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Vol 5 No. 23- February 23, 2005

Large snook, gator trout showing on flats


D.J. Aanensen holding his first snook, caught in Terra Ceia Bay on a
DOA CAL Shad Tail Jig while fishing with Capt. Ray Markham aboard the Flat Back II.

Captain Ray Markham
Anglers aboard the Flat Back II have enjoyed Grand Slams in the past couple of weeks. Snook have been exceptionally cooperative for February. But then again for a February, this has been more like March. While water temperatures have been bouncing between 62 and 75 on the flats in the afternoons, the action has been steady. Larger snook are beginning to appear with these warmer days, and if the weather pattern continues as it has, I look for an early spring.

I spent several days field-testing new lures and experimenting with some different things to see what works and taking a look at a few new ideas, but I still squeezed in a few trips each week.

Last week, Charlie Marra and Tom Feery, from New Jersey, and Hans Alpsteg, of Nebraska, fished Lower Tampa Bay and Terra Ceia Bay with me. Charlie and Hans fly-fished much of the time, and both caught about a dozen nice trout and some hyperactive ladyfish using pink and white Clouser Minnows and yellow and white Lefty’s Deceivers. At times, all three anglers picked up spinning rods to catch snook and trout and take shots at redfish and flounder. CAL Jigs with shad tails produced very well for the guys, as they put around 40 to 50 fish in the boat.

The guys were in Tampa for a business meeting, and had some time out for "bad behavior," so when the bragging started, the light-hearted, yet spirited competition was on. In the end, the largest trout, caught by Tom, taped out at about 25 inches. It was a beautiful day on the water with water temperatures reaching about 68 degrees.

The following day, Larry and Annie Mahoney, of Framingham, Mass., joined me for an afternoon of catch-and-release fishing. The weather had been going downhill all morning. With winds predicted in the 10- to 20- knot range, it was a doable day, but not without a struggle.

In fact, the winds reached 33 knots in gusts. With the northwest winds whistling in, the possibility of working open water was not an option, so my larger trout would have to wait for another day. Interestingly enough, the water temperature reached 70.5 degrees on one flat where we caught several snook. Working channel edges and potholes in Terra Ceia, we found dozens of smaller trout to 18 inches to be cooperative. Again, CAL Jigs with shad tails, DOA Shrimp, the DOA Deadly Combo and Love’s Lures Jigs produced for us. In addition to the trout Annie released, she seemed to have an affinity for catching "whiskered marlin"— about 6 of them!

Valentine’s Day was a day of firsts for D.J. Aanensen, of New Jersey, and we celebrated it on the water. We started out the day at 9 a.m., and it didn’t take long for us to start the Grand Slam ball rolling with several snook and redfish taking our CAL Jigs with Shad Tails in Terra Ceia Bay. These were D.J.'s first ever snook and reds. Ya gotta love it. With two-thirds of a slam under each our belts, we hit a small flat and whacked about a dozen small trout up to 15 inches. Once we had our slams I went looking for some larger fish. Deeper drops in lower Tampa Bay near Emerson Point were holding trout in the 3-to 5-pound class and they chewed our CAL Shad tails like they were going out of style. Water temps pushed the mercury to about 72-degrees. It was just an amazing day on the water with some nice fish and of course, D.J.'s first Grand Slam!

This week, Longboat Key winter visitors, Larry and Annie Mahoney hopped aboard the Flat Back II again. This time the winds were a mere 18 knots. Again, we attempted to work some of the deeper areas, but waves in Tampa Bay made the fishing uncomfortable, so we hit some backcountry areas. We found several nice snook up to 28 inches, redfish to the bottom of the slot, and some fat trout pushing 19 inches. We threw a combination of DOA shrimp; CAL Shad tail jigs, and MirrOlure Top Dogs with good success. I swear, Annie is a catfish magnet. Again she caught several hardhead cats on the shrimp. In all, about 20 trout, 2 reds, and 7 snook were caught, for a decent afternoon on the water, with another Grand Slam.

Captain Rick Grassett

Anglers on the Snook Fin-Addict had good action during the past week with reds and trout on the flats and snook at night. While the fastest action was with trout on deep grass flats of Sarasota Bay, the larger fish have been in skinny water along with redfish. Fly and spin anglers scored with reds to 27 inches and trout to 22 inches in potholes and fly fishing for snook at night was steady.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune Outdoor Editor Steve Gibson, and Yong Choe, both from Sarasota, waded a shallow flat in north Sarasota Bay with me last Friday. The wind was howling out of the north at 20 mph following a front and it was cold! With the water at 58 degrees and wind chills in the 40s, wading was really the only way to handle the wind while fly fishing. Yong had the hot stick that day, catching and releasing a pair of nice reds and a quality trout on a bendback fly.

