Spring fishing has sprung in Hernando

This nice tripletail was taken on a recent trip off Hernando with Capt. Josh Fritz. The fish like to hang around crab-trap buoys and take live shrimp.

Well, as predicted, warmer weather worked its magic over the past week and local anglers are reporting that it’s game on.

Gulf water temperatures clawed their way up to the mid-70s. Baitfish schools returned to the shallow flats off Hernando County and everything bigger than those baitfish is out and about hunting them. Even snook are poking their heads out into the open waters to scope things out.

Capt. Josh Fritz said things are night and day compared to a week ago. Fishing over the weekend, he found Gulf water hovering around 75 degrees. Redfish were bunching up on rocky points and around flooded mangroves along the coastal shorelines, spoils and islands. The big trout were there, too, with fish on the open grass, in potholes on the flats and over the rocky points and flat, hard limestone bottom areas.

Both are chasing artificials, like white soft plastics on jig heads, as well as plugs. The scaled sardines are running very large right now, so only the bigger trout are able to gulp them, but they are not problem for the reds and snook.

Capt. Josh said the snook are cautious and have not ventured far from the creek mouths yet and finding a fish or two may require working back inside with the higher tides, but barring any big temperature drops, by this time next week they should be on the outside around points, rocky channel edges and cruising the island shorelines hunting baitfish.

The best thing about warming water is fishing options are back. Spanish mackerel are schooling just offshore in 10 to 12 feet of water over hard bottom. Over the next few days, more of them will be moving onto the shallower grass beds in 6 to 8 feet. Find the bait and find the macks. Sling a chum block over the side and let it work its magic.

Local bait shop sources are reporting a big uptick in trout fishing, with fish now on the open flats over grass bottom. Live shrimp is working great. Redfish are beginning to stage up in small schools and it may not be long before large schools of fish are found working the shallow rocks and oyster beds. Look for action at the fishing pier at Bayport Park to pick up, as reds coming out of the mud.

Offshore, the return of Spanish mackerel always precedes the kingfish run. While we can never be sure just how close to the coast the schools will pass off Hernando, we’re on the cusp and could see some catches soon and most are hoping they’ll dip into at least the 30- to 40-foot depths as they move north.

Meanwhile, Capt. Josh said offshore anglers can’t go wrong working rocky bottom in 25 to 30 feet for big mangrove snapper. His anglers have been landing fish to 4 pounds. In some of the same spots, they are taking good numbers of hogfish. Both are excellent table fare and good stand-ins until the gag grouper season reopens in June. Other good bets offshore as the water warms is tripletail. They like to hang around crab buoys and it’s work checking out the floats. They are another favorite on the table.