Wise anglers work small hatch bait into big catches
If you’re catching live shiners for bait around Anna Maria Island, you’ve probably noticed most of the bait being caught is in the 2-inch range. We refer to this as hatch bait. Don’t be discouraged about the small size, as this small bait still gets the job done. Scale down your hook size to match the bait and maybe add a popping cork to aid in casting.
I now have switched to using Owner Mosquito hooks in a size 2 or 4. These hooks are small and light enough to let your small shiners behave naturally, swimming without burden. If you find that you can’t get the casting distance you need with these small baits, you can add a weighted popping cork to the rig. You also can switch to lighter line. I usually use 15-pound braid — although switching to 8- or 10-pound test will enable you to cast a free-lined hatch bait farther.
Small baits don’t always mean small fish. You will have to deal with pinfish and other small predators nibbling on your hatch baits, although with the spoils come triumphs. You’ll find big reds, trout and even shark will feed on the little baits. If you can adapt to the surroundings, you’ll be rewarded.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing nearshore structure with good results. Gross is using small hatch bait, as well as live pinfish to get the bite. By anchoring over artificial reefs or natural hard bottom and ledges, Gross is catching mangrove snapper, flounder and Key West grunts. Not only do these fish put up a good fight, they are excellent on the dinner plate. Mangoes in the 15-inch range are the norm. Flounder up to 20 inches are being caught.
Moving to the backcountry, Gross is fishing shallow grass flats for redfish. Again, he is using hatch bait to get the bite. Due to the small size of the bait, Gross adds a popping cork to his rig. A cork will aid in casting these small, lightweight baits and it also works to indicate a strike.
Along with reds, Gross is putting his clients on catch-and-release snook, as well as keeper spotted seatrout. Expect to catch some flounder and even a few mangrove snapper on the flats, too.
Capt. Warren Girle fished offshore this past week, which resulted in rod-bending action for his clients. Keeper-size gag grouper as well as limits of mangrove snapper are being caught in depths of 35-55 feet. While reef fishing, Girle is catching flounder and Key West grunts to add a little variety. For bait, Girle is using live shiners or pinfish.
Moving inshore, Girle is locating schooling reds on the flats of Sarasota Bay. To target these boat-wary fish, he uses his trolling motor to silently approach the school. Once positioned, Girle sets his anchor to put his clients within casting range of the fish. For bait, Girle is using small shiners, which is resulting in reds of 20-24 inches.
Also on the flats, Girle is catching decent numbers of catch-and-release snook and a few trout. Again, he is using small shiners to get the bite.
Finally, Girle is doing a little late-season tarpon fishing. Although the silver kings are becoming scarce, Girle is managing to bend a rod. A recent trip resulted in a 125-pound tarpon hookup just off the beaches of Longboat Key.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier says Spanish mackerel are being caught during early morning hours. Pier fishers using small white jigs are catching decent numbers of these high-activity fish. Small live shiners also are producing a bite on mackerel. When fishing live bait, remember to use a long shank hook to aid in keeping the macks’ sharp teeth from cutting the line.
After the morning mackerel bite, pier fishers are switching tactics and fishing under the pier for snapper and flounder. You can basically use the same rig as bait fishing for mackerel, just add a split shot about 18 inches above your hook. Use small shiners or pinfish to get either species to bite.
Finally, night fishing at the pier is resulting in small sharks and stingrays. For the sharks, a small chunk of fresh-cut mullet will get the bite. If targeting big sharks, try a large chunk of bonito or Spanish mackerel. Experienced pier anglers in the know will be using stingray wings to tie into the larger hammerhead and bull sharks.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is seeing good numbers of gag and red grouper returning to the dock. He’s even catching his limits of both when he gets a chance to escape the tackle shop for a day and get out on the water. Mangrove snapper, Key West grunts and flounder also are appearing at the cleaning table after offshore fishing trips. A variety of baits —including frozen sardines, threadfin herring, live shiners or pinfish — are producing a bite.
Moving inshore, redfish, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook are responding to small shiners fished under a popping cork or free-lined over the grass flats. Keyes suggests trying artificials like the MirrOlure MirrOdine in the small size as well as Berkley Gulp shrimp to get a bite.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are being caught from the beaches and piers. Keyes suggests small white speck rigs or silver spoons to get hooked up. Remember, these fish are feeding on small baits, so plan accordingly when selecting the size of the jig or spoon.
Check out the shark catch, next page.
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