Tag Archives: fishing

Sheepshead season in early stages, savy anglers hook up

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Dick “Redhook” Fye from Kokomo, Indiana, shows a nice sheepshead he caught while fishing at the Rod & Reel Pier.
Patrick Meko of Louisville shows off a 38-inch amberjack he caught Feb 6 while fishing offshore with Capt. David White of Anna Maria charters.
Peter Lofaso Jr., left, and Peter Lofaso Sr. double-teamed this tough amberjack Feb. 2, taking turns in the fight to get it to the boat. They fished offshore of Anna Maria Island in about 120 feet of water using live grunts for bait. The Lofasos also caught large red grouper, snapper and battled a goliath grouper until it pulled loose. They were guided to the fish by Capt Larry McGuire.
Ian True and Sam True of Anna Maria Island, Emmanuel Petkas of Georgia and Kevin Hendrickson of Virginia find success Feb. 2 with trout, pompano and mackerel on a guided fishing trip in Sarasota Bay with Capt. Warren Girle.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains consistent. Consistently good.

With spring-like conditions dominating our weather, fishers are venturing outdoors in droves to soak up the warm Florida sunshine and hook up with the bite and dinner.

Sheepshead season, which arrives with winter, is still in its early stages due to the mild temperatures in the waters, which leaves plenty of anglers filled with the anticipation of enjoying a nice fish fry.

Sheepshead are a favorite among fishers in our area. Whether you’re fishing from shore or from a boat, finding access to these tasty striped fish should be fairly easy as long as you do your homework.

If you’re a shore fisher, the advance scouting could be as easy as taking a walk on a pier. You can’t beat a meal at the Rod & Reel Pier and great views of Tampa Bay, where you can see the fish around the pilings.

Those who opt to fish from a boat should be able to find sheepies fairly easily, too. Most of the local reefs will be holding fish. And if you don’t have a GPS on the boat, try casting to the pilings at the bridges or the docks in the residential canals. As long as there are barnacles growing on the pilings, your chance of finding a sheepshead are pretty good.

Once you load your stringer or the cooler with fish, it’s time to enjoy a nice fish dinner. For frying purposes, my family and I like to cut the fillets into nuggets, bread and deep-fry them. For breading, we have a couple of favorites we like to use. One is Zatarain’s Wonderful Fish Fri. This one is easy. You simply put the mixture in a plastic bag, add sheep nuggets and shake vigorously, making sure all the pieces of fish are fully coated.

Another seasoning we like is Drake’s Crispy Fry Mix. With this seasoning, you make beer batter. It might make a little mess in the kitchen, but it’s worth the effort in flavor and a crispy texture. Just dip the nuggets in the beer batter — made by following the recipe on the box — and into the hot oil it goes.

And there they are. Tasty nuggets of goodness. A little of your favorite tartar sauce and a squeeze of fresh lemon and you’re eating some fine fish. What better way to enjoy a warm Florida evening in February? Bring on some cold beers and good company — just don’t forget the sheepshead.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing inshore around local docks and bridges for sheepshead. Using live shrimp combined with a knocker rig is producing a bite for White and his anglers. Sheepies up to 6-pounds are being caught, as well an occasional black drum and redfish.

Fishing offshore for amberjack also is productive for White’s charters. For bait, White is casting free-lined pilchards, pinfish and blue runners to attract a bite. While targeting amberjack, he’s also hooking up plenty of bonito.

Jim Malfese, who helps folks get hooked up at the Rod & Reel Pier, says more numbers of sheepshead are beginning to arrive at Anna Maria Island’s northernmost pier. Pier fishers using live bait are reeling up convict fish with some consistency. According to Malfese, most of the regular anglers who target sheepshead anticipate the bite will steadily get better in the next couple of weeks.

Aside from sheepshead, pier fishers using bait up shrimp or use small jigs are hooking into a few pompano. Bouncing shrimp-tipped jigs along the sandy bottom outward from the pier is resulting in a bite. Flounder, jack crevalle and blue runners are being caught in the same fashion.

Capt. Warren Girle is drifting the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay for a variety of catches. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are enticing pompano to bite, as well as bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle. Switching over to a jig head combined with a soft plastic grub is attracting a bite. Spotted seatrout are readily eating these soft plastics when cast into deeper potholes throughout the flat.

Working docks and canals, where casting live shrimp is proving most effective for sheepshead, black drum and redfish on Girle’s charters.

Capt. Aaron Lowman also is working the nearshore structure with good results. With live shrimp as bait, Lowman is putting anglers on hogfish, porgies, sheepshead and white grunts. Dropping baits to the bottom around ledges and rock piles is the key to Lowman’s success, including mangrove snapper and juvenile grouper in these same areas.

Moving to the flats, Lowman is putting some Berkley Gulp shrimp to work. This popular, scented soft plastic combined with a 1/4-ounce jig head is leading many bites from redfish, trout and flounder. Working this lure on a slow retrieve and a bounce off the bottom is Lowman’s tip for success.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is keeping busy on the water, drifting the flats of Anna Maria Sound in search of spotted seatrout. While doing a drift, Gross and his anglers are casting soft plastics combined with a jig head throughout the deeper grass flats and especially on the edges of the sandy potholes. This method of fishing is resulting in keeper-size trout, as well as a variety of other species — jack crevalle, ladyfish and bluefish.

