With conditions near perfect, fishing around Anna Maria Island is good all over.
The waters are nearly gin clear, which can be enjoyable while fishing. I’m finding myself hypnotized while cruising around the flats of Tampa Bay looking from my tower into the clear waters — like peering into another world.
On some days it’s hard to climb down from the perch to fish.
With the clear waters, I’m scaling down my leader and hook sizes. Fluorocarbon leaders 15-20 pounds are working. I’m also combining a No.1 Owner hook to the rig. This seems to be enough to trick the fish into taking a bait.
I have noticed the tides are affecting the bite, too. Slower moving tides — such as the ones we are experiencing — require patience, as the fish seem to be less motivated to feed. But don’t be discouraged. Keep track of where these fish are and go after them at the peak times of the flow during the tide. Trust me, they’ll eat if you time it right.
This being said, calm, clear waters provide great opportunities to scout. It’s easier to spot fish and study the terrain. You might even find some new spots to fish if you train your eyes.
On my Southernaire charters, I’m targeting catch-and-release snook. For shallow water action, these fish are about as good as it gets. Explosive strikes, combined with drag-screaming runs, make the snook one of the most popular fish the backcountry offers. Most catches are 18-24 inches, which isn’t huge, but catching 30-40 of them in a morning makes for good action. You never know when the 30- to 40-inch fish is going to surprise you and eat your shiner.
Spotted seatrout are next on the list. Free-lining live shiners over deep grass areas during swift incoming tides is getting these fish amped up to bite. Most catches are in the slot of 15-20 inches. I’m seeing a few trout over 20 inches, which are now being released to stay in compliance with new Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations.
I’m also fishing structure in Tampa Bay. Mangrove snapper are beginning to show, although they have a ways to go until they reach their potential numbers. Big gag grouper also are present, which are good action, but need to be released since they are not in season.
Finally, free-lining baits over the wrecks is resulting in Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says the tail end of the sheepshead bite is occurring. Pier fishers casting live shrimp under the pier are reeling up sheepies here and there.
Catch-and-release snook are beginning to frequent the pier, which makes them targetable for anglers hoping to hook into a large fish. Using big baits — ladyfish, pinfish or mojarra — is attracting these wary fish to the hook.
Remember to use stout gear when targeting these big linesiders. These fish are professionals at running up under the pier to cut the line on the pilings so it’s imperative to have a rod and reel suited for “snatching” them out of the water before they make the run.
Capt. Aaron Lowman is concentrating his mornings on catch-and-release snook and redfish. He’s finding both around mangrove shorelines, especially during the higher stages of the tide. Numerous 20- to 26-inch catch-and-release snook are coming to the hook, with a few slot-size fish mixed in. As for the reds, targeting mullet schools is yielding the best results. Meanwhile, spotted seatrout are being caught on the deeper grass flats during strong incoming tides. Most catches are within the 15- to 20-inch slot.
Moving out to deeper water in Tampa Bay, Lowman is catching mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel over rock piles and reefs.
Capt. Warren Girle is working nearshore structure for a variety of species. Within 8 miles of the Gulf beaches, Girle is finding good action by bottom fishing around ledges and other structure. Mangrove snapper, grouper and flounder are being caught on live bait, such as shiners or pinfish. Key West grunts and porgies are in the mix.
Switching tactics from bottom fishing to free-lining baits is resulting in kingfish, Spanish mackerel and bonito. Moving inshore, Girle is putting sport anglers on numerous catch-and-release snook around the mangrove shorelines. Catch-and-release redfish also are taking their baits.
Fishing slightly deeper areas, such as deep grass flats and channel edges, is producing spotted seatrout, as well as some macks and ladyfish.
Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is cashing in on the light winds and calm conditions by leading his clients offshore to fish. In water depths of 80-100 feet, White is finding numerous mangrove snapper while bottom fishing. Free-lining baits on the surface is attracting some action — especially kingfish. Free-lining baits is resulting in some rare occurrences, such as a hook up with a sailfish.
Moving inshore, White’s anglers are enjoying catch-and-release snook action. Also in the inshore mix are catch-and release redfish, Spanish mackerel, spotted seatrout and jack crevalle.
Capt. Jason Stock is in pursuit of permit throughout the waters just offshore of Anna Maria Island. Quietly approaching reefs and wrecks is resulting in some of the best ever permit fishing.
Multiple hookups of 2-3 lines at once are occurring on good days. Fish 10-20 pounds are average, with a few bigger ones in the mix.
Also while offshore, Stock is finding blackfin tuna and kingfish ready to take bait. To finish up the day, Stock is bottom fishing for yellowtail and mangrove snapper.
Stock said he’s readying his Yellowfin for the upcoming tarpon bite.
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