When tarpon arrive, Anna Maria Island has just about all it can offer when it comes to fishing in west central Florida.
However, with all the rain in the past week and windy conditions, the tarpon experienced a slight break from the anglers. As soon as conditions improve, the tarpon will be back on the agenda. And it’s likely they will be here in greater numbers, having only recently arrived to the local waters.
Meanwhile, the inshore bite is going strong for spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook. Other inshore species include Spanish mackerel, big jack crevalle and a few redfish.
Offshore, permit are still the highlight, although many other species are being caught, including snappers, grouper, cobia, kingfish and amberjack.
On my Southernaire fishing charters, clients are experiencing an exceptional trout bite, especially on large, over-slot fish. Spotted sea trout up to 25 inches are being caught with regularity, although most are 18-22 inches. Live, free-lined shiners are working best as bait.
Catch-and-release snook fishing also is good right now. I’m finding the best action around the passes, where swift moving tides are producing the greatest numbers of fish.
Lastly, I’m seeing a few redfish being caught. Most of these bites are occurring around oyster bars and mangrove shorelines.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is happy to announce the arrival of Spanish mackerel to the northernmost island pier. These high-speed fish are one of the most popular catches for anglers at the pier. The early morning bite has been best, according to “Fese,” because large schools of bait have yet to arrive. Still, the macks are being caught as they pass the pier on their way in and out of Tampa Bay. Once the baitfish arrive, the bite should improve and become more consistent, as the mackerel will not pass — they will stay with the food.
Other catches at the R&R include over-slot redfish and catch-and-release snook. And for those folks looking for table fare, black drum and flounder are available.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is starting to put anglers on tarpon along the beaches and in the passes. Casting live crabs or threadfin herring is producing a strike from these elusive fighting fish. According to Lowman, the best times to target the silver king is early morning and late afternoon.
On the flats, catch-and-release snook are keeping Lowman’s clients busy. Casting free-lined shiners to these fish is resulting in multiple hookups. Most catches are 20-26 inches. Spotted seatrout also are present on the flats — ready for the cooler. Free-lined shiners cast in 3-5 feet of water over lush grass are being blasted by hungry slot-size trout.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters also is targeting catch-and-release snook — his most consistent bite. Most catches are coming in at 20-26 inches, although fish up to 37 inches are mixed in. Spotted seatrout also are coming to the boat, although, due to recent rainstorms, Gross is targeting trout closer to the passes, where cleaner water exists.
Lastly, redfish are being found around oyster bars and mangrove edges. The bite is spotty at best, according to Gross. To attract these fish, Gross is instructing clients to cast cut bait and rest it on the bottom — and wait.
Capt. Warren Girle is on patrol along the beaches of Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key in search of tarpon. Although great numbers of fish have yet to make a showing, smaller schools can be found with a little determination and patience. Once discovered, a quiet approach and a pass crab correctly placed in front of the fish can attract a bite. For Girle, most catches are 60-100 pounds with some larger fish mixed in.
When not targeting tarpon, Girle is fishing nearshore structure. Casting shiners around artificial reefs is resulting in kingfish, Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is targeting tarpon on the fly. Fly-fishing for any fish can be challenging, but especially so for tarpon. White specializes in fly fishing, so before you strike out on your own, you know who to call. Many in the 100-pound class are being caught on “tarpon bunnies” combined with a 12-weight fly rod. White predicts a push of big fish to arrive soon, when the water calms.
Capt. Jason Stock is fishing offshore with good results on permit, cobia and tripletail. For the permit and cobia, wrecks and reefs are prime areas to fish. As for the tripletail, any floating debris found offshore is always worth a look-see.
Moving inshore, spotted seatrout and catch-and-release snook are rounding out the bite. Free-lined shiners for either species are Stock’s top bait.
He’s also stalking tarpon inshore along the beaches and passes. Casting live crabs, threadfin herring or large shiners is producing a silver king on the hook.
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