Slowly, ever so slowly, water temperatures have been creeping up towards numbers fish like.
The sea trout bite just keeps getting better and better as fish venture from their winter haunts up rivers, creeks and springs to spread out on inshore flats. These fish are hungry. They’ve spent the winter scrounging for anything edible. Many are underweight for their length. Baitfish are just now moving into the area and trout are taking advantage of it.
What this means is the fish are more likely to take artificial lures, simply because they don’t look out of place as when no baitfish are around. Lures like MirrOdines, Bite-A-Bait Fighters, Rapala Skitter Walks, DOA and Gulp! shrimp and even small jigs. And of course live shrimp and baitfish will work too.
Redfish seem to be biting everywhere. Most are slot-sized, but there are plenty of trophy giants to be photographed and released unharmed. Best bet to get a redfish right now is with a gold or pink weedless spoon (Johnson’s spoon, Capt. Mike’s, Aqua Dream, etc.) worked very slowly along the bottom.
Make it crawl in short spurts just like a small crab would naturally. Crabs don’t swim along in the water column drawing attention to themselves. Live and fresh-dead shrimp will take them too.
Those same live shrimp should produce plenty of sheepshead for anglers fishing around oyster bars, bridge pilings and docks. The sheepshead will be feeding on barnacles, fiddler crabs, shrimp and other crustaceans.
Flounder pounders will still find plenty of fish to feed their families. Bouncing and dragging lures and baits slowly along the bottom around rocks and docks should be very rewarding.
If you want to fish a bit offshore expect to catch all the black sea bass your heart desires. They aren’t very big, but they sure are tasty. And you can keep up to 100 pounds of these ugly little guys. Try bouncing a small white jig tipped with either a Gulp! shrimp or piece of bait along the bottom.
In freshwater largemouth bass have been bedding along the shorelines, making them easy targets for anglers looking for a trophy fish. The smart fishermen will quickly land, photograph and release their catch so she can get back to the business of hatching her eggs. The short-sighted ones will eat the fish and kill thousands more unborn bass.
You’ve waited all winter for this. Now is the time. Go knock yourselves out. And send photos.
Hunter safety course offered in March
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is offering a free hunter safety course in March. Hunter safety courses are designed to help students become safe, responsible and knowledgeable hunters plus learn about conservation.
Students who have taken the online course and wish to complete the classroom portion must bring the online-completion report with them.
All firearms, ammunition and materials are provided free of charge. Students should bring a pen or pencil and paper. An adult must accompany children younger than 16 at all times.
Anyone born on or after June 1, 1975, must pass an approved hunter safety course and have a hunting license to hunt alone (unsupervised). The FWC course satisfies hunter-safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.
The course will be this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in St. Marks, FL 32355
Those interested in attending a course can register online and obtain information about future hunter safety classes at MyFWC.com/HunterSafety or by calling the FWCâs regional office in Panama City at 850-265-3676.
Get required boating education – âSpring Aboardâ with FWC
During the week of March 17-23, the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourage all boaters to take part in the national Spring Aboard â Take A Boating Education Course campaign by taking a boating safety course.
The best way to ensure that everyone has a great boating experience is by having a properly educated operator. Too many boaters are confused or unaware of basic rules about navigation, alcohol use and safety equipment. The solution? Boating education.
âEducation is the key. If boat operators have taken a boating safety education course, itâs much more likely they and their passengers will have a safe and enjoyable experience on the water,â said Maj. Rob Rowe, leader of FWCâs Boating and Waterways section. âU.S. Coast Guard statistics show that, of the accidents where the level of operator education was known, 81 percent of boating deaths occurred on boats where the boat operator had never received boating education instruction.â
In 2019, all boaters 31 years of age or younger are required to have a Boating Safety Education ID Card to legally operate a boat of 10 hp or greater in Florida. Even if you were born before Jan. 1, 1988, or have already had some boating education, taking a boater education course is a great idea.
Many course providers will offer incentives or course discounts for students who enroll in or complete a course during the Spring Aboard campaign. For a summary of Floridaâs regulations and available courses, visit MyFWC.com/Boating.
