Tag Archives: fishing

Island-area anglers find fishing hot prior to cold front

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Vince and Neda Uliano of Pennsylvania show off a redfish, caught Dec. 6 in Sarasota Bay. They caught several nice redfish using shiners as bait, but kept only one fish for dinner to promote conservation. They were guided to the fish by Capt. Warren Girle.

Fishing prior to the cold front that blew through the area Dec. 10-11 was producing excellent action for Anna Maria Island anglers.

Fishing the flats has been good for redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Snook season ended Dec. 1.

Inshore fishing around docks and shallow water structure is providing action on sheepshead, snapper and gag grouper.

Those willing to venture into the Gulf of Mexico are being rewarded with variety, including migratory species — blackfin tuna, kingfish, amberjack and bonito. Bottom-fishing while offshore is producing red grouper, mangrove snapper, hogfish, flounder and Key West grunts.

On my own charters for Southernaire, I’m finding great action within 9 miles of shore. During the calmer days, when the seas are smooth, I’m fishing ledges and hard-bottom areas. By baiting with live shrimp, my clients are reeling up gag and red grouper, hogfish, lane and mangrove snapper, as well as triggerfish and Key West grunts.

While working the flats with live shiners for bait, I’m finding the catch-and-release snook fishing exhilarating for my clients. Snook up to 30 inches are taking the hook, although most are 22-26 inches. Spotted seatrout and bluefish also are being caught on the flats — in abundance.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishers using live shrimp for bait are catching black drum, sheepshead, flounder and an occasional redfish. As happens every year, Malfese says that since snook season closed, linesiders have shown up in great numbers. Live shiners, pinfish and ladyfish are working for the catch-and release snook.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing the Gulf of Mexico for a variety of species. On calm days, bottom-fishing around ledges is producing hogfish, snappers and gag grouper. For these fish, Lowman is using either live shrimp or pinfish. Also present are kingfish and bonito. Live shiners are the bait of choice for these guys. While en route to his offshore spots, Lowman is putting clients on numerous triple tail. Casting live shrimp to these fish is resulting in a bite.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is working nearshore and on the flats. Kingfish and bonito are providing good action for Gross’ clients in 40 feet of water around the artificial reefs. Most kings are in the 10-pound range, while fish up to 30 pounds are mixed in. On the flats, catch-and-release snook are in abundance, as well as spotted seatrout, bluefish and a few redfish.

Capt. Warren Girle is targeting the flats of Sarasota Bay for redfish. Girle is locating schooling reds, which provide an excellent bite for his clients. Redfish 20-30 inches are being caught on live free-lined shiners and fresh-cut chunks of ladyfish. Also present around the redfish schools are catch-and-release snook. On the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is hooking up clients with numerous spotted seatrout, as well as bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Fishing offshore is resulting in keeper-size gag grouper and mangrove snapper for Girle. Both are being taken by combining live shiners with a bottom rig. Fishing ledges and artificial reefs is a good place to start.

Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore for a variety of species. While patrolling offshore reefs and wrecks, Stock is putting clients on numerous kingfish and amberjack. Using artificials, such as surface poppers, is providing excellent action. Bottom-fishing with live bait, such as shiners and pinfish, is attracting attention from flounder up to 22 inches, as well as snapper and grouper. Dropping live baits — such as jack crevalle — to the bottom is resulting in a monster hookup — goliath grouper — a catch-and-release photo trophy.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters was taking advantage of the nice weather ahead of the cold front. On these calm days, White is venturing offshore in search of a variety of species, including blackfin tuna, amberjack, gag grouper, hogfish and red grouper.

Moving inshore, he’s using shrimp as bait to put clients on sheepshead and black drum. Spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook also are being caught using live shiners as bait.

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

Pleasant fall weather promises all-around good fishing

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Tom Hooker of Tampa shows off a bluefish caught Nov. 25. The fish, caught on a fly, crushed the topwater popper. Hooker was guided by Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.
Roger Danziger shows off his catch at the dock from a day’s fishing, an African pompano and 30-inch gag grouper caught Dec. 2 while fishing 38 miles off Holmes Beach in 128 feet of water.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is as pleasant as the weather.

With a light easterly breeze and calm seas, both inshore and offshore adventures are promising. Fishing inshore around the bays and Manatee River is providing good action on spotted seatrout and snook. Redfish — especially around docks and canals — are plentiful. Live bait such as shiners and shrimp — both readily available — are getting the most attention, although lead-head jigs combined with soft plastics also are producing.

Moving offshore, gag grouper are being found around the artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, where Spanish mackerel, kingfish and bonito also are present. Moving out to about 7 miles, around reefs and ledges, is resulting in action on blackfin tuna, cobia and amberjack.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m finding decent action on redfish around bayfront docks and in the canals. Casting select shrimp under the docks is yielding redfish up to 22 inches. Black drum, flounder and sheepshead also are being taken in this fashion.

On warm days, fishing the flats for trout and snook is resulting in good action. Most snook being caught are just under slot. As for the trout, slot-size and under-slot fish are mixed together. While targeting the trout, I’m also seeing bluefish, jacks and mackerel on the hook.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishers using shrimp as bait are hooking into a variety of species. Combining the shrimp with a bottom rig and casting it under the pier deck is attracting redfish, black drum and even a few early-season sheepshead.

Simply free-lining shrimp and casting them out from the pier is resulting in catches of jack crevalle, ladyfish and an occasional pompano.

Lastly, using live pinfish and shiners as bait is a good bet for targeting snook, and Malfese says keeper fish are being caught.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is following the snook bite as it moves from the beaches and passes to the back bays and rivers and casting live shiners among these fish is triggering a response for his clients. Spotted seatrout are being caught in the bays and rivers on both live shiners and artificials, such as the DOA shrimp. In the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman is seeing a variety of species, including tripletail, hogfish, gag grouper and mangrove snapper.

