Roger Danziger of Holmes Beach nails this 30-pound amberjack with a vertical jig in 100 feet of Gulf waters off of Holmes Beach. This AJ came up with half a tail. Islander Courtesy Photo
Cold fronts bring tough times for anglers
Back-to-back cold fronts have made fishing around Anna Maria Island tough to nail down. With water temps falling, fish we normally target are beginning to fall into their winter pattern.
It’s time to switch to live baits such as shrimp and crabs. Redfish, sheepshead, black drum and flounder will readily strike these baits when the timing is right.
You can also start using Berkeley Gulp shrimp on a jighead around docks and in canals. Just remember to slow down your retrieve, as the water gets cooler.
Night fishing around snook lights is proving prosperous in between cold fronts. Spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook are active around dock lights on calm nights. Try free-lining a live shrimp around the outskirts of the light to hook up. If that doesn’t work, a small crappie jig might be the ticket.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is fishing in between cold fronts to find a bite. He’s begun “switching tactics,” which means alternate baits and moving to different areas to fish.
For bait, Gross is using select shrimp, either fished on the bottom or free-lined behind the boat. As the water temps drop, the fish we target are becoming less motivated to chase a bait, in which case, shrimp works due to their slow movement, which enables predators to ambush them without exerting too much energy.
Another tactic for Gross is switching his location. Gross is starting to target fish around docks, canals and deeper channels. These areas tend to have warmer water, which, in turn, attracts concentrations of fish this time of year.
Around docks, Gross is catching redfish, flounder and sheepshead. For the reds and flounder, Gross is using a whole live shrimp with a small weight added to the rig to keep the bait on the bottom. For sheepies, Gross is using fresh-cut pieces of shrimp on the same rig.
Gross is fishing canal mouths with depths of 6 feet or more for spotted sea trout. In these areas, Gross is either free-lining shrimp or adding a small split shot to get the shrimp on the bottom.
Finally, Gross suggests using Berkeley Gulp shrimp on a jighead if you can’t get live bait.
Berkeley Gulp shrimp will catch all but sheepshead, which generally take only fresh bait.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is still seeing pier fishers reeling up bonito and Spanish mackerel despite falling water temps in the bay.
“Believe it or not,” says Medley, “there are still decent schools of macks and bonito moving in and out of the bay.”
Pier fishers using white jigs, silver spoons and especially Gotcha plugs are hooking up every few casts when the fish arrive. Be prepared to lose some lures due to the mack’s sharp teeth.
Bait fishers using live pinfish are getting decent results on flounder. By free-lining pinfish under the pier and around the artificial structure to the south of the pier, fishers are reeling up keeper-size flounder with the biggest catches topping 18 inches.
Sheepshead spottings are increasing with the cold front. Live shrimp is getting some of the action, although fiddler crabs are still the top bait. When using shrimp try hooking small pieces or halves of shrimp. If the sheepies seem finicky, try peeling the shrimp offering.
Finally, night fishers are catching small blacktip and bonnethead sharks. By using small pieces of cut bait, like mullet or plain old shrimp, pier fishers are reeling in respectable numbers of both species.
Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says the winter species — redfish, black drum and sheepshead — have been feeding under the deep water docks and biting. His bait of choice is live shrimp.
Howard says extra low tides will provide excellent opportunities to wade fish for redfish and speckled trout. His advice: wade to the potholes on the flats surrounded with exposed sea grass and, using artificial baits or live shrimp, slowly work your rig through the pothole for fishing in a barrel action.
Also, Howard says fishing along deepwater drop offs with a Berkley Gulp or a live shrimp rigged with a split shot will get some filets for the table.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing reports of respectable catches from canals and around docks. Fishers using live shrimp are hooking up flounder, sheepshead, redfish and black drum in the canals of Bimini Bay. Canal fishers are finding the bite by either free-lining or bottom fishing live shrimp around the docks.
Canal fishers willing to venture out after dark are being rewarded with keeper-size spotted seatrout and slot-size catch-and-release snook. By fishing around dock lights with free-lined live shrimp, you can sight cast to your choice of species.
Finally, flats fishers are reporting reasonable numbers of trout, ladyfish and bluefish being caught on the deeper flats of south Sarasota Bay. Jigging with soft plastics or pompano jigs is the way to get in on the action.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier reports the sheepshead bite is beginning to turn on. Pier fishers using crabs or tubeworms are getting good action. Live shrimp fishers are catching some, too, he says. Reasonable numbers of sheepies are showing up daily, although you have to be there when the fish decide to feed. “We had a great bite a few days ago,” says Malfese,” then they turned off for a couple of days.”
Flounder are making a stop around the pier. Fishers working live shrimp on the bottom are catching flounder in the keeper-size range. Try dropping shrimp around the edges of the pier and it from piling to piling.
While targeting flounder, expect to hook into a few black drum. Malfese reports daily catches of keeper-size drum are occurring. If you want to target the drum, try casting a live shrimp or a live crab as far under the pier as you can get it.
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Stephen Thomas of Anna Maria speared this 60-pound amberjack for grilling at home while freediving at a depth of 40 feet about 7 miles offshore of Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Richard “Dad” Thomas
Warmer days bring heat to fishing
Since we’ve had warm temperatures and light winds offshore, fishers are working as much as possible before winter weather sets in. The first official day of winter was Dec. 21.
Reports of keeper-size red grouper are coming in from as close as 10 miles off shore. For bait, live pinfish or shiners are the best choice, although frozen baits such as squid, threadfin herring and sardines are working, too.
Moving out 20 miles or more is resulting in catches of large red grouper, plenty of catch-and-release gag grouper and just-legal amberjack. Also, expect to encounter mangrove and red snapper. But remember, the red snapper season is still closed, so they are catch-and-release.
Moving inshore, flats fishers are using artificials to target spotted seatrout. Since water temps are still about 70 degrees, you can use topwater plugs either in the morning or evening to get action on big gator trout that are lurking on shallow flats. For sheer numbers of trout, try drifting deeper grass flats with soft plastics or suspending plugs.
