Getting into the swing of AMI spring fishing
The springtime bite is finally settling in around Anna Maria Island. Water temps are on the rise, which is triggering baitfish to move onto the flats. Hungry snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are staging up on shallow flats during strong tides.
Now’s a good time to try fishing sandy potholes close to mangrove shorelines with good tidal flow to locate fish. For bait, live shiners are producing the most bites.
If using artificials, try topwater plugs at sunrise and in early morning hours. After the sun gets higher in the sky, switch to soft plastics or suspending plugs.
Spanish mackerel are making a showing around passes and in Tampa Bay. In the passes, shore fishers are casting Gotcha plugs into schooling fish to hook up. Those fishing from boats are using live shiners stabbed on a long shank hook, which helps prevent being cut off by the mackerel’s sharp teeth.
Of course, with macks come sharks. Try fishing nearshore structure or anywhere schooling mackerel are located to find the predators. Expect to encounter blacktip, spinner and sand sharks. Some of these sharks are big, so plan accordingly when selecting what tackle to use. Fresh-cut chunks of mackerel, ladyfish or jack crevalle will get you connected.
Capt. Warren Girle is taking clients to the grass flats of Sarasota Bay in search of backwater species, such as redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. By using a variety of techniques, Girle’s anglers are finding success with all three species.
During the early morning, Girle and his clients are getting out of the boat and wading the shallow flats adjacent to mangrove islands and mangrove shorelines. By using artificials, such as the Exude Dart, or topwater plugs, like the Rapala Skitterwalk, Girle is hooking up the backwater trio in depths of 2-3 feet.
As the sun gets higher, Girle is moving back to the boat to fish deeper flats for trout. Again, Girle is using soft plastics to get a bite. By drifting and jigging, Girle’s clients are catching limits of fish.
Finally, Girle is targeting redfish that hide in sandy potholes during high tides. By casting chunks of fresh-cut ladyfish into the holes, he’s finding limits of slot-size fish.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel are making a late appearance. Pier fishers using white jigs, Gotcha plugs or silver spoons are catching macks in the 20-inch range.
Remember, if you’re planning on keeping mackerel for dinner, it is crucial to immediately ice the fish. Keeping these fish on ice will result in a tastier outcome on the dinner plate.
Sharks are frequenting the pier. Small blacktip, bonnethead and sand sharks are following mackerel schools in search of a meal. Small chunks of fresh-cut mackerel cast out from the pier should attract these little bruisers to bite. Remember, even though sharks are only a few feet in length, they bite. Handle with care and don’t put your hands near their mouths.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel says Spanish mackerel are making a decent showing this week. Pier fishers arriving at sunrise are getting the bite. Kilb suggests using white speck rigs to get these high-activity fish to bite. You also can use Gotcha plugs or silver spoons, although Kilb says to try the speck rigs first.
Sheepshead are still biting at the R&R, although catching legal-size fish is tough. Most of the larger females have spawned and are moving to other structure, such as nearshore reefs, to recoup. Now is the time when bait selection becomes crucial. As the sheepies get more finicky, you’ll need to have an assortment of bait — live shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms are a good start.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is seeing redfish and spotted seatrout upon arrival of the local charter boats at the docks. Most flats fishers are using live shiners for bait, although soft plastics and gold spoons are producing, too. Oldham suggests using Berkley Gulp shrimp. It has a distinct smell that appeals to redfish.
With Spanish mackerel showing in the passes and around the piers on the north end of the Island, Oldham recommends a white or pink speck rig as a first choice. If the macks are finicky, he says to try a Gotcha plug or silver spoon. Mackerel in the 20-inch range are being reported.
From nearshore structure just off the beaches, Oldham is hearing reports of a variety of shark species. Fresh-cut Spanish mackerel or bonito is a great choice for bait. When targeting bonnetheads and other small sharks, use small chunks. If targeting bigger fish, try using at least half of mackerel.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters is grateful to see the springtime pattern blossom. The top indicator of spring is the arrival of shiners on the flats. Chumming with Purina tropical fish food will entice the pilchards to swarm behind your boat, he claims, making easy pickings for your cast net.
Howard’s recent charter clients are having exciting rallies on catch-and-release snook and redfish. The Brown family had a Wednesday afternoon charter that produced four nice slot-sized redfish for their dinner table. They also battled many catch-and-release snook. The key, Howard says, is having enough shiners to chum and fire up the bite.
Tortilla Bay owner Perry Pittman and some friends also had an exciting day on the water. The group landed redfish, spotted seatrout and mackerel. Fishing moving water was the key to success, and their fillets wound up later as fish tacos.
On the nearshore scene, Howard is seeing the fish move in with ferocious appetites. Kingfish, Spanish mackerel, big sharks and cobia are being caught at the 1-mile reef. Howard suggests having a rig ready for the drag-screaming action available on the many 6-foot sharks swimming with the bait schools.
Gag grouper were being caught in waters as shallow as 15 feet and 100 yards off the beach and, after photos, Howard’s grouper were released.
He’s is looking forward to the opening of gag grouper season while they’re still in the bay and inshore waters — easy pickings if and when the powers to be open the season. Until then, we’re left depend upon the commercial fishing fleet to provide us with fillets, he noted.
Looking forward, Howard says the springtime fishing pattern will only get better as more bait floods the area waters. Work edges and drops at low tide and move into the bushes as the tide rises, he suggests.
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