As area water temps drop, fishing heats up
Politics may be heating up, but everyone agrees fishing is great as the weather and the waters around Anna Maria Island begin to cool off.
Migratory species are on their fall southern migration, which is providing excellent fishing. King and Spanish mackerel are swarming bait schools within a mile of the beaches. Jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish are doing the same within casting distance of the shoreline. Also along the shoreline are flounder, whiting and pompano.
On the grass flats, expect to find good numbers of spotted seatrout around sandy potholes. Top-water plugs used in the early morning are a sure way to get some explosive action and some big trout. As the sun gets higher in the sky, switch to soft plastics on a jig head.
Redfish are schooling on flats from Terra Ceia Bay south to the Ringling Bridge. Once you locate a school, quietly approach it and fish with artificials like gold spoons, top-water plugs or soft plastics. Remember, when these fish school up, they see a lot of pressure from anglers, so go early and be the first boat to fish them.
Also, catch-and-release snook are moving from the beaches and passes onto the grass flats and into the bays. Live bait fishing with shiners is a sure-fire way to hook up these highly sought after game fish.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is seeing plenty of migratory species feeding on the abundance of flushing baitfish under the pier. Spanish mackerel and schooley kingfish are gorging themselves on scaled sardines and threadfin herring. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs are cashing in on the action with limits of Spanish mackerel. As for the kings, most are running under the minimum 24 inches, although you never know when a 30-pound smoker will hook up.
Along with mackerel are jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish. You can catch these on the same plugs as for the macks and kings, and silver spoons and various colors of small buck-tail jigs will work, too.
Gag grouper are still being caught. Keeper-size fish of 26 inches and up are being caught on live pinfish and small blue runners. Try casting these baits out to the artificial reef on the south side of the pier to find some hungry grouper. Remember, we only have until Oct. 31 to harvest these fish, so now is the time to stock up.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says redfish are taking up residence around the pier. “I saw one red that measured 40 inches,” says Malfese, “but the rest that are being caught are slot-size fish.”
Pier fishers using live shiners, pinfish or shrimp are getting in on the action. To target these fish, try using a heavy split shot to keep your bait under the pier and on the bottom.
Flounder and mangrove snapper also are coming to the pier deck. To catch these species, fish the same as you would the reds. These fish also like to hang around the structure, close to or on the bottom. Average size of the flounder is 12 inches, although fish up to 16 inches are being landed. For the snapper, fish at the minimum of 10 inches are the norm.
Now that the baitfish are back at the pier, the migratory species are back, too. Don’t go to the pier without a couple of Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or white speck rigs. For the macks, expect to catch fish up to 18 inches to the fork of the tail. As for the ladyfish and jacks, fish up to 2 pounds are the norm.
Capt. Warren Girle is taking charters to offshore structure in search of gag grouper. Trolling big-lipped plugs like the Mann’s Stretch 30 is resulting in gag grouper up to 30 inches in water depths of 40 to 45 feet.
Once his clients have limited out on grouper, Girle is switching to bait fishing. Anchoring over structure, Girle drops live shiners to the bottom to target mangrove snapper and Key West grunts. Mangrove snapper up to 16 inches are the norm. As for the Key West grunts, there is no size or bag limit.
Also around the structure offshore, are Spanish mackerel, bonito and king mackerel. For these species, Girle is free-lining live shiners behind the boat. To get the target in a feeding mood, Girle likes to simultaneously chum and cast live shiners.
Moving inshore, Girle is targeting Sarasota Bay redfish with good results. Using top-water plugs or soft plastics on a jig head, his clients are bringing in bull reds in the 29-inch range. In the same areas on the same lures, he is catching spotted seatrout up to 23 inches.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is working southern Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound for some great flats fishing action. Using live shiners for bait, Gross is leading his clients to a variety of backwater species.
To start, Gross is locating redfish on lower tides around mangrove edges adjacent to deep sandy potholes. Chumming with live shiners, Gross is getting reds on the hook in the 18- to 22-inch range, although fish up to 27 inches are being caught.
In these same areas, Gross is finding a good catch-and-release snook bite. Most snook are in the 20- to 24-inch range.
Finally, Gross is fishing deeper grass flats for spotted seatrout. Gross likes to find large flats that are peppered with sandy potholes when targeting trout. By moving from hole to hole, he is able to produce limits of keeper-size fish for his anglers.
Johnny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action around the fishing piers on the north end of Anna Maria Island and around Bean Point. Fishers using artificials, such as Gotcha plugs, spoons and jigs, are catching a variety of migratory species — Spanish mackerel, blue runners, jack crevalle and ladyfish. From the beach casters, Keyes is hearing of similar catches, including pompano and flounder.
From the grass flats, Keyes is hearing of schooling redfish. Breeder schools of these fish are appearing anywhere from Terra Ceia Bay to the north all the way to southern Sarasota Bay. You can either live-bait fish these schools or use artificials, such as gold spoons, top water plugs or soft plastics.
Fishers at nearshore structure are catching good numbers of macks, shark and barracuda, Keyes reports. Best bet to work the reefs is a live well full of shiners. Once you’ve caught some macks, try using them for bait for the sharks and ’cuda and hang on for some drag-screaming action.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters reports an exciting week of fishing, thanks largely to the cooler water temps.
“On a recent trip we hooked mackerel, kingfish, cobia and big spinner sharks and blacktips,” Howard says.
“The spinner sharks, are some of the most exciting fighters in our waters with leaps 10 feet out of the water. It is a sight to behold,” he said.
Howard suggests upsizing your tackle for any chance of landing these toothy predators.
Inshore fishing has been good with trout, redfish and catch-and-release snook chewing on the moving tides. Shiners are Howard’s bait of choice for the trio.
Flounder have been feeding, with some nice-sized doormats mixed in the bunch.
“This weeks ‘High Hook’ went to Cindi Heinz with a 37-inch snook landed from a nearshore reef on a mackerel rig,” said Howard.
Looking forward, the coming high tides will provide excellent opportunities. Howard recommends following the tides up onto the flats and into the bushes as you work the fish, “Remember to keep the slack out of your line to be able to feel the thump of the fish as it inhales your bait offerings.”
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