It’s 'Sprinter' — Time to Go Fishing!

Lynn Manzella with a 39-inch snook.
Lynn Manzella with a 39-inch snook.

Seasons come and seasons go, and we’re currently somewhere in between Spring and Winter — so we must be in “Sprinter,” right? We’re getting closer to daylight savings time, a Spring thing, and for the majority of ‘weekend warrior’ anglers, what that means is the possibility of wetting a line for a few hours after work before the sun sets. So, what must fish be thinking of our weather and what season we’re in? Taking a look at where fish are being found and what kind of fish are here really tells a story.
In winter, the not-so-cold-hearty snook head for rivers, creeks, and residential canals where they can find some warmth in the greater depths some areas provide, or the warmth of spring water that boils up from below at a temperature of 72-degrees. They stay in these areas until air temperature rises from the warmth of sunny days and southerly winds of Spring. But at the first sign of changing weather toward warm spring-like conditions, these fish begin moving out to the mouths of rivers, creeks, and canals, and head toward shallow dark bottom flats. Right now, this is where you’ll find snook- anywhere from their winter haunts to the flats…a Spring thing.
Baitfish leave the flats at the approach of winter when cold fronts put a chill on water temperature, dropping it into the 60’s and even 50’s. Pilchards (a.k.a. whitebait or scaled sardines), threadfin herring (a.k.a. greenbacks), and menhaden (a.k.a. shad or pogies) all head south and west for greater warmth and depths in the Gulf where they can find thermoclines that have warmer more comfortable temperatures. As warm days arrive after a cold winter, rising water temperature triggers a migration from the South and West that makes baitfish move back northward and into shore. Baitfish are showing on offshore wrecks and beginning to show up on some flats…a Spring thing.
At the same time, baitfish begin moving back, pelagic species like Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, and cobia that also fled northern waters for the warmth of the Keys last Fall begin moving back northward, following movements of the schools of baitfish that spend Spring, Summer, and part of Fall with us here on the sun coast. Spanish mackerel have been here in very good numbers for several weeks now, and anglers able to work shallow artificial reefs are catching kingfish….a Spring thing.
Growing up, I always seemed to have allergies in the Spring. First signs of oak trees budding and shooting out pollen and I was a basket case tied to a tissue box. On February 2nd, Groundhog Day, the furry critter came out of his den and saw his shadow, and according to legend, that means we are in for an extra 6-weeks of winter. However, I’m betting that the groundhog spent several days recently, sweating in that fur coat if he moved south here for the winter. Trees are beginning to shoot out new growth, pollen is in the air, and allergies are growing at a rapid pace. One sneeze and you may be coming down with a cold. Two, three, or multiple sneezes and you may have allergies kicking up…a Spring thing.
Capt. Ray with a Spanish Mackerel
Capt. Ray with a Spanish Mackerel

In early Fall, after a summer of frolicking along the beaches and inside the bays, tarpon begin to head up rivers and into back bays and some believe even across the Gulf to Mexico. Whatever the case may be, tarpon seem to disappear, but begin to reappear sometime in March, just about the time bait schools begin to show up, mackerel arrive, and snook move out on the flats. Coincidence? I don’t think so, but I think fish seem to know the difference between Winter and Spring, and for the early arrivals, they know what Sprinter is!
We have had cold fronts, cold days, and winter winds, but also warm fronts, warm days, and balmy breezes with snook on the flats, baitfish showing up, and mackerel chasing bait. I submit, we aren’t in Winter and we may yet to see Spring, so for now, I think the fish feel it so we must be in Sprinter, so GO FISHING!