By Capt. Brian Lemelin, Optimus Fishing Charters

Wintertime is sublime…

Wintertime is December 21-March 20, and the cold fronts have started arriving. The bay water temperature has fallen into the 60s and it looks like the 70s are done until spring. The wind has been a major factor in getting out on the water. Every day starts off dressing in layers with Gore-Tex (to keep us dry) and Thinsulate (to keep us warm), then perhaps shedding layers during the day, and then readjusting again in the late afternoon.

The white bait has moved off the flats and into deeper water. Numerous towers along the channel are holding bait. The key to netting this bait is to ensure there is some water (tide) movement, so the bait is up in the water column. Chumming, using tropical fish food, will get them to come up off the bottom as well.

This past week’s charters have resulted in trips to the Big Bend TECO power plant. The warm water discharge is a magnet for numerous species of targeted fish. It’s also been loaded with manatees, dolphins and stingrays. It’s really quite the show.

The bite at the power plant has been excellent. We caught cobia, jack crevalle, as well as bonnethead and bull shark. Blacktips should also be moving in soon.

Fishing the power plant is a lot of fun, if it’s not crowded with other boats. For cobia, we are mostly sight fishing. Trolling the flats and looking for the silhouette of the brown bomber. We’ll be set up with several casting options in hopes of enticing the cobia to bite. One rod will be set up with live bait (shrimp or whitebait), one with a plastic eel and one with a top water plug.

Accurate casting is critical. Landing the bait 6” to 12” in front of the cobia usually entices the bite. Sometimes the cobia are on their own or travelling in pairs. Double hookups are not unusual. Keep the hooked cobia in the water and allow the second cobia to catch up and join in the action.

Remember, cobia have to be 33” at the fork of the tail to keep, so handle with care if you’re releasing. Cobia will also tag along with the stingrays and the manatees, so keep an eye out for that.

The cobia in the picture was caught by Brian Ritchie, Qualia Reels. This was the first cobia he ever caught. A great fight on light tackle that lasted over 30 minutes. It weighed around 40 pounds. Brian said he has fished around the world and never felt a fish shake its head so violently as this cobia.

Pound for pound and inch for inch, the jack crevalle may be the hardest fighting fish in the bay. We caught this 32” inch jack on a jig head with a large shrimp hooked thru its horn. On a 4000-size reel, we chased this jack for 45 minutes before landing and releasing it. This is the biggest jack I’ve seen caught in the bay. Several schools of big jacks have been visiting the flats along Apollo Beach. Casting on the edge of the school with just about any artificial lure, will produce drag ripping action.

Bonnethead sharks have arrived and are located in the flats area and out to 6’ of water. We like to use a shrimp, hooked through the horn, attached to a jig head with a float about 3’-4’’ above the jig. The bull sharks have been located in the deeper water cut. Any cut bait should produce hookups. The juvenile blacktips will be in 5’ of water. We use the same setup as with the Bonnethead sharks, however light steel leader is a good idea on the blacktips and bull sharks. Pieces of squid will work as well.

Away from the power plant, trout have started to show up in really good numbers. They are currently closed until Monday, May 31, so catch and gentle release is mandatory. Greenbacks are working really well, but they are hitting shrimp too. Plastic swimbaits are also producing plenty of trout.

Although snook and redfish are closed until May 31, they are both readily available for catch and release. The snook vary in size, but the bite has been solid up against the mangroves in moving water.

If you’re looking for a great day on the water give me a call and I’d be happy to show you how much fun our fishery can be. Hope to see you on the water. Tight lines.

Call Captain Brian Lemelin, Optimus Fishing Charters, at 365-0230 or visit www.optimusfishingcharters.com.