Spotted sea trout season closes, but fish await
It’s time to focus on something other than spotted sea trout if you’re planning on bringing home dinner. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rules, the harvest of spotted sea trout is prohibited here in November and December and will reopen Jan. 1.
Thankfully, the inshore bite in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island remains consistent, with a variety of species.
Spanish mackerel and kingfish are still patrolling the artificial reefs. On the flats, redfish, trout and snook are beginning their fall feeding pattern. Frequenting the local piers is resulting in sheepshead, flounder and numerous Spanish mackerel. With such a variety of species available, fishing fun is only a cast away.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says fall fishing is “coming on strong with a variety of species on the chew.”
Snook, spotted sea trout and redfish are taking the main stage for the inshore action. Look for these species to be on the edges and dropoffs of flats at the low tides. As the tide comes up, the fish will move onto the flats and into the bushes. “Chumming with shiners will get the bite turned on and draw the targeted fish to the back of the boat,” Howard says.
“The predators are feeding heavily preparing for the upcoming winter season,” he adds.
Grouper have invaded the shallows of the Gulf of Mexico within site of land and in Tampa Bay. Howard has been trolling the shipping channel and around structure using planers and bomber lures with some excellent results for the dinner table. “The key to trolling bomber lures on planers is to get the lure as close to the bottom as possible,” Howard says. “If you are not bumping the bottom, then you are working the lure too shallow.”
Looking forward, Howard predicts the fishing will remain strong as long as the bait remains in the bay and the weather pattern stays the same.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says, “There’s still lots of bait around.” Sork is seeing pier fishers reeling up big Spanish mackerel on Gotcha plugs and silver spoons. Mackerel in the 26-inch range are patrolling the outskirts of the bait schools that are just out from the pier. The bite is occurring on the tail of the incoming tides, so Sork recommends checking a tide chart before you head out.
Other species hooking up include jack crevalle, ladyfish, lizardfish and skipjacks. Remember, if you catch a skipjack, handle it cautiously. On both the dorsal and anal fins, the skipjack has spines, which contain a mild poison. Try using a dehooker or pliers to remove your lure from their mouth. Once stung by a skipjack, you won’t let it happen again.
Bottom fishers using live shrimp for bait are catching flounder and sheepshead around the pier pilings. Sork says to try using some 20-pound fluorocarbon for leader, attach a No. 2 hook and a No. 2 split-shot a foot above your hook and you’re ready to cast.
In closing, Sork says he’s seeing a daily appearance of bottlenose dolphin. The pod includes mothers and calves. “It’s pretty cool to see them feeding on the mackerel,” Sork says. “It’s like watching Discovery channel just outside the window.”
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishing is “doing great. Most of the action has been around and under the pier.”
Pier fishers using live shrimp for bait are catching good numbers of redfish. Sizes are ranging from 14 to 30 inches so you might want to use a medium-heavy spinning outfit to ensure you can land a big one.
Black drum are inhabiting the pier. Again, live shrimp are the ticket. Try using 30-pound fluorocarbon for leader to aid against getting cut off around the pilings. Black drum up to 22 inches are being caught by drifting a live shrimp under the pier and letting it sit on the bottom.
And keeper-size flounder are on the menu for pier fishers. They’re lying in the sand in the same areas as redfish and black drum. You should be able to catch one on shrimp, although Cassetty suggests trying live shiners, too.
Another species making an appearance is the long-awaited sheepshead. Fishers using live shrimp or fiddler crabs are catching a few keepers daily. When targeting sheepies, use an extra small hook. Using a strong hook aids in both setting and removal from the sheepshead’s boney mouth.
Last but not least, pier fishers targeting shark are coming up with a variety of species, including blacktip, lemon and bonnethead sharks. Most shark fishers are using cut bait, such as mackerel or mullet to get the bite.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says both migratory and bottom species can be found around nearshore and offshore structures west of Anna Maria Island in the Gulf.
When first approaching the structure, Keyes suggests chumming with live shiners to see if any mackerel or bonito will come up to feed. He uses a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a 1/0 size long shank hook. “Hook a shiner on there and throw it out,” says Keyes. Although if you see kingfish or barracuda show up in your chum, you may want to switch to a stronger leader and a bigger hook.
Bottom fishing around the structures is still producing good action on gag grouper. Preferred baits are big pinfish or big white bait. A knocker rig consisting of a 1-ounce lead and a 3/0 circle hook is the ticket. Drop down a pinfish and hang on tight.
Also inhabiting the bottom around structures are mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and flounder. When targeting these species, try using a small jig head in place of the knocker rig to see what works best.
Capt. Warren Girle is stalking shallow-water redfish on negative tides against mangrove shorelines and adjacent potholes. “We caught so many reds the other day that we got sick of catching them,” laughs Girle. “They’re feeding on a variety of baits, too.”
Girle is using top-water plugs early in the morning and switching to plastic jigs on 1 1/8-ounce jig head later in the day. You can catch these fish on live shiners.
Snook are being caught in the same areas as the redfish, but most are small. If you do encounter some snook, definitely try using live shiners for bait. There aren’t many instances when a snook will turn down a tasty little shiner.
Moving on the deep grass flats, Girle is catching good numbers of spotted sea trout. “I’ve found the best bite was in 3 to 5 feet of water,” explains Girle. “We’re drifting and tossing jigs in the sandy potholes.” Along with spotted sea trout, Girle is boating bluefish and ladyfish with the same technique.
Offshore, Girle is targeting mangrove snapper and flounder around the nearshore structure. He likes to bait with live shiners and he chums with them, too. “The chummers seem to get the fish in a feeding mood,” says Girle. “Then we drop down a bait on a hook and hang on.”
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers is seeing gag grouper dominate the bite for fishers using live pinfish or grunts for bait. “I’ve seen several over 30 inches landed in the past couple of days,” says Medley. “They’re here and they’re hungry.”
Spanish mackerel are still swarming schools of bait around the pier and the reefs just away from the pier. Most pier fishers targeting macks are using artificial lures, such as Gotcha plugs, silver spoons and white jigs.
Remember to stock up on whatever lures you plan on using on mackerel. When the macks are this abundant, you may lose quite a few lures to those razor-sharp teeth.
Flounder are supplying bottom fishers with good action on light tackle. And good table fair, too. Medley suggests using live or cut greenbacks. “Drag them on the bottom around the pier if you want to catch flounder,” he explains. “When you feel a little resistance, set the hook.”
On a final note, Medley says he’s still seeing tarpon around the pier. On the incoming tides, concentrations of silver kings are floating in the current under the bridge around the pilings. “I haven’t seen any caught lately,” says Medley, “but there’s still a few of them around.”
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