Braden Balmanno of Kansas shows off the 27-inch catch-and- release snook he hooked up on a recent charter with Capt. Danny Stasny.
Inshore, offshore take your pick for nonstop fishing action
Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains prosperous for inshore and nearshore fishers. On the beaches, migratory fish are cruising the shallow trough in search of bait schools.
Sharks are following close behind the migratory fish, which is making it possible to catch respectable sizes from the shoreline.
On the flats, catch-and-release snook are out in full force. Try around mangrove islands, passes and bridges to locate fish.
Also, on nearshore structure, Spanish mackerel, bonito and kingfish are patrolling for baitfish. Try casting free-lined shiners behind the boat to get a bite.
Tarpon are in the early stages of their season. Fish are being caught around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Egmont Key. Although the real numbers of fish have not yet arrived, there are still targetable numbers in the area.
Capt. Warren Girle is in the backcountry of Sarasota Bay fishing for redfish and spotted seatrout. For the reds, Girle is fishing shallow grass flats with good tidal flow and clear water. By anchoring and chumming with live shiners, he’s consistently hooking up upper-slot reds with some over-slot fish in the mix. For the trout, Girle is fishing slightly deeper flats. By using either live shiners or artificials, such as soft plastics on a jighead, Girle’s clients are catching spotted seatrout in the 16-20 inch range.
Moving to nearshore structure, Girle is finding a variety of migratory species. After anchoring over structure, he is chumming with live shiners to bring kingfish, mackerel and bonito to the surface to feed. Once the fish are feeding, Girle instructs his clients to cast out a free-lined shiner. Kingfish in the 15-pound range are the norm, as well as Spanish mackerel up to 22 inches.
Sharks also are being caught on Girle’s charters. Blacktip, bull and lemon sharks are responding to chunks of Spanish mackerel free-lined behind the boat. Expect to catch shark up to 175 pounds using this method.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle are dominating the bite. Pier fishers using Clark spoons behind a popping cork are hooking up with fish. Small white speck rigs are producing as well.
Fishing the pier at night is proving prosperous for those targeting shark. Most fishers are using chunks of fresh-cut Spanish mackerel, bonito or mullet to get a bite.
Expect to encounter blacktip, lemon and bull sharks. Remember, a reel that holds a lot of line is advantageous when targeting big sharks at the pier. Once hooked up, a big shark can easily peel off a couple hundred yards of line before you can turn it.
Pier fishers at night are hooking into some respectable catch-and-release snook. A hand-sized live pinfish soaked under the pier will get you connected. Just remember to return these big breeder fish back to the water as quickly and gently as possible.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel pier says fish are cooperating, but you have to be there at the right time. Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and pompano are being caught, but the bite is sporadic at best. Due to a minimal amount of baitfish around the pier, most of the migratory fish are cruising by the pier and then moving on in search of more bait. For the macks and ladyfish, Gotcha plugs or small white jigs are the lures of choice. For the pompano, live sand fleas or shrimp will get the job done.
Pier fishers using live shiners for bait are catching a few sheepshead, black drum and flounder. Casting baits under the deck or around the pilings of the pier will get your bait in front of these tasty fish.
Finally, small shark are frequenting the waters around the R&R. By using shrimp or frozen squid, pier fishers are catching small bonnethead, Atlantic sharpnose and lemon sharks. For larger species, such as blacktip and bull sharks, try using a whole Spanish mackerel or a chunk of fresh-cut bonito.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle says beach action is still going strong. Beach fishers using artificials such as Gotcha plugs and small white jigs are catching a variety of fish by casting from the shoreline. Jack crevalle, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and even a few pompano catches are being reported.
For those interested in catching shark, the beaches are a good destination to get started. Mattay suggests first catching a jack crevalle or other oily fish and then cutting the fish in chunks to use for bait. By rigging a shark leader and casting out a chunk of bait, beach fishers are finding good action on blacktip and lemon sharks.
On the flats, Mattay is hearing of great catch-and-release action on snook. Live shiners are like snook candy to the linesiders, although reports of fish being caught on topwater plugs are coming in, too. Mattay suggests fishing strong moving tides around mangrove islands to find the bite.
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Robert Sexton of Anna Maria and Orlando works to hold onto his tarpon catch while on a charter trip May 6 with Capt. Warren Girle. The silver king was hooked up near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and quickly released.
All fishing, all the time — plus tarpon show in Tampa Bay
Fishing around our little island is really getting serious. Trying to figure out what to target can be the hardest part of your day on the water? Take your pick.
With water temps falling into a normal pattern of mid- to upper-70s and calm winds, fishing conditions are about as good as they get. There’s even been a light, cool breeze lately. Enjoy that while it lasts.
On the flats of Anna Maria Sound and the surrounding waters, expect to find redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook staging up to blast that shiner you just cast into a pothole.
For the reds, check around oyster bars or rising tides. As the tide gets higher, these fish will be on the bar looking for crabs and small bait fish.
For good action on catch-and-release snook, try fishing in and around the passes. Live shiners will get you hooked up with a linesider.
And for spotted seatrout, shallow grass flats at sun up offer a great opportunity to catch a gator trout on a topwater plug.
On nearshore structure, migratory species like Spanish and king mackerel are patrolling bait schools. Along with kings and macks, expect to hook into bonito, blue runners and big jack crevalle. Multiple species of shark are cruising nearshore structure, offering some exciting action. Bull, blacktip, spinner and lemon sharks are following the mackerel schools in search of a bite to eat. You may even have sharks eating the fish on your hook while you’re reeling them.
Finally, expect to see tarpon numbers rise in the weeks to come. Small numbers of fish are being sighted, although the masses have not yet arrived. Now is a good time to get out your tarpon gear and make sure its in working order.
Kudos to Capt. Warren Girle for producing the first-of-the-season tarpon photo this week.
Capt. Warren Girle is working both near and offshore, finding sizzling action on kingfish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, bonito and shark. For everything but the sharks, Girle is using live shiners or threadfin herring free-lined behind the boat. Sharks are hitting the shiners and threadies, but to catch a big fish, Girle casts out a fresh-cut chunk of mackerel or bonito. Expect to encounter blacktip, spinner, lemon and bull sharks.
Also on nearshore structure, Girle is sighting and hooking into the occasional cobia. For these brown bombers, Girle likes to pitch either a live shiner or pinfish right in front of the fish’s nose. After that, it’s usually game on. Or fish on. Fish up to 38 inches are being caught.
