From Clearwater north to Tarpon Springs, Florida, the first cold fronts of the year drive a major transition in Tampa Fishing. Redfish that are abundant from March until early November are a little harder to find and snook head to the backwaters or out to the near shore reefs in anticipation of colder water temperatures. Large seatrout however, pour into St Joseph's Sound and create one of winter's best fishing opportunities. When the bite is on, it's possible to catch twenty or thirty fish on a half day Tampa fishing charter with most fish being in the 18 to 23 inch class.  Each winter, several fish approaching thirty inches are landed...huge specimens for this area.

Tampa Sea Trout Fishing

Trout are largely a fish of the grass flats, and these flats represent one of the best areas to target these big winter trout. A certain type of flat will always hold the most trout that is interspersed with sand holes. Commonly referred to as "Salt and Pepper", these flats earn their name because the sand holes appear white or yellow, while the grass appears black in color. The fish will actually hold in the sand holes where they wait to ambush prey swimming out of the grass. One of the best ways to locate productive flats is to approach these flats cautiously with a Minn Kota trolling motor, looking out in front into the holes where fish are fairly easy to see in the clear water. Once fish are located, it's safe to assume that others are in the area. Other locations frequented by these large trout are oyster bars and spoil islands. Baits such as mullet, large schools of pinfish and, until it gets cold, whitebait, seem to be attracted to these areas. The trout are never far away.  A third type of structure always worth prospecting is any deep hole in a flat, near a river mouth or next to an oyster bar. When winter is well underway and water temps are down in the 50's, a school of trout may settle into one of these areas and provide a great fishing opportunity. 


Tampa fishing guides typically use a seven and a half foot medium action spinning rod for this type of fishing as it allows the angler to make the longer casts that are needed to cover large amounts of area. A spinning reel, like the Shimano 4000 series, capable of comfortably handling 15 lbs braided line such as Power Pro or Spider Wire's Ultracast, will match up well with this rod. Light fluorocarbon leader, in the 10 to 20 lbs range, attached to a #1/0 or #2/0 circle hook with a loop knot, will complete the rigging. 

There are a wide range of techniques that can be effective on large winter trout. Certainly, the favorite bait of Tampa fishing guides is  the "select" shrimp. These can be purchased at any number of tackle stores and marina's in the Palm Harbor and Dunedin Area. Do call ahead to make sure that they aren't sold out as big shrimp go fast when trout season opens. These large shrimp should be tail hooked, from the underside, to allow for maximum casting distance. Rig these baits with a popping cork or more standard, sliding Styrofoam bobber so that the bait is presented about six inches off of the bottom. Approach your target area from the upwind side. Lures for Tampa Bay Trout FishingWith a little luck, tide and wind will be working in the same direction so that you can get a nice long drift after each cast. When the bobber goes under, reel down until you feel the weight of the fish then raise the rod up, setting the hook. As trout have fairly soft mouths, powerful hook sets are not recommended. Also, any time you are bait fishing, use circle hooks. Usually, by simply reeling down, the fish will be hooked. More importantly, fish that are released will be in much better shape.  As the season does not open in the South Region (South of Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs), until January 1st, all fish caught in the above mentioned area must be released anyway.  Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the fishing regulations in the area that you are planning to fish.  Other live baits that are effective are small to medium sized pinfish and whitebait, as long as it's available. Pinfish must be bobber fished like shrimp as they will try and bury themselves in the grass. Whitebait can be fished with or without a bobber as they will usually stay up higher in the water column. When trout are more active...generally on Tampa fishing charters early in the season and on warmer days... a variety of artificial baits can be highly effective. The most productive of these baits would be the ¼ to 3/8 lead head jig / plastic tail combo. As far as what colors are most effective...ask ten fishermen and you'll get seven or eight different answers. As a general rule, colors in the green and brown ranges are effective, although some anglers prefer chartreuse or pink. Body styles on these tails have also become so numerous that you could fill three tackles bags with all the different varieties, so just keep it simple. Generally, a swim tail and longer worm like style bait like the "Slammer" supplied by Pumpkin Jigs will cover all of the styles you need. Pick a light and a dark color that you've had success with and keep those limited colors and styles stocked in your tackle box. If the trout are eating jigs on the day that you're fishing, they will certainly eat something in this smaller arsenal. Presentation of this type bait is the following. Make a cast as far as you can over your target area. Allow the jig to sink to just above the bottom. Smoothly raise you rod tip and then reel down to pick up your slack line as the jig falls. Again, you want your jig to fall to just above the bottom. Raise the rod and repeat. The intervals at which you raise you rod and reel down will obviously differ for different depths. If you are bringing grass back in on your casts, speed up your retrieve. When a trout strikes a jig, it is on the way down about 98% of the time. Sometimes you will feel the "tick" in your line when you are reeling down but, more typically, you will feel weight when you go to lift your rod. The first time you may think you are snagged for a second, until the big trout starts shaking its head. When you feel this resistance, reel quickly and raise your rod tip to take all slack out of the line. These large trout will usually come to the surface and roll fairly quickly in an attempt to shake loose the bait. Apply steady and smooth pressure until the fish is landed. Remember to wet your hand before picking up a trout that will be released. Even better, use a dehooker. When the trout is boat side, simply grab the hook with the dehooker, grab the line above the trout, lift the dehooker above your other hand with the line in it, and the trout should drop free. As these trout are less durable than a snook or redfish, it's best to avoid touching them at all if they are to be released. Tampa Fishin for Gator troutg


Topwater and suspending plugs are two other artificial baits that are effective when trout are aggressive. Tampa fishing for trout is at it's most exciting when fishing topwater plugs such as the Zara Spook.  With a rattle bead inside, these lures are highly effective at bringing a hungry trout to the surface. The age old, "walk the dog" retrieve is hard to beat when using this lure. Again, make as long a cast as possible, point your rod tip down and, while constantly reeling, twitch the rod from side to side so that the bait shoots a foot or so to the right and then back to the left on the next twitch. Although you might not hook as many fish using this approach, the size of the fish caught using this technique is generally above average.. Using a suspending plug, such as Mirrolure's Catch 2000, the retrieve is steadier, with an occasional twitch thrown in about every two or three seconds.  Both of these plugs are generally more effective in one to four feet of water. In depths greater than that, a jig is your best solution.  

As you head out on the water in pursuit of these gator trout, here are a few tips to help you have a great experience. If you catch a quality fish, continue work the area as these winter trout tend to be in groups. Fish phases of the tide where there is good water movement. Watch the weather. Fishing before a cold front can be spectacular. Fishing immediately following one can be pointless. So if it's December through May, call your favorite Tampa fishing guide and get out on the water and into the action. The biggest trout of the year are waiting for you.

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