Capt. Warren Girle is working the nearshore structure with good results. By using live bait — pinfish and shiners — Girle’s clients are attracting keeper-size gag grouper to the hook. Also around structure, Girle’s clients are hooking into macks and a few kingfish.

On the flats, snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are being taken on live shiners and artificials, such as soft plastics on a jig head. While targeting the trout, Girle also is hooking clients up with bluefish and macks.

Capt. Jason Stock is taking advantage of the light breezes from the east and venturing offshore. Fishing around the wrecks in the Gulf is providing good action on kingfish, blackfin tuna, amberjack and cobia. Fishing around ledges and reefs is producing bent rods — especially on gag grouper and some big mangrove snapper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is finding good action inshore on windy days by fishing canals and docks. Black drum and sheepshead are dominating this bite. Pompano also are being found inshore on deeper grass flats. Jigs tipped with shrimp are the key to success, says White. On the warmer days, White is putting clients on some good snook action, as well as a few redfish and spotted seatrout on the flats. Moving into the Gulf, the reefs and wrecks are proving to be good for gag grouper and kingfish on White’s charter trips.

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

Various weather conditions result in varied catches

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Sarah Hutchison, visiting Anna Maria Island from Rogers, Arkansas, didn’t need to take her vacation in the Florida Keys or the Bahamas to hook up a fighting bonefish. She found her catch in Sarasota Bay on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing. Islander Courtesy Photo
Donnie and Don Sisson, a father and son fishing team from Colorado, show off their Nov. 17 inshore catch of spotted seatrout and snook, hooked in Sarasota Bay using shiners for bait. They were guided to the fish by Capt. Warren Girle, who reminds anglers the current season for snook winds up this month.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is “all over the charts.”

Fishing warm, mild days before cold fronts is proving to be on the exceptional side, while fishing during and shortly after the fronts is yielding mediocre catches — and discouraged anglers.

Snook action is occurring when the sun shines bright and warms things up and the tides are moving swiftly. On my Southernaire charters, we had some days of 40-plus snook to the boat in less than an hour and a half. Even the redfish couldn’t resist hitting a free-lined shiner on those days.

Venturing out to the reefs on calm days has proved prosperous for kingfish and Spanish mackerel. Numerous kings in the 36-inch range were nothing short of hectic on the backwater spinning gear we were using. An ample supply of shiners in the bait well was critical to keep chumming up interest among the kings.

On mornings where the temperature was 55 degrees and the wind was blowing 20 mph, the fishing can be a “reality check” at best. I catch myself saying, “You’re not as good as you thought you were” on those days. Still, I am managing to scrape up some redfish from under the docks by using live shrimp on a knocker rig. Spotted seatrout are staying somewhat clumsy around my hooks on those cooler days, although the tide has been moving pretty good for them to commit.

Capt. Warren Girle is targeting a variety of backwater species in Sarasota Bay. Snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are at the top of his list, while jack crevalle, ladyfish and blue fish also are coming to the hook. Live shiners or pinfish as bait are preferred, although Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jighead is yielding results.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working in Tampa Bay south to Sarasota Bay. He’s finding spotted seatrout are the most prevalent species, while snook and redfish also are present. Spanish mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle are mixed in when fishing deeper grass flats. Live shiners as bait are working for his clients, although live shrimp are attracting a redfish bite when dock fishing.

Gag grouper are another species popular on Lowman’s boat this past week. Trolling around structure is producing keeper-sized fish.

Capt. Jason Stock is running charters offshore when the winds are calm from the east. In the 4-mile range, Stock is targeting Spanish mackerel and kingfish. Live, free-lined shiners are attracting the attention of macks, as well as — surprise — tarpon. Not bad for mackerel fishing, huh? Other fish being caught out there include tripletail and hogfish.

In the bay, Stock is managing to put clients on some respectable-sized gag grouper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing nearshore structure with good results. By trolling Rapala XRAPS over reefs and wrecks, White’s clients are hooking into some nice gag grouper. According to White, live pinfish are attracting gags while at anchor. Free-lining these “pinnies” down to the bottom is certain death for the unsuspecting bait. Hefty mangrove snapper also are being caught on the live pinfish. When using shiners as bait on the flats, White is finding slot-size snook on the end of his line. Numerous schooley-sized fish are being caught, too.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing the arrival of many of the usual suspects, bottom-dwelling species — and I’m not taking about the fishers. Flounder, black drum and redfish are being caught by anglers using live shrimp as bait. A weighted rig consisting of an egg sinker, a swivel, some leader and a hook is ideal to anchor a feisty little shrimp on the sandy bottom, precisely where it’s convenient for a hungry bottom fish. Shrimp fishers may also encounter sheepshead, small snook, juvenile grouper and bait-stealing pinfish.

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

When northeast winds blow, choose the right spot to fish

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Glenn Wattley of Marstons Mills, Massachusetts, shows off a 21-inch flounder he caught Nov. 16 while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Brian Tayerle from Mantua, Ohio, caught this nice kingfish Nov. 13, using a live threadfin Herring while fishing with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.
The Brasseale family of Evansville, Indiana, shows off their fall mixed bag of hogfish, tripletail and kingfish, caught while on their Thanksgiving break on a fishing trip with Capt. Jason Stock.

The constant northeast winds blowing at 10-20 mph are excellent for someone who wants to fly a kite.

Unfortunately, this is an article about fishing, not kite flying. But don’t be discouraged. The winds are out of the northeast, which usually means most of the bays, the Intracoastal Waterway and waters along the beaches can be fairly calm.

In fact, the fishing is nothing short of excellent. You have some options, or let’s say variety, on what to target.

Fishing the flats is producing some great snook action, as well as spotted seatrout and a few redfish. Flounder and pompano are being taken on the flats and in the local bays. If you’re on the hunt for larger fish, venture out along the beaches to find kingfish, cobia and shark. You also may encounter bonito, Spanish mackerel and triple tail on your search.

