I know our winter in Southwest Florida is no comparison to the colder climates to our north. However, as a Florida boy, I do not like cold of any kind and look at February as the beginning to the end of the cold season. Sometime this month the transition to spring fishing will begin. It all depends on the weather, if warm, it should begin the first couple weeks, but if we have a cold front or two of any magnitude, it could push the transition back a few weeks.
Inshore, look for sea trout fishing to get better and more consistent as the month progresses, plus we will see a notable increase in large fish. If 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 have a couple weeks of warm weather then you can expect bait to move back into the area, but for much of the month it's hard to beat anything that resembles a shrimp. When the bait does move back in, look for the trout bite to take off.
Look for warmer weather into the month of February to improve fishing. Bill Valpie of Bonito Springs landed this 26-inch redfish in Pine Island Sound while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell.
Red fishing should improve in both numbers and size as the month progresses. By the second half of the month look for fish to begin feeding under the bushes as our tide will bring us higher daytime water than previous months. Shrimp or scented artificials are the top baits. If you have the patience to soak cut bait on bottom, 1-inch ladyfish or mullet steaks are also deadly. Of course, if the bait fish return, live or cut pilchards and pinfish are hard to beat.
Also look for redfish in sand potholes on low water and feeding along sand and oyster bars with the rising tides. There will also be some extreme low tides that give great opportunities for stalking tailing or waking reds in the extreme shallows.
Inshore sheepshead 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. My preferred set-up is a size 1 Owner mutu light circle hook with a couple feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and just enough weight to keep it near the bottom. Be patient and bring plenty of bait, these stripped bandits are notorious bait stealers until you get the feel for the strike. If you do not have access to a boat, try one of the many public piers or bridges. Not only do sheepshead fight hard, they are outstanding on the table.
Anglers fishing the previously mentioned areas for sheepshead are sure to score with a few pompano. They feed off the bottom, often hang around the same areas and love shrimp. You can also expect to catch them in many of the same areas that attract redfish or trout; 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 couple years, the Silly Willy jig in various colors has also become a pompano favorite. With these jig style baits a moderately slow retrieve with a jigging motion to bounce the bait off the bottom and simulate a fleeing crustacean is the key to success.
Although it is still winter, if we put a week or so of warm weather behind us, the transition to spring should begin. I might be jumping the gun early but I am keeping my fingers crossed for an early transition, spring is my favorite time of year to fish.
Have a safe week and good fishin'.