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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.

No thanks to Irma, youth soccer season finally underway

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Capt. Mac Greggory, left, Tracey Thrall, Jerry Martinek and Tom Pechous, all of Anna Maria Island, show off their blue marlin, caught Sept. 21 on a charter in Los Cabos, Mexico. The group left Hurricane Irma behind and traveled to Los Cabos to check the marlin catch off their bucket list — only to find a hurricane threatening the Mexican coast on their arrival. Good news, they got their fish.
Isabel Stasny, 7, shows off a whopper 18-inch spotted seatrout she reeled up while fishing Sept. 24 with her dad, Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Jackson Selin, 10, visiting Anna Maria Island from New Jersey, shows off his summer vacation catch Sept. 29 from a day with Capt. Warren Girle. He told Girle, he’s never had a story to tell for "what you did during summer break?" — until now. Jackson caught his first saltwater fish on a pompano jig and, after a photo for proof, he released his spotted seatrout.

After delays to tryouts, team selection, practices and games due to the passing of the Category 2 Hurricane Irma, the youth soccer season at the Center of Anna Maria Island finally kicked off last week.

After just a week of action, there’s only one team with a spotless record and that belongs to Bins Be Clean in the 8-10 division. They handily won both of their matches to jump out to a 2-0 record and grab an early lead in the standings. Wash Family Construction and Progressive Cabinetry follow with matching 1-1 records, while Blue Lagoon is 0-2.

The two-team 11-14 division had its first match decided by a forfeit when Slim’s Place was unable to field a team Sept. 26 for its match against Truly Nolen, though the two teams did play to a 2-2 tie Sept. 30.

Aiden Templeton paced Truly Nolen in the Sept. 30 match with a goal and an assist, while Evan Talucci added a goal.

Slim’s Place was led by Brock and Shane Soletti, who scored a goal each to lead Slim’s, which also received an assist from Sam Leister in the tie.

Bins Be Clean opened the 8-10 division fall season Sept. 26 with a 5-3 victory over Progressive Cabinetry, which received four goals from Jackson Pakbaz and two saves from goalie David Patterson in the victory.

Jack Mattick’s hat trick paced Progressive Cabinetry, which also received three saves from goalie Lily Kawahata in the loss. An own-goal by Progressive accounted for the final score for Bins Be Clean.

The second game of the evening saw Wash Family Construction roll to a 4-0 victory over Blue Lagoon behind a hat trick from Chris Ueltschi and a single goal from Lincoln Sauls. Goalie Jack Whiteside made four saves to earn the shutout victory for WFC.

Victor Albrecht helped keep Blue Lagoon in the match with two saves in the loss.

Action continued Sept. 30 with two 8-10 division matches, starting with Progressive Cabinetry’s 6-1 dismantling of Wash Family Construction. Ewen Cloutier led the way with three goals, while Jack Mattick finished with two goals and two assists. Kieran Cloutier added a goal and an assist, while Lily Kawahata finished with two saves in the victory.

Lincoln Sauls scored Wash Family Construction’s goal, and Jack Whiteside finished with four saves in the loss.

Jackson Pakbaz and Connor Samblis both had two goals and an assist to lead Bins Be Clean to a 5-0 victory over Blue Lagoon. Gabriella Gilbert added a goal and Andrew Peterson finished with two saves in the victory.

Victor Albrecht made four saves and Jocelyn Raines added two saves for Blue Lagoon in the loss.


More soccer

The adult soccer league at the center will kick off its fall season with four games starting at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5. The eight-team co-ed league includes Jiffy Lube, Sato Real Estate, Acqua Aveda, Ross Built Construction, Slim’s Place, Mulock Flynn Law, Moss Builders and Mar/Kis Insurance.

The seven-game season runs through Nov. 9, with playoffs starting Nov. 16 and championship Thursday set for Dec. 7.


Horseshoe news

There was no need for playoffs during horseshoe action Sept. 27 and Sept. 30 at the Anna Maria City Hall horseshoe pits.

Dom Livedoti and Bob Heiger posted the only 3-0 record and were the outright champs during Sept. 27 action, while Neil Hennessey walked his way to the lone 3-0 pool play record during action Sept. 30.

Play gets underway at 9 a.m. every Wednesday and Saturday at the Anna Maria City Hall pits. Warmups begin at 8:45 a.m. followed by random team selection. There is no charge to play and everyone is welcome.


Key Royale golf news

Normalcy returned to Key Royale Club after the past few weeks spent cleaning up the fairways from Irma’s mess.

The men teed off Sept. 25 for their regular, modified-Stableford system match. Jim Auch and Barry Izzard both carded plus-4s to finish in a tie for first place.

The women got on the course Sept. 26 for a nine-hole, individual-low-net match in two flights.

Helen Pollock fired a 3-under-par 29 to earn a two-shot victory over Stephanie Morris, who was alone in second place with a 1-under-par 31. Phyllis Roe and Jean Holmes finished in a tie for third with matching even-par 32s.

Roxanne Koche scorched the course with a 6-under-par 26 to take the top spot in Flight B. Janet Razze took second place with a 1-under-par 31, while Jana Samuels finished at 2-over-par 34, including a chipin on the second hole.

Pollock also won the game of the day with 13 putts.

