cold weather, and drift-fishing with Missouri Minnows under a small cork is a traditional method of catching them. Purists might prefer artificial lures such as those from the TTI- Blakemore Fishing Group. Visit https://ttiblakemore.com/order/ for more information. The Roadrunner lure name has been synonymous with fishing for over 60-years. While Roadrunners come in a variety of sizes, colors, and configurations for everything from walleye to bass and even saltwater species, a special group is devoted to catching crappie, aka. specks or speckled perch. The Team Crappie Slab Stacker, Slab Caller, and Spin Callers are all effective lures for loading the stringer for a fish fry, but the Crappie Tamer series might be some of my favorites. Experimenting with color combinations will reveal the most productive colors for areas you fish. Most lakes that hold specks have good water depth ranging from the shallows to at least 10 or 12-feet. Submerged structure, fallen trees, stumps, and the like will hold schools of these fish. Grab a bucket of bait or your tackle box full of lures a go fishing!

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

4Cast - West Central Florida

January 14-16, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

Changeable weather conditions have been making for some inconsistent fishing for some anglers. Getting offshore immediately following fronts will generally produce some big fish that hung tight to structure. Inshore, look for clean water and lee shorelines.

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

It’s been a potpourri of fish being caught lately by anglers heading offshore. Bluewater trips are producing some blackfin tunas, amberjacks, almaco jacks, red grouper, and a variety of snappers. The majority of these fish are coming from federal waters, (beyond 9-miles).

Along with those tunas, anglers could find dolphin, wahoo, and the occasional kingfish. Most often, springs, deep water wrecks, and bottom with high relief, roll-offs, and the like are areas with some consistent action. A variety of lures trolled are getting some action. Several different Nomad, Rapala X-Rap Magnums, Ilander, and MirrOlure lures trolled are working for the occasional pelagic.

Nearshore state waters can be productive for hogfish. While dropping live shrimp for hogfish, there are a number of other species that will get in on the act. Smaller red grouper, white grunts, porgies, lane snapper, and some mangrove snapper are in that realm.

Some of the nearshore artificial reefs off Sarasota, Bradenton, and St. Pete. Beach are producing good catches of sheepshead. These fish are getting fatter by the week in preparation for their spawning period that occurs over the next couple of months or so.

On warm days, trolling the beaches with spoons can produce some Spanish mackerel. The areas around the Skyway Bridge and the Egmont Key Ship’s Channel will hold mackerel and an occasional kingfish. Checking channel markers might reveal an early season cobia or some tripletail.

INSHORE

Snook season is closed, but with the warm weather we’ve had recently, these fish are chewing. Some moved up rivers but have pushed back out on the flats on points and around barrier islands. Their lateral lines can sense weather changes so don’t be surprised if one day you’re in some hot action and the same place the following day produces a zero. CAL 4-inch Jerk Baits rigged on an eighth-ounce jig head has been very productive, but using the MirrOlure Lil’ John in bourbon color has done triple duty with redfish, snook, and even an occasional sheepshead.

Pompano have shown up, left, and shown up again in the area passes and along sand bars from Longboat Key to Clearwater Pass. A variety of lures and baits is working for them. Fiddler crabs, live shrimp, and sand fleas have been the top natural baits. Artificial slingers tossing Doc’s Goofy Jigs in yellow with a pink teaser, DOA rootbeer/ gold glitter 3/8-oz. TerrorEyz, and ½-ounce yellow Bomber Nylure jigs are producing some nice pompano in the 3 to 5-pound range. With Monday’s full moon approaching, strong tides will make for some fast-moving water. Adjust the weight of your jigs or offering to get solidly to the bottom for best results. Jigs as heavy as one ounce might be necessary for some areas. But that jig popping off the bottom should create a puff of sand that will attract the bite.

