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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Sebastian Sanders, 6, of New York City, was surprised to catch this 70-pound tarpon on 20-pound test. It took 1 1/2-hours for Sanders to reel this monster to the boat for release.
Migratory fishing action still hot in local waters
If you haven’t yet had your fill of Spanish mackerel and kingfish, you can still get in on the action.
Try fishing artificial reefs just west of Anna Maria Island to find the migratory fish. Live baits such as shiners and threadfin herring are producing the best bite, although trolling big-lipped plugs or spoons are working, too.
When fishing kings and mackerel on my charters, I’m using a 12-inch piece of 25-pound hardwire connected to a 2/0 long shank hook with a haywire twist. With a 30-pound swivel attached to the other end of the wire, I tie about 4 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon and make a double uni-knot to connect my line. Using a wire leader, you’re able to prevent the kings or macks from cutting you off. If you’re fishing water that is very clear, you may need to omit the hardwire to get the bite. In this case, try using 50-pound fluorocarbon tied to a 4/0 extra-long shank hook.
While targeting mackerel at the reefs, expect to encounter barracuda, shark, jack crevalle and blue runners. Also while at the reef, try bottom fishing flounder and mangrove snapper. Now is a good time to catch these species, and they taste a lot better than mackerel.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says Spanish mackerel and kingfish are still dominating the bite there. Pier fishers using artificials, such as Gotcha plugs or Clark spoons, are reeling up limits of macks in the 2- to 3- pound range. The same applies for the kings, although when specifically targeting them, pier fishers are using live baits — small blue runners or large greenbacks, resulting in kings up to 46 inches.
Gag grouper are still providing rod-bending action at the pier. Pinfish or large greenbacks fished on the bottom are the baits of choice. Average size of the gags this past week has been up to 30 inches.
Finally, pompano are making a showing at the south pier in the shallow water near the landside. To target these tasty hard-fighting fish, try using Love’s lures pompano jigs. The color of choice is a combination of pink and yellow.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing beachside with nice catches of gag and red grouper. Trolling with Mann’s Stretch 30s or 25s around the artificial reefs, Girle is reeling up gags up to 32 inches. The same applies for the red grouper with fish up to 22 inches.
Moving in closer to the beach, Girle is live-baiting kingfish and Spanish mackerel. Using shiners, Girle is catching kings up to 36 inches. For the macks, Girle is using smaller shiners, resulting in fish in the 3- to 4-pound range.
Finally in the backcountry, Girle is working sandy potholes in search of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. For these fish, live baiting with smaller shiners is the ticket. Simply work some potholes on the grass flats and free-line your baits through for reds up to 30 inches and trout up to 21 inches.
Johnny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says a variety of inshore and migratory species are being caught around the piers and beaches. Both of these areas are convenient for folks visiting Anna Maria Island due to the fact that they are accessible without a boat.
On the beaches of Anna Maria, fishers are finding success walking the shoreline using artificials such as Gotcha plugs, silver spoons and soft plastics. On the shiny lures like the Gotcha’s and spoons, beach fishers are catching Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and blue runners. When targeting these species, Keyes suggests walking until you find shorebirds diving on bait schools. Once you do, start casting into the bait for a hookup.
Beach fishers using Berkeley Gulp shrimp are hooking into keeper-size flounder and an occasional pompano.
Those opting to fish the piers are reeling up good numbers of macks on Gotcha plugs and white speck rigs. Along with mackerel, expect to catch ladyfish and jack crevalle.
Also on the piers, anglers using shiners are catching flounder, mangrove snapper and catch-and-release snook. Don’t be surprised to pull up the occasional redfish, too.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters reports an action-packed week with a variety of fish chewing like it was their last meal.
On the nearshore waters, good weather has produced calm, flat seas and the fish are responding. Howard suggests looking for diving birds to locate schools of mackerel, kingfish, bonito and sharks as they hunt the massive bait schools forming in the Gulf.
This past week’s tides provided some exciting inshore rallies and some nice fillets for dinner. The redfish, spotted seatrout and flounder have been very active and are feeding on live shiners. Catch-and-release snook have been moving slowly off the beach on their way back to the mangrove bushes. “Look for the snook bite to explode as the fall season comes into its sweet spot,” Howard says.
