Don’t forget why you’re out there angling
Maybe the first thing that comes to mind when out on the water with a rod and reel in hand is to catch fish, but there’s a little more to it than that.
Yeah, we all want to catch fish consistently, but we can’t lose sight of the little things that complete the experience on the water.
It’s that feeling you get when buzzing the flats before sunrise and seeing the eastern sky all lit up in shades of pinks, oranges, blues and purples.
It’s fishing a wreck and having a loggerhead turtle breach the surface, make eye contact with you and quickly dive back down to the depths.
It’s seeing a seeing a spotted eagle ray cruising along the shallows of what’s left of Passage Key, and then noticing a couple of permit riding in tow.
It’s fishing a shallow flat surrounded by schools of mullet as far as the eye can see.
It’s watching an osprey dive and capture a spotted seatrout only to have a bald eagle steal it from him in mid flight.
It’s watching dolphin toss a jack crevalle 10 feet in the air, just because it can, or being out in the boat in the heat of the day only to have a sun shower pop up and cool you down.
It’s even as simple as following a bonnethead shark over a shallow flat, just to see where it goes.
I could go on for hours about all of the little things we take for granted when caught up in the frenzy of trying to produce a bite, but I think you get the idea.
Don’t let discouragements get in the way of having a good day on the water. There will be days when the fish don’t bite, or when the bite seems like it’s not existent, or when a pack of Jet-skiers buzz your boat, unaware that the fish you’re targeting don’t react well to being run over.
There will be days when somebody is sitting in the spot you’ve been fishing for the past week. There will be times when every bait you cast will be tormented by cormorants and terns, and there will be days when you throw your cast net only to pull up a half-dozen catfish entangled in the mesh.
Again, the list could go on forever. Don’t let it get to you.
Slow down and gather your thoughts. It will come to you. The West Coast of Florida is one of the coolest places on earth. It has a lot to offer.
What’s that old saying?, “Take time to stop and smell the roses.” Well, the saying in our neck of the woods is “put the rod down and take it all in.” Take time to enjoy this diverse ecosystem that surrounds our home — the bay and Gulf waters.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters reports exceptional fishing this past week with some exciting rallies and non-stop rod bending action. He says redfish, spotted seatrout, flounder, snook, mackerel and snapper have been coming to the party.
“Shiner catching has been easy with many of the traditional spots holding some mixed-sized baits,” says Howard, and the June hatch has grown enough to not gill your 1/4-inch nets. Howard suggests setting up over the grass flats and chumming with Purina tropical fish food for 10 minutes to bring on the bait before you throw your net, and keep any small pinfish for variety.
Redfish are starting to school and feed heavily in advance of a fall run. Howard notes redfish are providing his charters rod-bending action and no problem getting limits of the copper bruisers for the dinner table.
Shiners have been Howard’s bait of choice, but he likes to mix his presentations and use a small pinfish rigged under a popping cork. “A trick I employ is to cut the tail and dorsal fin off of the pinfish. This slows the bait down and makes it irresistible to the redfish,” adds.
The nearshore reefs have provided some excellent action with flounder, snapper and mackerel feeding heavily in Tampa Bay. Use shiners to chum and throw them over the sandy areas near the reefs to get the action fired up. Wait for the slow thump of the flounder, Howard says.
Last Aug. 28, Howard fished the nearshore reefs with Dave Pate of Anna Maria, when they saw a commotion on the water. To their surprise it was the fan of a sailfish feeding on a bait school.
“Tossing shiners for chum, we drew the sailfish close to our boat and Dave hooked and landed this rare, beautiful pelagic.” After taking pictures, Howard and Pate revived and released the predator to fight another day,” says Howard.
Looking forward, the summer/fall transition is about to start and the fishing action will explode, predicts Howard. Bait is gathering thick in our waters and the predators are responding accordingly.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing increasing numbers of Spanish mackerel and other migratory species, such as jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish being caught, especially during morning and evening tides. Large schools of scaled sardines and threadfin herring are taking refuge around the pier, which in turn, attracts predators. Clark spoons rigged with a popping cork or small white crappie jigs tied directly to 30-pound fluorocarbon will get you connected, Sork says.
Remember, these fish want to chase a bait so a quick retrieve is in your best interest.
Snook season opened Sept. 1 and the pier is a great place to start hunting. The best time to target thee spooky fish is on the late-night outgoing tide. By late night, I mean after the restaurant has closed and all of the spectators have gone home.
Look for snook in the shallows as you work your way out to the end of the pier. For bait, live shiners, pinfish and small ladyfish will work for a finicky linesider. You’ll want to use stout gear, although keep in mind when rigging, that these “pier snook” have seen everything imaginable put in front of their faces. Stealth is key. A 5- to 6-foot stretch of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a stout live bait hook should suffice.
If you find the snook snubbing its nose at your bait, scale down your leader size to 40- or even 30-pound, if you dare.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action occurring on the flats of Anna Maria Sound. Spotted seatrout are blowing up schools of small baitfish on the Key Royale flats and along the bulkhead. These fish are feeding on glass minnows, providing a great opportunity for fly fishers. Simply find the glass minnows on the flat and cast an imitation to the edges of the school. Average size of the trout this past week was slot size, 15-20 inches, although fish up to 26 inches are being reported.
Rumors of schooling redfish from Miguel Bay all the way to southern Sarasota Bay also are coming into the tackle shop. Most anglers targeting reds are using live shiners or pinfish when using natural baits. Those using artificials are using gold spoons, Berkley Gulp shrimp and even topwater plugs.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are showing in decent numbers throughout Tampa Bay and just off the island beaches. Keyes suggests Gotcha plugs or silver spoons to target these toothy fish. If you’re using live bait, Keyes recommends a long shank hook to prevent being cut off by the macks razor teeth.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters was eager last week for the start of snook season. A seasoned veteran of 30 years on our local waters, Gross has an advantage over the average snook angler. I think he’s forgotten more about snook fishing than most of us could hope to know.
His advice for fall snook fishing is as follows: First, do your homework. Fall snook are often on the move, which means just because you caught them today, they may not be in the same place tomorrow. Second, Gross says to find areas with good water flow, such as points and passes. Snook are ambush predators and, in areas of good water flow, they can swim out of their vantage point, inhale a bait and return to the same spot without exerting too much energy. Lastly, Gross recommends carrying a variety of baits when targeting fall snook, such as shiners, pinfish or small grunts, as well as dead baits — fresh-cut chunks of ladyfish or mullet.
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