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February is for fish lovers.

Bull Bay is a large, shallow Southwest Florida backwater which boasts a tremendous diversity of habitat. The exact boundaries of Bull Bay are difficult to discern because it's nestled among dozens of small islands, particularly on its northern side, but it includes approximately four square miles of fishing grounds. A lush mangrove forest fringes most shorelines within the bay, while sandbars flank the entrances seagrass beds cover much of the bottom on the southern portion of the bay and oyster bars are perched on various shoals. Tidal creeks and inter-island cuts offer deeper pockets which can concentrate fish.

But the bad news first: Much of Bull Bay is shallow and there are no marked channels within the bay or at the entrances. Local knowledge is therefore a must, knowledge which is best accumulated on site on calm, clear days. Low winter tides and the clearest water of the season make February a good time to learn the topography here.

Now the good news: there are lots and lots of fish taken from this area. Snook, redfish and trout account for most of the angler effort in Bull Bay, but flounder, sheepshead, pompano, mangrove snapper and a handful of others are regular catches here too. More good news: Bull Bay's location off Charlotte Harbor just east of the center of Gasparilla Island puts it within five miles of popular boat ramps at Placida and a similar distance from those on the northern end of Pine Island. There are several entrances to Bull Bay which offer ingress from the east, south or west. None are charted or marked but the easiest to navigate for a rookie is a channel that runs north-south into the south-central portion of the bay from open waters of Charlotte Harbor. The place marked by GPS numbers, 26-46.15'N, 82-12.55'W, will put you somewhere near the mouth, but take care because this route into the bay is flanked by shallow sandbars on either side.


Many a trout will meet its maker this month in Southwest Florida. The best catches are being tallied by anglers who find dense bunches of cold weather trout in five to ten feet of water in canals, creeks and waterways. Live shrimp are surefire baits once you find the fish, but they'll sometimes hit skillfully manipulated jigs almost as well as live baits.

Redfish are scattered literally all over the bays, from the ICW and adjacent flats to holes many miles inland in the rivers. Dropping a shrimp to the bottom on the outside of a creek bend is a good way to stay busy with small reds, and a few slot-sized fish will cooperate, too.

Snook aren't doing much right now (season's closed anyway) but there are plenty of other players on the inshore scene. Brutish black drum are schooling around bridge pilings near the rivermouths. Pompano are skipping on bars along the ICW. Whiting and silver trout can be caught by bouncing baits just inside the inlets, and don't be surprised if a flounder or a fat mangrove snapper hits the deck too.

Offshore anglers are scoring on mangrove snapper, sheepshead, triggerfish, grunts and nice gags (which must be released) on ledges in 30 to 50 feet of water. Shrimp on light to medium spinning tackle is a great way to stay busy. Traveling to waters a bit deeper adds more species to the mix. Lane snapper generally start to appear at about 60 feet, yellowtail at 75 feet and deeper, and 90 feet or more will yield a few amberjack, especially for anglers fishing wrecks and reefs. There might be Spanish mackerel rallies this month, but this is more likely in the southern portion of the region. Bonito can appear at any time, anywhere.

Freshwater fishermen are doing well on bass in big waters (and there's none bigger than Lake Okeechobee) by fishing around the fronts. Time your trip to avoid the clear, cool day or two after the passage of a front and you'll have a shot at bragging size bass. The spawn is drawing to a close, but many fish are either still on beds, or staging near bedding areas. Spinnerbaits and flukes are great prospect lures this month, but it's still tough to beat the old standby, a plastic worm. Bass aren't the only reason to fish the fresh this month though. Speck fishing is strong on most area lakes too.


Your best bet this month is certain to please the meat fishermen: Look for sheepshead action by targeting the bucktoothed porgies around coastal structures during the peak of the spawning run. Stout sheepshead, fish ranging from two to six pounds, are now bunched up around just about every coastal structure that's hard enough to sprout a crop of barnacles. The usually solitary fish are suddenly social because it's time to spawn, and since they bite well during the spawn and are currently more bunched up than at any other time of year, now's the time to target them.


You've got to love sheepshead in spite of their blue-collar reputation. They're one of the few Florida fish for which the fishing is at a peak during the most blustery of winter months, which happens to coincide with tourist season when the most anglers are in town. They can reach a fair size (ten pounds isn't out of the question); they fight hard; they're found on a myriad of structures ranging from several miles inland in the bays to several miles offshore in the Gulf; the bag limit is an overly-generous 15 fish per angler, and perhaps best of all, cold, windy weather and murky water often has little effect on their willingness to bite. Yep, more than a few fishing trips are salvaged each winter by the sheepshead.

Some spots are regionally famous as sheepshead producers. The jetties at the Venice Inlet, the Boca Grande Phosphate Dock reef, the Placida trestle and the Sanibel Pier probably all fall into this category, but just about any dock, rock or piling might hold at least a handful of fish. Anglers who have the sheepshead knack can seem superhuman in their ability to catch fish when mere mortals nearby are donating bait.

Sheepshead are one of the few Florida inshore fish for which the fishing peaks during the blustery winter months.
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Title Annotation:ACTION SPOTTER
Author:Allen, Ralph
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2011
Previous Article:Playing winter's winds.
Next Article:Winter in the springs.

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