K.B. Robles of Puerto Rico shows off a 30-inch redfish he landed on a December outing with his uncle, Capt. Mark Howard, of SumoTime fishing charters. Robles and Howard had non-stop action for two hours using shiners.
Shiners, shrimp, artificials get the bite going
Fishers using live bait and artificials are being rewarded with consistent hookups in Anna Maria Sound and the surrounding waters.
Redfish are staging on shallow grass flats adjacent to mangrove edges to sun themselves in the late morning and early afternoon. On charters this week, we found the reds to be on flats with depths of 2-3 feet. Live shiners or live shrimp seemed to be the ticket to catch these feisty fish, although Berkley Gulp shrimp worked, too.
Catch-and-release spotted seatrout are still abundant on deeper flats with sandy potholes. Remember, the closure for trout is over Jan. 1, so now is the time to go out and do some homework to ensure success on opening day. Arm yourself with some top-water plugs, some soft plastics and maybe a suspending jerk bait to hunt these wintertime yellow-mouthed bruisers.
It may be warm weather by day, but we officially moved from fall to winter with the winter solstice Dec. 23, the longest night and shortest day of the year.
If it’s winter migratory species, such as mackerel and bonito, you’re looking to hook up, look for diving birds at sun up around Bean Point, Egmont Key or the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. There are still shiners available, or you can use silver spoons and Gotcha plugs to catch these high-activity, toothy fish.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is still seeing decent numbers of spotted seatrout around the pier at night. “They’re patrolling the lights looking for ballyhoo,” says Sork.
Catching ballyhoo for trout bait requires a long-handled bait net and a quick hand. The pole can be as long as 20 feet and the fine mesh net should be about 2 feet in diameter. When a ballyhoo is spotted, simply scoop it up and put it on a hook. Free-lining a ballyhoo is a best bet to hook up trout that feed near the surface.
During the day, pier fishers are catching little tunny and Spanish mackerel on white jigs and spoons. Both of these species are great fun on light tackle and the macks are tasty.
Lastly, pier fishers using live shrimp are catching keeper-size flounder around the edges of the pier.
Tom Cassetty at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of species caught on live shrimp. Pier fishers using a bottom rig are casting their baits under the pier to get the bite. Common catches there include black drum, redfish and sheepshead. Pier fishers are catching flounder under the pier, but most are small.
Pier fishers looking to cast their bait away from the pier are hooking up with Spanish mackerel and ladyfish. “Most of the macks are coming in between 12 and 15 inches,” says Cassetty. “And they’re a little sporadic right now.”
White jigs, silver spoons and Gotcha plugs are the baits of choice.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says he’s heard of lots of black drum being caught at the local piers. Live shrimp or Berkley Gulp shrimp are getting the bite. Other species being caught on shrimp around the piers include redfish, sheepshead and flounder. “They’re catching a lot of fish out there on shrimp,” says Oldham, “but the black drum seem to be the most abundant.”
Moving onto the glass flats of Anna Maria Sound, Oldham is hearing reports of some great action with catch-and-release spotted seatrout. “To catch the trout, boat fishers are drifting the grass flats using Berkeley Gulp shrimp on a jig head,” says Oldham. “Most people like the new penny color, but the glow is working, too.”
Flounder catches are being reported daily. Most of these catches are occurring in canals in Bimini Bay. Fishers using live shrimp are catching keeper-size flounder from their back-yard docks. Remember, when targeting flounder, try to drag your bait along the bottom. This keeps you in the strike zone and helps locate the fish.
On the beaches, fishers are catching the usual suspects for the transition to winter fishing. Whiting are feeding on small pieces of fresh-cut peeled shrimp on a No. 2 hook. By using a whole live shrimp, beach fishers are catching flounder and, if they’re lucky, a few pompano.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore man-made structure with good results on mangrove snapper. By using live shiners for bait, Girle’s charters are catching snapper in the 16-inch range. Along with snapper, Girle’s charters are getting a workout on catch-and-release gag grouper.
Moving into Sarasota Bay, Girle is targeting a variety of species using both shiners and shrimp for bait. While drifting deeper grass flats, Girle’s charters are catching bluefish, ladyfish and catch-and-release spotted seatrout on live shiners. On the shallower flats, Girle is using shiners to catch redfish in the 30-inch range, as well as flounder up to 17 inches.
The highlight of the week for Girle is the appearance of pompano in Sarasota Bay. Girls’ clients are getting into drag-screaming action on these golden nuggets. Using live shrimp under a cork, Girle is catching limits of pompano with the larger fish topping out at 20 inches.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says, “If you like catching bonito, now is the time to be out on the pier.”
Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs or silver spoons for bait are catching both bonito and Spanish mackerel as quickly as they get their lure in the water.
To target either species at the pier, you want to find the large schools of Spanish sardines that are migrating out of Tampa Bay. Once the schools are located, start working your lure around the edges. Remember, these fish are feeding on the bait school, so as it moves along the pier, you’ll need to follow the bait to keep the bite going.
Fishers at the pier using live shrimp are catching a variety of species fit for the dinner table. By bottom fishing with live shrimp, fishers are catching good numbers of mangrove snapper in the 12-inch range. Along with the snapper, fishers are hooking up with Key West grunts. To top things off, keeper-size flounder and sheepshead are being caught as well.
Night fishers at the pier are still being rewarded with an abundance of silver trout. Try using a speck rig tipped with a small piece of shrimp on each jig to catch two fish at once. Remember, these fish are great to eat when they’re fresh, but they don’t freeze well. Only keep what you plan to put in the pan.
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