âEveryone interested in boating should take a course â itâs just the smart thing to do,â said Rowe. âBoaters have many ways to get educated, from classroom courses offered by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons to online offerings available anytime, day or night. Thereâs no reason to head out on the water without this knowledge.â
NASBLA is a national nonprofit organization that works to develop public policy for recreational boating safety. NASBLA represents the recreational boating authorities of all 50 states and the U.S. territories.
St. George Island
Captain Russ Knapp on St. George Island (firstname.lastname@example.org) said: “Continuing with our March comes in like a lion theme, there is a cold front coming in Friday night which is going to shift the wind to the north and raise the chance of showers. Offshore north winds of 15-20 knots and seas of 3-5 feet are called for. In the bay the warmer temperatures have moved trout to the flats. Use shrimp on the bottom or a Cajun Thunder with a Glow or Electric Chicken Gulp! under it. Captain Jeremy Willoughby (850) 323-0769 is catching nice redfish in the Bob Sykes Cut drifting a live or fresh killed shrimp near the bottom. Look for whiting and the first of the pompano in the surf. Use a small piece of peeled shrimp or a sand flea if you find them for best results. Offshore, Capt. Clint Taylor (850) 370-6631 ran out 30 miles and caught good red grouper and lane snapper on live bottom. Capt. Clint says avoid the wrecks or spend your day releasing red snapper. It doesn’t look good weather wise offshore this weekend, but we might get lucky.”
Otto Hough at Myhometownfishing.com (email@example.com) said: “Springtime fishing, ’tis that time of the year and what a grand time it is to be chasing ’em. Water temps across Apalachee Bay are in the upper 60s with much improved salinity levels. Clarity is slowly improving over most of the east and west flats, though waters from Sulfur Bay on eastward towards the mouth of the Econfina River remain heavily tannin stained. Visibility in that neck of the Big Pond is extremely limited, so caution is highly suggested when motoring in close to the hill east of the Pinhook River. Those rocks are tricky things in the stained waters. With early morning lows beginning to get in the negative column, a little more care when working the skinny waters near the hill is advisable. Over this 3-day stretch, the incoming tidal flow will begin to increase to almost 3.7 feet of water coming back after the negative dead lows. Saturday and Sunday have north winds in the forecast, so expect the morning lows at safelight to be even more pronounced than shown on the tide charts.
“This past post new moon weekend saw a limited bite Saturday, but come Sunday the switch was apparently thrown when it came to the trout bite. They were loving the Cotton Cordell’s Redfin, Saltwater Assassin 5-inch glow/chartreuse jerk shad, the Paul Brown Devil with a chartreuse tinge and the Unfair Lures Rip-n-Slash 70 and 90 in gold. The only difference between the Rip-n-Slash 70 and 90 is that the 90 offers a bigger meal for the trout to attack while casting about ten yards further to maximize coverage when fan casting.
“This time of year while targeting trout it pays to work the slightly submerged oyster bars that are holding mullet. Same goes for the rocks scattered all over from the Rock Garden east to beyond Rock Island. Grass beds have just begun to come to life as the wintertime cold waters are far enough removed that abundant sunshine coupled with rising water temps are stimulating new growth. However, until the beds begin to hold pinfish along with other baitfish, the trout know there are morsels to be enjoyed on the edges and tops of the submerged oyster bars, as well as around rocks that also provide semi-safe haven to the baitfish. Plus, the rocks and oyster bars warm quickly through the daytime hours helping to stimulate the feeding tendencies of the trout when there’s good tidal movement. The hard rocky bottom in and around Grey Mare have been holding some dang fine trout along with a smattering of reds. Within the confines of the Rock Garden, during those periods when the mullet have been active, so too have the reds dining on the dapper (finger) mullet. To the west, the oyster bars littered across Dickerson Bay have been producing some nice limits of slot trout.
“Outside the St. Marks Refuge buoy line, most every decent size shallow water (12 to 16 feet) rock pile is holding some really quality bow-head rock bass, aka black sea bass. These little buggers will attack most any offering dropped into their rocky haunts. Jigging a 1 to 1.5 ounce white bucktail tipped with a Gulp! shrimp or small strip of cut bait will snooker more than a handful of these tasty scrappers. On light spinning tackle, the rock bass fight aggressively while constantly digging towards the bottom to get back home. While that one is fighting, more than one jealous rock bass will be hanging close by hoping to dine as well.”
