Limitless amounts of mangrove snapper take the hook
While there may not be limitless amounts of mangrove snapper, but I’ll bet you can catch your limit in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island.
Mangoes are abundant around just about every rock, dock, chunk and channel marker in Tampa Bay. Heck, they’re all around the bridges and piers and even on the flats. While most catches occurring inside Tampa Bay are 10-14 inches, fish up to 20 inches are not unheard of, especially around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
To target these tasty rod-benders, there are a variety of rigs to choose from.
When I’m fishing around docks or wrecks, I’ll use a knocker rig — an egg sinker, some fluorocarbon leader and a circle hook. This is simple to create and effective for bottom fishing.
If I’m chumming over the reef or a wreck in shallow water — up to 30 feet — I use an extra-long stretch of fluorocarbon leader and a small circle hook — an even easier rig. The reason for free-lining a small bait is to mimic the chum you are tossing behind the boat. If your bait doesn’t sink naturally with the chum, there is a good chance the snapper will detect something isn’t right and turn their noses at it. Sometimes you can add a small split shot to the rig if you want to get your bait to sink, but I prefer free-lining.
Finally, baits for Tampa Bay mangoes include small shiners — either alive or cut — live shrimp, mojarras and small pinfish. I imagine squid and other frozen baits would work, too, but if you can catch your own fresh bait, that’s what I suggest.
Remember, mangrove snapper must be a minimum of 10 inches and you can keep five per person per day.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is hooking up with mangrove snapper even when he’s not targeting them. Around rocks and docks, Gross is intentionally catching snapper with some being up to 18 inches. Unintentionally, while targeting spotted seatrout on deeper flats, he’s also catching mangrove snapper. Although Gross thinks it’s amusing to find keeper-size snapper on the flats, he says he’ll take what he can get.
Both the snapper and trout are being caught on live shiners. Expect to catch trout in the slot size of 15-20 inches. Also patrolling the deeper grass flats are Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and small sharks.
Flounder are on the list for Gross. Again, around rocks and docks, Gross is finding keeper-size flounder. By bottom fishing with live shiners, flounder up to and exceeding 18 inches are making the mistake of biting the hook.
Finally, catch-and-release snook are still hooking up for clients on the Fishy Business. Most are males — fish 20-24 inches.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says Spanish mackerel are making a showing with the arrival of the “hatch bait.” Small white, pink or chartreuse jigs are a good bet to catch these toothy fish. Pier fishers using small live shiners free-lined from the pier are catching macks. Average size is 15-18 inches.
Mangrove snapper and flounder are being reeled up from the depths from under the pier. Both are taking refuge from the heat by resting in the shade under the pier. Live shrimp or shiners dropped to the bottom will get you connected.
Finally, catch-and-release snook are being spotted along the beach from the R&R west to Bean Point. This is a great opportunity to sight cast to these fish. Artificials such as the DOA Terror Eyes or Yo-Zuri crystal minnow will get a bite, although you can’t beat a live shiner cast in front of a snook’s nose.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is catching respectable numbers of spotted seatrout. By fishing deep grass flats that contain sandy potholes, Lowman is finding good concentrations of trout. Live baits such as shiners or small pinfish are producing a bite. To hook these trout, Lowman is rigging one of two ways. He’s either free-lining the baits, which consists of a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and a live bait hook, or he’s adding a popping cork to the rig to aid in casting distance and to keep the bait at a certain depth. While targeting trout, Lowman is catching Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and juvenile mangrove snapper.
Around nearshore and inshore structure, Lowman is capitalizing on the abundance of mangrove snapper. By using a chum bag, Lowman is luring the snapper out of their rocky lairs to the transom of his boat.
Once this occurs, Lowman has his clients cast their shiners and hold their breath. Needless to say, when the snapper are chummed up, it doesn’t take long for a bite. Limits of fish can be expected when conditions are favorable.
Finally, flounder are making a showing at the fillet table when Lowman returns to the docks. He’s putting clients on fish up to 18 inches on live shiners combined with a knocker rig.
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