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Thunderstorm, snook, old fisher: My night at AMCP

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Stormy weather at the Anna Maria City Pier.

It was nearing 6 o’clock in the evening as I steered the boat toward the Mainsail Marina. My clients sat in front of me, talking about how many fish they had caught and enjoying the warm air that was blowing over the hull as we traveled at 20 mph over the flat.

It was fall and the sun was getting low in the sky. We were nearing a low tide, which was apparent by the wading birds standing along the edges of the channel looking for shrimp and small fish to eat.

Upon arrival at the dock, I tied up the boat and instructed my clients to hop out and wait by the fillet table if they wanted to watch me clean their fish. I grabbed my fillet knife, sharpened it and put a couple gallon-size plastic bags in my pocket before I unloaded two limits of spotted seatrout and one hefty redfish, placing the fish in a bucket before making my way to the fillet table. After filleting the fish, rinsing them and bagging the meat, my clients grabbed their dinner makings, paid me and headed toward their car.

Now, was time for the fun part. It was nearing 7 p.m. as I began to hose down the boat. I filled a bucket with water and added my normal dose of Dawn soap. After a good scrub and rinse, I wound up the hose, gathered up my rods and nets, turned off the battery switch and headed to my truck.

At that moment, Capt. Mac Gregory pulled into the parking lot.

“You wanna go for a beer?” he asked.

I thought for a moment — my wife and daughter had left to go out of town that morning, so I was on my own for the next couple of days.

“Heck ya,” I replied. “Bekka and Izzy are out of town, so why not.”

“OK,” said Mac. “I’ll see you there.”

Rather than just place my rods in the bed of my truck I put them in the cab, where they could be secured and locked away. No need to leave $1,000 with of tackle just laying out in the open for anyone and everyone to see.

Luckily, I had a clean shirt in the truck. I changed, locked the truck and wandered across Marina Drive toward D.Coy Ducks Tavern.

The woman working at Sun & Surf Resortwear was wheeling in the parrots as I passed by. I gave a wolf whistle to the African gray and it quickly responded with the same.

I hadn’t been to a bar in quite a while. Family life will do that to you. As I opened the door to Ducks, I was overcome by a cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Some things never change,” I thought to myself. I saw Mac perched at the end of the bar and took a seat next to him. Within seconds, Lisa, the bartender, had an ice-cold Coors Light on the bar in front of me. I was impressed that she remembered what I drank, even though I hadn’t been there in ages.

So we sat and drank beer, talked about fishing and boats and whatever else. We even managed to chug down a couple Yaeger bombs in the process. It was getting dark outside and I was getting buzzed.

I decided to make my way home. I bid Mac farewell and stumbled out the door, but rather than go to the truck, I ventured to Jessie’s Island Store — just in back of Ducks — to buy a 12-pack of beer and a fresh pack of Camels.

I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to drink another beer on my boat and listen to the radio. Soon enough, after three beers, I realized I needed to stop if I was going to drive home.

Just then, the trolley pulled up on its route to the Anna Maria City Pier.

I had an idea.

A trolley ride and a walk on the pier was just what I needed to sober up before heading home. I put the remainder of my 12-pack in a bag and boarded the trolley. The trolley was practically empty despite a couple of tourist families getting a ride home after dining at a restaurant. By now it was almost 10 p.m.

Where had the time gone?

We arrived at the city pier and, as I exited, the driver instructed me, “This is my last run.”

“OK,” I replied, “Have a good night.”

So there I was at the foot of the pier. Stranded. With nothing but some beer and smokes. I suddenly realized my predicament.

Then I remembered my buddy, Rodney — a bartender at the Waterfront Restaurant across South Bay Boulevard from the pier.

If he’s working, I tell myself, I can catch a ride with him when he gets off.

I called him on my cellphone and a sigh of relief fell over me when he answered. Unfortunately, the feeling was short-lived. He wasn’t working.

He offered to come get me, but I told him, “Don’t bother. There’s always Bruce’s Taxi.”

Well, I thought, I’m here. Might as well see what’s biting at the pier.

I walked through the darkness, seeing the restaurant lights and the gold lights of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the background of Tampa Bay.

The pier was empty except for a couple fishermen here and there and I noticed the bait shop and restaurant were empty and locked up. Closed for the night.

I started my walk around the perimeter of the pier ,looking over the edges to see if any snook were around. I saw schools of shiners gathered along the edges of the pier, where the light shines on the water. There were a few snook milling around in the shadows, waiting for prime time to ambush bait.

The tide was coming in, so I took seat to watch the snook feed. I cracked a beer and sat patiently as the snook nosed into the current.

The water was calm and clear. The air was warm and stagnant. No breeze whatsoever. Then I heard a pop. A snook had risen to the surface to strike a bait. My heart rate increased with anticipation as I scanned the water’s surface to see where the commotion had occurred.

Suddenly, another pop.

I managed to see this one. A large snook shot out of the shadows and burst through a school of shiners. I saw the glow of the light reflected in his big eye as he turned sideways on the surface, the black lateral line was clearly visible as the fish breached the surface of the water before swimming back into the depths under a huge swirling splash. Now my heart was really racing and I wished I had a rod.

I waited for another blast.

Suddenly without notice, a cool breeze pressed against me. I looked up from my gaze at the water to feel the fresh air and noticed the yellow arches of the Skyway were no longer visible. The breeze grew into a cold wind and I realized a fast-moving thunderstorm was closing in on the pier.

Within minutes I felt the first raindrops and then a cloudburst.

The rain was so heavy, I grabbed my beer and ducked into the covered breezeway between the restaurant and the bait shop.

I was alone. Alone in the rain.

It rained so hard I only could see a little way down the walkway of the pier. No land in sight except for the faint glimmer of street lights on Pine Avenue.

Holding true to a typical Florida thunderstorm, the rain ended about 20 minutes later.

The breeze stopped.

The air grew warm and muggy and I began to sweat again.

Now I was ready to find a way home. It was just past midnight and I was tired and wet. I stood up and began to walk toward land. As I rounded the corner of the restaurant, I was startled to see I wasn’t alone. I froze where I was for a moment, looking at an old man. He had a New York Yankees ball cap, which covered a head of wavy gray hair.

He looked at me through his thick black-rimmed glasses and took a sip of coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Then he put a toothpick in the corner of his mouth.

“Nice little shower we had, huh?” he said.

Upon hearing his voice, I realized I knew him.

The shadow on the pier was Vic.

I had known Vic since I was a kid. He was one of the old-timers who fished the pier at night. A real snook hunter.