FRESHWATER

There is a variety of lures that are exceptional producers of big bass. Recently I had the opportunity to throw a new lure from Berkley called the Choppo. It comes in several sizes but the 120 size that I’ve been throwing has been excellent in choppy water on windy days. With water temperatures in the upper 60’s bass are active. Some areas are seeing some bedding fish. Pinellas waters are seeing some bass bedding, and there certainly has been some aggressive fish hitting lately. The Choppo reminds me of another lure called the Whopper Plopper, but for me, the Choppo seems to churn the water and make a more desirable noise when cast and cranked. While I may not throw this lure on bedding bass and opt for a creature bait like a lizard, the Choppo certainly is a lure that can produce some heart-stopping surface strikes and will certainly be on the end of the line on at least one of my rods.

Capt. Angie Douthit reports good action with some big bass and loads of speckled perch down in Lake Okeechobee. Many of her clients have been experiencing personal best bass while fishing with her. Bass are on the beds down south and it’s prime time for targeting some of these giants. She can be reached at (863) 228-7263 for booking or via her website at www.southfloridabassfishing.com.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

4Cast - West Central Florida

January 7-9, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

The New Year brought some mixed weather situations with a cold front and some windy days. While we’re getting into the heart of winter, it doesn’t appear that we have any severe weather ahead. Weather predictions can be wrong, so always monitor the weather channel when on the water and plan accordingly.

 

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

Drift fishing hard bottom areas for red grouper where rock bottom meets sand will produce some fish and allow you to cover a lot of area. Save the spots that produce, but like all fish, they can move and be gone the next time you’re out. Red grouper season reopened last Saturday. Anglers bottom dropping in nearshore waters between 70-and 100-foot depths were rewarded with some nice fish. Mangrove, vermilion, and lane snapper were still actively feeding in that range as well. Hogfish can be caught begging in about 40-feet of water and are still in the catch along with grunts, porgies, and an occasional Spanish or king mackerel. The Egmont Key Ship’s Channel has been producing a few macks. If you’re fishing that area on either side of the channel, be prepared for an early arrival of some cobia. A few cobia were reported being caught over the past couple of weeks in that area. Target buoys , channel markers, and stone crab traps. While you’re at it, be ready to toss a bait to tripletail that remain in the area and along the beaches and inside some of the bays.

Deepwater fishing between 150 and 250-feet can produce some big red grouper along with some scamp grouper. Be prepared for some blackfin tuna and even some dolphin. Both were caught over the past week.

INSHORE

The past couple of weeks have seen snook feeding heavily up rivers and on points adjacent to deep water. A variety of lures have been working, including DOA Shrimp, CAL Jigs with Shad Tails, MirrOlure 17MR18 MirrOdines, and 7MR26 lures. Look for residential canals around the east side of Tampa Bay to produce some nice fish as well as Cockroach Bay. Cockroach has also been a mecca for redfish in the Tampa Bay area. Anglers fishing from Bishop’s Harbor south to the Manatee River are also seeing some good action with snook and reds. Sand bars near Joe Bay, Anna Maria, Pass-A-Grille, and Fort Desoto have seen some pompano action for anglers chucking both DOA root beer colored TerrorEyz and Yellow Doc’s Goofy Jigs with pink teasers.

Big jack crevalle and loads of ladyfish have been running through various areas on the flats, devouring everything in their paths. While most anglers might avoid them, jacks are extremely hard fighters for their size, and many fly anglers enjoy the fight and aerobatic display that ladyfish provide. Ladyfish will fray lines with their rough mouths, so a trace of a 30-pound leader will help prevent break-offs.

Much of the Tampa Bay area, and particularly the west side of the bay, still is not producing many trout. Areas of Sarasota bay are seeing a few larger trout in the 17-to 20-inch range being caught but a few smaller fish seem to be around. Look for an occasional redfish around Tidy Island or Long Bar on the east side, and Jewfish, Sister’s Keys, and Whale Key on the west side. Capt. Rick Grassett, fishing out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key, has been catching some snook around dock lights and bridge pilings on his night fly fishing trips. CAL Jigs with Shad tails are accounting for an occasional redfish, some trout, and bluefish that round out most trips in that area. Tripletail have been on swim buoys along the beaches.

Areas north of Clearwater around barrier islands have been productive for snook, big redfish, and some large trout. 