The fall season offers some of the best fishing opportunities available on our waters, Howard says. Look for the frenzy to stay strong until after the first good cold front in December.
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Jim Keyes of Island Discount Tackle, son Christian, 6, right, and Antonio Hiscox, 7, show off a king mackerel they hooked off the beach while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny.
As area water temps drop, fishing heats up
Politics may be heating up, but everyone agrees fishing is great as the weather and the waters around Anna Maria Island begin to cool off.
Migratory species are on their fall southern migration, which is providing excellent fishing. King and Spanish mackerel are swarming bait schools within a mile of the beaches. Jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish are doing the same within casting distance of the shoreline. Also along the shoreline are flounder, whiting and pompano.
On the grass flats, expect to find good numbers of spotted seatrout around sandy potholes. Top-water plugs used in the early morning are a sure way to get some explosive action and some big trout. As the sun gets higher in the sky, switch to soft plastics on a jig head.
Redfish are schooling on flats from Terra Ceia Bay south to the Ringling Bridge. Once you locate a school, quietly approach it and fish with artificials like gold spoons, top-water plugs or soft plastics. Remember, when these fish school up, they see a lot of pressure from anglers, so go early and be the first boat to fish them.
Also, catch-and-release snook are moving from the beaches and passes onto the grass flats and into the bays. Live bait fishing with shiners is a sure-fire way to hook up these highly sought after game fish.
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier is seeing plenty of migratory species feeding on the abundance of flushing baitfish under the pier. Spanish mackerel and schooley kingfish are gorging themselves on scaled sardines and threadfin herring. Pier fishers using Gotcha plugs are cashing in on the action with limits of Spanish mackerel. As for the kings, most are running under the minimum 24 inches, although you never know when a 30-pound smoker will hook up.
Along with mackerel are jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish. You can catch these on the same plugs as for the macks and kings, and silver spoons and various colors of small buck-tail jigs will work, too.
Gag grouper are still being caught. Keeper-size fish of 26 inches and up are being caught on live pinfish and small blue runners. Try casting these baits out to the artificial reef on the south side of the pier to find some hungry grouper. Remember, we only have until Oct. 31 to harvest these fish, so now is the time to stock up.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says redfish are taking up residence around the pier. “I saw one red that measured 40 inches,” says Malfese, “but the rest that are being caught are slot-size fish.”
Pier fishers using live shiners, pinfish or shrimp are getting in on the action. To target these fish, try using a heavy split shot to keep your bait under the pier and on the bottom.
Flounder and mangrove snapper also are coming to the pier deck. To catch these species, fish the same as you would the reds. These fish also like to hang around the structure, close to or on the bottom. Average size of the flounder is 12 inches, although fish up to 16 inches are being landed. For the snapper, fish at the minimum of 10 inches are the norm.
Now that the baitfish are back at the pier, the migratory species are back, too. Don’t go to the pier without a couple of Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or white speck rigs. For the macks, expect to catch fish up to 18 inches to the fork of the tail. As for the ladyfish and jacks, fish up to 2 pounds are the norm.
Capt. Warren Girle is taking charters to offshore structure in search of gag grouper. Trolling big-lipped plugs like the Mann’s Stretch 30 is resulting in gag grouper up to 30 inches in water depths of 40 to 45 feet.
Once his clients have limited out on grouper, Girle is switching to bait fishing. Anchoring over structure, Girle drops live shiners to the bottom to target mangrove snapper and Key West grunts. Mangrove snapper up to 16 inches are the norm. As for the Key West grunts, there is no size or bag limit.
Also around the structure offshore, are Spanish mackerel, bonito and king mackerel. For these species, Girle is free-lining live shiners behind the boat. To get the target in a feeding mood, Girle likes to simultaneously chum and cast live shiners.
Moving inshore, Girle is targeting Sarasota Bay redfish with good results. Using top-water plugs or soft plastics on a jig head, his clients are bringing in bull reds in the 29-inch range. In the same areas on the same lures, he is catching spotted seatrout up to 23 inches.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is working southern Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound for some great flats fishing action. Using live shiners for bait, Gross is leading his clients to a variety of backwater species.