“Hey Vic, I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“You haven’t been out here in forever,” he replied.

Vic is a legend in these parts. Like I said, he’d been fishing these parts for probably 30 years. He knew these fish better than anyone. He caught some of the biggest snook I’d ever seen and he was a “no muss, no fuss” snook fisherman. You could tell just by the gear he used. A 7-foot boat rod combined with a 6/0 Penn reel spooled with 100-pound mono. And for bait, he only went big, whether it was a pinfish or ladyfish or even a ballyhoo. His method of fishing was “old-school.” Nothing like the sporty stuff we use nowadays.

We sat and talked for a while. And it was like it always was. We never talked about anything but fishing. Heck, I’d known Vic practically my whole life and still don’t know his last name. He was pleased to hear that I had become a charter captain, although he scoffed at the notion of taking tourists fishing. To him, being a good fisherman was something you learned, not something for hire.

We sat and watched his pole, anticipating a bite, where it sat in a hole drilled into the deck. Suddenly, the rod bent over double, pointing toward the water. Vic quickly jumped up and pulled the rod from the holder. It swayed to the left and right as Vic held on with every ounce of his strength. I could hear the fish splashing under the pier trying to shake the hook.

“Keep him out of the pilings!” I shouted.

Upon hearing that, Vic reeled down, pointing the rod tip toward the water, and with one quick lift he hoisted the big snook onto the deck. The fish thrashed and flipped around the dock eagerly trying to find water. Scales covered the area surrounding the fish. Then blood. Vic slit the throat to bleed the fish, which is believed to make it taste better.

It was a slot-fish measuring 32 inches. We stood there a moment admiring the catch.

“I knew that ladyfish would catch him,” Vic said as he panted.

He was still slightly worn out from the battle.

“Yeah, that sure is a nice snook,” I said congratulating him.

“If anybody is going to catch a keeper out here, it’s you.”

He smiled and sat on a bench, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Well I suppose I’ll take him home and fillet him,” said Vic. “I’ll see you, Danny.”

“Good to see you, Vic. It’s been too long.”

Vic grabbed his rod and 5-gallon bucket — his tackle box — in one hand. He bent down and slipped his fingers under the gills of the snook with the other hand and headed down the pier.

I stood there, pleased that I had gotten to see him again. And was pleased that I got to see he was still going strong after all these years.

After all the excitement, I figured I would sit and drink one more beer before calling a taxi.

It was late and I wanted to just sit in silence and remember the days when I was a boy fishing at the pier. I sat in the northwest corner and stared toward Egmont Key and watched as the lighthouse flashed its beacon over the water. Every 11 seconds it would flash. I watched it and counted. Another flash. Another 11 seconds. Another flash. Another 11 seconds. Flash.

“Danny! Danny!”

I awoke to someone yelling my name. I must’ve fallen asleep watching the lighthouse. I sat up and looked around the pier but saw no one.

“Danny! Over here!”

The sound was coming from the water. To my surprise it was Capt. Aaron Lowman in his Carolina Skiff, there to catch bait for his morning charter.

“What are you doing out here?” he exclaimed.

“Waiting for you to give me a ride back to the marina. What else?” I replied.

It was still dark but I could see Lowman at the helm.

He pulled the bow of the boat up to the edge of the pier.

“Hop in, Bubba!” he chuckled. “What the hell are you doing out here?”

I explained my evening to him and he just shook his head and laughed. “I guess I have to tell your wife she’s not allowed to go out of town anymore.”

We both laughed as I sat there holding my head, feeling a headache coming on. Still, I offered to throw the net for bait in trade for him running me back to Mainsail Marina.

After a couple of throws we were baited up and started heading back and the sun was just peeping over the horizon. We arrived at my boat and I thanked him for the lift. He just laughed and shook his head.

“Go home and get some sleep,” he chuckled, and off I went.

A couple of weeks passed. My family was home and we decided to take a walk on the Anna Maria City Pier. We enjoy talking with the fisherman and visiting Dave Sork, the manager of the City Pier Restaurant. Dave is a friend of the family and we were due to “catch up” a little bit. Plus, I wanted to tell him I saw Vic. Dave and Vic had been buddies for as long as I could remember.

We made our way to the pier and began our walk. As we started, we noticed the seagulls and pelicans were ferociously diving into vast schools of bait fish that gathered all around the pier. Spanish mackerel could be seen skyrocketing through the bay amidst the diving birds. Eager fishermen were casting spoons and jigs quickly retrieving them in hopes of hooking one of these hard-fighting fish.

“Hey Dave,” I said.

He was happy to see us. We sat and talked for a while and then I mentioned seeing Vic.

But Dave had a confused look on his face.

“Vic?” He asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I watched him catch a big snook.”

I continue to comment on Vic and how he still looked the same as always. The New York Yankees hat, toothpick, coffee and thick black-rimmed glasses.

“You must’ve seen someone else,” said Dave.

“No it was him,” I said.

He looked me square in the eye and said, “Well the problem is Vic passed away a few years ago, Danny.”

My jaw dropped.

I know what I saw. We had a conversation.

All of a sudden I was feeling uncomfortable. I agreed I must’ve seen someone else. For the sake of not sounding crazy, I let it go.

I look back at the incident and I’m thankful that I got to spend a night snook fishing on the pier with Vic.

He was one of the best fisherman I’ve ever known and I’ll never forget him.

Maybe another night and another thunderstorm, I’ll venture to the pier and check on Vic.

I have to thank him for inspiring me to fish and to teach others.

Send your high-resolution photos and fish tales to fish@islander.org.

Redfish here, there, everywhere and taking the hook

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Capt. David White helps Darlene Bartoletta of Tampa with the heavy lifting of her Sept. 3 catch, a red grouper caught 30 miles off of Anna Maria Island.
Look at all them spots. Jim Thobe of St. Petersburg shows off the 28-inch redfish he caught Sept. 5 while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.

Despite the threat of Hurricane Irma, fishing around Anna Maria Island is nothing less than exceptional. If you can break away from watching the “weather on the 9s” for a moment, you might discover the redfish have arrived.

Although they aren’t as abundant as I think they could be, there are a few nice schools of fish to run out and play with. A lot of these fish are over-sized, so you want to handle them with care. Quickly snap a photo and place them in the water, taking ample time to revive them before letting them go.

Remember, the water is hot, we’re hot, everything’s hot right now and that heat takes its toll on these big reds.
So again, handle with care.