Gross also is fishing nearshore structure for sheepshead. Live shrimp, fished on a bottom rig around artificial reefs, wrecks and rock piles is resulting in sheepshead up to 5 pounds.

Capt. Jason Stock is running his anglers offshore for hogfish. By fishing around reefs, ledges and wrecks with live shrimp, Stock is leading his clients to some of the best tasting fish available. Mixed in with the hogs are porgies, white grunts and mangrove snapper. Most hogfish catches are in the 2-pound range, although Stock says fish exceeding 5 pounds are not uncommon.

Trolling for grouper also is on Stock’s agenda. By trolling lipped plugs around inshore and nearshore reefs, Stock’s clients are hooking into gag grouper — some exceeding 30 inches in length.

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

Mild temps result in uptick on catches of convicts

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Mark Willis of Harbour Isles on Perico Island shows off one of the many sheepshead he caught Feb. 2 on a charter trip with Capt. Danny Stasny.
Melissa Medori of Atlanta shows a 15-pound black drum she caught Feb. 1 on light tackle while bottom fishing with live shrimp 5-8 miles west of Egmont Key with Capt. Aaron Lowman.

With another week of mild temperatures, fishing around Anna Maria Island is proving to be quite good.

Sheepshead are beginning to really make their presence known around Tampa Bay. The local fishing piers, as well as reefs and rock piles, are attracting fish. Pier fishers are finding success using live shrimp as bait and the same applies for boaters. Dropping live shrimp to the bottom around the reefs and wrecks is proving quite effective.

On my trips with Southernaire Fishing Charters, I’m targeting sheepies. Not only do these fish fight to the bitter end, they taste great after they’ve been battered and fried. Half a shrimp placed in a 1/2-ounce knocker rig is resulting in sheepshead up to 5 pounds. Rallies are occurring with most catches falling between 2-3 pounds. To find these fish, I’m pulling up to artificial reefs, rock piles and even beaches where structure exists.

As the winter bite matures, you should be able to find the buck-toothed fish almost anywhere barnacles exist — fishing piers, bridges and seawalls. For bait, live shrimp are a great start, although experienced sheepherders usually carry a variety of baits — fiddler crabs, tubeworms and sand fleas as well as shrimp.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is venturing offshore on days when winds are light and the seas are calm. By fishing ledges with live shrimp as bait, Lowman is hooking into a variety of fish including mangrove snapper, sheepshead, porgies, grunts and hogfish. For rigging, Lowman is tying on a knocker rig consisting of a 1-ounce egg sinker, some 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 2/0 circle hook. This rig is most effective because it anchors the bait on the bottom, while still allowing the line to slip through the sinker on receiving a bite.

Fishing rock piles and artificial reefs in Tampa Bay is producing a bite for Lowman — sheepshead and flounder are coming to the boat. Again, the use of a knocker rig combined with a shrimp is Lowman’s go-to rig.

Capt. Warren Girle is working the flats of Sarasota Bay for a variety of species. By drifting and jigging, Girle is putting clients on spotted seatrout, pompano, ladyfish and bluefish. Drifting over flats where the depth falls between 4-8 feet is producing the most action. Small jigs tipped with shrimp or simply naked are attracting the bite for his anglers.

Fishing residential canals and docks is providing action for Girle’s clients. Casting live shrimp under docks and along seawalls is resulting in redfish, black drum, sheepshead and flounder.

Capt. Jason Stock is circling the shallow flats of Sarasota Bay when strong winds and rough seas prevent him from going offshore. On these days, Stock is pushing his 23-foot Trevco boat as shallow as he can reach the potholes where the gator trout and redfish lurk. Casting artificial baits — Berkley Gulp shrimp — into these areas is resulting in a bite. On days when these fish are finicky, Stock is using live baits, shrimp and pinfish to draw a bite.

Moving offshore, Stock is working the ledges and rock piles for hogfish. Live shrimp dropped to the bottom are resulting in keeper hogs, as well as porgies, white grunts and snappers. Offshore wrecks are producing action for Stock’s anglers from amberjack.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business also is working rocks and docks in Tampa Bay for sheepshead. Rallies of these tasty striped fish are keeping Gross busy dehooking and rebaiting. Mixed in with the sheepies are a few snapper and an occasional flounder.

Fishing the flats of Tampa Bay is resulting in spotted seatrout in the cooler. A live shrimp weighted with a small split shot and cast into sandy potholes is resulting in slot-size trout.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing the arrival of a most-anticipated convict. That’s right — the black-and-white striped sheepies are back. Although the large numbers of spawning fish have yet to arrive, there are fish to be caught at the northern-most pier on Anna Maria Island. Most catches are occurring on live shrimp or fiddler crabs. As the bite continues and the fish get smarter, you may want to try sand fleas or tubeworms. Fish up to 2-pounds are being reeled up to the deck, with bigger catches in the mix.

While targeting sheepies, anglers are hooking into an occasional black drum or flounder. Pompano are being caught by fishers who work small jigs tipped with shrimp.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is night fly-fishing on some of his charters around Anna Maria Island and in the Manatee River. Baitfish patterns worked around structure such as docks and seawalls are resulting in catch-and-release snook as well as ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish. Spotted seatrout are being caught, especially around lighted docks where either the green underwater light or the classic snook lights over the water are attracting the linesiders.

During the day, White is casting live shrimp around residential docks, producing sheepshead, mangrove snapper and black drum for anglers.

