Warm water brings bait choices to nearby waters
With water temperatures rising, shiners are arriving on the flats around Anna Maria Island. Now you have the choice to use shiners or shrimp. Personally, I like to have both handy — just in case.
Sheepshead are swarming the local piers as well as any structure in Tampa Bay, Sarasota Bay and off the beaches. This is where having some live shrimp helps.
Anglers planning to dock fish for redfish also should have live shrimp on hand. Shiners will work, too, although sometimes there’s better luck to be had with shrimp.
If you’re fishing the flats, trout and snook are readily taking a shiner as soon as it hits the water.
Other species being caught on shiners include Spanish mackerel, bonito and kingfish. For these three species, try fishing the artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is seeing good amounts of baitfish swarming the waters around the pier, which brings on the Spanish mackerel bite.
Pier fishers using small white jigs, silver spoons or Gotcha plugs are reeling up good numbers of macks. Most fish being caught are in the 18-inch range, although fish up to 24 inches are not uncommon. Pier fishers using live greenbacks also are having good results. Don’t forget to use a long shank hook while live-bait fishing for macks. You’ll find your hook-to-catch ratio will be better.
Pier fishers opting to use live shrimp or fiddler crabs are catching near limits of sheepshead. Most fish are ranging 15-18 inches, although larger fish are being landed daily. Remember to fish during slower tides when targeting sheepshead at the Skyway piers. On strong tides it can be difficult to get your bait to stay down by the structure where the sheepshead are feeding.
Pompano are still carousing the shallow areas near the beginning of the south pier. Love’s lures pompano jigs tipped with a small piece of fresh-cut shrimp are getting the bite. Remember the size limit for pompano is 11 inches to the fork of the tail and you can keep six per person per day.
Finally, if you’re a night owl, try venturing to the pier after sunset to target silver trout. You need No. 4 hooks, split shots and a bucket full of live shrimp. Drift your bait out with the current, away from the pier, and hang on. It helps to set up around one of the lights on the bridge that shine in the water. The lights attract baitfish, which in turn attract those delicious silver trout.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says “fishing around Anna Maria has been on fire with the spring pattern coming on like gangbusters.”
He says shiners are starting to make a showing on the flats. Howard suggests using Purina Tropical Fish food to draw the shiners to the boat. Howard likes to chum for about 10 minutes before throwing the net.
“Let the net sink to the bottom and then quickly pull it in. Filling the live wells in your boat until they are ‘blacked out’ will provide enough bait for an enjoyable day on the water,” Howard said.
Redfish and speckled trout are in their springtime spots. Chumming with the shiners near mangroves and potholes will get the fish to chew and give you an idea of where to cast to draw a strike. Howard says a recent group experienced two hours of biting from redfish, snook, and spotted seatrout. Howard reports mixed-sized redfish with plenty of slot fish filleted and some big over-slot fish released.
The sheepshead bite is at its peak. As the water warms, the sheepshead will taper off but, for now, Howard says, the artificial reefs and docks are holding some big ones.
Also as the weather warms, look for the snook to make their way out of their wintertime spots and onto the flats. The inshore bite will heat up and Howard predicts the beaches will soon see the influx of kingfish, cobia, Spanish mackerel and sharks.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore structure with good results. Using either live shiners or shrimp, Girle’s clients are catching a variety of species.
To start, catch-and-release gag grouper action is still going strong. Girle says he’s seeing consistent action with keeper-size fish every time he visits the artificial reefs. He’s using live shiners to get the bite.
Key West grunt and porgies are inhabiting the artificial reefs in and around 40 feet of water, where Girle is using live shrimp to catch both.
Flounder are on the list for Girle’s charters. Using live shiners fished on the sandy bottom around the reefs, Girle’s clients are catching flatties up to 18 inches.
Lastly, Girle’s charters are catching black tip sharks on chunk baits. Black tips up to 60 pounds are the norm for this time of year
Moving inshore, Girle is fishing the shallow grass flats of Sarasota Bay for redfish. By targeting sandy potholes throughout the flat, Girle is catching reds up to 32 inches on shiners or top water plugs.
Spotted seatrout are hanging out on the deeper flats of Sarasota Bay. Girle is catching them using a 1/8-ounce jig head with a soft plastic in addition to a few mackerel and ladyfish.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is hearing from fishers about a variety of species being caught around Anna Maria Island. Whether you’re trout fishing on the flats, catching pompano on the beach or sheepshead at the local piers, one thing is sure, the bite is on.
He said anglers targeting spotted seatrout on the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound are producing rod-bending action with a MirrOlure Mirrodine in the greenback color pattern. These suspending twitch baits hover a couple of feet above the bottom, which puts them right in the strike zone for a hungry trout. Fish up to 20 inches are being reported.
“If you don’t have a Mirrodine,” adds Oldham, “try a live shrimp under a popping cork.”
Beach fishers are frequenting the tackle shop in search of tools to catch pompano. Some are in search of pompano jigs rigged with a stinger jig, while those who prefer live bait are purchasing a sand flea rake to dig their own fleas. Either method is effective. The best bet is to be prepared to fish both ways. Beach pompano are averaging 1 to 2 pounds.
Saving the best bite for last, sheepshead are swarming the local piers, artificial reefs and wrecks in Tampa Bay. Most fish are readily taking live shrimp except at the piers, where tubeworms and oyster crabs are dominating the bite. Fish up to 4 pounds are being caught around the piers, while fish topping 8 pounds are being caught on wrecks and reefs.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says this week “the sheepshead bite is on.” Pier fishers using oyster crabs are having the most consistent bite, although live shrimp are catching fish, too. Fish up to 4 pounds are being caught although most are around 2 pounds. For the next couple of weeks, don’t be surprised to see stringers of convict fish hanging from the pier.
Flounder are still being caught around the pier with some regularity. Live shrimp is the bait of choice. Most flounder reeled up are undersized, although, if you’re lucky, you might get a keeper.
Finally a few Spanish mackerel are being caught at sun up on the pier. Few is the key word here. Once the bait arrives, the mackerel bite should improve.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing black and white — sheepshead that is. A cloud of sheepshead have taken up residence below the city pier to feed on the abundance of barnacles growing on the pilings.
Anglers using live shrimp are catching fish, but the serious sheepshead fishers using tubeworms and oyster crabs are hooking up every time they lower a bait. Fish up to 2 pounds are the norm.
Other species landed at the pier include flounder, spotted seatrout and a few bonnethead sharks. For the flounder and trout, try using live shrimp. If you want some light-tackle action with the bonnethead sharks, try using a strip of squid.
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