Spotted seatrout also are worth mentioning. These fish are making a showing — and how. On one of my morning charters this past week, we sat on a grass flat and caught trout after trout for about an hour and a half. I’m talking, every bait. At least, unless the angler was asleep at the reel and missed the bite. Now, most of these trout are coming in right at 14 inches. Yeah, an inch short of being a keeper. But, don’t be discouraged, there’s bigger ones in the mix. Usually enough for a couple of limits to put in the cooler. And frankly, who needs more fish than that for dinner?

Snook fishing is hot. I’m fishing mangrove shorelines and even an oyster bar or two, where good tidal flow exists. Most of the linesiders I’m seeing reeled up are schooley fish — up to 26 inches — but a few keeper-fish are mixed in there, too. The strong outgoing tides are producing the best action.

Lastly, I’m amazed at how many mangrove snapper my clients are catching. And the best part is we’re finding them on the flats. This bite is happening while targeting trout on the deeper flats. Snapper up to 15 inches are being reeled up in this fashion. I think just about anyone would like a mangrove snapper on the plate for dinner over trout — I know I would.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is snook fishing throughout the grass flats of southern Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound. Mangrove shorelines where good tidal flow occurs are holding exceptional numbers of linesiders. Chumming with live shiners is proving effective to trick the snook into giving up their location. Most catches are falling between 20-26 inches. While targeting snook, Lowman is hooking into redfish.

On nearshore structure, Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper are in abundance. Occasionally schools of permit are being spotted. Small live shiners are producing the mangs and macks for his clients. For the permit, live crabs or Doc’s Goofy jigs are a good bet.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the nearshore reefs for mangrove snapper. Limits of these feisty fish are being caught. Most are falling 12-18 inches. Live shiners dropped to the bottom on a knocker rig are getting the attention. Mixed in with the snapper are flounder, juvenile grouper and Key West grunts. Moving inshore to Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding an abundance of spotted seatrout. Using live shiners as bait is working the best, although Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head also are producing numbers of trout. Expect to encounter macks, bluefish and ladyfish in the mix.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore wrecks and reefs for permit. Free-lining live crabs in these areas is attracting “perms” in the 30-pound range. Also on offshore structure, mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel are showing in good numbers. Shiners are the bait of choice for either of these fish.

Moving inshore, Stock is flats fishing for snook and redfish. Keeper-sizes of both are being caught on live shiners and pinfish.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is experiencing a great bite offshore. Red grouper, mangrove snapper and African pompano are White’s main focus. To target these fish, live pinfish or dead shiners on a bottom rig will do the trick.

Inshore, White is catching a variety of fish — redfish, snook, mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel. For the reds and snook, fishing close to mangroves or around oyster beds is proving to be good. As for the macks and snappers, the deeper grass flats are holding plenty of fish.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is catching more redfish than he knows what to do with. Redfish here, redfish there, redfish everywhere. Even when he’s not trying to catch redfish, he says he’s still catching redfish.

Schooling reds are being found around mangrove shorelines, open grass flats and even some docks. For bait, Gross is using live shiners or fresh-cut bait — pinfish and ladyfish. Gross advises to keep a rod rigged with a gold spoon handy for when you spot a school of reds cruising the flats. That way you can make a cast in the moment.

When Gross isn’t catching redfish, he’s targeting spotted seatrout on the deeper grass flats of Tampa Bay. Respectable numbers of trout are being found throughout the flats on incoming tides. Live shiners free-lined or under a cork are keeping anglers busy for hours.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing numerous “bull” reds being caught. If you don’t know what a “bull” red is, it’s a redfish that is way over the top slot of 27 inches. In fact, they don’t really hit “bull” status in these parts until around 35 inches or bigger. For bait, jumbo live shrimp, pinfish, shiners and numerous types of cut bait will work.
Other species at the R&R include macks, snapper and snook. Keeper-sizes of all three species are coming to the deck.
Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Crystal clear waters replaced by sweet water, fish still bite

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Bill Starrett shows off a bonita he hooked on an Aug. 30 fishing trip with George Kyd and local guide Gary Huffman. Kid said, “For whatever reason, the bite was incredible. Like I have never seen it!” The group reported hooking up mackerel or bonita on every cast while 4 miles out in the Gulf, and they got their limit on slot redfish and trout in the backwater. “It lasted all day,” Kyd exclaimed.

If you’re looking to dip a line into the crystal-clear waters surrounding Anna Maria Island, it’s not going to happen this week.

Of course, you can go fishing, but as for the clear water, you may have to wait for Lake Manatee to stop draining blackened “sweet water” into Tampa Bay via the Manatee River.

Although the fresh water has flooded along with runoff from the river, don’t think it has curtailed the fishing. It has not.

There are still plenty of snook, trout and redfish to keep you busy. And, if nothing else, it’s just cool to be out on the water when such a change is occurring. I can’t help but look behind the boat as I’m running on the bay waters to see the red-gold tinge to the wake as it churns behind the engine. I could swear I’m running in fresh water at Lake Manatee.

Now, water this dark does compromise visibility for spotting fish , but that’s easily resolved with “chummers.” You’re going to have to put your “fishy sense” to the test.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m seeing numerous spotted seatrout being reeled up to the boat — on some mornings 50-60 trout. Out of those, you might catch 40 in the 14-inch range. Yeah, just under slot again — throw them back. But for action, the bite is excellent.

I’m seeing a few pompano skip here and there, usually as I’m bringing the boat down off plane to approach a flat and start fishing. To catch these golden nuggets, I’m keeping a rod rigged and ready with a small hot-pink jig. The pompano seem to love it and, within seconds, they’re hitting the jig and screaming out the drag.

Also, snook are abundant around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars. I’m not seeing a lot of keeper-fish since the Sept. 1 start of season, but I’m seeing a few. Free-lining shiners is proving to be most productive. Redfish are present in these areas, too, although they are not as apparent as the snook.

And speaking of snook, this open snook season will run through Nov. 30. The slot remains the same at 28-33 inches and anglers are allowed to harvest one fish per day per person — not including the captain and crew. And remember, to keep a snook, you need a fishing license and a snook stamp.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing inshore on the lush grass flats of Sarasota Bay. By drifting and jigging with DOA Cal jigs, Girle is putting clients onto a variety of species. Seatrout, the most frequent bite, is quick to inhale the small plastic grub, and keeper-size fish up to 20 inches are being caught. Other species taking the jig include macks, ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish.