In the backcountry of Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook very accommodating. Girle is sight-casting with good results. The rest are in sandy potholes on the flats. When fishing the holes, Girle is anchoring and chumming to get the fish in that happy place. Then he casts live shiners into the mix for a hookup.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says he’s seeing good action on migratory fish, such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, blue runners and jack crevalle. Pier fishers using live shiners or threadfin herring are catching decent numbers in the early morning, when silver spoons, white jigs or Gotcha plugs can produce a fairly consistent bite.
Sork also notes that numerous sharks are being caught during the evenings and overnight at the pier. Pier fishers using cut-bait, such as Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle or mullet, are catching sharks in the 3- to 7-foot range. Expect to encounter bonnethead, blacktip, lemon and sand sharks.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of species caught daily. Bait fish are just beginning to show up, the migratory species such as Spanish mackerel, blue runners, jack crevalle, ladyfish and shark, are cashing in. All of these fish have sharp teeth, so plan accordingly for your rigging.
For all but the sharks, a 30-pound fluorocarbon leader will suffice. The alternative is a small wire leader, although these fish can see the leader and tend not to bite. The best scenario is to stock up on small white jigs or silver spoons and expect to lose a few when these predators are really biting.
If you’re rigging for shark, a 3-foot section of 120-pound hardwire tied to about 5 feet of 60- or 80-pound mono will do the trick. Combine that with a 6/0 quality circle hook and you’re in business.
Pompano also are making a showing at the R&R. Pompano jigs such as cannonball heads and Doc’s Goofy jigs are being gobbled up by pomps up to 20 inches in length. Live sand fleas on the hook are a good option to catch a tasty dinner.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle agrees, there’s good action occurring at both fishing piers on the north end. He’s working the pier and finding good numbers of catch-and-release snook on live shiners or pinfish. Slot-size snook and bigger are hooking up in the evening hours during outgoing tides.
Mattay also is having good results on Spanish mackerel, bluefish and big barracuda. For the macks and blues, he’s using whitebait or small white jigs. For the ’cuda, he’s using macks and blues. Last, but not least, Mattay is fishing pompano jigs from the piers with success on both pompano and permit.
On the beaches, Mattay suggests fishing for shark, while blacktip, lemon and bonnethead and bull sharks are prowling the shallows in search of a tasty morsel. For bait, Mattay likes fresh-cut bonito, mackerel or mullet.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the backcountry of southern Tampa Bay with good results. The main trio of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook are responding to free-lined white bait with a purpose. Explosive strikes and drag-screaming action are occurring in water depths of 2-3 feet. Gross is fishing sandy potholes or grass flats next to mangrove edges to find his prey. Top size for the catch-and-release snook this past week was 34 inches with a lot of slot-size fish hooked up, too. For the reds, 33 inches is the “bull” of the week.
On deeper grass beds, Gross is fishing action on Spanish mackerel, big bluefish and flounder. White bait is the bait of choice here. Gross likes to chum up the macks first and then cast a free-lined bait into the mix. Expect to catch mackerel in the 24-inch range.
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Islanders Mike Brinson, left, Curtis Hightower and Matt Brinson weigh in at the 20th annual Madeira Beach King of the Beach Old Salts tournament April 27, where they finished in fourth place overall, third in the calcutta, and brought home $10,220 in prize money. They fished about 14 miles offshore of Anna Maria Island in 50 feet of water and Matt Brinson caught the winning kingfish — a smoker. Some 476 boats were entered, and the catches went directly into a freezer truck bound for homeless shelters.
Fishing action for migratory species, sharks heat up
Look for migratory fish around nearshore structure and close to the beaches this week.
If you can find the bait schools, expect to encounter kings and Spanish mackerel, as well as bonito, jack crevalle and numerous species of shark.
For the macks and jacks, live shiners are the best live bait. For artificials, a quick retrieve of a Clark spoon or a small white jig will get you connected. For the sharks, fresh-cut mackerel or bonito will get you into the battle of a lifetime. Expect to see shark weighing 50-150 pounds. Bull, blacktip, spinner and sand sharks are the norm.
For the backcountry, catch-and-release snook, reds and trout are staged up on grassflats with good water flow. As it gets warmer, try fishing early in the morning or late in the evening to beat the heat. You also may notice the bite is better. Live shiners are the bait of choice for bait chuckers. Anglers who prefer artificials, should try a topwater plug just before sunrise for some explosive flats action.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel are being reeled up daily to the deck. Catches of fish up to 20 inches to the fork are occurring during the morning and evening tides. He says small white crappie jigs are producing the best bite.
Sharks are on the move for pier anglers. Small pieces of frozen squid or cut mullet are resulting in bonnethead and blacktip sharks in the 3-foot range. For larger sharks, try cutting a fresh caught mack in thirds and cast a chunk to the bottom. Blacktip and catch-and-release lemon sharks up to 75 pounds are being reported.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel says Spanish mackerel are making a showing. Pier fishers using white speck rigs or Gotcha plugs are catching fish up to 20 inches to the fork. Mixed in with the macks are small jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish. Kilb warns that while targeting mackerel, you may have to wait for the fish to pass by the pier. The schools of baitfish have not arrived, so you have to catch the mackerel in passing.
Pier fishers using live shrimp or sand fleas are catching the occasional pompano. Although these fish haven’t arrived in strong numbers, catches are becoming more frequent. You can also use a pompano jig to stalk these tasty little fish.
Finally, Kilb says he’s seeing some mangrove snapper under the pier. Live shrimp or small live shiners will get you connected with these tasty reef fish. Try being as stealthy as you can when rigging for mangrove snapper at the pier. Some 20-pound fluorocarbon for a leader, a split-shot and a No. 4 hook should do the trick.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle says beach action is beginning to heat up. He suggests looking for schools of bait to find predatory fish. Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, blue runners and jack crevalle are cruising the Gulf shoreline in search of small baitfish. To get hooked up, Mattay suggests silver spoons, white jigs or Gotcha plugs.
Shark also are being caught along the area beaches. Anglers using frozen squid or shrimp are catching small blacktip and bonnethead sharks off the shore break. Those opting to use bigger baits are being rewarded with blacktip and spinner sharks up to 100 pounds. For the big fish, try fresh-cut mackerel on bonito for bait.
