By Captain Travis Yaeckel
February generally marks change in Tampa Bay. Our weather patterns are inconstant at best and the fishing can sometimes be tough. In saying that, be sure to plan your trips accordingly and most importantly – be safe. Expect to have some cold and windy days this month, but don’t be afraid to get out and do some fishing. Rivers, creeks, residential canals, and wind protected bays may be your best bet.
Snook have finally made their way to winter-time refuge areas and we have been catching them in great numbers in our local rivers. The Hillsborough, Palm, Alafia, and Little Manatee Rivers are all excellent choices this time of year for the “Linesiders”. If you can get some live bait (Pilchards or Pinfish) they will come to party. However, a stop at the local bait shop for some shrimp will also work. On the colder days, the fish will be less active and sometimes take a free-lined or bottom fished shrimp better than a live bait. Focus on “swash” points where the current flow is the best. Another great place to look is muddy bottom canals or seawalls. Snook will use these areas to stage up and stay warm.
Redfish aren’t near as temperamental to the colder temps. In fact, in my opinion, they like it. You will find them lurking on the shallow flats, even on the coldest days. They will forage on shrimp, crabs, and small bait fish until spring. Look for schools of mullet and target the edges of sandbars and troughs if you can’t find them on open flats. If you are struggling, the water is clear – spend some time looking around your fishing areas and try to see this fish. Most of the time, you can spin around and fish the area you saw them and be successful. Also, don’t be afraid to get out of the boat and wade. Redfish will get in very shallow water, sometimes too shallow for even the smallest draft boats. One of my favorite things to do is hop out with a few artificial lures and cover large flats on the lower tides.
Trout fishing has picked up substantially. We have been very successful fishing deep water canals and bends in the river systems for slot fish. A large shrimp or live bait on the bottom has produced several limit days on my charters. On the other hand, the larger “Gator” Trout have been lying in the sand holes on the flats mixed in with the Redfish and Mullet. Early morning, try throwing a top water plug and as the sun comes up switch to a soft plastic with a HookUp Lures ¼ oz jig head for best results.