FRESHWATER

Regardless of how cold it is, anglers are still catching specks (aka crappie). Most will agree that the dead mid of winter produces the best catches since these fish school together and spawn during this time. Look for them in deep holes ranging from 6 to 10-feet deep. Lake Manatee down in Bradenton has been producing some nice specks as well as bass and bluegill. Bass are hammering surface poppers and sliders. Specks are being caught on small Clouser Minnows tied on #8 hooks using sinking or sink tip lines. For all anglers, and especially fly anglers, the tug is the drug.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

4Cast - West Central Florida 

December 31, 2021-January 2, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

The New Year will bring some changes as 2021 fades into the sunset. Look for some sunny days ahead for your fishing. Good luck folks. Let’s make this a terrific 2022 fishing year. Happy New Year!

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

Lane snappers reopened on December 23rd and have been running in depths ranging from 40 to 110-feet according to Capt. Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard’s Marina in Madeira Beach. This Friday at midnight, gag grouper season closes. At 12:01 AM, Saturday morning, red grouper season reopens. Half-day boats and 10-hour trips fishing nearshore waters out to 100-feet continue having steady action with hogfish. The mangrove snapper bite has been slower since many of the schools of mangos have spread out within a variety of depths as water temperatures have changed.

Deepwater action for mangrove snapper has been better than the nearshore bite with larger fish to catch. Scamp grouper have been caught on ledges, peaks, and rock piles. Depths ranging from 150-to 260-feet are holding porgies, almaco jacks, vermilion, and yellowtail snappers.

The kingfish bite was not good this year, as red tide bloom stayed offshore from 10-to 14-miles keeping kings from moving in off the beaches in normal numbers. They seemed to bypass us and continued on down to the Lee County area. The spring run should be a big improvement as long as we have clean water. We can expect to see some random schools of mackerel in and out of the bays throughout the winter if it continues to be mild.

INSHORE

Some banner action with redfish has been on tap for specific areas of the West Central Region. The Ozona area continues to see some big reds being caught. Captain Jim Huddleston, fishing out of the Ozona Fish Camp seems to have them dialed in up in that region. His charters are having some excellent catches of slot fish as well as oversized reds to keep rods bent in between the big snook that they are catching.

On Tampa Bay’s South Shore, fishing remains steady for reds, snook, and a few trout. Live shrimp and whitebait are top choices for all. Artificial bait users are finding that the DOA Deadly Combo yields some good catches of trout. When looking for snook, drifting a 2 ¾ inch DOA Shrimp past ambush points and under dock lights has been deadly. Working points of mangroves and around oyster bars with 17MR18 MirrOlure MirrOdines, and CAL Jigs with Shad tails have produced a few flounder, some redfish, as well as some big snook, which are catch and release only.

Sheepshead fishing continues to be productive around oyster bars, dock pilings, bridges, and rock piles for anglers tossing a variety of baits. One of the top baits is fiddler crabs. If not available, live shrimp work in most locations, but barnacles will do the job around pilings too when threaded on a hook.

A few pompano were caught this week by anglers tossing Doc’s Goofy Jigs around Pass-A-Grille Channel.

FRESHWATER

Fly fishing in freshwater has seen a rejuvenation of sorts here in Florida. Quite a few anglers are picking up the long rod to present tiny insect imitations to a variety of fish found in most lakes and rivers. Several fly clubs in the region teach fly fishing and have regular monthly meetings. The Suncoast Fly Fishers in St. Pete., Tampa Bay Fly Fishers in Tampa, and Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers down in Sarasota all offer fellowship, outings, monthly meetings, and instruction.

CB’S SALTWATER OUTFITTERS -ORVIS ENDORSED FLY FISHING SCHOOL

CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, 1249 Stickney Point Rd, Sarasota, FL will hold an Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing school on Sat, Jan 15, 2022. The course, designed for beginning and intermediate fly casters, will focus on basic fly casting principles, improving casting skills, and correcting faults.  Instructor Capt. Rick Grassett will also cover saltwater fly fishing techniques, leader construction, and fly selection. The 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 info@cbsoutfitters.com to make reservations.

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Captain Ray Markham

    

    Owner/Operator: Backwater Promotions