Redfish and catch-and-release snook are gathering around docks and canals. Try using live select shrimp to get these fish to bite. For the reds, add a split shot to get your shrimp on the bottom. For the catch-and-release snook, simply free-line a big shrimp around a dock piling and hang on tight.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore structure with good results on a variety of species. Girle is anchoring over structure and then chumming with live shiners to attract a bite. Bonito and small Spanish mackerel are the first to react to Girle’s chum, skyrocketing and slashing at live shiners thrown around the boat. Once this is occurring, Girle is casting free-lined baits to the fish surface-feeding. Usually within seconds of the bait entering the water, the fight is on with either bonito or mackerel.
With all of this action going in, sharks are naturally attracted. Black tips of 50-75 pounds are feeding on chunks of mackerel or bonito free-lined on a shark leader behind the boat. Not only do these sharks peel a considerable amount of drag, but their acrobatic jumps are visually impressive for the angler.
Lastly, Girle is bottom fishing in sandy areas between structures to find flounder. By nose-hooking a shiner with a jighead on a knocker rig, Girle is catching flounder in the 20-inch range. He suggests carrying extra hardware due to all of the snags.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is seeing pier fishers using silver spoons and white jigs for mackerel, bonito and ladyfish. Keep in mind that the Spanish mackerel being caught are small, up to 15 inches. As for the bonito, expect fish about 8-10 pounds.
Pier fishers using live fiddler crabs are catching good numbers of sheepshead. Most fish are 1-2 pounds, although bigger ones are mixed in. You can also use live shrimp, but the best bite is occurring on fiddlers.
Anglers opting to use shrimp fished on the bottom are catching legal-size mangrove snapper and flounder. Both species are biting well although most are barely above keeper-size. While using shrimp, expect to catch Key West grunts, too.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing a few mackerel being caught, although the better bite is definitely for flounder. Pier fishers using small white jigs at sunrise are getting moderate action on Spanish mackerel, but the bite isn’t lasting. Once it ends, pier fishers are switching to bottom rigs and dragging live shrimp around the perimeter of the pier to catch flounder. Flounder up to 15 inches are keeping pier fishers busy — and well fed.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackler says fishers drifting the flats are catching decent numbers of spotted seatrout on DOA Cal jigs or DOA shrimp under a Cajun Thunder cork. For the bait, white is the color. If you’re using DOA shrimp, also try the glow color, which gets the same action as a white.
Bait fishers using live shrimp are targeting docks and piers for sheepshead. With increasing numbers of sheepies appearing daily, the bite should only get better.
Lastly, reports of fish moving into the canals of Bimini Bay and the surrounding area are increasing. Redfish, spotted seatrout and snook are migrating into these areas in advance of cooler weather.
Again, live shrimp is a great bait to target any of these species. Try targeting the entrances of canals for the trout. Add a split shot to your shrimp and let it swim toward the bottom. For the reds and snook, try working deep-water docks.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says there are plenty of shiners schooling up around the pier, but the mackerel are not appearing. Pier fishers targeting mackerel are catching a stray bonito here and there and plenty of ladyfish.
With a shortage of mackerel, pier fishers can change tactics and bait fish with shrimp or fiddler crabs to get a bite. Casting these baits under the pier, fishers are hooking up sheepshead, black drum, redfish and flounder. Keeper-sizes of all of these species are being reeled up daily.
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Harrison King of Montana holds one of eight catch-and-release oversized redfish caught on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Warren Girle.
Warmer water, hot fishing action with shiners
With a slight warming trend, water temps are climbing into the upper 60s, which in turn is proving prosperous for flats fishers who are still using shiners.
Although baiting shiners during cooler weather a couple of weeks ago was hit or miss, using them now is a good bet. You may still want to carry some live shrimp just in case — especially if you plan on fishing any docks or around inshore structure.
Good numbers of black drum and sheepshead are frequenting local docks and canals around Bimini Bay and Key Royale. Live shrimp is a must for targeting either of these tasty striped fish. You can also expect to catch flounder and redfish while working these docks.
In southern Sarasota Bay, good action is occurring on deep grass flats for migratory fish, including pompano, bluefish and ladyfish. The pompano are sporadic at best, although the bluefish and ladyfish will fill in the idle time between pompano bites. Either style of pompano jig will work, although anglers are favoring small cannonball head jigs.
Finally, near-shore structure is still producing rod-bending action for anglers in search of bonito and shark. Try chumming with live shiners to get the bonito to rally. Once you catch one, cut a nice chunk from it and hook it on a shark rig. Black tips in the 50-pound range are the norm right now.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting spotted seatrout on the flats of Sarasota Bay with decent results. On recent charters, Gross managed to put his clients on limits of spotted seatrout using live shiners on the grass flats. “With the water temps slightly rising, the fish are eating white bait,” says Gross. “Although, it’s still good to carry some select shrimp just in case.”
Also while fishing the flats, Gross is catching some keeper-size flounder. “We were having trouble with the birds trying to eat our shiners,” says Gross. “So I added a split shot to try to keep our baits a little deeper. When we did, we started catching flounder.”
To target flounder on the flats, try dragging your bait through the sandy potholes on the flat. You can also find them on channel edges or in areas that have rocky features, such as small ledges or docks.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says although there are large numbers of sheepshead around the pilings, the bite is a little off. “Either people aren’t fishing for them,” says Medley, “or they’re just not biting real good yet.”
Fish that are biting include pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and bonito. For the pompano and bluefish, Love’s lures pompano jigs are the ticket. Pompano in the 2-pound range are hitting these small jigs with a purpose. The bluefish are a bycatch for fishers targeting pompano.
Pier fishers using live shrimp and working on the bottom around the pilings of the pier are catching good numbers of flounder, mangrove snapper and black sea bass. These three species are some of the best tasting fish you can find on our waters, so if you’re looking to fill the freezer, you may want to head to the South Pier.
On a final note, Medley warns that the bite has been sporadic but, when it happens, it’s game on. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it this week,” says Medley. “You may catch nothing but pinfish for an hour and then all of a sudden everything changes and you fill your cooler.”
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structures for bonito. These fish provide drag-screaming action on medium-weight spinning gear. Using live shiners, Girle is chumming these fish to the boat and then casting free-lined baits into the frenzy. Average size of the bonito is 7 to 10 pounds.
Once Girle’s clients have caught enough bonito, they’re targeting black tip sharks by cutting a six-inch strip of bonito belly and placing it on a shark rig. The black tips are coming to the boat in the 50- to 80-pound range.