On nearshore structure, Girle is finding numerous mangrove snapper to accommodate his clients. Bottom-fishing with live shiners is attracting these tasty fish to the hook. Most catches are 15-18 inches. Mixed in are an occasional flounder or juvenile grouper.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing the flats of southern Tampa Bay for a variety of fish. Snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are the three most predominant species. Targeting snook is providing the best action for anglers who want to catch high quantities of fish. Anchoring and chumming along mangrove shorelines during strong outgoing tides is resulting in rallies of linesiders 20-26 inches for Lowman’s clients. As for the redfish, they are being found with the snook bite.

Spotted seatrout are being found on deeper grass flats away from shore. Grass flats 3-4 feet adjacent to channels or other deep drop offs are holding good numbers of fish, according to Lowman. Free-lining live shiners in these areas is resulting in a cooler of trout in the 15- to 20-inch slot.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing over-sized redfish reeled to the deck on a daily basis. These reds are all over the maximum length of 27 inches. In fact, most are coming in anywhere from 32-38 inches and some even bigger. For bait, jumbo shrimp, pinfish or chunks of fresh mullet can get the job done.

Other catches at the R&R include snook, flounder and Spanish mackerel. The most abundant catch is mackerel, which can be taken either by lure or bait. Silver spoons or small white jigs are a go-to for artificials. As for live bait, you can’t beat a free-lined shiner on a small, long shank hook.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is known for his night charters, when he takes anglers fly fishing for snook. If you’re willing to fish late, this is something worth trying. Targeting snook at night is productive, as they are considered a nocturnal feeder. Stripping a fly through the glow of a green underwater light and watching it get inhaled by a voracious snook is enough to momentarily make one’s heart stop. What’s better, while targeting snook, you’re apt to hook into some “gator” trout in the process. For fly patterns, White is using some that resemble small shiners or shrimp.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Fish more accommodating by morning, easier on anglers

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Jordan Sprauge of Lakewood Ranch prepares his catch, a late-season tarpon, for release. He caught the silver king inside Tampa Bay on a dead bait Aug. 19 while on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. He and his mates also caught mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel and spotted seatrout and some catch-and-release snook.
Twins Jesse and Halle Jimenez of Longboat Key show off their mahi-mahi Aug. 20. It was caught 30 miles offshore with Capt. David White.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains productive despite the heat and water temps of 90 degrees or better. Fishing early morning around sunrise is most favorable when the winds are calm and the tide is right.

On my Southernaire fishing charters, I’m trying to fish the flats first thing in the morning. My reasoning behind this is that the shallower waters tend to heat up quickly as the sun gets up in the sky, which I feel makes the fish a little less active. Needless to say, its working for me. I’m finding plenty of spotted seatrout on flats 3-5 feet deep. The same applies for catch-and-release snook, although they are found in slightly shallower water and up against mangrove shorelines. Finally, redfish are being found primarily around residential docks, with a few mixed in on the flats.

As the sun gets higher in the sky, I’m migrating to deeper water to target mangrove snapper and flounder. Fishing the artificial reefs in 25-35 feet of water is producing good action.

This deeper water seems to maintain a steady temperature even during the heat of the day, and the fish are in the mood to bite. Also on the reefs are blacktip sharks and barracuda, which adds a nice mix to the bite for someone looking to reel in a fish larger than mangrove snapper — a photo trophy.

Capt. Aaron Lowman also is working nearshore structure for mangrove snapper. Live shiners on a knocker rig are producing a bite for his anglers. On days when the fish are finicky, or if the water is clear, he says free-lining baits is working better. Also, while free-lining shiners, Spanish mackerel are among the snapper, which adds variety to the bite.

On the flats, Lowman is finding numerous snook. Mangrove cuts and edges in combination with a strong outgoing tide are the perfect recipe to find these hard-fighting backwater fish. Live, free-lined shiners cast among large amounts of chummers are quickly being inhaled by hungry snook — which are back in season Sept. 1 through November.

Snook fishers need to abide slot sizes of not less than 28 inches total length and no more than 33 inches.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing pier fishers reeling up mangrove snapper on a daily basis. Most catches are 10-12 inches, although bigger catches are mixed in. While targeting snapper, fishers are encountering flounder, grunts and juvenile grouper.

Spanish mackerel are being caught with regularity at the R&R. Small white jigs, silver spoons or Gotcha plugs are enticing these toothy fish to bite. You also may catch jack crevalle, blue runners and skip jacks while targeting the macks at Anna Maria Island’s northernmost pier.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing the flats of Tampa Bay with good results. Fishing shallow flats on incoming tides is yielding redfish and catch-and-release snook for clients. Mangrove shorelines and oyster bars are key when trying to locate either species. On deeper grass flats away from the shoreline, spotted seatrout action is proving to be quite good. While targeting trout, his anglers also are reeling up Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper and ladyfish.

On the nearshore reefs, Gross is bottom fishing for mangrove snapper. Limits of these fish are being taken when the conditions are right. Flounder and Kew West grunts are in the mix.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding respectable amounts of mangrove snapper around nearshore and offshore structure. Most catches are 12-16 inches, although bigger snapper are in the mix. Live shiners on a knocker rig are working to attract a bite. Mixed in with the snapper are some “door-mat” flounder, along with many juvenile gag and red grouper.

In Sarasota Bay, Girle is targeting spotted seatrout. Free-lining live shiners over grass flats of 5-6 feet is resulting in slot-size fish in the cooler for his anglers, as well as some action from Spanish mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is finding plenty of mangrove snapper while working offshore. Also included in the offshore bite are red grouper, African pompano and a few mahi-mahi. Live shiners are working as bait. To target these species, White is fishing a variety of terrain including hard bottom, wrecks and springs.

Moving inshore, White is targeting juvenile tarpon in some of the back bays adjacent to Tampa Bay. Targeting these catch-and-release fish can be challenging, although the fight from a hookup is a great reward.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Temps still hot, resulting in mixed bag for anglers

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Jaden, left, Sandra, Claudia (kneeling), Helene and Richard Wong, visiting Anna Maria Island from Toronto, Canada, fished offshore Capt. Warren Girle and, using shiners for bait, caught snapper for their dinner.
Dr. Roger Danziger and Dr. Bruce Lipskind show off some 5-6-pound mangrove snappers they caught Aug. 13 in 150 feet of water about 50 miles offshore of Holmes Beach in the Gulf of Mexico while fishing on Danziger’s “NozDoc.”

