Gulf of Mexico

Freshly-caught TriggerfishGulf anglers will be primarily focused on mixed-bag bottom fishing this month. The fish aren’t huge but the action is steady if you drop a bait onto almost any piece of hard bottom from 10 to 35 miles out into the Gulf. Mangrove snapper, triggerfish, grunts, sheepshead, porgys, hogfish and other reef fish will keep anglers busy on rock ledges and on artificial reefs 8 to 10 miles out. Patches of flat limestone rock in 60 to 90 feet of water will produce red grouper, vermilion snapper, porgies and lane snapper. Fishing on wrecks or artificial reefs in about 80 feet or deeper will give you a shot at yellowtail snapper and possibly an amberjack, but remember that amberjack season is closed so these fish are catch-and-release only. There are fish besides reef fish on the menu this month. For example, a few early-arriving schools of Spanish mackerel might put in an early appearance off the coast this month as they start thinking about making their spring runs, and bonita come and go all winter. Look for sharks to show up along the beaches and around anchored shrimp boats toward month's end.

Charlotte Harbor

Fun family fishing: showing off a speckled trout caught in Punta Gorda/Englewood BeachMost of the fishing effort in Charlotte Harbor this month will target trout, sheepshead, mangrove snapper and redfish. Look for trout on the flats when the weather's warm, and in canals, creeks and boat basins when it's chilly. The winter sheepshead spawning season is in full bloom this month so docks, rocks, pilings and other hard structures are holding schools of these tasty, hard-fighting fish. Bigger structures such as the El Jobean bridge, the bridge reef in Charlotte Harbor, the Placida pier and the Boca Grande Phosphate dock are all loaded with fish, but smaller private docks and stretches of riprap along seawalls can also produce good numbers of sheepshead. Redfish can be taken in the tidal creeks when the tide is low and along outside mangrove shorelines when we get higher water. Remember that redfish season is closed this winter so it’s all catch-and-release on the reds. Other fish will be caught in the harbor this month too. This winter has seen an unusual number of both cobia and bonnethead sharks in Charlotte Harbor and that might continue right on into the Spring. Mangrove snapper, pompano, flounder, Spanish mackerel and a surprise bluefish or two will be caught this month too.