Photo Above: Capt. Travis Yaeckel shows off a nice tripletail caught in Tampa Bay.
The cold weather has set in and Florida is having a ‘winter’ as we know it. Several freezes and temperatures hanging around the 50’s and 60’s have certainly slowed the fishing down to some degree. Like most Floridians, most of our fish in and around the bay are not overly active when it’s cold. However, we have managed to have some enjoyable days on the water and still catch a variety of fish.
The sheepshead bite is getting near its prime. We have been fishing residential canals as a result of the higher winds and doing very well. If the winds are down, the deeper rock piles and edges of the shipping channel are holding the bigger schools of breeder fish. If you have a favorite spot that you like to snapper fish in the summer, now would be a good time to go check it out in search of the convicts. It seems they are attracted to the same areas, especially structure. My favorite bait is a live fiddler crab rigged with 24” of 20-25lb Ohero Fluorocarbon leader and a No. 1 Mustad live bait hook. Depending on the depth and current, add the appropriate split shot to get in the strike zone. Live or dead shrimp and muscles are also great bait and can be used with the same setup. I also recommend using a fast action (tip) rod to increase sensitivity in ‘feeling’ the bite. Remember that you are not fishing with live ‘swimming’ bait.
Even with the slightest movement, reel and set the hook. The bag limit for sheepshead is 15 per person and the minimum size is 12” total length. If you do plan on keeping some fish to eat, I recommend only keeping the larger fish (15”+). Due to the large ribcage (drum) the yield on a smaller fish is not what you might expect.
In addition to the sheeps, we have also been getting some tripletail when the weather permits. This time of year is stone crab season which means the bay is loaded with strings of traps (buoys) throughout the bay and beaches. When the winds are down and the sun is out, you can find these fish feeding and warming up near the surface around the buoys. It is pretty much 100% sight fishing. When you find a buoy with a tripletail, present the bait up current and let it drift back towards the fish. They will most always be looking into the flow for any potential food floating by. They will take a variety of baits including artificial. A live or piece of shrimp will do the trick just fine but they will also eat any bait fish you throw at them, if they are hungry. For artificial, the D.O.A. shrimp is one of my favorites. I like to upsize my leader to 30lb if this fish aren’t too finicky due to their razor sharp gill plates and in case they get around the buoy/line. There’s no particular size on the hook. I have caught them on 4/O circle hooks all the way down to No. 1 Live Bait hooks. Just match your hook to the size of bait you are using. The bag limit is 2 per person and the minimum size is 15” total length.