To start, Gross is locating redfish on lower tides around mangrove edges adjacent to deep sandy potholes. Chumming with live shiners, Gross is getting reds on the hook in the 18- to 22-inch range, although fish up to 27 inches are being caught.
In these same areas, Gross is finding a good catch-and-release snook bite. Most snook are in the 20- to 24-inch range.
Finally, Gross is fishing deeper grass flats for spotted seatrout. Gross likes to find large flats that are peppered with sandy potholes when targeting trout. By moving from hole to hole, he is able to produce limits of keeper-size fish for his anglers.
Johnny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action around the fishing piers on the north end of Anna Maria Island and around Bean Point. Fishers using artificials, such as Gotcha plugs, spoons and jigs, are catching a variety of migratory species — Spanish mackerel, blue runners, jack crevalle and ladyfish. From the beach casters, Keyes is hearing of similar catches, including pompano and flounder.
From the grass flats, Keyes is hearing of schooling redfish. Breeder schools of these fish are appearing anywhere from Terra Ceia Bay to the north all the way to southern Sarasota Bay. You can either live-bait fish these schools or use artificials, such as gold spoons, top water plugs or soft plastics.
Fishers at nearshore structure are catching good numbers of macks, shark and barracuda, Keyes reports. Best bet to work the reefs is a live well full of shiners. Once you’ve caught some macks, try using them for bait for the sharks and ’cuda and hang on for some drag-screaming action.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime fishing charters reports an exciting week of fishing, thanks largely to the cooler water temps.
“On a recent trip we hooked mackerel, kingfish, cobia and big spinner sharks and blacktips,” Howard says.
“The spinner sharks, are some of the most exciting fighters in our waters with leaps 10 feet out of the water. It is a sight to behold,” he said.
Howard suggests upsizing your tackle for any chance of landing these toothy predators.
Inshore fishing has been good with trout, redfish and catch-and-release snook chewing on the moving tides. Shiners are Howard’s bait of choice for the trio.
Flounder have been feeding, with some nice-sized doormats mixed in the bunch.
“This weeks ‘High Hook’ went to Cindi Heinz with a 37-inch snook landed from a nearshore reef on a mackerel rig,” said Howard.
Looking forward, the coming high tides will provide excellent opportunities. Howard recommends following the tides up onto the flats and into the bushes as you work the fish, “Remember to keep the slack out of your line to be able to feel the thump of the fish as it inhales your bait offerings.”
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Kevin Overstreet of Tampa and friends enjoyed a day fishing with captains Mike Kasten and Chris Galati of the Galati fishing team on the Miss Anna Maria. Galati said they noted the kingfish are here, as they hooked up with gag grouper and mango snappers to 9 pounds in the Gulf of Mexico waters. Islander Photo: Courtesy Chris Galati
Fishing peaks with more common, cooler weather
As fall shifts into forward, fishing around Anna Maria Island doesn’t cool off, it gets hotter — and the weather brings a variety of species to target. Local fishing is ready to peak and we should have weeks of great action before the chill of winter.
Migratory species such as bonito, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and blue runners are ravaging bait schools while on their way south to warmer waters.
On the flats, redfish are schooling in unbelievable numbers and will hit just about anything you cast in front of them.
Catch-and-release snook are moving from the beaches back to the flats to fatten up before heading for the warmer waters of creeks and rivers where they spend the winter.
Flounder are taking up residence along the beaches and shallow water reefs in exceptional numbers.
And, with only a few weeks of gag grouper season left, its time to get out and fill the freezer with some tasty fish.
No matter what type of fishing you enjoy, now is the time to get out and experience some of the best action of the year.
Capt. Mark Howard says the fishing has turned on. Catch-and-release snook, spotted seatrout and redfish have been feeding on the abundant schools of bait gathering at the mouth of Tampa Bay and on the flats.
Redfish have been all over the flats, gathering in schools on the incoming tides and feeding heavily on shiners. Howard suggests using a popping cork to keep the bait out of the seagrass.
He has been fishing potholes close to the mangroves and chumming with shiners to get the bite fired up. Dock fishing for reds has produced good results last week. “Cut off the tail of the shiner or pinfish to cripple the bait and use a split shot to keep the bait tight to the pilings,” Howard says. Catch-and-release snook are feeding in the same areas as the redfish.
