Fishing peaks with more common, cooler weather
As fall shifts into forward, fishing around Anna Maria Island doesn’t cool off, it gets hotter — and the weather brings a variety of species to target. Local fishing is ready to peak and we should have weeks of great action before the chill of winter.
Migratory species such as bonito, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and blue runners are ravaging bait schools while on their way south to warmer waters.
On the flats, redfish are schooling in unbelievable numbers and will hit just about anything you cast in front of them.
Catch-and-release snook are moving from the beaches back to the flats to fatten up before heading for the warmer waters of creeks and rivers where they spend the winter.
Flounder are taking up residence along the beaches and shallow water reefs in exceptional numbers.
And, with only a few weeks of gag grouper season left, its time to get out and fill the freezer with some tasty fish.
No matter what type of fishing you enjoy, now is the time to get out and experience some of the best action of the year.
Capt. Mark Howard says the fishing has turned on. Catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout and redfish have been feeding on the abundant schools of bait gathering at the mouth of Tampa Bay and on the flats.
Redfish have been all over the flats, gathering in schools on the incoming tides and feeding heavily on shiners. Howard suggests using a popping cork to keep the bait out of the seagrass.
He has been fishing potholes close to the mangroves and chumming with shiners to get the bite fired up. Dock fishing for reds has produced good results last week. “Cut off the tail of the shiner or pinfish to cripple the bait and use a split shot to keep the bait tight to the pilings,” Howard says. Catch-and-release snook are feeding in the same areas as the redfish.
Spotted seatrout have been steady with some nice keepers mixed in the schools. Howard says, “Use a circle hook and fish over grass 2 to 8 feet deep to get a nice bag of fillets.” The gator trout have been in very shallow water in the early mornings feeding on shiners. The speckled trout bite should only get better with the advancing fall weather.
Looking forward, the tides will present some excellent fishing opportunities with a strong falling tide in the afternoon as we move toward the new moon. The steady move toward lower water temperatures will increase the fishing opportunities in our area. “Look for the near-shore fishing scene to explode as the baitfish make their run south and the predators follow the bait migration,” Howard says.
Johnny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle also is hearing of good action occurring just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island.
Beach fishers targeting migratory species such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, blue runners, jack crevalle and shark are reporting great action during the morning hours. For everything but sharks, beach fishers are using silver spoons, white buck-tail jigs or Gotcha plugs to hook up. Those wanting to catch shark are using small chunks of Spanish mackerel or jack crevalle on a shark leader to bend a rod.
Flounder are making a showing on the beaches. Try bouncing a buck tail jig tipped with a piece of squid or a strip of Berkley Gulp to get these flatties to bite. Best areas on the beach to find flounder will contain structure such as piers, natural reef or rock bottom.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing Sarasota Bay in search of schooling redfish. The experienced Girle is finding these schools with little effort. Once located, Girle is using artificials such as top water plugs to get these schooling fish to bite. Average size of the reds is 24-27 inches with bigger fish mixed in.
On deeper grass flats, Girle is catching spotted seatrout and bluefish on soft plastics. By using a 1/4-ounce jig head combined with a MirrOlure Lil John, Girle is managing to catch trout up to 22 inches. The bluefish are being caught in the same areas, on the same lures and are averaging 4 pounds.
Jeff Medley at the South Pier bait shop on the south Sunshine Skyway bridge fishing pier is seeing Spanish mackerel ravaging schools of bait fish whether the tide is incoming or outgoing. And even though it’s a few weeks early, kingfish are beginning to get in on the action.
“On more than one occasion,” says Medley, “I’m seeing Spanish mackerel being caught and then eaten by kingfish before they can be landed onto the pier.”
Most kings being caught are schooley-size, 20-30 inches, although fish up to 50 inches are being hooked. Best bet to catch either the Spanish or the king mackerel is to use silver spoons or large Gotcha plugs. You may want to try using live shiners, too. If you’re targeting the kings, try bout 8 inches of 29-pound hardwire attached to a stout 2/0 hook. Bait up with the biggest shiners you can find and cast it out around the school of feeding fish.
At night, pier fishers are catching good numbers of mangrove snapper and flounder. Using either live shiners or fresh-cut pieces of a shiner, pier fishers are reeling up mangrove snapper in the 16-inch range. The same applies for flounder, although fish up to 20 inches are being caught nightly.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business fishing charters is fishing southern Tampa Bay for redfish. By targeting schooling fish, Gross is leading his clients to non-stop rod-bending action. Once Gross locates a school, he anchors the boat and chums with live shiners to keep the reds in the area. Average size of the redfish has been 18-25 inches.
In the same areas as the redfish, Gross is managing to hook up some catch-and-release snook. Most are in the 22-inch range, although fish exceeding 30 inches is common.
Moving to deeper grass, Gross is targeting spotted seatrout. Again, Gross is anchoring and chumming to get the bite going. By doing this, Gross is attracting Spanish mackerel to the boat, which adds a little variety between hookups.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing Spanish mackerel being caught as long as there are plenty of bait schools around the pier. “When the bait is here,” says Malfese, “so are the mackerel.” Small white jigs or silver spoons are getting the job done. Average size of the macks this past week was 18-20 inches.
Pier fishers targeting other species are managing to pull black drum and mangrove snapper out from underneath the pier. For either of these fish you can use live shiners or shrimp to get hooked up. To be successful, try using some 20-pound fluorocarbon leader with a split shot and a live bait hook for your rig.
On a final note, Malfese says earlier in the week, they had 11 manatees that decided to spend a couple of hours hanging around the pier. In the gin-clear water, Malfese spotted a cobia riding along with one of the manatees, although no one was able to cast a bait quick enough before the cobia saw the pier and departed.
It just goes to show, you never know what to expect on a trip to the Rod & Reel Pier.
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