Overall, the winter has been unseasonably mild and dry. These conditions are typical of a moderate La Nina just as we had in the winter of 2005-2006. Occasional cool snaps are normal in this weather pattern. The combination of the two opposing forces keeps fishes and anglers moving as the fish are often spread throughout their annual range.


We are now just a couple of weeks away from the vernal equinox and the start of higher daytime tides. Inshore gamefish nestled deep in the backcountry will be returning to the flats with both consistency and necessity. In addition to the fish needing to replenish body fat lost during winter to become wholesome, many of the species need the protein and oils critical for the rigorous activity of spawning in the spring. For our area, these vital sources of sustenance are scaled sardines.


Salty North Suncoast livebait experts have been catching the sardines virtually all winter. When the baits first migrate in, they are most commonly found adjacent to deep-water structures, river and canal mouths, as well as along the beaches.


During the warming trends, the trout bite has been red hot. In the deeper grass flats adjacent to the ICW, school-sized trout are cumulus. Underneath the flocks of birds in the same areas, bluefish and ladyfish are wreaking havoc on the baits. “Gator” trout are consistent on the shallow flats around oyster bars, creek mouths, bends and cul-de-sacs.


For the past year, the North Suncoast has experienced one of the best redfish cycles in recent memory. Parallel to last winter, we have had several recent trips in which we easily achieved double digit catches on a single drop of the anchor. Late winter reds are notorious for hanging around riprap, oyster bars, and rock piles catching some rays at the top of the flood tide. At low tide, I have been finding a few “tailing” reds on the grass flats adjacent to deep water.


Soft plastic jerk worms or eels are producing well on both the trout and the redfish for artificial enthusiasts. Savvy livebait anglers are overloading their livewells with scaled sardines and live chumming the baits on fish they have recently patterned. While the baits are staple to a pro’s remarkable success, his logic in targeting fish that are just exiting the backcountry and onto open flats is his edge. Traveling great distances in acquiring both livebait and fish are not factors to these aficionados.


Water temperatures are hovering around 64-68 degrees. With La Nina we will likely hit the benchmark of 68 to 70 degrees and the first of the giant tarpon will sneak into the deeper waters of the open gulf, larger bays and rivers as early as March. Inconsistent but noteworthy tarpon fishing is already being found south of Fort Myers.


Capt. Robert McCue can be reached at (800) 833-0489 or through his website www.GiantTarpon.com