The middle of March is typically a great time to fish, both fresh and saltwater. For the saltwater fans, the inshore and near-shore bites start catching fire. For the freshwater fans, the big female largemouth bass begin their annual spawning.
Thanks to Punxsutawney Phil our weather has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster at Six Flags. There’s been no consistent pattern. We get 3-4 days of beautiful weather, and then a streak of cold and rain. If you think you’re confused, imagine what the fish are thinking. Here’s spring, here comes the bait, actually wait, we’re going to get another freeze, worry about warmth, and forget about food. They’re as confused as a batter facing Pedro Martinez in his prime.
Even more confusing are the drastic weather changes in just a single day. If you’ve ever fished in North Florida during March, you’ve had this experience. It’s really cold; you wake up, and put on 17 layers of clothes. Your crew looks like a boat full of sasquatches in anticipation of the freezing daybreak boat ride. En route to the first fishing spot, everyone huddles around the boat windshield like it’s a campfire. Your eyes start watering like a pack of sorority sisters watching The Notebook, and your lips get more chapped than a baboon’s derrière playing musical chairs.
Fast forward to early afternoon.
And now it’s hot. And now you have to figure out how to stuff two tons of clothes into a dry storage bin, a cooler (or two), an empty live well, the anchor well, and some oversized Tupperware you stole from the kitchen. It’s a classic North Florida whacky half-winter, half-summer day, where the temperature rises 40 degrees in six hours. Luckily for us, there is one species that’s not overly worried about the zig zagging thermometer.
If the Big Bend waters gave out monthly beauty pageant winners, this month’s winner would be Miss Sheepshead. It wouldn’t be close. She’d sweep the swimsuit, evening gown, and the talent (cough) competition. She’d make Miss USA, Miss America, and even Honey Boo Boo’s mom jealous.
Anglers look forward to the annual spawning of sheepshead from Cedar Key to Keaton Beach. You don’t have to travel to the Middle Grounds; in fact, if you can find the right patch of hard bottom or rocks, they can be caught inside of 10 miles. Some popular “public” reefs include Hedemon Reef off Suwannee and Seahorse Reef off of Cedar Key. Several more artificial reefs in the 30-foot areas will host the monster females that begin spawning.
In order to entice them to eat, go natural. Fiddler crabs are the filet mignon, and shrimp are the prime rib. If they’re feeding, they’re not picky. If they’re being finicky, go light. Lighten your leader, lighten your weights or jig head, and you can literally feel them picking the shells of the shrimp. If you want the perfect storm of ideal fishing competitions, fish the outgoing tide this week, following the full moon on March 16th.
I fish for sport, but I also fish for meat. If you are looking for quality eating, Google “poor man’s lobster”, and you’ll think that sheepshead finger you’re dipping in butter tastes like a $30 lobster tail from Red Lobster. Well, almost anyways!