Finally, pompano have arrived on the beaches during the early morning. Mattay likes using a yellow pompano jig to catch these golden nuggets. If you don’t have any jigs, try scooping up some sand fleas for bait.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters reports fantastic fishing this past week. The inshore trinity of catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout and redfish has been active on the moving water, providing some drag-screaming action and some nice bags of fillets for the dinner table.
Howard found spotted seatrout schooled up during the full moon were very cooperative, feeding on shiners. “We have had no trouble getting enough slot-fish to chew and provide for some steady action and tasty fillets,” Howard says.
Spotted seatrout in all sizes, from schoolies to gator, are all over the bay in a variety of water depths. With the one-over-20-inch rule for your creel, and a gentle release by using a dehooking tool on the big ones, ensures many more spotted seatrout for the future.
Redfish have been cooperating with some big over-slot fish landed on Howard’s charters. Mike Osborn of Essex, England, hooked a 32-inch redfish after it inhaled a large shiner rigged on a 1/0 Owner circle hook under a popping cork while fishing in 3 feet of water. After taking a few photos, Osborn’s biggest ever fish was released to fight another day. Finding areas where redfish have not been over worked by other anglers has been the key to hooking the big ones.
Snook are on a tear, Howard says, feeding heavily as they slowly move out of the backwaters and toward the passes to begin their spawn. The long closure on harvesting snook has resulted in a lot more big ones on the flats. Hopefully, we can look for the FWC to open the season this fall, Howard adds.
Looking forward as the new moon approaches, Howard says the saltwater fishing scene will stay active as we experience bigger tides and fast-moving water. Look for the tarpon to invade our waters in big schools and give us an opportunity to battle the silver king.
Capt. Warren Girle is going beachside in search of migratory species. He’s finding Spanish and king mackerel are patrolling nearshore structure joined by bonito, cobia and plenty of shark. Girle is anchoring and chumming to get these fish in the mood.
Once the feeding frenzy begins behind the boat, Girle’s clients are casting live shiners into the mix.
With almost immediate action, Girle’s clients are reeling up kings up to 30 pounds and plenty of Spanish macks and bonito. Once the sharks show up, Girle is casting out chunks of cut mackerel to get the bite from blacktip, spinner and bull sharks weighing 50-100 pounds.
In the backwater, Girle is targeting redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. For each species, Girle is using free-lined live shiners. Redfish up to 31 inches and trout up to 20 inches were topping the scale for Girle this past week.
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Bruce Earle says he landed this 29-inch Jack “somewhere” on an Anna Maria Island beach. Earle fought the jack for 73 minutes, from hookup to beach. Islander Photo: Ted Earle
Springtime fishing resulting in great catches
Fishing around Anna Maria Island is getting better and better as we settle into a springtime pattern. With warm, calm days, accessibility to just about every type of fishing is attainable. Whether you’re fishing from the shore, off a pier or beach or running 30 miles offshore, now is the time for some exciting action on the water.
Catch-and-release snook, redfish and trout are staging up on the inshore grass flats, waiting to ambush small baitfish and shrimp that cross their path. Free-lining your bait is a good bet, but if you’re in an area with a lot of grass, try using a popping cork set at the appropriate depth.
Along the beaches, piers and passes, expect to find Spanish mackerel, blue runners, jack crevalle and ladyfish feeding on schools of glass minnows or white bait. Artificials like silver spoons, white jigs or Gotcha plugs will get your rod bent. There also are a few pompano cruising the beaches. So be prepared with sand fleas to bait up these feisty fish.
Moving out to the nearshore reefs, expect to encounter king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and shark. Kings up to 40 pounds are being reported. As for the sharks, blacktip and spinner sharks are feeding on chunks of cut mackerel. Expect to catch shark in the range of 50-150 pounds.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure with good results on a variety of species. By using live shiners for bait, Girle’s clients are getting consistent action during half-day trips.
To start, Girle is arriving at the structure, anchoring and chumming with live bait. Once the chum hits the water, hungry kingfish and Spanish mackerel are making quick work of the disoriented shiners. While the fish are voraciously feeding, Girle casts out a free-lined shiner to get a bite. Kingfish up to 40 pounds are being caught along with plenty of Spanish mackerel in the 20-inch range.
Once all have had their fill of macks, Girle is switching to bottom fishing. Again, Girle is using live shiners for bait. By dropping baits directly to the bottom, Girle’s clients are reeling up mangrove snapper and keeper-size catch-and-release gag grouper. Mangrove snapper in the 18-inch range are being reeled up, although Goliath grouper are swarming hooked fish, making it hard to land them before they’re eaten.
On the flats, Girle is stalking redfish, trout and snook. Fishing flats with good tidal flow and plenty of sandy potholes is key to catching these fish. Girle is using live shiners free-lined behind the boat or rigged on a popping cork. Snook and reds are being caught in the 30-inch range. Slot-sized trout can be expected, too.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says action is beginning to pick up as we settle into spring. Schools of threadfin herring are gathering around the pier during strong moving tides, which in turn attracts snook, mackerel and redfish.
Pompano are making a showing for pier fishers using either live shrimp, sand fleas or pompano jigs. Although the bite is sporadic, patience and determination should result in a couple of gold nuggets for dinner.
Finally, mangrove snapper are being caught around the structure under the pier. Malfese suggests casting live shrimp weighted with a light split-shot under the pier to get a bite.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle says beach action is heating up for a variety of species. With baitfish showing up along the shoreline, Mattay is catching Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jacks, pompano and some nice catch-and-release snook.
For the migratory fish — jacks, macks and pompano — Mattay suggests using artificials like silver spoons, Gotcha plugs or pompano jigs. If you’re on a snook mission, you’ll have to find some live shiners.
Also, along the beaches, you can expect to catch small bonnethead and blacktip sharks. Mattay suggests fresh-cut mackerel, bonito or jack crevalle to get a bite. Frozen squid or shrimp will work for the smaller sharks, too.
On the flats, Mattay is hearing of good action on spotted seatrout, redfish and snook. Live shiners are the bait of choice, when available, although live shrimp will work in areas where the pinfish are not abundant. For artificials, Mattay likes to use soft plastics on jig heads or the MirrOlure MirrOdine.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the flats of Tampa Bay in search of the usual trio, redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook. Using live shiners for bait, Gross is catching respectable numbers and sizes of all three species. For the snook and reds, Gross is finding shallow flats with good water flow. Once he locates the fish, he anchors and chums to get the fish in a feeding mood. As this occurs, Gross directs his clients to cast free-lined shiners directly to the fish.
