Fishing around Anna Maria Island is causing anglers to see spots— and the spots are on the catch.
The local grass flats stretching from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge south to New Pass are being invaded by much sought-after spotted seatrout.
The popularity of trout not only emerges from the fact it is good eating, but also its eagerness to take bait. Whether using live bait or artificials — shrimp and shiners or soft plastics and top-water plugs — most anglers are able to coax a trout to bite.
What is special about this month is the trout are preparing to spawn, which means there are some particularly large specimens available to anglers. Most trout catches fall 12-18 inches, with an occasional fish making it to 20 inches. During this spawn, fish 20 inches or larger are common, which is a real treat for trout enthusiasts. These 20-plus inch trout, or “gators” as we call them, really bulk up in size. They also put up quite a fight — much more like a redfish on the end of the line than a trout.
For tablefare, I prefer the slot-size fish. It’s my experience that fish 15-20 inches tend to have a sweeter meat than the bigger catch. Also, most fish over 20 inches are spawning females — full of eggs. I let those fish go, and encourage my clients to do the same.
When targeting trout, I like to see a few components in the water. For one, clean semi-clear water is a good start. Next, lush grass flats such as those in Sarasota Bay are a must. Trout love to lurk in the grass, which helps to camouflage them from prey. It also creates a great ambush point for them to attack shrimp, pinfish and shiners.
Lastly, locations where good tidal flow exists will usually hold fish. Incoming tides seem to work best for me, but that depends on the spot I’m fishing.
As far as baits for trout, live shiners and shrimp work great, although my all-time favorite is the Mirrolure 84 MR top-water plug. Trout are notorious for exploding on baits at the water’s surface and the Mirrolure does a great job of triggering this response. There’s nothing better than working that lure along the surface of the water — click, click, click —only to have a monster trout come up and inhale. That loud slurping sound is the best.
So, if you’re looking for some great action close to shore, get on out there and target some trout.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay with good results. Free-lining live shiners over deep grass flats is resulting in limits of spotted seatrout for his anglers, as well as numerous jack crevalle and ladyfish. Fishing the shallower flats of Sarasota Bay is resulting in snook. To target the snook, Girle is working mangrove edges and oyster bars. Moving offshore, Girle is putting clients on mangrove snapper in good numbers. Live shiners fished on a bottom rig around structure are getting the job done.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier noted he’s seeing the sheepshead spawn wind down and the remainder of the bite dwindle. Taking the sheepies’ place are black drum, flounder and an occasional redfish. All are being caught on live shrimp. Pier fishers casting silver spoons or small jigs are being rewarded with Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is roaming the flats of Sarasota Bay for spotted seatrout. Numerous fish in the 20-inch range or bigger are being caught on live, free-lined shiners. According to Lowman, clean, moving water is key to finding a good trout bite. This also applies while snook fishing. During strong moving tides, Lowman is targeting snook around mangrove points, cuts and oyster bars.
Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman is putting clients on kingfish, mangrove snapper and bonito around artificial reefs and wrecks.
Capt. Jason Stock is running charters offshore for kingfish. According to Stock, the kingfish bite is really heating up, especially around offshore structure. Live threadfin herring or large shiners combined with a light wire leader are attracting kings in the 70-pound range. While offshore, Stock is putting clients on permit with live crabs as bait. Goliath grouper are being caught on large baits such as jack crevalle.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters also is targeting spotted seatrout throughout the grass flats of southern Tampa Bay. Free-lined shiners or shiners under a cork are attracting many slot-size fish for White’s clients.
White reports Spanish mackerel are starting to show on the deeper grass flats, which adds an exciting variety to the trout bite.
Moving offshore, White is hooking up with a variety of fish, including African pompano, amberjack and red grouper. Lane and mangrove snapper round out the catch for his anglers. For the African pompano and AJs, live pinfish are White’s baits of choice. As for the grouper and snapper, dead sardines are working nicely.
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