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

Winter puts a chill on weekend fishing around AMI

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Mike Cirese of Minocqua, Wisconsin, shows off a limit of pompano he caught Jan. 18 along with sheepies and redfish while fishing with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Chase Stevens, 11 of Suffield, Connecticut, (top), shows off his first-ever spotted seatrout, as young brother Fischer Stevens, 8 (bottom), also manages to hook up with his first seatrout on a spring-like day in January while fishing with grandfather Dick Stevens, a Connecticut-Holmes Beach snowbird and avid fisher.
Chase Stevens, 11 of Suffield, Connecticut, (top), shows off his first-ever spotted seatrout, as young brother Fischer Stevens, 8 (bottom), also manages to hook up with his first seatrout on a spring-like day in January while fishing with grandfather Dick Stevens, a Connecticut-Holmes Beach snowbird and avid fisher.
Jim Garrity of Deleware, left, Tony Tancredi of New Jersey and Gregg Balance of Deleware show off their trout, redfish and pompano, caught inshore on Sarasota Bay on a guided fishing trip with Capt. Warren Girle.

Fishing around Anna Maria is worth pursuing, despite the past week’s windy days and chilly mornings.

Venturing into the Gulf of Mexico remains questionable due to rough seas. So most anglers are migrating to the bays and Intracoastal Waterway to find a bite.

Fishing in the shelter of residential canals and docks is resulting in catches of redfish, black drum and sheepshead. And on the flats, spotted seatrout, pompano, bluefish and jack crevalle are available. With both of these scenarios on the agenda, fishers are finding enough to keep them busy for a day of fishing — and some fish on the menu.

On my trips with Southernaire fishing charters, I’m doing pretty much the same. The pompano bite is consistent most mornings. At least as consistent as a pompano bite can be. Drifting and jigging with small shrimp-tipped jigs is the best plan of attack. Limits of pomps are available, depending on the determination of the anglers.

Sheepshead, redfish and black drum are being found around local docks and areas on the flats where oyster bars or limestone bottom exist. A live shrimp on a 1/2-ounce knocker rig is getting plenty of attention for my clients.

Lastly, drifting and jigging with soft plastics, such as the DOA CAL jig, is yielding spotted seatrout, ladyfish, bluefish and jack crevalle. Casting these jigs into a sandy pothole on the grass flats is most productive. Also, casting around channel edges and the mouths of canals is a good bet.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing inshore, around the flats of Sarasota Bay and the surrounding waters. Due to a string of windy days, inshore fishing is proving to be the ticket. Casting in the canals around rocks and docks is resulting in redfish, black drum, sheepshead and flounder for his clients. For bait, live shrimp is Girle’s choice.

Fishing the deeper grass flats in Sarasota Bay is providing action for Girle. By drifting and jigging, he is coming up with a variety of species for his clients to enjoy. Pompano, the targeted species, is being caught with some regularity. Mixed in with the pompano bite, anglers are attracting spotted seatrout, bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working the inshore routine as well. Casting Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jig head under and around residential docks and seawalls is resulting in redfish, black drum and flounder. This practice is a good skill to have, especially on days when the wind is blowing and the seas are rough. Being able to produce fish in canals — where the waters are calm — is more pleasurable, for both clients and captain, rocking and casting in rough seas.

On calmer days, Lowman is fishing some of the inshore reefs. By using live shrimp as bait, he’s putting anglers on numerous sheepshead and few flounder.

Lastly, drifting the grass flats and jigging is producing a pompano bite for Lowman. Small jigs tipped with shrimp are attracting attention from pompano, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Capt. Jason Stock is hanging near shore this week due to strong winds and rough seas. By fishing the flats in the waters surrounding Anna Maria Island, Stock is catching spotted seatrout. The use of artificials such as soft plastics or top water plugs is producing good action for Stock and his clients. On days when the artificials aren’t living up to their potential, Stock is hooking up small live pinfish as bait to entice the trout.

On days with light winds, Stock is venturing to nearshore structure where live shrimp are producing hogfish, porgies and grunts.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is finding sheepshead by casting live fiddler crabs on a weighted jig under docks, where he’s also putting clients on a few mangrove snapper.

For fly fishers just looking to bend a rod, White is tying a finger-mullet pattern for good results on jack crevalle, ladyfish and catch-and-release snook.

Steve Leonard at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are the primary catch at the northern-most pier on Anna Maria Island. While large concentrations of sheepies have yet to show up, persistent anglers are managing to pull a few up on the boards. While targeting sheepshead with live shrimp, anglers also are hooking up some redfish and black drum.

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

Spring fishing in January produces abundant hook ups

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Keith Darby of Miami Beach shows off the hogfish he caught Dec. 27 using a live shrimp for bait while 7 miles offshore of Anna Maria Island on a guided trip with Capt. Aaron Lowman.
Larry Van Valkenberg,left, of Michigan and Kevin Hendrickson of Anna Maria and Virginia were guided Jan. 21 by Capt. Warren Girle to a good afternoon bite and several keeper pompano for to take home for dinner.

With nothing but a few minor cold fronts, this winter is feeling more like spring. And you don’t hear me complaining.

With springtime weather dominating, fishing the island waters is winding up better than average for January. Live shiners are still available for bait on the local flats. Catch-and-release snook fishing is quite productive in the back country and I’m seeing schooling redfish on the grass flats. These scenarios generally don’t occur in January, so having these opportunities now is a blessing. How can you not love Florida?

