Warm weather produces early spring bounty

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Foster and Stuart Hudsmith, visiting Anna Maria Island from Memphis, Tennessee, show off their cobia catch. They fished offshore March 10, hooking up numerous snapper and some cobia while using shrimp and white bait. They were guided by Capt. Warren Girle.
Joe Creadon, of Kingston, Illinois shows off his catch, a 10-pound redfish caught on a charter trip March 7 with Capt. Aaron Lowman. The fish took a live bait along the mangrove shoreline. Creadon hooked up with a half dozen more redfish, and some catch-and-release snook and seatrout.

With such a mild Florida winter, springtime fishing around Anna Maria Island is shaping up to provide some of the best bounty our waters have to offer. Snook fishing is red-hot and we haven’t even seen it at its best yet.

Spotted seatrout are making a good showing on the deeper grass flats throughout our region. Other species being found on the flats are redfish, pompano, jack crevalle and ladyfish.

Fishing structure in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico is providing action on sheepshead. Artificial reefs, wrecks, residential docks and the local fishing piers are producing respectable catches of these most popular zebra-striped fish. Mangrove snapper, flounder and juvenile grouper are making a showing in these areas.

Fishing offshore is heating up, with catches of amberjack, kingfish and cobia being reported. Wrecks and reefs are superb habitat to find these species and, in our region, we have an abundance of such areas. The permit bite is being found around some of the wrecks, which should get better as the water temperature rises.

On my own fishing adventures with Southernaire, I’m finding the snook bite most entertaining. Rallies of schooley-sized fish — ranging from 20-26 inches — are providing great action for both skilled and not-so-skilled anglers. Rallies of 20-30 fish in a morning session are becoming commonplace.

With the sheepshead bite still going strong, I’m taking my time at the local reefs and wrecks. Live shrimp on a knocker rig is resulting in sheepies up to 6 pounds for my clients. While an occasional flounder or mangrove snapper is in the mix.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is working the flats of Tampa Bay with good results on snook, redfish and spotted seatrout. Using live shiners for bait is resulting in bites throughout the morning incoming tides. When targeting snook, Gross is taking clients to shallow flats where seagrass and sandy potholes are present. On some days, these flats are so shallow that Gross can barely maneuver his 23-foot Dorado to reach the fish. But, with the tide swiftly moving in, there is no fear of getting stuck. In these shallow areas, rallies of snook are occurring. Most catches are falling between 20-24 inches, with an occasional slot-fish mixed in. Redfish are in the mix.

For the trout, Gross is fishing deeper water where seagrass is present. On flats of 4-6 feet, many slot-size trout are present, as well as numerous fish, just under slot. Live shiners fished under a Cajun Thunder cork are proving effective in these areas. Mixed in with the bite are ladyfish, jack crevalle and an occasional Spanish mackerel.Capt. Warren Girle is running charters offshore on days when the winds are light. Fishing artificial reefs and ledges in depths of 30-60 feet is resulting in a variety of fish, including mangrove snapper, hogfish, Spanish mackerel, kingfish and cobia. Live shiners are producing the most action. When targeting hogfish, live shrimp is the ticket.

Moving inshore, Girle is catching spotted seatrout and redfish. While targeting the trout, Girle is using free-lined shiners or artificials such as soft plastics on a jig head. For the redfish, live free-lined shiners are working well around shallow flats where oyster bars are present.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says the sheepshead bite is in full swing at the northern tip of Anna Maria Island. Pier fishers are swarming to the deck with hopes of catching a few of these tasty fish to take home for dinner. An array of baits are working, including live shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms. Most catches are 1-3 pounds.

Other catches at the R&R include Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, pompano and snook. For the Spanish mackerel and pompano, small jigs tipped with shrimp are working. As for the snook, live shiners or pinfish are top producers. Those finding luck with the snapper are baiting shrimp or shiners on a bottom rig under the pier.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing inshore among the flats of Anna Maria Sound, south to Sarasota Bay. In these areas, Lowman is finding snook along mangrove shorelines, oyster bars and channel edges. For bait, live shiners or shiners fished under a popping cork are producing a bite. Most catches are 22-26 inches, with a few slot-size fish in the mix.

Lowman is finding spotted seatrout increasing in numbers throughout the deeper grass flats. To target these fish, he’s fishing depths of 5-6 feet where clean water and lush grass exist. Live shiners under a popping cork are producing a bite, as well as artificials — the Berkley Gulp shrimp — combined with a 1/4-ounce jig head.

Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore, resulting in amberjack, kingfish and cobia while wreck fishing. Live baits such as shiners or threadfin herring are producing a bite.

Permit are being cooperative in these areas, where live pass crabs free-lined above the structure are resulting in screaming drags and sore arms.

Moving inshore, Stock is in pursuit of snook and spotted seatrout. For the snook, live shiners free-lined over shallow flats adjacent to mangrove islands are producing many schooley-size fish, as well as a few keepers. For the trout, Stock is using top-water plugs to attract a bite. Working these surface baits over shallow flats is resulting in over-slot, “gator” trout. Trout exceeding 20 inches or larger are exploding on these top-water lures, which is visually exciting for the angler.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working inshore this week, where the passes of Longboat Key and New Pass are producing pompano. Doc’s Goofy jigs bounced off the bottom during slower phases of the tide are resulting in good numbers of these famous surf-dwelling fish.

Fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay is proving to be productive for snook, redfish and spotted seatrout. Live shiners free-lined or fished under a cork are White’s bait of choice.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

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