Baiting your hook with shrimp is becoming a necessity due to falling water temperatures and passing cold fronts.
There are shiners to be caught on the flats but, in most instances, substituting live shrimp can yield good results.
I’m finding an abundance of redfish around residential docks and canals that are more than happy to eat my live shrimp offerings. While searching for redfish, the shrimp are producing increasing numbers of black drum and sheepshead on my charters. And that’s a sure sign winter is around the corner.
Using shrimp as bait will work for most other species you’ll encounter in the back country, as well as around the nearshore reefs and ledges. Flounder, mangrove snapper and Key West grunts will readily take a well-placed shrimp on the reef. And don’t forget about sheepshead — they love nibbling shrimp.
Fishing the flats can be productive with shrimp. Deeper flats where spotted seatrout, bluefish and mackerel are lurking are a good place to cast a line. And don’t hesitate to cast a shrimp on a shallow flat to a snook. Most of the time, the shrimp will get inhaled before you can close the bail.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore when winds are light and the seas are calm. Using live shiners as bait around the artificial reefs is resulting in catches of mangrove snapper and Key West grunts by his clients. Trolling large-lipped plugs such as the Mann’s Stretch 30 over hard bottom and ledges is producing keeper-size gag grouper for Girle’s clients.
On the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding the trout bite to be the most consistent. Using live shiners or shrimp free-lined or under a cork is producing multiple hookups on trout, although many are under the 15-inch minimum limit. Keeper-fish are mixed in and Girle’s determined anglers are putting their limit in the cooler. *
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing pier fishers reeling up sheepshead, black drum and flounder on live shrimp. All three species are being caught with a bottom rig and a shrimp. Casting this rig under the pier deck is most advantageous for anglers looking to reel up dinner.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is working the deep grass flats in the bays for spotted seatrout. Using live shiners under a popping cork is leading Gross’ clients to rallies of schooley-sized trout. Slot fish 15-16 inches are mixed in with an array of smaller fish. While targeting trout, Gross is finding bluefish and jack crevalle, too.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting the flats with good results. On shallower flats, catch-and-release snook are being caught with some regularity with live shiners as bait. Free-lining these shiners is resulting in snook ranging 20-24 inches. On deeper grass flats, Lowman is finding spotted seatrout are cooperative. Live shiners or live shrimp fished under a popping cork are attracting this bite.
After flats fishing, Lowman is working his way around the residential docks and canals. By using live shrimp as bait, he’s putting clients on a variety of species, including black drum, sheepshead and flounder. Typically, when fishing these areas, Lowman likes to use a knocker rig to keep the bait on the bottom, where the target is lurking.
Capt. Jason Stock says he’s running clients offshore with good results. Using large baits — threadfin herring or large shiners — is attracting attention from some tough fighting fish, including amberjack, cobia and king mackerel. These three species are being taken by free-lining baits behind the boat around wrecks and reefs.
Bottom fishing in these same areas is resulting in catches of gag grouper and mangrove snapper. Stock also is finding Goliath grouper present in considerable numbers, which makes it imperative to quickly reel up your catch before it gets eaten by a much bigger fish.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters — formerly Great White Charters — is working the inshore flats of Sarasota Bay and beyond. During morning low tides, White is finding numerous trout and snook. On the extreme low tides, these fish find pot holes where they can take refuge until the tide rises. By casting a shiner or shrimp into a hole, White is finding a bite.
On deeper flats, White is hooking up with Spanish mackerel and bluefish. For rigging, he’s using a long shank hook under a popping cork. Combine this with a live shiner and, as White says, “The bite is on.”