Well, the holidays have come and gone and we start yet another year that will bring us great fulfillment with spectacular fishing opportunities. Starting off the year in the west central part of the state you can expect cooler water temperatures along with more frequent and harsh cold fronts that will make some tough fishing—but if you do a little planning and fishing around a changing barometer, you can have some very productive days.
Trout has to be the most targeted fish during the cooler months of January and February. This is a great time to dust off the artificial tackle bag and start tying up your favorite trout rig. Trout fishing is fun and fairly easy. You just need to find a flat that has healthy grass and good tidal flow. Drifting a flat is a very productive method when fishing trout. (A drift sock will help slow your drift on windy days.) I really like to use soft plastics when fishing for trout and my favorite rig is a Z-Man paddle Z pearl white bait matched with a 1/8-ounce jig head. You can also have good success with a 5-inch Z-Man Jerk-Z with a weedless rig.
Sheepshead are also a highly targeted species and also make for great table fair. Sheepshead can be a tricky fish to catch as they have very hard and small mouths. I’ve found that using No. 1 Daiichi circle hook matched with the adequate amount of weight and tipped with a small shrimp works great. Fishing sheepshead is pretty easy; just find structure. Sheepshead are on just about every dock, bridge, marker or artificial reef in Tampa Bay. You can also find them on the flats around creeks and troughs but they do seem a bit pickier. A sheepshead bite is very subtle, so using a light rod with a sensitive tip matched with some 4-pound Fins Windtamer braided line will help you feel the soft bite.
This time of year will also bring big black drum on the flats that school up in the hundreds. These big beasts will show up roaming the outer flats and bars feeding on shrimp among other crustaceans. Finding the big schools is the hard part, but a stealthy approach will keep the school in place and make for a great day of catching. Shrimp is great bait for black drum, but I prefer artificial baits. I like the root beer color Z-Man Paddle-Z matched with a heavy 3/8- to ½-ounce jig head. Black drum on the flats can be fun and they reach sizes up to 50 pounds.
Cobia and bonnethead sharks are also plentiful in the area around Tampa Bay’s warmer water power plants. This is a great area to go when you’re fishing on the coldest days of the year, as water around that area will stay in the 70s, which draws the fish. I like to use a pinfish or a shrimp suspended under a popping cork and hang a small chum bag over the side to create a scent to draw in the sharks. Both bonnethead sharks and cobia will make for a great fight on those really cold days. Tight lines!
Capt. Jason Prieto is owner and operator of Steady Action Fishing Charters, Inc. He is a full-time charter captain in Tampa Bay and its surrounding areas. He operates his charters out of a custom rigged Canyon Bay 2470 bay boat rigged with the finest accessories to put you on the fish. He is an outdoor writer for various magazines in the area and is co-host to Outdoor Fishing Adventures on ESPN radio 1040 AM Saturday mornings from 8 AM to 10 AM. Some of his sponsors are Canyon Bay Boats, Power Pro, Daiichi Hooks, Calusa Nets, Ace Trailers, American Premier Rods, and Daiwa.Contact Info:Capt. Jason PrietoSteady Action Fishing Charters(p) 813 727-9890(e) firstname.lastname@example.org(w) steadyactionfishingcharters.com