You might find trout, reds and snook in rivers, creeks and canals this month and they may sneak out onto grass flats and around bars on sunny afternoons. You’ll also find snook in the ICW at night feeding on glass minnows and small shrimp. If the weather isn’t too harsh, you might also find pompano on grass flats and around bars and drop offs this month. Sheepshead should be plentiful around docks and oyster bars and they are a good cool weather option. It’s always worth a look in the coastal gulf in February when conditions are good for tripletail, little tunny, blues or more.
Snook season remains closed this month, so handle them gently. Use tackle that is heavy enough to catch and release them quickly. The ICW from Sarasota down through Englewood offers a lot of protection from blasts of cold air and plenty of food for snook during the winter. I use small while flies fished on intermediate or intermediate sink tip fly lines when they are feeding on glass minnows and fly poppers or Gurglers fished on floating fly lines when they are eating shrimp near the surface. I try to use good judgment when catch and release snook fishing in the winter. If the water temperature dips into the 50’s, their survivability is questionable, so that’s not a good time to target them. However, there may be good action during warm ups between fronts.
You’ll also find snook in rivers, creeks and canals this month. They may be around docks or in deep spots such as bends or channels. They may feed on larger baits such as finger mullet, pinfish or killifish (mud minnows) in these areas. Larger profile barred flies such as Kwans or EP flies will work well in these areas, especially on a sunny afternoon.
Trout may be found on deep grass flats, in channels, potholes or on drop-offs along the edges of bars and flats in February. They will drop into potholes and drop-offs along the edges of flats or bars when the tide is low. The negative low tides from Feb. 1-5 and 14-19 should be particularly good. You may find them in skinny water over shallow grass when the tide is high on a sunny afternoon. On deep grass flats, I like to drift and cast ahead of my drift with weighted flies, like my Grassett Deep Flats Bunny-a new fly in the Orvis catalog for 2011, on sinking fly lines to locate fish. In deep water, you may need to use a fast sinking fly line and crawl your fly along the bottom to get a bite. Once you’ve located fish you can shorten your drift or anchor up on them.
Reds may be found in some of the same areas as trout this month. They will concentrate in potholes or edges of bars and flats when the tide is low. They will feed up onto shallow grass flats as the tide rises, particularly on a sunny afternoon. They may tail on shallow grass flats of Gasparilla Sound on the negative low tides mentioned earlier. They will occasionally tail in areas of north Sarasota Bay or lower Tampa Bay, but not to the extent that they do in Gasparilla Sound. Use flies with weed guards that suspend or sink slowly when targeting tailing reds. Cast to then when their tail is in the air and wait for the tail to disappear, which is when they are horizontal and searching for food, and then move your fly slightly. Docks are another area that you may find reds in February. Look for docks that are crusty, with a lot of barnacle and oyster growth, have deep water and good tidal flow to find fish. Weighted flies, such as Clousers, fished on an intermediate or faster sink tip fly line, cast under a dock should work fine in these areas. I prefer north Sarasota Bay, lower Tampa Bay and Gasparilla Sound for reds and trout in February.
You might also find blues, flounder, pompano, jacks and ladyfish on deep grass flats this month and the techniques would be the same as when trout fishing. Pompano may skip on the surface making their presence known, so when this happens, circle around up wind and drift the area casting ahead of your drift. These species may also be found in passes, which will require fast sinking fly lines with weighted flies. I use a 300 or 350-grain Depth Charge fly line in this situation. Make a series of drifts to locate fish, casting perpendicular to the drift as the tide moves your boat to get your fly down in the water column.
I like to take a look in the coastal gulf on nice days to see what I might find. Little tunny, blues, jacks and ladyfish are all species you might find. Look for surface activity to find them and then cast weighted flies on sinking fly lines to them. My Grassett Snook Minnow fly works well when they are feeding on glass minnows. Tripletail may be found with their nose right against a crab trap float. Make an accurate presentation with a fly that suspends or sinks slowly, like my Grassett Flats Minnow, to catch them. Make your first presentation count, since they are much harder to catch once they know you are there.
You can be successful in February if you fish smart. Fish the windows of good conditions between fronts or when fronts are approaching for the best action. Following fronts, sunny afternoons may fish better. Whatever you choose to do, please limit your kill, don’t kill your limit!
Capt. Rick Grassett
Snook Fin-Addict Guide Service, Inc.
FFF Certified Fly Casting Instructor