Spotted seatrout have been steady with some nice keepers mixed in the schools. Howard says, “Use a circle hook and fish over grass 2 to 8 feet deep to get a nice bag of fillets.” The gator trout have been in very shallow water in the early mornings feeding on shiners. The speckled trout bite should only get better with the advancing fall weather.
Looking forward, the tides will present some excellent fishing opportunities with a strong falling tide in the afternoon as we move toward the new moon. The steady move toward lower water temperatures will increase the fishing opportunities in our area. “Look for the near-shore fishing scene to explode as the baitfish make their run south and the predators follow the bait migration,” Howard says.
Johnny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle also is hearing of good action occurring just off the beaches of Anna Maria Island.
Beach fishers targeting migratory species such as Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, blue runners, jack crevalle and shark are reporting great action during the morning hours. For everything but sharks, beach fishers are using silver spoons, white buck-tail jigs or Gotcha plugs to hook up. Those wanting to catch shark are using small chunks of Spanish mackerel or jack crevalle on a shark leader to bend a rod.
Flounder are making a showing on the beaches. Try bouncing a buck tail jig tipped with a piece of squid or a strip of Berkley Gulp to get these flatties to bite. Best areas on the beach to find flounder will contain structure such as piers, natural reef or rock bottom.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing Sarasota Bay in search of schooling redfish. The experienced Girle is finding these schools with little effort. Once located, Girle is using artificials such as top water plugs to get these schooling fish to bite. Average size of the reds is 24-27 inches with bigger fish mixed in.
On deeper grass flats, Girle is catching spotted seatrout and bluefish on soft plastics. By using a 1/4-ounce jig head combined with a MirrOlure Lil John, Girle is managing to catch trout up to 22 inches. The bluefish are being caught in the same areas, on the same lures and are averaging 4 pounds.
Jeff Medley at the South Pier bait shop on the south Sunshine Skyway bridge fishing pier is seeing Spanish mackerel ravaging schools of bait fish whether the tide is incoming or outgoing. And even though it’s a few weeks early, kingfish are beginning to get in on the action.
“On more than one occasion,” says Medley, “I’m seeing Spanish mackerel being caught and then eaten by kingfish before they can be landed onto the pier.”
Most kings being caught are schooley-size, 20-30 inches, although fish up to 50 inches are being hooked. Best bet to catch either the Spanish or the king mackerel is to use silver spoons or large Gotcha plugs. You may want to try using live shiners, too. If you’re targeting the kings, try bout 8 inches of 29-pound hardwire attached to a stout 2/0 hook. Bait up with the biggest shiners you can find and cast it out around the school of feeding fish.
At night, pier fishers are catching good numbers of mangrove snapper and flounder. Using either live shiners or fresh-cut pieces of a shiner, pier fishers are reeling up mangrove snapper in the 16-inch range. The same applies for flounder, although fish up to 20 inches are being caught nightly.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business fishing charters is fishing southern Tampa Bay for redfish. By targeting schooling fish, Gross is leading his clients to non-stop rod-bending action. Once Gross locates a school, he anchors the boat and chums with live shiners to keep the reds in the area. Average size of the redfish has been 18-25 inches.
In the same areas as the redfish, Gross is managing to hook up some catch-and-release snook. Most are in the 22-inch range, although fish exceeding 30 inches is common.
Moving to deeper grass, Gross is targeting spotted seatrout. Again, Gross is anchoring and chumming to get the bite going. By doing this, Gross is attracting Spanish mackerel to the boat, which adds a little variety between hookups.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing Spanish mackerel being caught as long as there are plenty of bait schools around the pier. “When the bait is here,” says Malfese, “so are the mackerel.” Small white jigs or silver spoons are getting the job done. Average size of the macks this past week was 18-20 inches.
Pier fishers targeting other species are managing to pull black drum and mangrove snapper out from underneath the pier. For either of these fish you can use live shiners or shrimp to get hooked up. To be successful, try using some 20-pound fluorocarbon leader with a split shot and a live bait hook for your rig.
