Gear up for springtime trout fishing
Due to strong west winds, Anna Maria Island fishers are targeting the backwater flats for spotted sea trout.
The deeper grass flats of Sarasota and Palma Sola bays are holding good numbers of spotted sea trout. If you’ve noticed, most of the trout have been upper slot-sized fish, too. Here are some suggestions for how to better target these yellow-mouthed bruisers.
The first way is to use live bait, such as a select shrimp, medium-sized shiner or small pinfish. Use of a popping cork or Cajun Thunder aids not only in helping you see the bite, but keeps your bait from swimming down into the grass and getting stuck. Set your cork so your bait swims 1-2 feet above the grass. You can use this method to still-fish or drift-fish. Just remember, if you drift-fish, throw ahead of your drift and retrieve slowly.
The second method is to use soft plastics on a jig head. You benefit by covering more area of water, since you’re constantly casting and retrieving. Most often, you’ll be drift fishing when fishing a jig, and that also helps cover more area. The more area you cover means the more chances of finding the fish. When using jigs for trout, I like to fish sandy potholes and ditches that run throughout the grass flats because trout use these areas as ambush points to prey on small baitfish and shrimp. Bouncing a jig through the sand on the edges of these potholes is highly effective when seeking trout. You’ll often find more than one fish in a pothole, so make a second cast where you caught the first one.
A third trick to fish trout and see better results is to use a top-water plug. Whether it be a popper like a Chug Bug Storm bait or a torpedo-shaped plug for “walking the dog,” such as either a MirrOlure 84MR or Heddon Zara Spook. Using a top-water plug can be highly effective, especially for big trout. I generally use top-water baits on shallower flats of 2-4 feet in depth or low-light conditions. At times, larger gator trout will be “loners” on the flat. They lay in the shallower water waiting for a finger mullet or shiner to swim by. These fish are the ones that’ll knock the point on your lure if it passes in front of them. The combination of sound and sight that occurs when a gator trout smacks your lure is something you’ll remember for a long time. That being said, top-water fishing is probably the most exciting way to target big trout.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Legend Charters is fishing the backwaters of Anna Maria Sound and upper Sarasota Bay targeting a trio of redfish, trout and snook. “We’re mainly fishing docks to find the reds, but I’ve also got an oyster bar that’s been holding some upper-slot fish,” Johnston says. Live shrimp and shiners are Johnston’s baits of choice. “Sometimes they want a shrimp,” Johnston says. “Sometimes they don’t.”
Johnston likes to carry an assortment of live bait so he’s prepared to fish in any scenario. White bait has been his primary choice for both the spotted sea trout and the snook. Johnston says he’s fishing the strong out-going tides to target snook.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the beaches off Anna Maria Island and targeting tarpon. Gross maneuvers his boat so he will be in the track-line of an oncoming school of kings. When the school gets within casting distance, he’s throwing out live shiners on a 6/0 circle hook with 80-pound fluorocarbon leader.
Alex Siruis of Alexandria, Va., saw success with Gross. He caught and released a 130-pound tarpon last Thursday.
Gross also is targeting spotted sea trout on the flats of lower Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound. “Most of the trout we’re catching are in the 16- to 18-inch range,” Gross says. “Last week they were averaging 20 inches.” Gross is using live shiners either under a popping cork or on a flat-line for best results.
Capt. Warren Girle is targeting tarpon along the crystal-clear waters just off the beaches of both Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island. Girle is targeting tarpon by sight casting with a live crab, shiner or threadfin herring. “Fish in the 80- to 100-pound range have been the norm,” Girle says. “There’s a ton of fish out here.”
As Girle was reporting to me, he was preparing to leader a tarpon. Girle suggests checking around Bean Point and Egmont Key for a shot at the silver kings.
In the backwater, Girle is targeting redfish along the shallow flats where schools of mullet are congregated. “They’re kind of scattered,” Girle says, “but there are some nice reds around.” Girle is producing trout for his charters in the 24-inch range by drifting the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Girle also is catching snook up to 28 inches, although the bite is, at best, sporadic.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says tarpon season is beginning in earnest. “There’s fish here now,” Keyes says. “They’re just moving around a lot. One day they’re down on Longboat, the next day they move up to Egmont.”
Keyes went fishing last week for tarpon with Capt. Mac Gregory. “He likes to carry an assortment of baits,” Keyes says. “We started with threadfins, shiners and crabs, just to name a few.”
While catching plenty of tarpon with Gregory, Keyes also reeled in his first tripletail. “It took three tries but we finally got it to eat a bait,” Keyes says.
Moving to the beaches, fishers are targeting migratory species such as jack crevalle, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and pompano. Most of this fishing is done by using artificial lures, such as silver spoons, buck-tail jigs and pompano jigs. Beach fishers are sight-casting to snook cruising the beaches. The MirrOlure MirrOdine and Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow are working well for that job.
Keyes fishers are reporting targetable numbers of shark are appearing off the beaches. Fishers working just past the sandbar are catching bull and black tip sharks using chunk bait fished on the bottom just. Keyes recommends stout gear due to the potential of 100-pound-plus hookup.
On the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound, spotted sea trout are being caught on DOA Cal jigs and Berkley Gulp shrimp as well as live bait fished under a popping cork. “Don’t be surprised if you catch some bluefish out there as well,” Keyes added.
Jamie Foster at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says fishers targeting pompano are still reeling up fish using yellow Love’s lures pompano jigs. To find these pompano, fishers are starting off at land’s end and working their way along the pier until they hook up. The gag grouper bite is still holding strong, although most of the fish caught are under 20 inches. At night, pier fishers are targeting both mangrove snapper and a variety of sharks. For the mangos, fishers are drifting live or cut shiners in the current under the pier. Bottom fishing with chunks of Spanish mackerel is producing blacktip, lemon, bonnethead and nurse sharks. While night fishing for mangrove snapper, Jim Beckett of Plant City caught and landed a 35-inch cobia. It weighed in at 17 pounds. Beckett said his catch shows “I’m starting my retirement off right.”
To wrap things up, Foster says there are still a lot of sheepshead around the pilings. “The guys that know what they’re doing are catching them,” says Foster.
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