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Thursday, Oct 19, 2017
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Guarino: Watch weather for February fishing advice

On Friday it'll be February, and it looks like the weather will continue to cooperate for area anglers. Mid-January brought us some record to near-record temperatures that have remained very mild, in the mid-60s. February is a transition month for fishing. During the first two weeks of the month, winter fishing rules apply, and as we move past the second half of the month we ease into our spring-time fishing patterns. However, this year it looks like we'll break out the T-shirts and shorts a little early and begin looking toward spring a few weeks earlier. Water temperatures are still a little cool so slowing down your presentation with both artificial and natural baits is one of the most important factors in catching more fish. In early February, live shrimp is the bait of choice, but as we approach the later part of the month, a switchover to live pilchards is a better choice.
Fish tend to eat what is readily available and greenbacks will start in invade our area as the weather warms. The snook action in January was much better than expected. Snook seek out the warmer waters found in springs, rivers and power plant discharges. As we approach spring, snook begin to transition toward the many passes that dot the Tampa Bay area. Again, look for this transition to be a few weeks earlier than usual. Please remember that snook season is still closed on the west coast of Florida, so if you catch one please return it to the water — carefully. Spotted sea trout and silver trout have been very active this past month. Look for sea trout in the deeper grass flats and some of the deeper spots of the Manatee and Little Manatee rivers. I've found large amounts of silver trout in the channel from Apollo Beach south to Port Manatee. Shrimp or live pilchards work for either species. Redfish have been all over South Shore waters. Anglers fishing the Little Manatee River and Cockroach Bay have produced some impressive catch reports. Lots of redfish have been caught near the many oyster bars that fill the backcountry of Tampa Bay, as well as in the deeper areas within the Little Manatee River. Try fishing the many deeper holes along the sand bar from Apollo Beach south to Port Manatee. This area holds big redfish, particularly during low tide. Game fish tend to seek refuge in these deeper spots as the water level lowers. Try using a large shrimp or pilchard under a bobber. A good way to reach these spots is to get out of your boat and wade. January and February are the months that sheepshead make a big showing. Find structure in deeper water, and most likely you'll find a number of sheepshead hanging around. Shrimp combined with a little weight and a No. 2 or No. 4 hook will do the trick. Remember the old adage, "If you feel the bite, it's too late to set the hook." Sheepshead have a very light bite, so be ready. Schools of big black drum should make their appearance in February. Look for these fish in deeper water off the flats. The schools are easy to spot with 30-pound-plus fish swimming near the top of the water column. Shrimp is the bait of choice for these monsters. January's fishing was very good, and I'm very optimistic that February's bite will be even better. All will be dependent on the weather. Be safe out there.

Danny Guarino is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 956-2010 or shpoint@aol.com.

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