Cooler weather treats fishers to mack attack
The fall bite continues with an abundance of the usual suspects we expect to find this time of year. Spanish mackerel and kingfish are ravaging bait schools around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and the macks are easy to find most everywhere.
Pier fishers hoping for a mack bite are traveling to bait shops far and near in search of anything silver with a hook attached to it to catch these migratory fish. Silver spoons, Gotcha plugs — even a piece of a white drinking straw threaded over a long shank hook — are working to get the bite.
These fish are here and they’re hungry. Don’t miss out on this fast-action drag-screaming run of mackerel. Put your tackle to the test and see how many macks you can catch in a day.
On the flats, trout and redfish are the mainstay, while catch-and-release snook are a little bonus. Most of the spotted sea trout are small. You have to weed through them to get a keeper-size fish. Luckily, there are bluefish and ladyfish on the flats to keep you busy in between trout hookups.
Schools of reds are still cruising the shallow flats of Sarasota Bay, pushing a copper wake across the surface of the water. These schools include slot-size fish as well as big breeders of 35 inches or bigger.
Gold spoons and Berkley Gulp shrimp are the ticket for a hookup. If you see a school in the early morning, try a top-water plug and hang on for some explosive surface action.
Catch-and-release snook action is good along the mangrove edges in southern Tampa Bay. Most fish are in the 20-inch range or smaller. Live whitebait pitched to the edges of the mangroves will get the bite.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a good variety of fish being caught as a result of the passing cold front. Pier fishers are using an array of baits to attract the bite. White crappie jigs or live shiners with a long shank hook are resulting in Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle. Kilb feels the large amount of bait fish around the pier are attracting these high-activity fish.
When the bait becomes abundant like this, the schools become balled up just away from the pier. Try casting to present your bait to the outer edges of the schools. When these fish are feeding, they swipe through the ends of the schools looking for a meal. If they see bait that “sticks out” or appears irregular, they typically eat that first.
If you’re trying to catch dinner, try targeting redfish, black drum and sheepshead under the pier. By drifting a live shrimp or small crab under the pier, you stand a chance of catching one of these tasty species. “I caught a sheepshead that weighed 5 pounds on a live shrimp a couple of days ago,” says Kilb. “I thought it was a whopper mangrove snapper, but then I saw the stripes.”
When targeting any of these species, try using a small stout hook. You can conceal the hook in the bait efficiently. Plus, sheepshead have a boney mouth, so strong hooks result in fewer bent hooks when you’re removing them from the fish’s mouth. Finally, you never know when you might hook a big red or black drum. In either case, that strong hook will stand up to a larger fish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says before the cold front brought high winds and surf, he was having good results fishing along the beach. Keyes is using a Gotcha plug to catch macks, jack crevalle and ladyfish. Keyes says sometimes the bait schools are farther out, which is why he likes using Gotcha plugs. “They have enough weight so you can cast them out far, where these fish are feeding,” says Keyes.
If you can find structures along the beach, Keyes says you can target flounder, using a live shiner or live shrimp fished on the bottom. Keyes uses artificial baits for these flatties. “The first thing I grab is a Berkley Gulp shrimp,” says Keyes. “Those flounder go crazy for them.”
From the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound, Keyes is hearing reports of good action on catch-and-release snook. Spotted sea trout and redfish are producing a good bite on the same flats. Live shiners or shrimp are the ticket if you’re using live bait. For artificials, Keyes suggests a top-water plug in the morning or plastic jig for the remainder of the day.
Before the front, offshore fishers were reporting good numbers of gag grouper and mangrove snapper. For both species, frozen sardines or live shiners fished on a 1/2-ounce jig head were effective. Keeper-size gags and mangrove snapper up to 5 pounds are being caught in depths starting around 80 feet.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says fishing is heating up as the fish prepare for the winter season ahead.
He’s been targeting redfish on the edges of flats and in potholes, and says the kingfish and Spanish mackerel bite has been good off the beaches, in the passes around Egmont Key and around the artificial reefs.
“Having a live well full of assorted-sized baits helps fire up the bite,” says Howard. He suggests looking for the diving birds to get an idea of where to start your day.
Capt. Warren Girle managed to get in a couple of nearshore charters before the cold front, and found nonstop action, including kingfish, bonito, Spanish mackerel and shark. Girle is looking around nearshore structures to locate these migratory fish. Once the fish are located, Girle also likes to chum and start up a feeding frenzy with live white bait. Once the fish are “boiling on chummers behind the boat,” he casts a live bait out on a long shank hook. When the fish are feeding like this, chumming is both effective and exciting. Most of the time your bait will get eaten within seconds of landing in the water.
Also around nearshore structures, Girle is catching mangrove snapper in the 18-inch range by bottom fishing with live shiners at a reef infested with goliath grouper. “You need to reel your snapper up quick,” warns Girle. “Or the goliath will swallow them whole.”
In Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding redfish in sandy potholes on shallow grass flats, using a knocker rig with a live shiner and casting the potholes. “We’re averaging four or five fish per hole,” says Girle. “Up to 32 inches.”
On the deeper flats, Girle is catching Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and bluefish using plastic jigs and subsurface plugs. He suggests looking for diving birds to locate these fish.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says he can see kingfish skyrocketing in the schools of baitfish as he’s looking out the window of the bait shop. Kingfish in the 10-15 pound range are being caught on larger baits such as blue runners and legal-size Spanish mackerel. Pier fishers targeting macks are having kingfish hit their catch as they reel it in.
For the macks, Gotcha plugs are the bait of choice. Most fish are ranging 3-4 pounds with an occasional bigger fish mixed in. Live bait fishers are catching Spanish mackerel using greenbacks on a long shank hooks rigged under a popping cork.
Gag grouper are still on the menu for pier fishers using large baits, such as grunts and blue runners. Free lining a bait to the structure just away form the pier is a sure way to hook up with one of these hungry gags. Most pier fishers using this method to target gags are using a stiff boat rod combined with a 4/0 Penn Senator spooled with anywhere from 50-pound to 80-pound mono. Heavy tackle like this gives you a chance to pull those big grouper out of the rocks before they hang you up. Once you get them away from the rocks, you’re in the clear.
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