On my recent Southernaire excursions, I’ve been taking advantage of the vast quantities of snook settling onto the flats. The fish know that winter is just around the corner, which means they are aggressive in eating just about every bait that passes in front of their noses. Most catches are 20-26 inches, although keeper fish are being caught by some lucky anglers.

Also while on the flats, I’m seeing a variety of other species being reeled in by my clients, including spotted seatrout, flounder and pompano.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing numerous black drum, sheepshead and flounder being caught at Anna Maria Island’s northernmost pier.

Fishers using live shrimp on a bottom rig are finding success. There are redfish and snook being caught, although not with the frequency of the black drum, sheepies and flounder. Finally, anglers using artificials — jigs or spoons — are hooking into ladyfish and Spanish mackerel.

Capt. Aaron Lowman was bay fishing on windy days. He reports spotted seatrout are plentiful, with catches up to 20 inches. Mixed in are bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle. Snook are a good bet for bay fishers. Most catches are under-slot, but some anglers are reeling in a keeper fish now and again. Fishing nearshore structure is proving to be good for a variety of fish, including hogfish, gag grouper and mangrove snapper.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is having a great week on the water. Despite the wind, Gross is catching a variety of species. On the flats, snook, spotted seatrout and bluefish are being caught in abundance by Gross’ clients. Also making an appearance on the flats are pompano. Moving into the Gulf of Mexico is producing good action on macks and kingfish. All species are being taken by using live shiners as bait — except for the pompano.

Gross is using Doc’s goofy jigs and other small jigs to produce this bite.

Capt. Warren Girle reports he’s running charters nearshore for kingfish and macks. Both species are being taken via live shiners as bait. For either species, anchoring and chumming is proving effective, although slow-trolling baits, especially for the kingfish, is a good option. While targeting these fish, Girle is encountering bonito and shark and, moving to the flats of Sarasota Bay, he’s putting clients on numerous spotted seatrout, snook and large bluefish.

Capt. Jason Stock is working both offshore and nearshore for a variety of fish. Fishing around structure is resulting in kingfish and cobia. Both are being caught on threadfin herring and pinfish. Artificials such as surface poppers are triggering these fish to bite. Stock is putting clients on tripletail in the offshore waters where casting live shrimp or shiners to will do the trick. Moving inshore into Tampa Bay, Stock is finding a good bite on gag grouper.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing along the beaches of Anna Maria Island for migratory species, including Spanish mackerel, kingfish and bonito. For the macks and kings, large live shiners as bait are a “no-brainer.” Free-lining or slow-trolling the bait is producing action. As for the bonito, White is having his fly-fishing clients cast streamer flies to these football-shaped fish. Moving inshore, snook and trout are rounding out the flats bite. Again, free-lined medium shiners are the ticket to success.

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

Cooler nights, moderate days provide fishers hot action

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Peter Martinez, visiting from New Jersey, and friend Mario Garcia from Miami fished offshore Nov. 9 with Capt. Warren Girle. They reeled up a nice reward of kingfish and snapper using live bait.

Fall fishing around Anna Maria Island is getting better and better as we experience cool overnight temperatures, moderate days and calm waters.

As a result of the two cold fronts we recently experienced, the waters have cooled down just enough to trigger fish to start feeding and fatten up for winter.

Fishing offshore is proving to be quite productive, as many reports of gag and red grouper are coming from the guides. Migratory species — kingfish, mackerel, bonito, cobia and blackfin tuna — are being reported.

And on the flats, the snook bite is nothing short of exceptional. Live free-lined shiners are quickly being devoured by hungry snook in preparation for winter. Redfish and spotted seatrout are proving to be a worthwhile venture. And lastly, rumors of pompano are being reported — keep a couple of shrimp-tipped jigs handy.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working offshore for a variety of species. Cobia and blackfin tuna highlight the offshore bite for anglers fishing live baits on the surface. Those fishing with bottom rigs are being rewarded with numerous red and gag grouper.

Moving inshore, White says fishing for bonito along the beaches is productive. Fly fishers especially like to hook these little football-shaped fish just for their sheer power and fight.

On the flats, snook are the predominant bite. Live shiners under a cork or free-lined are quickly devoured by hungry linesiders.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says the fishing and the weather at the pier is about as good as it gets. Anglers using live shrimp as bait are catching a multitude of species, including redfish, black drum and sheepshead. Pompano are being taken via live shrimp. Anglers using live lures, such as jigs and spoons, are catching ladyfish, macks and jacks until their arms are worn out.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting the large bait schools, which are gathering anywhere from a few hundred yards from the beach to a few miles offshore. These large schools of bait fish attract predators — Spanish mackerel, kingfish, bonito and sharks.

Moving to the flats, Lowman is finding an exceptional spotted seatrout bite during the strong phases of the tide. Live free-lined shiners are producing the best action. Snook are abundant on the flats and the best bite, again, is occurring on strong tides.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is taking anglers to fish the flats of Tampa Bay for snook. Free-lining live shiners over shallow grass flats during the morning tides is producing respectable numbers of catch-and-release sized snook. Spotted seatrout also are being found on the flats, along with ladyfish and pompano.

Fishing in depths of 10 feet or more throughout Tampa Bay is producing a great bite on Spanish mackerel. Finding schools of bait is key to locating these high-speed fish, and casting live baits or silver spoons is attracting the bite.

Capt. Jason Stock is spending his days offshore, thanks to the mild weather and calm seas. Using top-water plugs, such as large poppers, around wrecks and reefs is resulting in some explosive action on amberjack and cobia. Blackfin tuna and kingfish are present in these areas, too.

As for bottom fishing, gag grouper is the highlight this week for Stock’s clients.