Despite water temps in the high 80s, flats fishing is still productive so long as you fish early morning as opposed to midday.
Spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook seem to be the predominant bite, especially during swift-moving, early morning tides. Redfish are present, although the numbers of fish are not what they should be this time of year.

Moving out to deeper structure — artificial reefs, wrecks and rock piles — is a good idea, as you approach the heat of the day. Mangrove snapper, flounder and even grouper are being caught in these areas. You’ll also find Spanish mackerel and sharks in abundance.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m finding a great trout bite on the early morning tides. Spotted seatrout 12-22 inches are being caught by free-lining live shiners over grass flats in water depths of 4-8 feet. Mixed in are bluefish, mackerel, mangrove snapper and juvenile grouper.

After putting some trout in the cooler, I’m moving to shallower flats of 2-3 feet of water where mangrove shorelines and/or oyster bars are present. In these areas, rallies of schooley-sized catch-and-release snook are occurring. Free-lined live shiners are quickly being inhaled by the 24-inch fish. Bigger linesiders are mixed in, although most are 22-26 inches. An occasional redfish is being caught between snook bites, but it’s random at best.

Catch-and-release shark fishing is at its best right now along the beaches of Anna Maria and throughout Tampa Bay. Blacktip sharks are the most apparent and are ranging 25-100 pounds. Fresh-cut chunks of Spanish mackerel are working great as bait, but ladyfish, jack crevalle or blue runners work, too.

Lastly, the mangrove snapper have invaded the inshore waters in abundance. Whether fishing the flats, reefs or rock piles, I’m consistently seeing snapper being reeled up. I’m noticing the fish being caught on the flats are barely legal, but the fish on structure are much larger. Free-lining or bottom fishing baits is productive, depending on where you are and what mood the snapper are in.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore for mangrove snapper. By using live shiners as bait combined with a bottom rig, Girle’s clients are reeling up limits of snapper 12-15 inches. While targeting snapper, Key West grunts and flounder also are finding their way to the hook.

Moving inshore, Girle is catching numerous spotted seatrout throughout the lush grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Also in these areas are bluefish and Spanish mackerel, which is a nice variety between trout bites.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing a variety of species being caught during the morning hours. Fishers using live shrimp as bait are reeling up pompano, which are always a welcome catch. The sheer power of these fish, plus their high cuisine value, make them a favorite catch at the pier. Switching to jigs or spoons as bait is attracting Spanish mackerel and blue runners to the hook. Lastly, shark fishing is proving to be productive for blacktip and hammerhead sharks.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is putting his clients on plenty of mangrove snapper on nearshore and inshore structure. Most catches are running 12-16 inches, although bigger catches are in the mix. Also on structure, in depths of 40-50 feet, Lowman is hooking into an occasional permit. These elusive fish are being taken on crabs or jigs.

Along the beaches of Anna Maria Island, within a mile or so, Lowman is finding an abundance of blacktip sharks. Fresh-cut chunks of Spanish mackerel or ladyfish as bait are attracting a bite for sharks weighing 50-100 pounds.

Lastly, fishing shallow flats for snook is proving to be good action for Lowman. Although catch-and-release right now, schooley-size linesiders are entertaining on light tackle.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is focusing his time on the local reefs and rock piles in both Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Most predominant are the mangrove snapper, although Spanish mackerel are not far behind. An occasional kingfish or bonito are mixed in — a welcome surprise for this time of year.

On the flats, spotted seatrout are a mainstay for White. Free-lined shiners are his bait of choice. He says deep grass areas where good current exists are the best bet.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Brave the heat for hookups in-, near- and offshore of AMI

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Terry Shockley and grandson Jaden, visiting Anna Maria from Longmont, Colorado, show off their Aug. 8 permit catch. They were guided to the fish by Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Chris Galati Jr., left, and Dylan Brennan of Team Galati show off Brennan’s catch, two swordfish hooked up 120 miles offshore of Anna Maria Aug. 4. Team Galati also included Chris Galati Sr., Chris Raible, Mike Julian and Dan Cain. The team fished the catch-and-release billfish division of the Sarasota Slam tournament, taking second-place swordfish and the wahoo division.
Amanda Paige Winters, of Millington, Tennessee, shows off the a nice platter-size permit she caught on a live crab Aug. 8 in the Gulf of Mexico while on a charter with her family. The group, guided by Capt. Aaron Lowman, also caught mangrove snapper, mackerel, blacktips, seatrout, snook and redfish.
Visiting Anna Maria Island from the Netherlands, Lars Wygers, left, Meike Van Donk, Renata Pauwelse, Tjomas, Sjoerd, Jasper and Adrian VanDonk combined a day of offshore and nearshore fishing Aug. 10 and caught their limit of snapper along with several keeper spotted seatrout. The trip was guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

If you can deal with the heat, there is some great fishing waiting in the waters around Anna Maria Island.

Venturing offshore is resulting in numerous yellowtail and mangrove snappers. Keeper gag and red grouper are being caught with some consistency. And, if you’re staying inshore or nearshore, the list goes on. Spotted seatrout are in abundance around most deeper grass flats. Also inhabiting these areas are a variety of rod-benders, including bluefish, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle. Fishing structure inshore, which includes rocks, docks and artificial reefs, is producing a good mangrove snapper bite, as well as some flounder. Lastly, catch-and-release snook action along mangrove shorelines is proving to be at its best.

On my Southernaire fishing adventures, I’m experiencing a great bite. Mangrove snapper is proving to be a winner, especially for clients looking to take a couple of fish home for dinner. An added bonus, an occasional flounder is taking the bait. In the areas I’m catching the snapper and flounder, there are numerous Spanish mackerel to catch on surface baits, which adds a nice mix to the bite.

There are plenty of blacktip sharks in Tampa Bay, which is a great way to make use of the abundance of Spanish mackerel we’re catching. Palm-sized chunks of these oily fish cast among schooling blacktips aren’t lasting more than a minute or two before they are sniffed out and devoured. The shark bite is from blacktips that range 4-6 feet.

Finally, on the grass flats of Tampa Bay I’m finding ample amounts of spotted seatrout. Most catches are running just under slot, but we’re still managing to find enough keepers for a trout dinner. Mixed in with these trout are jack crevalle, ladyfish, mackerel, mangrove snapper and juvenile grouper.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is seeing nothing less than exceptional fishing for August. Fishing the artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico and in Tampa Bay is resulting in limits of mangrove snapper. Small shiners either free-lined over structure or dropped to the bottom around the structure are like candy for a hungry snapper.

