Spanish mackerel invade Island-area waters
Water temps are on the rise and hungry Spanish mackerel have taken over northern Sarasota Bay as well as the Intracoastal Waterway from Longboat Pass to the Manatee Avenue bridge. Anything from live shrimp to white crappie jigs are producing. Silver spoons and Gotcha plugs are working well, too.
These fish have teeth, so you’ll want to use some kind of leader. Most fishers use 30- to 50-pound fluorocarbon tied directly to their lure. This technique works well as long as you’re willing to lose a few lures here and there. If you get sick of losing tackle, you can also attach a piece of thin-gauge copper wire about 4 inches long to your spoon or jig. You might not get as many hits, but you won’t lose so many lures.
The weather is getting better everyday, and so far the fishing seems to be following suit. Trout action on the grass flats is heating up with fish over 20 inches reported. Redfish are still sitting in their winter haunts, although with water temps climbing into the upper 60s, they’ll be moving onto the flats soon enough. There still are rumors of white bait spotted in the bays, although a predominant showing has yet to occur. The sheepshead bite on the nearshore structure has improved with fish reported up to 6 pounds.
The offshore bite is holding strong with reports of plenty of gag grouper and red snapper caught starting around water depths of 100 feet. Live pinfish, frozen sardines and threadfins are working to pull these catch-and-release heavyweights up from the depths. Mangrove snapper, hogfish and porgies have been prevalent on most nearshore structure. Live select shrimp and frozen squid are a good offering to produce a bite.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says Spanish mackerel have invaded the pier. White crappie jigs, silver spoons and live shrimp are producing limits of these highly active fish. The sheepshead bite is still in full force with fish running up to 4 pounds caught on shrimp, fiddlers and sand fleas.
Spotted sea trout are making an appearance around the pier. Fishers using live shrimp are having best results. “You might even catch some silver trout while targeting the spotted ones,” Medley says. Silver trout are considered to taste as good, if not better than spotted sea trout, while there’s no size or bag limit on silver trout, don’t take more than you need.
Mangrove snapper action is starting to heat up in the nighttime hours around the structure below the pier. Live shrimp or small pieces of squid are a good bet.
Capt. Warren Girle says catch-and-release gag grouper action is strong. Live pinfish and live select shrimp are working great for these bottom-dwelling tackle-busters. While fishing for grouper, Girle also is using shrimp to produce mangrove snapper up to 19 inches. Sheepshead in the 5-pound range are making a showing around nearshore structure. Around the nearshore reefs, Girle is also catching flounder up to 2 1/2 pounds.
Moving inshore, Girle is catching redfish and sheepshead in canals around docks. Live shrimp has been his bait of choice. “Target docks with deeper water to catch these fish,” Girle says.
Backwater trout fishing is beginning to pick up. Girle is reeling in fish up to 20 inches using artificial baits such as Exude darts on a 1/4-ounce jighead.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters reports that offshore fishing is going strong. “There’s a great abundance of gag grouper and red snapper out there right now,” Kimball says.
Gag grouper up to 20 pounds have been the average on Kimball’s offshore trips, along with red snapper in the 14-pound range. Keeper-size amberjack, which provide fishers with drag-screaming action, are appearing on the offshore springs. Baits of choice for the gags, red snapper and AJs right now are live pinfish, although Kimball says frozen squid and sardines are working, too.
If you’re looking for fish to eat, Kimball says his clients are taking home mangrove snapper up to 5 pounds as well as a variety of reef dwellers, including key west grunts, lane snapper, jolt-head porgies and hogfish.
Capt. Steve Salgado of Compleat Angler Fishing Charters says targeting redfish in Sarasota Bay has resulted in good numbers from a “mixed bag.” Salgado has been catching slot-sized redfish around deep-water mangrove edges. He says he’s also having success around oyster bars on the higher tides. Salgado prefers to use live shrimp to target redfish in the winter.
Other encounters for Salgado include spotted sea trout, flounder and Spanish mackerel. For the spotted sea trout, Salgado lives to use Cottee jigs for best results. “Once you find the trout,” Salgado says, “it’s more effective to use artificial baits. You can catch fish faster.”
Salgado likes a 1/4-ounce red Cottee jighead rigged with a root beer and silver curly-tail grub. “All you have to do with these jigs is throw them out and reel them in slowly,” Salgado adds.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says beach fishers are being rewarded with catches of whiting and Spanish mackerel. The whiting are hitting on fresh-cut peeled shrimp on a No. 4 size hook. Beach fishers targeting Spanish mackerel are using an array of artificials, including silver spoons, crappie jigs and Gotcha plugs. “Sometimes the macks are out a little farther off the beach,” Keyes says. “A 7/8-ounce Gotcha plug will ensure a longer cast so you can reach those far-out fish.”
Moving offshore, Keyes says he’s hearing of good catch-and-release gag grouper around depths of 100 feet. Other offshore catches include Key West grunts, sheepshead, black sea bass and porgies.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says to look for the fishing to make the transition to the spring pattern in the next few weeks. Howard predicts “some amazing opportunities to have some exciting fish-catching action.”
Howard reports catches of redfish under deepwater docks along the ICW. “They’re also in potholes on the flats during the negative tides,” Howard says. “Wading is a effective way of catching them, using a Gulp shrimp and jig head combo.”
Howard says sheepshead will be gathering in big schools waiting to spawn on the next full moon, and some of the biggest sheepshead of the year will be active then.
“Speckled trout are finally starting to gather in force and will only get bigger as the spring-time pattern emerges,” Howard says.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters is reeling in big amberjacks using large live baits and butterfly jigs. His clients also are catching a variety of snappers — mangrove, lane, vermillion and huge flag yellowtail snappers as well as porgies and triggerfish.
McGuire’s charters are releasing lots of gag and red grouper while not even targeting them. “Best action starts out at about 110 feet and only improves as we fish deeper,” he says.
Closer in, McGuire says there are lots of sheepshead on the artificial reefs, docks and bridges, while off the beach there are lots of Spanish mackerel and bonita working. “After over two weeks of perfect weather, spring may be here,” McGuire says.
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