Someone turn on the air conditioning — please.
As we move into the second week of July, the challenge is to find fish and a breeze to cool off on the water. And as the water temps climb, catching fish in the backcountry to put in the cooler is getting to be a challenge.
Water temps on the flats are reaching 90 degrees, which, is making most flats species too lazy to take a bait. Combine this with slow-moving tides and you’ve got a recipe for “a boat ride” as opposed to a day of fishing.
As a result, I’m finding myself gravitating toward the nearshore reefs and ledges in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. By fishing where the water is deep, you’re consistently in slightly cooler water temps. You may find that fish in these areas are more apt to bite.
Mangrove snapper thrive in these conditions and they’re becoming abundant around structure. Not only do these fish provide great action on medium tackle, they’re excellent on the plate.
While fishing nearshore structure, I’ve been observing a variety of other species on siesta in the cooler water. Grouper and flounder are being caught, as well as migratory fish —Spanish mackerel, jacks and shark. These fish seem to be thriving in spite of higher water temps, which in turn makes them catchable.
On a final note, not to get off the subject, but the tarpon bite remains consistent in our waters. The warm summer waters around Anna Maria Island don’t seem to affect them. For bait, threadfin herring, live or dead, is producing a bite. Early mornings seem to be best, although you never know what’s going to happen. That’s tarpon fishing.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is working the mangrove snapper bite on nearshore structure. He’s finding respectable numbers of these tasty fish congregating on the artificial reefs and rock piles of Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico.
For bait, Gross is casting netting for small shiners. He suggests using a quarter-inch mesh to prevent the small bait from gilling — getting stuck — in the net. Along with snapper, Gross is putting clients on flounder, mackerel and juvenile grouper.
Catching a tarpon is still attainable and Gross is doing his best to achieve hookups for his clients. By slowly cruising the beach, Gross is locating schooling fish, and his clients cast their bait ahead of the fish. Both threadfin herring and live crabs are doing the job. Fish in the 120-pound class are average, he says.
Finally, Gross is working shallow flats during high tides in search of redfish. Live shiners under a popping cork are producing a bite. To locate fish, Gross is hitting sandy potholes and oyster bars.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says mangrove snapper are starting to dominate the bite. Pier anglers baiting live shrimp and small live shiners are catching near limits of these rambunctious fish. While targeting snapper, expect to catch pinfish, grunts and an occasional flounder.
Spanish mackerel are making a showing at the pier in the morning hours. Malfese suggests using either a speck or small Gotcha plug to tie into these toothy fish. Due to the small size of the baitfish congregating around the pier, you should choose a lure that will “match the hatch.” Expect to hook blue runners, jack crevalle and skip jacks while targeting macks.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is still targeting tarpon along the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Schooling fish can be found in the early morning hours and they’re responding to threadfin herring and shiners. As the tides slacks, Lowman is anchoring and chumming with fresh-cut dead threadfins to lure the silver kings to the boat. This method is resulting in fish of 80-150 pounds.
Next, Lowman is tracking nearshore structure for mangrove snapper. By using small shiners for bait, his clients are reeling up 12-14 inch mangoes. Along with these, macks, Key West grunts and an occasional keeper-size gag grouper are taking the bait.
Finally, for clients wanting to flats fish, Lowman is searching Anna Maria Sound for spotted seatrout. Due to the warm water temps, the flats bite leaves a little to be desired, but persistence can put some keepers in the box.
Capt. Warren Girle is still reeling in his share of tarpon. With multiple hookups occurring daily, Girle is insisting that his clients leave the boat with a great tarpon story as well as worn-out arms on fish up to 150 pounds. Small crabs and threadfin herring are producing the bite.
Moving offshore, Girle is taking his clients to gag grouper and mangrove snapper with live shiners for bait. The action is occurring in depths of 45 feet and up. Artificial reefs, ledges and rock piles are prime territory to find the bite.
Finally, on the flats, Girle is finding redfish and catch-and-release snook in sandy potholes adjacent to mangrove shorelines. Live shiners either free-lined or fished under a cork are producing fish. Slot-size reds are attainable and the same applies for the snook, although they have to be released.
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