Capt. Mark Howard shows off a 13-pound grouper he reeled up on a fishing captain’s holiday Nov. 21 while trolling the Tampa Bay shipping channel. He filleted the fish and said his plans were to take it to the Sandbar Restaurant for lunch, where the kitchen crew cooks up his “catch of the day.”
Good weather means good fishing — most of the time
Mild temperatures for November are a welcome sight for Anna Maria anglers. Calm seas and sunny days are keeping the bite consistent throughout the grass flats and at nearshore structures in our surrounding waters. Water temps have dropped slightly, but are hovering around 70-75 degrees, depending on where you are. These temps are ideal for most of the species we target.
As water temps drop, snook are heading toward warmer water in shallow rivers and creeks, but also canals and basins. On their way, they’re fattening up for winter and at times are striking at most anything that crosses their path. Live shiners are a surefire way to get these migrating fish to take a hook. For artificials, soft plastics combined with a jighead or topwater bait are producing.
Redfish are still schooling, also thanks to the mild water temps, and shallow flats adjacent to mangrove shorelines are a good place to start your hunt. Higher tides seem to be producing a bite. Again, live shiners are a great offering, although, when reds are tough to catch, you can always try fresh-cut chunks of mullet or ladyfish. Sometimes chunks work better — so try all the options.
On nearshore structure, Spanish mackerel are still fairly abundant. Use a frozen chum bag to attract these ravenous little fish to the boat and then pitch out a live shiner. When you have these fish around, be prepared to also throw out a chunk bait on the chance a random blacktip will turn up in the slick.
Finally, beach fishing is proving prosperous. Look for diving birds to find the bait schools. Once you’ve done that, you should find the bite. Spanish mackerel, as well as jack crevalle and ladyfish are foraging on their way south. Take advantage of the bite with white buck tails or silver spoons.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel is still the mainstay at the pier, although on recent days the bite is sporadic at best. Pier fishers using spoons and jigs are hooking up their share of macks, along with jacks, ladyfish and skipjacks.
Night fishers at the pier are being rewarded with keeper-size spotted seatrout. These fish gather in a couple of specific areas of the pier, so move around until you locate them. Once you do, try free-lining a freshly dipped ballyhoo through the lighted areas and see what happens.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is finding a decent snook bite in the backcountry of southern Tampa Bay. Upper-slot fish are being caught as well as plenty of fish in the 20- to 26-inch range. Live shiners free-lined behind the boat are the ticket to catching these fish.
Redfish are still in abundance according to Gross. Again, live shiners are producing a bite. He’s locating reds by following schools of mullet across shallow flats. Average size of the reds is 15-20 inches, although fish exceeding 30 inches are mixed in for those fishers with a little bit of luck.
Finally, anchoring over deep grass flats with scattered potholes is resulting in spotted seatrout. Again, Gross is baiting live shiners. He suggests either free-lining the shiners or using a popping cork to cause a small disturbance on the surface.
You too can find the potholes by first touring the flats at low tide.
Capt. Warren Girle is working nearshore structure with good results, and mangrove snapper are providing rod-bending action for his clients. Limit numbers in the cooler are ranging 15-21 inches. While targeting snapper, Girle is reeling up gag and red grouper, as well as the occasional cobia — the most recent measured 38 inches to the fork. Finally, when the snapper bite is really good, goliath grouper are attracted by the commotion. Goliaths up to 180 pounds are being reeled up and released.
Inshore, Girle is finding schooling reds along mangrove shorelines and shallow flats. Live shiners and even cut bait, such as pinfish and mullet, are attracting a bite. Mixed in with the redfish are the occasional snook, although keeper-sizes are a bit of a challenge.
Finally, deeper flats are producing spotted seatrout in the 15- to 18-inch range. Free-lined shiners or soft plastics on a jighead are the bait of choice.
Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle says redfish schools can be found if you know what to look for. Lowman is fishing shallow grass flats during high tides to get a bite. Also, he suggests looking for mullet to aid in finding the reds. Typically, large schools of mullet sweeping over shallow grass flats will spook small crabs and shrimp out of their hiding places, which in turn attracts reds in search of an easy meal. For bait, Lowman likes to use live shiners, although, he says cut bait will work, too. Artificials such as gold spoons and soft plastics are a good bet.
Spotted seatrout are next on the menu. Flats fishers drifting over deep grass flats with soft plastics combined with a jighead are catching decent numbers of these yellow-mouthed fish. Evidently there are numerous catches 12-15 inches. Slot fish are a little harder to come by, although limits are attainable.
Gag grouper action in Tampa Bay is in its early stage, and anglers trolling big-lipped plugs or jigs behind a planer are catching keeper-size fish over structure and hard bottom.
Lastly, beach fishers are enjoying action from Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, ladyfish and the occasional pompano. Silver spoons, buck tail jigs or goofy jigs are producing a bite.
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