Bait creeps in, fishing keeps improving
Andy Opp from Edina, Minn. with a 7-pound sheepshead caught while fishing with Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters.
White bait is creeping back into the area, and it could mean the transition from cut bait to live bait for fishers.
Small pinfish already are invading bays from offshore where there are reports of clouds of pinfish. Already there are glass minnows in the bays, so it shouldn’t be long before they’re followed by shiners. With the bait will come more Spanish and king mackerel, as well as bluefish. There are reports of kingfish being caught from both Sunshine Skyway Bridge fishing piers and some anglers are reporting they’ve been spooled by king smokers.
Calm, warm weather also was timely for grouper fishermen, who took advantage of the opening of grouper season on April 1. Quality catches of grouper can be had in 60 feet of water, and the fish tend to favor live bait. April 1 also saw the open harvest of tarpon and bonefish.
Anglers also may want to hit the nearshore reefs for a variety of grouper, snapper, porgies, sheepshead, and possible flounder. Those reefs haven’t been touched much in the past month or two because of rough weather.
There still are no reports of snook. Snook took a big hit with the February freeze, as an estimated 500,000-2 million were killed statewide. Likely, the survivors will eventually creep out from their hiding holes far up the rivers and estuaries, or from deeper offshore waters.
The bottom line is a showing of bait is a sign that fishing is breaking out from its winter doldrums.
Capt. Bill Ware of The Damn Yankee said that last week as he was fishing at the south end of Sister Keys in north Sarasota Bay in crystal-clear water in a foot of depth, where he free-lined a shrimp trying to get redfish and landing a 29-inch trout. “She was a big breeder female,” Ware said, “and it was full of roe. I wish someone in the boat had a camera. I just decided to let this baby go and people are just going to have to take my word for it. That was the only fish I caught that day on the full moon.”
Ware said later in the week, Spanish mackerel were hitting well in the bays and well as trout. He added that a bunch of catfish were caught as well. “Which is kind of unusual,” he said.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters out of Cortez Fishing Center said he went on three offshore trips last week and in 125 feet of depth caught a bunch of big amberjack, gag grouper and red snapper. Once the grouper season opened April 1, McGuire fished in 60-70 feet of water for gag grouper in calm seas. “It’s about time, because we had a rough winter and spring,” McGuire said.
McGuire said his anglers were using sardines and squid, as well as pinfish and grunts. He said dead bait worked best in the mornings and live bait was the ticket in the afternoons.
Capt. Warren Girle said he limited out on redfish every day in north Sarasota Bay, as has been the case the past couple weeks. He said there are still about four or five schools milling around the area, as well as scattered reds. He said there is a ton of trout in 3-4 feet of water, Spanish mackerel all over, and scattered pompano.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters said that with longer days and warmer weather the spring pattern is taking hold. “Shiners are still very hard to come by, but should be making their run into the bay in the next 10 days. Spanish mackerel has moved into the bay with some keepers to 4 pounds being landed.”
He said speckled trout are steady with some keepers mixed in with a lot of small ones. “They have been holding in 4-6 feet of water over seagrass. Pompano have made a strong show in the bay, and sheephead fishing has reached its peak with many huge 1-7 pounders being landed.”
Howard said live shrimp, sand fleas and fiddler crabs are the baits of choice. He expects beach fishing to turn hot with the calm winds and warming temperatures. He said to look for kingfish, bonitos and cobia to enter our waters any time.
Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions said he fished on March 31, and the action was slow on the incoming tide through the first couple hours of the outgoing tide. Once the tide got moving faster, between 4 and 6 in the afternoon, however, trout to about 20 inches were biting almost non-stop. “I’d say we probably caught 50 trout in an hour, and we’d caught maybe six to that point,” Markham said.
Markham thinks the reason for the slow bite earlier in the day was because anglers were coming off a full moon when fish tend to feed throughout the night, and thus are sated in the day. Also, an incoming tide was bringing cooler water from the Gulf, and rising pressure that kept tides lower than normal made for less-than-ideal conditions.
“I saw a bunch of redfish but I couldn’t get the reds to eat again,” Markham said. “It was like the bunch I caught before the rains. A change of salinity in the water makes a difference with the reds.”
Markham added that he caught a ton of ladyfish, which makes for good chunked bait.
“I’m looking forward to good things (this week),” Markham said. “Tides are slower, but so what? If we can get water temps to about 72 degrees stabilized and it continues to rise, things are going to be good. We usually start catching snook when we smell the orange blossoms and the blossoms are just starting to pop out.”
Dave Sork from Anna Maria City Pier said he’s starting to see a lot of white bait around the pier that have been caught on Sabiki rigs. He said there are still Spanish mackerel and sheepshead around, but he’s yet to see a snook since the February freeze.
Derek Olson from Rod & Reel Pier said anglers have been slaying some big sheepshead all around the pilings with shrimp. Also, some Spanish mackerel have come through and hit some of the bait that’s been gathering around the pier.
Kyle Dodrill from the Sunshine Skyway south fishing pier said some big Spanish mackerel to 22 inches have been caught mainly in the mornings and in the later afternoons. Anglers also have been hooking cobia, pompano and small kingfish. “I saw here in front of the bait fish an 18-inch kingfish someone caught,” Dodrill said.
Kim Schearer of Annie’s Bait & Tackle said Spanish mackerel are reportedly being caught around Spanish mackerel are reported being caught around the Longboat Pass bridge.
She said Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters caught a lot of sheepshead up to 8 pounds, mangrove snapper and grunts about 3 miles offshore. “He says that more sheepshead can be caught inshore in the passes, but the bigger ones are offshore. Five miles out, he ran into a lot of catch-and-release, keeper-size red and gag grouper. Hopefully they will still be there since the season is open.”
Schearer said Capt. Mark Johnston, also of Legend Charters, caught lots of sheepshead up to 5 pounds in Longboat Pass, including 41 of them in an hour. Johnston also boated trout up to 16 inches around the edge of the entrance to Palma Sola Bay. Incoming tides and live shrimp are still the ticket. “Longboat Pass is being very temperamental since it is clear one day, then murky the next, but is still producing a huge amount of sheepshead,” Schearer said. “The guides here speculate that the murky water is from the fine sand that was used for the beach renourishment. It washes into the pass when the tides are coming in and the winds are out of the west. The problem is that it sticks around and will even show up and cause problems a few miles offshore.”
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