Summertime pattern settles in, produces stellar fishing

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CJ Vanderhorst of Ohio shows off a keeper cobia he caught while wreck fishing July 9 in the Gulf of Mexico with Capt. Danny Stasny of Southernaire Fishing Charters.
Shark! The Discovery cable TV channel kicks off Shark Week July 22 as feeding sharks proliferate in the Gulf of Mexico. This hammerhead was caught by Capt. Larry McGurire. Islander File Photo

Fishing around Anna Maria Island has settled into a good summertime pattern.

Light breezes from the east combined with morning high tides are producing some stellar inshore fishing opportunities. The deeper grass flats of Tampa and Sarasota bays are loaded with post-spawn trout. You may have to catch 20-30 of these trout to make your limit of four slot-size fish, but who cares? You just reeled up 20-30 fish.

And while targeting the trout, you’ll probably catch some mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish, which makes for great variety and action. While you’re at it, don’t forget to save a couple of these bluefish for shark bait. The abundance of sharks in Tampa Bay is phenomenal. Whether on the flats, wrecks or beaches, you’re going to see sharks. I’m mostly seeing blacktips, although I have seen some bull sharks up to 8 feet in length and some hammerheads topping out around 12 feet.

It’s game on as we come up to the 30th anniversary Shark Week. It gets underway July 22 on the Discovery channel.

So get some chum and popcorn ready for all the viewers and recliner anglers. The channel is already counting down its “50 Best Bites.”

Getting back to the flats fishing, aside from the trout, the catch-and-release snook action is going strong. Now is the time to patrol the beaches and passes in search of this popular sport fish. Live shiners are the ultimate bait, but artificials will work, too. White buck-tail jigs or crank baits, such as Yo-Zuris, will attract a bite, especially at night.

Fishing offshore is producing good summertime action, too. Permit, cobia, groupers and snappers are all on the menu while fishing offshore structure — reefs, wrecks and ledges. Migratory fish, including Spanish mackerel, bonito and a few kingfish, are being caught in these areas.

On my excursions with Southernaire fishing charters, I’m cashing in on the post-spawn trout bite. In some areas, the fish are taking the bait on every cast. Most of these trout are 14-16 inches so, if nothing else, it’s great action. Plus, bigger trout up to 22 inches are mixed in. The big ones are slightly more rewarding when you have to work for them.

Spanish mackerel and bluefish are mixed in — always good for cutting off a few hooks.

Catch-and-release action on sharks is hot right now for my clients. Blacktips 4-6 feet are the norm, although we’ve had a couple of bull sharks in the 8 foot range. I’m also seeing large hammerhead sharks up to 12 feet in length.

While targeting sharks, my clients are hooking into an occasional barracuda. These fish are great when on the line, as they perform acrobatic high jumps and drag-screaming runs.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing offshore for mangrove snapper. Anchoring over ledges in 40-75 feet of water is yielding mangrove snapper and many red and gag groupers. Live shiners sent to the bottom on a 1/2-ounce to 1-ounce knocker rig are attracting a bite. While in these areas, shiners free-lined on the surface are getting attention from Spanish mackerel and bonito. Moving inshore, Girle is catching numerous spotted seatrout. Targeting these fish in depths of 5-6 feet is producing the most action. Mixed in with the trout bite are ladyfish, jack crevalle and bluefish.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting spotted seatrout throughout the grass flats of Tampa Bay. To find concentrations of trout, Lowman is looking for a combination of clean, clear water where a swift tide runs through lush grass edges or patches of seagrass. Free-lining live shiners on a 2/0 hook is producing good action. In many instances, Lowman is finding some macks mixed in with the trout. To avoid cut offs from their sharp teeth, he’s switching out the 2/0 hook for a long shank hook.

Moving offshore, Lowman is targeting snapper around the artificial reefs. According to Lowman the snapper are becoming weary of taking a hook. He is finding that heavy chumming is helping get the snapper in the biting mood.

Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business charters echoes my opinion — summertime fishing is in full swing. Fishing with Gross is resulting in a mixed bag this past week. Deeper grass flats are producing action on spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel and even some mangrove snapper. Free-lined shiners with the addition of a split shot is working well for his anglers.

Catch-and-release snook are being found on the shallower flats, especially where good tidal flow exists.

Lastly, small sharks are being found in numerous areas across Tampa Bay. These fish produce great action on light tackle and sometimes they put on an exciting show when reeled up to the boat.

Capt. Jason Stock is hooking into a few tarpon along the beaches of Anna Maria Island, although fishing offshore is producing better action.

While offshore, permit are the primary species to target — when spotted. Other catches include gag grouper, mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel and bonito. Stock says by using the bonito as bait, his clients are getting some nice hookups on blacktip and bull sharks.

At random, Stock is catching over-slot catch-and-release snook while fishing artificial reefs and other structure with about 30-60 feet of water.

Lastly, keeping an eye out for cobia has been a good pay off on Stock’s boat.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working inshore throughout Tampa Bay and Anna Maria Sound, where fishing deep grass areas is yielding good action on spotted seatrout and Spanish mackerel. Live, free-lined shiners are the ticket to success, according to White.

Catch-and-release snook fishing is producing good action on White’s boat, especially around the passes and along the beach. Moving offshore, White is targeting red grouper and American red snapper, where dead sardines combined with a bottom rig are being devoured — when they reach the bottom.

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