Gear up for fall weather, migratory species
If you’re into catching aggressive, hard-fighting fish on light tackle, now is the time to satisfy your fervor.
With fall weather, there’s an abundance of migratory species inhabiting our coastal waters. Spanish and king mackerel are appearing in good numbers within a couple of miles of the beaches. Bonito and jack crevalle have made a true presence at the mouth of Tampa Bay and around Egmont Key. Ladyfish and bluefish are thrashing bait schools in Sarasota Bay and on the flats of Anna Maria Sound.
Whether you’re fishing from shore, a pier or in a boat, the opportunity to catch these species is at the end of your line, and multiple techniques can spell success.
If you’re using artificials, remember to use a fast retrieve. These fish are highly active. They want to chase bait.
Silver spoons, white jigs and Gotcha plugs work well.
If you’re using live bait, definitely use a long shank hook to prevent getting your leader cut. When live baiting, whitebait or threadfin herring are best, but occasionally shrimp will work.
The last thing you need to know is where to locate the fish.
If you’re in a boat, fish around nearshore structure or look for sea birds diving on bait schools. If you’re fishing from one of the area piers, look for bait schools and target the edges with lures. The same applies if you’re fishing from the beach. Look for bait schools and you’ll find the migratory species not far behind.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says, “There’s still a ton of bait around the pier which in turn brings the fish.” Spanish mackerel are swarming the pier in the early morning with fish up to 20 inches being landed daily. Silver spoons and Gotcha plugs are catching numbers of fish, while live shiners on a long shank hook are catching the big ones.
Ladyfish and jack crevalle also are taking advantage of the abundance of bait. You can catch these fish on yellow or white jigs, as well as live shiners. Although not as sought after as the Spanish mackerel, both of these species provide a great fight for their size.
Bonnethead sharks in the 3-4 foot range are being caught in the evening hours by bottom fishing with frozen squid or fresh-cut mackerel. Even though these sharks are small, you want to use a wire leader. If you don’t, they’ll cut your line fast.
Flounder and sheepshead are making an appearance around the pilings of the pier. Live shrimp fished under the pier are producing results. “I saw a stringer full of flounder hanging off the pier the other day,” says Sork. “So they must be biting pretty good.”
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is catching limits of Spanish mackerel just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island. “Look for diving birds,” says Johnston. “You’ll find the fish.” Johnston is using live white bait on a long shank hook to catch the macks.
When fishing around nearshore structure, Johnston is hooking up keeper-size flounder using white bait. He adds a little lead to get his bait to the bottom and then drags it along the sandy areas next to the structure.
In the grass flats of Sarasota Bay, Johnston is finding spotted sea trout in good numbers. Using a popping cork and a live shiner, Johnston is reeling in keeper-size trout from depths of 3-5 feet of water. Johnston suggests fishing grass flats that have good tidal flow for best results.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is catching keeper gag grouper starting in around 50 feet of water and out to 120 foot depths. “We’re still using big baits — live pinfish “about the size of your hand” and threadfins,” says Kimball. Depending on current, Kimball uses 3 or 4 ounces of lead with a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader and a circle hook.
Spanish mackerel and kingfish are being caught in the shallower depths of 50-80 feet of water. Live shiners and threadfin herring are producing the bite. Kimball is using a 4/0 long shank hook with 50-pound fluorocarbon leader to trick the kingfish into biting his bait. For the macks, he suggests scaling down the leader to 30-pound and using a 2/0 hook.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing good numbers of black drum and redfish being caught on the afternoon incoming tides. Both live shiners and live shrimp are producing the bite. Keeper sizes of both species are being landed on the pier.
Flounder are making a showing around the pier. Cassetty suggests bottom fishing around the pilings to locate these flat fish. Again, shiners and shrimp are the bait of choice, but you can catch them on a Berkeley Gulp shrimp dragged on the bottom.
Mangrove snapper are lingering and feeding on small sardines under the pier. For these fryers, try a free-lined live or dead sardine. Wait for the bite, set the hook and reel the little snapper out fast from under the deck before it cuts you off on the pilings.
Although it’s a little early for them, sheepshead are being caught. They haven’t arrived in numbers but a few are starting to show up.
Last but not least, pier fishers are seeing success with sand sharks and lemon sharks. Chunk baits such as cut mackerel or mullet are producing the bite. Most of the sharks being caught are in the 4-foot range. Reminder: Lemon sharks are on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s no-harvest list.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is beach fishing in search of migratory species, which are chasing bait schools along the shoreline. By using small buck-tail jigs and pompano jigs, Keyes is hooking up with ladyfish, whiting and numerous jack crevalle. “When the water on the beach is clear,” says Keyes. “I like to use a white jig. When it’s murky, I switch to yellow.”
