Marcel Kaspen caught this 20-inch snapper fishing with Capt. Warren Girle.
George McAllister of Ontario, Canada, caught this doormat flounder on a charter with Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel.
Tom Garner of New Jersey shows off one of the gags he caught while fishing with Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters.
AMI inshore, nearshore fishing pre-fall warm-up
Migratory species such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish are dominating the inshore bite as the season shifts from summer to autumn.
Whether you’re fishing the grass flats, beaches or passes, you have the opportunity to catch one of these high-activity fish.
First thing to do to encounter these species is to find the bait schools. These migratory fish are here following the bait in order to fatten up for the cooler months ahead.
Most of the time, the bait schools can easily be located by looking for diving sea birds, such as pelicans, terns and gulls. Once you’ve located the birds and the bait, you can find the fish. Using live bait is effective as long as you use a long shank hook. These fish are toothy, especially the mackerel. The long shank hook will give you a little length between the fish’s teeth and your leader. This results in fewer cut-offs.
Artificial baits such as silver spoons and jigs also work well for migratory species. Pitching a spoon on the outskirts of a bait school and retrieving quickly is a surefire way to entice a bite. You might catch more fish using lures rather than bait when the fish are in a frenzy feeding on the bait schools. You also will have fewer cut-offs using lures. This, in turn, means less time spent rigging and more time fishing.
Rocky Corby at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing numerous Spanish mackerel being landed, especially in the early morning. Along with the Spanish mackerel are the usual suspects — jack crevalle, skip jacks and ladyfish. White crappie jigs are working best for pier fishers. Live sardines and shiners for bait are producing good numbers of fish, primarily mangrove snapper and flounder.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishers there are catching a variety of migratory species — Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle — on both live and artificial baits. Small bonnethead and blacktip sharks also are making a presence. Kilb said fishers are “using Sabiki rigs to catch sardines and shiners” and they’re also using artificials, silver spoons, white jigs and Gotcha plugs to mimic the shiners.
Flounder, black drum and snapper are being caught under and around the pier. Again, sardines and shiners are the baits catching the fish. Live shrimp are producing bent rods, although with the abundance of shrimp-stealing pinfish around the pier, the shiners will work better.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle recently fished with Capt. Mac Gregory, targeting a number of species both inshore and nearshore. While fishing the beaches, Keyes caught Spanish mackerel, many 22 inches or longer. Gregory suggested they put out a shark rod and between the pair, they managed to catch and release two hammerhead sharks, one 7 footer and the other about 4 feet long. In need of a break, Gregory decided to move out and fish for mangrove snapper. Once over some structure, they were able to bag a few nice snapper for dinner. Also, around the nearshore structure, they caught flounder up to 22 inches on live shiners and a knocker rig.
To finish out the day, the duo moved into the backcountry to target bull redfish. After much scouting, Gregory located a small school of reds in a sandy pothole. “We tried live and dead shiners, but the reds wouldn’t bite,” says Keyes. “Then we cut up a ladyfish and put a piece on the hook and threw it in. It was game on after that.” Out of the seven fish landed, only one was a keeper — the rest were too big.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore artificial structure targeting mangrove snapper. Snapper up to 20 inches are being caught on live shiners fished in the “chum slick.” However, you’ve got to be quick getting your snapper up to the boat. “There’s a ton of ’cuda out there just waiting to eat your fish as you’re reeling it up,” says Girle.
Needless to say, He’s catching barracuda, most in the 25-pound range. Spanish mackerel have infested the nearshore structure, and Girle is taking advantage of the opportunity. Mackerel up to 3 pounds are his norm, with a few smaller ones in the mix.
Moving inshore, Girle is producing great top-water action on redfish and spotted sea trout. Early morning is the ticket to a successful top-water experience. With large schools of shiners and sardines moving into Sarasota Bay, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle are becoming prevalent on the deeper grass flats. Girle is reeling them all up while targeting trout with plastic jigs.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters says he’s fishing both gag and red grouper starting at about 50 feet of water. From there, he says the bite is increasing as you work your way out to depths of 120 feet. Live shiners or pinfish are the baits of choice, although frozen squid is working “OK.” Also at these depths, a variety of snapper are being caught. Yellowtail, lane, vermillion and mangrove snapper can be found on reefs and ledges around the same areas where you’re targeting grouper. Again, live shiners or pinfish are the way to go for bait.
Kimball says bonito and Spanish mackerel are abundant in the shallower depths of 50-70 feet of water. Live shiners on a long shank hook with 50-pound fluorocarbon leader are getting the bite.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime charters says he’s seen redfish staging around oyster bars, in potholes and along natural drop-offs — a good indication the fall fishing pattern has arrived. Howard suggests looking for schools of mullet to give you an idea of where the redfish will be traveling and keep an eye out for the copper schools moving along bars and edges. Large shiners and pinfish have been the bait of choice for Howard. Howard suggests chumming with shiners during a moving tide to find the redfish. Observing where the shiners get hit is your hint to find the redfish.
Howard reports speckled trout have been on the small side with a few keepers being landed. “Look for the trout to bite in water from 2 to 8 feet deep.” He recommends using a dehooker to help these fragile fish survive catch and release.
The nearshore fishing has been excellent this past week with mackerel, bonito, mangrove snapper, tarpon, and sharks all available within site of land. “The tarpon are mixed in with other fish feeding on the abundant bait that is all around. The artificial reefs just off our beaches have been loaded with bait, which triggers fish to feed heavily,” Howard says.
The week ahead should be excellent for fishing with low tides in the morning and a strong fast current leading to a high tide in the afternoon. “Now is the time to go fishing,” Howard adds, “as Mother Nature is providing us with excellent opportunities and conditions to have some excellent angling success,” Howard adds.
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