• Capt. Sergio Atanes

Catching Fish in Changing Times February 2021

By Capt. Sergio Atanes


Depending on your home base, whether it’s one of the local boat ramps, or one of the marinas located inside Tampa Bay, plays an important part on where to fish.

In the last three years, I have noticed a change in our weather patterns. We have had more windy conditions, therefore, causing many cancelled trips and the need to adjust our fishing techniques to compensate. If the weather allows us to get across the open waters of Tampa Bay, the Apollo Beach Power Plant would be a good location to fish.

Power Plant Fishing Techniques:

I have two methods for fishing the power plants. The first method is where I work my way as far up as I can towards the hot water runoff and start a slow drift using a light jig head with live medium shrimp hooked from the tail. Slowly bounce the jig head along the bottom for flounder and sheepshead. The good thing about doing this, is that if you see a manatee, there is a good chance a cobia could be hanging around it. Please be careful not to cast too close to it. Let the cobia come to you and in most cases it will.

The second method is to find a spot where the water tends to swirl and try to anchor. If you are lucky enough to own a trolling motor with a spot lock, use it to keep you stationary. I like to use a #4 split shot about six inches from the hook. A 2/0 circle hook works great. Bite or cut the tail off the shrimp and thread the hook from the bottom up through the back part of the tail. A note of caution. Make sure the shrimp are of medium size. There are some places that tend to have smaller size medium shrimp. In this case, I recommend moving up to a large shrimp.

Best Times to Fish: My experience for the best time to fish has been from sunrise to 10 am, depending on cloud cover. On cloudy days you can stretch it a couple of extra hours and on bright sunny days, maybe less. Once the sun’s rays start to warm the water, the fish tend to move towards the outer edges of the channel and even into deeper flats to feed and return at sunset.

Several things to take into consideration are water temperature and tides. The lower the water temperature, the better the bite. Combined with low tides you have the perfect ingredients for a successful fishing trip. The low winter tides, due to high pressure systems, force fish into deeper, warmer waters for self-preservation. This will then give the angler the advantage! Think of it as putting in a fishbowl for you to fish.

We have no control on the weather so we must make the best of it on our days off. Here are some tips on when, where and how to increase your chances of catching fish in windy conditions.

Areas to Explore:

Docks: They make the perfect spot to hide from the wind and catch fish. Here is what we have structure, depth, and warmer water. The docks take in the sun’s rays and act as a radiant heater. This increases the water temperature to as much as 3 to 4 degrees higher than the surrounding water.

Sea Walls: The concrete seawalls will act as a heater with the help of the sun. Ever notice how many fish you see swimming along many seawalls during the winter months? It is simple. The water temperature tends to be 2 to 4-degrees warmer, thanks to the rays from the sun heating the concrete and creating a highway of warn water for them to travel through.

Channels: Find the out of the way cuts or small channels used by boaters with grass or rocky edges. As the tide drips with winter negative tide, the fish need to find refuge and warmer water.

Dredge Holes/Bomb Holes: Look for any area that has one of these, whether man made or caused by natural water movement. Fort DeSoto still has many bomb holes from the early 50’s when the area was used as a bombing range. Weedon Island has several nice deep holes if you take the time to look for them.

Rivers/Creeks: Are all good source of warm water during the winter months. The decaying leaves and dark muddy bottom help to increase water temperatures.

Productive Areas During Winter Months:

North Part of Tampa Bay:

  • Double Branch.

  • Channel A.

  • Rocky Creek.

  • Allen’s Creek.

  • Big Island.


Gandy Bridge South:

  • Radio Tower north St. Pete side of Gandy Bridge.

  • Rocks on south side of St. Pete Side of Gandy Bridge.

  • Under Gandy Bridge look for ruble from the construction of the new bridge years ago.

  • Getaway Channel (water is always a several degrees warmer due to Power Plant out flow).

  • Riviera Bay.

  • Rocks off Albert Whitted Airport.

Downtown Tampa:

  • Mouth of Hillsborough River.

  • Docks and rocks along Harbor Island.

  • 22nd Street bridge McKay Bay.

South Shore:

  • Apollo Power Plant.

  • Little Manatee River.

  • Cockroach Bay.

  • Bishops Harbor


Artificial Reefs:

Believe it or not, some of the big Snook have been caught during the winter months while fishing for Sheepshead and Trout using live shrimp.Three best reefs are Port Tampa, St. Pete in front of the old Million Dollar Pier, Apollo Beach and Port Manatee reefs.

Baits:

During spring and summer months, white bait, greenback, crickets whatever you prefer to call them are the best baits. In all my years of fishing Tampa Bay, I have found that live shrimp is the over-all best bait for late fall and winter fishing. I would say December through early March.

Fiddler crabs are second on my list. During the winter months, not only are they a favorite of sheepshead but redfish as well.

Some of the best winter fishing for me is trout, sheepshead and redfish which have no problem chumping down on a free lined live shrimp. Let us not forget nighttime fishing this month for big trout, redfish, and sheepshead under dock lights.