Don Millar, from St. Louis, and his son, Dan Millar, from Holland, Mich., fished Sarasota Bay with me last Sunday. They had steady action with trout to 17 inches on CAL jigs with shad tails, although most were small. They also caught and released several ladyfish and a flounder.
The following evening, fly fishers Dick Reece, from Dayton, Ohio, and Gene Leverone, from Gloucester, Mass., fished the ICW near Venice with me. The action was slow to start, but ended strong. Dick and Gene finished the evening with about 15 snook to 23 inches and a pair of bluefish on my Grass Minnow flies.

On Tuesday, fellow Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers members Erwin Edelman and Joe Polidoro, both from Sarasota, fished Sarasota Bay with me on a quest for their first redfish with a fly. Although reds on a fly are probably one of the most challenging species in our area, they both succeeded. In addition, Joe caught and released a nice trout. All fish were caught out of potholes near Buttonwood Harbor on Crab Clousers (olive, tan and white).

The following day, Sarasota winter residents Harry Beaty and Tom Schalk, fished the same area with me on a full day trip. Harry had been snake bitten lately with reds, but they turned it around this trip. After a slow start they finished the day with more than 30 trout to 20 inches, including 10 slot-size fish, and eight reds to 27 inches. Most fish were caught on CAL jigs with shad tails, although some of the trout ate the DOA Deadly Combo.

Sarasota winter residents, Norm and Francie Boardman, were joined by their son, Doug from Richmond, Va., for an afternoon trip on Sarasota Bay on Thursday. We hunted reds for an hour or so and they had disappeared from the flat where they were plentiful the day before. We dropped out to deeper water where father and son scored with a number of trout to 18 inches on CAL jigs with shad tails and Clouser flies. That evening, fly anglers Nick Reding and Bob Harness, both from St. Louis, joined me for a night snook trip. The action was slower than it was on Monday evening, but they still managed to catch and release eight snook and a bluefish.

Fly angler, Marshall Dinerman from Atlanta, Ga.,, fished Sarasota Bay with me on Friday afternoon. Marshall is an old friend of Islamorada’s Sandy Moret and has fly fished in many places, but a stiff northeast breeze made fishing the shallow flats tough from my Action Craft flats skiff. We dropped out to deeper water, deployed my Wave Tamer drift bag and proceeded to catch trout and ladyfish on Clouser flies fished on an intermediate fly line. The drift bag saved the day and made what would have been a frustrating trip a successful one!
Rusty Chinnis and I were the instructors at a CB’s Saltwater Outfitters Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing school on Longboat Key on Saturday. All of the students did great and with some practice are well on their way to enjoying a lifetime of saltwater fly fishing. The dates for the next several schools are March 5t, 19t and April 9. Anyone interested in participating can contact me for more info or to sign up.

Captain Zach Zacharias
Overall good angling results for folks on the "DEE JAY II". The weather is moderating and if we can get a good solid week of warm, sunny days bringing the water temperatures close to 70 degrees the spring onslaught will be on! I saw some schools of white bait and ballyhoo along the beaches of Longboat Key this week and the effects of a pesky red tide have been minimal in our area.

Trout have been a hot item this week with a lot of solid slot sized fish. Many have been in the gator range above 20 inches. Live shrimp and the DOA Deadly combo have accounted for most of the spotties. Reds have been scattered and starting to migrate away from the deep haunts around docks and out onto the flats. The reds in the skinny water have been more of a challenge to entice however. Snook are poking out in to the open but the water temp's are still a bit cool for them to go in to a tear. Sheepshead are starting to bunch up in the passes and the inshore gulf reefs prior to the spawn and have been running large and cooperative. Surprisingly we have been nailing quite a few flounder. The average size of the flatties is just average but they are fairly plentiful. Throw in a lot of ladyfish, bluefish, and bluetail gags and you are looking at the bulk of the action for mid-February around Manatee County.

The liklihood of severe cold weather is behind us now and things should start looking up and up. Look for spanish mackerel to show along the beaches any day and right on their tails there should be some kings and cobia. Mangrove snapper will be migrating closer to shore with the warmer water as well.

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