On a final note, Malfese says earlier in the week, they had 11 manatees that decided to spend a couple of hours hanging around the pier. In the gin-clear water, Malfese spotted a cobia riding along with one of the manatees, although no one was able to cast a bait quick enough before the cobia saw the pier and departed.
It just goes to show, you never know what to expect on a trip to the Rod & Reel Pier.
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Carl Pearman of Anna Maria shows off his trout catch.
Island anglers see fall species in arrival patterns
Signs of fall are all around us. There are cooler morning and evening temperatures — welcome relief — and Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, bonito and blue runners are beginning their fall migration.
Although we are in the very early stages of the migration, good numbers of all these species are making a showing in Tampa Bay and just off the beaches.
Remember, as this migration occurs, with it comes some excellent shark fishing opportunities. With all the activity in the water, sharks can’t help but follow schools of mackerel and bonito to feed. Expect to see sandbar, bull, spinner, blacktip and hammerhead sharks in the mix of schools of mackerel and bonito chasing bait.
Although many of these species aren’t the best table-fare, they do provide some of the best and consistent rod-bending action you’ll find on the Gulf Coast.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel being caught daily by both live bait fishers and those using artificials. Those using live bait are catching their shiners with a Sabiki rig.
The rig to use when using shiners for bait is simple. Connect 3 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon to your main line and tie a 1/0 long shank hook to the end. Stab your hook through a shiner, cast it out and hang on tight — when mackerel are feeding, they’re known to swim at speeds of 45 mph. With this in mind, it wouldn’t take much to pull an unattended rod right off the pier if the angler’s not paying attention. Average size of the macks this past week was 18-20 inches to the fork of the tail.
Plenty of other migratory species are arriving at the Rod & Reel to feed on the vast amount of baitfish that are congregating there. Expect to see jack crevalle, ladyfish, blue runners and skipjacks in the mix, all providing action between mack strikes.
Be aware that the skipjacks have poisonous spines on their dorsal and anal fins. Use caution when releasing them to avoid being poked by its spines. If you get stuck, you’ll know it. A sharp pain and some tingling in your hand may last for 5 to 10 minutes —you’ll be fine.
Lastly, Kilb says he’s seeing some nice redfish being pulled out of the shadows of the pier. Live shrimp, shiners and pinfish are proving successful to get these bottom-feeders to bite. Average size of the pier reds have been 20- to 22-inches, although some large, over-slot fish are being reeled up, too.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says Spanish mackerel are dominating the bite. Artificials like Gotcha plugs, Clark spoons and crappie jigs are getting the bite, although live greenbacks are catching plenty of fish. Make sure to use a long shank hook to prevent getting cut off so often. Macks up to 29 inches are being caught on a daily basis.
And macks that measure 29 inches are almost unheard of, so to hook up your all-time biggest, fish now.
Mixed in with the mackerel are blue runners and jack crevalle. The blue runners are in the 1-pound range, while the jacks are pushing 3-4 pounds. You’ll catch these fish while targeting mackerel. Be prepared to wear out your arm on non-stop action.
From under the pier, live bait fishers are pulling up good numbers of keeper-size mangrove snapper and flounder. Live shiners or shrimp are proving prosperous. Remember, when bottom fishing around the pier, try to fish during the slower tides, as this makes it easier to keep your bait on the bottom.
Finally, Medley says good numbers of sheepshead have inhabited the pier. Pier fishers using live shrimp are catching a few, although more are being seen than caught. It’s a little early for the sheepshead bite to begin. Best bet is to use live fiddler crabs or tube worms for bait, if you can get them.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore for gag grouper and mangrove snapper with good results on live shiners or pinfish. Starting at depths of 75 feet, Girle is reeling up snapper in the 18-inch range. Gag grouper also are being caught with the biggest coming in at 24 inches.
In the same water depths, Girle is catching a few kingfish. By free-lining large shiners or threadfins behind the boat, Girle is catching kings up to 36 inches.
Moving inshore, Girle is working the flats of Sarasota Bay in search of redfish, finding his target during high tides around mangrove islands and lush grass flats with scattered potholes. Upper slot reds are being caught daily.
