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March: Coastal waters come alive
By Capt. Rick Grassett
The flats and coastal gulf waters of Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte County should come alive during March. It's been a colder than normal winter due to the effects of El Nino, but we should break out of that pattern during March. Fish that have been lying in deeper water during the winter to cope with the cold will forage on the flats as baitfish and shrimp become more plentiful.

The same with the coastal gulf waters, as the water warms to the high 60's and low 70's baitfish will become more plentiful and Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and cobia will make an appearance.

Snook fishing will heat up during March, particularly toward the end of the month. The best tides will be surrounding the new and full moons, when snook will ambush baits around docks and bridges in the ICW and on points and cuts on the flats. Anglers fishing deeper water in the ICW should score by drifting live shrimp or pinfish in bridge channels. I have been successful bouncing a jig in bridge channels or skipping a plastic shrimp under docks. Larger profile baitfish and shrimp fly patterns will be good choices, as these baits become more plentiful. The area from Siesta Key to Englewood should have good dock and bridge snook fishing during March.
Reds and trout will spend more time hunting for food on the flats as the water warms during March. Some of my favorite flats for reds and trout are in the Terra Ceia Bay area, north Sarasota Bay and Gasparilla Sound in Charlotte Harbor. Reds will stage on the outside of flats and bars at low tide and follow the rising tide onto a flat to feed. Look for birds picking worms and crustaceans on dry flats because once the tide rises, reds will also feed there. I frequently find tailing reds in Gasparilla Sound. They will tail when the tide is low as they feed their way onto the flats. Bottom that is "crunchy" under my push pole indicates shell and crustaceans and this is the kind of bottom they will tail on. A weedless-rigged plastic jerk worm, a live shrimp or flies that suspend are good choices to target tailing reds.
Fish deeper grass flats for trout, bluefish and pompano. I prefer to use a jig or a Clouser fly when targeting fish in this depth; although a live shrimp either free-lined or fished under a popping cork will also be effective. Lush grass flats such as those found in north Sarasota Bay and Gasparilla Sound are the ones where I do best with trout. A mixture of grass and sand is usually a better for pompano. Flats near Sarasota's Big Pass and New Pass are among my favorites to fish for pompano and bluefish. You may also find them in the passes, where you will need a heavy (3/8 or ½ ounce) pompano jig, which should be bounced along the bottom as the tide moves your boat.
Cobia should make an appearance in the coastal gulf and inshore waters. Last year during March, we had a great run of cobia off Casey Key in an area with hard bottom. It is not a coincidence that this is also one of our top producing tarpon areas later in the year. Look for fish cruising on the surface and be ready to cast a top water plug, jig or plastic jerk worm. Fly anglers should be prepared with at least a 9-weight rod and a popper or a large baitfish pattern. Be quiet and use trolling motors to approach them. Make a cast ahead of the pod of fish and hang on! If cobia are not found cruising on the surface, you might check out one of the many artificial reefs found off Sarasota and Manatee counties. There is an extensive system of artificial reefs which may hold cobia if they are not found on the surface. Top water plugs or fly poppers can be used to "chum" cobia to the surface. They are curious by nature and may swim to the surface to check out the commotion.
Hard bottom holds bait and attracts not only cobia, but king and Spanish mackerel as well. Glass minnows (bay anchovies) are the most common baits in the coastal gulf early in the spring. Look for glass minnows showering or mackerel skyrocketing through them to indicate their presence. Gulls and terns picking at the surface are another indication of predator fish below. You will need to add a trace of wire to your leader to prevent being cut off by their sharp teeth. Once you've located feeding mackerel, you can cast jigs, flies or poppers and retrieve them fast for the best results. We had a great fall for Spanish mackerel off Sarasota beaches, so I'm hoping for fast action again this spring.
Tripletail are another good option in the coastal gulf waters. I prefer a calm day, since they are more likely to be found at the surface then. Choose a crab trap line and with the sun behind you, run along the trap line about 50 feet away from the floats. Once a tripletail has been spotted at the surface, I approach the float from the downwind side with trolling motors. Cast a live shrimp, plastic shrimp or a fly close to their nose and you should get an immediate reaction! These fish will come alive, ripping off line on a good run and sometimes jumping. It is a great sight-fishing opportunity!
Whether you choose to fish the flats or coastal gulf waters, there should be plenty of action. Since I run a flats skiff, I like to fish the coastal gulf waters for cobia, tripletail or mackerel on nice days. Tides in the full and new moon weeks should be prime for reds and trout on the flats or snook at night. Whatever you choose to do, always remember to limit your kill; don't kill your limit!


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The flats and coastal gulf waters of Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte County should come alive during March.
I actually learned how to fish down there. This post reminds me of my family vacations as a kid to Holmes Beach. My kid brother and I learned how to cast, catch and un-hook fish (Spanish Macks) off of what we called the “Fast Eddie’s Pier.” This pier was on the bay side of Anna Maria Island if I’m not mistaken. I believe the pier is still there but Fast Eddie’s is gone. It just brings back a lot of good memories. :) :) :)
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