Anna Maria anglers spring into action
As seen in recent days, springtime is settling in around Anna Maria Island. Blue bird skies and temperatures in the mid-80s, combined with light winds and clear water, amount to excellent conditions on the water. Whether fishing from the beaches, piers, passes or in the boat, now is the time to be out enjoying this weather.
Anglers can expect the usual species to arrive for the springtime bite. Rumors of Spanish mackerel and kingfish are in the air and with good reason. On one of my charters, we caught as many Spanish mackerel as we could boat before we got tired of catching them. As for the kings, I didn’t see them this week, although a couple of reliable sources, with photos as proof, said they had some good action early in the week.
Spotted seatrout are making a great showing this spring. There are numerous small fish, ranging from 12-14 inches, inhabiting most of the grass flats around the Island. This past week, after fishing for two hours, my clients caught around 30 trout with about one-third being keeper-size. Some were as small as 10 inches, while the biggest came in at 22 inches.
Redfish are staging up on shallow flats from Sarasota Bay to Terra Ceia Bay. On some days, you can find them schooled up, while other days they’re scattered throughout the flat. Capt. Warren Girle specializes in targeting these shallow water reds, and his favorite method is to wade to them. It’s quieter, up close and personal, and you don’t spook the fish.
I recommend working a top-water plug early in the morning or a Berkley Gulp shrimp later in the day. And, of course, a live shiner is a good bet, too.
Lastly, catch-and-release snook action is heating up the shallow grass flats and around the mangrove edges. Numerous small fish are being spotted, although some bigger fish are worked in. You need a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a live bait hook combined with a lively shiner to get the bite.
Remember to go gentle on the snook, since they are all we have. We need them to get them to breeding size so our fishery will return to what it was before the freeze killed off the population in January 2010.
Take advantage of the spring weather, and get fishing while the gettin’s good.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is fishing offshore with good results on a number of species. Using a variety of baits, ranging from shrimp and squid to shiners and pinfish, Kimball’s clients are catching quantities worthy of a fish fry.
To start, Kimball is using shrimp and squid for bait in water depths of 40 to 60 feet. Key West grunts, porgies and hogfish are readily taking these baits the moment they reach the bottom. Once filleted, all these species are good to eat, just bread and fry in hot oil.
In these same water depths, Kimball’s charters are testing their stamina by working out on catch-and-release gag grouper. Using shiners and pinfish, Kimball’s clients are having knuckle-busting action on gags in the 10- to 12-pound range.
Moving out a little deeper, catch-and-release red grouper action is on fire. “We’re hooking reds on every drop,” says Kimball. “They are prolific out there right now.” Again, these bottom dwellers provide a true test of strength due to their size and power.
Kimball also is catching king mackerel by free-lining shiners behind the boat. Fish in the 20-pound range are the norm, although a few bigger fish are being caught.
Looks as if it’s time to get the smoker ready and find your favorite recipe for kingfish dip.
Richard Leitz at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is seeing good numbers of migratory species crashing bait schools. Spanish mackerel are being caught on silver spoons or Gotcha plugs, most in the 15- to 20-inch range. The same applies for bonito. The bonito are ranging 7-10 pounds and can be caught on either live threadfin herring or artificials. As for the kingfish, only a few have hooked up. To target this large mackerel, try baiting either the biggest threadfin herring you can find or a blue runner.
Sheepshead are being caught around the pier, although the bite seems to be thinning out. Fiddler crabs, tubeworms and shrimp are still getting a bite.
Finally, pier fishers targeting flounder are having good results on slower moving tides. Fish up to 18 inches are being reported. Leitz suggests using a small threadfin herring on a jig head to find the fish. Simply hook the threadfin through the nose and let it sink to the bottom. Then slowly reel and drag the bait, especially around the pilings under the pier and small artificial reefs.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters reports exceptional springtime fishing. He’s seeing redfish, spotted seatrout, snook and mackerel have been chewing with reckless abandon.
Howard says the redfish bite is one of the best in recent years, with big schools of bruisers coming onto the flats at incoming tides, feeding heavily on shiners and pinfish. He likes to use circle hooks when fishing for reds for an easy release.
Howard said last week a 31-inch redfish bit his client’s line and that of another guide’s client, too. “We were able to land the copper-colored beauty and take a couple of pictures and release it to fight another day,” Howard said. “That was definitely a first.”
The snook bite has finally exploded, Howard says providing a change of pace from the redfish. Look for snook in the potholes on low tides and in the bushes during high tide. Howard believes the no-take rules for these fish have helped bring about a nice recovery after some harsh winters.