On deeper flats in the middle of the bay, Girle is catching keeper-size spotted seatrout. Live shiners under a popping cork are working to get the bite. And on the beaches, Girle seeks out Spanish mackerel and bonito, where he takes a cue from the diving birds. Average size of the macks is 20 inches to the fork of the tail.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good action at both the Rod & Reel and the Anna Maria City Pier on Spanish mackerel. Both live bait and artificials are producing the bite. According to Oldham, the best action is occurring during the morning hours from sunrise until about 9 a.m. For lures, most mackerel fishers are using white crappie jigs or Clark spoons rigged with a popping cork. Others are using Sabiki rigs to catch shiners. Pier fishers targeting mackerel should also expect to hook up with blue runners, jack crevalle and ladyfish.
From the grass flats, Oldham is seeing good numbers of spotted seatrout and redfish being brought to the marina fillet table. The charter captains at Keyes Marina are bringing in catches of both species daily. And Oldham says he’s seen some nice flounder in the coolers.
From the beaches, Oldham says a variety of species are being caught, including mackerel, jack crevalle and shark — all on live baits. “Look for diving birds,” says Oldham, “and you’ll find the fish.” Flounder also are being caught along the beaches, and Oldham suggests a Berkeley Gulp shrimp on a 1/4-ounce jig head will get attention from the flat fish.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters out of Keyes is fishing shallow grass flats for redfish and catch-and-release snook. For both species, Gross is using live shiners for bait. To fish these baits, he’s using either a free-line or a popping cork. For free-lining baits, Gross likes to use 3-4 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon tied to an Eagle Claw live bait hook. When using a popping cork, Gross uses basically the same rig with a cork set to correspond with the depth of the water.
On the deeper flats, Gross is catching plenty of keeper-size spotted seatrout. Again, he’s hooking up live shiners for bait. Most of the trout are ranging 15-18 inches. Rigging is the same as for reds or snook, or add a popping cork to the mix.
Finally, Gross is getting good action on Spanish mackerel by fishing nearshore structure in the Gulf of Mexico and around Longboat Pass. Gross is using live shiners or artificials, such as Gotcha plugs or white jigs, to get in on the action. When targeting macks, Gross likes to use 30-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a long shank hook or a lure.
On a final note, the fifth annual Gullett Mullet Invitational Tournament and Fish Fry is coming up Oct. 12-13. This event is sponsored by the Sarasota Fish and Game Association and the Gullet Family. Proceeds benefit outdoor activities for youth, including the annual Jerry Hill Memorial Kids’ Fishing Tournament.
A captain’s meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, at the Palmetto Point Civic Association, 637 43rd St. Blvd. W., Palmetto. Weigh-in begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, with awards presented at 6 p.m.
An old-fashioned fish fry — the tourney catch — including Gullet’s much sought-after smoked mullet, will be served at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13.
To register for the fishing tournament or for more information, call 941-792-8314.
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Bill Nairn, visiting Anna Maria from Orlando, caught this 26-inch redfish while on a recent charter with Capt. Warren Girle.
Area waters start cool down, fishing remains hot
As water temperatures gradually get cooler, expect the action for migratory species to heat up.
Good numbers of Spanish mackerel, bonito, jack crevalle and blue runners are making a showing in south Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. To find schools of these high-activity fish, try looking for diving birds. They are a giveaway that fish are feeding on baitfish on the surface of the water below them.
Anglers can motor right up to the schools of feeding fish and cast live baits or artificials into the action. If using live baits, shiners will do the trick. If using artificials, an assortment of different colored jigs will work as well as silver spoons and top-water plugs with silver sides.
Remember, with all of this action occurring, expect to see plenty of sharks. Species include blacktip, spinner, sandbar, bull, hammerhead and bonnethead. I suggest using 3 feet of 100-pound hardwire tied to a 5/0 circle hook with a haywire twist to help reel up most sharks up to 6 feet in length. If you’re after the big boys, you may want to increase your leader and hook sizes.
These sharks are feeding on whatever migratory species are in the area, so make use of these species for bait. A chunk of Spanish mackerel or bonito is like candy to a shark. Don’t forget to update yourself on new limits and prohibitions for harvesting shark if you plan on keeping one.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says a variety of fish are being caught daily, although the bite is sporadic at best. “We’re seeing all kinds of fish being caught,” says Kilb, “but the numbers aren’t there yet.”