Keyes says he’s hearing of some redfish and snook action on the beaches. He suggests trying around Longboat Pass and using pinfish for bait.
Approximately a mile off the beach, Keyes is catching good numbers of Spanish mackerel. “Using white bait on a long shank hook is a good way to stay hooked up,” he suggests.
While targeting Spanish mackerel, Keyes is seeing blacktip and spinner sharks feeing in the bait schools. Keyes likes to use a wire leader with a 6/0 hook stabbed through a chunk of fresh mackerel to get these predators to bite. Most of these shark are in the 3-5 foot range, but don’t be surprised to encounter bigger ones.
In Anna Maria Sound, Keyes is fishing the grass flats targeting snook, trout and redfish. Keyes says he’s seeing good numbers of small snook around the mangrove edges on the higher tides. “They may be small,” says Keyes. “But at least they’re around.” As for the trout and reds, Keyes is fishing flats of 3-5 feet of water and a lot of sandy potholes. Casting either a live shiner or a plastic jig in the holes, is producing the catch.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says the fall fishing pattern has come on like a Cat-4 hurricane with a fast drop in water temperatures from the 80s into the 70s.
Redfish took center stage in his charters last week. He reports schools of reds all over the flats and edges of Tampa Bay from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge all the way down past Sarasota’s Long Bar. Shiners, pinfish and cut ladyfish have been the bait of choice for Howard as he targets these copper-belly bruisers.
He suggests chumming with shiners to locate the schools and draw them to the back of the boat. “A quiet, stealthy approach to the redfish schools is a must for fishing success,” Howard says. “Running the big motor will only scatter the schools.”
Howard reports beach and nearshore reef action has heated up with Spanish mackerel, kingfish, tarpon and sharks all feeding heavily on the passing schools of bait. Hammerhead, blacktips and spinner sharks were chewing heavily last week off the 1-mile artificial reef.
“The sharks provided for some epic battles with strong drag-pulling runs and aerial acrobatics that rival tarpon.” Howard says. “All sharks were released to bite another day.”
Looking forward, Howard says the bite will continue to stay strong as long as the bait schools stay around Tampa Bay. A high tide in the morning with a huge drop toward a low tide in the afternoon will provide for some awesome fish catching opportunities.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure off the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Around the structure, Girle is catching limits of Spanish mackerel. “There are so many mackerel out there,” says Girle. “You can’t leave a bait in the water for more than a few seconds before you get a bite.”
Girle is using live shiners on a long shank hook to target these toothy torpedoes.
Other encounters on the nearshore structure include bonito and blacktip sharks. “The bonito aren’t thick,” says Girle. “But we’re catching a few mixed in with the Spanish.”
As for the black tips, Girle landed a 5-footer on a piece of Spanish mackerel.
If it’s bottom fishing you fancy, Girle is seeing good numbers of mangrove snapper, up to 2 pounds, along shallow-water reefs and ledges. He’s dropping live shiners down to the reef.
Moving inshore, Girle is targeting schools of bull redfish. Top-water plugs, gold spoons and plastic jigs are producing the bite. Slot-size fish as well as fish way over slot are the norm.
On the deeper grass flats, Girle is jigging for spotted sea trout. “The bite has been really good,” says Girle. “But most of the fish are small.”
Mixed in with the trout, Girle’s finding schools of ladyfish and bluefish.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says, “Spanish mackerel are all over the place.”
Pier fishers using silver spoons and Gotcha plugs are reeling up a keeper with almost every cast, with the key being to follow the bait schools. Cast to the edges of the bait and work the spoon quickly back toward the pier. Kingfish are being caught on the same method. You can try to Sabiki up some bigger baits, such as threadfin herring or blue runners. Throw these bigger baits out along the edges of the bait schools and hang on tight. Remember to use at least a 2/0 long shank hook when bait fishing for kings. Their teeth are sharp and once you hook a big one, you don’t want to get cut off.
Other migratory species being caught at the pier include jack crevalle, bonito and several species of shark. The jack crevalle and bonito will hit the same rigs as mackerel. Depending on how abundant the fish are, see if you can tell what kind of fish you’ve got before you see it. After you catch enough of all of these species, you should be able to tell what they are just by the way they fight.
Bottom fishers working near the pilings of the pier are being rewarded with good numbers of keeper-size flounder. “This flounder bite is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while,” says Medley.
To target these tasty flat fish, use live shrimp or a live greenback under the pier directly on the bottom. Also, try dragging the bait on the bottom from one piling to another to cover more area.
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