White bait is appearing in the bays and snook are moving out of the rivers, creeks and canals where they over-wintered. Coincidence? Probably not. Outbound snook meander in pods along outside shorelines headed downstream, but they'll hold around points, gaps between islands, creek mouths and other "stuff" they find in their path. A great springtime strategy: Work your way along shorelines, prospecting with artificials until you bump a fish, then stake out and switch to live baits to thoroughly work the area as you try to catch his buddies. Pothole fishing also gets good this month. Bull Bay and Catfish Creek off of Gasparilla Sound offer plenty of potholes, but any light-colored patch on the flats along the ICW throughout the region might hold snook. Redfish are patrolling much of the same territory as snook and it's unlikely that you could spend a day fishing for either fish without encountering the other.
Much of the bait which appears in the harbor in the spring moves in from offshore, funneling through the passes and inlets.The torrent of bait now moving through the passes attracts attention from so many Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, blue runners, and jacks that it's hard not to catch at least a few fish by drifting the edges of any of our inlets while fan-casting with jigs or spoons or by trolling the bars which lie just offshore. Pompano, whiting, flounder, sheepshead and mangrove snapper can also be caught in the passes now by changing tactics: Bait with shrimp or sand fleas and use just enough weight to allow the tide to bounce your bait along the bottom.The smaller passes such as Stump Pass and Gasparilla Pass are sometimes the bigger producers for this style of fishing.
The sheepshead run is now winding down, but there are still enough fish to make it worth a shot. Concentrate on the bigger structures such as the Venice jetties, the Boca Grande Phosphate dock or the Placida trestles. Just in case the sheepshead fishing is slow, pack a few jigs or spoons because you can usually score a mackerel or two to salvage the day at any of these sites.
Offshore, the mix of grouper, snapper, porgys, and other reef fish most days keeps anglers busy and puts fillets in the skillet, a tough combination to beat. As a bonus, bottom fishing is productive year-round.
HUNTING Spring gobbler season runs through the April 6 in our region (listed as "Zone A" in the FWC regs), after which scheduled hunting seasons are finished until next fall. Wing-shooters have limited options as summer nears, but the state's rapidly growing population of Eurasian collared doves offers one possibility since their status as non-native birds means that there is no closed season or bag limit on them.
BEST BET SOUTHWEST
Your best bet this month is to get on the flats and catch fish over grass. Charlotte Harbor's grass flats are literally coming alive as spring's approach spurs seagrass growth, attracting swarms of anchovies, herrings, sardines, shrimp, crabs and other tasty critters in search of cover.
Close behind these little guys are the bigger fish we want and if you hang a shrimp under a popping cork the list of species you might encounter while drifting over the grass includes trout, ladyfish, bluefish, cobia, bonnethead sharks, Spanish mackerel, jacks and more. Just about any place where seagrass grows might produce fish, but the flats around the spoil islands along the ICW all through the region are always worth a look. Further inland, the grass beds between Burnt Store and Two Pines are good in the spring, as are the flats on the north end of Pine Island and west of Jug Creek Shoal.