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

Fall fishing — cooler temps, but hot action in local waters

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John Muench of Bradenton, left, shows off the whopper 39-inch linesider he caught on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Mac Gregory.
Joe Gottbrath and grandson Graham Gall, visiting Anna Maria Island from Denver, show off the 29-inch snook they teamed up on with a live shiner for bait. They fished with Capt. Aaron Lowman Oct. 26, a day after a cold front slowed the bite, with most of the fish coming later, as the water began to warm. Their group also caught seatrout and redfish.
A number of small fish and blacktip and bonnethead sharks were found dead on the shoreline the morning of Nov. 5 near the Willow-Palmetto avenue beach access in Anna Maria. Islander Courtesy Photo

With the first cold snap of the year behind us, fall fishing around Anna Maria Island is in full swing.

Water temps have lowered to the upper 60s, and low 70s, which has the fish moving. I’m seeing snook migrating from the beaches to the flats to feed in preparation for winter. The arrival of redfish is a welcome sight. Catching a red mixed in with the snook bite is an added bonus.

Along the beaches and nearshore reefs, migrating kingfish and Spanish mackerel are stopping to feed on vast offerings of baitfish.

Finally, gag grouper are making a showing around shallow-water structure throughout Tampa Bay.

On my recent Southernaire charters, I’ve been trying to mix it up a little. Fishing along the beaches for mackerel and kingfish has been exceptional. I say this, but the bite is day to day. One day they’re everywhere, the next day you can’t buy a bite. But when they’re there, oh boy. Mixed in with this bite are numerous blacktip and spinner sharks. Both are worthy adversaries on medium-heavy to heavy-rated tackle.

After getting our fill of macks and sharks, I’m migrating to the shallow flats of Sarasota and Tampa bays, along mangrove shorelines, where I’m finding good numbers of snook. Redfish are present, too, but slightly elusive compared to the sheer ferocity of the snook. Keeper snook are a little hard to come by, but that’s where the reds play a major role. Having a couple of nice fat redfish in the cooler usually takes away the sting if the keeper snook eludes us.

Also in the bays are numerous bluefish and ladyfish. Although these fish have no food value, both are excellent fighters on light tackle. Their aggressive nature — they inhale baits on the surface — adds to the thrill.

It’s time to put down the bag of Halloween candy and get off the couch. Fall fishing in our region can be some of the best fishing of the year, so get out there — on a pier, a bridge, the beach or a boat — and go fish.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is hooking up his clients on a variety of species both in the back country and off the beaches. On the flats, Lowman is finding snook. Most are in the 26-inch range, although clients are getting keeper fish now and again.

Spotted seatrout are present on the flats, where most catches are 14-17 inches. Larger trout are being found in water less than 2 feet deep.

Redfish are being reeled to the boat by Lowman’s clients around oyster bars and mangrove shorelines.

Along the beaches, Lowman is stirring up the action on Spanish mackerel, kingfish and blacktip sharks.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is reporting a “mixed bag.” Fishing in the back bays is resulting in snook and redfish, along with some large trout for Gross’ clients.

Moving out in the open waters of Tampa Bay is providing good action on Spanish mackerel, especially around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Lastly, dock fishing is yielding some flounder up to 20 inches along the shore of Tampa Bay.

Capt. Warren Girle is working the flats of Sarasota Bay, targeting snook and working the high tides along mangrove shorelines for some good action.

Spotted seatrout also are taking the bait from Girle’s clients. Flats 5-7 feet deep are holding plenty of trout in the 15-18 inch bracket. Larger trout are being taken on shallower flats of 3 feet or less.

Lastly, bluefish and ladyfish are schooled up along channels and deep areas of the bay, providing rod-bending action.

Capt. Jason Stock is hooking up with numerous shallow-water gag grouper up to 30 inches by trolling pinfish, grunts and artificials.

Moving out to slightly deeper water in the Gulf of Mexico, Stock is finding macks and kingfish accommodating for his clients. The macks are 2-3 pounds. As for the kings, fish in the 20-pound class and up are not uncommon.

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

Night tarpon hunt at Rocky Bluff goes sideways

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Michael Hein, left, Dominic Rhodes and Madelyn, Chloe and James Hein of Florida and Arizona fished offshore and nearshore Oct. 26 with great results on trout and snapper using shiners. They were guided to the fish by Capt. Warren Girle.

Night fishing has always held a special place in my heart.

When I was single, having fewer responsibilities and obligations, I was an avid night fisherman. Whether targeting snook, trout or tarpon, the tranquility and solitude of night fishing satisfied me.

Now, being a family man and entrepeneur with a busy guide business, I have all but curtailed my nighttime activities. That is, until I recently decided to do some nighttime fishing in the Manatee River.

I had heard a rumor of an abundance of juvenile tarpon at Rocky Bluff near the Interstate-75 bridge — which sounded like a good dose of night fishing. I was joined by my buddy, also a fishing guide, Aaron Lowman. He couldn’t pass up an adventure and the opportunity to catch some tarpon.

I decided to do some research on our destination. I’m somewhat familiar with the Manatee River, but traveling that far up river at night could pose a challenge. Even with GPS, you can get turned around out there at night if you’re not careful.

I noticed sandbars and oyster bars on the nautical chart throughout the areas we were going to fish. These obstructions are usually hidden at night, so navigation would be a serious matter. I noticed a particular landmark in the vicinity called Rocky Bluff, which sent me to Google, where I discovered a number of old “folklore” entries about Rocky Bluff.

The recurring characteristic reported about Rocky Bluff is an eerie humming sound — much like that from electrical wires — reported by numerous people. Stories were handed down from as early as the 1800s from folks claiming they heard singing that would emanate from the flat rocks around Rocky Bluff.

One story made reference to a Calusa Indian maiden from the south side of the Manatee River who had fallen in love with a Timucuan prince who lived on the north bank. Being from different tribes, their love was forbidden. This led them to meet in secrecy. The maiden would sit along the south bank and sing her signal that it was safe to meet. When the Timucuan prince heard her song, he would paddle his “dugout” across the river to meet her.

