Calm days, clear water, good fishing slowly returns
With Tropical Storm Isaac a thing of the past and no storms on the horizon for our area, fishing is beginning to return to its normal good results.
Area waters are beginning to clear and fish are returning to regular feeding patterns, including redfish. They’re back feeding heavily on shiners on grass flats and under docks. Try anchoring and chumming with shiners to get the fish in a feeding mood. Once you get the fish fired up, cast a free-lined shiner to hook up one of these copper-bellied bruisers.
On my recent charters, clients were hooking up slot-sized reds almost every cast.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says he’s seeing good action for Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle. “The bait is showing back up,” says Sork, “which means the fish are, too.”
Pier fishers using white crappie jigs, silver spoons or Gotcha plugs are catching keeper-size Spanish mackerel in decent numbers, says Sork. Early morning is when the best bite is occurring, although sporadic fish are being caught throughout the day.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of bottom-feeders caught this past week. Black drum, redfish and flounder are being caught on live baits, such as shrimp and shiners. If you opt to use shiners, Malfese suggests using a Sabiki rig to catch them. “There’s a lot of small bait towards the surface,” says Malfese, “but there’s bigger bait underneath them.”
Once you’ve caught some shiners on your Sabiki rig, place them in a 5-gallon bucket half filled with water and an aerator. This enables you to keep at least a couple dozen alive for 30 minutes or so. And with an ample supply of shiners around the pier, you don’t have to worry about running out of bait.
When asked about the mangrove snapper bite, Malfese said it has been “thinning out.” Good numbers have been caught in previous weeks, but this past week the snapper moved elsewhere.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says he’s hearing of good action on the grass flats of southern Tampa Bay all the way to Long Bar in Sarasota Bay. Flats fishers using live shiners are catching good numbers of both redfish and catch-and-release snook. For both species, try looking around mangrove shorelines during the high tides. As the tide drops, look for shallow grass flats with an ample number of sandy potholes.
Spanish mackerel are being caught around the fishing piers and at nearshore reefs. Pier fishers are using Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or white crappie jigs to get the hookup.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore on the artificial reefs just west of Anna Maria Island. Starting around depths of 45 feet, Girle is getting good action on both gag and red grouper. Using live shiners for bait, Girle’s clients are catching gags up to 26 inches. Numerous undersized red grouper are being caught along with keepers up to 22 inches.
Also while fishing the reefs, Girle is seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel and small sharks. Free-lining live shiners behind the boat is producing macks in the 24-inch range. While targeting macks, Girle also is reeling up Atlantic sharp nose and lemon sharks in the 3- to 4-foot range.
Moving inshore, Girle is targeting grass flats that are spotted with potholes to find redfish and spotted seatrout. Using a live shiner under a cork, Girle is catching reds up to 25 inches and spotted seatrout up to 22 inches. “Most of the trout are in the 16- to 18-inch range,” says Girle, “but we’re catching a few over 20 inches.”
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says if you’re looking for action, try targeting Spanish mackerel during the late afternoon tides.
As schools of baitfish are pushed toward the pier with the tide, macks are aggressively feeding and skyrocketing through the schools. When this occurs, you should be able to cast just about any small bait in the water and hook up. “I think we went through almost 200 Gotcha plugs in the past few days,” says Medley. “The macks are hitting a lure before you even have time to close the bail.”
Most macks being caught are keeper-size and the limit of 15 fish per person is easily attainable.
Those with their fill of macks can find mangrove snapper and flounder by bottom fishing around the pilings. You can use live shrimp or shiners to catch either of these tasty fish. A slow moving tide will help control placement of the bait. As the tide increases, you’ll need to add more weight to hold bottom.
Finally, a variety of shark are inhabiting the waters around the south pier. Lemon, black tip and bonnethead sharks are being caught daily, especially when the macks are crashing bait schools. Small chunk baits — mackerel, mullet or jack crevalle — will get you hooked up. You’ll probably want to use a couple of feet of wire leader attached to at least a 3/0 circle hook to get in on the action.
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