Finally, while structure fishing, Girle is dropping live shiners to the bottom on a knocker rig and reeling up keeper-size flounder. After all of that action on bonito and sharks, Girle’s clients are keen on reeling up fish they can take home for dinner.
On the deeper flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is drifting and jigging with pompano jigs. Not only is he managing to put his fishers on some keeper pompano, but various other species as well. Spanish mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish are biting in between pompanos, which supplies good variety and constant action.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of decent action on the flats of Anna Maria Sound, where spotted seatrout are being caught on deeper flats of 5 to 7 feet. While targeting trout, expect to also catch ladyfish and Spanish mackerel. You can either use artificials like DOA Cal jigs or suspending baits, such as the MirrOlure MirrOdine. If using live shrimp or shiners, try using a popping cork and drift over the flats and retrieve the cork slowly while popping it to cover more area.
Sheepshead are arriving on the flats and around local docks. Oldham suggests trying a fresh-cut piece of shrimp to start. If the sheepies won’t bite the shrimp, try fiddler crabs or sand fleas.
While fishing docks for sheepies, Oldham says to expect to encounter black drum, redfish and plenty of spot tail pinfish
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing decent action for pier fishers using live shrimp as bait. Using a small, stout hook and a half-ounce sinker, fishers are bottom fishing around the pilings and under the pier. As of this week, keeper-size redfish are being caught, as well as flounder and black drum.
Schools of baitfish such as shiners are still being seen around the pier, although Malfese feels that the better bite is occurring on live shrimp. If you choose to use shiners, try bottom fishing as if you’re using shrimp. Generally, flounder and redfish will readily take a shiner if it’s put in front of their nose.
On a final note, we wish Jim Malfese’s canine companion, Malcolm, who also works daily at the pier, a happy birthday.
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Larry Riddle from Tampa holds up the largest red grouper catch of his life. It was caught on a live pinfish in about 130 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island on a family charter with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters. They caught many more grouper and some monster mangrove snappers.
Transitional weather makes for tough times fishing
If you’re fishing the backcountry around Anna Maria Island and its vicinity, you may find the fishing is a little tough. We are in a transitional place in the backwaters. Now that water temps are consistently below 70 degrees, the fish we target are on the move to find their wintertime haunts.
Now is the time to go out and explore your winter fishing spots to see if you can find concentrations of fish. Fishing around docks and canals should begin to really turn on in the weeks to come. Also, a noticeable amount of sheepshead are showing up on the flats, which means they should be staging up under local docks and around pilings very soon.
Finally, if you’re looking for good action on migratory fish, try fishing around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for bonito and mackerel. If nothing else, these fish are worthy of providing drag-screaming rod-bending action.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is fishing spotted seatrout in upper Sarasota Bay. Gross is covering his bases during this transitional time in the backcountry by carrying both live shrimp and live shiners. Gross is also carrying artificials — soft plastics on a jighead or DOA shrimp — in case the fish aren’t responding to live bait presentations.
When live bait fishing, Gross is anchoring on grass flats that are peppered with deep sandy potholes. By casting baits to the edges of the holes, Gross is catching spotted seatrout up to 22 inches.
When using artificials, Gross is drifting over the same flats and casting to the holes. Using this method, Gross is able to cover more areas of the flat, which, in theory, gives his clients more opportunity to get their lure in front of the fish.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says night fishing is producing the best action. Pier fishers arriving after sunset are being rewarded with steady action on bluefish and flounder. For the blues, pier fishers are using Love’s lures pompano jigs to get the bite. With a fast rigging retrieve, these ravenous bluefish are chomping on jigs almost as soon as they enter the water. Average size of the bluefish is 2-3 pounds. For the flounder, pier fishers are dragging live shiners or shrimp along the bottom under the pier. Keeper-size flounder up to 20 inches are being caught.
During the daylight hours, Medley days there are still a few mackerel around, but they are on the small side. Bonito are frequenting the pier, too. Look for fish breaking the surface under diving birds and cast to the edges of the school with Gotcha Plugs or small white jigs.
Last, but not least, Medley is seeing good numbers of sheepshead around the pilings of the pier. “There are some 6-plus pound sheepies down there,” says Medley, “but you have to be persistent. The sheepies are finicky right now.”
For bait, try live fiddlers or shrimp.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing just off the beaches of both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key for migratory species like bonito and shark. These species may not offer much, if any, food value, but the sheer power they have once they hit your bait makes catching them extremely fun and exciting. For the bonito, Girle is using live shiners for bait. For the sharks, he’s using the bonito he just caught, cut into bite-size strips and free-lined behind the boat. The bonito are ranging in the 8- to 12-pound class. As for the sharks, Girle feels that these are some of the biggest black tips he’s seen all season — with the largest coming in at 120 pounds.
In the backcountry, Girle is fishing through the transitional phase by targeting docks for redfish and flounder. By using live shrimp for bait on a knocker rig, Girle is casting under docks in Sarasota Bay to locate fish. “We’re in a transition,” says Girle, “but as long as you’re patient, you’ll eventually find docks holding fish.”
Slot-size and under is the average size of the reds this past week.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says he’s hearing of good action on flounder and sheepshead around the piers although the bite is sporadic at best. Live shrimp is the bait of choice for the flounder. As for the sheepshead, Oldham feels that since the fish are finicky, live oyster crabs or tubeworms might entice them. “If they won’t hit those baits,” says Oldham, “they won’t hit anything.”
From those fishers working the flats, Oldham says he’s seeing a few redfish being filleted back at the marina, but again it seems the bite is sporadic. Spotted seatrout also are being caught, but no rallies are occurring. For either species, Oldham suggests using live shrimp under a popping cork.
Finally, Oldham is still getting reports of small shark being caught from the beaches. Bonnet head and Atlantic sharp nose sharks up to 40 inches are being caught on pieces of cut fish or squid fished on the bottom in the surf.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says there are some sheepshead hanging around the pilings at the pier, and fishers using live fiddler crabs or tubeworms are having success at reeling up some of these tasty striped fish. Most fishers targeting sheepshead are using small sturdy hooks in a size 2 or 4 tied to some 20-pound fluorocarbon for leader. Depending on the speed of the tide, a half-ounce egg sinker is usually effective to keep your bait where you want it. Sheepshead in the 1- to 2-pound range are the average for this time of year.
