Spring into action to cash in on early spring fishing pattern
Spring has arrived early and fishing around Anna Maria Island improves as the water temperature rises. As the days get longer and the cold fronts fade away, you can expect fishing to get even better.
Snook, trout and redfish are swarming the grass flats from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south to Venice. Shiners are available and are providing a near guaranteed bite, especially during afternoon outgoing tides. Keeper-sizes of all three species are attainable.
Nearshore structure is holding respectable numbers of sheepshead and mangrove snapper. When using shrimp for bait, carry an ample amount due to the number of spot tails and small grunts infesting the reefs. Also, carry a few jigs or spoons get in on the Spanish mackerel catch. The big macks are carousing nearshore structure and make for a great adversary on light tackle.
Cobia also are making a showing on nearshore wrecks and reefs. Be ready to toss out a free-lined pinfish or shiner when the brown bomber presents.
Finally, pompano and other migratory fish such as bluefish, ladyfish and jacks can be caught in the bays and along the beaches. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are a great offering.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore adding more than the usual suspects to the fray, including grouper and snapper. As spring settles in, a wider variety of species will be coming our way.
To start, Girle is fishing structure in depths of 35-45 feet of water. Cobia are being spotted daily and are readily taking most baits offered. Girle’s clients are catching keeper-size cobia on either live shiners or pinfish.
Next, Girle is instructing his clients to fish the bottom with live shrimp. By doing this, they’re reeling up keeper-size hogfish as well as good numbers of Key West grunts, porgies and mangrove snapper.
Keeper-size gag grouper are a consistent catch — consistently released. Red grouper are in the mix, too, although keeper sizes are not as common in the shallower depths where the gags can be caught.
Moving inshore, Girle is finding an ample amount of redfish up to 32 inches on live shiners free-lined over potholes. Rallies of reds are not uncommon, according to Girle, and schooling fish are arriving daily on the flats.
Spotted seatrout are readily available by free-lining live shiners over shallow grass flats. Girle says fish exceeding 23 inches are common.
Finally, by working small jigs over deeper grass flats, Girle is finding pompano, ladyfish and bluefish. Remember, when blues and ladyfish arrive, be ready to lose a few jigs. These fish can cut your leader just by thinking about it.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says the mack bite is sporadic. He believes they’ve worked their way up to the Skyway Bridge in search of bait. The macks that are lingering at the pier are being caught on small speck rigs of either bubble gum or chartreuse.
Sheepshead are gnawing away at the barnacles attached to the pilings under the pier and live shrimp anglers are finding success. To ensure success, try baiting tubeworms or fiddler crabs. Expect to encounter sheepies 1-2 pounds. Bigger fish can be seen in the depths, but catching them is another story. Those big pier sheepies are smart, but be determined. They give in eventually.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says fishing is good just about everywhere. Whether fishing offshore, nearshore or inshore, smiling anglers are arriving back at the cleaning table.
Offshore fishers are getting good results on red and mangrove snapper. Offerings such as live shiners or pinfish are attracting the bite. If catching bait isn’t your thing, try frozen squid and threadfins.
Fishing offshore also is resulting in permit and cobia. Typically, you’ll find permit spooky and elusive, while on the other hand, cobia are curious. They’ll eat a bait right next to the boat. For the permit, a live pass crab or small blue crab is the way to go. As for the cobia, live baits, pinfish and shiners, are hard for them to resist.
Moving to the nearshore bite, Keyes is hearing of good action on sheepshead and mangrove snapper. He recommends live shrimp combined with a circle hook, some 30-pound leader and enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom. Places to search for these tasty fish include reefs, wrecks, piers, docks and rocks.
Finally, the inshore bite busted wide open in the past two weeks. Keyes is both hearing from anglers and catching good numbers of large spotted seatrout. Fish up to 28 inches are being reported, although most are 18-25 inches. Keyes suggests using topwater plugs or plastic bait, such as the Savage Shrimp, to attract a bite.
He says snook and redfish are making a showing in their normal backwater haunts. Live shiners are the bait of choice, according to Keyes, although catches also are occurring on live shrimp and artificials.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime is focusing on the inshore slam — snook, spotted seatrout and redfish, which is coming alive on the flats.
Howard is concentrating on snook. Since the season opened March 1, it’s time to get one for the dinner table. Rallies of 20 fish a trip have been the norm when you can find moving warm water and snook feeding stations.
“This week’s “high hook” went to Davenport, Fla.-Saratoga N.Y., snowbird Robert Lyons, 85. He hooked up and released two over-slot snook of 34 and 36 inches while seated on a cushion, fishing with a bobber and a large shiner.
“The key to catching the big ones has been to use the biggest shiners in your live well and tossing your baits a country mile away from your boat,” Howard says.
Redfish and big spotted seatrout are invading the flats and chewing. Look for the fish to stage on the outside bars of flats on the low tide and then move into the bushes as the tide progresses to high tide. He says to use a popping cork rigged with a 2/0 hook and a 5-foot fluorocarbon leader and make it gurgle to attract predators.
Looking forward, the cold fronts are getting weaker and the island-area water temperature is rising — bellwethers for some fantastic fishing. The shiners at the Skyway are starting to make a show on the flats. The moon phase will be on the increase working toward a March 16 full moon, which means increasing tides and fantastic fishing.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is cashing in on the abundance of backwater species that are feeding on the flats. Snook, spotted seatrout and redfish are in Gross’ sights and are readily responding to bait offered during moving tides.
For the snook and reds, Gross is anchoring over shallow flats and free-lining shiners around the boat to locate the bite. By chumming, he attracts hungry snook and reds to strike the bait at the surface, which provides a casting target. Gross is managing to guide his clients to keeper-size fish of both species.
Spotted seatrout also are responding to shiners and pinfish. Larger, over-slot fish are being caught in the same areas as the snook and reds. For sheer numbers of fish, Gross is fishing deeper flats of 5-7 feet.
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