Moving to shallower water or deep grass flats is producing a range of species for Gross’ anglers. Finding bait schools on the edges of these grassy areas also is leading to spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and small sharks.

Finally, redfish and catch-and-release snook are being caught with some regularity. For the snook, fishing around the passes with good tidal flow is resulting in linesiders up to 30 inches. As for the reds, casting free-lined shiners around oyster bars or under hanging mangroves is deadly.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore for mangrove snapper. Fishing artificial reefs and ledges is resulting in limits of snapper for Girle. Also present are Spanish mackerel. Free-lined shiners on a long shank hook are attracting some of the high-speed predators to bite.

Moving inshore, Girle is finding exceptional numbers of spotted seatrout throughout the lush grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Most catches are 12-20 inches. Free-lined shiners or shiners under a cork are Girle’s plan of attack for these fish. Mixed in are Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are hooking into black drum, mangrove snapper and flounder. All of these fish are being caught by casting bait under or around the pier pilings.

Large, over-slot redfish and snook also are making their presence known at the Rod & Reel. For both species, live pinfish are producing a bite. Stout gear with leaders of at least 50-pound test are a must if one expects to pull one of these big fish from under the barnacle-encrusted pier.

Spanish mackerel are making a showing at the pier due to the vast amounts of schooling scaled sardines. Small jigs, silver spoons or Gotcha plugs can entice these toothy fish to bite.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is putting clients on numerous Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper around nearshore and inshore structure. Chumming heavily with small shiners is getting the fish fired up, resulting in good action. Also around structure, Lowman is finding permit accommodating. Casting a live crab or jig to these fish is triggering a strike.

On the flats, catch-and-release snook fishing is proving to be stellar for Lowman. Some morning fishing charters are resulting in up to 50 snook to the boat. During these rallies, Lowman is finding an occasional redfish in the mix.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is cruising the bait schools along the beaches for bonito, macks and an occasional kingfish. For some pure adrenaline-pumping, drag-screaming action, the kings fit the bill. Casting live free-lined baits to frenzied schools of ravenous fish is resulting in immediate hookups.

Around structure offshore, White is finding mangrove and yellowtail snapper. Chumming with small, dead shiners and placing one on a hook is resulting in success.

Every so often, a keeper-size gag is getting in the chum and wreaking havoc on unsuspecting anglers.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Tropical storm, bad etiquette can spoil a day’s fishing

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Fred Yahya, Mike Grier and Naaman Ritchie, visiting Anna Maria Island from Wichita, Kansas, show off their catch from an Aug. 4 offshore charter fishing trip with Capt. Warren Girle. Back at the dock, everyone was pleased with their catch of mangrove snapper. Girle provided shiners for bait.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is proving to be slightly challenging in the wake of Tropical Storm Emily.

Our clear emerald green waters are now the color of iced tea — and since we are in the south, I guess it’s “sweet tea.”

Anyway, persistence and having an arsenal of spots to investigate is key to finding a bite in the aftermath of one of these storms. The fish are still here, you just have to know where to find them. I find it best to start off with the pattern used prior to “the blow,” and start branching out from there. Eventually we find a bite and, if we don’t, we can always just say, “I guess they’re not biting.”

On my Southernaire excursions, we’re managing to find enough fish to stay busy. Some spots are working and some aren’t. In the spots that are producing, I’m watching clients reel up flounder up to 20 inches, as well as mangrove snapper and some keeper gag grouper. Needless to say, I’m fishing structure.

On the flats, I’m finding spotted seatrout and Spanish mackerel accommodating, although I feel the bite will greatly improve once the water settles and clears up. There are mangrove snapper in the deeper grass areas, which are a welcome sight among the trout and mackerel. Kind of a “mixed bag” and variety for the dinner table.

On a final note, I’d like to touch upon the topic of etiquette on the water. Now I know this is a wide and vast area of discussion that could fill volumes, so I’m just going to write about a specific incident I experienced recently while fishing a small, not so well-known rock pile in Tampa Bay.

I was anchored up just minding my own business, smiling as I watched my clients reel up snapper and macks. The action was pretty good and, boy was it due. The morning bite up to then had been a bit of a struggle. As this bite commenced, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a boat in the distance making its way in my direction. I recognized the boat and wondered why the captain was heading straight at me.

As the boat got closer, I instructed my clients to reel up and take a break. At least this way it wouldn’t look like we were catching much. Within a minute or so, this guy was 20 feet off my bow checking his machine and hitting the “man overboard” button in an attempt to record a new spot. Without even making eye contact with me, he marked a couple of spots and motored away. Rather than make a scene, I sat idle, but the incident festered in my brain, like a rusty screw being hammered into my head.

I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I had heard from other fishers that this boater had exhibited thoughtless behavior, but never gave it much thought until now. My clients knew what had happened and could tell I was holding back anger. They had some choice words for him, too — comments we won’t publish here — but it just goes to show his bad manners were noted by everyone aboard.

We calmed a bit and continued to catch a few more fish until it was time to head to the dock.

Now is when the story gets really good.

On our way in, we spotted the group that had so rudely barged in on us. As we passed, we watched as the captain pulled his anchor and headed directly to where we had just fished.

I felt nausea creeping up, but kept a smile on my face and steered the boat home to the Mainsail Marina. There I filleted a mess of fish for my happy customers. Another great day on the water.

This being said, I think visiting anglers should do a little research on a fishing guide before their day on the water. Asking the locals is a great way of doing this. They’ll know the local guides and will eagerly recommend a respectable fisher. And always ask an outside source— not the guy that’s trying to sell you a charter.

You can trust the captains mentioned in this report and the advertisers in The Islander. Those of us with good reputations welcome feedback. Those who don’t, know why.

Good manners and fishing go hand in hand for professional guides.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing nearshore and inshore structure for mangrove snapper. Casting small shiners in these areas is resulting in snapper 12-15 inches. In these same areas, changing to a larger bait, such as a live pinfish, is attracting attention from some legal-sized gag grouper.

On the flats, spotted seatrout are a go-to species for Lowman. Areas where grass edges are accompanied by clean water during incoming tides are producing the best action. Live shiners free-lined or under a popping cork are quickly being eaten by 12-18 inch trout.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is finding Spanish mackerel and spotted seatrout among the deeper grass flats of Tampa Bay. Live, free-lined “hatch bait” or small shiners are working well for Gross. Keeper-sizes in both the mackerel and trout are being caught with regularity.

On shallower flats, redfish and catch-and-release snook are on the hook for Gross. Again, free-lined hatch bait are producing action, especially when casting around oyster bars. Due to the size of the bait, Gross suggests using light wire hooks, such as the Eagle Claw Aberdeen.

