Perhaps the best part of the present Florida mild winter is the variety of fishing it offers.
There is still bait in the bay, leading to reports of quality redfish and snook catches. But this past week seems to have turned up more staples of winter tastiness: sheepshead and pompano.
Both fish take a bit of a “touch” to catch, making it very rewarding. You can be doing everything right and still find you’re missing fish and bait is gone with the slightest of nibbles.
Sheepshead are bunching to prepare for spawning season. The biggest groups will concentrate on nearshore structure, and if you read last week you know commercial spear fisherman Ritchie Zacker saw this first person. The 1- and 3-mile reefs can hold their share of sheepshead concentrations, but veterans of catching the striped fish with human looking teeth spend their time around bridges that sheepshead frequent.
The biggest key to catching sheepshead is in the presentation. Getting a small crab, oyster meat, or shrimp right along vertical structure with a light weight and light line will be the best bet. Getting the hook into the fish as soon as it bites is key, and where the “touch” comes into play.
Anglers targeting docks have been catching a mixed bag of mangrove snapper, small grouper, drum and sheepshead. Sheepshead cooked in boiling water with crab boil added for spice and dipped into melted butter is one of the hidden delicacies of the Gulf.
Another fish I find an obsession with is the hard fighting and tasty pompano. I’m seeing more reports of fish caught on the flats and on soft plastics, which indicates it’s a great time to target the yellow-bellied member of the jack family.
The best tactic for targeting pompano is drifting flat edges and elevation changes near grass flats and passes where pompano congregate. Areas where tide sweeps small crustaceans on which pompano feed while throwing small goofy jigs tipped with shrimp pieces or a small feather teaser seem to work best.
When the water warms slightly pompano will get more aggressive, and will be seen skipping in the wake of boats on the flats. The best catches will come from passes like Longboat, New Pass, and Big Pass as we head into spring. They, much like sheepshead, require a certain feel on your line as you slowly work the jig across the bottom. Their hits can be subtle, and often will charge straight at the angler after being hooked. Quick reeling is needed to keep tight and avoid them working their way off the hook.
Spring is seemingly right around the corner, and flat anglers will soon enjoy full livewells and days of countless redfish, snook and trout. Take advantage of these tasty offerings before it’s too late.
Source: U.S. Naval Observatory dat