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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

The winds are blowing, tides are low, and the water is too cold for the fish to bite right now. Do not lose hope, because thanks to the hot water runoff of the power plants, January can be a most productive month. Snook, redfish, pompano, jacks, trout, sharks and cobia are just a few of the species which invade the warm waters of the deep holes, edges of channels and power plants.

Several things to take into consideration are water temperature and tides. The lower the water temperature, the better the bite. Combined with low tides you have the perfect ingredients for a successful fishing trip. The low winter tides, due to high pressure systems, force fish into deeper, warmer waters for self-preservation. This gives the angler an advantage. Think of it as putting fish in a fishbowl for you to catch.

Fishing deep holes and channels.

Let’s start with deep holes for example the area around Fort DeSoto which was used as a bombing range in the late 40’s early 50’s we now have Goggle Earth which can increase your productivity if you take the time to study the area you can see still many of the old bomb holes which hold a large quantity of trout during the winter, therefore the lower the tide the better the bite.

Learn to get the most of your GPS/Sonar to target these areas most current units Lowrance and Simrad units can run most of the new charts in the market. I started using one called FLORIDA MARINE TRACKS it used mainly for coastal and inshore only but it lays Goggle Earth over the chart marking safe routes to run across the shallows and areas to stay away from to avoid running aground. The detail is awesome on this chart and well worth the money I spent on avoiding costly repairs from running into oyster beds or rocks especially when fishing areas new to me like the Chassahowitzka or Crystal River areas.

Fishing live and dead baits.

When fishing the deep holes or edges of channels I prefer using live shrimp and cut bait. I set my clients up using light tackle 10-pound braided line with 15-pound long leader at least 3-foot 2/0 circle hook. Trout have a keen eyesight. The lighter the leader the better the bite. I free line the live shrimp into the center of the hole. Allow it to work its way down slowly and twitching it every few seconds until it reaches the bottom. If you do not get a strike start a stop and go-slow. Retrieve along the bottom until you reach the top of the hole and repeat


Fishing with artificial baits.

Use the same technique as with live shrimp. Start your jig on the opposite side of the hole and work it along the bottom slowly, allowing it slight twitch every few cranks of the reel handle. I prefer using a jig like Fishbites Butt Kicker paddle tail seems to work very well for me all year round. Another favorite of mine is the MirrOlure 52M11 it’s a medium runner red head sliver side with a white belly. This was my first lure I ever used and still to me one of the best.

Dead baits.

Cold water slows down the fish and they don’t move as fast as they would in the warmer months. As the saying goes “The slower the better or no movement at all is best”. This is when dead bait plays a big part. Best winter baits for me are cut threadfin sardine, ladyfish and fresh mullet. Earlier I wrote how to fish with live bait. This is how I do it. While my clients are fishing, I put 2 rods out with dead bait on the bottom. We call it dead sticking. I use the same tackle as with live bait except changing to a 3/0 Kahle hook and a Ghost Drag on the fishing rod. Ghost Drag is a pretty neat idea. This allows you to have your bail open and tension on the line which you set according to tide and wind keeping the bait in the general area waiting for a passer byer to stop and eat. When the fish grabs the bait and starts to swim away the line is released from the Ghost Drag. Alll you do is close the bail and fight the fish.

Power Plants.

When to Fish: All I can say be there early. The colder the weather the better the bite, if it’s a

Where to Fish: Depending on where you fish dictates how you are going to fish. When fishing the center of the channel, you will find that fish such as snook, flounder, pompano and redfish tend to hug and feed on the bottom. Here I use a small ¼ ounce egg sinker, but larger if the current is stronger and a 20-pound test fluorocarbon leader Texas rig style with a 1/0 to a 2/0 circle hook. Trout will tend to feed mid water in the center of the channel, and here I free the line the bait with no sinkers or use a Cajun Thunder float with the bait suspended about 4 feet under it. Cobia and sharks prefer the surface and I use heavier tackle such as 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and 2/0 to 3/0 circle hooks. As the sun rises the fish will tend to migrate to the edges of the channels and eventually to the mouth of the channel and into the flats.

Baits: Live shrimp is considered the favorite, and live greenbacks work well if you can find them.

Artificial Baits: Silly Willy jigs are great for pompano and flounder. MirrOlure #52M11, a medium runner bait is a killer on trout and jacks. Fishbites paddle tail jigs worked slow on the bottom will get some nice snook and redfish.

Each power plant has its own restrictions on where you can fish, so follow their rules and you can enjoy some great fishing all winter long.



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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

I find bigger pompano during the winter months in deep cuts or channels especially the ones close to grass flats that have a quick drop into the deep water. Best bait medium live shrimp worked slowly across the bottom on a 1/8 to 1/4 ounce jig head. Or using a 1/0 circle hook with a #4 split shot about 4 inches from the hook. Use light leader 15-pound fluorocarbon about 36 inches long on 10-pound braided line.


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