Water temps rise, sparking spring fishing sizzle
Fishing in the waters around Anna Maria Island is settling into a normal spring pattern. With a week of sunny, warm days behind us and the winter rains long gone, the water temps are climbing to consistent normal, levels and the fish are reacting.
In the backcountry, snook, redfish and trout are responding to live shiners. Free-lining these baits on a fluorocarbon leader is putting fish in the cooler. If you’re using artificials, DOA Cal jigs in silver or mullet are a good bet, especially for trout.
The offshore bite is following suit. Catch-and-release gag grouper is on fire. Too bad, too, because a lot of keeper-size fish are being reported. Limits of mangrove snapper are bending the rod on the right bait — live shrimp, shiners and pinfish.
Finally, migratory fish, including cobia and kingfish, are making an appearance. Have some big baits handy when the opportunity to catch one of these fish presents itself.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says black drum are the newest arrivals, taking up residence under the pier. Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching drum 15-25 inches with a lot of fish in the upper range. While targeting drum, fishers are catching sheepshead, although most are under the 12-inch minimum size.
Spanish mackerel also are being caught at the R&R, although the masses of macks have not yet arrived. Pier fishers plugging with Gotcha plugs or colored speck rigs of bubblegum or chartreuse are picking up a sporadic mack. Mixed in are ladyfish and jacks.
Finally, pier fishers using live shrimp are hooking up flounder around and under the pier. Try dragging a live shrimp in the sand along the edges of the pilings to catch one of these tasty flat fish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says its time to go offshore to troll for kingfish. Keyes likes to use a number of baits, both live and artificial, to target a smoker. When using artificials, Keyes’ first choice is a Live Target lipped plug in a Spanish mackerel pattern. These plugs dive anywhere from 10-25 feet, based on boat speed and the size of the lure. When trolling live baits, Keyes is using mullet and threadfin herring, producing kings in the 10- to 30-pound range, as well as some large Spanish mackerel and barracuda.
Catch-and-release gag grouper action is still on fire. Keyes is using either live shiners or pinfish for bait, resulting in gags up to 30 inches. Although these fish have to be returned to the water, Keyes is in the hunt for the fight.
Finally, the inshore bite is steadily improving. Snook, redfish and trout are being reported daily and live shiners are the bait of choice. For artificials, Keyes suggests topwater plugs for early morning trout fishing, as well as for snook and redfish.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is having a hard time catching fish in the slot this past week — all of his fish are too big. Sounds like a tough problem to have, eh? On the flats of Tampa Bay, Gross is catching good numbers of snook, with many 35-40 inches. The same applies for spotted seatrout, most being 20-30 inches.
To hook up these over-slot fish, Gross is free-lining shiners over sandy potholes and shallow grass flats. For rigging, Gross likes to use 3-4 feet of 20-30 pound fluorocarbon with a small, stout live-bait hook tied on the terminal end. Sometimes he’ll even add a Bimini Bay popping cork to the rig if the opportunity presents itself.
Other catches occurring on the Fishy Business include keeper-size flounder, Spanish mackerel, redfish and jack crevalle.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore when the weather permits. On days with light, east winds, Girle is venturing out to water depths of 34-45 feet in search of ledges, reefs and wrecks. Once at these locations, a variety of species are being found.
To start, Girle is hooking up the current migratory species of king and Spanish mackerel. Bonito are in the mix. By free-lining live shiners and threadfins behind the boat, Girle is putting his clients on kings in the 20- to 30-pound range. The same technique is working for both macks and bonito.
Next, Girle is switching to shrimp for bait. Using a split shot, Girle’s clients drops the shrimp slowly to the bottom, resulting in limits of mangrove snapper. These snapper are respectable-sized with the largest this week coming in at 22 inches. Mixed in with the mangoes are hogfish — always a welcome sight.
Moving inshore, Girle is fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay with good results on backwater species. Snook, redfish and trout are responding to live shiners free-lined around the boat. Slot-size and over-slot fish from all three species are coming to the boat.
The highlight of the backwater fishing this past week was cobia. While fishing Sarasota Bay, Girle managed to spot, hook and land a 37-inch cobia in only 3 feet of water.
Keep your eyes peeled. Be ready. It just goes to show that you never know what to expect while out on the water.
Good luck fishing. Send reports to fishing.org.