For my Southernaire fishing charters, I’m targeting the elusive pompano. With a little luck and also knowing where to fish, I’m hooking up with these famous light-tackle fish. Pompano can be hard to “nail down,” as they are constantly on the move. Like the old saying goes — “here today, gone tomorrow.” That’s pompano fishing. So knowing where to look is important and being lucky is imperative.

Once the pompano are found, I’m casting small pink or chartreuse jigs tipped with small pieces of fresh-cut shrimp. The bouncing of the jig, the puffs of sand on the bottom and the scent coming off the shrimp is resulting in ferocious bites followed by erratic runs and skips across the water that only end when the fish is in the landing net. On good days, limits of pompano are finding their way into the cooler and a fry pan.

Pompano are a prize for light-tackle anglers. They are considered by most to be the best of the best on the plate and, when hooked on light tackle, their fight can be matched by no other fish of the same size. Also, pompano can be taken from shore or by boat, which makes them available to everyone. Fishing along the beaches with live shrimp or sand fleas is a popular way to target these fish. Walking the beach while jigging is effective, too. You also can find pompano throughout the grass flats as they forage on small shrimp and other crustaceans. Typically, while fishing the flats, a jig is most effective, although they can be taken on the simplest of rigs — a shrimp and a popping cork.

Lastly, pompano sometimes like to gather in inlets and passes. Fishing Longboat Pass between Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key and New Pass at the south end of Longboat Key can be most effective. In these instances, “cannonball” jigs work best because the large round balls are heavy enough to reach the bottom in a current. Again, tipping these jigs with shrimp is a good idea.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working in southern Sarasota Bay for pompano. By drifting and jigging over deeper flats, Lowman is putting clients on pompano as well as other migratory species — jack crevalle, ladyfish and bluefish. Tipping small jigs with fresh-cut shrimp is Lowman’s secret to success. These small pieces of shrimp add just enough scent to the jig to make it irresistible to an elusive pompano. Drifting while fishing also is effective. It helps the angler cover a wider area of water, which, in theory, will aid in finding the bite.

Moving offshore, Lowman is using live shrimp as bait, putting anglers on hogfish, porgies, red grouper and triggerfish. For rigging, Lowman likes to use a 1/2- to 1-ounce knocker rig paired with a circle hook.

Capt. Jason Stock is running clients offshore for amberjack. Rather than use live bait to catch these fish, Stock is taking advantage of their sheer aggressive nature and casting top-water poppers to trigger the bite. Working these poppers across the surface quickly creates a lot of splashing and the erratic behavior can prompt the amberjack to aggressively strike the lure. Then the battle is on. Amberjack up to 30 pounds are being taken in this manner.

Live bait also is proving successful offshore for Stock. Blackfin tuna, kingfish and gag grouper are being caught on live threadfin herring, pinfish and large shiners. Hogfish are being caught, too, on offerings of live shrimp on a bottom jig.

Steve Leonard at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are beginning to make a showing at the pier. Although they are not abundant like they will be in February, if the water turns colder, anglers are pleased to find these tasty fish lurking around the pilings. Live shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas are the baits of choice.

Other species being caught at the R&R include flounder, black drum and an occasional mangrove snapper — all coming to the hook for a live shrimp.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is lining up inshore around docks and canals. By casting live shrimp combined with a size-1 hook and a couple of split shots for weight under and around docks, he’s putting anglers on sheepshead, mangrove snapper and black drum. According to White, dock fishing is proving productive for filling the cooler.

Moving offshore, White is finding numerous amberjack. Also snapper — lane, yellowtail and mangoes — are being caught in abundance. For bait, White is using live shiners, although on days when the fish are finicky, he’s finding frozen squid is attracting a bite. He’s using a 2-ounce fish-finder rig, combined with a Mutu Circle hook.

Lastly, jigging the passes for pompano is yielding results for White and his clients. White likes using a Doc’s Goofy jig tipped with a small piece of fresh-cut shrimp to attract a bite — and it works.

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

Weather cools, but old man winter can’t chill AMI fishing

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Steve Kline of Harbour Isles on Perico Island shows off his 35-inch catch-and-release linesider, caught Jan. 4 on a guided fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Gabe Owens, visiting from Delray, Ohio, starts off the new year with a smoker kingfish, caught Jan. 1 using a sardine in about 45 feet of water offshore of Anna Maria Island. Owens and his family caught their limit of kings, plus grouper and snapper, while fishing with Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters.
Kevin Hendrickson, left, and Ray Platz from Anna Maria show off two of the lucky hogfish snapper they reeled up Friday the 13th, Jan. 13, on a guided trip offshore with Capt. Warren Girle.

The cool down we’re experiencing might be enough to put us into a winter-fishing pattern.

Most local anglers who fish inshore are migrating toward local canals and docks in search of a bite, because the waters in these sheltered areas are a few degrees warmer than open waters. This warmth attracts the fish. Snook, redfish, black drum, snapper and sheepshead all gravitate toward these areas, even if the waters are only a degree or two warmer. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon a large concentration of fish at one dock when there’s only a nibble at another.

Also, certain canals and specific docks will hold fish year after year. So go out, do your homework and try to keep a record of your spots for the next fishing trip.

