Fishing around Anna Maria Island remains good — as long as you’re fishing east toward the Manatee River and the oyster-lined shorelines of southern Tampa Bay.
Catch-and-release snook fishing trends to be the best bite, although, with the recent cold fronts, I imagine the bite will be tapering off sooner than later.
And that’s OK.
Catch-and-release redfish are being caught with regularity.
And spotted seatrout are making quite a showing on the deeper grass flats in our area.
It’s also time to start putting out finders for pompano, as well as black drum and sheepshead.
Offshore fishing also remains good — so long as you are willing to push out beyond the patches of red tide. On some days, depending on the wind, this could be 10-15 miles.
Fishing reefs and wrecks is producing drag-screaming action on blackfin tuna, amberjack and kingfish. And who doesn’t want to come home with some fat tuna steaks, right?
Mangrove snapper and Key West grunts are being reported in abundance while fishing ledges and hard bottom.
On Southernaire, I’m noticing on my charters that snook are on the move. Unlike warmer weeks where the snook were everywhere, staging up for a hot lunch on the flats, I’m noticing the herd is thinning out. This is common as water temps drop into the mid to low 60s, which causes snook to become lethargic and eventually move in search of slightly warmer water. It’s the reason December is normally catch-and-release for snook. This fall, the season remained closed due to the impact on the fishery from red tide.
I already have experienced a couple of mornings where the water temps were in the lows 60s and the snook bite was half of what it could be. And the fish that did take a bait were less than energetic about it.
That being said, I’m still seeing good gatherings of fish on days when water temps are up to 70 degrees. On warmer days, hooking up 20-30 snook is attainable, although I fear the clock of old man winter is ticking.
Fishing deeper grass areas is yielding some slot-size spotted seatrout, as well as a menagerie of other species, including mackerel, ladyfish, jack crevalle and flounder.
Capt. Warren Girle is spending his days in Tampa Bay. Fishing the shallower grass flats where mangrove shorelines of oyster bars exist is yielding numerous catch-and-release snook. Free-lining live shiners in these areas is attracting a number of linesiders 20-26 inches, with a few larger fish mixed in.
While targeting catch-and-release snook, Girle is finding a random sampling of redfish, also catch-and-release due to red tide.
Moving to slightly deeper grass flats — 5-6 feet of water — Girle is catching spotted seatrout. Among the trout are ladyfish and jack crevalle, which adds a nice variety to the bite.
Capt. Jason Stock is patrolling offshore when winds are light and seas calm. Fishing around wrecks is proving to be good for blackfin tuna, as well as kingfish and big mangrove snapper. Fishing hard bottom or ledges is producing ample amounts of Key West grunts.
Moving inshore, Stock is putting clients on plenty of gag grouper in Tampa Bay. Fish that are shy of the 24-inch minimum are quickly tagged and released.
Lastly, catch-and-release snook fishing is quite good for Stock’s sporting anglers who free-line shiners over shallow grass flats.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is cashing in on the great snook bite before winter closes in and shuts it down. Free-lining live shiners around mangrove points, cuts and depressions is resulting in some stellar snook sessions.
While targeting linesiders, Lowman is putting his sport anglers on some catch-and-release redfish.
Lastly, trolling lipped plugs in the shipping channel in Tampa Bay is attracting the attention of some large gag grouper. Fishing structure — where these fish lurk — with live bait is yielding some keeper fish.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is working inshore while the snook bite lasts. Free-lining live shiners over shallow grass flats in areas where snook are staging to move to warmer water is proving to be good. Mornings of 30 or more catch-and-release linesiders on the hook are not uncommon.
Moving offshore, White is hunting blackfin tuna, amberjack and large snapper around reefs and wrecks with good results. For the tuna and AJs, White is free-lining live cigar minnows or pilchards.
As for the snapper, a bottom rig combined with a live pilchard is deadly.
Capt. Eric Chaignet of Gulfcart Charters reports fishing offshore is good for his clients. Fishing wrecks or reefs in the 30-mile range is yielding blackfin tuna and kingfish. Moving in a few miles around hard bottom and ledges is producing decent action on hogfish as well as snapper and grunts.
Chaignet reports inshore fishing is proving to be good, especially for the catch-and-release duo of snook and redfish.
Lastly, trolling lipped plugs in Tampa Bay is resulting in some keeper gag grouper.
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Snook harvest seasonal closure starts
The recreational harvest season for snook closed Dec. 1 in federal and most state waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including all of Monroe County and Everglades National Park.
Snook, as well as redfish, remain catch-and-release only in state waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County through May 10, 2019, in response to the impacts of red tide.
Snook outside of that area will reopen to harvest March 1, 2019.
Anglers may continue to catch and release snook during the closed season.
Season closures are designed to help conserve snook during vulnerable times such as cold weather.
Atlantic state and federal waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River, will close Dec. 15 through Jan. 31, 2019, reopening to harvest Feb. 1, 2019.