Capt. Warren Girle is working nearshore and offshore structure for mangrove snapper. Mixed in with the snapper bite are Spanish mackerel and some surprises from a couple of barracuda. While catching these species, Girle is hooking into an occasional goliath grouper.

Moving inshore to Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding good action on spotted seatrout. Deeper flats where good tidal flow exists are holding numerous trout 15-18 inches. Mixed in are macks and jack crevalle.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is taking clients offshore for a variety of snapper. Predominately, yellowtail and mangrove snapper are being caught by free-lining small chunks of bait in a chum slick. This method also is attracting juvenile African pompano to the boat.

Moving inshore, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook are keeping White’s clients busy. Casting small shiners under a cork throughout the grass flats is producing the bite. Keeper-size trout are fairly consistent.

            Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Correct tide and bait produces productive fishing

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Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters holds up a sweet-looking juvenile African pompano July 29 for a kiss — on a dare — from angler Darrel Eaton of St. Charles, Missouri. White led his anglers to the fish 7 miles off the beach, where the Eaton family caught and released several pompanos.
Angler Paris Kostohryz shows off a 10-pound red grouper she reeled up by herself July 22 out of 40 feet of water off Anna Maria Island. It was caught on a live shiner on a knocker rig. Paris and family also caught Spanish mackerel and flounder on their charter fishing trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is consistently good for those willing to take on the summer heat.

I am noticing a couple of factors fall into play. For one, a swift moving tide is in your favor. In fact, I’ve noticed the stronger the tide the better when fishing the flats for keeper trout and redfish and catch-and-release snook.

I’ve also noticed fishing earlier is better. Early morning when temperatures — both air and water — are slightly cooler and the fish seem to be more active. Plus, it’s a little easier on the angler, too.

Lastly, the size of your bait plays a major role, especially when on the flats. Most of the shiners in the bar are small right now. We call them “hatch bait” because basically they are still juvenile. When on a good bite, I’m experimenting by casting one rod with a small bait and one with a normal or large-size bait and just about every time the small bait gets eaten first.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m giving my clients a thrill by setting them up on blacktip sharks in Tampa Bay. Most of these sharks are 3-4 feet, although fish up to 6 feet are not uncommon. For the small sharks, sight-casting with medium weight tackle is nothing short of addictive.

Small chunks of Spanish mackerel on a light-wire rig and a circle hook are attracting quite a bit of attention from small sharks. For the bigger stuff, I’m beefing up the tackle to extra-heavy spinning gear. Large chunks of mackerel soaked on the bottom during quick-moving tides are being devoured, usually within 15 minutes of being cast out. These large sharks are averaging 6 feet and taking 20-30 minutes to reel in, which really puts some of the visiting anglers to the test. This isn’t like catching blue gills and bass in the pond back home in the Midwest.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing offshore for a variety of species. By using a bottom rig combined with dead sardines or live pinfish as bait, White is attracting red grouper, African pompano and snappers — including mangrove, yellowtail and lane.

Moving inshore, Spanish mackerel and spotted seatrout are being caught with regularity. Live shiners free-lined or under a cork are White’s plan of attack when targeting these fish. Big snook are being hooked up and released around the beaches and passes.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is reporting a great bite on Spanish mackerel. By fishing along the beaches and in Tampa Bay, Gross is catching as many mackerel as his clients can reel to the boat. Mangrove snapper also are being caught in good numbers, with most being found around rock piles, docks and artificial reefs.

On the flats, Gross boasts of excellent catch-and-release snook action. Rallies of schooley-size fish 20-26 inches are being hooked with some slot-size fish mixed in. Also on the flats, Gross reports finding many spotted seatrout. His clients are reporting catching slot and under-slot fish with ease.

Capt. Warren Girle is working his charters in the Gulf of Mexico around the artificial reefs and wrecks for mangrove snapper. Limits of these fish are being caught during the hour or so just after sunrise. In the same areas are Spanish mackerel, which are attracting barracuda and blacktip sharks. All of which are keeping Girle’s clients busy.

On the flats of Sarasota Bay, catch-and-release snook fishing is productive. Spotted seatrout are being caught on the flats as well as mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting mangrove snapper around nearshore wrecks and ledges. Chumming with hatch bait and a chum block is really getting the snapper fired up for his anglers, according to Lowman. While fishing nearshore structure, Lowman is hooking into a few flounder and some permit.

Fishing in Tampa Bay is resulting in numerous spotted seatrout and Spanish mackerel. Free-lined live shiners are a top bait for either species.

Lowman also is seeing jack crevalle and bluefish mixed in with the bite.

Capt. Jason Stock is still mustering up a tarpon bite, although it’s late in the season for silver kings. Lucky clients looking to do battle are being rewarded with sore arms and fish tales to tell their friends back home. Cruising the beaches and passes is still yielding fish for those willing to be patient on the hunt.

Moving offshore, Stock is fishing ledges and wrecks for mangrove and yellowtail snapper. This bite is going strong, at least until the goliath grouper show up. But don’t worry. Once this happens, Stock is pulling out the heavy gear and reeling them up, too. It makes for a good trophy photo.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Hot weather requires anglers prepare for success

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Dustin Vaughn, visiting Anna Maria Island from South Carolina, displays his catch-and-release snook skills mid-morning July 18, while using shiners for bait. Vaughn and family were guided to snapper and mackerel for their dinner table by Capt. Warren Girle.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains hot.

If you’re planning on spending time on the water, plan accordingly.

First, be ready to catch fish.

Second, make sure you protect yourself from the sweltering conditions that are in store for you. Stock up on water and ice, and don’t forget everyone needs a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. There’s nothing worse than having to go in early because you’re suffering from heat stroke or just plain old heat exhaustion. Stay in the shade and stay hydrated.

And keep an eye on the weather app or the horizon for pop-up thunderstorms.

On my recent trips with Southernaire fishing charters, I’m finding blacktip sharks in Tampa Bay. Most of these sharks are 3-4 feet, which makes them great to target with medium-heavy spinning gear. My anglers are sight-casting to the sharks, which makes the hunt really exciting. For bait, cut mackerel, ladyfish or pinfish will suffice. When targeting these smaller sharks, a rig consisting of 8 inches of wire connected to a 4/0 circle hook will do the trick. What’s nice about a circle hook is the fish often gets hooked somewhere visible, mostly on the outer edge of the jaw. This makes it easy to remove the hook and release the shark without too much hassle.