Following the pattern, Capt. Aaron Lowman is working inshore around residential docks and canals. By using live shrimp as bait, Lowman is putting his clients on a fair share of fish. Casting live shrimp under docks is resulting in sheepshead, black drum and redfish. Also, an occasional flounder or catch-and-release snook is taking the hook.

Fishing along the beaches is resulting in a bite. Jack crevalle, blue runners and especially pompano are being caught on Lowman’s boat by using small jigs tipped with shrimp.

Capt. Warren Girle is working offshore on days when the seas are calm. By fishing ledges and hard bottom, he’s finding a bounty of catch-and-release gag grouper. Although it’s a shame to have to throw back these tasty fish, anglers are enjoying the sheer veracity of their fight once hooked. Girle’s clients are hooking into mangrove snapper, porgies and Key West grunts as they fish the ledges.

Moving inshore, Girle’s fishing canals and docks to find warmer water. In these areas, casting live shrimp is proving to produce the best action. Redfish and catch-and-release snook are the most likely to bite, although black drum, sheepshead and mangrove snapper are taking the hook.

Capt. Jason Stock is running inshore on days when the wind is blowing. By fishing the flats of Sarasota Bay and beyond, Stock is finding spotted seatrout and redfish for his clients. Canals and docks as well as deeper flats are hot spots for Stock and live pinfish and shrimp are his baits of choice.

Moving offshore on calm seas, Stock is catching many catch-and-release gag grouper. In the same areas, he’s finding flounder, porgies and mangrove snapper. Amberjack are present offshore, which can be quite entertaining for local and visiting anglers.

Steve Leonard at the Rod & Reel Pier says sheepshead are beginning to make a showing. Although it’s still a little early for large concentrations of sheepies to appear, pier anglers are reeling up a few to take home for dinner. Live shrimp are producing a bite as well as small crabs, sand fleas and tubeworms. Mixed in with the sheepshead bite are black drum, redfish and flounder.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing inshore along the Intracoastal Waterway and the local bays. Fishing around the area bridges is proving to be good for mangrove snapper and a few sheepshead. Also, fishing deeper potholes on the flats for redfish and black drum is providing White’s anglers with some action. Live shrimp is White’s bait of choice.

Fishing offshore for amberjack is a good bet on calmer days, when White is finding a variety of fish, including amberjack, bonito and a few kings.

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

Red hot fishing for January start, followed by cold front

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It was a lucky day on the water Dec. 30 for Hanna Fitter of Indiana. Just as grouper season was running out, she landed a nice one. She made the best of her offshore charter using shrimp and shiners for bait as Capt. Warren Girle also guided her to a nice flounder and several snapper.

With mild weather lingering around Anna Maria Island in early January, anglers were enjoying perfect conditions on the water and great fishing.

A weekend cold front brought a quick drop in temperatures and choppy waters, but we will see a quick return to better conditions for anglers.

Meanwhile, before the front, fishers from offshore were boasting of amberjack, cobia and kingfish. The inshore bite was holding its own with catches of redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Sheepshead and black drum were gathering around residential docks and there were rumors of pompano are popping up, according to beach fishers.

It was almost as though “old man winter” might have forgotten about us this year.

For Southernaire Charters, I’m concentrating on the inshore bite. The catch-and-release snook fishing is proving to be some of the best there is on the flats. Who would’ve thought we’d be free-lining live shiners for snook in January?

You don’t see me complaining. And my clients aren’t either.

Rallies of snook are occurring on the afternoon incoming tides, with most catches being schooley fish, 20-26 inches.

Residential docks and canals are host to a variety of fish. I’m casting live shrimp on a 1/2-ounce knocker rig around pilings and seawalls, resulting in redfish, black drum, sheepshead and mangrove snapper. We’re even hooking into a few catch-and-release snook this way. I frequently reserve these areas for windy days when fishing in open waters can be difficult, but any day is good.

Finally, casting shrimp or jigs along the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key is resulting in pompano and permit. Both bites are sporadic, but there’s always a chance at hitting “the mother lode.” When these rallies occur, anglers get to experience some of the best light-tackle fishing our area offers.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working nearshore and offshore structure, resulting in a variety of species for his clients. By fishing around hard bottom and ledges in 30-60 feet of water, Lowman is leading clients to plenty of fish to take home for dinner. Using live shrimp as bait, combined with a 1-ounce knocker rig, is resulting in hogfish, porgies, white grunts and mangrove snapper. Also in the mix are juvenile and red grouper up to 18 inches.

Moving inshore, Lowman is fishing along the beaches for pompano, permit and other species. Live shrimp are working well as bait. Sheepshead, black drum and flounder are being taken along the shore of Anna Maria Island and beyond.

Welcome to 2017, great weather, fishing all around AMI

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Jaqueline Brasseale of Evansville, Indiana, shows off a hefty hogfish she caught while fishing offshore with Capt. Jason Stock.

Well, here we are. It’s 2017.

Although the calendar says winter, our weather is resembling springtime. And so is the fishing.

With mild temperatures and calm seas, the fishing around Anna Maria Island is excellent. Offshore and nearshore fishing are proving to be exceptional, with catches of cobia, kingfish, grouper, snapper and hogfish — the list goes on.

And fishing inshore is following suit. Snook, redfish and spotted seatrout are being caught with regularity, thanks to mild conditions and temperatures.

