February is definitely our coldest month of the year, but the days can be very nice and the fishing can be really hot!! In the bay, you’ll find trout, redfish, black drum, flounder, white trout and some of the best sheepshead fishing of the year. Along the coast and off the piers, you’ll find winter bonita cruising just off the shore line and sand bars in the early mornings. Surf, pier and jetty fishing will produce some pompano, whiting, redfish and sheepshead. Bottom fisherman will enjoy catching amberjack, scamp, red grouper, triggerfish and vermillion snapper.
Trout are found in deeper water this time of year. Try fishing deep water boat docks, bridges, deep holes in the bayous, and channels. Your best baits for trout will be live shrimp, pinfish, croakers and pigfish. Fish these on a Carolina rig or under a popping cork.
Deep running or sinking plugs, DOA shrimp and Savage shrimp are some of the best lures. Fish this very slow this time of year. When the water is cold, trout are less aggressive and fishing the lure too fast will limit the number of bites.
A good way to locate trout is to slow troll with a shrimp tail soft plastic jig in the deep channels of the bayou to locate the trout and then switch to live bait to get the max number of bites.
Most or the redfish will be caught fishing live shrimp, pinfish, croakers and pigfish. Reds will be hanging on docks, bridges and jetties. You’ll get most of you bites fishing your live bait on a Carolina rig on the bottom. Redfish have to be between 18 and 27 inches to keep.
There are a lot of bull reds around during the winter months and you’ll find them in the passes, deep channels and around deep water bridges. These bull reds are fun to catch and release. If you choose this type of fishing make sure to net the fish and do your best to unhook them while still in the water while using the net to control the fish. Troll for them using deep running lures. If your lures have large lips and troll 15 or more foot, you can run them by themselves. If you have lures with small lips you may need to add a trolling lead of 4 to 6 ounces to get the lure deep enough. Because bull reds need to be released (when they are out of the slot size), use single hooks with your lures rather than the treble hooks that normally come on them. Single hooks make it easier to release the fish unharmed.
Sheepshead and Black Drum
Sheepshead and black drum look very similar. The biggest difference is in their mouth and dorsal fins. Sheepshead have teeth that look like molars and the black drum has more or less sandpaper in the mouth. The dorsal fin is much more pronounced and spiky on the sheephead than that of a black drum.
You will find both around bridge pilings, jetties and oyster bars. They love live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas. Fish these baits on a Carolina rig with a small straight J hook. For most species I like circle hooks bit for sheepshead and black drum because of the shape of their mouth and teeth a J hook no bigger than a dime work best.
For the most part the flounder will have moved from the bay to the gulf this time of year, but there will be a few in the bay and harbor areas.
Fish a Carolina rig on the bottom near docks and bridges that have sand bottom with access to deep water and oyster beds for best results. Your best bait is live bull minnows, but flounder belly strips, DOA lures, Savage Shrimp and Gulp will also work.
You’ll find the best flounder fishing just outside the passes and near shore reefs and wrecks. For these flounder in the gulf, bull minnows fished on a Carolina rig will produce the most fish. Fish on the lee side (down wind) of the reef or wreck. Unlike snapper or grouper fishing you don’t want to be directly over the wreck, but more the sand bottom on the lee side of the wreck. Flounder much prefer to lay on the sand bottom than rock waiting to ambush prey.
During the winter months, bonita cruise the surf, just off the sand bar and along the beaches. You can cast white jigs, white jerk baits or troll Yo-Zuri plugs for them. Look for birds working to locate them. The best days are cold north wind days.
While most people will tell you bonita are not good to eat they have just never seen it done right. Immediately upon catching make a cut under each pectoral fin to the back bone on both sides and cut a ring around the tail, don’t cut the tail completely off. Stand the bonita on his nose in a bucket for about five minutes to bleed out. Then ice it in a cooler in slushy ice.
you filet you will see the meat is dark with a distinct blood line. Remove the blood line and skin and cut into chunks. In a pot add some oil maybe a cup, add bonita, salt, pepper fish seasoning and cover filets with water and boil. When done drain and mix up with your favorite recipe just as you would with Starkist Tuna for some tasty fresh tuna salad.
