Heat up the skillet for flats, dock fishing
Redfish are being found across the flats during afternoon hours. As the water warms from the sun, these fish move to shallow, calm water to bask in the sun. Gold spoons or soft plastics are the ticket to catch these lounging reds.
It’s also a good time to target redfish around docks and piers. When doing this, try using a live select shrimp for bait. Add a split shot to get your bait on the bottom. These reds usually congregate right under the dock so making an accurate cast is imperative. The key to getting the bite is get your shrimp as far back under the dock as you can without getting hung up in the pilings. If you make a short cast, you most likely won’t get hooked up, so reel in and try again.
Once you’re in the strike zone, hang on tight. When fishing docks for redfish, it is common to hook fish exceeding 30 inches in length.
With temps climbing into the low 80s on recent days, inshore fishing remains consistent for a variety of species.
Migratory species such as jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, bonito and ladyfish are being caught around schools of migratory baitfish both in the bays and on the beaches. These fish will readily take a small white jig or silver spoon — which can produce nonstop action for anglers using artificials. Just remember, follow the bait schools to stay on the fish.
On the flats, catch-and-release spotted seatrout action is still good — especially on mornings when we experience extreme low tides. Try targeting larger trout with top-water plugs in the early morning. Deeper grass flats adjacent or an abrupt change in depth — by a sandbar to a spoil island — are a good area to begin your search.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing spotted seatrout patrolling the pier at night in search of small ballyhoo. “It’s pretty cool watching those trout come up and inhale a ballyhoo,” exclaims Sork.
Also at night, Sork is seeing numerous sharks on the hook. Sharks ranging 2-4 feet in length are the norm. By using cut bait such as mullet or frozen squid, night fishers are reeling up bonnetheads and small black tips.
Spanish mackerel are being caught, although Sork believes the bite to be a “little sporadic.” Small white jigs and Gotcha plugs are getting the bite.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a good number of Spanish mackerel being caught by fishers using small yellow jigs. “Most of them are small,” says Cassetty. “I’d say maybe one out of three is a keeper.”
Silver spoons or live shiners are catching mackerel, although Cassetty says the yellow jigs catch the most.
Using live shrimp on a bottom rig is rewarded with a variety of species. By dropping a bait directly next to or underneath the pier, pier fishers are catching keeper-size black drum. Redfish are inhabiting the pier with catches up to 22 inches being landed. Sheepshead are being caught on shrimp, although Cassetty recommends using oyster crabs or sand fleas if you’re serious about putting these tasty striped fish in the skillet.
On a final note, Cassetty says, “We’re still catching a lot of flounder out here, but most are undersized. We have to throw them back.”
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says he’s starting to hear about sheepshead being caught both in the canals and at the local piers. “People are using a number of baits for sheepies,” says Keyes. “So far, shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas top the list.”
Most of these inshore sheepshead will range 1-2 pounds, but don’t be surprised to encounter fish exceeding 3 pounds.
Redfish and flounder are being caught on the grass flats in sandy potholes and ditches. Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head is producing a consistent bite as are live shrimp fished on the bottom.
Offshore, Keyes is hearing of catches of jolt head porgies, Key West grunts and juvenile red grouper. He says, “For the porgies, grunts and juvenile red grouper, try frozen sardines to get the bite.”
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says the unusually warm weather has thrown a monkey wrench into the typical patterns the fish follow for December. “The warmer weather provided some excellent opportunities to have an enjoyable day on the water,” Howard reports.
Game fish are responding to the shiners that are still in the bay. Redfish are on the flats and in the potholes mixed in with schools of mullet. Howard suggests setting up in 2 feet of water and chumming the shiners into the potholes, drawing redfish, flounder, ladyfish and speckled trout to the back of the boat for fast-paced action. And use a popping cork to keep the shiner out of the weeds, Howard adds.
The redfish, black drum and flounder have moved toward the deepwater docks along the Intracoastal Waterway and the Manatee River. The shiners have not been as productive as a lively shrimp tossed under the docks. “A tip for dock fishing is to throw the bait in a side-arm motion in order to not snag the dock and to get the bait way under the dock,” Howard says. He also suggests tightening down your drag when dock fishing to work the bigger fish away from the pilings.
As long as the weather holds, the flats still will be alive with game fish, says Howard. He reminds fishers to keep the slack out of your line to feel the fish bite your bait.”
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing close to the beach catching bonito and Spanish mackerel. By finding migratory schools of glass minnows, Girle is hooking up the bite. Girle is catching migratory species on small jigs, spoons and even a few on flies.
Moving inshore, Girle is fishing shallow grass flats using top-water plugs. Redfish up to 32 inches are being caught on top-water plugs during the early morning hours. Snook of equal size are being caught using the same method. Lastly, spotted seatrout up to 27 inches are blasting top-water plugs in the same areas as the reds and snook.
“Every fish we caught was on a top-water plug. For some reason, the fish just wouldn’t take a jig,” Girle said of one day’s action.
Fishing the top water can produce a variety of species and result in bigger fish. Girle’s choices for top-water plugs include the Rapala Skitterwalk and the Sebile Stick Shadd. You may want to add a MirrOlure Top Dog and a Zara Spook to your arsenal as well.
Have a Merry Christmas and enjoy trying out all of the new fishing gear that Santa put under your tree.
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