Fish live bait, artificials for mixed bag results
Inshore fishing around our small Island remains consistent for redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook.
Live bait tactics are proving to be effective for a mixed bag of inshore species on the grass flats. Chumming with live shiners attracts fish to the boat. Next cast a shiner on a hook and hang on.
If it’s trout you’re looking for, try working deeper grass flats in Anna Maria Sound. For the reds and catch-and-release snook, try the grass flats around mangrove islands or mangrove shorelines.
For fishers using artificials, there are plenty of migratory species roaming just off the beaches and in the passes in search of bait schools. Fish you might encounter include Spanish mackerel, bonito, blue runners and ladyfish. If you’re lucky, you might even get into some pompano. For the mackerel, jacks and ladyfish, anything with some flash to it will get a bite. Try Gotcha plugs or silver spoons. For the pompano try using pompano jigs tripped with a pink stinger.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is reporting good action for fishers targeting migratory species. These high-activity fish provide drag-screaming runs and a fight to the end, which makes them popular among shore fishers. Some also make good tablefare, including Spanish and king mackerel.
To target them, pier fishers are using live shiners or threadfin herring as bait on 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a 2/0 extra-long shank hook. If you encounter kingfish, you may want to add 12 inches of hard wire above your long shank hook to prevent them from cutting your line.
If you decide to use artificials, try silver spoons, white jigs or a Gotcha plug. Again, tie no less than 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to the lure. You can try a small piece of wire if you start losing a lot of lures, but it will result in fewer strikes.
The species being caught at the South Pier include mangrove snapper, flounder and black sea bass. For all three species, fishers are bottom fishing live threadfin herring or shrimp.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure with good action on king mackerel, bonito and Spanish mackerel. Girle’s charters are free-lining live shiners behind the boat to get the bite. For the kings, 24 inches has been the norm, although Girle’s clients are catching some up to 36 inches.
Girle also is finding catch-and-release gag grouper and a few short red grouper. To round out the reef bite, Girle’s clients are reeling up numerous Key West grunts.
Moving inshore, Girle is wading the shallow flats of Sarasota Bay, stalking redfish and spotted seatrout. Using top-water plugs like the Rapala Skitterwalk or Sebile stick shad, Girle is hooking redfish up to 31 inches. Spotted seatrout are reacting to top-water lures, although Girle reports better results this week with soft plastics on a jig head. Average size of the trout is 18 inches.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is fishing in and around Longboat Pass catching numerous Spanish mackerel. Johnston likes to anchor and then chum with live shiners to get the macks feeding behind his boat. Once they do, his clients cast a bait and it’s time to get busy. When mackerel are feeding, they tend to hit the bait soon after it enters the water.
On the grass flats, Johnston is targeting spotted seatrout. Again, he anchors and chums to get the bite going. On a recent charter, Johnston’s clients caught more than 20 trout with the biggest coming in at 21 inches.
While fishing grass flats around mangrove islands, Johnston is catching good numbers of redfish with a few snook in the mix. For the reds, Johnston is using live shiners for bait. Redfish up to 26 inches were caught this past week and catch-and-release snook up to 34 inches.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says pier fishers using white crappie jigs or Gotcha plugs are catching Spanish macks. Most of the action is occurring in the early morning at sunrise.
Night fishers are catching spotted seatrout under the lights on white Cotee jigs or live ballyhoo. Most trout are small, but expect to catch a few keepers, too, he said.
Last but not least, Sork says he saw the first-of-the-year tarpon hookup last week. “It looked to be a 60- to 80-pounder,” says Sork. “The angler got four jumps out of it before it broke the line.”
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing pier fishers reeling up Spanish mackerel in the early mornings. Most pier fishers are using artificials such as white crappie jigs, pink speck rigs or Gotcha plugs. Most of the macks are in the 15-inch range.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are decking black drum, flounder and an occasional sheepshead. Remember, when targeting these species to keep the bait close to the bottom and under the pier.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters reports exceptional catches of redfish and spotted seatrout “taking the main stage.” He said there also are some nice snook, flounder and mackerel coming to the party.
Howard has been starting the mornings before sunrise gathering bait on the flats and near the Skyway Bridge. He likes to first black the live wells with shiners and other baitfish for a day’s fishing.
On the morning low tide, Howard is targeting spotted seatrout in 3-6 feet of water. Howard suggests using a small split shot to get the bait in the lower parts of the water column. “The trout spawned out on the recent full moon and are hungry and chewing,” Howard says.
The redfish are on fire with the gradual increase in tides and current flow. Howard reports multiple hookups on shiners and no problem harvesting upper-slot fish for the dinner table. Howard says he uses circle hooks to reduce the amount of gut-hooked fish and aid in a healthy release.
Howard also reports snook making a nice showing and coming out of their wintertime spots. Howards clients aren’t catching the quantities of a few years ago, however, he is “still able to get some nice rallies going.” He compares catching the Corvette-like snook speedsters to truck-pulling redfish.”
Looking forward, Howard predicts big high tides in the afternoons with a hard falling tide in the evenings will produce “two distinct time periods and tide movements to catch some tasty fillets for the dinner table.
“The weather is marching forward to pre-summer-like patterns and fishing will remain red hot until the heat of the summer kicks in,” Howard adds.
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