Despite water temps in the high 80s, flats fishing is still productive so long as you fish early morning as opposed to midday.
Spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook seem to be the predominant bite, especially during swift-moving, early morning tides. Redfish are present, although the numbers of fish are not what they should be this time of year.
Moving out to deeper structure — artificial reefs, wrecks and rock piles — is a good idea, as you approach the heat of the day. Mangrove snapper, flounder and even grouper are being caught in these areas. You’ll also find Spanish mackerel and sharks in abundance.
On my Southernaire charters, I’m finding a great trout bite on the early morning tides. Spotted seatrout 12-22 inches are being caught by free-lining live shiners over grass flats in water depths of 4-8 feet. Mixed in are bluefish, mackerel, mangrove snapper and juvenile grouper.
After putting some trout in the cooler, I’m moving to shallower flats of 2-3 feet of water where mangrove shorelines and/or oyster bars are present. In these areas, rallies of schooley-sized catch-and-release snook are occurring. Free-lined live shiners are quickly being inhaled by the 24-inch fish. Bigger linesiders are mixed in, although most are 22-26 inches. An occasional redfish is being caught between snook bites, but it’s random at best.
Catch-and-release shark fishing is at its best right now along the beaches of Anna Maria and throughout Tampa Bay. Blacktip sharks are the most apparent and are ranging 25-100 pounds. Fresh-cut chunks of Spanish mackerel are working great as bait, but ladyfish, jack crevalle or blue runners work, too.
Lastly, the mangrove snapper have invaded the inshore waters in abundance. Whether fishing the flats, reefs or rock piles, I’m consistently seeing snapper being reeled up. I’m noticing the fish being caught on the flats are barely legal, but the fish on structure are much larger. Free-lining or bottom fishing baits is productive, depending on where you are and what mood the snapper are in.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore for mangrove snapper. By using live shiners as bait combined with a bottom rig, Girle’s clients are reeling up limits of snapper 12-15 inches. While targeting snapper, Key West grunts and flounder also are finding their way to the hook.
Moving inshore, Girle is catching numerous spotted seatrout throughout the lush grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Also in these areas are bluefish and Spanish mackerel, which is a nice variety between trout bites.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of species being caught during the morning hours. Fishers using live shrimp as bait are reeling up pompano, which are always a welcome catch. The sheer power of these fish, plus their high cuisine value, make them a favorite catch at the pier. Switching to jigs or spoons as bait is attracting Spanish mackerel and blue runners to the hook. Lastly, shark fishing is proving to be productive for blacktip and hammerhead sharks.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is putting his clients on plenty of mangrove snapper on nearshore and inshore structure. Most catches are running 12-16 inches, although bigger catches are in the mix. Also on structure, in depths of 40-50 feet, Lowman is hooking into an occasional permit. These elusive fish are being taken on crabs or jigs.
Along the beaches of Anna Maria Island, within a mile or so, Lowman is finding an abundance of blacktip sharks. Fresh-cut chunks of Spanish mackerel or ladyfish as bait are attracting a bite for sharks weighing 50-100 pounds.
Lastly, fishing shallow flats for snook is proving to be good action for Lowman. Although catch-and-release right now, schooley-size linesiders are entertaining on light tackle.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is focusing his time on the local reefs and rock piles in both Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Most predominant are the mangrove snapper, although Spanish mackerel are not far behind. An occasional kingfish or bonito are mixed in — a welcome surprise for this time of year.
On the flats, spotted seatrout are a mainstay for White. Free-lined shiners are his bait of choice. He says deep grass areas where good current exists are the best bet.
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