Although the afternoon outgoing tides look nothing less than stellar for fishing the flats, the pop-up thunderstorms we are experiencing are making it tough to be on the water.
Don’t be discouraged — the morning tides are producing a bite. I’m finding limits of mangrove snapper around residential docks and on the deeper grass flats. Where you don’t have to run the boat far in the event of a storm. These snapper may not be the 18-20 inches you’ll find on the reefs and wrecks, but it you can get a limit of 12-15 inchers you’re doing all right.
To catch these feisty little fish, you can try one of two methods.
When fishing around the docks, a small knocker rig made of a 1/4-ounce weight and a size-4 circle hook will do the trick. When on the flats, omit the sinkers and try free lining the bait. And speaking of bait, the small shiners — known as “hatch bait” — are perfect. It’s like they were meant for this type of fishing.
Since we’re talking about hatch bait, don’t be discouraged about size when targeting catch-and-release snook, trout and redfish on the flats. I’m finding all three species don’t seem to mind. In fact, they’re biting the small stuff better than the huge shiners.
You may want to add a popping cork to aid in casting the small shiners. This is working especially well for trout fishing. For the snook, the free-line method is working, especially when the fish are in shallow, clear water. For the reds, try putting two small baits on one hook and see what happens.
Capt. Warren Girle is running his charters out to the nearshore structure for mangrove snapper. By using live shiners as bait with a bottom rig, Girle’s anglers are reeling up mangoes in the 15-inch range. Mixed in with the snapper are juvenile grouper and Key West grunts.
On the flats, Girle is finding spotted seatrout to be the most consistent bite. Free-lining shiners or rigging them under a popping cork is producing trout up to 20 inches.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is working the flats of Tampa Bay for spotted seatrout. On flats where the water depth is 5-8 feet, Lowman is finding numerous trout. Most catches are 12-15 inches, with bigger fish mixed in.
Fishing nearshore wrecks also is producing action for Lowman’s clients. Free-lined shiners are hooking up with Spanish mackerel and bonito. Shiners on a bottom rig are getting attention, especially from mangrove snapper, flounder and gag grouper.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is targeting the inshore and nearshore reefs. Live shiners as bait are quickly being eaten by Spanish mackerel when fished on the surface. Adding a sinker to this rig and bottom fishing with the shiners is a sure way to catch mangrove snapper, gag grouper and grunts.
On the flats, Gross is finding many spotted seatrout. Most are 10-20-inches. This bite is occurring on deeper flats in 8-10 feet of water or less. On shallower flats with depths of 3 feet or less, Gross is hooking up clients with many catch-and-release snook.
Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore with good results. On ledges and hard bottom, Stock is putting clients on a variety of fish, including mangrove and yellowtail snapper. Also in these areas are red grouper. Live pinfish and shiners are proven baits for any of these species.
Fishing offshore wrecks is proving to be good for Stock. Free-lining live pass crabs is resulting in hookups on permit up to 20 pounds. Another inhabitant at the wrecks is goliath grouper. Large baits, such as jack crevalle, can attract this huge catch-and-release species to the hook.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is taking his anglers offshore. By drifting in depths of 120 feet of water, White is leading his clients to a variety of snappers — mangrove, lane, vermillion and American reds. Big red grouper and African pompano also are being taken in this fashion.
For bait, live pinfish or shiners are working most of the time. When the fish are finicky, White likes to switch to dead baits, including threadfin herring and sardines, which often can trigger a bite.