Island fishers take advantage of rising water temps
With water temps creeping into the low 60s, Anna Maria Island fishers are getting an early chance at hooking up with an array of inshore and offshore species.
Keeping warmer water in mind, try to target deep canals with black muddy bottoms to achieve best results. It may not be a bad idea to try fishing afternoon hours, so the sun has time to warm up the water.
A variety of inshore species have turned on due to the warmer water. Sheepshead, black drum, spotted sea trout and redfish are at the top of the list. Live shrimp and soft plastics are the best bet for these species. Remember, the water is real clear inshore right now, so scale down your fluorocarbon leader to 15- or 20-pound test.
Since the grouper closure that began Feb. 1, the gag and red grouper bite has steadily gotten better and better. Large numbers of gags are being caught offshore, while the red grouper bite has been consistent farther out. For fishers looking for dinner, try targeting mangrove snapper, jolt head porgies, Key West grunts and amberjack. For the snapper and porgies, try live handpicked shrimp. For the jacks, a feisty little pinfish will work great.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters reports great catch-and-release gag grouper and red snapper action on his offshore charters. Gag grouper up to 18 pounds were caught as well as red snapper up to 14 pounds, Kimball said. Fifteen or 20 of each species is the norm brought about the “Legend.”
Following up the catch-and-release action, Kimball began targeting mangrove snapper, knob head porgies, jolt head porgies and sheepshead. “Try using a fat select shrimp to catch the bigger porgies,” Kimball suggests.
To add to the variety of species caught offshore, Kimball has been catching red grouper up to 12 pounds and plenty of amberjacks in the 15-pound range.
Capt. Wayne Genthner of Wolfmouth Charters says he has a sore neck from catching so many redfish. On a recent six-hour charter, Genthner boated 75 redfish. Genthner is using a 1/4-ounce jig head tipped with fresh-cut live shrimp for best results. “We were targeting sheepshead,” Genthner said, “but there were so many rat reds eating our bait that the sheepies never had a chance.”
Other backwater catches for Genthner include ladyfish and slot-sized spotted sea trout.
Moving offshore, Genthner says there is plenty of good catch-and-release gag grouper action.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle reports a wide variety of fish caught in the backwater and along the beaches. Fishing docks with deep water is producing redfish, black drum and sheepshead for fishers using live shrimp. Finding structure on the beachfront is prosperous with catches of whiting, spotted sea trout, sheepshead and black drum. Keyes suggests using a “knocker rig,” consisting of a size 1 circle hook and 1/2-ounce egg sinker.
“The water is real clear,” Keyes says, “so make sure you’re using 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon as a leader.”
Jeff Medley at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge South Fishing Pier says the sheepshead bite is in full swing there. Fiddler crabs and tubeworms are producing limits of sheepshead with fish up to 4 pounds.
“They aren’t nibbling like normal,” Medley says, “they’re inhaling the whole crab.”
Spotted sea trout also have been part of the menu at the pier for fishers using live shrimp on a jig head. Most fish are in the slot of 15 to 20 inches. Gag grouper invaded the piers shortly after the closing Feb. 1. Bottom fishers are catching juvenile gag grouper by the dozens on live shrimp.
To finish out the day, fishers using silver spoons are catching Spanish mackerel. Go into the bait shop and ask for a “Skyway Pier mackerel rig” if you want to target this high activity fish.
Ken Davis at Rotten Ralph’s on the Historic Bridge Street Pier says sheepshead are starting to show in good numbers.
Fishers using live shrimp and sand fleas are producing big sheepies from 12 to 15 inches. “One guy out here filled a five-gallon bucket with sheepshead the other day,” Davis said.
Capt. Warren Girle says “rat reds” have invaded Sarasota bay. Girle says his week’s charters totaled more than 200 redfish. “Out of these fish, only four were keepers,” Girle said. Both eastern and western shorelines of the bay are holding fish.
Spotted sea trout have begun to make a presence in the bay. Girle suggests using Miter Twister Exude Darts in the golden bream color on a 1/4- or 1/8-ounce jig head. “Find the mullet and you’ll find the trout,” Girle adds.
Other catches include black drum and sheepshead. Girle is targeting deepwater canals with docks to find these species. Live shrimp is a good choice to use for bait.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters says fishing has been good with the wintertime pattern being at the forefront of fishing. Speckled trout have been biting on the deep grass flats of Tampa Bay. Howard suggests using a popping cork rigged so the live shrimp sits just above the sea grass.
“Make the cork gurgle to draw the curious speckled trout to your bait and catching your limit of four should not be too hard,” Howard says. Look for the speckled trout bite to only get better as the seasons progresses.
Howard says he’s seen sheepshead in Tampa Bay and waters surrounding Anna Maria in increasing numbers. Howard suggests using shrimp, fiddler crabs and sand fleas to get these fish to chew.
The redfish bite remains strong with many redfish landed on Howard’s charters. He’s seeing low tides bunching up the redfish and other species into the potholes of the flats.
“When fishing tight to deep-water docks, you have to get the big ones out from the dock to avoid the cutoffs and from spooking the school,” Howard says.
Lastly, mangrove snapper are making their run into Tampa Bay and will be found schooling up over structure.
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