“Looking forward, the new moon is next week and the tides will be strong. Bait is in all of the regular spots and it’s not hard to black out your wells. Some of the best fishing Manatee County has to offer is happening now,” Howard says.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters had a good week fishing the grass flats of southern Tampa Bay, north Sarasota Bay and all the waters between.
Using live shiners for bait, Gross is catching limits of spotted seatrout in water depths of 3 to 7 feet. Gross likes to use about 3 to 4 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon tied to a 1/0 Eagle claw live bait hook to get the bite. When the water is as clear as it is now,” says Gross, “you need to use light leader and small hooks.”
Most trout are in the 15- to 20-inch range, although the biggest topped out at 27 inches, “and that’s a big trout,” he said.
Redfish are making their way onto Gross’ fillet table. Slot-size fish are being caught on shallower grass flats. Gross likes to use the same setup as he uses for trout. Once he locates the redfish, he draws them to the boat by chumming with live shiners. This both gets them in the feeding mood and keeps them in the area. Gross’ charters are catching good numbers of slot-sized fish as well as some over-slot reds — the biggest coming in at 32 inches.
To finish out the day, Gross is exposing his clients to some catch-and-release snook action. “It’s good to see there’s a few snook starting to show up again,” says Gross.
Most snook are in the 20- to 26-inch range, with the biggest coming in at a whopping 36 inches. And that’s a good fish in anybody’s book.
Capt. Warren Girle is putting out shiners at nearshore structure with good results. On a recent charter, his clients managed to reel up a 36-inch cobia as well as numerous king mackerel up to 35 inches. Also on the reefs, Girle’s charters are catching Spanish mackerel, sheepshead and Key West grunts.
Moving to the backcountry, Girle is targeting redfish in the shallow grass flats of Sarasota Bay, using live shiners with good results. Numerous slot-sized fish are being caught as well as fish up to 33-inches.
In these same areas with the reds, Girle is hooking up spotted seatrout. Girle’s biggest trout came in at 24 inches. These can be caught a number of ways, he says, with top-water plugs, soft plastics or live shiners.
On the deeper grass flats, Girle is catching a variety of inshore species. Ladyfish, blue runners and Spanish mackerel are available by jig fishing the deeper flats.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of excellent pompano action on the beaches of Anna Maria Island. Fishers are getting good results on both pompano jigs and sand fleas. Keyes suggests fishing at sunrise for a good score. Fly fishers are finding success using glass minnow patterns and small crab imitations on pompano.
Ladyfish are schooling along the shorelines, providing non-stop action for anglers using artificial lures, such as silver spoons, buck-tail jigs and Gotcha plugs. Look for fish breaking schools of bait just off the beach. Remember, ladyfish will fray your leader, so always check it after each catch and re-tie as needed.
Finally, beach fishers using cut bait on the bottom are hooking up small bonnethead sharks and an occasional flounder. Try using frozen squid or shrimp to target either of these beach inhabitants.
On the grass flats, fishers using live shiners are catching good numbers of spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook, and using live shiners free-lined over shallow grass and adjacent to mangrove shorelines are getting the bite. Try using some top-water plugs at sunrise for exploding action on the backwater trio.
Moving offshore, mangrove snapper are dominating the bite, while king mackerel are showing up in the same areas. Starting around 20 miles out, snapper are being caught on live and frozen baits. Most fishers are using shiners or threadfin herring, but frozen sardines also can be the way to go.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing remains consistent. A variety of species are being caught on both live and artificial baits.
Sheepshead are still at the top of the list. Pier fishers using live oyster and fiddler crabs and shrimp are catching good numbers of these buck-toothed barnacle eaters. Fish up to 3 pounds are the norm. Remember to carry some extra-small, stout hooks and, if you plan on keeping your limit, bring a stringer so you can hang your catch from the pier until you’re ready to fillet them. Also, with it being spring break, Kilb suggests getting to the pier early to find a spot to fish.
Black drum are hanging around the R&R in decent numbers. Pier fishers using select shrimp are getting the bigger-size drum. Fish in the 18-inch range are the norm, although catches up to 24 inches are not uncommon. And don’t be surprised to hook up a drum while targeting sheepies. They’ll hit a crab just as quick as a sheepshead.
Last but not least, you can catch a few pompano from the pier, but the bite is sporadic. Fishers using small pink jigs are catching these sought-after golden nuggets. While targeting pompano with jigs, also expect to catch some ladyfish. “There’s a bunch of ladyfish around the pier,” says Kilb. “It’s hard to cast a jig and not catch one.”
If you’re looking for rod-bending action on artificials, this might be a good option for you. Ladyfish aren’t good eating, but they’re acrobatic when hooked, which provides an enjoyable fight for the angler.
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