Another story attributed the sounds to a young Spanish girl who was kidnapped by a notorious pirate, Pascual Miguel, also known as “El Carnicero,” or “the Butcher,” He was a small-time pirate who had taken up residence in the late 1700s in Manatee County. He had three bases — one on Bean Point, which was a great lookout point for potential victims. Another existed at the entrance to Terra Ceia Bay on Rattlesnake Key. And the last — the main base — was at Rocky Bluff on the north shore of the Manatee River.

The story goes that the young Spanish girl Carlotta had been on a distressed vessel just off Egmont Key when she was introduced to the pirate. Upon seizing the vessel during rough seas, Miguel and his crew towed the schooner up the Manatee River to calmer waters. Once there, “El Carnicero” and his mates robbed the schooner and murdered its crew — all but Carlotta.

Miguel wanted her for himself. He had just slit the throat of his last female captive for denying his advances and was hungry for fresh blood.

Weeks passed and word finally reached Carlotta’s father, a commandant in the Spanish navy out of Pensacola. He immediately gave chase along with several other vessels to rescue his daughter.

Upon seeing the arrival of the search party, Miguel fled up river to hide at Rocky Bluff. After days of being alone on the small schooner, Miguel noticed Carlotta becoming frantic about not being rescued. To ease her mind, he created a harp-like set up of wires strung vertically across the porthole of the cabin where she was held captive. When the wind blew through the strings, it created a harmonious sound much like the hum of a harpsicord.

The sound of the harpsicord is yet another attribution to the mysterious sounds emanating over the river at Rocky Bluff.

As for Carlotta, for fear of never being rescued, she managed to chisel numerous holes in the bottom of Miguel’s shallow-draft schooner, causing it to scuttle and sink to the bottom. Miguel and his crew managed to escape and swim to shore never to be seen again. Unfortunately, Carlotta went down with the schooner to a watery grave.

On a cloudy fall evening in October, Aaron and I decided to try our luck with the Manatee River tarpon. We loaded up my 23-foot C-Hawk with the normal provisions of drinks and ice and a wide assortment of artificial lures to tempt the tarpon. We packed a handheld GPS as a backup as well as some headlamps and a spotlight.

We pulled out of the Mainsail Marina in Holmes Beach around 9 p.m. with a light breeze from the south pressing against us. It was cloudy that night and, even though we were only a few days from the full moon, it was very dark. We would definitely be relying on our electronics to navigate our way up the long, winding Manatee River.

As we neared the end of the “no wake zone” I eased the throttle up to level out at 20 mph. We followed the Intracoastal Waterway north until we passed the Bulk Head.

I then steered the boat east toward the mouth of the river.

The water was calm and we were making good time, keeping watch on the GPS. I was telling Aaron about Rocky Bluff and the legend behind it, adding detail about the legend of Pascual Miguel.

“So they called him ‘The Butcher,’ huh?” asked Aaron. “Great.”

I chuckled as we navigated on the calm black waters.

Finally, we saw the lights of the I-75 bridge, although the channel markings on my GPS had gradually become harder to define. It was as if the channels this far up the river weren’t plotted as well as the coast.

I laid the boat down to idle speed. It was quiet, except for the hum of the cars on the bridge.

It was time to start looking for fish and we adjusted our eyes to watch the surface of the water for rolling tarpon. We idled for about 45 minutes and saw nothing.

Navigating out of the channel was nothing short of nerve racking. There were shoals, sand bars and oyster bars everywhere. In one instant, we were in 8 feet of water and the next only 2 feet.

After an hour or so we were both considering turning back. Then we saw a fish roll. And then another. And another.

“Well, I think we found them,” I whispered to Aaron.

“Thank, Christ,” he replied. “I was beginning to give up.”

I killed the engine and let the boat quietly drift toward the fish. There was no wind so the drift was slow and perfect. Aaron grabbed a rod rigged with a red-and-white

Yo-Zuri crystal minnow and I grabbed mine with an 84-MR MirrOlure Top Dog.

“They look to be about 20-pounders,” I said to Aaron.

“Yeah that sounds about right,” Aaron replied, retrieving his lure.

And then, bang! Aaron got bit. The fish hit about 30 yards from the boat. It immediately breeched the surface of the water, erratically shaking its head, trying to throw the lure from its boney mouth. The cackle of the gills echoed across the water and bounced off the side of the boat.

“Hell, yeah!” I exclaimed. “We finally got one!”

The fish landed with a loud splash and the sound of drag screaming from the reel cut through the quiet night air. Aaron hopped on the bow of the boat to fight the fish.

After 15 minutes, the tarpon was boat side. It’s head on the surface, it’s black eye reflecting an iridescent yellow from the lights of the bridge. I lipped the fish and used needle-nose pliers to pop out the hooks.

Aaron took hold as I snapped a few shots with my cellphone. It was hard to focus — my hands were shaking with excitement. As he released his catch, we motored back to the school of fish.

I switched my MirrOlure for a red and white Yo-Zuri and made the first cast. Boom, I got a hit.

“Here’s another one,” I said confidently. But this fish didn’t fight like a tarpon. Another couple of minutes passed and it hadn’t broken the surface, and I began to wonder what was on my hook. The fish stopped fighting and I reeled and dragged it to the boat.

I knew it was large — it was quite heavy. About 10 feet from the boat with the leader visible, Aaron reached out to grab the leader as the fish showed itself. Its long beak swung side to side as Aaron jerked his hand back just in time to avoid being sliced by a mouth of teeth. It was a gar — a big one.

“Oh crap,” Aaron yelled. “That the biggest gar I’ve ever seen.”

