If you’re having problems getting a beat on fish these days, you’re not alone.
It’s been a weird winter.
First, we had an abnormally hot winter. Then, abnormally cold. Fish that should have been up the river months ago were partying on the flats, and now it is mid-February and many have pushed on back.
Sheepshead, a species that thrives in high air pressure, has saved anglers of late. But according to Capt. Scott Moore, the sheepies aren’t on the flats like they are in Charlotte Harbor.
Speaking of the flats, if you’re going to be cruising them anytime lately, remember that they will spook easily. Ultra-clear water will require stealth and light lines. Also, don’t expect to see too many fish directly on grass beds. Grass tends not to grow in the winter, so there’s nowhere for the fish to hide, which is why they’re more likely to be hiding on the edge of grass flats.
Then there’s this matter of getting winter fish to bite. A general theory seems to be to work baits slowly because fish may be too lethargic to chase a bait. Sometimes, however, we have to use common sense when considering this option. Some species like an easy meal, sure, but if a fish is hungry enough, they will feed.
“If fish are that hungry,” Moore said, “it ain’t gonna be slow. It’s gonna chase your lure and eat it.”
Which means it makes more sense first to find the fish. Second, see if these are fish that are hungry and feeding on baits. In the next week, anything that results in an increase in water temperature will get the fish to feed. Fortunately, weather experts have predicted at least a brief warming trend.
Many anglers are taught, then, to look for warm water. But simply finding a warm pocket of water will do no good unless there’s moving water.
Moore, for one, hears a common question at his seminars: “How come I’m in a canal and I can’t get the fish to bite?”
Moore’s typical response: “For one, they’re not there to feed probably,” he said. “And two, there’s no running water unless you’re at the end of the canals. This isn’t always true, sometimes you get them to bite, but the bottom line is what good is warm water when you don’t have good water flow?”
Trout, Moore said, are a bit different. They’ll be where the “groceries” are. Everybody has their favorite trout spot, but it’s more about where the food is at.
“If there’s no food for fish,” Moore said, “they’re not gonna hang around.”
And while there is no doubt numbers of snook hiding up the river, there reportedly had been a surprising amount of snook on nearshore reefs, according to various divers and charter captains.
Moving on, in the next couple of months, sheepshead will be running up in the bays and into the river, before dropping back to spawn in the passes in March and April. They’ll be piling up at the Skyway in both directions.
Their spawn may begin with Monday’s full moon.
But don’t get too caught up into details.
“If you’re too technical about fishing,” Moore said, “it takes the fun out of it.”
Nick Walter, outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.