Area waters start cool down, fishing remains hot
As water temperatures gradually get cooler, expect the action for migratory species to heat up.
Good numbers of Spanish mackerel, bonito, jack crevalle and blue runners are making a showing in south Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. To find schools of these high-activity fish, try looking for diving birds. They are a giveaway that fish are feeding on baitfish on the surface of the water below them.
Anglers can motor right up to the schools of feeding fish and cast live baits or artificials into the action. If using live baits, shiners will do the trick. If using artificials, an assortment of different colored jigs will work as well as silver spoons and top-water plugs with silver sides.
Remember, with all of this action occurring, expect to see plenty of sharks. Species include blacktip, spinner, sandbar, bull, hammerhead and bonnethead. I suggest using 3 feet of 100-pound hardwire tied to a 5/0 circle hook with a haywire twist to help reel up most sharks up to 6 feet in length. If you’re after the big boys, you may want to increase your leader and hook sizes.
These sharks are feeding on whatever migratory species are in the area, so make use of these species for bait. A chunk of Spanish mackerel or bonito is like candy to a shark. Don’t forget to update yourself on new limits and prohibitions for harvesting shark if you plan on keeping one.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says a variety of fish are being caught daily, although the bite is sporadic at best. “We’re seeing all kinds of fish being caught,” says Kilb, “but the numbers aren’t there yet.”
To start, pier fishers using white speck rigs are catching Spanish mackerel. Mixed in with the mackerel are ladyfish, jack crevalle and blue runners. Typically the macks are feeding in the morning and soon after the bite diminishes. As for the ladyfish, jacks and blue runners, you should be able to catch them most of the day.
Those opting to use live shrimp or shiners are catching juvenile grouper, redfish and black drum. These catches are occurring under the pier around structure. Anglers may need to be patient when fishing for these species, since the bite is hit or miss.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says due to the water temps dropping into the lower 80s, fishing in the canals is improving. Stories of redfish, black drum and mangrove snapper are being told daily, with most catches occurring on live shrimp. Typically, during this time of year, vast amounts of catfish invade the canals, so expect to catch a few. Oldham suggests carrying a dehooking device to aid in releasing these slimy bottom-feeders. Plus, it can prevent being stabbed by the catfish’s poisonous dorsal and pectoral fins.
Around the local piers, Oldham is hearing of good numbers of migratory species — mackerel, jack crevalle, ladyfish and blue runners — being caught. “A Clark spoon trailed behind a popping cork is a great choice to add to your arsenal,” says Oldham. “Gotcha plugs and white jigs are a must, too, for serious mackerel fishers.”
Also around the piers, Oldham is seeing bait fishers reeling up good numbers of flounder. A No. 2 long shank hook baited with a live shiner or shrimp will get you hooked up. Add a split shot about 18 inches above your bait and drag the bottom around the pilings. When you feel a slight resistance, set the hook. The flounder bite is subtle, so it may take a few nibbles to get the hang of it.
Finally, Oldham is hearing from the charter captains of good action on the grass flats. Spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook are being boated daily by their clients. Most of the trout are in the 15- to18-inch range, while the reds being caught are running up to 25 inches.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel charters is fishing north Sarasota Bay and around the Cortez “kitchen” for mangrove snapper.
Johnston is using live shiners and shrimp to catch these tasty little fish. Snapper up to 15 inches are the norm this past week, which is a great size for a bay catch.
Along with snapper, Johnston is catching numerous juvenile gag and red grouper, as well as decent numbers of keeper-size sheepshead. For the sheepies, Johnston is using whole live shrimp or fresh-cut pieces.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is working the backcountry in search of redfish. Gross is using live shiners for bait and also for chum. Once he locates a congregation of fish, he anchors and chums to get the target in a feeding mood. His clients then cast free-lined shiners into the strike zone to hook up. Most reds being caught this week were in the 20- to 24-inch range.
In Sarasota Bay, Gross is seeing decent numbers of catch-and-release snook although most are in the 20-inch range.
Again, Gross is anchoring and chumming shiners to get the bite going. In these same areas, Gross is hooking up spotted seatrout up to 22 inches.
Finally, Gross is putting his clients on deep grass flats on the edges of channels to catch mangrove snapper and flounder. Instead of free-lining his bait, Gross is adding a small split shot about 12 inches up the line from a shiner. This aids in getting the bait toward the bottom, in the strike zone. Snapper up to 14 inches are the norm. The same applies for flounder.
Capt. Warren Girle is working north Sarasota Bay for a variety of flats and migratory species, using live shiners to get the bite.
To start, Girle is catching redfish up to 27 inches by free-lining shiners behind the boat. Using his trolling motor, he can quietly scan the flats in search of sandy potholes and ditches. These holes are where the reds congregate, especially during lower tides. Once the fish are located, Girle chums with live shiners before putting out the hooks.
In these same areas, Girle is hooking up spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Trout up to 23 inches are being caught on live shiners, mixed in with some reds. For the snook, Girle pulls up and works near the mangroves.
Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Girle is finding Spanish mackerel and bonito ravaging schools of baitfish. Girle suggests looking for diving birds to locate the fish. Live baits such as shiners or threadfin herring will get the bite, as well as artificials, such as Gotcha plugs or silver spoons.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says migratory species are thrashing bait schools around the pier during the early morning tides, and both live and artificial baits are producing good numbers of fish. For live bait, try shiners or threadfin herring. If you choose to use lures, Gotcha plugs or silver spoons rigged on a popping cork also will get a bite.
Migratory species being caught at the pier include Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, blue runners and small sharks. If you’re targeting macks, Medley suggests keeping the bait in the upper part of the water column — toward the top. Once the bait reaches depths of 4 or 5 feet below the surface, expect to catch jack crevalle and blue runners.
For sharks, simply cast out a small chunk of any of the species mentioned to get in on the action. Don’t forget to use a wire leader if you plan on landing a shark.
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