For me, the month of March is the gateway to the best part of the year, and it just so happens to be a great time to fish!
As the water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding bays starts to warm, a variety of species begin returning to our little chunk of paradise. Among those you’ll begin to see over the next couple of weeks are Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, pompano and, toward the end of the month (if the weather continues to warm), the increasingly elusive cobia.
Spanish mackerel are prized by many dedicated anglers and you see proof when you step onto the fishing piers or jetties where crowds are lined up with plugs, bubble rigs and small spoons. Another method popular with charter boat captains and recreational anglers is trolling. Look for areas where fish are jumping out of the water or birds are diving on small baitfish. Spanish mackerel are attracted to movement and flash, so it’s important to work your lure at a quick pace with an erratic action. A short trace of thin wire will help prevent cut-offs and increase your overall catch rate.
The frustrating sheepshead, popular for its tough fight and sweet white meat, is definitely a crowd favorite. Although you can catch them in small numbers year-round, it’s this time of year when they congregate around deeper structure and around bridges. But just because they are bunched up and feeding doesn’t make them any easier to hook. Sheepshead like to gnaw on their food before swallowing, so you must let them nibble until you feel the fish actually swimming away with your bait. A slow tug back from your end is all it takes to firmly stick that small circle hook; anything more is sure to pull the hook right out of their mouth. I like to use medium-light action spinning gear with a light Carolina rig and small live shrimp or fiddler crab.
Pompano is one of my favorite fish to eat and, for their size, offer incredible fights on light tackle. Schools are beginning to cruise back and forth along the beaches but will hole up around the end of jetties and in troughs between sand bars. They can be caught on small jigs, live/dead shrimp, sand fleas and small crabs. When surf casting, it’s best to use multiple rods so can you get a shot at multiple fish when the school passes by.
Speckled trout season opened on March 1 with new regulations imposed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). I recommend checking those regulations daily just to be safe but, for the time being, the new bag limit is three fish sized 15”-19” and one fish over 19” allowed for harvest per day. Trout are starting to work their way out of the bayous toward the flats and can be intercepted in the mouths of those bayous and creeks as the tide starts to dump out. Trout are typically aggressive and can be easily caught on a wide range of artificial jigs and plugs.
Redfish are schooling and running the flats and along the beaches. Some of the biggest schools of the year can be seen this month and into early April along the beaches where they stand out and make for some easy sight fishing action. These schools will vary in size and numbers but you can bank on there being some really great action once you find them. Jigs, spoons and other plugs work great.
Finally, I urge you to please be respectful of other anglers, our fishery, wildlife and the water. It’s everyone’s right to enjoy our natural resources but we will only be able to pass that on if we take care of them. It’s okay to keep a few fish for dinner, but practice catch-and-release whenever you can so that we can enjoy our fishery for generations to come.
As always, if you have questions about what’s biting, how to catch them or want to book a trip, give me a call or shoot me an email.