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The Phelps family of England shows off their catch of redfish from a recent trip with Capt. Danny Stasny.
Cooler weather prompts changes in bait choice
The combination of full moon tides and a break in the cold weather, this week looks prosperous for backwater fishers.
Extreme low tides in the morning hours are a great time to find concentrations of backwater species waiting to move back on the grass flats to feed. For success, target edges of channels and ditches or look for deep sandy potholes adjacent to or smack in the middle of shallow flats. These areas of deeper water create safe havens for snook, redfish and trout on full moon low tides.
Once you get dialed in on where to hook up, you can rely on these spots all winter.
With falling water temps, now may be the time to switch to live shrimp instead of shiners while fishing the backcountry. Although hungry pinfish that inhabit the flats can make fishing with live shrimp difficult, it’s good to know you have some when the fish you’re stalking turn their noses away from a live shiner.
Redfish, spotted seatrout and snook will readily slurp up a select shrimp if placed in front of their noses — as well as every other species you encounter on the flats.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business fishing charters is fishing the backcountry in search of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Gross is fishing mangrove shorelines adjacent to lush grass flats to locate reds and snook. For the spotted seatrout, Gross is looking toward deeper grass.
Gross feels the fishing could be better. “Hopefully the warmer weather and strong tides will improve the fishing this week,” says Gross. “A couple of degrees warmer for the water temps would do wonders.”
Due to the cooler water temps, Gross agrees with switching from shiners to live shrimp for bait. He says artificials such as DOA Cal jigs are a good option, too.
Finally, Gross adds that location is a key factor as the water temps drop. He suggests working the back bays, canals and creeks.
For the spotted seatrout, Gross is using DOA Cal jigs, resulting in slot-size fish as well as a couple of whoppers measuring close to 30 inches.
For the catch-and-release snook and reds, Gross is using live shiners or shrimp, depending on what the fish feel like eating in the area at that particular time. Slot-size reds are being caught as well as plenty of undersize “rat reds.”
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says sheepshead are the highlight of the week. Keeper-size fish are being caught by pier fishers using live shrimp or fiddler crabs for bait. Average size of the sheepshead is ranging 1-3 pounds, although the Skyway fishing piers are known for attracting some very large sheepies. While targeting sheepshead, expect to catch black sea bass, small grouper and even a few porgies.
Capt. Warren Girle is working Sarasota Bay for redfish and spotted seatrout. Girle is using live shiners or artificials such as MirrOlure Lil Johns or Mister Twister Exude Darts to get the bite.
For the trout, Girle is fishing deeper grass flats that contain scattered sandy potholes. Girle is drifting the flats, working soft plastics through the potholes to find concentrations slot-size fish.
Redfish are gathering around sandy potholes in water depths of 3-4 feet and around docks in residential canals. For these fish, Girle is using live shiners to get the bite. Slot-size fish up to 25 inches are the norm this past week.
Off the beaches, Girle is targeting Spanish mackerel and black tip shark. For the macks, Girle is using live shiners. For the black tips, he is putting out chunks of mackerel.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says he’s seeing shrimp sales on the rise as water temps drop. “More and more people are switching to shrimp rather than shiners,” says Oldham. “And it seems to be working for them, too.”
Reports of sheepshead, black drum and redfish frequenting local docks in Anna Maria Sound are increasing. Especially through Bimini Bay and Lake LaVista. Spotted seatrout also are frequenting these waters. Oldham suggests fishing the mouths of canals or deeper grass beds to find some tasty fish.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are still being reported from bait masters at the local piers. Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or white crappie jigs are getting the job done.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing is a little slow, although pier fishers with a little determination and patience are managing to catch something for dinner. Live shrimp are the bait of choice this past week since the mackerel bite is sporadic at best.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are bottom fishing to target a number of species with success, including sheepshead, black drum and redfish in the keeper-size range. Try casting your bait under the pier around the structure to get a chance of catching these fish.
Flounder also are being caught by bottom fishers using live shrimp. Fishing under the pier, as you would for the drum and sheepies, is a good idea although you can also find these tasty, flat fish around the edges of the pier and hiding in the sand just away from the pier.
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Mike Haycock, center, caught a 20 pound kingfish and Mike Imparato and grandson both caught bonito while on a trip with Capt. Warren Girle.
Patience, persistence pay off
With frequent cold fronts and steady north winds, fishing around Anna Maria Island will require persistence along with a little luck.
We’re in between our fall and winter patterns, which means you’ll need to get out on the water and do your homework. You may find that the fish in the backcountry that you were fishing have disappeared. Or, more likely, they just moved in search of food and warmer water. Now is the time to start checking canals, creek mouths and docks to locate a bite. You may even want to consider switching over to shrimp instead of shiners if these cold fronts persist.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the Spanish mackerel bite. Reports from the beaches to the piers and even up in the Manatee River prove that these toothy fish are still abundant and on the feed. As long as schools of shiners and threadfin herring remain in the area, we should get a couple more weeks of catching these high-activity fish.
Sheepshead are appearing around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge fishing piers. I’m also noticing quite a few on the flats, especially around oyster bars or areas with rocky bottom. Live shrimp for bait will catch these fish, although you can’t beat a fiddler crab or tubeworm. Remember, a small strong hook is key in catching these bony-mouthed fish.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business fishing charters is fishing the backcountry in search of redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook. To catch these fish, Gross is either using live shiners or artificial baits such as DOA Cal jigs or MirrOlure Lil Johns.
For the spotted seatrout, Gross is fishing grass flats with depths of 3-6 feet. Anchoring in areas abundant with sandy potholes, Gross instructs his clients to cast live bait around the edges of the holes. When using artificials, Gross is not anchoring but simply doing a slow drift. Again, he’s targeting flats with sandy potholes. Fishing either method Gross’ clients are reeling in seatrout up to 26 inches.
