Chris Braun, left, caught this amberjack using a pinfish in approximately 200 feet of water, while fishing with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters. Eric Smithman and Alex Braun assist Chris with his 75-pound monster catch. All are from Bradenton.
Springtime, time to prepare for silver kings
Well, it’s almost time to start the quest for tarpon. Sightings have been reported, although targetable numbers of tarpon have not yet arrived to Tampa Bay. So dig out the tarpon rods and get ready for one of the most desired fishing seasons. Take this opportunity to go through your tackle and make sure it’s all worthy of the prospective battle with a silver king.
For spinning tackle, most tarpon fishers are using an 8-9 foot, extra-heavy (25- to 40-pound) rod paired with an oversized spinning reel such as a Penn 850 Spinfisher or something comparable. Using a bigger reel gives you the drag strength you need to turn a fish and also provides a lot of line capacity. I like to have at least 250-300 yards of 50-pound braid plus backing on my reel. You probably won’t need that much line for smaller fisher, but you never know when you’re going to hook a big one. I’ve seen a big tarpon spool a reel all the way to the knot, and having more line is better than not enough.
Leader sizes of 50-, 60- or 80-pound fluorocarbon are commonly rigged with a 5/0-sized or bigger circle hook.
In the upcoming weeks, we should be hearing reports of tarpon moving north, so make sure you’re ready when they show up.
Inshore fishing around Anna Maria Island is still getting better as spring proceeds. Rumors of pompano are coming from the beach fishers. Also on the beaches, fishers are reeling in whiting, spotted sea trout, mackerel, ladyfish and jacks. Live shrimp and sand fleas are working well for the pomps, whiting and trout, while spoons and jigs have been working for the macks, ladies and jack crevalle.
The sheepshead bite is still keeping the rods bent at the piers. You still can’t beat a tubeworm, but sheepsherders using fleas and fiddlers are producing, too.
Offshore action is getting better every day as the water temps warm up. Mangrove snapper in the 2- to 5-pound range are being caught on offshore reefs and ledges along with hogfish, porgies and Key West grunts. Gag grouper are still dominating nearshore and offshore structures. Record numbers of amberjack are being seen offshore, and rumors of kingfish in 40-50 feet of water are occurring, while these species are also being seen around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is catching lots of snapper as well as catch-and-release grouper on his offshore trips. Using live select shrimp or squid is resulting in catches of lane snapper, vermillion snapper, yellowtail snapper up to 2 pounds, and mangrove snapper up to 6 pounds. Catch-and-release gag and red grouper are still going strong with fish in the 20-pound range coming from deeper water. To round out the offshore experience, Kimball is catching amberjack in the 10- to 20-pound range on live threadfin herring. Moving to the nearshore structure, he’s seeing Key West grunts and sheepshead in the 3- to 4-pound range.
Captain Mark Johnston, also of Legend Charters, is having success in the Intracoastal Waterway and northern Sarasota Bay with Spanish mackerel, sheepshead and spotted sea trout using live shrimp.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charter says backwater fishing is improving as the water temps rise. While flats fishing in the bay area, Gross is catching good numbers of snook using live shiners. “We caught a dozen in 20 minutes in one spot,” Gross said. Gross also is targeting redfish around oyster bars.
Using live shrimp, Gross is reeling in reds up to 25 inches. In the same areas, he’s switching over to white bait and catching snook and spotted sea trout in the 22-inch range. He also says sheepshead remain abundant around docks and in the passes. Gross likes to use half a shrimp on a jig head for best results.
Finally, Gross is catching Spanish mackerel on the deeper grass flats and channels using both live shiners and shrimp.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says beach fishers are reporting in with a mixed catch depending on their bait. Sand fleas fished in the trough right by the shoreline are resulting in whiting and an occasional sheepshead, and there are still some flounder on the beaches. “Try using a Berkeley Gulp shrimp to catch those flounder,” Keyes suggests. Live shrimp have been producing some keeper spotted sea trout, as well as a few pompano. “There’s some pompano out there,” Keyes says, “but the bite has been sporadic.”