To start, pier fishers using white speck rigs are catching Spanish mackerel. Mixed in with the mackerel are ladyfish, jack crevalle and blue runners. Typically the macks are feeding in the morning and soon after the bite diminishes. As for the ladyfish, jacks and blue runners, you should be able to catch them most of the day.
Those opting to use live shrimp or shiners are catching juvenile grouper, redfish and black drum. These catches are occurring under the pier around structure. Anglers may need to be patient when fishing for these species, since the bite is hit or miss.
Steve Oldham at Island Discount Tackle says due to the water temps dropping into the lower 80s, fishing in the canals is improving. Stories of redfish, black drum and mangrove snapper are being told daily, with most catches occurring on live shrimp. Typically, during this time of year, vast amounts of catfish invade the canals, so expect to catch a few. Oldham suggests carrying a dehooking device to aid in releasing these slimy bottom-feeders. Plus, it can prevent being stabbed by the catfish’s poisonous dorsal and pectoral fins.
Around the local piers, Oldham is hearing of good numbers of migratory species — mackerel, jack crevalle, ladyfish and blue runners — being caught. “A Clark spoon trailed behind a popping cork is a great choice to add to your arsenal,” says Oldham. “Gotcha plugs and white jigs are a must, too, for serious mackerel fishers.”
Also around the piers, Oldham is seeing bait fishers reeling up good numbers of flounder. A No. 2 long shank hook baited with a live shiner or shrimp will get you hooked up. Add a split shot about 18 inches above your bait and drag the bottom around the pilings. When you feel a slight resistance, set the hook. The flounder bite is subtle, so it may take a few nibbles to get the hang of it.
Finally, Oldham is hearing from the charter captains of good action on the grass flats. Spotted seatrout, redfish and catch-and-release snook are being boated daily by their clients. Most of the trout are in the 15- to18-inch range, while the reds being caught are running up to 25 inches.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Just Reel charters is fishing north Sarasota Bay and around the Cortez “kitchen” for mangrove snapper.
Johnston is using live shiners and shrimp to catch these tasty little fish. Snapper up to 15 inches are the norm this past week, which is a great size for a bay catch.
Along with snapper, Johnston is catching numerous juvenile gag and red grouper, as well as decent numbers of keeper-size sheepshead. For the sheepies, Johnston is using whole live shrimp or fresh-cut pieces.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters is working the backcountry in search of redfish. Gross is using live shiners for bait and also for chum. Once he locates a congregation of fish, he anchors and chums to get the target in a feeding mood. His clients then cast free-lined shiners into the strike zone to hook up. Most reds being caught this week were in the 20- to 24-inch range.
In Sarasota Bay, Gross is seeing decent numbers of catch-and-release snook although most are in the 20-inch range.
Again, Gross is anchoring and chumming shiners to get the bite going. In these same areas, Gross is hooking up spotted seatrout up to 22 inches.
Finally, Gross is putting his clients on deep grass flats on the edges of channels to catch mangrove snapper and flounder. Instead of free-lining his bait, Gross is adding a small split shot about 12 inches up the line from a shiner. This aids in getting the bait toward the bottom, in the strike zone. Snapper up to 14 inches are the norm. The same applies for flounder.
Capt. Warren Girle is working north Sarasota Bay for a variety of flats and migratory species, using live shiners to get the bite.
To start, Girle is catching redfish up to 27 inches by free-lining shiners behind the boat. Using his trolling motor, he can quietly scan the flats in search of sandy potholes and ditches. These holes are where the reds congregate, especially during lower tides. Once the fish are located, Girle chums with live shiners before putting out the hooks.
In these same areas, Girle is hooking up spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Trout up to 23 inches are being caught on live shiners, mixed in with some reds. For the snook, Girle pulls up and works near the mangroves.
Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Girle is finding Spanish mackerel and bonito ravaging schools of baitfish. Girle suggests looking for diving birds to locate the fish. Live baits such as shiners or threadfin herring will get the bite, as well as artificials, such as Gotcha plugs or silver spoons.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says migratory species are thrashing bait schools around the pier during the early morning tides, and both live and artificial baits are producing good numbers of fish. For live bait, try shiners or threadfin herring. If you choose to use lures, Gotcha plugs or silver spoons rigged on a popping cork also will get a bite.