On my own excursions with Southernaire Fishing, it feels like spring break on the water. The water clarity is as clear as it gets. Fishing offshore in depths of 45-55 feet is resulting in good hauls of mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, porgies, white grunts and grouper. As we are catching these fish, we can peer over the gunwale and see what’s on the end of the line 40 feet below the surface. That’s some kinda clear water.

In the backcountry, the conditions are the same. Trolling through the deeper flats in waters 5-10 feet deep, you can look down and see every blade of grass and every little shell. It’s almost hypnotizing — like peering into another world.

That said, clear waters can make backwater fishing slightly challenging. However, I’ve been lucky enough to find rallies of both spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Catching spotted seatrout this time of year isn’t unheard of, but finding rallies of snook on the flats in January is something to celebrate. And the snook are feisty and healthy-looking. There’s no cold water to slow them down or cause the bite to be sluggish.

Also, I’m finding pompano and permit along the beaches and across the grass flats. The larger concentrations of fish seem to be along the beaches, while on the flats, I’m seeing small groups of scattered fish.

On a final note, I guess we should celebrate where we live and be thankful for the tropical-like conditions we are experiencing with the start of a mild winter.

We need to remember that we have some of the best fishing grounds on the Gulf Coast  — second only to our neighbors to the south in Charlotte Harbor.

And, so far, the fishing this winter is definitely proving that statement.

Happy new year to all and may your lines be tight and your fishing rods bent in 2017.

Capt. Jason Stock is working nearshore and offshore structure. While fishing these areas, Stock is carrying a variety of live bait, including shrimp, shiners, threadfin herring and pinfish. While using shrimp as bait, Stock is finding a respectable amount of hogfish. Switching baits to shiners is resulting in flounder and small grouper. Larger species — kingfish, cobia and keeper-size grouper — are being taken on pinfish and threadfin herring.

On windy days when offshore fishing is prohibitive, Stock is in the backwater, running kayak charters. Fishing the back bays and in the Intracoastal Waterway with artificials is producing redfish, trout and catch-and-release snook.

Capt. Aaron Lowman also is fishing nearshore structure with good results. By using live shrimp as bait, Lowman is leading his clients to the tastiest of fish: Hogfish. He’s finding fish up to 4 pounds in depths of 30-50 feet. Mixed in with the bite are porgies, mangrove snapper and gag grouper.

Moving inshore, Lowman is working south in Sarasota Bay for pompano. By drifting and jigging, Lowman’s charters are reeling up a variety of species, including pompano, trout, bluefish and ladyfish.

Capt. Warren Girle is taking clients offshore on days when the winds are light and the seas calm. By using live shiners as bait, Girle is hooking up with red and gag grouper. Also mixed in with the bite are mangrove snapper, yellowtails snapper, porgies, white grunts and an occasional flounder.

Fishing inshore is providing action for Girle’s anglers on the deep flats in Sarasota Bay, where there’s a decent trout bite. By using live shiners as bait, Girle’s anglers also are hooking up bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Capt. Rick Gross of the Fishy Business is taking advantage of spring-like weather. Trout fishing on the local flats of southern Tampa Bay is stellar for Gross and his clients. Live shiners under a cork are producing limits of trout with ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish mixed in.

Moving to shallow flats is proving to be good for some catch-and-release snook fishing. Live, free-lined shiners are resulting in rallies of linesiders for Gross. Many fish 22-26 inches are being caught as well as fish here and there that top 28 inches.

Finally, redfish are being found on the flats and around residential docks, where live shiners and shrimp are producing the bite. Rallies of these fish are a welcome sight in December and Gross is putting it to them.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are managing to reel up sheepshead, flounder and black drum. With the winter weather being in the 80s and waters calm and clear, pier fishers are lined up shoulder to shoulder with hopes of reeling in a big one. Fishers casting shrimp under the pier among the pilings are having the best results. With “gin clear” waters, most fish are taking refuge in the shade under the pier.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working the flats with good results. By using live shiners as bait, White is finding his share of catch-and-release snook as well as redfish and spotted seatrout. Also, stalking along the edges of grass flats and around the passes is producing an occasional pompano bite. To hook up the pompano, White likes to use a Doc’s Goofy jig tipped with shrimp.

Moving offshore, White is finding amberjack as close to shore as 7 miles. Gag grouper are being caught in the same areas. Live shiners or pinfish are his baits of choice.

Finally, be in the know about openings, closures and changes to Gulf fishing regulations — gray triggerfish Gulf season remains closed through Dec. 31, 2017; the recreational harvest season for greater amberjack in the Gulf’s state and federal waters opened Jan. 1. A mutton snapper management change took place Jan. 1. The recreational bag limit is five fish per person within the 10-fish snapper aggregate bag limit in all state waters. Finally, gag grouper season closed Jan. 1 and will remain closed until June 1.

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

Unseasonably warm temps heat up action for fishers

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Bob Herz, daughters Molly, 13, and Rachel ,14, and wife Karen from Colorado visit family on Longboat Key and nd success shing with Capt. Warren Girle in Sarasota Bay. Using shiners and shrimp, they hooked up a few keeper red sh and seatrout on their annual charter.

With unseasonably warm temperatures this past week, fishing around Anna Maria Island turned up a notch.

Kingfish are being caught offshore, as well as mangrove snapper, grouper and hogfish. The inshore bite is good, with catch-and-release snook, redfish and trout being caught with regularity.

Shiners are available for anyone with a bait net on the flats, which is typically rare this time of year. Live shrimp as bait also are working for pompano, sheepshead, redfish and trout.

