February fishing can go one of two ways. If the waters begin to warm we will see an increase in fishing possibilities. If it remains cold then it will continue status quo in a winter fishing pattern.
Inshore, look for sea trout fishing to get better and better as the month progresses, and we will see a notable increase in large fish. If the fall trout fishing was an indication we could see the most large “gator” trout caught in years this spring. As long as the water remains relatively cold bait fish will be sparse and trout at times sluggish. Shrimp or shrimp imitations should be the bait of choice. If we get a couple weeks of warm weather then you can expect bait to move back into the area, but for now it’s hard to beat anything the resembles a shrimp.
Catching plenty of undersize or juvenile redfish over the winter hasn’t been a problem. That’s a great sign for good things to come. We should note an increase of legal size fish as the month progresses. By the second half of the month look for fish to begin feeding under the bushes on high water. Shrimp or scented artificial are the top baits. If you have the patience to soak a bait on bottom, one-inch ladyfish or mullet steaks are also deadly. Also look for redfish in sand potholes on low water and feeding along sand and oyster bars with the rising tides.
Sheepsheads fishing should peak this month as they finish up their spawning chores. Look for most of the larger fish around the Gulf passes, on the beaches and schooling around structure, both inside the passes and a short distance offshore. Remember, a small sharp hook works best when rigged with a small piece of shrimp or other crustacean with just enough weight to keep it on bottom. Be patient and bring plenty of bait. These stripped bandits are notorious bait stealers until you get the feel for the strike. There are a lot of sheepsheads this year running five-plus pounds. Not only do these guys fight hard, they are also outstanding on the table.
Back before it became cold we had good numbers of pompano in our waters. Reports have been scarce for the past two months but we should see their return. Anglers fishing the previously mentioned areas for sheepsheads are sure to score with at least a few. They feed off the bottom, often hang around the same areas and love shrimp, just like the sheepsheads. You can also expect to catch them in many of the same areas that attract redfish or trou. Areas like sand or pot holes and sand bar transitions are feeding stations for pompano that often travel in schools. While a live shrimp is hard to beat and works great, those that target pompano often throw artificials to cover more ground. Small pompano jigs, with white pink and yellow the most common colors, have been catching pompano forever. You can really enhance these jigs with a small piece of fresh shrimp. Over the past year or so, the Silly Willy jig has become a pompano favorite. I personally have not tried one yet but those I have talked to say they are like candy to pompano. With these jig style baits, a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.
Grouper season is closed for recreational anglers in state waters for two months beginning on the first day of February. The best I can tell from the Florida Wildlife commissions website is all recreational grouper fishing is closed in state and federal waters. The closures have been confusing for many anglers, including myself. This a real bummer. Reports before the closure and talking to longtime grouper anglers indicated some of the best fishing in a long time. Hopefully one day the experts will get these regulations figured out, but for now they are off limits. I recommend checking out the rules and regulations at: www.myfwc.com before leaving home. It seems every year there are more rule changes and less notification. Law enforcement officers are just doing their job on the water, however, ignorance is no excuse. If you aren’t completely sure of something, educate yourself before you hit the water. It could save you some embarrassment and a pocket full of money.
Once the Gulf waters begin to warm, the bait will head back up the coast our way and a host of pelagics will no doubt be on their heels. Watch for flocks of birds and fish feeding on the surface as the month progresses. With a little luck and some warm weather we will see king and Spanish mackerel, bonito, bluefish and maybe some cobia before the month’s end.
There are plenty of other fish that we didn’t mention that are also a possibility but everything this month depends on the weather. Although it is still winter, if we put a week or so of warm weather behind us the transition to spring will slowly begin. If we continue to get hammered with cold weather the same fishing pattern as January will continue. I might be jumping the gun early but I am keeping my fingers crossed for an early transition to spring, it’s my favorite time of year and it can’t get here soon enough.
If you have a fishing story or for charter information, please contact us at 239-283-7960 or: www.fishpineisland.com. Have a safe week and good fishin’.