For the redfish and catch-and-release snook, Gross is moving to shallower grass flats. A depth of 2-3 feet is perfect. For these fish, Gross is chumming with live shiners to get the fish in a feeding mood and also to give his clients a target to cast to when the fish break the surface while feeding. Not only is this technique rewarding to catch a keeper-size redfish but to catch one that you can see feeding is pure enjoyment. Slot-size reds are the norm this past week as week as catch-and-release snook up to 30 inches.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is still seeing a few kingfish being caught by pier fishers targeting Spanish mackerel. “The largest king this past week came in as 25 pounds,” says Medley.
Spanish mackerel are abundant during the morning hours around the pier. Gotcha plugs or silver spoons are getting the bite. Expect to catch ladyfish and blue runners when targeting mackerel.
Pompano are being caught at the landside of the pier in the shallow water. Love’s lures pompano jigs are the primary bait, although live sand fleas will suffice if you can find them.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching respectable numbers of sheepshead. Fish up to 3 pounds are being caught, but expect to catch more in the 1- to 1 1/2-pound range. Also while fishing with live shrimp, pier fishers are reeling up black sea bass. Most are in the 12-inch range, but bigger fish are being caught.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure targeting Spanish mackerel and bonito. For fantastic action on drag-screaming fish, these two species pack a punch. Bonito in the 8- to 10-pound range are providing bent rods for Girle’s clients during the early morning hours. The same applies for the Spanish mackerel, which are reaching sizes of 5 pounds. To catch these fish, Girle is anchoring over structure and chumming with live shiners. Once these fish have dialed in on the chum, Girle instructs his clients to pitch their baits into the feeding frenzy. Then it’s game on.
On the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is targeting spotted seatrout and redfish. For either species, Girle is anchoring around sandy potholes that are surrounded by grass flats. The idea depth where Girle is finding these fish is 3-5 feet. By pitching free-lined shiners into the holes, Girle is catching a mix of spotted seatrout and reds. Slot-size trout are the norm, while reds up to 27 inches are being caught.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says, “If you can deal with the wind, there are plenty of mackerel to be caught.”
The Spanish mackerel in the 2-3-pound range are being caught on white jigs, Gotcha plugs and Clark spoons trailed behind a popping cork. While targeting mackerel, expect to catch ladyfish, blue runners and jack crevalle.
Pier fishers using live bait such as shrimp or shiners are catching good numbers of flounder. Catching flounder above 12 inches, keeper size, is a challenge, but attainable.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says despite the winds out of the north, the Spanish mackerel bite is hot and heavy in the early morning. Pier fishers using white jigs or Gotcha plugs are catching macks in the 2-3-pound range.
Along with the macks, pier fishers are catching blue runners, ladyfish and a few jack crevalle.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching decent numbers of black drum, sheepshead and slot-size redfish. All three species are being caught on bottom rigs. Pier fishers targeting these fish are casting baits right next to the pier or up under the pier as far as they can get it. When using shrimp for bait, purchase an ample amount. There are plenty of “bait stealers” line pinfish and grunts under that pier that love to nibble your shrimp away before a red or a black drum can get to it.
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Josh Bibler, left, and Jon Pearman, right, won the 2012 Flatsmaster Elite Pro Championship for redfish at Marina Jacks Nov. 11. Winning weight was 14.46 lbs.
A cornucopia awaits local fishers
With calm and clear waters, fishing around Anna Maria Island is improving. Now that the fish and fishers can move along the waters with ease, rumors of a variety of species are being reported.
From the beaches expect to catch Spanish mackerel, blue runners, ladyfish and jack crevalle on top-water and subsurface lures. The high tides are the best time to fish these species. During the high water, these fish move close to the shoreline to corral bait schools. This makes it easy to cast to feeding fish. Small bonnethead and blacktip sharks also are cruising close to shore on the high tides. Try a chunk of mackerel or ladyfish to get these sharks to bite. Sharks up to 30 pounds are the norm —although you never know when a 6-footer may hit your line, so be ready.
Reports from the piers are similar to those from the beaches but you can add redfish, black drum, flounder and sheepshead. For these species, live shrimp or shiners are getting the bite. The method to catch these species is to keep your bait on or toward the bottom.
From the flats, fishers are returning to the dock with respectable catches of redfish and spotted seatrout. For these species, you can use either live baits or artificials. For live bait, you can’t beat a lite shiner although live shrimp will work. For the artificials, try top-water plugs in low light conditions and once the sun rises up high switch to soft plastics or suspending lures.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says the focus this past week was black drum, redfish and sheepshead. Pier fishers using live shrimp fished on the bottom under and around the pilings of the pier are catching keeper-sizes of all three species mentioned. For rigging, try some 20-pound fluorocarbon for leader. Slide a 1/2-ounce egg sinker on your main line and tie on a small swivel. At the other end of the swivel, tie a 12-inch piece of 30-pound fluorocarbon. At the end of the fluorocarbon tie on either a No. 2 or No. 4 hook and you’re ready to fish. Using this rig you’ll have a direct line to the hook to feel the bite. Stab on a live shrimp on your hook and lower it down under the pier to the bottom. Wait for the bite and set the hook.
Spanish mackerel also are being caught from the pier, although Malfese feels the bite is starting to slow down. “The calm days we had right after the last front were great,” says Malfese, “but now we’re seeing fewer mackerel being caught.” Those that are being caught are hitting Gotcha plugs or small white speck rigs.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says King and Spanish mackerel are still dominating the bite. Pier fishers using silver spoons or Gotcha plugs are reeling up limits of Spanish mackerel daily. Average size of the macks is 1-3 pounds. For the kings, live greenbacks or blue runners are producing fish up to 20 pounds.
For pier fishers opting to use live shrimp for bait, Medley suggests bottom fishing under the pier and around the small reefs that surround the pier. Black sea bass are making a showing in abundance. These tasty little fish are being caught daily. Remember, the size limit for black sea bass is 10 inches overall and, according to Medley, there are plenty being caught in the 10-12-inch range. For the flounder, Medley suggests either live shrimp or small pinfish. Flounder up to 24 inches are being caught daily.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says this past week has been action-packed and very productive with his clients taking some nice fillets for the dinner table. Howard’s clients battled schools of redfish, catch-and-release snook and spotted seatrout.
Redfish are on the flats feeding on the huge schools of bait flooding our area waters. Howard suggests looking for the diving birds to get a location of the bait schools. “Throw a shiner rigged under a popping cork into the area. Pop the cork to make it gurgle and draw the fish to your bait offering,” says Howard.