Migratory species being caught at the pier include Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, blue runners and small sharks. If you’re targeting macks, Medley suggests keeping the bait in the upper part of the water column — toward the top. Once the bait reaches depths of 4 or 5 feet below the surface, expect to catch jack crevalle and blue runners.
For sharks, simply cast out a small chunk of any of the species mentioned to get in on the action. Don’t forget to use a wire leader if you plan on landing a shark.
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Fred Coomley shows off a firetruck red grouper he caught on a sardine in about 120 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island while fishing with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters.
Flats, structure, reefs — great fishing action to be found
Flats fishers this past week are reporting good action on the grass in southern Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay. Using live shiners for bait, fishers caught good numbers of redfish as well as spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook.
If you’re looking for fast action, try fishing around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge for Spanish mackerel, bonito, jack crevalle and blue runners. These species provide good action on light tackle and will readily hit live bait or artificials. Look for diving birds to locate the fish.
Mangrove snapper are beginning to feed on nearshore structure. To get in on the frenzy, once anchored, try dropping a chum block over the gunwale to get the fish in the mood. Small live shiners fished toward the bottom should get you into the action.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing decent numbers of Spanish mackerel, blue runners and jack crevalle being caught during the early morning hours or before sunset. Pier fishers using white jigs or silver spoons are getting the bite. When this trio is feeding, it’s a toss up as to what you will catch. No species will dominate, as they all feed together. This at least provides some variety as well as drag-screaming action on ultra-light tackle.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing most fishing action occurring in the early mornings. Pier fishers targeting bottom species such as redfish, flounder and black drum are getting action on live baits such as shiners and shrimp. For the black drum, live shrimp fished far up underneath the pier are getting the bite. If you want to catch redfish or flounder, try using the same techniques, only switch from baiting shrimp to a live shiner.
Spanish mackerel are still being caught around the pier, although the bite is sporadic at best. Small white jigs, especially those on a speck rig, are getting results when the macks are present.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing for redfish in southern Tampa Bay with good results. Using live shiners for bait, Gross is catching reds in the 20- to 25-inch range. On the lower tides, Gross is having good luck fishing outer edges of bars and grass flats.
In these same areas, Gross is finding good numbers of spotted seatrout, as well as a few catch-and-release snook. As the tide rises, Gross moves onto the flat toward the mangroves. Knowing that these fish will move for cover on high water, Gross is able to follow them to the mangrove edges and keep the bite going.
Moving to deeper water in Tampa Bay, Gross is finding small structure to target mangrove snapper. Again he’s using live shiners for bait. Once anchored, Gross is dropping either whole live shiners or fresh-cut shiners to the bottom to catch the tasty little snappers. Along with mangoes, Gross is catching a few keeper-size flounder.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore with good results on mangrove snapper. Using live shiners for bait, Girle is pulling up limits of mangrove snapper that average 16 inches. Girle suggests fishing structure in depths of 30-50 feet.
In these same areas, Girle is catching good numbers of undersized red and gag grouper. Expect to catch a few keeper fish in the mix, although the majority are small. Again, live shiners are producing the bite, but a large pinfish may entice a bigger grouper to bite.
In the upper water column, Girle is finding Spanish mackerel, bonito and small sharks. For the macks and bonito, Girle is free-lining live shiners on a long shank hook behind the boat. The same applies for the sharks.
Moving inshore, Girle is catching keeper-size redfish and spotted seatrout. When fishing the flats in Sarasota Bay, Girle likes to locate sandy potholes to find the fish. Casting live shiners into these holes allows his clients some great flats action.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says Spanish mackerel and bonito are corralling bait schools during the early morning tides. Look for diving birds or skyrocketing macks and bonito, crashing the water through schools of frightened baitfish. Gotcha plugs are the lure of choice, although white jigs and silver spoons also are producing. Expect to catch jack crevalle and blue runners on the same lures.
Mangrove snapper are producing good action for Skyway fishers using live greenbacks for bait. Try using enough weight to keep the bait close to the structures around the pier. According to Medley, the outgoing tides are resulting in the most numbers of fish caught. Average size of the mangoes this past week was 16 inches.
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