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Winter Lights.

The big female bass are on the move, and it seems bass fishing in Florida just gets better and better. Not only have the size and bag limits taken the pressure off big fish, but the change in angler's attitudes have totally brought back trophy bass fishing. In fact in the last five years of the Trophy Catch program there have been an incredible 7,833 bass caught and released in Florida's freshwaters including an amazing 61 bass over 12 pounds, led by Dominic Montalto's 16-pound, 12-ounce monster that is still swimming in a subdivision pond in Lee County. Is the world record largemouth swimming in Florida? I don't know the answer, but I'm certain it becomes more likely as the years of great management go along. I also know if you're going to trick her, or any of her slightly smaller cousins, into biting, catching her while she's on her spawning bed, is your best bet.

Bass aren't the only freshwater fish active in February. Specks will start schooling in deep water in anticipation of their springtime movement into the grass. Trollers pulling fly/minnow combos in deep water will be eating good later on.

On the inshore salt water scene, sight fishing will be taking center stage with more northeast anglers than ever putting some type of tower or platform on their boats. Cold water means clear water and bunched up redfish. Spotting them is easy. Getting them to bite is not. There are two different techniques that seem to shine for wintertime reds. Both work best on sunny afternoons when an incoming tide brings the water up on a flat that has been warmed by the midday sun. The fish are easy to see, and unlike the splash of a jig or spoon, a fly can drop inches in front of a red without spooking it. The other method that scores this time of year is to throw a shrimp or crab well in front of a school of reds and dead stick it until the fish swim over it.

On the offshore scene it's prime time for the biggest wahoo of the year, and calm days will see plenty of boats pulling high speed lures all the way from 120- out to 250-foot depths. If you've never experienced a big wahoo taking off from a boat going 18 knots, it's high time to get out there.

For the bottom fishermen it's sea bass time. If it's cold and calm the big bass will be on natural bottom from 65- to 100-foot depths. If there are big ones in the area, they'll feed first. If you start catching a lot of small ones, move to another area.

HUNTING If deer season has passed with you still craving time in the woods, there are still plenty of hogs that most landowners would be more than happy to see you dispose of. There are still squirrels in the trees, and they are perfect targets for kids that have been dying to take a shot all winter. Plantation quail are a great day's outing with at least a half dozen quail plantations within a couple hours drive of either Jacksonville or St. Augustine.

BEST BET

It's been an outstanding season for sheepshead and in February they are joined by the biggest ringtail porgies of the year at the Mayport jetties. Switch over to a light spinner with a cork and split shot over a strong but small long shanked hook. Find a high tide with somewhat Clearwater, and the tips of the jetties will be loaded with sheepshead.

NORTHEAST SCEN

Feb. 3 Start of Northeast Florida Wahoo Shoot Out

Feb. 10 Jacksonville Offshore Sportfishing Club Sheepshead Tune Up tournament

Feb. 17 Women's FWC Saltwater Fishing Clinic, Jacksonville

Feb. 18 Adult FWC Saltwater Fishing Clinic, Jacksonville

Mar. 2 El Cheapo Sheepshead Tournament

By Rick Ryals

Rick.Ryals@OutdoorSG.com

Caption: Stalwart angler Al Romeu caught the bruiser flounder and a bunch of others on a mullet-colored paddletail jig around the Hecksher Drive docks.

Caption: There are two local sheepshead tournaments in the region coming up soon.
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Title Annotation:Northeast
Author:Ryals, Rick
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jan 31, 2018
Words:685
Previous Article:Hot Picks.
Next Article:The Best of Winter.
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