Catch-and-release snook and spotted seatrout have been on the flats and are feeding heavily as winter approaches. Chum with shiners to get the snook and trout into the feeding mode. Howard predicts that the spotted seatrout fishing will improve as we move into the colder weather.
Catch-and-release snook are feeding in the potholes. Try using a large shiner to get them to chew.
Looking forward, the fall season is at its apex and wintertime fishing is just around the corner. Shiners are still plentiful around the bridges, piers and flats. Load up your live well with these lively baits to get the party started. They will soon leave our area and shrimp fishing will take center stage.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island targeting migratory species such as bonito, Spanish mackerel and small sharks. For the bonito and mackerel, Girle is looking for diving birds to find the fish. Once he’s located a school, he is casting live free-lined shiners into the feeding frenzy. The shark are being caught in the same areas as the feeding macks and bonito. Girle suggests putting a small strip of bonito on a circle hook with a wire leader to get some drag-screaming action on these small sharks. Black tips and Atlantic sharpnose sharks are the norm, with fish up to 25 pounds being caught.
In the backcountry, Girle is fishing artificials for redfish and spotted seatrout. In the early morning when the sun is barely up, Girle is fishing top-water plugs such as the Rapala Skitter walk to target spotted seatrout. Using top-water plugs, Girle is catching trout up to 24 inches.
Once the sun is up higher in the sky, Girle is switching to soft plastics on a jighead to target redfish and trout. Girle likes to use the MirrOlure Lil John with a 1/8-ounce jighead to get these fish to bite. Redfish up to 26 inches was the norm this past week.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says beach action remains consistent for migratory fish such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and blue runners. Beach fishers using Gotcha plugs are getting in on the action. Keyes suggests walking the beach in search of diving birds to locate the fish.
On the grass flats, Keyes is hearing of spotted seatrout and redfish. For both species, flats fishers are using live shiners. For rigging, you can either free line a shiner or attach a popping cork to your line to keep the bait toward the surface. Artificials are also producing catches of reds and trout. Keyes suggests Berkeley Gulp shrimp on a jighead or a small MirrOdine from MirrOlure to get these fish to bite.
Finally, pier fishers are still reporting decent catches of Spanish mackerel. Artificials are the ticket to get these high-activity fish to bite.
Expect to catch jack crevalle, blue runners and plenty of ladyfish while targeting Spanish mackerel.
Also at the piers, Keyes is hearing of an abundance of flounder. He suggests bottom fishing with live baits such as shrimp or shiners.
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Fishing writer and charter guide Capt. Danny Stasny, right, and Pippa Phelps of England check over her snook catch before releasing the fish.
Spanish mackerel action remains hot for pier anglers
Despite chilly morning weather and some windy days in the past week, Spanish mackerel were still swarming bait schools around both the Rod & Reel and the Anna Maria City Pier.
For non-stop rod-bending action, try fishing the piers early in the morning during strong moving tides. During stronger tides, the bait schools congregate all around the piers, which, in turn, keeps the mackerel captive during feeding. Small white speck rigs, Gotcha plugs and the Clark spoon rigged with a popping cork are producing catches in the 1- to 3-pound range. While targeting mackerel, expect to catch blue runners, jack crevalle and ladyfish.
Fishing the grass flats of Anna Maria Sound is resulting in good numbers of spotted seatrout. Try using DOE Cal jigs and targeting sandy potholes while drifting the grass flats. Once you’ve located some fish, drop anchor and work the area thoroughly. Most trout catches are resulting in undersized fish, although limits of keepers are attainable with a little persistence and some luck.
Redfish and catch-and-release snook are frequenting the same areas this week. Try fishing mangrove shorelines with lush grass flats surrounding them. Live shiners are the bait of choice. Slot-size fish are being caught in good numbers, although most of the catch-and-release snook are in the 20- to 24-inch range.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is targeting trout and redfish on the grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Gross is switching from white bait to artificials to add a little variety to the day. Using top-water plugs, he’s producing over-slot size trout in the early morning. Then, as the sun gets higher in the sky, he’s switching to DOA Cal jigs and Cotee jigs to keep the bite going. Gross is either anchoring in area where there are concentrations of fish, or drifting the flats and casting into sandy potholes. For the DOA Cal jigs, Gross is using a 1/4-ounce jighead with a soft plastic in the nuclear chicken color. For the Cotee jigs, Gross is using a dark green soft plastic.
The popular DOA shrimp is also working for Gross. He is using shrimp in either the glow or measles shades. Also, he suggests fishing these shrimp in one of two ways, either tied directly to some 20-pound fluorocarbon or rigging the shrimp behind a Cajun Thunder popping cork. Slot-size fish and under are the norm when using these methods.
While fishing with shiners, Gross is catching good numbers of redfish and catch-and-release snook. Reds up to 26 inches are being caught in sandy potholes adjacent to mangrove islands during the incoming tide. As for the catch-and-release snook, Gross is releasing fish up to 32 inches in the same areas.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount tackler is hearing good numbers of spotted seatrout making a showing in Anna Maria Sound. “You can fish the deeper grass flats behind the tackle shop and get good action on trout right now,” says Keyes.
Keyes suggests drifting the flats and casting soft plastics or suspending lures into sandy potholes to find the bite.
Spanish mackerel action is still steady along the beaches and piers at the north end of Anna Maria Island. Fishers using white jigs, Gotcha plugs or Clark spoons trailed behind a popping cork are catching fish in the 1- to 3-pound range. Along with mackerel, Keyes says to expect some ladyfish, blue runners, jack crevalle and bluefish on the hook.
Moving onto the shallow grass flats adjacent to mangrove shorelines, Keyes is hearing of good action on redfish and catch-and-release snook. For either species, flats fishers are using live shiners to get the bite.
Finally those interested in catching shark can still target blacktips and Atlantic sharpnose sharks. The clock is ticking as the water temps drop. As it gets cooler, a lot of the sharks will move south or to deeper water, making now the time to catch a few for the year. For bait, try using mullet, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish or jack crevalle.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says Spanish mackerel are dominating the bite there. Pier fishers using white speck rigs or Gotcha plugs are catching macks up to 3 pounds. Malfese suggests fishing strong moving tides to find concentrations of fish around the pier. Malfese says artificials rather than live shiners are producing more catches.
