March brings us warmer weather, tourist season, spring break, daylight savings (because who would like any other time?), and better fishing! The water is warming up nicely thanks to the warm winter we had. The current water surface temperature is in the mid 60's and rising every day. It’s the perfect time to head to the beach to enjoy the sun and the sand, do a little camping, kayaking, paddle-boarding, and most of all, fishing. The fishing should be on fire this month. Here is my March fishing report to give you an idea of what to expect this month when you come down to Pensacola, Florida.
The hottest thing going in the bay this month will be the massive migration of Sheepshead. These aren't the Sheepshead that most people not from the Gulf of Mexico are used to seeing, as you can tell from the picture shown. These fish are hearty and great tasting. They will be migrating into the bay in large schools by the hundreds from the Gulf. They will be most predominant in Pensacola Pass around any structure below. Since they are in such an abundance we usually spend most our charters chasing these fish. They are tough fighters for their size so they bring a camera. The average size caught will be roughly 14-25 inches and we anywhere from 5-12 pounds on average. We will be mostly fishing with live and dead Shrimp, Fiddler Crabs, and Sandfleas on the bottom. No fishing skill or experience required on this one.
Check out these teeth!
The grass flats are heating up also. The Speckled Trout and Redfish are moving in from deeper waters chasing finger Mullet, Pinfish, and bay Shrimp on the flats. The warmer the water gets the hotter the bite will be. The best water temp/fish bite ratio I have found is that 72-degree range. Once that water hits 72 degrees on the flats, the top water bite is off the hook and it lasts longer that the summer time because the water doesn't get as hot as fast during the day. We will mostly be using the following lures if we hit the flats. A fair amount of dexterity and fishing skill is required on this one, although, I can quickly teach anyone to be able to catch these fish, it just helps to have some prior fishing experience.
The offshore bite is still as hot as it was last month. The Amberjack and the Mingo Snapper bites have been off the hook and will probably continue to be until the end of May. The Cobia will be showing up more frequently although the famous Cobia run we have every year still hasn't officially kicked into high gear. You can find all your wreck fish in the usual spots around the bottom for the Mingos and your bigger artificial wrecks for the Amberjack. Live bait is key so do your due diligence and find some live Pinfish and Blue Runners and send them down on some bigger rods for your Amberjack.
On the flip side, you will need smaller cut bait such as fresh Squid for the Mingo Snapper bite. The only trouble you will have is weeding through the abundance of Triggerfish and Red Snapper. But that's a good problem to have. The Sharks are thick right now also which makes a charter incredibly fun. Most of the Sharks we have been catching are in the 20-40# range but I know and have seen some big ones out there lately. We just haven't targeted the big ones just yet.
If chasing Cobia is your thing, then now is the time to start. You will want to troll up and down the beach in a zig zag patter looking for fish swimming. Be ready when you find them though as they won’t stay up for long. You will want to pitch artificial baits as well as live Eels and live Pinfish. Make sure the gaff or large landing net is ready when you hook one because they are notorious for getting off the hook at the last minute.
Since the weather is warming up nicely, the beach fishing scene is becoming more active. The Pompano are still running strong along the gulf size of Pensacola Beach. Such as the one show here that was caught by Sara recently. Be on the lookout for abnormalities in the current and sand placement. This will create breaks and points which fish migrate to. Start fishing the differences in current here. Make sure you have plenty of live Shrimp and live Sandfleas for bait. I recommend using prepackaged Pompano rigs for this as they make it easier to set up once you get there and are ready to fish. You can also sight fish these schools using Pompano Jigs.
If you want in on the Sheepshead run, head to the Pensacola Beach gulf side pier or the fishing pier at Fort Pickens. Use the same techniques as you would bottom fishing just make sure you match your gear accordingly. Try to keep you bait as close to the structure your fishing as humanly possible. These fish do not venture far from that structure and once you’re out of the strike zone, your bite is over.
As always, here is a link to the state of Florida saltwater fishing regulations just to keep you informed. http://www.eregulations.com/florida/fishing/saltwater/