Billy Harris, visiting Anna Maria from Jupiter, Fla., shows off one of several pompano caught while fishing with Capt. Warren Girle.
Before releasing her catch, Lauren Marie of Bradenton displays the gag grouper caught on a sardine in about 65 feet of water offshore Anna Maria Island on a charter with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters. Her group also caught and released many more gags, plus lots of red grouper, scamp, porgys, triggerfish, hogfish and other snappers for dinner.
Beach fishing, right rig, prosperous results
Beach fishing on Anna Maria Island is proving prosperous for anglers targeting migratory species, such as pompano, jack crevalle and blue runners. Using a pompano jig with the addition of a pink stinger rig is resulting in frequent double hookups of all of the species mentioned.
Pompano in the 1- to 2-pound range are being caught, although the real numbers of fish have not yet arrived. We should see more consistent and bigger catches in the weeks to come.
An abundance of spotted seatrout are arriving on the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound, although most are small. Flats fishers using soft plastics on a jig head are getting the best results, although live shrimp are coming in a close second.
Redfish and sheepshead are congregating around docks and canals, especially in Bimini Bay. Again, live shrimp is the bait of choice. Remember, if you’re seeing sheepshead around the docks but they won’t bite, try switching bait. Fiddler crabs, sand fleas and especially tubeworms are great choices if the sheepshead are being picky.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is fishing the beaches of both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in search of pompano. By drifting over sandbars and troughs, Gross’ charters are reeling up pompano in the 2-pound range. Gross likes to use Doc’s goofy jigs rigged with a pink stinger to target these tasty, strong-fighting fish. “We managed to catch a few small permit mixed in there, too,” Gross said.
Moving into the backcountry, Gross is fishing redfish and sheepshead around docks in Sarasota Bay. Using live shrimp for bait, his clients are reeling up keeper-size reds and sheepies.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says the sheepshead bite is where it’s at. “They’re biting so good right now,” says Medley, “even people who don’t normally catch them are catching them.”
Even live shrimp for bait is resulting in catches up to 3 pounds. Most “sheep herders” like to use a stout No. 2 or No. 1 size hook, which aids in the use of small baits such as sand fleas and fiddler crabs. A small-but-stout hook is more easily removed from a sheepshead’s bony mouth. Take a look into a sheepshead’s mouth to see what I’m talking about.
Next down the list at the south pier are Spanish mackerel and bonito. Fishers are using either silver spoons or live greenbacks to get the bite. Spanish mackerel in the 20-inch range are being caught around the schools of greenbacks early in the morning. The same applies for the bonito. Since both species are feeding on the same bait, one never knows what will bite.
To finish up, pier fishers using fresh-cut greenbacks or live shrimp under the pier are catching mangrove snapper in the 12-inch range. Don’t be surprised to catch a couple of black sea bass in the same areas.
Capt. Warren Girle is working the beaches of Anna Maria Island, catching Spanish mackerel and bonito. Girle is using live shiners free-lined behind the boat to get these drag-burners to bite. By using a long shank hook rigged to 30-pound fluorocarbon, Girle’s client have a better chance of hooking up with fish and keeping them pinned until they’re in the boat.
Moving to the grass flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle’s charters are having success with pompano. Girle likes to drift over the deeper areas and work pompano jigs tipped with shrimp. While doing this, Girle’s clients not only hook up pompano, but a variety of other migratory species.
Spanish mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish will readily hit a pompano jig, which adds non-stop action and a little variety, too.
Finally, Girle is fishing shallow grass flats on the edges of Sarasota Bay, targeting redfish and spotted seatrout. Girle is using either live shrimp or Mister Twister Exude Darts to get the bite. Reds up to 24 inches and trout to 18 inches topped his charters last week.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says he’s hearing about pompano being caught just off the beaches. Fishers using a pompano jig rigged with a stinger fly are catching near limits of pompano in the early morning.
“Don’t forget,” reminds Keyes, “with the water being as clear as it is, scale down your fluorocarbon leader.”
Keyes likes to use 20-pound test fluorocarbon although, if the fish are leader-shy, he’ll switch to 15 pound.
Along with the pompano, beach fishers also are catching small jack crevalle, blue runners and an occasional bonnethead shark.
Moving into the backcountry, flats fishers are finding good numbers of spotted seatrout, although most are undersized. Berkeley Gulp shrimp or a MirrOlure Lil John on a 1/4-ounce jig head are working on the small fish. Try targeting deeper grass flats for trout and aim your cast for sandy potholes.
Sheepshead and redfish are inhabiting rocks and docks along canals and in the bays. Live select-size shrimp are the popular choice to get these fish to bite, especially the redfish. Remember, you may want to use a stronger leader for dock fishing. And so you don’t get cut off by barnacles while fighting a fish, 30-pound fluorocarbon is another good bet.
Ted Pasquantonio at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing sheepshead and black drum being caught around the pilings under the pier. Pier fishers are catching a few sheepies on shrimp, although the serious sheepshead anglers are opting to catch their own fiddler and oyster crabs to use as bait. Better yet, those really in the know are catching tubeworms — the surefire bait for convict fish.
Black drum are being caught on shrimp, crabs and tubeworms. Not as picky as the sheepshead, keeper-size black drum are being reeled up daily by fishers targeting sheepshead.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is fishing the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay in search of spotted seatrout. Johnston likes to target his prey by either drifting jigs or anchoring and baiting with live shrimp. By drifting, Johnston’s charters are able to catch good numbers of trout across the flat. If the fish are schooling in an area, Johnston drops anchor and switches to live shrimp free-lined behind the boat to get the bite.
Around docks and in canals, Johnston is catching good numbers of redfish, including keeper-sized fish. Johnston likes to use live shrimp, adding a split shot a foot or so above the hook, allowing his clients to get their shrimp quickly to the bottom where the reds are feeding. While fishing docks, Johnston’s clients are catching a few keeper-size sheepshead, too.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says the past week yielded a variety of fish landed and some nice trophies released.
Redfish catches slowed around the docks due to the warm weather, he says, but there’s plenty on the flats. Howard suggests working the potholes at low tide with a live shrimp rigged on a popping cork or a Berkley Gulp or similar artificial pulled through the pothole.
He reports some trophy-sized seatrout were reeled in on his recent charters.
A big one was landed by Ian Gilchrist of England measuring 26-inches. A large, select shrimp rigged with a small split shot under a popping cork enticed the seatrout to bite Howard says.
Sheepshead have started to make their move into Tampa Bay waters, Howard says. He expects an increase in numbers as the winter season progresses. A shrimp rigged on a No. 1 hook with enough weight to get it to the bottom will get these fish to chew. “One tip to catching the sheepshead is to be ultra-sensitive to the slightest bump in your line. Feel the bump, reel down to the fish and put a bend in the pole,” Howard says.
On a final note, Howard says wintertime fishing can produce some sizzling action. “You just need to adjust your techniques to the season,” he adds.
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