Casey Nulter and Caleb Helmer with a 21-pound black fin tuna caught in 160 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island.
Capt. Mike Steach with a mangrove snapper he caught in 120 feet of water.
The right stuff: rig up right, get the bite
Inshore fishers willing to get out before the sun rises are being rewarded with good top-water action on spotted sea trout and redfish. Experienced fishers know the shallower grass flats around mangrove islands are the ticket for the big trout. Make sure the tide has some good flow to it, too.
The redfish are in these same areas, and wading is the best approach to target them there. As the sun climbs higher, you’ll want to switch to a small gold spoon or 1/8-ounce jig head with a rubber tail to keep the bite going.
Mangrove snapper are starting to school up around local bridges and piers. A No. 4 hook with a light fluorocarbon leader and a suitable split shot baited with a small shiner or shrimp will produce a good snapper bite, if they are there. If you need help locating the fish or just getting them to bite, try chumming with either a frozen chum block or fresh-cut shiners. Sometimes a little added scent in the water is enough to fire up some snapper. Most of them are running small but, if you’re persistent, you can catch your limit.
Remember to have the right equipment for reef species aboard if you’re fishing from a boat. Circle hooks, a venting tool and a dehooker are enough for you to be legal if you have snapper in the cooler on ice.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel action is heating up in the early morning. Silver spoons or live shiners are the gear of choice for these high-speed, toothy fish. Remember if you’re using live bait to use a long shank hook to prevent getting cut off.
Mangrove snapper are showing in good numbers at the pier. Fishers using a combination of a small hook, light leader and live shiner are getting the best results.
Lizardfish and ladyfish are being caught just outside the bait schools on small white jigs. Bottom fishers are catching small bonnethead sharks using fresh-cut bait. On a final note, Sork says he’s seeing an occasional late-season tarpon roll in the bait schools around the pier.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says the mangrove snapper bite is starting to pick up. “Most of them are shorts, but we’re catching some bigger ones, too,” Kilb says. When asked how many bigger ones are being caught, Kilb responded, “Enough to take to the fillet table.”
Try using live shiners or live shrimp to hook up with the tasty little snappers. Remember, there are a lot of bait-stealers under the pier, so if you’re using shrimp, double the number that you would normally purchase. Medium-sized tackle is a good bet when targeting mangrove snapper. Light tackle will do the trick, too, but if you hook a nice redfish or black drum instead of snapper, you’ll never stand a chance at landing it.
Keeper-size redfish and over-slot reds are being caught under the pier by fishers targeting snapper. Both live shrimp and live shiners are working as bait.
Black drum in the 24-inch range have been seen flopping on the dock. Other bottom-dwellers, such as flounder and lizardfish, are being caught under the pier.
Last but not least, the Spanish mackerel are still making a showing in morning, although the bite is sporadic, at best.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says pier fishers are coming in and stocking up with silver spoons for the anticipated showing of Spanish mackerel. On a recent morning, the macks showed up blasting the hatch bait around the piers. Pier fishers using a size-zero Clark spoon trailing a popping cork are getting the bite. “They must be hitting that rig pretty good,” says Keyes. “I had to show at least 10 people how to rig it this morning.”
The technique for fishing this rig is simple. Just cast out to where the mackerel are and retrieve and jig at the same time. Before you know it, you should have a nice mackerel on the line.
Along the beaches, Keyes is hearing about ladyfish, skipjacks and whiting being caught on live shrimp. Small silver spoons and white jigs are working, too. There are still bonnethead sharks cruising the shallow waters. To target these sporty little sharks, try soaking a piece of cut squid or shrimp just past the sandbar on the bottom.
Redfish and spotted sea trout are being caught on the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound and at the mouth of the Manatee River. “Gold spoons are working good for the redfish,” says Keyes. For the trout, fishers are using top water plugs in the early morning with good results.
Inshore structure, including bridges and artificial reefs, are starting to produce good numbers of mangrove snapper. Live shrimp, shiners and small pinfish are working to get these little snapper to bite.
In conclusion, Keyes says he’s seeing large amounts of ladyfish loading up in the passes at night. “If you’re looking for non-stop action,” says Keyes, “go to the passes at night and throw a jig and see what happens.”
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is fishing Cortez and Sarasota bays for good numbers of spotted sea trout. “It seems like you have to catch 25 little ones before you get a keeper,” says Johnston. He’s finding keeper flounder around the passes using live shiners fished on a bottom rig. “Most of the fish we’re catching right now are on smaller-size shiners,” says Johnston, “but we’ve caught some fish on big baits, too.”
Johnston is locating keeper-size redfish along mangrove shorelines adjacent to docks with deep water. He uses live shiners for these redfish, but he squeezes them before he puts them on the hook. Squeezing a bait stuns it, which will make it flutter as it sinks to the bottom. He says it helps get the redfish in the mood to eat your bait.
Lastly, Johnston is catching mangrove snapper around rock structures and docks in the bay.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure, both natural and manmade, catching more red grouper than he can count. Live shiners and frozen sardines are producing red grouper on almost every drop. Once Girle is able to get a bait past the red grouper, he’s hooking mangrove snapper up to 17 inches. Along the edges of the structure, Girle is dragging baits in the sand, catching flounder in the 18-inch range.
Moving inshore, Girle is wading the flats of North Sarasota Bay in search of gator trout and redfish. There’s nothing better than seeing a big trout come up and blow up your top-water plug, he says.
Girle is working early mornings to trigger a bite from spotted sea trout, redfish and an occasional snook.
“We’re knocking the snot out of the reds with top-water plugs,” says Girle. His recent bait of choice is the Sebile stick shad. After the sun gets higher in the sky, Girle is switching over to a Mister Twister Exude Dart on a 1/8-ounce jig head to trigger a strike.
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