Island anglers see fall species in arrival patterns
Signs of fall are all around us. There are cooler morning and evening temperatures — welcome relief — and Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, bonito and blue runners are beginning their fall migration.
Although we are in the very early stages of the migration, good numbers of all these species are making a showing in Tampa Bay and just off the beaches.
Remember, as this migration occurs, with it comes some excellent shark fishing opportunities. With all the activity in the water, sharks can’t help but follow schools of mackerel and bonito to feed. Expect to see sandbar, bull, spinner, blacktip and hammerhead sharks in the mix of schools of mackerel and bonito chasing bait.
Although many of these species aren’t the best table-fare, they do provide some of the best and consistent rod-bending action you’ll find on the Gulf Coast.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel being caught daily by both live bait fishers and those using artificials. Those using live bait are catching their shiners with a Sabiki rig.
The rig to use when using shiners for bait is simple. Connect 3 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon to your main line and tie a 1/0 long shank hook to the end. Stab your hook through a shiner, cast it out and hang on tight — when mackerel are feeding, they’re known to swim at speeds of 45 mph. With this in mind, it wouldn’t take much to pull an unattended rod right off the pier if the angler’s not paying attention. Average size of the macks this past week was 18-20 inches to the fork of the tail.
Plenty of other migratory species are arriving at the Rod & Reel to feed on the vast amount of baitfish that are congregating there. Expect to see jack crevalle, ladyfish, blue runners and skipjacks in the mix, all providing action between mack strikes.
Be aware that the skipjacks have poisonous spines on their dorsal and anal fins. Use caution when releasing them to avoid being poked by its spines. If you get stuck, you’ll know it. A sharp pain and some tingling in your hand may last for 5 to 10 minutes —you’ll be fine.
Lastly, Kilb says he’s seeing some nice redfish being pulled out of the shadows of the pier. Live shrimp, shiners and pinfish are proving successful to get these bottom-feeders to bite. Average size of the pier reds have been 20- to 22-inches, although some large, over-slot fish are being reeled up, too.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says Spanish mackerel are dominating the bite. Artificials like Gotcha plugs, Clark spoons and crappie jigs are getting the bite, although live greenbacks are catching plenty of fish. Make sure to use a long shank hook to prevent getting cut off so often. Macks up to 29 inches are being caught on a daily basis.
And macks that measure 29 inches are almost unheard of, so to hook up your all-time biggest, fish now.
Mixed in with the mackerel are blue runners and jack crevalle. The blue runners are in the 1-pound range, while the jacks are pushing 3-4 pounds. You’ll catch these fish while targeting mackerel. Be prepared to wear out your arm on non-stop action.
From under the pier, live bait fishers are pulling up good numbers of keeper-size mangrove snapper and flounder. Live shiners or shrimp are proving prosperous. Remember, when bottom fishing around the pier, try to fish during the slower tides, as this makes it easier to keep your bait on the bottom.
Finally, Medley says good numbers of sheepshead have inhabited the pier. Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching a few, although more are being seen than caught. It’s a little early for the sheepshead bite to begin. Best bet is to use live fiddler crabs or tube worms for bait, if you can get them.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore for gag grouper and mangrove snapper with good results on live shiners or pinfish. Starting at depths of 75 feet, Girle is reeling up snapper in the 18-inch range. Gag grouper also are being caught with the biggest coming in at 24 inches.
In the same water depths, Girle is catching a few kingfish. By free-lining large shiners or threadfins behind the boat, Girle is catching kings up to 36 inches.
Moving inshore, Girle is working the flats of Sarasota Bay in search of redfish, finding his target during high tides around mangrove islands and lush grass flats with scattered potholes. Upper slot reds are being caught daily.
On deeper flats in the middle of the bay, Girle is catching keeper-size spotted seatrout. Live shiners under a popping cork are working to get the bite. And on the beaches, Girle seeks out Spanish mackerel and bonito, where he takes a cue from the diving birds. Average size of the macks is 20 inches to the fork of the tail.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action at both the Rod & Reel and the Anna Maria City Pier on Spanish mackerel. Both live bait and artificials are producing the bite. According to Oldham, the best action is occurring during the morning hours from sunrise until about 9 a.m. For lures, most mackerel fishers are using white crappie jigs or Clark spoons rigged with a popping cork. Others are using Sabiki rigs to catch shiners. Pier fishers targeting mackerel should also expect to hook up with blue runners, jack crevalle and ladyfish.
From the grass flats, Oldham is seeing good numbers of spotted seatrout and redfish being brought to the marina fillet table. The charter captains at Keyes Marina are bringing in catches of both species daily. And Oldham says he’s seen some nice flounder in the coolers.
From the beaches, Oldham says a variety of species are being caught, including mackerel, jack crevalle and shark — all on live baits. “Look for diving birds,” says Oldham, “and you’ll find the fish.” Flounder also are being caught along the beaches, and Oldham suggests a Berkeley Gulp shrimp on a 1/4-ounce jig head will get attention from the flat fish.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters out of Keyes is fishing shallow grass flats for redfish and catch-and-release snook. For both species, Gross is using live shiners for bait. To fish these baits, he’s using either a free-line or a popping cork. For free-lining baits, Gross likes to use 3-4 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon tied to an Eagle Claw live bait hook. When using a popping cork, Gross uses basically the same rig with a cork set to correspond with the depth of the water.
On the deeper flats, Gross is catching plenty of keeper-size spotted seatrout. Again, he’s hooking up live shiners for bait. Most of the trout are ranging 15-18 inches. Rigging is the same as for reds or snook, or add a popping cork to the mix.
Finally, Gross is getting good action on Spanish mackerel by fishing nearshore structure in the Gulf of Mexico and around Longboat Pass. Gross is using live shiners or artificials, such as Gotcha plugs or white jigs, to get in on the action. When targeting macks, Gross likes to use 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a long shank hook or a lure.
On a final note, the fifth annual Gullett Mullet Invitational Tournament and Fish Fry is coming up Oct. 12-13. This event is sponsored by the Sarasota Fish and Game Association and the Gullet Family. Proceeds benefit outdoor activities for youth, including the annual Jerry Hill Memorial Kids’ Fishing Tournament.
A captain’s meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the Palmetto Point Civic Association, 637 43rd St. Blvd. W., Palmetto. Weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, with awards presented at 6 p.m.
An old-fashioned fish fry — the tourney catch — including Gullet’s much sought-after smoked mullet, will be served at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.
To register for the fishing tournament or for more information, call 941-792-8314.
Send fishing reports to firstname.lastname@example.org.