The men played a nine-hole scramble Sept. 28 that saw the team of Marty Hicks, Jack Isherwood, Larry Pippel and Gary Razze combine on a 6-under-par 26 to earn clubhouse bragging rights for the day. The team of Mike Gille, Barry Izzard, Jeff Rodencal and Dennis Schavey finished two shots back in second place.


More golf news

The Center of Anna Maria Island invites all golf enthusiasts to join them for the annual fundraising golf tournament Friday, Oct. 20, at the IMG Golf Academy, 4350 El Conquistador Pkwy., Bradenton.

Cost for the tournament is $125 per player or $450 per foursome and includes lunch, dinner and the usual assortment of prizes and raffles. The tournament benefits the sports programs at the center.

Sign up is at the center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria, online at centerami.org or by calling the center at 941-778-1908.

Fishing improves after passage of Hurricane Irma

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Larry Gordon, Larry Joel, Williams Martin and Cease Marcias, all from northern Virginia, found the fish hungry after coping with Hurricane Irma. The group fished inshore and offshore Sept. 18-20 with Capt. Warren Girle and each day, using shiners for bait, they hooked up different species, including trout, bonita, snapper, grouper and, of course, the usual uninvited sharks.

For most of us the chores that follow a storm, especially one such as Hurricane Irma, can be long and lengthy.

For me, it’s kind of hard to say, “Honey, I’m going out fishing for the day,” when the yard is covered with fallen tree limbs, sections of fence are blown down, the windows are boarded up and there’s no power.

Trying to pull that one off might result in a cold shoulder from your significant other by the time you got back from fishing. By now, most of the chores are done, the power is back and the cable and Internet are back and we can all watch Bay News 9 again.

Now that things are close to normal, it’s time to go fishing. And let me tell you — the fishing is good right now.

On my recent Southernaire charters, I’m finding an abundance of spotted seatrout. On some flats, my clients are rallying on trout and reeling in catches of 30 or 40 fish.

Now, that’s all fine and good, however, probably half of these fish are just under 15 inches — the minimum size for seatrout. But hey, it’s great action and there are still a few fish to put in the cooler for a trout dinner that evening.

Fishing structure in Tampa Bay also is proving to be action-packed. Spanish mackerel are being found around wrecks and reefs, providing great action on light tackle. And I’m finding more and more anglers are interested in a few macks for dinner, especially if they’re from the U.K. To keep these toothy fish on the line, I’m using 30-pound fluorocarbon as a leader tied to either a No. 4 or No. 2 Eagle claw extra-long shank hook. In areas where the water is dark and stained from the pollutants flowing out of the Manatee River, the No. 2 hook will work. In clearer conditions, the No. 4 is the best choice. While free-lining shiners for the mackerel, I’m seeing an occasional mangrove snapper or grouper take the bait, which is always a welcome surprise.

Lastly, the snook bite is ever-improving on the flats. Remember, the water temperatures are slowly declining, which in turn is triggering those linesiders to start moving off the beaches, out of the passes and onto the flats to gorge themselves before winter. We are in the early stages of this snook movement, but you should see more and more fish as we near October and in the beginning of November.

On a final note, I hope everyone fared well during Hurricane Irma. I believe it could’ve been a lot worse, so we should count our blessings that we only had to deal with a Category 2 storm. This one was definitely an eye-opener. An emotional roller coaster of sorts.

I believe Floridians are strong in nature and, even in the wake of disaster, we help our friends and neighbors like they are family.

Back to fishing, Capt. Jason Stock is pursuing permit on some of the offshore wrecks and other structure. Free-lining live crabs in these areas is deadly when the permit are present. Most of the time, the bite is within seconds of the cast. Permit 10-20 pounds are the norm this week.

Moving inshore, Stock is finding action for clients on snook, redfish and spotted seatrout. All three are being taken via live shiners as bait. For the snook and reds, shallow flats where mangroves are present is key. As for the trout, deeper grass areas where good title flow exists are producing plenty of fish.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing inshore throughout the lush grass flats of Tampa Bay southward to Sarasota Bay. On the deeper grass areas, Lowman is encountering plenty of spotted seatrout. Trout just under the 15-inch minimum are extremely abundant, which is providing great light-tackle action for Lowman’s clients. Slot-size trout are present for determined anglers looking to put a few fish in the box. On the shallow grass flats, Lowman is finding numerous schooley-size snook willing to take the bait. While targeting linesiders, Lowman is seeing an occasional redfish in the mix.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters also is working the flats of Tampa Bay as well as Terra Ceia Bay with good results. Using live shiners as bait is resulting in numerous hookups on snook, redfish and trout. According to Gross, all three species are in abundance with the trout being the most prevalent. Fishing deep grass flats where bait is present is resulting in trout on almost every cast. While on the shallower flats, chumming the waters is bringing the snook and redfish within casting range.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure in depths of 25-50 feet. These areas, consisting of artificial reefs, hard bottom and ledges, are holding a variety of species — mangrove snapper, red grouper, Key West grunts and flounder. For bait, Girle is using live shiners, which he is combining with a 1/2-ounce to 1-ounce knocker rig.

Girle warns that he’s finding a little patience helps when trying to achieve a limit of five fish.

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

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.