Making the Most of March’s Opportunities

Making the Most of March’s Opportunities
Redfish in state water offer March anglers lots of opportunity within site of land.

With spring in full swing I look forward to March every year, it brings with it the long-awaited Spring Break. For me, as I'm sure it does with many, it marks a major return to the water. March can be and often is a month that we start to see the offshore water temperatures begin to change. The amount of change can be a good indicator to the speed and timing of fish movements leading into the summer months.

Changing water temps and length of daylight are two major factors in just exactly when we will see the wahoo move from their breeding aggregations along the continental shelf and into more "reachable" waters. It will dictate when the kingfish scatter from large groups along deep live-bottom structure and up from Mexican waters to eventually meet us within sight of land.

Water temp will even slightly influence just how early or late we see the cobia arrive from east of the Mississippi. With most we need a temperature above 68-69°F. I find that 70-71° usually means game on. If you fish often enough and pay close enough attention, you can almost mark their movement as the surface and beachfront water temperatures rise.

These rising water temps can also have the opposite effect on some reef species, leaving us running further as the year progresses into summer. I know that you can find a few scientists and experts that will tell you that all reef fish are structure dependent and do not migrate. But this aging fisherman can tell you that they will be on a certain structure in the winter and not be there in July. So in my humble opinion they most defiantly move to deeper water as the temps change. I guess you can decide if that's migrating or not.

Greater amberjack will move as the water temps rise as will some groupers. Even our own Gulf of Mexico red snapper can be found with some consistency in the cold times of the year as shallow as 45 or 50 feet and be nearly nonexistent within 15 miles of that same location in the summer. While some of this shallow water movement may coincide with water quality, algal blooms and hypoxic zones, it also happens with major shifts in water temps - due mainly to many of the more highly-sought reef fish preferring water temps just slightly below 71° F.

So how does all this fit into March fishing, you may ask. Well it doesn't, except maybe to help us all understand why we have the fishery we do this time of year and how it progresses as we move into the next few months.

What it also does is forces us to use our little bag of tricks so to speak. Chase a few fish that are overlooked by many and ran past by most. Only to pull up short of the deep water species, find ourselves catching and releasing out of season red snapper and wondering when the fishing will get better.

So for this time of year, short of long, arduous runs and chasing the changing water temps, what do we do in March? Red snapper season is closed; the kingfish, cobia and dorado are still some time from making a showing for the average fisherman's range on a day trip. But - there are a couple of options that many fail to ever take advantage of.

These options would be red drum and gray snapper (AKA mangrove snapper). It is not legal to retain redfish in federal waters, (outside of 9 nautical miles) at any time of the year, and most think of the slot-sized, keeper fish as an inshore fishery only. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. A large number of these fish spend the winter and spring offshore where the water temps are more consistent. They will hang to just about any kind of structure, but I find the most success on rigs. Many of the rigs in the 40 to 50 foot depths that sit well within state waters will hold redfish well into April.

You can target these fish in much the same way you would a red snapper using a single hook rig with just about any type of oily bait, or even large shrimp. I prefer to use as little weight as I can get away with and consider about three ounces to be as heavy as I will tolerate. Concentrate your presentation as close to the rig (or rig legs) as you can safely accomplish. Begin working from the middle of the water column to the bottom. Some structure will seem to hold a lot of fish while others in the same depth will be almost devoid of life. Rig hopping as we call it, moving around until we find them, is the general way this game gets played. Why certain structures are obviously so different in the number of individuals and also the species they will attract and hold has always been a mystery to me. If you might ever figure it out, I would greatly appreciate if you would let me in on the secret.

Second on the spring time list and one of my favorite fish to target is the mangrove snapper. We all occasionally catch these fish while fishing for red snapper but, targeting them specifically and catching this fish with consistency is altogether different. I will target these fish on just about any structure that holds other snapper species. Your approach and presentation need to be somewhat different, though.

Mangrove snapper dislike two things: fishing line and fishing weights. They are extremely line-shy causing me to use about 2 to 3 feet of fluorocarbon, small 5/0 circle hooks and absolutely no weight. I will pull up on a spot, just up-wind, with a few pounds of precut chum and I will make 2 to 3 drifts doing nothing more than tossing small handfuls as I cross over the structure. If the mangroves are there and ready to play they will usually come right up to meet you. Many times high enough that their color and that distinctive stripe across the eye becomes apparent. On the next pass I will toss a handful along with a baited line. The only thing then is to strip line at a rate that it doesn't come taught, allow the bait to fall naturally with the chum and hang on tight.

March is definitely a finicky offshore month for us all, but it doesn't mean you're automatically relegated to sitting on the beach or running 70 miles either. And if you should decide to make one of those long runs, just keep in mind that you left a couple of fish behind you that are defiantly worth pulling back on the throttles for.