Aaron grabbed the leader and pulled the huge fish to the boat. It was subdued. Tired. Ready to be de-hooked and let go. The large teeth had scraped the Yo-Zuri so badly it was hardly recognizable. The big eyes looked up at us and Aaron picked the hooks out and released the fish.

During all of the excitement, the weather had changed without our noticing it. A thick fog had enveloped the boat and I looked up to see the bridge to fix our position.

It was gone.

I also couldn’t hear traffic noises.

The GPS showed our position to be a few hundred yards from Rocky Bluff. The fog was so thick, we couldn’t see shore. So rather than blindly drifting toward the bridge, we dropped anchor. At least I knew were in safe water. At least, I thought so.

Within minutes we heard an odd singing sound. It reminded me of the sound of the wind whistling through the fishing lines on windy days. It swayed up and down in pitch — sometimes in harmony and other times out of tune.

“Is that the fishing lines making that noise?” asked Aaron.

“It should be,” I responded, “but there ain’t no wind. You need wind to cause that sound.”

Then a horrible stench filled the air. I gagged. Aaron did the same.

“What is that?” he exclaimed. “It smells like rotten flesh and body odor mixed together.”

He was right. It was possibly the worst smell I’ve ever experienced. I hung my head over the boat, ready to throw up.

Then I saw an odd-looking vessel approaching in the fog. It appeared to be an old wooden schooner with two masts — 30-40 feet long. As it got closer, the humming got louder, the stench unbearable.

I yelled, “Hey look out!” I flashed my anchor light and shined my Mag-light as a warning.

The boat came toward us until it was along our starboard side. A figure jumped down from the helm and ran alongside the gunwale. I heard a loud crash. A large double hook attached to a thin rope had landed on the deck of my boat. The rope immediately pulled taught as the hook fastened to my starboard gunwale. It appeared we were going to be boarded.

Luckily, Aaron had pulled anchor as the boat approached, anticipating the need to move quickly. We were moving all right — being dragged by the rope and grapple hook.

“Quien eres?” shouted the person. “Quien eres?”

He was asking who we were in Spanish. The shock of what was happening diminished a polite response.

“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled back.

“Callate la boca!” the man shouted. “Eres mio ahora!”

He told me to shut up and that we were his prisoners. I reached under the console and hit the rocker switch for my floodlight. Immediately, the boat lit up and most of the invader’s boat, too.

I could clearly see our assailant. He had black hair, a black beard and dark leathery skin. He had no shirt, showing a skinny but muscular torso. He looked slightly malnourished, yet he was strong and quick. His deep-set bloodshot eyes glared at me. I could see he had a machete in one hand and what looked like a handgun in the other. Upon further inspection, I could see the handgun resembled an old flintlock gun from times long ago.

At the moment the flood light came on, he stopped yelling and paused. With a confused and almost fearful look on his face, he examined our boat. It was as if he had never seen anything like it before.

He pointed the gun at my face.

“Que es esto?” he grumbled. What is this? “Que es esto?” he yelled.

By this time Aaron was losing his temper. He walked toward the gunwale and reached for the hook to release us.

“We’re outta here, buddy. Danny, start the engine,” he shouted.

Aaron grabbed the hook and in the same instance the man swung his machete. It flew from his hand into Aarons left leg, piercing his bright orange Grunden slickers.

I was on the verge of fainting as I saw the machete protruding from of the back of Aaron’s leg.

And the hook was still attached to the gunwale of our boat.

I scanned my brain trying to think of what to do next. We had no weapons on the boat except for maybe a couple of fillet knives and a gaff. As I reached for the gaff, the invader pointed his gun at me.

He pulled the trigger. Click.

Nothing happened.

Maybe the thick fog had dampened his powder but, lucky for me, the gun misfired.

He was trying to climb into our boat and I could see he was aiming to tackle me and so I swung the 4-foot gaff as hard as I could. It connected on the right side of his head. The hook was backward so it didn’t penetrate, but the sheer force of the blow stunned him and he fell back onto his own vessel.

Then I heard a bloodcurdling scream emanating from the cabin of his boat. I could faintly see a woman’s face peering through a small porthole that appeared to be wired shut. One of her eyes was swollen shut and blood colored her chin.

“Alejarse!” she screamed. Get away. “El es El Carnicero!”

He is the butcher!

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Was it Pascual Miguel? This was impossible. He died 200 years ago.

The invader, still dazed and laying on the deck, was stunned by the blow of my gaff.

I turned the key and fired up my Yamaha 200 hp, figuring I would try to take off at full throttle and maybe the line that tethered us would break.

I glanced forward to see if Aaron was holding the machete that had pierced his slickers, but only grazed his leg. He was OK. Aaron raised the machete over his head and brought it down on the line over the gunwale.

We were free.

I slammed the boat into gear, forced the throttle down and we took off so fast the boat almost came out of the water. Aaron rolled across the deck before slamming into the tower. The machete flew overboard.

We were now traveling into the fog at 30 knots. My fight or flight reflex had kicked in and, although I couldn’t see where I was going, I didn’t slow down.

We made it at about 400 yards and then bang. The boat slammed onto a sand bar. We were stuck. Immediately we hopped out and, running on pure adrenaline, we started pushing the boat. This was the scariest moment. We knew he was out there, coming for us. We were sitting ducks.

It took us almost 5 minute, but we got it done. We guided the boat to deeper water and Aaron jumped up first. As I followed, I rolled on my belly over the gunnel and slipped, landing on my back. As I lay on the deck looking upward I noticed the fog was clearing. By the time I stood, it was gone. I could see the lights of the I-75 bridge.

The familiar sound of cars and trucks filled the air, the clouds had cleared and the light from the almost full moon illuminated the winding river. We could see the river bank on either side.

What we didn’t see was the old wooden schooner. In fact, there wasn’t another boat in sight.

That concluded our tarpon expedition at Rocky Bluff. In fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever fish that river again at night. Hearing Carlotta pleading with us to escape Pascual Miguel, “the butcher,” will never leave my mind. I can’t help feeling I should have tried to save her.