While targeting mackerel with artificials, pier fishers also are catching bluefish and ladyfish. Remember, always use pliers to remove hooks from bluefish. They have very sharp teeth and strong jaws that can easily latch onto one of your fingers and inflict a painful bite.
Pier fishers using live shrimp for bait are managing to catch redfish, sheepshead and even some Atlantic croakers. Try soaking your shrimp under the pier around the pilings in get into this action.
Finally, casting live shrimp out from the pier is resulting in bonnethead sharks on the end of the line. These sharks provide excellent catch-and-release action on light tackle.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier also is seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel being caught. “As long as the bait is here, so are the mackerel,” says Sork.
Pier fishers using a Clark spoon trailed behind a popping cork are getting the best results, although small white jigs or Gotcha plugs are producing, too.
Bait fishers at the pier are catching decent numbers of flounder as well as the usual suspects — pinfish, small grouper and lizardfish.
With water temps on the decline, it’s also wise to start targeting sheepshead. Live shrimp, fiddler crabs or sand fleas dropped around most water structures will entice the tasty striped fish to your hook.
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The Lacey family of England shows off reds caught with Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters.
High winds, rough seas leave some anglers at dock
With small craft advisories in effect and high seas and wind for the majority of the week, fishing around Anna Maria Island was sporadic at best.
Most boaters stayed at the dock, avoiding the harsh conditions on the surrounding waters. Those who are die-hards were able to catch some redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook in protected waters along mangrove edges in the backcountry. Keep in mind that fishing in these conditions is as tough for us as it is for the fish we target. Patience and persistence are a virtue when trying to find the bite.
Rumors of Spanish mackerel are coming from the Anna Maria City Pier despite the strong northern winds. Gotcha plugs and silver spoons are producing the bite. Afternoon hours seem to be the best bet for the bite.
Before the wind, Capt. Warren Girle was fishing just off the beaches of both Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in search of Spanish mackerel and kingfish. By anchoring and chumming with live shiners, Girle was able to lure the macks to the boat for the catch. As for the kings, they had become spotty at best. Average size of the mackerel was 3 to 4 pounds.
Moving inshore, Girle was finding decent amounts of redfish and trout on the flats of Sarasota Bay. Again, Girle was anchoring and chumming to lure fish to the boat. Girle was working sandy potholes to locate the fish. Slot-size reds were the norm along with spotted seatrout up to 20 inches.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters was working both the beaches and the flats for a variety of species before the wind picked up. He reports Spanish mackerel and kingfish were appearing just off the beaches during the morning hours, when live baits — shiners and threadfin herring — were getting results. On the flats, redfish and spotted seatrout provided enough action to keep the rods bending most of the day.
During the early part of the week, Gross migrated to the backwaters of the Manatee River and Palma Sola Bay to escape the wind. Even in harsh conditions, Gross was able to put a few fish in the boat. Catch-and-release snook were readily feeding on live shiners, although numbers of these fish were hard to find. The same applies for the reds and trout. When Gross was able to locate fish, they took the bait.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says due to strong winds, most pier fishers changed their plans to something other than fishing. Those who opted to fish managed to catch sheepshead, black drum and flounder. Using live shrimp for bait, pier fishers are having success around pilings at the bottom of the pier to find the bite.
Fishing during these conditions requires patience and a little persistence. The fish may not bite as aggressively or as often as normal. Using live shrimp is a great choice when fishing the structure of the pier. Remember to bump up your leader size to at least 30-pound fluorocarbon to prevent breaking off as the line rubs against the pilings.
Grady Smith at Island Discount Tackle is hearing reports from fishers at the Anna Maria City Pier that decent number of Spanish mackerel are being caught in the afternoon despite the strong winds and cooler weather. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs or silver spoons are getting the bite.
In the backcountry, Smith says he’s hearing of spotted seatrout and redfish being caught, although due to the wind, most flats fishers stayed at the dock. Any who did venture on the water were fishing mangrove edges out of the wind.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says, in spite of tropical storm Sandy throwing a monkey wrench in our weather patterns, this past week’s fishing was exceptional with some long rallies of ravenous schools of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook chewing on shiners.
Redfish schools are all over the flats, cruising in the shallow waters. Howard’s clients were able to enjoy frenzied redfish action. Upper-slot redfish were harvested to provide some fillets for the dinner table.
Howard suggests looking for the cruising mullet schools to get an idea of where to hook up some of the other species. “Find a nice pothole on the flat, anchor up current, chum and let your bait offerings sweep into the hole,” Howard suggests.
“Thumb-sized pinfish and shiners rigged under a popping cork will draw all three species to the party,” Howard adds.
Looking forward, the fall fishing pattern is yielding some incredible fish-catching opportunities. Howard predicts the flats will continue to produce and, when the Gulf waters clear up, they will turn on. “Moderate temperatures and easterly winds will calm the waters and make for some beautiful days on the water,” Howard says.
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Capt. Billy Alstrom caught this 25-pound gag grouper while on charter with Capt. Chris Galati aboard the Miss Anna Maria about 45 miles off Anna Maria Island. Big mangrove snapper and Cobia also were landed on the trip. Islander Courtesy Photo
Fishers seek fish in shelter from windy conditions
Due to strong, cooler and drier winds out of the northeast, fishers are migrating to the leeside of Anna Maria Island to find the bite and escape the wind.
Beach fishers using live baits, such as shrimp and shiners, are catching a variety of species. Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, blue runners, flounder and small shark are coming to the hook.
Pier fishing on the north end of the Island is resulting in some of the best Spanish mackerel fishing the area has to offer. Macks measuring up to a whopping 28 inches to the fork of the tail are being caught daily. Gotcha plugs and white jigs are producing the bite. Also, a popping cork combined with a Clark spoon is a surefire way to get some action.
Flats fishing around Anna Maria Island is fair as long as you can get out of the wind. On my charters, clients are catching good numbers of catch-and-release snook along mangrove edges, and live shiners are the bait of choice. Spotted seatrout also are being caught, but again, its best to find areas out of the wind to find the fish.
