Warmer temperatures gave way to a cold front with blustery mid-week weather, but some fish activity still remained at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. Sheepshead schools were active along the approach sections and other ‘multiple-piling’ areas, and anglers are starting to catch some very big fish. Silver trout activity was strong during both daylight & overnight hours, and some monster-sized silvers were taken at the end of the North Pier. Spanish mackerel were active early in the week, but became tougher with the passing front. Baitfish activity remained good, so anglers are looking for a rapidly increasing bite from many species as the weather stabilizes.
Spanish mackerel had a strong start to the fishing week – especially during morning incoming tides. Anglers were arriving just before sunrise and preparing their tackle to cast at first light. Mackerel seemed to be lurking deeper in the water column, and slower retrieves were advisable. White crappie jigs in the 1/8 oz. range continued as the strongest lure option, but many other jig styles also performed well. When mackerel are on or near the bottom, adding a 1/8 oz. to 1/4 oz. split shot sinker a few feet above a light jig can give you depth control without impeding the fluttering & darting action of the lighter jig.
Spoons and Gotcha lures also took Spanish mackerel, but anglers were changing from the traditional retrieves for these particular lure options. Spoons and Gotcha lures are most often cast & retrieved rapidly – with little action imparted from the rod. However, anglers working these baits unconventionally (slowly & in a jigging motion) were most successful. Anglers also started to deploy some cut strip baits in search of larger mackerel, and these baits did seem to take a larger percentage of the fish exceeding 20” over the past week.
Some mammoth-sized silver trout have been taken recently at the end of the North Pier. These fish often school in the depths near the main shipping channel, and the North Pier offers the closest shore access & best deep water environment for winter silvers. Fish measuring 16” – 20” have been reported, and many anglers commented that these specimens would be nice even if they were of the spotted trout variety. Fishing small strips of cut squid on a #4 or 1/0 sabiki-style bait rig was the most productive method. Keep this rig near the bottom at all times with at least a 2 oz. bell or pyramid sinker – especially on windy days.
Sheepshead continue to gather around pier pilings and even amongst the artificial reefs & rubble that line each fishing pier. Small bits of freshly cut shrimp took lots of big fish this past week, but fiddler crabs & sand fleas also performed well. The restroom, dumpster and bait shop areas of each fishing pier are ideal for sheepies because they contain twice the number of pilings as other areas. As a result, sheepshead are often very easy to spot in such areas. Less obvious, however, are the number of fish caught from the artificial reefs that generally range from 20 – 50 yards plus from the piers. These reef fish are much less pressured and sometimes a limit can be taken off one small portion of the reef.