But I don’t even know if it really happened.

So, if you’re ever on a midnight cruise on the peaceful black waters of the Manatee River, keep your ears tuned for the sound of the wind blowing through the wire strings of Carlotta’s porthole.

It’s probably just the wind singing through your fishing lines, but do you want to take that chance?

Beware of El Carnicero. And happy Halloween from your local guides.

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

Fast-action species keep island anglers busy

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Phil Hardwick and Gene Clements of Illinois went offshore Oct. 11 look- ing for gag grouper and yellow tail snapper and found the sh coopera- tive and willing to take their bait, live shiners. They were guided by Capt Warren Girle.

Fall fishing around Anna Maria Island is host to some fast-action species that are sure to keep local and visiting anglers occupied.

While patrolling the beaches, I’m seeing schools of Spanish mackerel as close as 100 yards from the shore to about a mile of the beach. Looking for the feeding shorebirds — seagulls and terns — is key to locating these fish.

Mixed in with the macks are king mackerel — the Spanish mackerel’s larger cousin. And, of course, whenever large quantities of mackerel are around, you’re bound to see sharks.

Blacktip and spinner sharks are the most apparent species, but don’t be surprised to see an occasional bull shark or even the elusive hammerhead cruise by the boat.

Flats fishing also is heating up with the cooler weather. The recent drop in water temps triggered the snook to start moving from the beaches and passes to the grass flats in the bays. And you know when the snook are on the grass flats, they are there for one reason — to feed. High tides are favorable to target these linesiders on the flats and especially around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars. Casting live shiners right up against the edge of the bushes — or if you’re good, under the bushes —is a sure-fire way to catch numerous schooley-sized snook.

You also may hook into some redfish while doing this, which is always a welcome sight.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m starting the morning by fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous Spanish mackerel and shark catches are a great way to start off the day. Throw in a couple late-season tarpon and you’re golden. This bite seems to be working during the morning incoming tide. Plus, with the low tide in the morning, it’s tough to get on the flats to target snook and redfish. So after you get in some beach action, the tide will have had a chance to rise. Then it’s time to hit the flats, where snook 20-26 inches are abundant. These hungry fish are quickly devouring free-lined shiners. And to add to the fun, I’m seeing redfish mixed in with the snook bite.

Capt. Warren Girle is patrolling the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key for kingfish, Spanish mackerel and shark.

For the macks and kings, Girle is anchoring and chumming over structure. Artificial reefs and ledges are proving to be a good area to start. Kingfish up to 30 pounds are being taken with most catches falling in the 15-pound range. As for the macks, fish up to 24 inches to the fork are the norm.

Moving inshore, Girle is finding a good bite on redfish and trout. For the redfish, shallow grass flats where sandy potholes exist are producing the best action. As for the trout, slightly deeper grass flats with the same environment or sandy potholes are resulting in slot-size fish.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters also is targeting kings and macks in the Gulf of Mexico. To catch bait for the kingfish, White is using a Sabiki rig to snag up threadfin herring. These larger baits are ideal for slow trolling or casting. Plus, they are like candy for hungry kings. As for the macks, medium-size white bait free-lined over structure is doing the trick.

Despite numerous windy days, White is still managing to run some fly-fishing trips. The highlight this past week came from large jack crevalle. A jack in the 10-pound range caught on an 8-weight fly rod can be challenging to get to the boat, which adds some extra excitement for visiting anglers looking for action on fly.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing redfish, snook, flounder and mackerel being caught. For the reds and the flounder, pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are finding success. For the snook, a tasty shiner or frisky little pinfish doesn’t last long when cast under the pier. Lastly, the mackerel are being taken on artificials, such as jigs and silver spoons.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting “transitional” snook throughout the flats of southern Tampa Bay and beyond. These fish are post-spawn, meaning they are moving from the beaches to the back bays and grass flats to feed in preparation for winter. This being said, these fish are ready to eat. Casting live free-lined shiners over the shallow flats where mangrove shorelines exist is resulting in multiple hookups for Lowman’s anglers.

Redfish and trout also are being caught on the flats. Trout numbers are high around deep grass flats where good tidal flow exists. As for the redfish, dock fishing is proving to be a consistent location to hook up the reds.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore for a variety of species. Fishing over wrecks and reefs is proving good for Stock’s clients, who are reeling up kingfish, permit, Spanish mackerel, goliath grouper and cobia — all being taken on live bait. Stock likes to carry an assortment of baits ranging from scaled sardines and threadfin to pinfish, blue runners and even crabs for the occasional permit.

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

Fall fishing pattern starts up, seasonal species arrive

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Carla Beardslee of Decatur, Alabama, shows off a 24-inch redfish she caught Oct. 7 on a charter trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing.
Brock Mason, 10, of Lakewood Ranch, shows off a nice snook he hooked on live bait inshore Oct. 7. Brock and his group of anglers were guided to the fish by Capt. Warren Girle.
Capt. David White reports Tommy Fisher of Dallas hooked up numerous Spanish mackerel Oct. 11. Live shiners on a long shank hook did the trick.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island is falling into the familiar autumn pattern, including the arrival of seasonal species.
Kingfish are making a showing along the beaches of Anna Maria Island, as well as the artificial reefs. Slow trolling large shiners or threadfin herring on a light wire rig is producing a bite.

Numerous Spanish mackerel are showing off the beaches, where anchoring and chumming live shiners is key to firing up these speedy fish.

Moving to the flats, we are seeing large schools of redfish moving in. I’m seeing these schools “pop up,” as I run the outer bars during low tides. It’s smart to carry a couple of gold spoons for the approach on schools of reds, as they can sometimes be spooky and unapproachable. The gold spoon is heavy enough to enable the angler to make long casts, which comes in handy when you can’t get the boat close to the fish.

