Jack and Will Gryboski of Atlanta and Holmes Beach, fishing with July 4 houseguests Mia and Olivia Natale of Boston, show off the bonito they caught at the 1-mile reef off Anna Maria Island.
Steve Thomas caught this 42-inch snook July 1 while fishing for grouper 3 miles offshore of Anna Maria Island.
Fishing heats up as summer progresses
With calm waters and light winds, Anna Maria Island offshore fishers are venturing out to water depths of 80-120 feet in search of gag grouper, red grouper and mangrove snapper.
A variety of live or frozen baits are working to get the bite. For the grouper, try live pinfish or shiners. If you opt for frozen bait, you can’t beat sardines. For the mangrove snapper, a medium-size live shiner is the way to go.
While fishing offshore, expect to see cobia, Spanish mackerel, kingfish and plenty of bonito. For all of these species, a live shiner or threadfin herring free-lined behind the boat is the ticket to success. It also helps to chum with live baits to get the target going. Just remember, if you chum too much, the potential increases for sharks to find your boat.
Inshore fishing is getting better as the waters in the bays and Intracoastal Waterway are settling down and clearing up. The water is still slightly stained with runoff from recent heavy rains, although with the full moon tides this week, conditions should improve.
While inshore fishing, expect to hook up with some spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook.
Most fishers are using live shiners or shrimp while fishing the flats. Those using artificials are getting results in the early morning on Berkley Gulp shrimp or on top-water plugs.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing decent numbers of mangrove snapper being caught. Most are small, although keeper fish are being caught, and live shiners are the bait of choice. Try using 20-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a live bait hook and weighted with a No. 3 split shot for rigging. Cast this rig — baited with a live shiner — under the pier deck and hang on tight.
Not only are mangrove snapper being caught under the pier, but also gag grouper and flounder are lurking below, waiting to ambush unsuspecting baitfish. Flounder up to 24 inches are being caught on live shiners fished under the pier.
The same applies for gag grouper, with fish up to 26 inches being landed. When asked what else is working to catch grouper, Kilb replied, “They’ll eat anything that won’t eat them.” This being said, I suggest live pinfish, threadfin herring or a tasty grunt.
Other catches this week at the pier include Spanish mackerel, bonnethead sharks and skipjacks.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says the fishing is starting to pick up again after Tropical Storm Debby. Beach fishers are getting results with chunk baits, such as frozen shad or squid. Blacktip, bonnethead and bull sharks are being caught just off the beaches of Anna Maria. Along with shark, fishers using chunk baits are catching stingrays in excess of 50 pounds.
Moving offshore, fishers are using frozen sardines or squid to target gag grouper, red grouper and mangrove snapper. Live baits such as shiners and pinfish are working, too. Around nearshore structure, fishers are encountering bonito and Spanish mackerel.
On the flats of Anna Maria Sound, fishers are reporting moderate numbers of spotted seatrout. Keyes suggests drifting over the Key Royale flat and using artificial baits, such as a Berkeley Gulp shrimp or DOA Cal jig on a 1/4-ounce red jig head. Keyes also hints that while the water is still stained with runoff, try using a darker color bait, such as root beer or new penny.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the backwaters in search of redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook. On the high tides, Gross is fishing close to the mangroves to find the reds and snook. He anchors on the outgoing tide and chums to lure the fish out from under the bushes within a targetable casting range. As the tide drops, and the water becomes too shallow, the fish move out to find deeper water. As this occurs, Gross follows them to the edges of the flat to keep the bite going. Snook up to 33 inches are being caught and released. He says the slot-size reds are going into the cooler.
For the spotted seatrout, Gross is fishing deeper grass flats during incoming tides. He feels these fish are staging up on deeper flats due to the summer’s increasing temperatures. Once Gross locates a good concentration of trout, he anchors and chums. Live shiners free-lined behind the boat are getting the bite. Spotted seatrout up to 26 inches are being caught with the average size coming in around 18 inches.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore in search of gag grouper and other reef dwellers. Bottom fishing with live baits such as pinfish and shiners, Girle is catching gag grouper up to 26 inches. Red grouper are being caught on the bottom with fish up to 22 inches being landed daily.
While bottom fishing the offshore reefs, Girle always likes to have a flat-line rigged with a live bait to cast behind the boat. This past week, readiness resulted in a cobia that weighed in at 40 pounds. Also on the flat-line, Girle is catching king mackerel up to 15 pounds.
Moving into the back-country waters, Girle is fishing the low tides in the evening to find redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. By getting out of the boat and wading, Girle and his clients are able to sneak up on these fish, which increases the bite ratio. Girle is using 3-inch Gulp shrimp to get the bite.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says mangrove snapper are dominating the bite this past week and the bite is getting better day by day. To catch these tasty little snapper, Medley suggests using either live shrimp or fresh-cut greenbacks.
Another reef dweller showing at the pier this past week was gag grouper. Fish up to 24 inches are being landed daily by fishers on live pinfish and greenbacks. Medley expects to see more fish and bigger fish being caught in the upcoming weeks. He suggests using heavy gear to land these strong fighting fish, especially around the pier structure.
Other species being caught around the pier include flounder and sheepshead. For both species, try working under the pier with live shrimp. Surprisingly, sheepshead up to 7 pounds are being caught.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are being caught on the strong moving tide around the bait schools. Try using Gotcha plugs or small white jigs to cash in on this high-activity fish. Live or fresh-cut greenbacks under a popping cork are working, too.
On a final note, NOAA fisheries has extended the federal and state recreational season on red snapper until July 16 due to bad weather in June that resulted in a decrease of fishing opportunities.
Get out while the weather is good and enjoy the extra opportunity to catch red snapper.
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