Larry Riddle from Tampa holds up the largest red grouper catch of his life. It was caught on a live pinfish in about 130 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island on a family charter with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters. They caught many more grouper and some monster mangrove snappers.
Steve VanNederynen of New York caught this redfish on a charter trip with Capt. Warren Girle during his Anna Maria Island vacation.
Transitional weather makes for tough times fishing
If you’re fishing the backcountry around Anna Maria Island and its vicinity, you may find the fishing is a little tough. We are in a transitional place in the backwaters. Now that water temps are consistently below 70 degrees, the fish we target are on the move to find their wintertime haunts.
Now is the time to go out and explore your winter fishing spots to see if you can find concentrations of fish. Fishing around docks and canals should begin to really turn on in the weeks to come. Also, a noticeable amount of sheepshead are showing up on the flats, which means they should be staging up under local docks and around pilings very soon.
Finally, if you’re looking for good action on migratory fish, try fishing around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for bonito and mackerel. If nothing else, these fish are worthy of providing drag-screaming rod-bending action.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is fishing spotted seatrout in upper Sarasota Bay. Gross is covering his bases during this transitional time in the backcountry by carrying both live shrimp and live shiners. Gross is also carrying artificials — soft plastics on a jighead or DOA shrimp — in case the fish aren’t responding to live bait presentations.
When live bait fishing, Gross is anchoring on grass flats that are peppered with deep sandy potholes. By casting baits to the edges of the holes, Gross is catching spotted seatrout up to 22 inches.
When using artificials, Gross is drifting over the same flats and casting to the holes. Using this method, Gross is able to cover more areas of the flat, which, in theory, gives his clients more opportunity to get their lure in front of the fish.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says night fishing is producing the best action. Pier fishers arriving after sunset are being rewarded with steady action on bluefish and flounder. For the blues, pier fishers are using Love’s lures pompano jigs to get the bite. With a fast rigging retrieve, these ravenous bluefish are chomping on jigs almost as soon as they enter the water. Average size of the bluefish is 2-3 pounds. For the flounder, pier fishers are dragging live shiners or shrimp along the bottom under the pier. Keeper-size flounder up to 20 inches are being caught.
During the daylight hours, Medley days there are still a few mackerel around, but they are on the small side. Bonito are frequenting the pier, too. Look for fish breaking the surface under diving birds and cast to the edges of the school with Gotcha Plugs or small white jigs.
Last, but not least, Medley is seeing good numbers of sheepshead around the pilings of the pier. “There are some 6-plus pound sheepies down there,” says Medley, “but you have to be persistent. The sheepies are finicky right now.”
For bait, try live fiddlers or shrimp.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing just off the beaches of both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key for migratory species like bonito and shark. These species may not offer much, if any, food value, but the sheer power they have once they hit your bait makes catching them extremely fun and exciting. For the bonito, Girle is using live shiners for bait. For the sharks, he’s using the bonito he just caught, cut into bite-size strips and free-lined behind the boat. The bonito are ranging in the 8- to 12-pound class. As for the sharks, Girle feels that these are some of the biggest black tips he’s seen all season — with the largest coming in at 120 pounds.
In the backcountry, Girle is fishing through the transitional phase by targeting docks for redfish and flounder. By using live shrimp for bait on a knocker rig, Girle is casting under docks in Sarasota Bay to locate fish. “We’re in a transition,” says Girle, “but as long as you’re patient, you’ll eventually find docks holding fish.”
Slot-size and under is the average size of the reds this past week.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says he’s hearing of good action on flounder and sheepshead around the piers although the bite is sporadic at best. Live shrimp is the bait of choice for the flounder. As for the sheepshead, Oldham feels that since the fish are finicky, live oyster crabs or tubeworms might entice them. “If they won’t hit those baits,” says Oldham, “they won’t hit anything.”
From those fishers working the flats, Oldham says he’s seeing a few redfish being filleted back at the marina, but again it seems the bite is sporadic. Spotted seatrout also are being caught, but no rallies are occurring. For either species, Oldham suggests using live shrimp under a popping cork.
Finally, Oldham is still getting reports of small shark being caught from the beaches. Bonnet head and Atlantic sharp nose sharks up to 40 inches are being caught on pieces of cut fish or squid fished on the bottom in the surf.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says there are some sheepshead hanging around the pilings at the pier, and fishers using live fiddler crabs or tubeworms are having success at reeling up some of these tasty striped fish. Most fishers targeting sheepshead are using small sturdy hooks in a size 2 or 4 tied to some 20-pound fluorocarbon for leader. Depending on the speed of the tide, a half-ounce egg sinker is usually effective to keep your bait where you want it. Sheepshead in the 1- to 2-pound range are the average for this time of year.
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