Last but not least, some bonnethead and black tip sharks are cruising the beaches along the shoreline. A piece of cut-bait such as squid or threadfin herring is a good way to hook up the feisty jaws.
Moving into the bays and Anna Maria Sound, fishers are targeting spotted sea trout on the deeper flats, where DOA Cal jigs and a 1/4-ounce jig head are producing trout within slot size. Redfish are starting to show on the flats around the mullet schools. And, Keyes says, you may encounter some good catch-and-release snook action around the mullet schools as well. To target both of these species, try using live shrimp or shiners. “The MirrOlure “Lil John” is working well, too,” he says.
Local docks and piers are still holding good numbers of sheepshead. Keyes suggests carrying an assortment of baits, including fiddlers, sand fleas and live shrimp. “Sometimes the sheepies will get finicky,” Keyes says, “So you want to be prepared.”
Inshore and offshore fishing is picking up by the day. Key West grunts, porgies, sheepshead, hogfish and mangrove snapper are all being caught on live select shrimp. Cobia are cruising the structure. The amberjack bite is on fire around 15 miles out. Keyes suggests you try some live threadfin herring or pinfish to catch these reef donkeys.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing waters up to 50 feet deep and reeling in catch-and-release gag grouper up to 29 inches. “There’s still a ton of grouper out there,” Girle says. In these same areas, Girle is catching limits of mangrove snapper in the 2-pound range on live shrimp. Spanish mackerel, Key West grunts and lots of sheepies are being boated.
Moving into the bay, Girle is hooking up redfish around docks and canals using live shrimp. He says artificials are the ticket for spotted sea trout on the deeper grass flats.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says the sheepshead bite is still going strong with pier fishers landing convict fish up to 5 pounds. “The sheepies are biting like they were back in February,” Medley says, “They’re even biting on small pieces of peeled shrimp.”
Spanish mackerel have moved in with a purpose, eating schools of glass minnow, small threadfins and white bait. Fishers using spoons or shiners are bringing fish in up to 25 inches. The Spanish mackerel’s larger cousin, the king mackerel, also have moved inshore. Fish up to 30 inches are being reported,
while bigger ones have been spotted, too. A live threadfin on a flat line has been working well for a hookup.
Fishers using Doc’s jigs or reasonable facsimiles are catching pompano. “Try tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp,” Medley suggests.
Fishing cut bait on the bottom has resulted in some nice-size shark and stingrays at the Skyway. A nice chunk of Spanish mackerel is a good way to entice smaller black tip sharks, according to Medley. And don’t forget to gear up, these fish fight long and hard.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead is remaining the mainstay for pier fishers. Tubeworms, fiddlers and sand fleas are working great, with catches in the 2-pound range the norm. Spanish mackerel are starting to show and Kilb says Gotcha plugs and white crappie jigs are highly effective on these fast-paced fish. While fishing for mackerel, pier fishers also are encountering jack crevalle in the 5-pound range. White bait is starting to load up around the pier, so don’t forget to bring a Sabiki rig if you want shiners for bait.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says nonstop action on a variety of species is the springtime norm. The sheepshead bite peaked last week with the full moon and produced some huge sheepies of up to 7 pounds.
Snook have been burning the drags on Howard’s reels, feeding heavy since the warmup and making for some excellent catch-and-release fishing.
Speckled trout also are feeding in a variety of water depths from 1 1/2 to 8 feet. Some exceptional fish have been landed using shiners. Howard says to look for the speckled trout bite to improve as we move deeper into springtime patterns.
Redfish have started moving out of their winter spots and onto the flats. He’s seeing mixed sizes sitting in potholes and readily taking shiners.
Howard is looking forward to some of the best fishing action of the year on a variety of species that patrol the beautiful waters of Manatee County. Fishing action “will heat up as the shiners flood the bay and the water warms up,” Howard says.
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