The gates have opened, fishing game is on
Fishing around Anna Maria Island is heating up as the days get warmer and the winds remain calm.
With water temps reaching 70 degrees, migratory species such as Spanish mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish are schooling to corral bait. Look for diving birds in Tampa Bay and around artificial reefs to find the fish. Other migratory fish, including kingfish, cobia and shark, are worth a watchful eye, too.
In the backcountry, catch-and-release snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are gathering around mangrove islands and shorelines where there are grass flats and good tidal flow. Spotted seatrout up to 28 inches are being reported from these areas. Look for schooling redfish on shallow flats during the incoming tides in the afternoons. For catch-and-release snook, mangrove edges are a good place to stage up and fish as the tides starts ripping out. For all of these species, live shiners free-lined behind the boat will get a bite.
Pompano are being caught along the beaches on live sand fleas and pompano jigs. Try fishing at sunrise or late in the evening on the higher tides to locate and catch fish. When jigging for pompano, be prepared to catch ladyfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle. With macks and bluefish in the vicinity, it will pay to carry extra pompano jigs — their sharp teeth can cut through your leader before you know what happened.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing Spanish mackerel flapping on the dock this week. Pier fishers are using artificials like Gotcha plugs or small white jigs to get the bite. Along with macks, expect to catch ladyfish and bluefish in the 15- to 20-inch range.
For those planning to do a little night fishing, Sork says the target is spotted seatrout. He suggests anglers come to the pier equipped with a long-handled dip net to scoop ballyhoo for bait. Once you have a few small ballyhoo in an aerated bucket, you’re ready to fish. Free-line your bait around areas where the water is lit and the bait swirls for the trout staging on the outskirts in search of their prey.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is finding gator trout on shallow flats in Sarasota Bay. Using live shiners for bait, Keyes is catching trout in the slot as well as over-slot fish to 26 inches.
Along with trout, Keyes is catching slot-reds and multiple catch-and-release snook in the same areas. Again, live shiners free-lined over sandy potholes are getting the bite.
From the piers, beaches and passes, Keyes is hearing of good Spanish mackerel action. Plugging with Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or small white jigs is putting fishers with light tackle on drag-screaming action. Keyes suggests examining what the mackerel are feeding on before rigging. If the macks are eating glass minnows, Keyes recommends small white crappie jigs or Spro ghost jigs. If larger bait is around, Keyes says to switch to silver spoons or 7/8-ounce Gotcha plugs.
Pompano are expected to make a showing in the weeks to come. Keyes suggests fishing the beaches at sun up with pompano jigs or sand fleas will be productive.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters is seeing the spring weather pattern slowly take hold and, he says, the fish are responding accordingly. Redfish, spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel, catch-and-release snook and sharks are moving into Tampa Bay to feed.
Howard says a sure sign of spring is the many species of sharks he’s seeing cruising sandbars. Blacktip, bonnethead, lemon and bull sharks are cruising the flats looking for food. Howard suggests rigging a chunk of ladyfish on a cable hook to get in on the action.
“While running the bulkhead area, I saw a 5-foot sawfish cruising. I decided to just enjoy seeing the beautiful creature and moved on, passing an opportunity to do battle with the unique creature,” Howard says.
He says redfish and catch-and-release snook are starting to school on the flats and moving up into the mangrove roots on the higher tides produced by the recent full moon. “We’ve been using shiners pegged on a 2/0 Owner circle hook with a small split shot on a popping cork to keep the bait away from the annoying birds that seem to attack any live bait that swims to the surface,” Howard adds. Small pinfish and cut ladyfish are good baits to use.
Big macks are chewing heavily all over the bay with plenty of 24-inch fish providing the action. Howard likes to use to a long shank hook to prevent getting his line cut. Remember to only keep enough of these fish for dinner, as they do not freeze well.
Looking forward as the days get longer and warmer, fishing will only improve, Howard says. The influx of bait will supercharge the action and provide opportunities to get a nice bag of fillets for the dinner table.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is flats fishing in both Tampa and Sarasota bays in search of redfish, snook and spotted seatrout. Gross is first locating fish from his tower vantage point, and then anchoring and chumming to stir up the bite.
On shallow grass flats adjacent to mangrove shorelines, Gross is having good rallies on both redfish and catch-and-release snook. Slot-size and over-size reds were the norm this past week. As for the catch-and-release snook, Gross is hooking up fish in the 30-inch range.
On slightly deeper flats, Gross is catching spotted seatrout. Water depths of 3-4 feet are holding over-slot trout in numbers. Again, Gross is anchoring and chumming to get the fish on the line.
Lastly, Gross is fishing deep grass beds with a depth of 6-10 feet for Spanish mackerel and finding them in numbers. By anchoring and chumming, Gross is able to keep these fish within casting range for his clients, resulting in multiple hookups with a fish on the line every cast. Expect to catch ladyfish, bluefish and small blacktip sharks in the mix.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the backcountry, producing respectable catches of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. With a combination of tactics, such as artificials, live baits and even chunk baits, Girle’s clients are having successful days on the water.
For the reds, Girle is quietly positioning the bait near sandy potholes, where unsuspecting reds are lying in wait to ambush a meal. By casting chunks of fresh-cut ladyfish in and around these holes, Girle is hooking up reds up to 31 inches.
In these same areas, Girle is finding schools of catch-and-release snook. By either live baiting with shiners or jigging with artificials, Girle’s charters are landing fish in the 30-inch range.
Judy Vance of Denver reports celebrating her 70th birthday with a productive fishing trip with Capt. Trek Hackney. Vance caught the first and biggest fish of the day — a catch-and-release snook — the trio of fishers, including Lou Wheeler of Denver and Randy Billman of Holmes Beach, went on to catch a number of spotted seatrout and redfish.
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