Nick Stubbs Sig

The long warm spell that extended right up until winter had to end, and boy, did it. Tampa Bay water temperatures dipped well into the 50s with the last big blast, but it seems there were enough warm-water pockets and backwater refuges to sustain sensitive species, according to Capt. George Hastick.

Hastick is back on the water running charters and here’s his take on the impact of consecutive nights of recent freezing weather.

The good news: Hastick said he hasn’t seen any dead fish anywhere around the middle of the bay. Instead of the dead jacks and ladyfish one might think would be the rule, schools of both are on the rampage and are breaking the surface and feeding madly all over. While neither species is a particularly desirable catch, they do provide a ready way to put a bend in the rod in mornings, when the fishing action can be particularly slow.

The bullet dodged appears to be the bay snook managed to tough it through.

The morning drill: The pattern right now is the fish are on the inactive side in the mornings following the overnight lows. He’s been using live shrimp on jig heads to work the bottom around docks and seawalls. With water temperatures low, the fish are not as energetic, so a slow presentation is a must. Just a few slow twitches of the bait send a message that the offering will make an easy meal that won’t involve too much effort on the fish’s part.

His primary morning targets are sheepshead and the occasional redfish, and the majority are coming from beneath docks. The rule is the bigger the shrimp, the bigger the fish.

Afternoons get better: The power of the sun is like magic when the bay is cold, and as the day wears on, it’s easy to see the change of mood in the fish population. Hastick said as soon as the sun is overhead, redfish begin moving out of deeper holes and away from structure, spreading out on flats, around flooded mangroves and cuts in search of food. Shrimp and small crabs are going to be what they are looking for, making the shrimp rigged on jig heads the ideal presentation.

Snook are responding in a similar way, and Hastick is finding them moving out onto shallow, sunny flats to soak up some of the sun’s heat. They can be a challenge to entice given the cold water. Don’t count on the larger fish jumping on baits, as it will be the more energetic youngsters that make the effort. Land them quickly and release them to ensure they are not tired to exhaustion.

Days ahead: From here, it’s going to be a slow crawl back to warmer water and more reliable action, said Hastick. One thing anglers can do is track the bay water temperatures and other conditions using the Operational Forecast System from NOAA at An interactive map of Tampa Bay provides data, including water temperatures, salinity levels, winds and tide height to help make better fishing decisions.