On my own adventures with Southernaire Fishing Charters, I’m patrolling the beaches in search of pompano and permit. Neither are being found in large numbers, but I’m finding enough action to keep my clients busy. To target these fish, I’m using small jigs with a short skirt tipped with shrimp with success. In some instances, just a plain old knocker rig with a shrimp will do the trick.

On the flats, spotted seatrout are responding to shrimp and shiners under a popping cork. I’m looking for water depths of 3-4 feet, where lush grass and sandy potholes are present. Many small trout are being caught and, with persistence, we are putting limits of slot-size fish in the cooler.

Capt. Warren Girle is running offshore for snapper and grouper. Both mangrove snapper and gag grouper are being caught using live shiners as bait. While targeting these fish, Girle’s clients are reeling up Key West grunts and a few flounder.

Moving inshore, Girle is finding many spotted seatrout throughout the deeper grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Live shrimp under a popping cork are producing the bite. Mixed in with the trout bite is some action on bluefish and jack crevalle. On the shallower flats, Girle is hooking up anglers with redfish and catch-and-release snook. Both are being taken on shiners and shrimp as bait.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working inshore with good results for his clients. Redfish, black drum and flounder are being caught around residential canals and docks, where casting live shrimp is attracting a bite. Inshore fishing on the deeper grass flats of Anna Maria Sound is providing action for Lowman’s anglers. Spotted seatrout are being caught with a popping cork combined with a live shrimp as bait.

Moving out along the beaches and nearshore structure, Lowman is finding cooperative mangrove snapper and hogfish. Both are taking live shrimp combined with a knocker rig. Flounder also are being caught by this method.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishers using live shrimp as bait are finding a bite. Black drum and sheepshead are coming up to the deck, but only by patient anglers. Dropping live shrimp under the pier on a weighted rig is providing the most action. While employing this method, pier fishers are catching an occasional redfish or flounder.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is fishing near and offshore for kingfish. By slow trolling or anchoring and casting large baits, such as threadfin herring, White is hooking into 10-20 pound kings. Also while fishing nearshore structure, White is finding numerous mangrove snapper on the feed. Live shiners and shrimp dropped to the bottom in these areas are resulting in limits of snapper.

Moving inshore, White’s clients are finding catch-and-release snook are taking live shiners free-lined over shallow flats and potholes, which is resulting in fish up to 26 inches. Sheepshead are making an appearance around docks and rock piles inshore, where White employs fiddler crabs, sand fleas and shrimp to get the tasty striped fish to bite a hook.

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

December fishing provides anglers a variety of catches

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Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters shows off the hefty black fin tuna he caught Dec. 12 offshore.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters shows off the hefty black fin tuna he caught Dec. 12 offshore.
Celebrating king of kings The king run is still strong offshore of Anna Maria Island, evidenced by Janice Baxley, left, assisting Cindy Brown of Clermont with her smoker kingfish, caught offshore using a large grunt in about 70 feet of water. The anglers were catching grouper and snapper when the king crashed the Christmas party, according to their guide, Capt Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island has remained consistent for another week. With mild temperatures and moderate seas, a variety of fishing can be accomplished. Whether venturing offshore for grouper and snapper or just casually fishing the flats in the local bays, local angers are finding success.

On my own adventures on Southernaire fishing charters, I’m finding my inshore trips to be quite pleasant. Calm, clear waters are making things easy for anglers working on the shallows. Spotted seatrout are in abundance and are on the feed. Live shrimp or shiners under a popping cork are resulting in numerous hookups, with at least 50 percent of the catches fits in the slot.

Fishing along the sandy beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key is proving to be good for pompano and permit. Both species are being taken by one of two methods — small jigs tipped with shrimp or a plain old knocker rig combined with a whole shrimp. Keeper-sizes of both species are being taken.

Lastly, on cooler, windy days, I’m venturing toward the protection of residential docks and canals. Casting live shrimp into these areas is resulting in black drum, redfish, sheepshead and flounder. The rallies of fish aren’t quite apparent, yet, but dinner is realistic.

Capt. Jason Stock is working offshore ledges and rock piles for the elusive hogfish. Typically, hogfish are taken with ease by spear fishers, but are not a common catch for fishers who chose to stay above the water’s surface. However, Stock finds no need to get in the water. He is doing just fine with hook-and-line fishing in depths ranging 30-80 feet. He’s putting clients on hogfish 1-7 pounds on a bottom rig combined with a live shrimp.

While fishing around wrecks and reefs, Stock is hooking into amberjack. Although these fish are out of season, the sheer thrill provided by these fierce-fighting fish is enough to stimulate the most experienced anglers. Large baits, such as blue runners and bar jacks are proving to attract large fish in the 30- to 60-pound range. Using smaller baits — shiners or threadfins — is resulting in catches in the 20-pound range.

Capt. Aaron Lowman, working now out of the Seafood Shack Marina, is finding good results inshore. On windy days, Lowman is migrating to canals, working the seawalls and docks. According to Lowman, these areas can be slightly warmer than open waters, which in turn attract a variety of fish. With live shrimp as bait, Lowman is catching redfish, black drum, sheepshead and mangrove snapper. Another bait producing success in these areas is the Berkley Gulp shrimp. Combining a Gulp with a 1/4-ounce jig head is resulting in numerous flounder catches for Lowman’s clients.

