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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

West Central Florida Fishing Forecast, Capt. Ray Markham, 1/9/18

by on Feb.07, 2018, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Finally, a stable weather pattern with warmer days and lighter winds has been around this week, setting up the weekend for some great fishing opportunities.


While I didn’t get many fishing reports from last week, I’d say that a lot of anglers were still waiting it out for the winds and seas to settle. This week has been another story with the weather but still very few reports and with the good weather this week I’d say folks are too busy fishing to send reports, but that’s a good thing! Just a reminder, that anglers are always welcome to send their fishing reports to me along with photos identifying anglers in the photos and any details of your catch.

Water temperatures in the Gulf remain quite cold in the low 60’s in depths out to about 15-miles but that hasn’t stopped Spanish mackerel from making a run at the beaches and inshore waters. Good action has been seen from Sarasota to Pinellas on nearshore waters this week and with a continuation of the warm weather pattern through the weekend, I would expect to see an even greater improvement. The predominant baitfish along the beaches has been glass minnows that the mackerel have been feeding on. Anglers looking to catch mackerel can troll #0 or #00 Clark Spoon Squids on flat lines and #1 or #2 planers to cover depths that these fish have been running in along the beaches. This will cover top to bottom from about 20-to 25-foot depths. For live baiters, anchoring up and deploying some glass minnow chum blocks like those manufactured by Aylesworth’s Fish and Bait under the Baitmaster’s Village Pride label, these chum blocks will draw mackerel to the boat and keep them around. Live shrimp or scaled sardines on long-shank hooks may be good bets rigged with 6-foot 30-to 40-pound fluorocarbon leaders on a light to medium spinning outfit spooled with a couple hundred yards of 10-pound braid or 15-pound mono. If a swivel is used, make sure it’s coffee colored or black and the smallest ball bearing swivel you can get. Sampo and Sea Striker Billfisher brands are some good ones that come to mind. Watch your bottom machine and look for hard bottom. This is where you’re likely to find the most action. But if you don’t have a bottom machine, look for stone crab floats in the Gulf and nearshore waters. These are usually found over rocky or hard bottom areas.

Hogfish continue to be in the catch for guys working depths from 30-to 80-feet. This fish that was once rarely targeted by anglers and considered top table fare by all was mainly targeted by spearfishers and a few anglers in the know. But with the advent of the internet and seminars at just about every fishing venue, this fishery has opened up and an increase in pressure has been noted by both anglers and rule-makers alike. Continued pressure and social media presence will likely result in more attention to and perhaps restrictions for hogfish. The species has been under observation by fish management for the past several years and extensive studies have already resulted in some changes. Currently the Atlantic state and federal waters have a regularly scheduled season closure effective through April 30, 2018, including all state waters south of Cape Sable in the Gulf, around the tip of Florida, and up the Atlantic coast. In West Central waters of the Gulf we currently have a 5-fish bag limit with a minimum size of 14” measured to the fork. Non-stainless circle hooks that are not offset are required when fishing for hogfish in Gulf state waters. Hogfish populations in our area able appear to be stable.

If you’re getting out to at least 100-feet of water, red grouper may be on your hit list. Some fairly good catches of red grouper are being caught west of the Sarasota/ Manatee County shores starting at that depth. The party boats out of Hubbard’s Marina continue to report good catches of red grouper along with an assortment of mangrove, lane, vermilion and a few other snappers.


Water temps inshore make a huge difference in the bite. Sometimes the temperature changes with the tide, and since the Gulf waters are cooler than the bays and inshore waters, the bite can be affected not only by the hours of sunlight but also the direction of the tide, whether it’s incoming or outgoing. Watching your temperature gauge on your boat is the best idea. If you don’t have one, an inexpensive pool thermometer hung over the side will give you an idea. This week, I’ve noted temperatures swinging from 71-degrees down to as low as 63-degrees in Tampa Bay waters and the surrounding backcountry areas. The warmer areas not only produce more fish but can even make for a topwater bite from trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and snook.

The South Shore of Tampa Bay from Apollo Beach to the Manatee River has been productive for anglers doing some trout fishing. Redfish have also been caught. Small schools of reds have been noted but many of these fish have been very spooky in the shallow clear water on sand where these fish have been holding. Long casts with fluorocarbon leaders are important for consistent catches and to avoid spooking the fish. Capt. Rick Grassett of Sarasota reported good action with trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel and bluefish over the past week for his fly and spin anglers fishing Sarasota Bay, nearshore Gulf waters and the lower Tampa Bay area. Contact Rick for more details via his website www.snookfin-Addict.com or through CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key.

Anglers aboard my boat, the Flat Back II have seen some good action with trout over the past couple of weeks. We managed some nice redfish on CAL Jigs with Shad tails and a few flounder along with limits of trout on MirrOlure Marsh Minnows, TTR MirrOlure hard baits, and CAL Shads. Bluefish continue to cut off our catches of trout. Jacks and ladyfish also provide more rod-bending action. With rising water temps in some of the backcountry areas we’re even seeing some action on topwater prop baits like the 5M and 21LS MirrOlures with both snook and trout.

The most consistent depth for trout action has been 3-to 4-feet. Bottomed out tides in the holes are holding these fish. Reds have been shallow and holding on yellow or white sandy areas. CAL Jigs with shad tails and MirrOlure Lil’ John’s have been productive.


The warmer weather this past week has really triggered the bass spawn in the West Central area. Anglers fishing Lake Tarpon, Lake Manatee, Lake Seminole and the Walsingham Reservoir have all reported catches of bass around the perimeters of the lakes. The top producing lures have been “creature-style” baits. Lizards, snake imitations, and similar lures are producing well now. Bass hanging just off the beds where depths drop are responding well to rattling crank baits like the Rat ‘L Trap in silver with a blue back and the Rapala Shadow Rap. Assorted soft plastics in the June bug color are working well for anglers flipping around the bushes and in heavy cover. It’s a great time to be on the water. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 723-2655



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