‘Candy’ contributes to rise of mangrove snapper catch
Mangrove snapper appear to be the common catch among the vast number of anglers working Anna Maria Island’s surrounding waters. Whether fishing from land or by boat, mangrove snapper are dominating the bite on the reefs, flats and around any structure in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico.
The arrival of hatch bait — baby scaled sardines — always triggers good fishing and an abundance of mangrove snapper. The small baits are candy for the hungry snapper.
While targeting mangoes, anglers also are hooking into Spanish mackerel, flounder, cobia and grouper — reds and gags.
Spotted seatrout are making a welcome presence as well in the local waters. Throughout the deeper grass flats of southern Tampa Bay through Anna Maria Sound and south into Sarasota Bay, anglers are catching these yellow-mouthed favorites. A live shiner under a cork or free-lined over the flats is producing ample bites from trout 12-15 inches. Slot-size fish — 15-20 inches — are being caught, although smaller fish are definitely more abundant than the keeper-size fish. You can expect to encounter Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish while trout fishing.
For Southernaire Fishing Charters, I’m guiding anglers to the reefs for mangrove snapper. By chumming, I’m getting schools of snapper to rise up from the bottom. When this occurs, we’re free-lining live hatch bait or fresh-cut chunks of bait into the current to the feeding fish.
I’m noticing this week the snapper are being a little finicky, so to combat this I’m scaling down to 15-pound test fluorocarbon for a leader and going down to a No. 4 live bait hook to help conceal it in the bait — so it’s not seen by the snapper’s keen eyes. The challenge with using this light leader and small hook becomes apparent when the Spanish mackerel show up in the chum. Be prepared to re-rig a lot. The 15-pound fluorocarbon doesn’t stand a chance against the razor-sharp teeth of the macks. Most snapper catches are ranging 12-15 inches, with fish up to 18 inches coming to the boat on occasion.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting snapper in Tampa Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico, where fishing rock piles, reefs and wrecks is providing great snapper action for his clients. Live shiners free-lined or fished on a knocker rig are producing the bite. Mixed in with the snapper are flounder and macks.
Fishing the flats for spotted seatrout is proving productive for Lowman as rallies of trout 12-15 inches are occurring on the morning outgoing tides. Live shiners free-lined or under a cork are top producers. Slot-trout are being caught, although less frequently than the smaller ones.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing mangrove snapper being reeled up to the deck. Pier fishers using live shrimp or shiners as bait are catching numerous snapper during the beginnings and endings of the tide. Most catches are falling between 10-12 inches.
Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and jacks are being caught frequently this week. Small white jigs or Gotcha plugs are top producers. Early morning tides are providing the most action.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore with good results on a variety of species. In water depths of 30-60 feet, Girle is finding mangrove snapper, gag grouper, macks and cobia. All fish are being caught on either live shiners or live pinfish as bait.
On the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is rallying on spotted seatrout. These fish are being found among deep grass where water clarity is good. Live shiners free-lined or under a cork are his rig of choice, and miixed in are ladyfish, bluefish and macks.
Finally, on shallow flats, Girle is finding redfish, especially along mangrove shorelines where oyster bars are present. Live shiners sight-cast to the redfish are quickly being inhaled — resulting in slot-sized fish for the cooler.
Capt. Jason Stock is targeting permit around offshore wrecks and other structure. On a quiet approach, Stock is able to sneak up on schooling permit, as they leisurely sun themselves just below the surface of the water. Once the fish are spotted, Stock is casting live pass crabs in their vicinity. Typically, the bait is taken within seconds and the line begins screaming off the reel. Stock reports permit in the 8-20 pound range are being caught with some frequency.
Also while offshore, Stock is hooking up with his share of mangrove snapper. Fish 15-20 inches are being taken on live shiners and, he says happily, gag and red grouper are mixed in.
Capt. Rick Gross is working both Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico for mangrove snapper, where rocks and docks are producing respectable quantities of fish for anglers on the Fishy Business. Live shiners as bait are resulting in snapper 12-15 inches. Mixed in with the snapper bite are flounder and Spanish mackerel.
Catch-and-release snook fishing is putting some great action in the day for Gross’ clients. Snook ranging 20-33 inches are being caught by on shiners cast against a mangrove shoreline on the high tide.
Capt. David White of Great White Charters says the mack bite is going crazy. He reports macks are covering the local reefs “pretty heavily.” White recommends using light gear for a fun workout.
Going a little deeper, the mangrove snapper bite is keeping White’s clients happy and fish up to 5 pounds make for nice dinner fillets.
White says catch-and-release snook are coming on after dark, when the linesiders can be found “lined up” under dock lights.
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