For the spotted seatrout, Gross is fishing slightly deeper grass flats. Again, anchoring and chumming is the key to getting slot-size fish in the cooler. Artificials like soft plastics combined with a jighead are producing trout, too.
Finally, Gross is anchoring over small rock piles in Tampa Bay to catch a variety of fish. Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, small snapper and even gag grouper are being caught in these areas. Some of the gags being caught are exceeding 24 inches, but they have to be released due to the season being closed.
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Kaleb Rice caught his biggest ever snook on a threadfin sardine, using light tackle, in the waters of Lake LaVista from a dock on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria. He had help from Dan Magee, a retired commercial fisher and artist. The fish was released after a few quick photos. Islander Photo: Steve “Pops” Kring
Anglers see springtime fishing heat up as temps rise
Inshore fishing around Anna Maria Island is starting to fall into its normal springtime pattern. With water temps moving into the upper 70s, the variety of species inhabiting the flats are getting motivated to feed on whatever crosses their path.
Live shiners are the best offering — although small pinfish work well, especially if you’re in search of big trout.
For artificials, try a Rapala Skitterwalk over shallow grassflats just before sunrise for some explosive action on the trio of flatsfish, snook, redfish or spotted seatrout. Better results will occur by wading to the fish.
On nearshore structure, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and kingfish are attacking schooling baitfish. Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for meandering cobia, too.
Sharks are making a showing in Tampa Bay and the inland waters. Blacktip, bull, nurse and bonnethead sharks are patrolling deeper edges of grass flats in search of a tasty treat. A lot of times you can sight cast to these fish, which can really get your blood pumping. Try cut mackerel or ladyfish for larger sharks. For the bonnetheads, fresh cut shrimp or a shiner will suffice.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumOTime charters reports “action-packed days on the water.” The inshore scene has exploded with catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout and redfish feeding heavily on the massive bait schools that have moved into Tampa Bay.
Howard says pilchards finally moved onto the flats making for some easy bait gathering. He suggests chumming for at least 10 minutes before throwing your cast net to draw the shiners to the chum and ball up behind your boat. “Look for diving pelicans to show where the bait is on the flats,” he adds.
Catch-and-release snook have been feeding heavily on shiners on Howard’s recent charters. They have been making their transition from their wintertime haunts and are moving onto the flats and into potholes and mangroves. On charters this past week, all of Howard’s clients landed at least one keeper-sized fish, although, after pictures, the big bruisers were released to fight another day.
Spotted seatrout have been exceptional, with many fish landed and plenty of gator trout coming to the dinner party. Howard is using a popping cork rigged with a 1/0 circle hook to keep the bait suspended just above the weeds. Getting the bobber to gurgle and flash can entice the predators to inhale the bait, he says. Getting enough meat for a nice family meal has been easy this past week.
Redfish have been active around the potholes and oyster bars. Chumming with shiners can fire up the bite and expose the redfish. Slot-sized fish are all over the flats and are exceptional fighters. Look for the schools of mullet traveling in the shallows to give you an idea of where to fish for these rose-colored bruisers.
Looking forward, Howard predicts the fishing will stay hot as the water temperature rises and the full moon approaches. He suggests following the tide up into the bushes. As a side note, Howard saw his first tarpon of the season near the Intracoastal Waterway, cruising in 2 feet of water.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is still seeing some sheepies and flounder being caught. Most species are being caught on live shrimp. Keeper-sizes are being caught but expect to catch a lot of under-sized fish before getting a keeper.
Spanish mackerel are showing at the R&R during early morning hours. The bait has now arrived in abundance so these fish are passing by on their way into the bay. White speck rigs are catching the most macks.
Also on the same speck rigs, expect to catch a stray pompano now and again. Malfese says he’s seeing pier fishers reel up a few a day.
Johnny Mattay at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action occurring along the beaches of Anna Maria Island. “As long as you can find the bait,” says Mattay, “you can find the fish.
Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle are corralling bait schools along the sandbar. Mattay suggests Gotcha plugs, white jigs or silver spoons to get in on the action.
Shark also are making a showing along the beaches, according to Mattay. Fresh-cut mackerel or ladyfish are catching small blacktip, bonnethead and sand sharks. If you need a shark leader, Mattay can hook you up. He says to also expect to catch shark from the piers on the north end of the island.
In the backwater, Mattay is hearing of good action on catch-and-release snook, redfish and trout. Live shiners are the top producers to get hooked up, although live shrimp will suffice. For artificials, Mattay suggests working early in the morning with topwater plugs to catch all three species.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing nearshore structure just off Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. By fishing with live shiners for bait, Gross’ clients are reeling in schoolie kings up to 30 inches in length, although they may need to weed through the abundance of sharks patrolling the reefs. Blacktip sharks up to 6 feet in length are scarfing up the bait or any hooked fish they can find.
Also on the reefs, Gross is catching mangrove snapper and plenty of Key West grunts. Most snapper being reeled up are in the 12- to 16-inch range, he says.
In the backcountry, Gross is targeting the usual trio. He’s using live shiners, either free-lined or under a popping cork, to get a bite. According to Gross, the redfish and catch-and-release snook are cooperating during the moving tides. For the trout, Gross is chumming with live shiners to get the fish in the feeding mood.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure for migratory species, such as king and Spanish mackerel, as well as bonito, jack crevalle and shark. To catch the macks and jacks, Girle is baiting with live shiners. By chumming with shiners, he creates a feeding frenzy of fish around the boat, allowing clients to cast a bait and hook up within seconds. Kings in the 10- to 15-pound range are the norm this past week. As for the sharks, expect to see blacktip and bull sharks in the 100- to 150-pound range.
Girle is encountering cobia at the reefs, a reminder to always having a rod ready to cast when one is spotted.
Inshore, Girle is fishing Sarasota Bay for reds, using either fresh-cut ladyfish or live shiners for bait. For trout, Girle likes using artificials, including soft plastics combined with a jighead or topwater plug. As for the catch-and-release snook, he says nothing beats a live shiner cast at their nose.
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Capt. Logan Bystrom assists Dennis Crelling with showing off a 50-pound kingfish Crelling caught off of Anna Maria Island on a recent charter.
