Megalops atlanticus — tarpon — return to Tampa Bay
There’s big news in the waters off the beaches of Anna Maria Island — the tarpon have arrived. Anglers fishing just off the beaches have been rewarded with hookups of silver kings in the 50- to 80-pound range.
Inshore fishing remains consistent for flats fishers targeting redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and release snook.
Live baits such as shiners, threadfins or shrimp are producing a good bite during higher tides. If you’re using shiners or threadfins, you can free-line them with 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and a small live bait hook.
If you opt to use live shrimp, I suggest using a Cajun Thunder popping cork to aid in keeping the bait out of the grass. Pinfish are abundant on the flats right now and they will nibble your shrimp away the second it hits the seagrass. When using the Cajun Thunder, try twitching the cork every so often. These corks emit a sound when twitched on the surface of the water that attracts predators. When a trout or snook comes to investigate the cork noise, they inevitably discover your shrimp and eat it.
Offshore action is heating up in water depths starting around 100 feet. Limits of red grouper are being reported as well as good catch-and-release gag grouper action. Mangrove snapper also are being caught in these depths. For either of these species, you can’t beat a live shiner, although threadfin herring are producing, too. If you can’t get live bait, try frozen sardines or squid.
But it was Capt. Warren Girle who managed the first report this week that tarpon season is upon us. He has been fishing just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island in search of the first arrival of the silver king — and now reports in the past week averaging five or six hookups per trip and landing about half as many. Average size is 60-80 pounds, although larger fish have been seen.
Girle also is fishing shallow grass flats of Sarasota Bay in search of redfish. To successfully stalk these fish, Girle is wading to sandy potholes where the fish are holed up. Wading not only enables you to get to an area that is too shallow for the boat, but it also aids in stealth. When in shallow water, redfish can become extremely spooky. Sometimes wading is the only way to get close enough to cast to them. For bait, Girle is using artificials, like topwater plugs or Berkley Gulp shrimp. Most reds being caught are in the slot, although larger fish are in the mix.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says things were a little slow for fishing there. “We’re seeing a stray cobia swim by now and again,” says Malfese. “Other than that, it’s been small red grouper and a few mangrove snapper.”
Generally at this time of year, there is a noticeable lull in the fishing around the piers. The vast schools of shiners that congregate there move out to spawn, and with them go the predators. Once the bait returns, you’ll notice the return of migratory species, including Spanish mackerel and ladyfish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing reports of good action occurring offshore on mangrove snapper and red grouper. “I’m hearing about mangrove snapper in the 3- to 4-pound range,” says Keyes, “and limits of red grouper.”
Live bait is surely the way to go for the snapper, although frozen sardines and squid are working for the red grouper. Most offshore fishers are finding the bite in 100 feet of water or deeper.
Moving closer in, fishers targeting migratory species are finding good action around the 3-mile and 7-mile reefs. Live shiners or live threadfin herring are a must to get the desired results. Expect to encounter Spanish and king mackerel, as well as plenty of bonito. Don’t be surprised to get some good catch-and-release action on lemon and black tip sharks, too.
Fishing the beaches is resulting in pompano and spawning seatrout. These fish are just off the beach in the trough. Free-lined live shrimp will get anglers into the action.
Remember, when spotted seatrout become abundant on the beaches of the Island, it’s because they are spawning. This is a great opportunity to catch a trophy-size trout, although you want to practice catch-and-release so these trout can spawn.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the backcountry for the usual suspects, finding spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook action consistent in both the waters of southern Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay. Gross is anchoring and chumming on shallow grass flats where good water flow helps produce the bite. When chumming with live shiners, Gross’ clients are able to site cast to feeding fish.
Spotted seatrout in the 16- to 18-inch range have been the norm for Gross. Slot-sized redfish are being caught. For the reds, Gross feels the bite is steady but the fish are not bunched up. As for snook, the largest this past week came in at 36 inches.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charter is catching limits of spotted seatrout in and around the deeper grass at Longboat Pass. Johnston is using either live shrimp or live shiners free-lined behind the boat to get the bite. Most trout being caught are in the slot of 15-20 inches, although Johnston says he’s releasing a lot of larger, roe-filled fish.
Redfish are in Johnston’s sights. By fishing close to mangrove islands on the higher tides, Johnston is leading his clients to steady redfish action. Again, Johnston is using either live shrimp or live shiners to get the bite. For the reds, 18-22 inches has been the norm, but larger fish are occasionally being caught.
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