If you don’t like the weather, wait 30 minutes
Fishing around Anna Maria Island this past week had some ups and downs based on the changing weather.
We saw warm and sunny days, rainy days, cold and windy days — all in one week, mind you. A good catch is possible during all three scenarios if the fish are biting, the rainy or cold days aren’t all bad.
Along with the roller coaster weather comes a wide variety fish. Varying weather extremes sometimes demand targeting different fish. Cold, windy days are good for targeting sheepshead, reds and snook on shallow flats. On rainy days, the fish are already wet and they don’t mind.
From the flats, expect to encounter spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook. Live shiners are the ticket to get in on the bite. If you choose to use artificials, topwater plugs at sun up are a good bet. Soft plastics like the Berkley Gulp shrimp or MirrOlure Lil John combined with a 1/8-ounce jighead will get you connected, too.
Look for sheepshead, mangrove snapper and flounder around nearshore structure. Live shrimp are the bait of choice to hook up. Expect to encounter catch-and-release gag grouper, too.
Finally, look for skyrocketing Spanish mackerel in Tampa Bay, especially between the Anna Maria City Pier and Egmont Key. Nearshore structure in the Gulf also is holding macks. Live shiners combined with a long shank hook will get your rod bent. Silver spoons, Gotcha plugs or small white jigs will prove their purpose when casting out to schooling macks.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria is still seeing good numbers of sheepshead reeled up to the deck. Pier fishers using live shrimp, fiddler crabs or sand fleas are catching dinner. Average size of the sheepies this past week was 12-14 inches, although fish up to 18 inches are being caught.
Pier fishers targeting sheepies also are catching keeper-size flounder and black drum. For the flounder, live shrimp is the bait of choice. Expect to catch fish in the 12- to 15-inch range. As for the black drum, sheepshead bait works fine and anglers at the pier are catching slot-sized fish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is seeing a variety of fish coming back to port with the local charter captains. Keyes is seeing upper-slot redfish and trout daily on the fillet table at the dock, in addition to sheepshead, mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel.
From the flats, fishers are catching redfish on both live baits and artificials. Live shiners or shrimp are working, especially when fished under a popping cork. For artificials, Keyes suggests targeting reds with Berkley Gulp shrimp paired with a 1/4-ounce jighead or a Johnson gold spoon.
Spotted seatrout are making a showing on deeper grass flats. Any soft plastic combined with a jighead will get you in the action. Keyes also suggests the MirrOlure MirrOdine to target larger trout.
Finally, sheepshead and mangrove snapper are being caught on live shrimp around nearshore structure. A 1/0 circle hook with enough lead to get your bait to the bottom will do the trick.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters agrees, the weather plays a major factor in what he’s catching.
On the warmer days this past week, Howard caught redfish, snook and spotted seatrout using shiners. “The key to success was locating the warmer water on the flats and setting up to fish these areas,” Howard says. A 5-degree difference can make for some big concentrations of fish, Howard adds.
He suggests using an old-school popping cork so the bait stays just above the seagrass and make the bobber gurgle to entice the predators to chew. Small pinfish and grunts work well for bait, too, he said.
On the colder days Howard uses live shrimp rigged with a split-shot to get the bait to the bottom around structure and pilings, where sheepshead, redfish and black drum have been coming to the boat for Howard’s clients.
Looking forward, Howard says the springtime warmup will happen soon, resulting in an explosion for anglers on the nearshore and inshore waters of Tampa Bay. When the water temperature hits 70 degrees, the flats will be flooded with fish moving onto skinny water to feed. Netting shiners will get easier as the fish move onto the flats and those runs to the Skyway Bridge to cast for bait will not always be necessary, Howard adds.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing deep grass flats in search of spotted seatrout. Using a 1/4-ounce jighead combined with a MirrOlure Lil John soft plastic, Gross is jigging up trout in the 15- to 22-inch range. Along with big trout, Gross is catching Spanish mackerel in the 20-inch range and plenty of bluefish and ladyfish in the mix. This adds a little variety for his clients and good action between trout bites.
On shallower grass flats, Gross is working live shiners to target redfish and catch-and-release snook. Depending on depth, Gross is either free-lining baits or placing them under a popping cork. Average size of snook the past week was 20-26 inches with some 20 fish brought to the boat. For the reds, Gross is catching upper-slot fish in the 24- to 26-inch range.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing shallow flats in Sarasota Bay during afternoon high tides in search of redfish and spotted seatrout. Girle is putting his clients on both species, using either live shiners or artificials like Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jighead. When using shiners, Girle recommends anchoring and chumming to get the fish in a feeding mood. Chumming also aids in bringing fish into casting range and keeping them there. When fishing artificials, Girle is using a trolling motor to sneak up on his prey. Once targeted fish are in range, he has clients sight-cast to sandy potholes or right at the fish, if they’re visible.
Spotted seatrout in the slot-size are the norm this past week for Girle, although fish as big as 26 inches are being caught.
The same applies for the redfish. Slot-sizes are the norm with over-slot fish —some exceeding 31 inches — caught sporadically. For the reds, more of the bigger fish are feeding on live shiners as compared to artificials.
Girle is still targeting permit and pompano in south Sarasota Bay, although he feels the bite is beginning to slow down. Yellow pompano jigs tipped with small pieces of fresh-cut shrimp are the ticket to get these elusive fish to bite. Expect to catch mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish between pompano and permit bites.
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