Within a mile of the beach, macks and bonito are being caught with little effort. Look for diving birds or mackerel skyrocketing through bait schools to cast your bait. For rigging, I’m using 4 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon tied to a 2/0 extra long shank hook. Using this rig, you’ll still get cut off occasionally, but the bite ratio will improve greatly as opposed to using a wire leader. Remember, if you’re planning on macks for the dinner table, only keep what you plan to eat for one or two meals. Mackerel is best if eaten shortly after being caught.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime charters says fishing this past week has resulted in some action-packed rallies of the three premier inshore game fish — catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout and redfish.
Howard says the fall pattern is in full swing with huge schools of baitfish and predators staging in area waters while preparing for their winter migration.
Redfish have been gathering in tight schools on the flats, feeding on the moving tides. Catch-and-release snook are moving off the beaches and into the backcountry, providing for some exciting action. Both species share much the same habitat, and you should be able to catch both in the same areas. Howard suggests setting up near a mangrove shoreline to chum shiners and get the bite going. Spotted seatrout are feeding just about everywhere there is clear water and lush sea grass. “Use a popping cork to draw their attention to your bait offering,” Howard says.
Looking forward, with more of the windy conditions we are experiencing, Howard suggests fishing on a leeward shoreline. The coming full moon period will provide for some days with strong current flow and some amazing fish-catching opportunities.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier suggests fishing for Spanish mackerel and kingfish during the early morning incoming tides. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs or silver spoons are casting into oncoming bait schools to find the macks. The same applies for the kings, although live baits such as large greenbacks or blue runners are attracting the bigger bite. Mackerel up to 5 pounds are being caught daily. As for the kingfish, count on catching fish up to 30 inches, and don’t be surprised to find large fish mixed in.
Pompano are frequenting the shallows around the south pier feeding on small shrimp and crabs. Pier fishers using Love’s lures pompano jigs are catching fair numbers of these tasty golden nuggets, but you can use natural bait, live shrimp or sand fleas, to get in on the action.
Lastly, Medley says there are numerous sheepshead around the pilings of the pier, but he says few are being caught because, “No one is fishing for them.”
With this in mind, now is the prime time to target the convict fish before they get wise to biting a hook. Live fiddler crabs are the suggested bait.
Dave Sork at the Historic Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel are chewing the bottom out from under the pier. Pier fishers targeting these toothy fish are being rewarded with some of the largest mackerel of the season. Macks up to 28 inches to the fork of the tale are being caught daily. Both artificials and live baits are achieving hookups. While targeting macks, expect to also catch jack crevalle, blue runners and skipjacks.
Pier fishers willing to stay out after dark are catching good numbers of spotted seatrout and a few silver trout on live shiners or small white jigs. Try looking around the lights that shine into the water to spot these fish. As they feed, pitch your bait around the outskirts of the light to get the bite. Most of these fish are undersize, although a little determination can result in some slot fish to take home for the skillet.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island for macks, bonito and kingfish — all three species. Girle is anchoring and chumming with live shiners to draw the fish to the boat. For rigging, he uses 30-pound fluorocarbon tied to a long shank hook. Although fluorocarbon doesn’t stand much of a chance against the mackerel’s teeth, the long shank hook aids in keeping the fish on long enough to get them to the boat. Average size of the macks is 3 to 4 pounds. For the kings, expect fish up to 30 pounds.
Moving inshore, Girle is fishing sandy potholes for redfish and spotted seatrout. When fishing the holes, Girle likes to use a small egg sinker that can slide right to the eye of the hook — a knocker rig. By rigging this way, he can keep his shiner right on the bottom where the reds are feeding. Along with redfish and trout, Girle is catching an occasional snook in the same areas.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay in search of schooling redfish. Once he has spotted the fish, Gross is anchoring, chumming live shiners and putting the reds in casting range for some drag-screaming action.
While targeting reds, Gross is having success with spotted seatrout in keeper-sizes as well as catch-and-release snook.
Moving out to the Gulf of Mexico, Gross is looking for diving birds or bait schools to locate kingfish, macks and bonito. When the fish are schooled up, Gross anchors, casts free-lined shiners behind the boat and starts the hookups. If the fish are spread out or hard to find, Gross slow-trolls live shiners. Either method is effective, depending on the conditions. Spanish mackerel up to 4 pounds are the norm. For the kingfish, Gross is gaffing fish up to 30 pounds.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says numerous fishers frequenting the tackle shop are boasting on their flounder. Whether fishing the passes or piers, beach flounder are being caught on both live and artificial baits. For live bait, shiners and small pinfish are getting the job done.
As for artificials, Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jighead are producing a bite. Whether using live bait or artificials, you want to drag your bait along the sandy bottom to find flounder. When bait fishing, Oldham suggests using a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader with a No. 2 hook tied on the end. For weight, use either a large split shot or a 1/2-ounce egg sinker.
Oldham also is hearing tales of good action for Spanish mackerel, especially at the Rod & Reel pier and the Anna Maria City Pier. Mackerel fishers using artificials, such as Gotcha plugs and white jigs, are reeling up fish, although those in the know are using a popping cork rigged with a Clark spoon to catch limits of fish. Average size of the macks is 18 inches, although fish up to 26 inches are being reported.
Finally, Oldham says good numbers of sheepshead are arriving at the piers and pilings. He suggests using fiddler crabs or sand fleas to get these fish to bite. “Since they are just arriving,” adds Oldham, “you can probably catch them on fresh shrimp, too.”
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says he’s seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel being caught. Pier fishers using artificials are tying on Gotcha plugs or silver spoons. Early morning is the time to get the best action, and macks up to 24 inches are coming to the pier deck daily.
Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching good numbers of both flounder and mangrove snapper. Sizes for both species are on the small side recently, but a few keepers are being caught, too. When rigging for these fish, try using about 3 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon tied to a No. 4 hook. Add a split shot about 12 inches above the hook and you’re ready to fish. Remember, both of these species like to hang around structure so place your bait accordingly.
Finally, pier fishers lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time are seeing schools of breeder-size redfish passing by the pier. Some schools — averaging 200-300 fish — are within casting distance, with the average size fish exceeding 40 inches. Remember, if you catch one of these beautiful fish, land it carefully, snap a quick photo and release it quickly. These are the fish that breed to produce more reds for the future.
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