Flint Besecker of Buffalo, N.Y., shows off his limit catch of gag grouper before the season closed. Besecker used live pinfish in about 50 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island on a trip with Capt. Larry McGuire to get the bite.
Use the right bait, get the bite going
Using the right bait can translate to a productive day of fishing.
And area waters are still producing a variety of species.
Offshore fishing remains consistent for red grouper and catch-and-release gag grouper. In 80-100 feet of water, red grouper are inhaling hand-sized pinfish and threadfin herring. Gag grouper are extremely abundant in these same areas, so you may have to weed through the gags to get the reds.
Mangrove snapper are inhabiting offshore ledges and nearshore manmade reefs and wrecks. Live shrimp, live shiners or frozen sardines are producing the bite. Average size on offshore mangrove snapper has been 5-6 pounds, while nearshore fish are around 2-3 pounds.
If it’s explosive top-water action you seek, head for the nearshore reefs and wrecks. Kingfish and bonito are infesting the nearshore reefs. Live shiners on a flat line with a 4/0 long shank hook are a sure fire way to get yourself in a drag-screaming battle against one of these high-activity fish. If you’re looking for the amberjacks, move out a little farther to some of the offshore wrecks. Use the same rig and bait as for the kings and bonito.
Moving inshore, flounder are abundant around Anna Maria Sound and adjacent waters. If you’re on the flats, target sandy potholes and ditches to find these feisty flat fish. A Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head is becoming the most popular way to catch flounder on the flats. Plus, the Gulp shrimp will catch just about any other species you might encounter there.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says he’s seeing lots of flounder coming to the deck. Live shrimp or live shiners fished on the bottom under the pier are getting the bite.
Pier fishers targeting shark are catching bonnetheads, blacktips and sand sharks by throwing out cut bait on a large circle hook on a wire leader. Most of the sharks are in the 3-4 foot range. Cut baits, such as mullet, Spanish macks, ladyfish and even squid, are getting the bite.
If you haven’t gotten your fill of Spanish mackerel, you can still wander out on the pier and catch a few. As long as the bait remains, there will be mackerel. White crappie jigs and Gotcha plugs are catching Spanish mackerel in the 12- to 20-inch range.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier is still seeing good numbers of fish caught from beneath the pier. By using a knocker rig or a split-shot, pier fishers are sinking live shrimp and shiners under the pier to get the bite.
The main species being caught under the pier is flounder. “There are a lot of little ones down there,” says Cassetty, “but we’re getting some nice keepers, too.”
The flounder are hitting live shrimp and shiners. In fact, Cassetty says the bite was better for those using shrimp.
Other species being caught around the pier include black drum and sheepshead. For either of these species, the preferred baits are shrimp, fiddler crabs or sand fleas. You can target them with the same rig as you’re using for flounder. The thing to remember, especially when targeting sheepshead, is hook size. Sheepshead around the pier are generally 1 or 2 pounds. This being said, try using a No. 4 hook when targeting them due to their small mouth. Also, if you’re using sand fleas or fiddler crabs, you want to make sure your hook size matches the bait, hence a No. 4 hook.
On a final note, Spanish mackerel are still feeding on the schools of small threadfin herring that are seeking refuge around the outer corners of the pier. Silver spoons and white speck rigs are getting the bite. Fish up to 24 inches are being caught, so it might be wise to bump up your fluorocarbon leader to 40-pound test. For those using live threadfin herring for bait, make sure you’re using a long shank hook.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is still nursing a sore arm due to the hard work reeling up six amberjack while fishing with Capt. Mac Gregory. By fishing offshore wrecks with live shiners and various artificials, Gregory and Keyes caught AJs in the 20-pound range. “Once we anchored up and chummed the AJs to the boat,” says Keyes, “we would catch one every time we threw a bait in the water.”
Other offshore action includes red grouper, cobia and kingfish. For the red grouper, offshore fishers are locating hard bottom and ledges. Live shiners, pinfish and threadfin herring are getting the bite. For cobia and kingfish, try the offshore reefs and wrecks. For the kings, shiners and threadfins are working, but if you see a cobia curiously swimming to the bait, pitch a fat pinfish at him and hang on tight.
The inshore bite is still producing redfish, snook and spotted seatrout. Live shrimp under a popping cork or free-lined live shiners are the baits of choice.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore man-made reefs with good results on kingfish, bonito and Spanish mackerel. While anchored over the reef, Girle likes to chum with live shiners to bring these migratory species to the boat. Once the targeted fish are feeding within casting range, Girle is live-lining a shiner on a 4/0 long shank hook to get the bite.
While fishing the reefs, Girle is spotting cobia. Once the cobia is within range, Girle casts a live pinfish to entice a bite. Cobia in the 36-inch range have been the average hookup.
Inshore, Girle is seeing large schools of ladyfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel. “Look for the birds,” says Girle. “They’re diving for a reason.” Try looking around the deeper grass flats in northern Sarasota Bay.
Girle also is catching scattered redfish and “gator” trout on the shallow flats of eastern Sarasota Bay. Live shiners are the preferred bait, although artificials, such as top-water plugs and plastic jigs, are working just as well.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend charters is fishing offshore hard bottom and ledges targeting red grouper. Starting around water depths of 80 feet, Kimball drops live pinfish or shiners to the bottom to entice these hungry red grouper to bite. “On a full day charter,” says Kimball, “we’re returning to the dock with our limit of red grouper. The bite is pretty good out there right now.”
Around the ledges, Kimball is catching mangrove snapper up to 6 pounds along with jolt head porgies and Key West grunts. Primarily Kimball likes to use shiners for these species, especially the mangrove snapper. Frozen squid works well for porgies and grunts, but when it comes to mangrove snapper, a shiner is usually the first choice to be stabbed on a hook.
Kimball is catching greater amberjack around offshore wrecks with good success. Flat lines baited with live threadfin herring are brining the AJs to the surface, resulting in an explosive strike. Fish in the 25-pound range are the average with bigger ones mixed in.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel charters is catching exceptional numbers of flounder in the backwater of Anna Maria Sound. By using a “new penny” Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head, one of Johnston’s charters caught a whopping 34 flounder on a 4-hour trip. “We hooked even more than,” says Johnston, “but we landed 34.”
Flounder do have a tendency to strike bait and hold onto it without actually being hooked. Once you reel them up to the side of the boat, they get spooked and release the bait. That’s when you need to have the landing net ready.
Johnston’s charters also are enjoying good redfish action on live shrimp. Johnston is dock fishing these reds using a medium-sized split shot and a 1/0 hook. By casting a shrimp under the dock, Johnston’s charters are catching reds up to 24 inches.
Moving onto the grass flats of Sarasota Bay, Johnston is catching good numbers of catch-and-release trout. Live shiners of live shrimp are producing the bite.
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