Fishing – 06-22-2011

Shark fishing highlights season

What is all of the hype about shark fishing on the north end of Anna Maria Island?

Bean Point and the vicinity around the Rod & Reel Pier has always been a hot spot for anglers to hook up with sharks of all species and sizes. Long before any of the fishing piers were built, Bean Point was known for being “sharky,” and I’m sure if the piers were gone tomorrow, it would be an area where sharks gather. It’s the southern-most entrance to Tampa Bay, which is known as one of the largest shark breeding areas in the world. Also, every species of fish (shark food) that enters or leaves Tampa Bay must pass by either Bean Point or Egmont Key to the north.

This naturally results in the area being a mecca for sharks and the anglers that hunt them.

When sharks are feeding, they follow the fish, not people. Not that I would dive into a school of mackerel being chased by sharks, but you catch my drift. We’re not included in their diet. They eat fish.

As for this business of trying to ban shark fishing from the beaches on Bean Point, I think we need to take a careful, logical view of what’s happening. We know the sharks are there. That’s their home.

Chumming for them may attract them to the bait, but it won’t get them whipped into a frenzy to the point where they seek out people to bite. Save that nonsense for the movies.

Even Dr. Bob Hueter, director of the Mote Marine Center for Shark Research, says, “There is no evidence that chumming leads to shark attacks on people. It just attracts them to a particular area, which in Florida waters sharks are everywhere already.”

So what solutions are there to the perceived problem with shark fishing around Bean Point? Maybe we should have a town meeting and hire Quint from “Jaws” to come and kill all the sharks. Yeah, right.

How about if they banned swimming around Bean Point? That seems logical, but not fair. We live on Anna Maria Island to enjoy the lifestyle: swimming, surfing, fishing and more.

Bringing up the shark issue is just bringing attention to something that we all knew about anyway. We live in Florida, as do sharks. And as for Anna Maria’s shark problem, maybe it’s just a people problem.

If you want to educate yourself about sharks and shark fishing regulations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is hosting a public meeting to discuss those topics from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at the Terrace Building, 101 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota.

Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says shark fishing has been the highlight again this week at the shop. Reports of black tip, lemon, bonnethead, hammerhead and bull sharks are coming in daily. Everyone’s talking about it and plenty of fishers are gearing up.

“Ever since the tarpon arrived, there have been a lot of sharks along the beaches and in the passes,” Keyes says. You can target tarpon or shark from a boat or you can surf-cast right off the beaches. Most beach fishers looking for shark are using at least 120-pound cable or hard-wire attached to a 7/0 or larger circle hook. There are a variety of baits that will work for shark fishing. Cut bait such as mackerel, bonito, ladyfish and jack crevalle are great and they’re readily available. As far as the size of the bait is concerned, Keyes says, “Bigger bait, bigger fish.”

“If you’re going to go shark fishing, you may want to carry a de-hooking tool so you don’t have to get your fingers so close to those teeth,” Keyes suggests.

If shark fishing isn’t your cup of tea, there are reports of snook and spotted sea trout along the beaches in the trough. Shiners are the best live bait, while in the artificial category, the MirrOlure in the greenback pattern is working. While fishing the beaches, look past the sandbar to find Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jack crevalle and ladyfish. White buck-tail jigs and silver spoons are working great.

Offshore fishing is proving prosperous for those willing to make a 20-mile run out to the bite. Mangrove snapper, red snapper, yellowtail snapper and hogfish are being caught in good sizes and numbers. Live shiners and cut bait are working well. Catch-and-release gag grouper are still going strong. Live pinfish and shiners are the baits of choice for the gags.

Jordan Gardner at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers says he’s seeing Spanish mackerel and ladyfish being caught on both live bait and silver spoons. Tarpon are still being hooked up around the pier in good numbers using threadfin herring for bait. Fishers targeting the shallower parts of the pier are still seeing success with pompano by using jigs tipped with shrimp. Bottom fishers using live and dead baits are catching small bonnethead and black tip sharks.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters says tarpon fishing was good in the early part of last week, but due to the strong west winds, his charters were fishing the backwaters of Sarasota Bay. The main focus has been redfish and spotted sea trout, but Gross is also catching bluefish, mackerel, ladyfish and catch-and-release snook.

For the tarpon, Gross is using live blue crabs, shiners and threadfin herring. When the winds are favorable for beach fishing, Gross is anchoring and chumming up the tarpon with both live and dead shiners. When fishing the passes, he’s using live crabs. “When they’re biting good,” Gross says, “we’re getting multiple hookups, which makes for a lot of excitement.”

In the backwaters, Gross is fishing deeper grass flats for spotted sea trout using live shiners as bait. While targeting trout, Gross is catching bluefish, ladyfish and Spanish mackerel in the same areas. For the redfish, Gross is using live pinfish under a popping cork with good results. Keeper fish are coming to the docks daily.

Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says sightings of tarpon are the norm. “We’re seeing them every day,” Sork says. “And there have even been a couple of hookups.”

Remember, if you even want to attempt to hook a tarpon from the pier, stout gear is recommended. Make sure you have a reel with plenty of line capacity and a rod strong enough to whip a tarpon in a short period of time.

On the lighter side, pier fishers are catching fair numbers of Spanish mackerel. White crappie jigs, silver spoons and Gotcha plugs are bringing in the macks. As a mack by-catch, pier fishers are reeling up jack crevalle and ladyfish.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing both offshore and inshore with good results. Offshore catches include red snapper up to 9 pounds as well as mangrove snapper in the 5-pound range. Girle is catching cobia in the 40-pound range along with good numbers of amberjack. A highlight of the offshore trips has been permit up to 25 pounds.

Along the beaches, Girle is in hot pursuit of the tarpon bite with an average of 7-8 hookups per day. “We’ll see how long they hold out after this full moon,” he says. Girle is working the beaches using live crabs, shiners, and threadfin herring as bait.

Inshore, Girle is catching redfish and trout mixed in the mullet schools in Sarasota Bay. Three to 5 feet of water has been the ideal depth. Along with the trout and reds, Girle is finding plenty of bluefish and ladyfish.

Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says pier fishes are catching decent numbers of Spanish mackerel on white crappie jigs. The hatch bait is beginning to show around the pier, which should result in good mangrove snapper fishing soon. Black drum are also being caught on live shrimp or crabs fished underneath the pier.

Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is fishing offshore and catching limits of red snapper using live shiners or pinfish. Fish in the 8-10 pound range have been the norm, although larger fish are being caught. Also from the bottom, Kimball’s charters are bringing up keeper mangrove snapper and red grouper to the boat, as well as plenty of catch-and-release gag grouper. Again, live shiners and pinfish are working great and if you don’t have them, some frozen squid or frozen threadfin herring will work almost as well.

Moving up in the water column, Kimball is catching king mackerel in the 40-inch range, as well as bonito and black fin tuna. Yeah, that’s right, tuna. Black fins up to 20 pounds are being caught offshore on live or dead shiners right behind the transom of the boat.

Other migratory species being caught include Spanish mackerel, amberjack, bull sharks and black tip sharks. “At one point, we must have had 15 sharks around the boat,” Kimball says. “Then we had to move to a new spot.”

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