On one of my recent Southernaire charters, I was joined by Geno Lynn of Bradenton and his friends Jim and Carla Beardslee of Decatur, Alabama. We had a great morning on snook, trout and redfish — the morning of the king tide and the full moon.

The morning started slow but, as that flood tide came in, we were able to fish close to the mangrove shoreline. Within minutes of setting the anchor, we had bent rods.

At first, the snook were keeping us busy. We even had times when all three anglers were hooked up at once.

After a good dose of snook, we started hooking up redfish, one after another. The biggest red — a 24-incher — kept Carla busy for a good five minutes before she reeled the fish to my net.

After the wave of redfish, the bite calmed slightly, although we still managed to catch more snook and reds. And we even started getting some nice keeper-sized trout. Needless to say, Geno, Jim and Carla were thrilled with the bite they experienced. They also got some bragging rights, as all three recorded an “inshore slam” — snook, redfish and trout.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing black drum, redfish, flounder and a few sheepshead coming to the deck this week. All of these species are being taken using live shrimp as bait. Snook are being caught by anglers using live shiners and pinfish. Lastly, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and ladyfish are accommodating pier fishers on either live shrimp or artificial lures, such as jigs or spoons.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working the flats of Tampa Bay, where the king tide brought swift moving water around the edges of grass flats, mangrove shorelines and oyster bars. As a result, these areas are great staging points for snook and redfish to feed. With this in mind, Lowman is targeting these areas with live free-lined shiners. Snook up to 30 inches are the result, as well as slot and over-slot redfish.

Fishing the deeper flats during these swift tides is producing good numbers of spotted seatrout for Lowman’s clients, as well as jack crevalle and macks.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is patrolling the beaches of Anna Maria Island in search of migratory species — Spanish and king mackerel. Both species are being found within a couple of miles of shore. For the macks, a live shiner on a long shank hook is producing a bite. As for the kings, large live shiners or small blue runners are the baits of choice. Slow trolling these baits is producing good action on the kings, while anchoring and chumming is working well for the macks.

On the flats, White is targeting redfish and schoolie-sized snook. Both are being taken during morning outgoing tides, when live shiners free-lined over the flats are producing this bite.

Capt. Jason Stock is running charters nearshore along the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key. Fishing around artificial reefs and wrecks is producing good action on Spanish and king mackerel as well as barracuda. Slow-trolling live threadfin herring or live shiners is attracting kingfish in the 30-inch range to the hook. For the macks, small live shiners free-lined around the structure is proving prosperous. As for the barracuda, most of these thieves are being taken as they chase down the mackerel that are being reeled in by the clients. Lastly, free-lining live crabs around structure is producing some permit action for Stock’s charters.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure for mangrove snapper. Anchoring over artificial reefs and ledges is producing good numbers of snapper.

The key to getting the bite going is chumming, according to Girle. Tossing handfuls of dead bait into the water and letting them sink to the reef is getting the snapper to school up, which is producing limits of fish in the box. While chumming, macks and kingfish are being attracted to the boat, which adds a nice variety to the bite.

Moving inshore, Girle is putting clients on numerous redfish and snook with ladyfish as bait. Casting a hook with fresh-cut chunks in areas where these fish are lurking is resulting in slot-sizes of both species.

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

Cooler weather forecast, great fishing to come

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Capt. Jason Stock shows off his whopper king mackerel catch from a trip offshore Oct. 5.

A slight drop in temperature around Anna Maria Island has local and visiting anglers anticipating some great fishing. Cooler breezes and cooler water temps are settling in on our coastal areas and with them comes a forecast for some great fishing.

Snook are starting to meander back to the flats after a long, hot summer of spawning along the the barrier islands. And when these snook arrive at the grass flats, they are there for one reason and one reason only. Do you hear the dinner bell ringing? That’s right — they are there to feed. They know eventually it’s going to get cold so they want to fatten up as best they can. This being said, some great snook fishing is in store for area anglers.

Redfish are making their presence known. And if you’ve been waiting for them, you’re probably saying, “Finally.” The redfish bite was nonexistent for a few months, but that is changing. We’re now seeing a nice flux of breeder schools arriving on the flats from Tampa Bay southward to Sarasota Bay. Smaller reds are being found scattered throughout the region.

Lastly, spotted seatrout are a mainstay for anglers. Deep grass flats during strong incoming or outgoing tides are producing phenomenal numbers of fish. Many small fish under 15 inches have arrived, although persistent anglers are managing to catch their limit of slot-size trout.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing numerous black drum and redfish being caught. Anglers using live shrimp as bait combined with a bottom rig are finding success. Casting shrimp under the pier around the pilings is key to getting these fish to bite. Both species being caught are in the slot. For the reds, that’s 28-27 inches and for the black drum that’s 14-24 inches. Other species being caught, mostly on shrimp, include flounder and sheepshead.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working the flats of southern Tampa Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway for snook, redfish and trout. For the snook and redfish, shallow flats that include good tidal flow combined with mangroves or oyster bars are Lowman’s preferred areas to fish. Chumming with live shiners is key to getting either species to give up its location. As for the trout, deeper grass flats adjacent to deeper channels, creek mouths or inlets are providing excellent action. Live shiners under a cork or free-lined will suffice as bait.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is running clients to the nearshore reefs along the coast of Anna Maria Island. By using live shiners as bait, Gross is luring many Spanish mackerel to the hook. Barracuda are looming around the reefs, too, and Gross is enticing them to bite by using whole live Spanish mackerel as bait. Most hookups on the ’cudas are occurring where there’s a mackerel on the hook and being reeled in.

On the flats, snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are cooperating, although most snook catches are falling just under the minimum size of 28 inches. As for the redfish, schooling fish are being found on shallow flats near oyster bars and spotted seatrout are being found on deep grass areas during strong tides.

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