Getting into the swing of AMI spring fishing
The springtime bite is finally settling in around Anna Maria Island. Water temps are on the rise, which is triggering baitfish to move onto the flats. Hungry snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are staging up on shallow flats during strong tides.
Now’s a good time to try fishing sandy potholes close to mangrove shorelines with good tidal flow to locate fish. For bait, live shiners are producing the most bites.
If using artificials, try topwater plugs at sunrise and in early morning hours. After the sun gets higher in the sky, switch to soft plastics or suspending plugs.
Spanish mackerel are making a showing around passes and in Tampa Bay. In the passes, shore fishers are casting Gotcha plugs into schooling fish to hook up. Those fishing from boats are using live shiners stabbed on a long shank hook, which helps prevent being cut off by the mackerel’s sharp teeth.
Of course, with macks come sharks. Try fishing nearshore structure or anywhere schooling mackerel are located to find the predators. Expect to encounter blacktip, spinner and sand sharks. Some of these sharks are big, so plan accordingly when selecting what tackle to use. Fresh-cut chunks of mackerel, ladyfish or jack crevalle will get you connected.
Capt. Warren Girle is taking clients to the grass flats of Sarasota Bay in search of backwater species, such as redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. By using a variety of techniques, Girle’s anglers are finding success with all three species.
During the early morning, Girle and his clients are getting out of the boat and wading the shallow flats adjacent to mangrove islands and mangrove shorelines. By using artificials, such as the Exude Dart, or topwater plugs, like the Rapala Skitterwalk, Girle is hooking up the backwater trio in depths of 2-3 feet.
As the sun gets higher, Girle is moving back to the boat to fish deeper flats for trout. Again, Girle is using soft plastics to get a bite. By drifting and jigging, Girle’s clients are catching limits of fish.
Finally, Girle is targeting redfish that hide in sandy potholes during high tides. By casting chunks of fresh-cut ladyfish into the holes, he’s finding limits of slot-size fish.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel are making a late appearance. Pier fishers using white jigs, Gotcha plugs or silver spoons are catching macks in the 20-inch range.
Remember, if you’re planning on keeping mackerel for dinner, it is crucial to immediately ice the fish. Keeping these fish on ice will result in a tastier outcome on the dinner plate.
Sharks are frequenting the pier. Small blacktip, bonnethead and sand sharks are following mackerel schools in search of a meal. Small chunks of fresh-cut mackerel cast out from the pier should attract these little bruisers to bite. Remember, even though sharks are only a few feet in length, they bite. Handle with care and don’t put your hands near their mouths.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel says Spanish mackerel are making a decent showing this week. Pier fishers arriving at sunrise are getting the bite. Kilb suggests using white speck rigs to get these high-activity fish to bite. You also can use Gotcha plugs or silver spoons, although Kilb says to try the speck rigs first.
Sheepshead are still biting at the R&R, although catching legal-size fish is tough. Most of the larger females have spawned and are moving to other structure, such as nearshore reefs, to recoup. Now is the time when bait selection becomes crucial. As the sheepies get more finicky, you’ll need to have an assortment of bait — live shrimp, fiddler crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms are a good start.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is seeing redfish and spotted seatrout upon arrival of the local charter boats at the docks. Most flats fishers are using live shiners for bait, although soft plastics and gold spoons are producing, too. Oldham suggests using Berkley Gulp shrimp. It has a distinct smell that appeals to redfish.
With Spanish mackerel showing in the passes and around the piers on the north end of the Island, Oldham recommends a white or pink speck rig as a first choice. If the macks are finicky, he says to try a Gotcha plug or silver spoon. Mackerel in the 20-inch range are being reported.
From nearshore structure just off the beaches, Oldham is hearing reports of a variety of shark species. Fresh-cut Spanish mackerel or bonito is a great choice for bait. When targeting bonnetheads and other small sharks, use small chunks. If targeting bigger fish, try using at least half of mackerel.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters is grateful to see the springtime pattern blossom. The top indicator of spring is the arrival of shiners on the flats. Chumming with Purina tropical fish food will entice the pilchards to swarm behind your boat, he claims, making easy pickings for your cast net.
Howard’s recent charter clients are having exciting rallies on catch-and-release snook and redfish. The Brown family had a Wednesday afternoon charter that produced four nice slot-sized redfish for their dinner table. They also battled many catch-and-release snook. The key, Howard says, is having enough shiners to chum and fire up the bite.
Tortilla Bay owner Perry Pittman and some friends also had an exciting day on the water. The group landed redfish, spotted seatrout and mackerel. Fishing moving water was the key to success, and their fillets wound up later as fish tacos.
On the nearshore scene, Howard is seeing the fish move in with ferocious appetites. Kingfish, Spanish mackerel, big sharks and cobia are being caught at the 1-mile reef. Howard suggests having a rig ready for the drag-screaming action available on the many 6-foot sharks swimming with the bait schools.
Gag grouper were being caught in waters as shallow as 15 feet and 100 yards off the beach and, after photos, Howard’s grouper were released.
He’s is looking forward to the opening of gag grouper season while they’re still in the bay and inshore waters — easy pickings if and when the powers to be open the season. Until then, we’re left depend upon the commercial fishing fleet to provide us with fillets, he noted.
Looking forward, Howard says the springtime fishing pattern will only get better as more bait floods the area waters. Work edges and drops at low tide and move into the bushes as the tide rises, he suggests.
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Vivck and Ravi Kiluk of Tampa show off a 21-inch flounder caught on a recent charter fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny.
The gates have opened, fishing game is on
Fishing around Anna Maria Island is heating up as the days get warmer and the winds remain calm.
With water temps reaching 70 degrees, migratory species such as Spanish mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish are schooling to corral bait. Look for diving birds in Tampa Bay and around artificial reefs to find the fish. Other migratory fish, including kingfish, cobia and shark, are worth a watchful eye, too.
In the backcountry, catch-and-release snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are gathering around mangrove islands and shorelines where there are grass flats and good tidal flow. Spotted seatrout up to 28 inches are being reported from these areas. Look for schooling redfish on shallow flats during the incoming tides in the afternoons. For catch-and-release snook, mangrove edges are a good place to stage up and fish as the tides starts ripping out. For all of these species, live shiners free-lined behind the boat will get a bite.
