By Jason Prieto
Now that all the holidays are behind us and most try to get back to our normal routines with regular work weeks ahead and most in other areas are shoveling snow and stuck inside, the sunshine state provides some great fishing this month. Trout takes center stage as the big Gator Trout invade the grass flats. You will also find a variety of fish on the reefs from Sheephead to Grunts.
You can expect to find some awesome Trout fishing on the South Shore of Tampa Bay. Finding the big girls is not all that hard, just find the healthy turtle grass with good tidal flow or deeper areas with oyster bottom and the big Trout will not be far behind. As for tackle I love throwing artificial baits this time of year, one of my favorite Trout baits has to be the Zman Pearl white Minnowz rigged with a 1/8 ounce Jig head. This bait is relatively easy to use and will produce a ton of fish.
Sheephead is another great option and is commonly overlooked by most anglers. They are one of the best fighting fish around and during the months of January and February they show up around the artificial reefs to spawn. Sheephead are somewhat different in both their appearance and what they eat. They like to eat barnacles from pilings, which are a little hard to find as bait. I like to use small shrimp with a Daiichii #1 circle hook. Add the adequate amount of weight to get your baits to the bottom. Sheephead have a very soft bite so you will go through a bunch of bait until you find the perfect hook set. Trust me, it will take a little practice. Areas to target will be any type of structure or reef. Artificial reefs are great starting points and numbers are on the internet. These same areas are typically fished hard by others so you probably won’t find the big fish here. Finding your own secret ledge that holds fish will be the key to catching big Sheephead.
Redfish are also plentiful this time of year. I typically find great success around the residential docks, Creeks, and deeper oyster bars this time of year. Shrimp is my favorite bait when targeting reds in the winter. Using a free lined or split shot for added weight will be the best technique for Redfish. Keep in mind Redfish love crustaceans and pick up on the scent so soaking alive or dead shrimp on the bottom will work great. This is also effective when water temperatures are low on the colder days. You will catch a lot of smaller fish this time of year but with patience you will find the bigger ones move through as well.