March welcomes clear waters, great fishing

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Diana Liccardi, visiting Anna Maria Island from Rutland, Vermont, shows off a nice trout, caught — and released — Feb. 27 in Sarasota Bay using a live shiner for bait on a fishing charter with Capt. Aaron Lowman. The day also produced catch-and-release snook for Liccardi and her group of anglers.
Richard Scanlon of Minnesota shows off his snook, caught March 1 on a guided fishing trip with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters. The slot size for keeper snook is 28-33 inches total length. Anglers are limited to one harvest per day, while the captain and crew “for hire” are limited to a “zero” harvest. The “catch” season runs to the end of April.
Bill Morrow of Florida and son-in-law Terry Talbert, visiting from Michigan, used shiners inshore March 3 to catch trout, snook and yellow-tail jacks on a fishing trip guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

Fishing around Anna Maria Island keeps getting better and better as the days grow warmer and the waters remain clear.

Fishing the lush grass flats that carpet the surrounding bays and Intracoastal Waterway is exceptional. Snook season is open and the fish have all but invaded the shallows with an unmatched presence. Free-lining live shiners in areas where the snook are present is making even the novice angler feel as if he or she is a pro.

Spotted seatrout also are taking up residence on the flats, although they prefer slightly deeper water. Sarasota Bay — south of Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound — starts south of the Cortez bridge and is host to a bevy of world-class trout fishing spots. With a majority of the bay ranging in depths of 4-8 feet, trout find it most hospitable. So do the eager anglers who fish there on a daily basis.

On my own Southernaire charters, I’m taking advantage of both the snook and trout bites. For the snook, I’m fishing morning incoming tides around spoil islands. In these areas, the current seems to wrap around the little islands, creating great staging points for the hungry linesiders. Most catches are 20-26 inches, although a few bigger fish are being caught by lucky anglers. As for the trout, I’m finding respectable numbers of 12-16 inch fish in deep potholes and troughs throughout Tampa Bay. I’m also finding large “gator” trout, some up to 26 inches, but these fish seem to be rogues — solitary fish roaming shallow grass flats in search of a meal and probably a mate, too.

Other species showing up on the flats include jack crevalle, ladyfish and bluefish — all of which are mixed in when targeting trout on the deep grass flats. I’m also seeing a few flounder on the end of the line, especially coming from around the channel edges and the sandy potholes.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing sheepshead dominate the bite at Anna Maria’s northern-most pier. Pier fishers using live shrimp, fiddler crabs or sand fleas are finding success on the convict-colored fish. Other species worth targeting at the R&R include flounder, which can be caught on live shrimp, and Spanish mackerel, which will readily take a silver spoon or small jig.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is flats fishing with clients throughout Tampa Bay and beyond. Snook fishing is making up a majority of the catch during his morning charters, providing great action for anglers.

Spotted seatrout are being caught throughout the flats, mainly around deep sandy potholes where good current exists. The deeper grass flats are hosting pompano this time of year and, to catch these elusive little morsels, Lowman is baiting small jigs tipped with a fresh-cut piece of shrimp.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business is suffering from spotted trout fever. He eats, sleeps and dreams of trout. This is probably due to the fact that he’s catching so many. Fishing deep grass flats in 4-6 feet of water is yielding a phenomenal trout bite, according to Gross. Free-lining live shiners or jigging in these areas is resulting in respectable numbers of the speckled favorites, with most measuring between 15-18 inches. Larger trout — “gator” trout as we refer to them — usually in the 20-inch range and up, are being caught, too, but in shallow areas mixed in with redfish and snook.

Speaking of reds and snook, both are being caught aboard the “Fishy Business.” Most snook are falling between 22-26 inches. As for the reds, slot fish are common.

Capt. Warren Girle is working his charters on the flats of Sarasota Bay, resulting in a variety of species for his client’s enjoyment. On the deeper grass flats, Girle is finding pompano, bluefish, ladyfish and large jack crevalle. To catch these species, Girle is drifting and jigging with small pink or chartreuse jigs tipped with shrimp. Spotted seatrout also are providing action in Sarasota Bay, where free-lining live shiners on the grass flats and over sandy potholes is providing excellent action on trout 14-22 inches. Some deeper potholes are holding even bigger trout. Girle likes to practice catch-and-release with these large female fish — some in excess of 26 inches.

Capt. Jason Stock is fishing the springtime offshore bite, which includes a variety of migratory species. Kingfish and amberjack are just a couple of the drag-screamers you may experience on a charter with Stock. Cobia and permit also are on the agenda, which is a great combination for those looking for dinner and some bragging rights.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is concentrating his fishing time on snook. Most catches are in the 22- to 26-inch range, although slot- and over-slot fish are mixed in. To target these snook, White is using two methods. The first is the tried and true method — live shiners. The second is slightly more challenging — he’s using a fly rod.

Other species in White’s crosshairs include spotted seatrout, which are being caught quite regularly. Again, live shiners or a fly rod will attract a bite. Lastly, fishing over structure with live shrimp as bait is resulting in sheepshead and mangrove snapper.

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