When I’m not targeting sharks, I’m finding an abundance of mangrove snapper around rocks and docks. And for that matter, even some of the deeper grass flats are hosting mangoes. Most catches are 12-15 inches, although every once in a while I’m seeing fish up to 18 inches.

Finally, fishing deep grass flats for spotted seatrout is providing action. Mixed in with the trout are ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, snapper and small sharks.

Capt. Aaron Lowman also is targeting mangrove snapper and flounder around the rocks and docks in Tampa Bay. To catch these species, Lowman is using a bottom rig combined with small shiners or “hatch bait.”

Fishing rock piles in Tampa Bay is producing action on gag grouper. For these, Lowman prefers a live pinfish for bait.

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman is putting clients on Spanish mackerel, sharks and even a couple of cobia turned up around the artificial reefs and natural ledges. Chumming with live shiners is key to getting a bite.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding good results at the nearshore reefs, where mangrove snapper, white grunts and flounder are coming to the hook. All three are being taken on live shiners. Spanish mackerel and some blacktip sharks also are being found around the reefs.

Moving to the flats, trout are being found in abundance in Sarasota Bay, where free-lining live shiners over deep grass flats is triggering a strike. Mixed in are Spanish mackerel and bluefish.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says he’s seeing plenty of snook under the pier. Pier fishers targeting the linesiders are finding success on a variety of baits, including live shrimp, pinfish, shiners and ladyfish. With all snook being catch-and-release, Malfese keeps a close eye on the pier anglers to make sure the fish are handled with care.

Other species being caught at the R&R include Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, flounder and sharks.

Capt. Jason Stock is taking clients offshore for a variety of species. Fishing around ledges and hard bottom is resulting in a variety of snapper, including mangrove, yellowtail and American reds. Moving to wrecks and reefs is providing action on permit, goliath grouper and a random kingfish.

Moving inshore, Stock is targeting big snook — 36-40 inches — around the passes and along mangrove edges where deep water exists. To target the big females, Stock is using large baits — pinfish and ladyfish. After taking photos, the snook are released to be caught another day.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is finding Spanish mackerel quite accommodating for his anglers. Fishing structure in Tampa Bay or in the Gulf of Mexico is resulting in good numbers of the high-speed fish.

Around offshore structure, White is finding mangrove snapper and even a few hogfish are coming to the boat on free-lined shiners.

Moving inshore, White also is targeting big catch-and-release snook. Large shiners and pinfish are producing the bite.

Linesiders up to 3 feet in length are being caught and released.

Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.

Tides produce a bite, storms put a damper on fishing

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Jack Baade and son Chris, visiting Anna Maria Island from North Carolina, show off a cobia caught July 10 nearshore on a shiner on a charter fishing trip with Captain Warren Girle. The pair also loaded up on mangrove snapper.
Todd Gaenzle of Pennsylvania shows off one of his two tarpon catches, hooked on a live crab July 7 while on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman. Gaenzle fought this silver king for 30 minutes before taking a couple photos and releasing the fish. The tarpon were found biting in the morning off the beaches of Anna Maria Island.

Although the afternoon outgoing tides look nothing less than stellar for fishing the flats, the pop-up thunderstorms we are experiencing are making it tough to be on the water.

Don’t be discouraged — the morning tides are producing a bite. I’m finding limits of mangrove snapper around residential docks and on the deeper grass flats. Where you don’t have to run the boat far in the event of a storm. These snapper may not be the 18-20 inches you’ll find on the reefs and wrecks, but it you can get a limit of 12-15 inchers you’re doing all right.

To catch these feisty little fish, you can try one of two methods.

When fishing around the docks, a small knocker rig made of a 1/4-ounce weight and a size-4 circle hook will do the trick. When on the flats, omit the sinkers and try free lining the bait. And speaking of bait, the small shiners — known as “hatch bait” — are perfect. It’s like they were meant for this type of fishing.

Since we’re talking about hatch bait, don’t be discouraged about size when targeting catch-and-release snook, trout and redfish on the flats. I’m finding all three species don’t seem to mind. In fact, they’re biting the small stuff better than the huge shiners.

You may want to add a popping cork to aid in casting the small shiners. This is working especially well for trout fishing. For the snook, the free-line method is working, especially when the fish are in shallow, clear water. For the reds, try putting two small baits on one hook and see what happens.

Capt. Warren Girle is running his charters out to the nearshore structure for mangrove snapper. By using live shiners as bait with a bottom rig, Girle’s anglers are reeling up mangoes in the 15-inch range. Mixed in with the snapper are juvenile grouper and Key West grunts.

On the flats, Girle is finding spotted seatrout to be the most consistent bite. Free-lining shiners or rigging them under a popping cork is producing trout up to 20 inches.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working the flats of Tampa Bay for spotted seatrout. On flats where the water depth is 5-8 feet, Lowman is finding numerous trout. Most catches are 12-15 inches, with bigger fish mixed in.

Fishing nearshore wrecks also is producing action for Lowman’s clients. Free-lined shiners are hooking up with Spanish mackerel and bonito. Shiners on a bottom rig are getting attention, especially from mangrove snapper, flounder and gag grouper.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is targeting the inshore and nearshore reefs. Live shiners as bait are quickly being eaten by Spanish mackerel when fished on the surface. Adding a sinker to this rig and bottom fishing with the shiners is a sure way to catch mangrove snapper, gag grouper and grunts.

On the flats, Gross is finding many spotted seatrout. Most are 10-20-inches. This bite is occurring on deeper flats in 8-10 feet of water or less. On shallower flats with depths of 3 feet or less, Gross is hooking up clients with many catch-and-release snook.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore with good results. On ledges and hard bottom, Stock is putting clients on a variety of fish, including mangrove and yellowtail snapper. Also in these areas are red grouper. Live pinfish and shiners are proven baits for any of these species.

Fishing offshore wrecks is proving to be good for Stock. Free-lining live pass crabs is resulting in hookups on permit up to 20 pounds. Another inhabitant at the wrecks is goliath grouper. Large baits, such as jack crevalle, can attract this huge catch-and-release species to the hook.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is taking his anglers offshore. By drifting in depths of 120 feet of water, White is leading his clients to a variety of snappers — mangrove, lane, vermillion and American reds. Big red grouper and African pompano also are being taken in this fashion.

For bait, live pinfish or shiners are working most of the time. When the fish are finicky, White likes to switch to dead baits, including threadfin herring and sardines, which often can trigger a bite.