Capt. Mark Howard’s wife Dot, left, and friends Lin Price and husband Andy Price, local fire chief, show off the reds they loaded for the dinner table Sept. 21 while fishing in Tampa Bay with Howard aboard his charter boat, Sumotime. The reds were hooked on shiners under a popping cork.
Sean Armstrong hefts the monster 32-inch snook he hooked using cut bait and released while on a charter with Capt. Warren Girle.
For anglers, time now to dry out, get the line wet
Now that we’ve had a few days to dry out from recent rainstorms, it’s time to get back on the water. A variety of angling scenarios will unfold as we move into fall.
To find the fish, look skyward for birds, busy diving in Tampa Bay and along the waters of the Gulf beaches seeking a quick meal. Vast amounts of baitfish are pouring out of the bay and into the Gulf of Mexico, and attracting migratory fish — mackerel, bonito, jack crevalle and blue runners. They all provide drag-screaming action on light spinning outfits and on fly tackle. Plus, once you find the fish, it’s typical to hook up on every cast.
With the migratory species, come the sharks. Expect to encounter blacktip, spinner and sandbar sharks along the beaches in the weeks ahead. These species may not be the biggest adversaries, but fish in the 100-pound range are not uncommon.
On the flats, redfish are the main attraction. Schooling fish can be found from Joe’s Bay all the way to Venice Inlet. Both live baits and artificials are proving prosperous. Sizes vary depending on the mix in the school you’re targeting. Patience is a virtue when hunting schooling reds. It’s better to use stealth with a trolling motor or a push pole for your approach. Once you’re in a good spot, anchor up and wait for the fish to come to you.
Also, the recreational harvest of red snapper opened Oct. 1 in state and federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In state waters, the season remains open through Oct. 21. In federal waters, the season is open through Oct. 14.
The minimum size for red snapper in state and federal waters is 16 inches, and the daily bag limit is two per harvester per day.
Anglers are required to use circle hooks and dehooking devices when fishing for any reef species, including red snapper, in the Gulf of Mexico, both state and federal waters. The requirement to use venting tools in federal waters was removed Sept. 3.
To learn more about red snapper, visit myfwc.com/fishing and first click on “Saltwater,” and then “Recreational Regulations.”
Capt. Warren Girle is finding schools of Spanish mackerel along the beaches of Anna Maria Island during incoming high tides. By anchoring and chumming, Girle is putting clients on a frenzy of macks and small shark. Once the fish are feeding, his anglers cast free-lined shiners on a long shank hook into the school. Within seconds of entering the water, these free-lined shiners are eaten by a voracious mackerel and, possibly, even a kingfish.
Moving out to the artificial reefs, Girle is bottom fishing with live bait. Dropping live shiners or pinfish to the bottom is resulting in mangrove snapper, flounder and Key West grunts. Keeper-sizes in all three species are attainable.
On the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is stalking redfish. Once he locates a school, he anchors. Patiently waiting, Girle is able to target approaching schools of fish without spooking them. Live shiners or pinfish are resulting in slot and over-slot fish. Artificials such as Berkley Gulp shrimp are producing a bite.
Finally, Girle is finding concentrations of snook along mangrove shorelines with good current. Most catches range 24- 26 inches. Live shiners are Girle’s bait of choice.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing there is on the upward swing. Large bait schools are taking residence around the pier, attracting a variety of predatory species within casting distance.
Spanish mackerel, blue runners and jack crevalle are becoming a consistent bite during morning high tides. Small speck rigs, crappie jigs or Clark spoons are resulting in limits on the macks. Expect to encounter macks up to and exceeding 10 inches to the fork of the tail. Jack crevalle are also common, up to 2 pounds.
Redfish and black drum are staging under the pier for fishers with stout tackle and strong arms. Most of the reds being caught are over-slot fish, 30-32 inches, so plan accordingly. Fresh-cut chunk baits such as ladyfish or pinfish are getting the bite. For the black drum, try dropping live shrimp down to the bottom. Slot-size black drum are the norm.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is targeting school mackerel and bonito off the beaches of the Island. Keyes is using live shiners on a longshank hook for bait-fishing these migratory species. When using artificials, Keyes is hooking up with jigs or silver spoons.
Blacktip sharks are in tow of the mackerel schools. Keyes suggests using a 3-5 foot cable attached to a large circle hook to target these strong, toothy fish. Fresh-cut chunks of mack or bonito are dynamite to entice a shark.
On the flats, Keyes is catching slot and over-slot redfish. Keyes is using a variety of techniques to target these fish. When live-bait fishing, he’s using live shiners and pinfish. Free-lining or using a popping cork both are effective when using baitfish. For artificials, Keyes is finding both the MirrOlure MirrOdine and the Berkley Gulp 3-inch shrimp effective.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters says it’s time to take advantage of the Spanish mackerel bite in the Gulf of Mexico and in the bays. Macks and shark are being caught along the beaches and at the artificial reefs. Expect to catch fish in the 18- to 24-inch range. Gross says blacktip and spinner sharks are following the mackerel schools, so have a rod ready to hook a big fish.
Schooling redfish are a good bet this week, and Gross suggests finding mangrove shorelines surrounded by lush grass flats and sandy potholes to locate them. Once you find a spot, cast a free-lined live shiner along the edge of the school to hook up. Chumming is an added advantage.
Finally, mangrove snapper and flounder are taking up residence around artificial reefs. Small live shiners and pinfish are recommended for live baits. Look for a steady tide flow when targeting these fish around structure — that’s when the bite is the best.
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