Fishing – 08-29-2012

Fishing peaks in advance of Isaac’s glancing blow


Inshore fishing around Anna Maria Island remains consistent, although with Tropical Storm Isaac heading into the Gulf of Mexico, expect to see a slight change in patterns.

Redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook are abundant on grass flats in water depths of 2-4 feet. Try looking for the redfish and snook along mangrove shorelines adjacent to lush grass flats with good tidal flow. You’ll also encounter some over-slot trout in these areas, although if you’re looking for sheer numbers, you’ll need to move to deeper flats.

Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle are making daily appearances, feeding in the morning around the Rod & Reel and Anna Maria piers. With vast amounts of small baitfish at the piers, these migratory fish come in quick, feed and then are gone, almost as quickly as they arrived. Live shiners on a long shank hook or lures, such as Gotcha plugs or spoons, will get you in on the action.

Mangrove snapper are making a strong showing, especially around the south side of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge fishing piers. Whether you’re fishing from a boat or directly from the pier, you can drift live or fresh-cut shiners around the pilings to hook up with these tasty snappers. Remember, fluorocarbon leader and a small live bait hook are a must to catch these leader-shy fish.

Shark fishing is still going strong in all of Tampa Bay and southward. Bull, blacktip, lemon and nurse sharks are being caught on chunk baits fished on the bottom. Try using mullet, mackerel, ladyfish or jack crevalle for bait.

Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel being caught on both artificials and live bait. To catch live shiners, Sork suggests using a Sabiki rig.

If you’re not familiar with a Sabiki, stop by a tackle shop for advice. Once you have some live shiners in your bait bucket, tie a long shank hook on some 30-pound fluorocarbon leader, bait your hook, and you’re ready to go.

Mangrove snapper are being caught under the pier and live shiners and shrimp on a No. 2 live bait hook are producing. Add a split shot about 12 inches above your hook and cast a shiner as far up underneath the pier as you can. Average size of the snapper is 12 inches.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says Spanish mackerel are swarming the pier at sunrise to feed on small baitfish, which are schooling around the pilings. Most pier fishers are using Gotcha plugs or white jigs to get in on the action, although a small long shank hook baited with a live shiner will work, too. Macks up to 20 inches to the fork were the norm this past week, but bigger fish were in the mix.

Pier fishers using live bait — shrimp or shiners — are reeling up a variety of species from under the pier. By bottom fishing with shrimp, pier fishers are reeling up mangrove snapper and a few flounder. Those fishing with shrimp are catching black drum and sheepshead.

Lastly, pier fishers using small chunk baits, such as squid or mullet, are catching plenty of bonnethead sharks. Most are in the 24-inch range, but don’t be surprised to catch them up to 40 inches in length.

Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action coming from the piers and from the grass flats.

Oldham is hearing of good catch-and-release snook action. Live shiners, or “snook candy,” as Oldham refers to them, are a surefire way to put your tackle to the test against a big snook. But handle these fish with care, they are still making a comeback from the cold 2010 winter.

Oldham is seeing fishers coming to the docks from the grass flats with respectable catches of redfish and spotted seatrout. Live bait, such as shrimp or shiners, are getting good results. And artificials like the Rapala Skitterwalk or the Sebile Stickshad are catching fish. If fishing artificials, Oldham suggests fishing low-light conditions — early morning or sunset.

Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters says this past week has been action packed, resulting in some excellent catches of spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook.

Spotted seatrout were feeding with vigor, chewing on the shiners this past week, including some catches measuring up to 27 inches.

Redfish were more scattered, but still providing excellent action. Howard says the reds are roaming flats in smaller schools, feeding on the moving tides.

He says to look for the snook up in the mangrove bushes on a high tide and following the tide as it runs off the flats.

Shiners have been easy to find, and many of the traditional bait spots are holding bait. “Use caution in overloading your live wells, as the summer heat will stress your bait, resulting in a loss,” Howard says. Look for the bait game to only improve as the hatch from June grows to the more preferable 3-4 inch size.

