Springtime fishing inshore, on beaches red hot
Inshore fishing — and the weather — remains consistently good for the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island. Numerous spotted seatrout are being reported by flats fishers using either live bait or artificials. Fishing lush grass flats with good water flow is producing trout up to 26 inches.
For success fishing trout with live bait, try select shrimp or shiners. For artificials, you can’t go wrong with a top-water plug right at sun up. Later in the morning, switch to a DOA Cal jig on a 1/4-ounce jig head.
Redfish have been abundant this past week. Look for these fish along mangrove edges on the high tides. If you are searching for a bite while the sun is straight up in the sky, try casting the bait as close to the mangrove edges as you can. These reds, at midday, will congregate in the shade of the mangroves to escape the hot sun. A tasty whitebait can lure them to bite. Don’t be surprised to also hook catch-and-release snook in these same areas. They love to sit under the mangrove edges and ambush unsuspecting bait.
On a final note, it’s time to start patrolling the beaches in search of migratory species like Spanish mackerel, kingfish and cobia and the nearshore artificial reefs are a good place to start. For macks, live shiners are a surefire way to get the action started. If you happen to spot a cobia, live shiners or a feisty pinfish can get you hooked up.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is fishing nearshore structure targeting macks and catch-and-release gag grouper. For the mackerel, Johnston is freelining live shiners behind the boat on a 2/0 long shank hook. Most mackerel being caught are in the 20-inch range, except for one on a recent charter that was eaten by a 40-pound barracuda.
Johnston managed to land the ’cuda and release it to chow another day.
For the gag grouper, Johnston is bottom-fishing small rock piles and ledges just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Again, he’s working live shiners to get the bite. Although we aren’t keeping gags yet, they provide knuckle-busting catch-and-release action. These fish are averaging 18 inches with the biggest coming in at 24 inches.
Moving inshore to the grass flats of lower Tampa Bay, Johnston is targeting redfish and spotted seatrout on live shiners. For both species, he chums live bait behind the boat before casting. Once the fish are feeding behind the boat, Johnston says it’s game on.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says migratory species are abundant there. Bonito tops the pier list with an exceptional early-morning bite. Pier fishers are using both live and artificial baits to get these drag-screaming fish to bite. For live bait, shiners and threadfin herring are working. You can either free-line or use a popping cork to drift the bait out with the tide. For artificials, silver spoons, Gotcha plugs or white jigs are working fine.
Spanish and king mackerel are frequenting the pier. Most of the macks are small, yet they provide good action on light tackle. Keeper-size kings also are being hooked, although not many are being landed. You can fish for either species the same as you would bonito.
Finally, in the afternoons, schools of jack crevalle are corralling bait schools around the pier. These fish are averaging 8-10 pounds, so make sure you’re using heavier gear to target them. Again, you can use the same methods to catch these migratory fish as for bonito and mackerel.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure targeting a variety of species, ranging from migratory to bottom fish. Using live shiners as bait, Girle’s clients are getting consistent action while reef fishing.
To start, Girle is chumming the waters behind the boat to get the migratory species feeding. Once the Spanish mackerel, kingfish or bonito show up in the chum, Girle instructs his clients to cast into the feeding frenzy to hook up.
Another species drawn to the chum is shark. A number of lemon sharks are being caught while targeting the macks and bonito. Most are in the 30-pound range, although Girle has seen a couple in the 60-pound range.
After working macks, bonito and shark, Girle is switching to bottom fishing. Starting at depths of 45 feet, catch-and-release gag grouper action is going strong, although many at this depth are undersized. Red grouper are making a showing, although most are under 20 inches. Finally, Girle’s clients are reeling up good numbers of Key West grunts, which are perfect for the deep fryer.
Moving inshore, Girle’s clients are having success on redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook on the grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Girle is pitching shiners into sandy potholes on shallow grass flats to get the bite. As the tide rises, Girle is moving closer to mangrove edges. Once the tide peaks, he skips bait under the trees, where the predators are waiting to ambush a bait.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of species caught in the morning hours at the pier.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching keeper-size black drum and a few sheepshead, although Kilb feels the sheepshead are on their way out. To target either species, try a No. 2 hook tied to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. Add a swivel and a 1/2-ounce egg sinker to keep the bait on the bottom and you are rigged to catch fish. Kilb says to cast bait where the black drum and sheepies are lurking under the pier. Let the bait rest on the bottom until you feel a bite, then set the hook.
Pier fishers using silver spoons or pink jigs are catching macks and a few pompano. For the macks, cast out and then retrieve the lure quickly. Try to keep the lure in the top couple of feet of the water column. Mackerel often swim up to strike a bait at the top, so keep the bait near the surface to mimic the action.
If you’re targeting pompano, try keeping the jig closer to the bottom, bouncing the jig on the bottom. Pompano will generally feed near the bottom on sand fleas and other crustaceans, so you want to make sure your jig is in the same area where they feed.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is flats fishing with his clients for spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook.
For the spotted seatrout, Gross is working grass flats with water depths of 3-7 feet. He’s reporting good results on flats from Terra Ceia Bay to Sarasota Bay.
When using live shiners for bait, Gross says he likes to first chum, then have his clients cast a bait. It’s a good way to see if there are any fish around and it also gets his prey in a feeding mood. Most trout last week were in the slot with the biggest coming in at 23 inches.
Next, Gross is moving to shallow grass flats, adjacent to mangrove edges to target redfish. On the higher tides, Gross is casting baits under the mangroves to get the bite. As the tide reaches extremely high levels, fish will swim under the mangrove roots to take shelter from the hot sun. When this occurs, Gross likes to chum to move the reds out from under the trees. Once they come out to feed, Gross’ clients can sight-cast baits to them. While targeting reds, Gross is getting some good action on catch-and-release snook. Average size of the redfish is 24 inches with the biggest coming in at 31 inches.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing good numbers of threadfin herring and shiners around the pier. Most of the bait gathering there is big, too — 5 to 6 inches in length — so anglers can expect big fish to be close behind.
At night, after the foot traffic on the pier quiets down, large snook are feeding on these baits under the pier and around the lights. Gator trout also are joining in on late-night snacks.
During the day, pier fishers are catching the occasional Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and blue runner. To hook up, Sork suggests using silver spoons or small white jigs.
Another species around the pier is barracuda. It seems a large barracuda has taken up residence under the pier and is feeding on macks. If you are fishing at the pier and reel up half a mack, you’ll know what happened.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says the spotted seatrout bite has been red hot, and his clients have been limiting out on them.
Howard says redfish have been feeding aggressively on moving tides, especially the incoming tides around the full moon. The reds are chewing on big shiners tossed into potholes and along the mangroves. To keep the birds from attacking his chummers, Howard says he gives his chum a squeeze and releases it next to the boat.
He reports seeing some snook but not in the numbers of years past. His charters have been catching bigger snook and releasing them after a quick picture.
Fishing off the beach and the nearshore reefs has been exciting and action-packed when the wind cooperates and blows from the east, he says. Oversized Spanish mackerel and kingfish have been burning up reels with non-stop action. Howard suggests filling the live well with lots of shiners and chumming to get the party started.
Cobia have made a nice showing around the artificial reefs, too, according to Howard. “Have a heavy rod ready to toss a nice lively bait and hold on, as a battle with a brown bomber will ensue,” Howard says.
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