Pompano are being caught along the beaches on live sand fleas and pompano jigs. Try fishing at sunrise or late in the evening on the higher tides to locate and catch fish. When jigging for pompano, be prepared to catch ladyfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle. With macks and bluefish in the vicinity, it will pay to carry extra pompano jigs — their sharp teeth can cut through your leader before you know what happened.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing Spanish mackerel flapping on the dock this week. Pier fishers are using artificials like Gotcha plugs or small white jigs to get the bite. Along with macks, expect to catch ladyfish and bluefish in the 15- to 20-inch range.
For those planning to do a little night fishing, Sork says the target is spotted seatrout. He suggests anglers come to the pier equipped with a long-handled dip net to scoop ballyhoo for bait. Once you have a few small ballyhoo in an aerated bucket, you’re ready to fish. Free-line your bait around areas where the water is lit and the bait swirls for the trout staging on the outskirts in search of their prey.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is finding gator trout on shallow flats in Sarasota Bay. Using live shiners for bait, Keyes is catching trout in the slot as well as over-slot fish to 26 inches.
Along with trout, Keyes is catching slot-reds and multiple catch-and-release snook in the same areas. Again, live shiners free-lined over sandy potholes are getting the bite.
From the piers, beaches and passes, Keyes is hearing of good Spanish mackerel action. Plugging with Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or small white jigs is putting fishers with light tackle on drag-screaming action. Keyes suggests examining what the mackerel are feeding on before rigging. If the macks are eating glass minnows, Keyes recommends small white crappie jigs or Spro ghost jigs. If larger bait is around, Keyes says to switch to silver spoons or 7/8-ounce Gotcha plugs.
Pompano are expected to make a showing in the weeks to come. Keyes suggests fishing the beaches at sun up with pompano jigs or sand fleas will be productive.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters is seeing the spring weather pattern slowly take hold and, he says, the fish are responding accordingly. Redfish, spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel, catch-and-release snook and sharks are moving into Tampa Bay to feed.
Howard says a sure sign of spring is the many species of sharks he’s seeing cruising sandbars. Blacktip, bonnethead, lemon and bull sharks are cruising the flats looking for food. Howard suggests rigging a chunk of ladyfish on a cable hook to get in on the action.
“While running the bulkhead area, I saw a 5-foot sawfish cruising. I decided to just enjoy seeing the beautiful creature and moved on, passing an opportunity to do battle with the unique creature,” Howard says.
He says redfish and catch-and-release snook are starting to school on the flats and moving up into the mangrove roots on the higher tides produced by the recent full moon. “We’ve been using shiners pegged on a 2/0 Owner circle hook with a small split shot on a popping cork to keep the bait away from the annoying birds that seem to attack any live bait that swims to the surface,” Howard adds. Small pinfish and cut ladyfish are good baits to use.
Big macks are chewing heavily all over the bay with plenty of 24-inch fish providing the action. Howard likes to use to a long shank hook to prevent getting his line cut. Remember to only keep enough of these fish for dinner, as they do not freeze well.
Looking forward as the days get longer and warmer, fishing will only improve, Howard says. The influx of bait will supercharge the action and provide opportunities to get a nice bag of fillets for the dinner table.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is flats fishing in both Tampa and Sarasota bays in search of redfish, snook and spotted seatrout. Gross is first locating fish from his tower vantage point, and then anchoring and chumming to stir up the bite.
On shallow grass flats adjacent to mangrove shorelines, Gross is having good rallies on both redfish and catch-and-release snook. Slot-size and over-size reds were the norm this past week. As for the catch-and-release snook, Gross is hooking up fish in the 30-inch range.
On slightly deeper flats, Gross is catching spotted seatrout. Water depths of 3-4 feet are holding over-slot trout in numbers. Again, Gross is anchoring and chumming to get the fish on the line.
Lastly, Gross is fishing deep grass beds with a depth of 6-10 feet for Spanish mackerel and finding them in numbers. By anchoring and chumming, Gross is able to keep these fish within casting range for his clients, resulting in multiple hookups with a fish on the line every cast. Expect to catch ladyfish, bluefish and small blacktip sharks in the mix.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the backcountry, producing respectable catches of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. With a combination of tactics, such as artificials, live baits and even chunk baits, Girle’s clients are having successful days on the water.
For the reds, Girle is quietly positioning the bait near sandy potholes, where unsuspecting reds are lying in wait to ambush a meal. By casting chunks of fresh-cut ladyfish in and around these holes, Girle is hooking up reds up to 31 inches.
In these same areas, Girle is finding schools of catch-and-release snook. By either live baiting with shiners or jigging with artificials, Girle’s charters are landing fish in the 30-inch range.
Judy Vance of Denver reports celebrating her 70th birthday with a productive fishing trip with Capt. Trek Hackney. Vance caught the first and biggest fish of the day — a catch-and-release snook — the trio of fishers, including Lou Wheeler of Denver and Randy Billman of Holmes Beach, went on to catch a number of spotted seatrout and redfish.
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Jerry Allan, Steve Elder and Ron Mason, all on vacation from Indiana, show off the catch-and-release redfish they hooked up on a recent charter trip with Capt. Warren Girle.
Successful fishing tactics to employ while awaiting warm up
Someone needs to remind Mother Nature that it’s April in Florida. We’ve had enough cold fronts and windy days to remind us why we are in the Sunshine State. It’s time for the return of those warm, calm days and fish biting like crazy. Until they do, here’s some tactics to help catch fish in sloppy weather.
Sheepshead are abundant this time of year. And, if you haven’t noticed, not only do these convict fish put up a great fight when hooked, they taste great breaded and fried. If you haven’t sat down for a sheepshead fish fry, you just don’t know what you’re missing.
Another species to target during unseasonably cold conditions is spotted seatrout. During cooler weather, these fish migrate to deep grass flats where the temp is consistent and the water is clear. Try drifting and jigging with soft plastics to get in on some great rallies on spotted seatrout.
Lastly, cooler water temps are good for targeting flounder around docks and nearshore structure. Try dragging a pinfish or shiner across the sandy bottom surrounding a reef and see what happens. The same applies for docks and piers.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are biting on shrimp, crabs or fleas. Fish in the 1- to 2-pound range are the norm at the pier, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bigger ones lurking there.
Pier fishers eager for Spanish mackerel are still waiting. Stray macks are being caught, but the masses of fish have not arrived. The macks that are being caught are respectable, coming in at 20-plus inches.
