Anglers see springtime fishing heat up as temps rise
Inshore fishing around Anna Maria Island is starting to fall into its normal springtime pattern. With water temps moving into the upper 70s, the variety of species inhabiting the flats are getting motivated to feed on whatever crosses their path.
Live shiners are the best offering — although small pinfish work well, especially if you’re in search of big trout.
For artificials, try a Rapala Skitterwalk over shallow grassflats just before sunrise for some explosive action on the trio of flatsfish, snook, redfish or spotted seatrout. Better results will occur by wading to the fish.
On nearshore structure, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and kingfish are attacking schooling baitfish. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for meandering cobia, too.
Sharks are making a showing in Tampa Bay and the inland waters. Blacktip, bull, nurse and bonnethead sharks are patrolling deeper edges of grass flats in search of a tasty treat. A lot of times you can sight cast to these fish, which can really get your blood pumping. Try cut mackerel or ladyfish for larger sharks. For the bonnetheads, fresh cut shrimp or a shiner will suffice.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumOTime charters reports “action-packed days on the water.” The inshore scene has exploded with catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout and redfish feeding heavily on the massive bait schools that have moved into Tampa Bay.
Howard says pilchards finally moved onto the flats making for some easy bait gathering. He suggests chumming for at least 10 minutes before throwing your cast net to draw the shiners to the chum and ball up behind your boat. “Look for diving pelicans to show where the bait is on the flats,” he adds.
Catch-and-release snook have been feeding heavily on shiners on Howard’s recent charters. They have been making their transition from their wintertime haunts and are moving onto the flats and into potholes and mangroves. On charters this past week, all of Howard’s clients landed at least one keeper-sized fish, although, after pictures, the big bruisers were released to fight another day.
Spotted seatrout have been exceptional, with many fish landed and plenty of gator trout coming to the dinner party. Howard is using a popping cork rigged with a 1/0 circle hook to keep the bait suspended just above the weeds. Getting the bobber to gurgle and flash can entice the predators to inhale the bait, he says. Getting enough meat for a nice family meal has been easy this past week.
Redfish have been active around the potholes and oyster bars. Chumming with shiners can fire up the bite and expose the redfish. Slot-sized fish are all over the flats and are exceptional fighters. Look for the schools of mullet traveling in the shallows to give you an idea of where to fish for these rose-colored bruisers.
Looking forward, Howard predicts the fishing will stay hot as the water temperature rises and the full moon approaches. He suggests following the tide up into the bushes. As a side note, Howard saw his first tarpon of the season near the Intracoastal Waterway, cruising in 2 feet of water.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is still seeing some sheepies and flounder being caught. Most species are being caught on live shrimp. Keeper-sizes are being caught but expect to catch a lot of under-sized fish before getting a keeper.
Spanish mackerel are showing at the R&R during early morning hours. The bait has now arrived in abundance so these fish are passing by on their way into the bay. White speck rigs are catching the most macks.
Also on the same speck rigs, expect to catch a stray pompano now and again. Malfese says he’s seeing pier fishers reel up a few a day.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action occurring along the beaches of Anna Maria Island. “As long as you can find the bait,” says Mattay, “you can find the fish.
Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle are corralling bait schools along the sandbar. Mattay suggests Gotcha plugs, white jigs or silver spoons to get in on the action.
Shark also are making a showing along the beaches, according to Mattay. Fresh-cut mackerel or ladyfish are catching small blacktip, bonnethead and sand sharks. If you need a shark leader, Mattay can hook you up. He says to also expect to catch shark from the piers on the north end of the island.
In the backwater, Mattay is hearing of good action on catch-and-release snook, redfish and trout. Live shiners are the top producers to get hooked up, although live shrimp will suffice. For artificials, Mattay suggests working early in the morning with topwater plugs to catch all three species.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing nearshore structure just off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. By fishing with live shiners for bait, Gross’ clients are reeling in schoolie kings up to 30 inches in length, although they may need to weed through the abundance of sharks patrolling the reefs. Blacktip sharks up to 6 feet in length are scarfing up the bait or any hooked fish they can find.
Also on the reefs, Gross is catching mangrove snapper and plenty of Key West grunts. Most snapper being reeled up are in the 12- to 16-inch range, he says.
In the backcountry, Gross is targeting the usual trio. He’s using live shiners, either free-lined or under a popping cork, to get a bite. According to Gross, the redfish and catch-and-release snook are cooperating during the moving tides. For the trout, Gross is chumming with live shiners to get the fish in the feeding mood.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure for migratory species, such as king and Spanish mackerel, as well as bonito, jack crevalle and shark. To catch the macks and jacks, Girle is baiting with live shiners. By chumming with shiners, he creates a feeding frenzy of fish around the boat, allowing clients to cast a bait and hook up within seconds. Kings in the 10- to 15-pound range are the norm this past week. As for the sharks, expect to see blacktip and bull sharks in the 100- to 150-pound range.
Girle is encountering cobia at the reefs, a reminder to always having a rod ready to cast when one is spotted.
Inshore, Girle is fishing Sarasota Bay for reds, using either fresh-cut ladyfish or live shiners for bait. For trout, Girle likes using artificials, including soft plastics combined with a jighead or topwater plug. As for the catch-and-release snook, he says nothing beats a live shiner cast at their nose.
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