Mangrove snapper and gag grouper cause reefer madness
Despite the frequent thunderstorms, fishing around Anna Maria Island is providing excitement for inshore and nearshore anglers.
In between the weather, most fishers are venturing to the nearshore reefs in search of mangrove snapper. Finding an ample amount of “hatch bait” — which is perfect to target mangoes — snapper fishers are filling their bait wells.
Remember to use a 1/4-inch mesh net so you won’t end up with what anglers call a “Christmas tree.” This occurs when the bait is too small to be caught in your net and gets gilled in the mesh. The removal of baits when this happens can be time consuming and wasteful and makes a mess of your boat.
Gag grouper season is open and those in search of these tackle-busters are flocking to offshore wrecks and ledges. Starting at depths of 40-50 feet is usually sufficient when hunting gags, although don’t be surprised to catch keeper fish in depths as shallow as 15 feet. Live pinfish, shiners and threadfins are producing bites.
Finally, the bite in the backcountry can prove challenging in the month of July. I’m finding decent numbers of spotted seatrout along deep grass flats in Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound. If you choose to fish the flats, make sure your ducks are in a row. Have a good moving tide, try to fish low light for cooler water temps and have patience.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore, starting at depths of about 40 feet and out to depths of 60 feet, with good results on grouper and snapper. Live baits such as shiners and pinfish are producing gag grouper up to 26 inches. The same baits are producing mangrove snapper up to 18 inches. Limits of both species are attainable — at least until the bull sharks arrive. Once this happens, the grouper and snapper bite is turning off.
Moving inshore, Girle is catching respectable numbers of redfish by using live shiners for bait. Most catches are falling between 20 and 24 inches, although bigger fish are mixed in. To find these reds, Girle is working the sandy potholes adjacent to mangrove shorelines and islands.
Trout are being caught inshore. Unlike the redfish, the trout are being found on deep grass flats. Most catches are in depths of 7-8 feet of water. Live shiners are the bait of choice.
Finally, Girle is catching tarpon along the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Threadfin herring, shiners or crabs are producing bites.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle says shark fishing along the beaches of Anna Maria Island is providing drag-screaming action for anglers willing to wait on the bite. Beach fishers using fresh-cut mackerel or mullet are catching blacktip and bull sharks within 200 yards of shore. Most fishing is occurring during the late evening and at night. Rather than casting to get baits out in the strike zone, many fishers are using a surfboard or kayak and paddling the bait out. Once at the desirable distance, the bait is dropped and the fishers paddle back to the beach to wait for a bite.
Snapper fishing is in full swing according to Mattay. Whether fishing the piers, bridges or reefs and wrecks, snapper fishers are reporting limits of fish with sizes varying from 10-20 inches. For bait, small live shiners, or “hatch bait” are producing the bite.
Fishers seeking trout are fishing deep grass flats with water depths of 5-10 feet. Small live shiners free-lined or fished under a cork are resulting in catches. Strong tides are proving prosperous more so than weaker tides.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is targeting mangrove snapper. Reefs, wrecks, rock piles and docks are producing a snapper bite. Gross is catching “hatch bait” or small live shiners in this 1/4-inch cast net which make ideal baits for these abundance snapper and are useful for chumming, too. Expect to catch snapper ranging from 10-18 inches. In these same areas, Gross is catching flounder and black sea bass, which are welcome sights when reeling up from the depths.
Moving inshore to the flats, Gross is catching good numbers of spotted seatrout. By fishing deep grass flats, he is finding respectably sized trout readily feeding on live shiners. Fish 18-24 inches are being hooked on free-lined baits.
Finally, Gross is finding snook and redfish on shallow flats during high tides. As the tides are dropping, these fish are moving out to deeper areas to await to next rise of the tide. Although the bite is sporadic, Gross is managing to keep bent rods for his clients.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says mangrove snapper are increasing in numbers around the pilings down below. Pier fishers using live shrimp or shiners for bait are catching near limits of the tasty fish. Most pier snapper are less than 14 inches, but don’t be discouraged. These fish are fierce for their size and will put up a great fight on light tackle — and they taste really good, too.
Spanish mackerel are making a showing around the R& R Pier. Sunrise pier fishers are finding ravenous schools of mackerel feeding on schooling “hatch bait” all around the edges of the pier. For bait, you can sue live shiners, although most fishers are using artificials such as white jigs, silver spoons and Gotcha plugs.
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