Flounder and black drum are being caught at the pier, although this bite also is sporadic. Most of these catches are occurring for pier fishers targeting sheepshead with live shrimp.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of sheepshead at the piers and canal docks coming to the hook on live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas. Keyes suggests using a small, stout hook when targeting sheepshead due to their boney mouth.
From the flats, Keyes is hearing of decent spotted seatrout action occurring on soft plastics combined with a lead jig head. Most trout fishers are finding flats with water depths of 5-7 feet and then doing a slow drift to locate fish. Slot-size trout are being reported daily.
On shallower flats, depths of 2-3 feet, redfish and catch-and-release snook are responding to live shiners fished under a popping cork. Keyes suggests hunting mangrove shorelines with good tidal flow to find the fish.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting a variety of species depending on how the weather plays out.
On warmer days, Gross is hooking up clients with catch-and-release snook and redfish on shallow flats during the high tides. Gross is using live shiners to target both species. Slot-size reds are the norm with a few over-slot fish mixed in. The size range on catch-and-release snook is 20-31 inches this past week.
On cooler days, Gross is fishing deep grass for spotted sea trout, using a MirrOlure Lil John combined with a 1/4-ounce jighead to locate the fish. By doing a slow drift over the flats, Gross is producing trout up to 20 inches. Expect to catch Spanish mackerel and ladyfish there, too.
Finally, on windy, cold days, Gross is fishing structure for sheepshead and flounder, using live shrimp to target both species. Sheepies in the 1- to 2-pound range are biting consistently. While targeting sheepies, flounder in the 15-inch range also are being brought to the boat.
Capt. Warren Girle is targeting redfish around mangrove islands and shorelines lined with oyster bars. Using fresh-cut chunks of ladyfish for bait, he entices the reds to bite. Fish in the 23- to 27-inch range were the norm this past week.
Moving out to deeper grass flats, Girle is targeting spotted seatrout with soft plastics. By drifting and jigging, he’s putting clients on big trout, exceeding the slot. Along with trout, he’s reeling up ladyfish, mackerel and bluefish.
Lastly, Girle is fishing docks on windy, cold days for flounder and mangrove snapper. Live shrimp is the bait of choice for Girle when targeting these fish during cold weather. He reports catching flounder up to 18 inches.
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John Quill of Maryland shows off a 22-inch, 7-pound sheepshead he caught on a recent charter with Capt. Danny Stasny.
If you don’t like the weather, wait 30 minutes
Fishing around Anna Maria Island this past week had some ups and downs based on the changing weather.
We saw warm and sunny days, rainy days, cold and windy days — all in one week, mind you. A good catch is possible during all three scenarios if the fish are biting, the rainy or cold days aren’t all bad.
Along with the roller coaster weather comes a wide variety fish. Varying weather extremes sometimes demand targeting different fish. Cold, windy days are good for targeting sheepshead, reds and snook on shallow flats. On rainy days, the fish are already wet and they don’t mind.
From the flats, expect to encounter spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook. Live shiners are the ticket to get in on the bite. If you choose to use artificials, topwater plugs at sun up are a good bet. Soft plastics like the Berkley Gulp shrimp or MirrOlure Lil John combined with a 1/8-ounce jighead will get you connected, too.
Look for sheepshead, mangrove snapper and flounder around nearshore structure. Live shrimp are the bait of choice to hook up. Expect to encounter catch-and-release gag grouper, too.
Finally, look for skyrocketing Spanish mackerel in Tampa Bay, especially between the Anna Maria City Pier and Egmont Key. Nearshore structure in the Gulf also is holding macks. Live shiners combined with a long shank hook will get your rod bent. Silver spoons, Gotcha plugs or small white jigs will prove their purpose when casting out to schooling macks.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria is still seeing good numbers of sheepshead reeled up to the deck. Pier fishers using live shrimp, fiddler crabs or sand fleas are catching dinner. Average size of the sheepies this past week was 12-14 inches, although fish up to 18 inches are being caught.
Pier fishers targeting sheepies also are catching keeper-size flounder and black drum. For the flounder, live shrimp is the bait of choice. Expect to catch fish in the 12- to 15-inch range. As for the black drum, sheepshead bait works fine and anglers at the pier are catching slot-sized fish.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is seeing a variety of fish coming back to port with the local charter captains. Keyes is seeing upper-slot redfish and trout daily on the fillet table at the dock, in addition to sheepshead, mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel.
From the flats, fishers are catching redfish on both live baits and artificials. Live shiners or shrimp are working, especially when fished under a popping cork. For artificials, Keyes suggests targeting reds with Berkley Gulp shrimp paired with a 1/4-ounce jighead or a Johnson gold spoon.
Spotted seatrout are making a showing on deeper grass flats. Any soft plastic combined with a jighead will get you in the action. Keyes also suggests the MirrOlure MirrOdine to target larger trout.
Finally, sheepshead and mangrove snapper are being caught on live shrimp around nearshore structure. A 1/0 circle hook with enough lead to get your bait to the bottom will do the trick.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters agrees, the weather plays a major factor in what he’s catching.
On the warmer days this past week, Howard caught redfish, snook and spotted seatrout using shiners. “The key to success was locating the warmer water on the flats and setting up to fish these areas,” Howard says. A 5-degree difference can make for some big concentrations of fish, Howard adds.
He suggests using an old-school popping cork so the bait stays just above the seagrass and make the bobber gurgle to entice the predators to chew. Small pinfish and grunts work well for bait, too, he said.
On the colder days Howard uses live shrimp rigged with a split-shot to get the bait to the bottom around structure and pilings, where sheepshead, redfish and black drum have been coming to the boat for Howard’s clients.
Looking forward, Howard says the springtime warmup will happen soon, resulting in an explosion for anglers on the nearshore and inshore waters of Tampa Bay. When the water temperature hits 70 degrees, the flats will be flooded with fish moving onto skinny water to feed. Netting shiners will get easier as the fish move onto the flats and those runs to the Skyway Bridge to cast for bait will not always be necessary, Howard adds.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing deep grass flats in search of spotted seatrout. Using a 1/4-ounce jighead combined with a MirrOlure Lil John soft plastic, Gross is jigging up trout in the 15- to 22-inch range. Along with big trout, Gross is catching Spanish mackerel in the 20-inch range and plenty of bluefish and ladyfish in the mix. This adds a little variety for his clients and good action between trout bites.
