Wading key to fishing flats in warm waters
Inshore fishing is following similar patterns of the weeks past. Summer heat dictates the best times to fish: early morning, late evening and at night.
Hopefully you took advantage of the overcast days we had recently to venture out to the flats. The slightly lower temperatures were a welcome break for both fish and fishers. Using top-water plugs in the morning for trout and redfish has been the highlight in the backcountry.
Wading has been the most effective approach to stalk these shallow-water dwellers. The reds are schooling on the flats, so keep your eyes peeled for a sudden eruption of water as these fish migrate over shallow grass.
Remember when fishing shallow water with high water temperatures, if you plan to release your fish you need to spend a little extra time reviving them. A lot of the reds we encounter this time of year are large spawning redfish. It’s a lot harder for these bigger fish to regain composure after a 15-minute fight in 90-degree water, so take extra care.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing plenty of pier fishers reeling up Spanish mackerel on the early morning incoming tides. Silver spoons, Gotcha plugs and crappie jigs are a necessity if you’re planning to use artificials for these high-speed fish. Live shiners are always a good bet.
Mangrove snapper are beginning to show around the pier, feeding on small hatch bait. A No. 4-size hook with some 20-pound fluorocarbon leader is a great way to attempt to catch these little bruisers. Again, the early morning bite has been producing better numbers of fish.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing and catching mangrove snapper under the pier and around the pilings in the morning hours. “I caught seven this morning,” says Kilb, “but not one was a keeper.” He’s using live shrimp or small live shiners to hook the snapper. He is seeing Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and lizardfish being caught on small jigs. “The mackerel are here in the morning,” says Kilb. “And ladyfish and snakefish are biting all day.”
Flounder are making a decent showing around the pier with keeper-size fish being caught on live shiners or live mojaras. Kilb says to try using a No. 2 long-shank hook when catching flounder. The long shank makes it easier to avoid those teeth when you’re dehooking the flat fish.
On a final note, Kilb say he’s seeing an occasional redfish or black drum caught on live shrimp.
Grady Smith at Island Discount Tackle says he’s hearing reports of whiting, stingrays and small sharks being caught off the beaches. “Most of the people are buying frozen shrimp and squid,” says Smith. “Those are the two popular baits for fishing the beach.”
From the charter captains at Catchers Marina, Smith says he’s seeing nice-sized spotted sea trout and redfish on the cleaning tables. “I’m also seeing some decent-sized mangrove snapper, too.”
Flounder are being caught in Longboat Pass with live shrimp or live shiners fished on the bottom around rock structure and bridge pilings. Smith suggests if you’re going to fish the pass, target slower moving tides. “Once that tide starts moving fast,” explains Smith, “it’s too hard to keep a bait down on the bottom. Then you’re out of the strike zone and will probably get snagged.”
Capt. Warren Girle is having good luck fishing both offshore and the backcountry. Girle is encountering large numbers of red and gag grouper fishing in 45 feet of water around small reefs and ledges. “We had four gag grouper that were way over the minimum size limit,” says Girle. “It was too bad that we had to release them.” In between catching gag and red grouper, Girle’s clients are reeling up numerous Key West grunts.
Moving to the backwater, Girle is fishing early mornings with top-water plugs, targeting redfish and “gator” trout. Girle is wading shallow grass flats, working top-water plugs along the edges of pothole and oyster bars. “We had an overcast, rainy day where we were able to keep fishing top-water until 10:30 in the morning,” says Girle. “We caught nine redfish and six keeper trout on one flat adjacent to a spoil island. One of the redfish wanted the bait so bad that he smacked the lure out of the water and then came back and ate it when it landed.”
Girle is using a floating Sebile stick shad to target these shallow-water fish. “I usually use a Rapala skitter walk with rattlers in it, but it seems these fish want a bait that is quiet. The Sebile stick shad is just that, and it’s working great.”
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says, “It’s a shame you can’t keep gag grouper right now.” Medley is seeing keeper-size gag grouper reeled up daily. He says a live pinfish fished under the pier or on the rock piles just away from the pier is producing tackle-busting action with hungry gags.
Mangrove snapper are making a prominent showing in these areas. Scale down your bait to either a live greenback or even a fresh-cut piece of greenback to target some tasty mangrove snapper.
Fishing the sandy bottom around the structure of the pier is resulting in flounder up to 20 inches. Dragging a live greenback along the bottom is a sure-fire way to hook up.
Tarpon and cobia are patrolling the ends of the pier. Again, a live pinfish is hard for either species to turn down. “The tarpon we’re seeing are in the 60-80 pound range,” says Medley. “And there’s a lot of them down there.”
Last but not least, Spanish mackerel and bonito are being caught on live greenbacks, although the bite has been sporadic.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is fishing both nearshore and offshore with good results.
The nearshore bite is producing Key West grunts, mangrove snapper, hogfish and Spanish mackerel. “The bite has been a little tough when we’re fishing shallow,” says Kimball, “but we’re managing to come up with some really nice catches.” Kimball is seeing a great abundance of under-size red grouper on the nearshore reefs and ledges. “They’re thicker than thieves down there,” he said with a laugh.
Moving out to deeper water — 100 feet plus, Kimball is catching limits of red grouper as well as numerous catch-and-release gags.
Also at these depths, Kimball’s clients are reeling up large quantities of catch-and-release red snapper in the 7-10 pound range.
For smaller table fare, there are plenty of banded rudderfish and almaco jacks keeping fishers busy on light tackle. These little jacks fish hard and they “eat” good, too.
Mangrove snapper finish out Kimball’s report with fish being caught in the 3-5 pound range.
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