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Is This The New Normal?

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On: Tue, Jan 22, 2013 at 9:25AM | By: Captain Ray Markham

Just when you were starting to think that this abnormally warm weather was settling in and the new year was going to be a mild one, we’re hit with some colder than normal weather to balance it out. What’s ‘normal’ is a daytime high temperature about 70 degrees, and a low temperature of 54 degrees. However, these past couple of weeks have seen highs in the 70s and lows in the 70s, hardly normal for a January on the Suncoast. But nobody’s complaining.

The real danger lies in what fish could be sensing and thinking. We’ve been catching snook on the open flats out near the Gulf in water temperatures ranging into the mid-70s…very high for January and more like a day in April. These fish stand a very good chance of freezing to death should we have a hard freeze like we did a couple or three years ago. Snook tolerate some degree of cold temperatures providing they get acclimated to it. But the start of the winter was warm, and fish weren’t anywhere close to being where they normally are for January. The norm would have these fish in deep canals, up rivers, and in deep creeks, but not on the flats. While we have caught them right along with the trout and redfish, we have not been targeting them. As by-catch, they are a welcomed catch-and-release fish, but concern for their well-being is of utmost importance, and a fish in stress has a higher mortality rate than one that’s healthy and in its proper habitat and comfort zone.

These warm day have put good numbers of pompano in the bays and anglers aboard the Flat Back II have been catching them on CAL Jigs with Shad tails. Pompano to about 4 pounds have been caught from the Manatee River to Piney Point on the South Shore of lower Tampa Bay.

Speckled trout fishing has been fair-to-excellent. There have been good numbers with some legal fish on the fair days, and good numbers with fish over 4 pounds on the excellent days. Big jerk baits like the 5.5 CAL Jerk Bait have been productive rigged on 1/16-oz. jig heads. But consistency has been an issue here with size lately. Red tide to the south made its way north here for a brief time, which moved the larger fish out, then back, then out again. Right now we’re working for some big fish, but have found them most days. On the warm days, a top water bite has provided good surface action with MirrOlure MirrOmullet XL lures for trout.

Redfish have been more consistent, and slot fish have been on nearly every trip. Eppinger Rex Spoons, CAL Shads, and MirrOlure Lil’ John jerk baits have been top red-getters for us. Most fish are coming either in the potholes and channel edges on the low tides or up in potholes on skinny water flats on the higher tides.

Flounder continue to show on sandy bottom areas wherever there is some current and water movement. DOA Shrimp and CAL Jigs with Shad tails have put more flatties in the boat than all the rest of the lures combined. Flounder to 19 inches have been caught on the outside long sand bars from Joe Island to Port Manatee. Passes provided the greatest numbers of flounder.

With winter here you can expect variable weather, and the action corresponds usually to warmth and time of day. Warmer periods during the day are typically the most productive, but with air and water temperatures being the way they have, it makes you wonder if this could be the new normal.

In the picture above, Lynn Manzella of Largo holds a nice pompano caught on a lower Tampa Bay sand bar on a CAL Jig with a Shad tail while fishing aboard the Flat Back II

Capt. Ray Markham runs the Flat Back II, a custom built Action Craft flats skiff, specializing in fishing artificial lures on spin, plug, and fly tackle. He can be reached for charter at (941) 723-2655, via email at, or through his website at


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