On shallower grass flats, Gross is working live shiners to target redfish and catch-and-release snook. Depending on depth, Gross is either free-lining baits or placing them under a popping cork. Average size of snook the past week was 20-26 inches with some 20 fish brought to the boat. For the reds, Gross is catching upper-slot fish in the 24- to 26-inch range.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing shallow flats in Sarasota Bay during afternoon high tides in search of redfish and spotted seatrout. Girle is putting his clients on both species, using either live shiners or artificials like Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jighead. When using shiners, Girle recommends anchoring and chumming to get the fish in a feeding mood. Chumming also aids in bringing fish into casting range and keeping them there. When fishing artificials, Girle is using a trolling motor to sneak up on his prey. Once targeted fish are in range, he has clients sight-cast to sandy potholes or right at the fish, if they’re visible.
Spotted seatrout in the slot-size are the norm this past week for Girle, although fish as big as 26 inches are being caught.
The same applies for the redfish. Slot-sizes are the norm with over-slot fish —some exceeding 31 inches — caught sporadically. For the reds, more of the bigger fish are feeding on live shiners as compared to artificials.
Girle is still targeting permit and pompano in south Sarasota Bay, although he feels the bite is beginning to slow down. Yellow pompano jigs tipped with small pieces of fresh-cut shrimp are the ticket to get these elusive fish to bite. Expect to catch mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish between pompano and permit bites.
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Earl Jaffe from Illinois and Sean Armstrong are pleased with their redfish, caught on a fishing trip with Capt. Warren Girle.
Spring break offers little break in windy March weather
March has arrived bringing plenty of spring breakers, eager anglers and windy days.
March on Anna Maria Island can be a great month for fishing — when the weather permits. Windy days and winter’s remaining cold fronts can sometimes put a damper on fishing plans, but don’t be discouraged. These fronts usually last only a couple of days and then the weather and fishing turn to some of the best to be found.
Sheepshead are the highlight again this week for both pier fishers and boating anglers. Reports from both piers on the north end of Anna Maria Island are promising if you’re in search of some sheepies for the dinner table. Live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas are producing a bite.
On the flats, the main focus is redfish. Try fishing high tides to locate fish along mangrove edges and in sandy potholes close to shore. Live shiners or pinfish are the primary baits, although a chunk of fresh-cut ladyfish will get the job done, too.
Finally, spotted seatrout are making a showing on the deeper grass flats of Anna Maria Sound. Try drifting and working a soft plastic combined with a lead jig head to find the fish. Once you get on the right drift, you should be able to jig up your limit in no time.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is fishing nearshore reefs when the weather permits. On these reefs, Gross is catching a variety of species, but the main focus is sheepshead. Using live shrimp on a knocker rig allows his clients to reel up sheepshead up to 4 pounds — and in good numbers, too. Other catches while targeting sheepies include keeper-size flounder, porgies and Key West grunts.
Spanish mackerel are frequenting nearshore reefs and Gross is taking advantage of the action. By casting small white jigs, Gross is hooking up Spanish mackerel up to 18 inches.
Moving to the flats of Tampa Bay, Gross is using live shiners to target redfish. Slot-size reds were the norm last week. On a recent charter, Gross managed to put his clients on some keeper reds up to 25 inches.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure when the Gulf is calm and the winds are down. By using live shrimp, his groups are reeling up good numbers of sheepshead and keeper-size flounder. Also on the reefs, Girle is seeing bonito and mackerel, which he’s hooking up on small white jigs.
Moving to the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is targeting schooling reds during the high tides. Using chunks of fresh-cut ladyfish, Girle is putting his clients on reds up to 30 inches. Soft plastics combined with a lead jig head also are producing bites from reds. Girle suggests either Berkley Gulp shrimp or Exude Darts.
On the deeper flats, Girle is jigging for spotted seatrout. An Exude Dart in the Golden Bream color combined with a red jig head is Girle’s choice of lure. Trout in the 16- to 20-inch range are the norm, although fish up to 27 inches are being caught.
Finally, Girle is still targeting pompano and permit in south Sarasota Bay. He’s using a pompano jig tipped with fresh-cut shrimp to get a bite. Along with pompano and permit, expect to catch plenty of ladyfish and Spanish mackerel.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says sheepshead are attracting fishers to the shop this past week looking for a variety of baits, including live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas. Those fishing nearshore structure are using live shrimp. Both pier fishers and boaters are reporting good numbers of sheepies around local docks and nearshore reefs.
Beach fishers are finding success when the waters are calm. Along the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, expect to find black drum and flounder, as well as a few pompano. Live shrimp are producing the bite. Berkley Gulp shrimp combined with a 1/4-ounce jighead is a good combination for those who prefer artificials. Cast into the trough that runs along the shoreline to hook up.
On the flats, fishers are catching good numbers of redfish. Using live shiners or pinfish, flats fishers are reeling up reds in the 15- to 30-inch range. To find these fish, Keyes suggests fishing during the higher tides along mangrove edges.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are the primary catch there. With cold nights, dropping water temps and strong winds from the north, you would think that fishing the pier would be tough. You’re partly right, but conditions like this don’t affect the sheepshead bite. Live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas are the ticket to catch these tasty fish at the R&R.
As of this week, Malfese says he’s seeing the sheepies being reeled up are running a little smaller than previous weeks.
“They must have spawned out,” says Malfese. “We’re still catching keepers, but not the big females like we were last week.”
Flounder are on the fishing menu at the R&R. Keeper-fish are being caught although the bite is sporadic at best. Try dragging the bottom around the pier with a Berkley Gulp shrimp combined with a 3/8-ounce jighead to locate and catch flounder.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing respectable numbers of sheepshead being caught on live shrimp, fiddlers and sand fleas. Determined pier fishers willing to brave strong north winds and cold temperatures are being rewarded with sheepshead in the 1- to 3-pound range. Sork suggests carrying a variety of baits. Some days the finicky sheepies are feeding on shrimp and the next day they only take a fiddler crab and then it’s sand fleas.
Other catches at the pier include small mangrove snapper, flounder and a few stray mackerel. For the snapper and flounder, live shrimp are working. For the Spanish mackerel, try using a white crappie jig to imitate the glass minnows that the mackerel are feeding on.
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