Moving out to the nearshore wrecks and reefs, Lowman is targeting hogfish, porgies, gag and red grouper. Along with these species, the occasional cobia and kingfish are coming to the hook.

Capt. Warren Girle is finding good results for clients offshore. Using live shiners or cut-bait, Girle’s clients are reeling up red grouper and mangrove snapper. For the grouper, the cut-bait is preferred. As for the snapper, using live shiners is producing most bites.

Moving inshore, Girle is finding plenty of spotted seatrout willing to take live shiners or live shrimp under a popping cork. Along with trout, Girle is putting his clients on bluefish, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is investing time offshore with good results. Targeting migratory species — kingfish, amberjack bonito and black fin tuna — is proving to be prosperous. Flat-lining live baits —  shiners or threadfin herring — is attracting the bite.

Snapper fishing offshore is providing good action on White’s charters. Yellowtail and mangrove snapper are being caught by chumming shiners. Chum is attracting other predators such as kings and tuna.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says fishing is steady for pier anglers using live shrimp for bait. Most catches are occurring during the morning tides. Species include sheepshead, black drum and flounder. Migratory species — ladyfish and blue runners — coming to the hook for anglers using small jigs or Gotcha plugs.

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

Winter is coming — time to bait shrimp for a hookup

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Howard Genesr, visiting from New Jersey, gets an assist Dec. 7 on his Christmas cobia from his guide, Capt. Larry McGuire. Genesr and his group caught grouper and snapper in about 95 feet of water offshore of the island, before they saw the cobia swim by the boat. McGuire said Genesr quickly dropped a line with a large grunt on the hook — leading to the catch of his life.
Ken Wawrewr and Roger Staig from Toronto, Canada, show off their Dec. 4 trout catch. They were guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

Baiting your hook with shrimp is becoming a necessity due to falling water temperatures and passing cold fronts.

There are shiners to be caught on the flats but, in most instances, substituting live shrimp can yield good results.

I’m finding an abundance of redfish around residential docks and canals that are more than happy to eat my live shrimp offerings. While searching for redfish, the shrimp are producing increasing numbers of black drum and sheepshead on my charters. And that’s a sure sign winter is around the corner.

Using shrimp as bait will work for most other species you’ll encounter in the back country, as well as around the nearshore reefs and ledges. Flounder, mangrove snapper and Key West grunts will readily take a well-placed shrimp on the reef. And don’t forget about sheepshead — they love nibbling shrimp.

Fishing the flats can be productive with shrimp. Deeper flats where spotted seatrout, bluefish and mackerel are lurking are a good place to cast a line. And don’t hesitate to cast a shrimp on a shallow flat to a snook. Most of the time, the shrimp will get inhaled before you can close the bail.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore when winds are light and the seas are calm. Using live shiners as bait around the artificial reefs is resulting in catches of mangrove snapper and Key West grunts by his clients. Trolling large-lipped plugs such as the Mann’s Stretch 30 over hard bottom and ledges is producing keeper-size gag grouper for Girle’s clients.

On the flats of Sarasota Bay, Girle is finding the trout bite to be the most consistent. Using live shiners or shrimp free-lined or under a cork is producing multiple hookups on trout, although many are under the 15-inch minimum limit. Keeper-fish are mixed in and Girle’s determined anglers are putting their limit in the cooler. *

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing pier fishers reeling up sheepshead, black drum and flounder on live shrimp. All three species are being caught with a bottom rig and a shrimp. Casting this rig under the pier deck is most advantageous for anglers looking to reel up dinner.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is working the deep grass flats in the bays for spotted seatrout. Using live shiners under a popping cork is leading Gross’ clients to rallies of schooley-sized trout. Slot fish 15-16 inches are mixed in with an array of smaller fish. While targeting trout, Gross is finding bluefish and jack crevalle, too.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting the flats with good results. On shallower flats, catch-and-release snook are being caught with some regularity with live shiners as bait. Free-lining these shiners is resulting in snook ranging 20-24 inches. On deeper grass flats, Lowman is finding spotted seatrout are cooperative. Live shiners or live shrimp fished under a popping cork are attracting this bite.

After flats fishing, Lowman is working his way around the residential docks and canals. By using live shrimp as bait, he’s putting clients on a variety of species, including black drum, sheepshead and flounder. Typically, when fishing these areas, Lowman likes to use a knocker rig to keep the bait on the bottom, where the target is lurking.

Capt. Jason Stock says he’s running clients offshore with good results. Using large baits — threadfin herring or large shiners — is attracting attention from some tough fighting fish, including amberjack, cobia and king mackerel. These three species are being taken by free-lining baits behind the boat around wrecks and reefs.

Bottom fishing in these same areas is resulting in catches of gag grouper and mangrove snapper. Stock also is finding Goliath grouper present in considerable numbers, which makes it imperative to quickly reel up your catch before it gets eaten by a much bigger fish.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters —  formerly Great White Charters —  is working the inshore flats of Sarasota Bay and beyond. During morning low tides, White is finding numerous trout and snook. On the extreme low tides, these fish find pot holes where they can take refuge until the tide rises. By casting a shiner or shrimp into a hole, White is finding a bite.

On deeper flats, White is hooking up with Spanish mackerel and bluefish. For rigging, he’s using a long shank hook under a popping cork. Combine this with a live shiner and, as White says, “The bite is on.”