Despite dark clouds, sporadic rain, fishing remains bright
Despite numerous rainstorms at various times of the day, fishing around Anna Maria Island remains bright. Whether fishing inshore or nearshore, most days on the water are enjoyable and the results are keeper fish for the cooler.
Mangrove snapper are still top of the list. Limits of these tasty fish are being caught around reefs, wrecks and docks. Most of the fish are 12-14 inches, although fish up to 18 inches are seeing the inside of my cooler. And for a bonus, I’m catching flounder mixed in with the snapper.
You should see the flounder bite increase in the weeks to come, so be prepared. Have the landing net ready when these fish get boat side. They are notorious for spitting the hook and escaping.
Spanish mackerel are being found in Tampa Bay all the way out to the nearshore reefs. The biggest Spanish mackerel to come aboard my boat this week topped out at 28 inches to the fork of the tail. Anyone who targets macks knows that one was big. And although you might not target them to eat, they make great shark bait.
While fishing the mouth of Tampa Bay, I’m seeing good numbers of blacktip sharks on the end of the line. Anchoring up and drifting fresh-cut chunks of mackerel behind the boat is resulting in blacktips up to 6 feet, some exceeding that length. These fish put up a great fight, which makes them a great adversary for catch-and-release fishers.
Finally, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook are showing in the passes and along the beaches and freelined live shiners are producing the bite.
Capt. Aaron Lowman at Island Discount Tackle is catching spotted seatrout around deep grass flats adjacent to channels. Using live shiners for bait is resulting in keeper-size trout as well as an array of other backwater species. Ladyfish, Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle are hooking up between trout bites.
Lowman is anchoring and chumming small dead shiners around rocks and docks to draw the mangrove snapper to his boat. This allows clients to cast their baits and immediately hook up. Limits of snapper are attainable when conditions are favorable.
Lowman also is dock-fishing and coming up with slot-sized redfish by casting live shiners deep into the shade under the dock where hungry redfish take refuge from the sun.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore and offshore structures resulting in a variety of species. Despite the scattered storms, Girle also is pushing offshore in search of gag grouper. Keeper-size gags are being caught around ledges in depths of 50-75 feet of water. For bait, Girle is using live shiners and live pinfish. Along with gags, expect to catch red grouper, although most of the reds at these depths are undersized.
Mangrove snapper are abundant offshore. Again, ledges as well as artificial reefs are holding good numbers of these feisty fish. Limits of snapper — up to 20 inches — are being caught on live shiners.
Finally, when fishing offshore, Girle is finding a cobia bite. Brown bombers in the 30-pound range are curiously approaching the boat in search of anything these can get their lips around. Of course, Girle is accommodating them with either a live pinfish or live shiner.
Moving inshore, Girle is finding good numbers of redfish. These schooling fish are beginning to show on shallow flats, especially around mangrove islands and oyster beds, where over-slot reds were the norm.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says early morning hours at the pier are the best time to hook up. Pier fishers arriving at sunrise or shortly thereafter are being rewarded with Spanish mackerel. To catch them, small jigs in either white or chartreuse are the ticket. Remember to bring an ample supply. The macks have sharp teeth.
Mangrove snapper also are cooperating during the sunrise hours at the R&R. Live shrimp drifted under the pier are producing snapper up to 14 inches. Limits of these tasty fish can be seen hanging from the pier on stringers. Along with snapper, don’t be surprised to reel up an occasional flounder.
Finally, catch-and-release snook action remains an attraction at the R&R. Live pinfish and shiners are producing the bite. For the snook, you may want to try night fishing — better for stealth.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is finding redfish on shallow flats that contain potholes and/or oyster bars. Gross is anchoring and chumming with live shiners and, as the fish begin feeding, he instructs his clients to cast to the “boils” — an eruption on the surface of the water caused by the fish striking the bait — resulting in mid- to upper-slot fish.
On deep grass flats during high tides, Gross is locating keeper-size trout. He’s casting free-lined live shiners into the sandy potholes dispersed throughout grass. Along with trout, he’s is hooking up with Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and flounder.
Around local docks, Gross is catching limits of mangrove snapper on live shiners, especially the smaller shiners — hatch bait. Snapper up to 14 inches are not uncommon.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters has been putting his clients on mangrove snapper, redfish, spotted seatrout and flounder, providing his clients some nice tasty fillets for their dinner tables.
The bait game is getting better, as the shiner hatch from early June is getting to be 3 inches, Howard says. He suggests not overloading or crowding your live wells due to the high water temperature, which can kill the bait.
Howard is finding mangrove snapper coming off the full moon spawn to feed around docks, piers, artificial reefs and bridges. He says the key to catching them is to fire things up with chum. Small pinfish also work as bait. He likes to use a 25-pound fluorocarbon leader and a size-1 hook, rigged with a split shot. The key is to get the rig close to the structure where the snapper are staging. The snapper limit has been relatively easy for his clients, Howard says.
Howard also is finding spotted seatrout in a feeding frenzy. His charters have been catching a variety of sizes. He likes to use a dehooker on small trout to prevent removing the slime coat. The majority of trout are hitting shiners in grass with 4-8 feet of water.
He’s also seeing redfish slowly gathering in schools and feeding on the moving tides. He’s following the schools of reds up the flats as the current moves toward high tide. He predicts the redfish bite will turn on as the fish begin to assemble in huge schools for the fall migration.
Looking forward, the summer fishing pattern is hitting on all cylinders, Howard says, and those who are able to adjust and adapt their fishing techniques should be rewarded with red-hot action.
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