Hubbard's Marina Fishing Report
Inshore Fishing Report
We are seeing a pretty active snook bite around the area the past few days. It seems the higher winds, stirring up our waters just a bit, is all it took to wake up the snook bite. The long period of nice weather conditions had the water clear and the snook were extremely leader shy and timid. However, with some strong east winds some local anglers were able to find the snook really chewing. Also, the big schools of mullet started moving around and some started to flush out of the back bays to head to the gulf and this could perhaps be part of the increase in snook action too. Finger mullet and smaller silver mullet are great baits if you can get them for snook this time of year.
Snook are still hanging around the passes as the bait and mullet are around, but a majority are back in the back bays and along the flats, oyster bars, mangrove islands and dock lines. Residential canals become a better and better area to fish as water temps subside. Live shrimp, pinfish, pigfish and pass crabs all are good options too for snook this time of year. Artificial lures are working well as are the swim baits, jerk baits and soft plastics with the currents around those ambush points of structures, points, pockets or passes where snook stack up to wait for passing baits.
Redfish action has been solid this past week as well. We are seeing them around 2-3ft of water around local grass flats, oyster bars, and mangrove islands most actively during the day. At night, you can find them around those dock lights, bridge lights and other areas where light is congregating bait to structures working the bottom for crustaceans and bait fish. More mullet moving around the area has definitely got the redfish more active as well as they follow those schools around the flats and shallow areas to pick off the bait.
Trout action this past week has been a little spottier, but you can find pockets of fish around those cuts, potholes, and edges of the flats. Also, residential dock lines and bridges near the flats will hold trout waiting for baits to pass by. Slow moving soft plastics working with the currents are a great way to net passing trout.
Sheepshead are biting well around the area’s structures like rock piles, bridges, dock lines, seawalls, and everything in between. These guys are definitely getting more concentrated and aggressive and this upcoming week’s adverse weather should help further solidify their concentrations around these local structures of the bays and passes. Lighter tackle, small pieces of shrimp, clam, oysters, or even fiddler crabs, barnacles or sand fleas are great options to target this fun to catch great eating fish. However, you need minimal weight and a small strong hook to get them plus being fast and feeling the bite is key as well.
The pompano action around the area is going well too and you might pick up some flounder while targeting them. Drifting sandy passes or casting a pompano jig around those bridges leading to sandy areas of moving water are great places to look for pompano. Fort de Soto area, honeymoon island area, Anna maria, pass a grill, blinds pass and even Johns Pass are great areas to look for pompano, but we see them further up in the bay too around the misner, CCC and other areas.
Triple tail are still around the area but have gotten a little more spread out and harder to find. Plus, it was difficult to find the keeper sized fish and now seems tougher and tougher as they spread out and thinned out with this recent warm snap. Hopefully they will return behind this little temperature break coming up this week.
Nearshore Fishing Report
Hogfish! That is the near shore report right now in its entirety. At least for us right now at Hubbard’s Marina we are focused on and seeing plenty of these hogfish lately. Around 40-70ft of water is where we are targeting these guys on small ledges, large areas of hard bottom, and rock piles. Even shell or less dense areas of bottom with just a little fuzz on the machine will hold these guys as they scavenge during the day looking for crustaceans around sea fans and other bottom structures. We are anchored up fishing these areas with live shrimp and doing our best to capitalize on the increased hogfish bite.
Using lighter tackle around 30lb floro with about 3-4ot hooks and live shrimp is the most popular approach for these fish. You’ll definitely need some patience and resilience because hogfish can be the great equalizer. Even if you’re doing it all right one day you could have the hogfish biting something a little different or tackle you wouldn’t ever imagine would work for a hogfish like a steel leader or big chicken rig or even heavier tackle and a big lead. Other days you could be catching them, but you’re only getting the small ones while others are landing keepers. They definitely are a ton of fun but there’s no solid way to guarantee you’re going to be the one to catch them consistently and often on the boat with other anglers.
When targeting hogfish, the first-time angler has just as much a chance as the experienced angler even if they aren’t completely tackled down and really working for them. Essentially, these fish put the phrase ‘that’s why they call it fishing not catching’ into a whole new perspective. Experience, the right rod and reel, the right tackle and the right bait definitely help, don’t get me wrong, but some days nearly anything would work if you’re in the area where the hogfish are present, and they are hungry.
Gag groupers are still biting near shore, but more prolific in the deeper near shore waters around 50-70ft of water but we aren’t targeting that area as much as we stay shallower for hogfish that are biting better. Plus, lane snapper are still closed which infuriates me. Nearly a year after the gulf council voted to increase the catch levels NOAA still is unable to enact that rule change. Luckily January first lanes will re-open regardless of whether or not the agency can get anything accomplished. With the lanes closed and the gag bite not super stellar near shore we are staying shallower where hogfish are biting best, and we avoid the issues of having to discard lane snapper that don’t seem to do well upon release.
We hate to see fish float off and we work hard to avoid that with venting tools or descending devices but lane snapper are so prolific and seem super affected by barotrauma issues so it’s easier to just avoid them until we can put them in the box instead of wasting them with discard mortality numbers higher than we can stomach. You can still see some gag grouper in that 40-70ft range on live pinfish, pigfish, squirrelfish, and lizard fish. However, they are super leader shy and around 50-60lb test and about a 6ot hook is what you want in that depth range to get one to bite. Even as light as 40lb is needed sometimes but hooking into an aggressive gag in shallow on light tackle is a challenge to land.
Kingfish are around near shore this past week once again. We saw a handful of kingfish caught trolling in and out on our trips mostly on simple planners and spoons around 30-50ft of water around those crab trap buoys. They are cruising areas of hard bottom where the bait is present, and those crab traps are always on hard bottom and their buoys and lines to the trap become great areas to hold the bait the kingfish cruise around looking for. Often the crab trap lines are a great area to work when looking for the kingfish if you can’t find the birds working a big school of bait.
Offshore Fishing Report
The gag grouper bite is still solid offshore. We just got back from a mid-week 39-hour trip and we found the gags biting well again for us a bit deeper than we found them back in early December. They are for sure moving around the area right now in large concentrations. This past trip we saw a soft gag grouper bite for most of the trip till we found that depth and area that they were concentrated and then nearly 20 keeper gags on one stop and another stop with a few more all in the same depth and area. We are looking forward to continuing to target that depth and starting there next week on another 39-hour adventure. Anywhere from 120-200ft is a good starting place to look for these guys and once you find them concentrated in a depth zone continue to work that area and you will find them in good numbers. Big live baits are still working best with 60lb test for the best bites but 80lb test to be safe. We caught a few big dogs this last trip as we were fishing deeper so starting with 80lb test is wise and if the bite is slow you can drop to 60lb. The biggest gags were caught on what we call ‘half day baits’ where guests do our 5-hour half day prior to our 39 hour to load up on grey snapper or white grunts, big squirrelfish, lizard fish and other near shore baits. They then take those baits offshore for bigger fish. We also continue to see a solid bite of gags on dead bait too.
Scamp grouper cooperated well for us this past week as we worked deeper. We are seeing some solid scamp lately biting on the live pinfish, dead thread fin and even the vertical and slow pitch jigs. These guys love to hangout in the deeper water and around those same ledges and potholes that will hold the gags. Especially once gags close at the end of the year and we start fishing even deeper for fat red grouper the BIGGEST scamp will come out to play.
Mangrove snapper action is going well for us lately. We have seen a solid mangrove bite the last few trips offshore. Especially on overcast days that allows the mangrove bite that we typically see at night to continue strongly through the daytime in low light conditions.