Fishing Report FEBRUARY 2022
February is always a challenging time to fish inshore with very low daytime tides and chilly winds, but it’s also the time that trout and redfish can be concentrated in deeper creeks and holes in the flats. And relatively mild temperatures kept the bite going for much of the month. Both the Pro Redfish Series and the Fiddler Crab Festival Tournament events had great turnout and some dynamite catches. Offshore was all about red grouper. Here are a few pics from this month.
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Continued warming temperatures will bring the grass flats back to life near the middle of the month. We might even begin to see some migrating Spanish mackerel and kingfish offshore. Red grouper and bottom fishing for black sea bass and Florida snapper will remain the staple of offshore fishing this month. Inshore, redfish will continue to school in shallow water just offshore while solitary fish will remain in creeks and around rocks and bars. The sheepshead bite is picking up with good reports coming in daily now. A member of the porgy family, we have a unique fishery in the Big Bend area with the discovery that the largest sheepshead move to nearshore structure in order to spawn. And when they are in groups, sooner or later they get hungry. The smaller males usually arrive at the spawning areas initially; ranging from 2 to 4 or 5 pounds; they are usually catchable, but the real action begins when the females arrive. Weighing up to ten pounds or more, the females provide some excellent fishing in terms of great eating fillets and hard pulling. Any rocky structure in over 15 feet of water is likely to be holding some sheepshead, and while there are a variety of areas to fish, most are closely held secrets. The Steinhatchee Reef, which is about 8 miles or so almost directly west of the river channel, has largely deteriorated but still may hold some fish. Assuming you have some numbers, you can expect to have lots of company; sometimes the number of boats jammed into a small area rivals the river trout run. Careful anchoring is essential. The fish will swim in circles around the rocks, almost never straying away over the flat sandy bottom. You need to be able to drop your bait (usually either fiddler crabs or live shrimp) just above the rocks where the fish are holding. One of the great mysteries to all those who target these fish is exactly what seems to provoke the bite. Much like grouper, you can see hordes of sheepshead swimming around with no interest in eating, and then all of a sudden, they will turn on and you’ll have doubles and triples. One would assume it has something to do with the spawn (that can be distracting for almost all species, fish and otherwise) but it’s pretty hard to predict. Patience is the idea. Use a rod with some backbone as these fish can pull hard; there is a huge advantage to using braided line because of the very soft bite. While some people stick to simple fishfinder rigs, with a sinker, swivel, leader and hook, I’ve always found it easier to select an appropriate weight jig head, based on depth and current flow, and attach a shrimp to it. I’ve also used a “knocker” rig, with no leader and the sinker free to slide right down to the hook. I try and dangle the bait just above the rocks. The bite is historically soft; just a slight tap on the line means it’s time to set the hook. While the fish are plentiful, they are frequently overfished, which is a problem during spawning. The limit per person has been reduced to 8 fish over 12 inches in length, and even though they provide excellent eating, we need to keep the health of the fishery in mind and keep only the fish you intend to eat.
There are several tournaments this month at the Marina. On the 12th, it’s the Salty Gators Inshore Classic Tournament; the 19th brings the Steinhatchee Community Tournament with a weigh-in at the Community Center; and the 25th-26th is the Professional Redfish League Tournament, with a special Ladies and Kayak Tournament on the 27th. For any more information about these tournaments, contact the Marina. To sign up for the Salty Gator tournament, you can go to this link:
March can be a very productive month in our area. It’s a time of transition as the water warms, and sometimes that requires some local assistance. You can get up-to-date reports from the Sea Hag Ship’s Store, along with live shrimp and pinfish and everything else you might need. Consider renting one of the Sea Hag’s rental boats for sheepshead or inshore fishing. And if you want to catch a bunch of fish please consider hiring one of our excellent group of offshore and inshore guides. Most of our pictures are taken on guided trips. They can give you a relaxed day of excellent fishing.