First mate Anthony Leverett holds up the monster cobia caught by Bud Northway while on a charter with Capt. Larry McGuire. The catch weighed 70 pounds and was caught on a Zara Spook magnum surface lure in about 125 feet of water off Anna Maria Island.
Spring offers variety for Island fishers
Whether you want to stalk gator trout on the shallow grass flats or reel in keeper gag grouper on nearshore structures, now is the time to do it.
Fishing around Anna Maria Island, whether inshore, nearshore or offshore is exploding with life offering a variety of species in one day of fishing.
Inshore, trout and redfish action is productive. Spotted sea trout are lurking around the deeper edges of the grass flats. Try using soft plastics or suspending hard baits if using artificials. For live bait, shiners are working well, and so are live shrimp under a popping cork. For the reds, dock fishing is still productive, but if you’re tired of fishing around the docks, try fishing around schools of mullet on the shallow flats. The reds follow the mullet schools looking for any small shrimp or crab they might spook up from the bottom. Snook are making an appearance although not a great one like years past.
The nearshore and offshore bite has turned on considerably. Bottom dwellers such as gag grouper, red grouper, all types of snappers, hogfish and grunts are being reeled up in numbers. Start at depths around 100 feet for best results. Migratory species such as kingfish, cobia and amberjack are being caught in numbers around the same areas as the bottom fish. Don’t forget to keep a flat line out with a live bait while bottom fishing.
Last but not least, tarpon sightings are becoming more frequent as the waters warm up. Keep your eyes peeled for pods around the passes and along the beach. The bite hasn’t really taken off yet, but it’s right around the corner.
Phil Kirkland at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says pier fishers are catching a variety of species. Whether fishing day or night, the pier provides a great habitat for a number of predators. Daytime hours are producing catches of kingfish and Spanish mackerel. “Most of the kings are being caught on big threadies,” says Kirkland.
During the day, sheepshead are targeted using fiddler crabs and sand fleas. Fish up to 3 pounds are being reported. Flounder are still hanging in the shallows around the beginning of the pier.
Kirkland suggests fishing white bait directly on the bottom for these flat fish.
During the night time hours, pier fishers are encountering mangrove snapper and gag grouper using white bait and threadfins under the pier. Spotted sea trout are responding to small jigs tipped with peeled shrimp for scent. The highlight of night fishing at the pier is looking for cobia. Cobia have been cruising the pier at night with fishers reeling up catches up to 41 inches.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters says fishing off the beaches out to 8 miles is the ticket. Gross is targeting wrecks, ledges and nearshore reefs to produce drag-screaming action on kingfish and Spanish mackerel. Fishing live bait is Gross’ choice for targeting most reef dwelling species. Shiners and threadfins to be exact. “Most of the kings are schoolies,” Gross says, “but there are some bigger ones in the mix.”
Gross is targeting bottom species on the nearshore structures. Mangrove snapper, keeper gag grouper and flounder to 5 1/2 pounds have been coming off the bottom to eat the shiners Gross is using for bait. “The mangoes we’re catching are big enough that their tails stick out of a 5-gallon bucket,” Gross says.
Inshore, Gross is catching spotted sea trout on the deeper flats around Anna Maria Island. “Don’t be surprised if you start catching some big Spanish while you’re fishing for trout,” Gross says. “The deep-water grass edges are where it’s at.”
On a final note, Gross is catching snook up to 30 inches using white bait on the outgoing tide around the mangroves.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says beach fishers are having a great time targeting migratory species along the western shoreline of Anna Maria Island. “Look for schools of big jack crevalle,” Keyes says. “They’re cruising the shorelines and they’re hungry.”
For the jacks, fishers are using silver spoons, yellow jigs and white bait. Also, along the beaches bluefish, ladyfish and Spanish mackerel are looking to gorge on small bait schools. Look for diving birds and usually you’ll find the fish.
Moving a few miles off the beach, fishers are catching keeper gags, mangrove snapper and flounder around the reefs. “When you hook up, reel your fish in quick,” Keyes suggests. “Big barracuda have infested the reefs and won’t think twice about biting your catch in half on the way up.”
The mangrove snapper bite is in its early stages. As the water temps climb, the fishing should get better. Keyes suggests dropping down a live shiner cut in half for best results for these tasty little reef dwellers.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is fishing nearshore and offshore structures using a variety of baits to catch a variety of species. Bottom fishing is producing nice catches of mangrove snapper, gag grouper, flounder and Key West grunts. Using live shiners on the bottom is producing the gags and snapper, while shrimp or frozen squid is brining up Key West grunts and flounder.
Kimball is using live baits such as threadfin herring and shiners to fish the upper part of the water column. Kingfish and Spanish mackerel have been the targeted species for this method of fishing.
Other species being caught by flat-lining baits behind the boat include blue runners, bluefish and gag grouper. Yeah, that’s right, gag grouper. They must be hungry to leave their holes in the reef to come up and eat a bait. Not only is it exciting to see a gag blow up a bait on the top, but it also results in quite a battle on light tackle.
Kim Shearer of Annie’s Bait and Tackle says reports from the backwater have been good. Snook are being caught using white bait on the flats along the mangrove-lined shore of Sarasota Bay.
Sheepshead are still biting around the docks and local fishing piers. Live fiddlers are the best bait for the convict fish. Both redfish and spotted sea trout are caught using live shrimp.
Offshore fishers are reporting cobia and mangrove snapper around nearshore structures. Live pilchards are the bait of choice. Key West grunts are making a good showing on the reefs. Live shrimp or squid is working well for the tasty little scrappers. On a final note, Shearer adds, “We’re seeing a lot of nice kingfish coming back to the dock.”
Looking to turn your kids onto fishing and encourage conservation of our natural resources? Head to the Green Bridge Fishing Pier in Palmetto, FL on Saturday May 7, for the 25th Annual Jerry Hill Memorial Kids Free Fishing Tournament.
This free catch-and-release tournament is open to kids ages 7-14. Registration is between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. the day of the tourney. Each child must have his/her own rod and reel. For more information, call 941-794-2806.
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