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Weather versus the Need to Migrate. The Fishing Florida Report.

The Fishing Florida Report.

Now that the record-breaking freeze of 2010 is over with there are other questions for anglers to ponder. It’s nearly April, time for an influx of migratory bait and gamefish to move up the coast.
Yet the middle of March is still experiencing chilly weather and water temperatures are just beginning to creep up. Many gamefish that would not bite due to the lower metabolism that the cold water caused just began to feed around March 10.
We’ve yet to see a real sheepshead season and trout fishing is still far slower than normal. Redfish finally are making an on again, off again, showing. We needn’t mention snook.
The season is closed on the few that survived the killer freeze. But the migratory fish have yet to make an appearance and low water temperatures may seriously alter that seasonal pattern.
Nothing is more mysterious or helpful to the angler than understanding the migrations of animals. These are often global events that we just don’t understand. There are some minor things that influence the behavior of gamefish; though they might seem inconsequential. There are many species of birds, notably blue-winged teal that migrate based solely on the length of day as measured by the small duck’s pineal gland. Some teal are noted early migrators and can be spotted bypassing Florida for South America while other ducks are still enjoying the cool September of Alaska.
Some fish do just about the same thing.
Most fish belong to different populations. King and Spanish mackerel have primary and accessory populations and that translates to home bodies, more often called “bank loafers,” that stay on offshore reefs year round. A different population of migratory fish moves from the Keys to the panhandle each spring and fall, passing the Gulf Coast during their travels.
When I was a kid we often caught 100 Spanish mackerel off Gulf Coast fishing piers all summer long. Those fish never left. But the bulk of the population came in the spring and fall when the migratory population supplanted the supply of resident fish. It’s still kind of that way. Mackerel are more common summer fare than they have been in many years. Even small kingfish have taken up residence in the estuaries when the weather is warm.
Big kings are also becoming more common. Records for kingfish were once set on the Gulf Coast but the fish almost vanished. Now 40 to 60-pounders are showing up again and setting records in king mackerel tournaments. Some of them are residents that live in the Tampa Bay Shipping Channel all year.
What tarpon and permit do is far more mysterious. Last year, and it’s happened before during cool springs, migrating tarpon moved north though the estuary system. Those shallow waters warm up much faster than the open Gulf. So cool springs often see tarpon show up in the backwaters before they appear in the passes or along the Gulf beaches.This often throws tarpon fishing off and may result in a very late silver king season in places like Egmont Key, Boca Grande Pass and the beaches. During this record winter anything short of a sudden heat wave will probably cause the same type of behavior.When that happens the best early tarpon fishing may be far up Charlotte Harbor and at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa Bay. Beach and pass anglers may have to wait on silver kings this season.
There have been some seasons when the peak of fishing at Boca Grande Pass occurred not in May or June but as late as August when most anglers had given up on them.Kingfish and Spanish mackerel fishing will probably be impacted by the record freeze of 2010 as well. March is historically a windy month and the cold fronts keep marching across the Gulf. On the 11th of this month gale force winds and tornado watches accompanied a massive cold front that swept across the Gulf. This one didn’t bring killer cold with it. But it dropped the temperature once again and the ensuing rain event that came with it further added to dropping water temperatures.
Pelagic gamefish like king and Spanish mackerel don’t like wind that blows onshore. It tends to break up bait schools and makes the water dirty; and that complicates predation by these sight-hunting gamefish. Windy springs usually see these pelagic fish stay far offshore where the water temperatures are warmer and the depth allows for clearer water to hunt in. The spring migration is usually farther offshore than the autumn event anyway. When that spring is accompanied by windy weather it may well mean kingfish will completely bypass the Gulf Coast in favor of the lee shores of the panhandle. Spanish mackerel may dash inside Tampa Bay instead. But all those fish have to migrate sometime. By knowing what problems they face in that movement you can plan most fishing trips accordingly.
By G. B. Knowles