Another method I have had that was tasty i had while on vacation in Jamaica and they blackened it with Caribbean fish seasoning. Definitely stronger then some fish but tasty.
Pick out a area of natural bottom or large wreck. Mix a batch of chum, separating some for a chum bag and some for tossing over chunk style. Use a few pieces of bonita or mackerel for bait. There are plenty of sharks all year if you just want a tug on the line.
Scamp grouper are generally found in the 75 to 400 foot range and prefer natural bottom, but will congregate on some wrecks. Fishing a Carolina rig with 1oz of lead for every 10 ft of water. It’s best to use live cigar minnows, pinfish, or frozen northern mackerel.
Amberjack are generally found fishing wrecks in 50 to 400 ft range, Unlike grouper they tend to like large wrecks rather than natural bottom. Live cigar minnows, hardtails, pinfish and vermillion snapper are preferred baits. Use a Carolina rig with extra long leaders, up to 20ft when fish are picky. Amberjack also love butterfly jigs and large swimbaits.
Red grouper, unlike most bottom fish seem to bite better on what we call trash bait. Trash can be anything from a frozen northern mackerel to a butterflied vermillion snapper. Live baits typically don’t work as well for red grouper unlike other groupers as they tend to be very lazy. Also, we catch them in much shallower water. normally 50 to 150 foot depths.
Triggerfish are one of the more tasty fish and fairly easy to catch. Use a 2 or 3 hook bottom rig with circle hooks no bigger than a nickel in size. The best bait is squid, northern mackerel or bonita cut into 1in chunks, fresher is better. They can be caught on wrecks or reefs in 50 to 175 foot depths. Another bait not many people use but very effective is Fishbites or Gulp!
Vermillion snapper aka mingo snapper or beeliners are another one of the better eating snappers. In my opinion they are much better than red snapper and can be caught all year. They normally range 1-3lbs but we catch them up to 5-7lbs. If these little guys grew to 20-30lbs no one would care about red snapper. Use a 2 or 3 hook bottom rig with circle hooks no bigger than a nickel in size. The best bait is squid, northern mackerel or bonita cut into 1in chunks, and fresher is better. They can be caught on wrecks or reefs in 50 to 175 foot depths. Fishbites or Gulp! are very effective baits.
Rockfish or Squirrel Fish
These little guys don’t get any attention but if they grew bigger they would be held as one of the top fish in the gulf. Rarely do you see one over 2lbs and most people consider them as trash but these are one of my personal favorites for the dinner table. When you fillet one, the meat is more clear than white and sparkles when you cut it across the grain. Catch them just like you would fishing for vermillion snapper or trigger fish.
Surf, Jetty and Pier
For the most part, you’ll find just a bare few pompano in the surf, some good numbers on whiting and occasional redfish in the surf. On the jetties mostly sheepshead and redfish. On the pier a few bonita and sheepshead.
Pompano, Whiting and Redfish
Catching pompano, whiting and redfish from the surf can provide many relaxing hours of fun in the sun as well as some excellent dinners. While pompano are the glory fish of the surf, whiting are one of my favorite gulf fish, they rank right up at the top of the list. All can be caught bottom fishing with sand fleas, fresh peeled shrimp and fiddler crabs. Another method that can be used is casting jigs from the surf, pier or jetty.
Bonita can be caught from the pier casting white jigs and white swimbaits. Normally these only bite at first light for a few hours and the colder the better, especially slick calm north wind mornings.
Sheepshead tend to hang out on the jetties and pier and the best baits are live fiddler crabs and live shrimp fished on a Carolina rig right next to the pilings or rocks.
Redfish patrol the jetties and shallows at the pier and prefer live shrimp for bait!!
In March expect to see some cobia, king mackerel and Spanish mackerel start to show up.
Unfortunately there are a few species closed right now, most notably Gag Grouper (July 1 to December 31) and Red Snapper (Opens June 1, season length TBD).