Capt. Dave Lear of Tallahassee said: âLast week was all about location and water temperature. Anglers who found warmer water, mainly east of the refuge lighthouse, found plenty of cooperative trout, redfish, sheepshead and some flounder. The Shell Point/Mashes Sands area averaged five degrees colder and was mainly devoid of life except for stingrays and some mullet in the back bays. When the game fish were located a variety of offerings worked. Artificial choices included DOA shrimp, Z-Man shad, small bucktail jigs and Rapala Skitter Walk top-water lures. Natural color combos were the most consistent, with gold, white and sliver variations also effective. Sheepshead were tempted primarily by live shrimp along with a fair number of trout.
“The back country tidal creeks are still loaded with fish. Others are making their way to the adjacent flats and shallow depths. Spanish mackerel still havenât made an appearance and may slow their trek with the changing weather pattern. The expected cooling trend and in-between moon phases will make catching a little harder proposition for the upcoming weekend, although not impossible. The mid-week forecast is predicting fog and rain for Friday, followed by breezy conditions with a chance of rain on Saturday. Sunday is expected to be cooler and sunny. There will be weaker mid-day highs and the water will probably be held back even more by the northerly wind direction. Negative lows before daylight will also be more pronounced. Water levels wonât change too much by the time the lows return before dusk. The prime times to be at your favorite spots will be from mid-morning until almost noon. Thatâs when the moon will be down and the solunar feeding window will be the strongest. Because of the chill, resist the spring fever impulse and slow the retrieve to keep the fish interested.”
Captain Pat McGriff of One More Cast Guide Service (www.onemorecast.net, firstname.lastname@example.org (850) 584-9145) said: “Doesnât get any betterân this folks! Doug Garwood and Joe Duncan of Dalton, Ga. were down at Keaton for the entire week Wednesday to Wednesday and they caught their limit of trout each day with a redfish here and there for good measure. This pair caught their fish on the Walmart Magnum Lazer minnows (Renegades we call them) which are out of production. This hard lipped jerkbait is just one plug folks used to catch a limit of reds.
“Mark Casteel of Sylvester, Ga. was down from Sunday last to this Sunday and he caught his limit each day on a few different plugs, including Bite-A-Bait fighters, MirrOlureâs new Skins, MirrOdines, and a few on Topwater stickbaits as well. Mark had a few reds each day and one day had a limit of trout for five on board!
“The trout have been most cooperative during the last hour of the incoming tide and the first hour of the flop. 2.5 â 3 feet seemed to have produced the most fish, while some have caught them in less. During our trips this past week I found fish on Paul Brown Devils , Assassin 5-inch shads fished un-weighted on a Daiichi 5/0 offset worm hook, in several colors, and on BiteâA-Bait Gold Fighters. We also fished the old Renegades to pick up a limit one day. This weekend will have late morning high tides and the bite will probably wrap that high. There isnât much range in the tide so patience will out and I wouldnât expect as active a bite as we had on last weekâs new moon tides.”
Chaeli Norwood at Sea Hag Marina in Steinhatchee (352-498-3008) sent plenty of fish photos. Limits of trout, huge redfish, and loads of sheepshead. No blues or mackerel yet, but any day now.
Captain Cliff âJRâ Mundinger, Jr. of Lake Talquin Trophy Guide Service (email@example.com www.fishtallahassee.com said: “Lots has changed since last week on Lake Jackson. Green slimy algae bloom is almost completely over and water temperatures have warmed pushing lots of bass closer to the bank. Old spawning areas have vacant land nearby and that’s where the bass seem to have migrated too. Many baits will work but my advice is stick to neutral colors like watermelon and green pumpkin. Texas-rigged lizards, worms and grubs worked in these areas will be key in catching fish. Other baits work too but these are basic and easy to use. Wind will be a factor this weekend with cooler temperatures and rain in the forecast. With virtually no cover on Lake Jackson fishing effectively in wind blown areas is very tough. With all the boat ramps open it makes it easier to position yourself around the lake as to not run quite so far.”