Looking forward, low tides in the morning hours will lead fish to the potholes and edges and away from the mangroves. “Some excellent opportunities will present themselves with the low-water periods,” Howard predicts.

Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel fishing charters is working on mangrove snapper on structures in Sarasota Bay. Using small live shiners for bait, Johnston’s clients are catching limits of mangrove snapper in the 14- to 18-inch range.

After snapper fishing, Johnston is moving to the lush grass flats of the bay in search of spotted seatrout. Again, Johnston is using small live shiners to entice the bite. For rigging, Johnston is either free-lining shiners or using a popping cork with a couple of feet of fluorocarbon leader under it. Either way, Johnston is producing good numbers of trout averaging 18-23 inches.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is working the back country of south Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound with good results. Adding variety to the spots he fishes allows Gross to bring numerous species back to the fillet table.

To start, Gross is fishing shallow grass flats adjacent to mangrove shorelines in search of redfish and catch-and-release snook. Free-lining shiners over the flats and under the mangroves is providing Gross’ clients the opportunity to catch numerous slot-size redfish. The same applies for the catch-and-release snook.

Next, Gross is moving to deeper grass flats in search of spotted seatrout. By chumming with live shiners, Gross has a target as the trout come to the surface to feed. By sight casting, his clients are reeling in limits of spotted seatrout.

To finish out the day, Gross is anchoring over small structure and wrecks in the bay to find mangrove snapper and macks. Keeper-sizes of both species are being caught on live and fresh-cut shiners.

Capt. Warren Girle also is fishing the grass flats of Sarasota Bay in search of the bay trio, redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Using live shiners, Girle is catching some of all three, depending on where he is in the bay.

For the spotted seatrout, Girle is finding grass flats with a depth of 3-5 feet. Next, he finds the sandy potholes that are scattered throughout the flat. Once he finds one with trout in it, he anchors and chums with live shiners. Girle’s clients are then casting free-lined shiners, which are resulting in trout up to 26 inches.

For the reds and catch-and-release snook, Girle is fishing slightly shallower water. Again, he’s chumming with live shiners to get the fish in a feeding mood. On the high tides, Girle suggests fishing along mangrove shorelines.

Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers is seeing a variety of species being caught both day and night. Pier fishers are having good results on migratory and reef species.

To start, the early morning mackerel bite is in full swing. Pier fishers using live greenbacks under a popping cork are catching macks in the 20-inch range. Those opting to use artificials, such as Gotcha plugs or silver spoons, also are catching good numbers of these high-speed predators. While targeting macks, expect to encounter jack crevalle, ladyfish and, possibly, bonito.

If you’re fishing for something to put on your dinner plate, try live bait fishing for gag grouper and mangrove snapper. Both species are taking up under the pier and around the artificial reefs that surround the pier. Live greenbacks will work for the snapper, and if you’re in search of grouper, try using a live pinfish.

Finally, night fishers are catching good numbers of shark. Bull, blacktip and nurse sharks are the usual suspects at the pier. Any chunk bait — the favorites are mackerel, bonito and stingray wings — fished on the bottom should get a bite.

On a final note, we heard last week the reports of a giant mysterious fish — pictured this week — being caught off of the city pier.

According to Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the National Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, the fish is “a good-sized smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata) whose saw (rostrum) has been cut off.

Hueter says the saw is a prized collector’s item, and people think it’s OK to cut off the saw and throw the fish back. But the sawfish, a type of large ray related to sharks, need their saws to feed, according to Hueter, and “the sawfish in the photo looks a bit skinny, suggesting that it might be having some trouble getting enough food.”

Hueter reminds us that “this animal is an endangered species, and any handling or harassment, much less mutilation or killing, of this protected species can bring severe federal and state penalties.”

Hueter says if you’re fishing the pier avoid catching this or other sawfish and, if caught, release the fish immediately.

He says to cut the leader as close to the hook as possible if you can’t remove the hook itself. Never remove the saw.

For more information, go online at To report sawfish sightings, email

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