Warmer water, hot fishing action with shiners
With a slight warming trend, water temps are climbing into the upper 60s, which in turn is proving prosperous for flats fishers who are still using shiners.
Although baiting shiners during cooler weather a couple of weeks ago was hit or miss, using them now is a good bet. You may still want to carry some live shrimp just in case — especially if you plan on fishing any docks or around inshore structure.
Good numbers of black drum and sheepshead are frequenting local docks and canals around Bimini Bay and Key Royale. Live shrimp is a must for targeting either of these tasty striped fish. You can also expect to catch flounder and redfish while working these docks.
In southern Sarasota Bay, good action is occurring on deep grass flats for migratory fish, including pompano, bluefish and ladyfish. The pompano are sporadic at best, although the bluefish and ladyfish will fill in the idle time between pompano bites. Either style of pompano jig will work, although anglers are favoring small cannonball head jigs.
Finally, near-shore structure is still producing rod-bending action for anglers in search of bonito and shark. Try chumming with live shiners to get the bonito to rally. Once you catch one, cut a nice chunk from it and hook it on a shark rig. Black tips in the 50-pound range are the norm right now.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting spotted seatrout on the flats of Sarasota Bay with decent results. On recent charters, Gross managed to put his clients on limits of spotted seatrout using live shiners on the grass flats. “With the water temps slightly rising, the fish are eating white bait,” says Gross. “Although, it’s still good to carry some select shrimp just in case.”
Also while fishing the flats, Gross is catching some keeper-size flounder. “We were having trouble with the birds trying to eat our shiners,” says Gross. “So I added a split shot to try to keep our baits a little deeper. When we did, we started catching flounder.”
To target flounder on the flats, try dragging your bait through the sandy potholes on the flat. You can also find them on channel edges or in areas that have rocky features, such as small ledges or docks.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says although there are large numbers of sheepshead around the pilings, the bite is a little off. “Either people aren’t fishing for them,” says Medley, “or they’re just not biting real good yet.”
Fish that are biting include pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and bonito. For the pompano and bluefish, Love’s lures pompano jigs are the ticket. Pompano in the 2-pound range are hitting these small jigs with a purpose. The bluefish are a bycatch for fishers targeting pompano.
Pier fishers using live shrimp and working on the bottom around the pilings of the pier are catching good numbers of flounder, mangrove snapper and black sea bass. These three species are some of the best tasting fish you can find on our waters, so if you’re looking to fill the freezer, you may want to head to the South Pier.
On a final note, Medley warns that the bite has been sporadic but, when it happens, it’s game on. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it this week,” says Medley. “You may catch nothing but pinfish for an hour and then all of a sudden everything changes and you fill your cooler.”
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structures for bonito. These fish provide drag-screaming action on medium-weight spinning gear. Using live shiners, Girle is chumming these fish to the boat and then casting free-lined baits into the frenzy. Average size of the bonito is 7 to 10 pounds.
Once Girle’s clients have caught enough bonito, they’re targeting black tip sharks by cutting a six-inch strip of bonito belly and placing it on a shark rig. The black tips are coming to the boat in the 50- to 80-pound range.
Finally, while structure fishing, Girle is dropping live shiners to the bottom on a knocker rig and reeling up keeper-size flounder. After all of that action on bonito and sharks, Girle’s clients are keen on reeling up fish they can take home for dinner.
On the deeper flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is drifting and jigging with pompano jigs. Not only is he managing to put his fishers on some keeper pompano, but various other species as well. Spanish mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish are biting in between pompanos, which supplies good variety and constant action.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of decent action on the flats of Anna Maria Sound, where spotted seatrout are being caught on deeper flats of 5 to 7 feet. While targeting trout, expect to also catch ladyfish and Spanish mackerel. You can either use artificials like DOA Cal jigs or suspending baits, such as the MirrOlure MirrOdine. If using live shrimp or shiners, try using a popping cork and drift over the flats and retrieve the cork slowly while popping it to cover more area.
Sheepshead are arriving on the flats and around local docks. Oldham suggests trying a fresh-cut piece of shrimp to start. If the sheepies won’t bite the shrimp, try fiddler crabs or sand fleas.
While fishing docks for sheepies, Oldham says to expect to encounter black drum, redfish and plenty of spot tail pinfish
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing decent action for pier fishers using live shrimp as bait. Using a small, stout hook and a half-ounce sinker, fishers are bottom fishing around the pilings and under the pier. As of this week, keeper-size redfish are being caught, as well as flounder and black drum.
Schools of baitfish such as shiners are still being seen around the pier, although Malfese feels that the better bite is occurring on live shrimp. If you choose to use shiners, try bottom fishing as if you’re using shrimp. Generally, flounder and redfish will readily take a shiner if it’s put in front of their nose.
On a final note, we wish Jim Malfese’s canine companion, Malcolm, who also works daily at the pier, a happy birthday.
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