John and Hanna Kilpatrick, visiting Anna Maria Island from Knoxville, Tenn., show off their double header, a 30- and 32-inch redfish caught on shiners and pinfish. They released the redfish to fight another day, and also caught catch-and-release snook and trout on their July charter with Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime Charters. Island Photo: Courtesy Mark Howard
Lynne Paul of New Hampshire and Holmes Beach displays a gag grouper she caught 16 miles off Anna Maria Island with Capt. Sam Kimball of Legends Charters.
Angler’s key to get the bite: Shiners
For all of the species of fish angler’s target around Anna Maria Island, live shiners are the key.
Inshore fishing around Anna Maria Island remains consistent for redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. We’re also seeing an influx of flounder on channel edges, ditches and sandy potholes throughout the grass flats.
When catching shiners, be selective on size. On my own charters, I’m using small baits, usually 2 or 3 inches in length. When switching to larger baits, I’m finding the fish don’t want to bite.
If you’re looking to target mangrove snapper, try fishing either nearshore reefs, such as the 1- and 3-mile reefs. You can find a good snapper bite at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Remember, try to use the lightest possible fluorocarbon leader, as mangrove snapper tend to shy away from a bait the second they become suspicious. Also, you may want to try chumming with a chum bag. This seems to get the snapper in a feeding mood, and more apt to eat your bait.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing Spanish mackerel being caught daily. Pier fishers willing to wet their lines at sunrise are catching mackerel in the 16- to 18-inch range on either live shiners or artificials, such as white crappie jigs, Clark spoons or Gotcha plugs.
Pier fishers opting to drop their bait under the pier are catching mangrove snapper and juvenile gag and red grouper. Try using live shiners or shrimp to get a bite.
Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is targeting spotted seatrout in Sarasota Bay and the waters around Cortez. Johnston is looking for deeper grass flats with good water flow to target these yellow-mouthed fish.
Once he locates the target, Johnston chums with live shiners to get the fish in a feeding mood, while his clients free-line live baits to the hungry mob. This method is exciting — seeing the fish explode on baits — and aids in keeping the fish around the boat. Average size of the trout this past week, Johnson says, was 18 inches with the biggest coming in at a whopping 24 inches.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says if you’re looking to target Spanish mackerel you need to be at the pier at sunrise, where keeper-size macks are swarming schools of bait at dawn. Fishers using live shiners free-lined on a long shank hook are getting the bite and anglers opting to use artificials are getting action with Gotcha plugs or speck rigs in white or pink.
Mangrove snapper are making an appearance at the pier as they take up residence for the next month. “We’re finally seeing some keeper-size mangoes being caught,” says Malfese. “Most are in the 12-inch range.”
Pier fishers using live shiners or shrimp are catching decent numbers of these hard-fighting, tasty fish.
While targeting mangrove snapper, expect to catch black drum and flounder. Both of these species are around the structure below the pier in the same places as the snapper. It just depends on which fish gets your bait first.
Finally, pier fishes using cut bait, such as shrimp or squid, are catching small bonnethead sharks by casting away from the pier. Using a bottom rig cast to deep water, you have the opportunity to catch small shark, stingrays and catfish.
Grady Smith at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good catches of redfish and spotted seatrout coming from the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound. “Most of them are being caught on live shiners,” says Smith, “but I betcha a Berkeley Gulp shrimp would work, too.”
Reports of good catch-and-release snook action in the same areas also are coming to the tackle shop.
Around the local piers, fishers are catching respectable numbers of Spanish mackerel. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs or small white jigs are getting the bite, Smith says. The bite is occurring at sunrise and for about an hour afterwards. Fish up to 18 inches to the fork were the norm this past week.
Moving out to the nearshore reefs, Smith says he’s hearing of good mangrove snapper action. Anglers using live shrimp dropped to the bottom are catching keeper-size mangoes up to 16 inches. Smith suggests using a light fluorocarbon leader, split shot and a live bait hook when trying to entice these tasty little snapper to bite.
Also on the nearshore reef, expect to see Spanish mackerel, Key West grunts, plenty of juvenile grouper and a variety of shark.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island, where Spanish and king mackerel are ravaging baits free-lined behind the boat. Girle is using live shiners or threadfin herring to catch these migratory fish.
Also on the nearshore structure, Girle is catching “sharks galore.” Blacktips, spinner, small bull and hammerhead sharks are frequenting nearshore structure, chasing Spanish mackerel and kingfish. Girle suggests chumming less if you don’t want to attract sharks to the boat. If you do, start casting chunks of mackerel behind the boat on a wire leader and hang on tight.
Lastly, while bottom fishing on the reefs, Girle is catching flounder, gag and red grouper. Again, Girle is using live shiners for bait.
Moving inshore, Girle is targeting redfish and spotted seatrout. For the reds, Girle is dock fishing in Sarasota Bay, using live shiners weighted with a split shot and casting under docks to find the bite. Slot-size and over-size reds are being caught along with a few nice flounder as a by-catch.
For the trout, Girle is fishing deep grass flats with either live shiners or Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head. Trout to 20 inches were the norm last week.
Richard Leitz at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers is seeing good action on Spanish mackerel. Pier fishers using live bait such as shiners or threadfin herring are having good results on these high-activity fish, although fishers using artificials like silver spoons, Gotcha plugs or small white jigs also are cashing in. According to Leitz, the best time to target the macks is in the late afternoon on an outgoing tide. Fish up to 18 inches to the fork are the average.
If it’s mangrove snapper you’re looking for, you might want to include the south pier in your search. Pier fishers using live or cut bait are catching mangrove snapper up to 16 inches daily. Try using small live shiners or threadfins, and if those don’t work, try cutting your live bait in half. To target these fish successfully, try fishing slower tides. This makes it easier to keep your bait in the strike zone without having to use a large sinker. Since stealth is an issue when targeting snapper inshore, a small weight, light leader and small hook will aid in catching your limit.
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