Sam Foster shows off his smoker kingfish, caught in the Gulf of Mexico about 15 miles offshore with Capt. Larry McGuire. Brother Will Foster assists on the smoker. The St. Louis brothers and their dad caught lots of red grouper, catch-and-release monster gags and a bunch of snappers.
Can’t beat the weater, nothing beats the fishing
With unseasonably high temps occurring at the end of December, fishing remains consistent around Anna Maria Island and its surrounding waters. Dock fishing with live shrimp is a typical wintertime pattern for these parts in December, although there are still shiners on the flats to open doors that should have been closed by now.
To start, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and mangrove snapper are readily responding to offerings of live shiners. Nearshore structure in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the artificial reefs in Tampa Bay, are holding fish — and in decent numbers. Just remember, this weather isn’t going to last much longer. January and February are notorious for bringing windy cold fronts to our area and when that happens, shiners will become hard to come by.
Fish responding to shrimp this past week include sheepshead, black drum, jack crevalle and pompano. I still haven’t seen a large school of pompano, although we’re managing to board a few every charter. Keep checking the usual spots to see if you can skip some fish. If you do skip them, turn around and start working a pompano jig or a shrimp to hook up.
Finally, it’s about time to start looking for tripletail again. Try running some trap lines in Tampa Bay or out in the Gulf. You may get a surprise. Live shrimp or a shiner with the tail cut off are great baits to target these camouflaged fish. Place a popping cork about 12 inches from your hook and make a cast just past the buoy. Slowly retrieve your bait until it’s in sight of the tripletail, and then hang on tight.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good bite.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure with good results on mackerel and mangrove snapper. For the macks, Girle is using free-lined live shiners. For the snapper, Girle is using a light fluorocarbon leader with a split shot and circle hook. This week snapper up to 21 inches are being caught, as well as mackerel up to 24 inches.
In these same areas, Girle is getting the occasional shot at a passing cobia. On a recent charter, Girle managed to sight cast to a 36-inch fish, hook up and have his clients reel it to the boat. You may also hook into a stray kingfish now and again.
Shark fishing along the beaches is on an upswing. Girle is anchoring in 30 feet of water and casting out fresh-cut chunks of Spanish mackerel to attract a bite. Black tip sharks 4-5 feet are readily eating chunk baits fished on the bottom.
Finally, Girle is transitioning into Sarasota Bay to jig the flats. When finding water depths of 5-8 feet, Girle is drifting while instructing his clients to cast their jigs throughout the area. Pompano jigs tipped with fresh-cut shrimp are resulting in bluefish, Spanish mackerel, jacks and, of course, pompano.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says it’s almost time to start catching sheepshead. The numbers of fish around docks and structure are gradually increasing, although the bite has not yet turned on.
Early in the season Oldham suggests using live shrimp to catch these first-round sheepies. Generally, great baits for sheepshead are fiddler crabs or sand fleas, but Oldham says these early arrival fish will take to a live shrimp.
Next, Oldham says schooling mullet are attracting keeper-size redfish in tow. When mullet schools travel over the grass flats, they tend to spook small shrimp and crabs out of their hiding places. Redfish have figured out that following these mullet can produce an excellent food source. To catch these opportunistic reds, Oldham suggests using a Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jighead or a gold spoon. Cast these baits to the edges of the mullet schools and slowly work them back to you to tie into a keeper fish. Gator trout or catch-and-release snook can be mixed in as well.
Finally, Oldham reminds us there is no closed season on spotted seatrout this year. So trout fishing is an option. Oldham likes to throw a MirrOlure 84 MR in the mullet color pattern to catch his trout. Other baits he carries in his arsenal are soft plastics, jigheads and a couple suspending twitch baits.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says fishing this week is becoming a game of chance. Arriving cold fronts, combined with windy days can make pier fishing challenging at times. And if the fish aren’t biting, Dave reminds us they always have a bowl of hot seafood gumbo waiting inside to help pass the time.
Fish that are biting at the pier include mackerel, jacks, ladyfish and bluefish. The bite for any of these species is sporadic. Plugging with silver spoons or buck tail jigs is a tried and true method to catch these migratory fish.
Those who are using live shrimp as bait are catching juvenile mangrove snapper, grouper and grunts. There’s always a chance of hooking into a flounder or two while shrimp fishing. Just position your baits under the pier or around the piling for the best chance of getting a bite.
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