Fishing – 05-23-2012

Love bugs signal angler affection: Tarpon season

If you haven’t noticed, we’re starting to see the arrival of love bugs on Anna Maria Island, and you know what that means? Tarpon.

For some reason, when the love bugs arrive, you can bet the annual migration of tarpon is close behind. Sightings of the tarpon are occurring daily from Longboat Key northward to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Decent numbers of fish are arriving, although the full moon tides in June will be the peak time to target the infamous silver king. For bait, tarpon fishers are using threadfin herring, pass crabs, shiners or pinfish.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the beaches and around Bean Point in search of tarpon. Gross likes to have an assortment of baits, including pass crabs, small blue crabs, threadfin herring and shiners. His trips are averaging three or four hookups, with most fish being in the 80- to 100-pound range.

Moving into the backcountry, Gross is still seeing consistent action on redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. For these backwater species, Gross is fishing the outgoing tides with live shiners. Keeper-size reds and trout are being caught as well as snook up to 32 inches.

Capt. Warren Girle also is fishing the beaches and passes for tarpon. In the morning, Girle working in the passes. In the afternoon, he moves off the beaches in search of schools of fish. Girle’s clients are hooking up to 10 silver kings per trip with most fish being in the 80- to 120-pound range. For bait, Girle is using pass crabs, threadfin herring and shiners.

Although Girle is primarily targeting tarpon, he’s still managing to get a little flats fishing in. Girle is using top-water plugs or Berkley Gulp shrimp to target shallow-water redfish in Sarasota Bay. Most fish being caught are in the slot of 18-27 inches, although larger fish are being caught, too. While targeting redfish, Girle’s charters are catching keeper-size spotted seatrout.

At the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers, reports are of good action for migratory species in the early mornings. Bonito and Spanish mackerel are dominating the bite. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs are catching good numbers of fish, while fishers using shrimp or fresh-cut greenbacks are doing equally well. Remember, if you’re going to use bait for these fish, use a long shank hook. This helps prevent the mackerel’s sharp teeth from cutting your line.

Pier fishers in search of something to put on the dinner table are targeting mangrove snapper under the pier. Best catches are occurring on the evening tides. For bait, fresh-cut greenbacks are a sure thing. Average size of the snapper is 12-14 inches.

Spotted seatrout also are being caught around the south pier. Again, pier fishers are getting best results during evening tides and at night. To catch these trout, pier fishers are using live greenbacks or shrimp rigged with a small split shot. By drifting baits out with the tide, fishers are catching spotted seatrout in the 15- to 20-inch range.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing decent action on bottom fish, such as black drum and redfish. For both of these species, pier fishers ar,e putting bait under the pier to get the bite. For the black drum live shrimp is working and for the reds, catch-your-own live shiners are good bait. Keeper-sizes of both drum and reds are being landed daily.

Spanish mackerel are frequenting the Rod & Reel Pier. Early morning fishers using white spec rigs are getting the bite. If you’re not sure what a speck rig is, stop by your local tackle shop and ask for one. A spec rig consists of two small jigs on one leader. They are known as a tandem rig. They come in an assortment of colors — white, pink and yellow. White or pink are the most popular colors to target mackerel.

Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is fishing north Sarasota Bay with good results. On the incoming tides, Johnston is fishing around Longboat Pass for flounder.  “Have your net ready when you get them boat side,” warns Johnston. “Flounder love to spit the hook when they see the boat.”

Flounder up to 18 inches are being caught on live shiners.

Also on the incoming tides, Johnston is seeing an abundance of bonnethead sharks inhabiting the grass flats. Johnston likes to carry live shrimp in the boat just for this reason. He feels that the bonnet heads will bite a fresh-cut shrimp better then a live shiner. When hooked, these small sharks provide excellent action on light tackle.

As the high tide peaks and begins to change to outgoing, Johnston is fishing grass flats adjacent to mangrove islands in search of redfish and spotted seatrout. For both species, Johnston likes to free-line live shiners to get the bite. Average size of the redfish is 18-22 inches. For the spotted seatrout, Johnston says he’s catching 10 undersized fish before catching one in the slot. “There are a lot of little trout out there right now,” says Johnston. “If you’re persistent, you can catch some keeper-size fish.”

Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says his fishing experience has been steady this past week. Howard reports spotted seatrout feeding heavily in water depths of 1 to 6 feet in Tampa Bay. A shiner rigged on a 2/0 hook with 3 feet of 25- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader is Howard’s rig of choice. He likes to concentrate fishing on the edges of dropoffs and in the potholes along the flats. He reminds fishers to use a dehooker to release the fish and protect the slime coat.

Redfish are being found on the flats, in potholes and around mangrove islands at high tide. Howard suggests using a popping cork to draw attention to your shiner to help get the bite. “Some big schools of redfish are feeding when the tide is on the move,” Howard says.

Snook are starting to feed heavily as they prepare to migrate to the beaches for their spawning season, he says. “Although snook numbers are down, my clients have been landing some nice snook 30 inches long,” Howard reports.

Shiners work fine for these linesiders. For a trophy snook, Howard suggests switching to dead bait, like threadfin herring, ladyfish, mullet or a shiner and mashing the bait so the smell spreads. “Use a circle hook and leave the rigged pole in the pole holder,” Howard says. “Big snook are lazy and will readily hit dead bait thrown into a white, sandy pothole.”

Howard notes the volume of tarpon invading our waters, saying it may increase in numbers as the summer progresses. “Patience, a lot of luck and the right bait will help you to hook up to these formidable foes,” Howard says. “Mullet, pinfish, big shiners, threadfins and crabs are some of the baits the silver king will chew on,” Howard adds.

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