Braden Blakely, on a family vacation to Anna Maria Island from Maryland, shows off his sheepshead catch, the result of a charter with Capt. Mark Howard of Sumotime. Howard reports the family took home a full cooler of fillets.
Capt. Mike Kasten of the Miss Anna Maria charter boat out of Galati Marine, Anna Maria, displays one of 40 red snappers his charter group caught fishing 25 miles west of the island. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
Weather heats up like spring, fishing pattern, too
Following the past week’s cold front, Anna Maria Island fishers were getting back on the water, targeting a number of inshore species.
As temperatures approached daytime highs of 80 degrees, conditions were favorable for fishing just off the beaches and piers, as well as the lush grass flats in Anna Maria Sound.
Beach fishers are being rewarded with catches of pompano, black drum, flounder and bluefish. Most catches are occurring on live shrimp or sand fleas although artificials are working well for the pompano and bluefish. Beach fishers in the know are combining artificials with bait to ensure the bite. To entice a bite, try a pompano jig tipped with a small piece of fresh-cut shrimp.
On the flats, fishers are finding schooling redfish in good numbers. If you find these schools tending to get a little spooked, try using a cut piece of mullet or ladyfish to convince the fish to bite.
Also on the flats, spotted seatrout action is heating up. Soft plastics combined with a 1/4-ounce jighead are producing decent numbers of trout. Position your boat upwind of the flat to fish. Turn off your motor and drift over the flat, working soft plastics through the sandy potholes to locate fish. While targeting trout, expect to catch bluefish, ladyfish and even a few Spanish mackerel in the process.
Capt. Warren Girle is drift fishing in Sarasota Bay catching a variety of species. Using small bullet-head pompano jigs tipped with a small piece of fresh-cut shrimp, Girle’s clients are hooking up with pompano and permit in respectable numbers. Both species are 1-3 pounds. Along with pompano and permit, Girle is putting his clients on Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, spotted seatrout and blue runners.
On shallow flats during high tides, Girle is working schooling reds. He opts to use fresh chunks of cut ladyfish to get them to bite. A chunk of ladyfish or mullet is a good option when you find redfish that won’t respond to live shrimp or shiners. Simply cast out a chunk and let it lay on the bottom until an unsuspecting redfish discovers it and bites. Redfish up to 27 inches were the norm this past week for Girle.
Grady Smith at Island Discount Tackle says sheepshead are the highlight of the week. Pier fishers are buying dozens of shrimp and small strong hooks to cash in on these tasty striped fish. Most sheepies caught are 1-2 pounds, although fish up to 5 pounds are in the mix.
From fishers on the flats, Smith is hearing of decent spotted seatrout action. Most fishers targeting trout are using soft plastics combined with a lead jighead. Colors include white, chartreuse or green. You can also catch trout on live shrimp. Try using a popping cork rigged above your shrimp to keep it out of the grass.
Finally, Smith says fishers using live shrimp under docks are catching slot-size reds, although most are undersized. Casting weighted, live shrimp, fishers are reeling up reds, black drum, flounder and sheepshead.
Dave Sork at the Ann Maria City Pier says sheepshead are beginning to show, but the bite varies by day.
One day the bite is good, the next day they don’t bite. Pier fishers using live fiddler crabs or sand fleas are catching flounder along the edges and under the pier. Dragging a live shrimp along the bottom next to the pilings will result in some tasty flat fish for the cooler. Keeper-size flounder are a little scarce, although with a little determination, if the goal is to catch enough for the dinner table, it is attainable.
Although it’s a little early in the season, the occasional Spanish mackerel is being caught. Pier fishers casting Gotcha plugs or silver spoons stand a chance at catching one of these high-activity toothy fish. Along with macks, expect to catch bluefish and ladyfish.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are happening. Most fish are caught in the morning and live shrimp are dominating the bite. Pier fishers who normally use crabs or fleas are switching to shrimp — and those who regularly fish for sheepies know this is rare. Usually, the crabs and fleas work better but, like any true angler, adapting to what is happening is important for success.
There are still flounder inhabiting the pier. Most are being caught as a bycatch while targeting sheepshead. Average size of the flounder is 10-12 inches although a few respectable-sized fish have been caught.
Finally, pier fishers using small white jigs are catching bluefish, although the bite is inconsistent. These fish may not fare well for dinner, but their sheer power provides great action on light tackle. Remember to use pliers when removing hooks from a bluefish’s mouth. You don’t want to encounter their sharp teeth and strong jaws.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says the past week included some exciting action.
He says the sheepshead are turned on, as big schools mass over structure, piers and around the local reefs for the spawn, “I have been throwing back any sheepshead under 15 inches and having no problems keeping enough for a tasty fish dinner,” Howard says.
When targeting sheepies, Howard is using a live shrimp rigged on a No.1 hook with enough weight to keep the rig on the bottom. “This leads to bent rods and smiles on deck,” says Howard.
Another simple rig is a weighted jig head with a shrimp on the hook. “The key to success is to get the bait to hold to the bottom and waiting for the thump of the sheepshead inhaling the bait. Feel for the pressure of fish pulling on the rig and set the hook in a strong sweeping motion,” Howard says.
He says redfish, black drum and sheepshead are thick under the docks along the Intracoastal Waterway and the Manatee River. “Toss your bait offerings deep under the docks and shade areas to connect with some close-quarters action. Getting the fish out of the structure quickly is key to landing these bruisers,” Howard adds.
Looking forward, Howard says the transition has begun from winter to spring fishing patterns. Look for schools of shiners to invade the flats in the bays as the water temperature gradually warms. When the flats reach 70 degrees, the spring bite will explode but the winter bite will remain strong until late March.
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