May brings more catch-and-release fishing restrictions

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COLLAGE of PHOTOS Christopher Coyle, 13, vacationing in April on Anna Maria Island from New York, shows off a redfish, sheepshead, black drum and mangrove snapper, all caught using frozen shrimp as bait.

Conservation is the name of the game.

So if you’re looking to put fish in the cooler, your options just narrowed.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has ordered snook and redfish closed to harvest through May 2020. The same now applies to spotted seatrout. Catch-and-release snook and redfish already is in effect locally and spotted seatrout become catch-and-release May 11. This new rule applies to waters south of the Pasco-Hernando county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County.

The purpose is to give the sought-after fisheries a fair chance to recover from the fall 2018 red tide.

As we transition from spring to summer, expect fishing to heat up around Anna Maria Island.

Catch-and-release snook fishing is stellar on the flats, and will be hot along the Gulf beaches. As we progress through May, the snook will migrate from the mangroves and back country to take up residence in preparation for their spawn along the passes and beaches. Catching snook along the beaches is exciting because you are sight-casting to the fish. Even better: You get to sight cast to some large fish — some 30-40 inches.

Working the beach for linesiders allows you to use fairly light tackle, because there is no interference with structure. The large fish can run up and down the beach, but never find anything to cut your line. Still, the linesiders thrash and can readily cut lines with their razor-sharp serrated gill plates, so there’s some skill involved in landing a big snook.

Another occurrence in May is the arrival of tarpon. You’ll most likely see the resident silver kings showing in Tampa Bay now and, later in the month, you’ll see the migratory fish along the beaches. If you haven’t done it already, now is the time to break out the tarpon gear and make sure everything is up to par. When dealing with a large fish, you want to make sure your tackle is operating at full capacity. These fish will put it to the test.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m concentrating on spotted seatrout. Free-lining live shiners over deep grass flats is producing decent numbers of these popular fish. Sometimes, when the bite is slow, I’m adding a split shot to the rig, which puts the bait right in front of their noses and triggers the strikes. While targeting trout, I’m seeing Spanish mackerel and ladyfish, which adds a variety to the bite. On the shallower flats, catch-and-release snook action is good. Free-lining live shiners around mangrove shorelines is producing some great action, especially during high tides.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is seeing an ever-increasing number of catch-and-release snook taking up residence around the pier. As spring turns to summer, these fish will migrate toward the Gulf beaches, and what better place to stop and take a break than at the Rod & Reel Pier. Live shiners work well as bait, as well as pinfish, ladyfish, mojarras. And when these aren’t working, you can rely on a large, live shrimp to get the job done. Also on the hook at the pier: ladyfish, mackerel and jack crevalle. These species are being caught when large schools of bait are around the pier.

Lastly, flounder, mangrove snapper and a couple of catch-and-release redfish are being caught on live shrimp.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is fishing the backcountry of Tampa Bay and its adjacent waters to the east. Targeting catch-and-release snook is a go-to right now for Lowman as the fish provide great action on light tackle and are abundant on the flats. Casting live shiners around oyster bars, grass flats and especially mangrove shorelines yields great results on fish 20-30 inches.

In the same areas as the snook, Lowman is hooking into catch-and-release redfish. The reds seem to be meandering down the shorelines mixed in with schools of mullet, and casting live shiners around the mullet is attracting a bite. Moving to slightly deeper flats, Lowman is finding spotted seatrout. Most catches are in the slot of 15-20 inches.

Lastly, Lowman is catching the beginning of the inshore mangrove snapper bite. Fishing structure in Tampa Bay is beginning to turn on.

Capt. Warren Girle is working his charters on nearshore and offshore structure. Mangrove snapper and Key West grunts are being caught around ledges in 30-50 feet of water, where live shiners combined when a knocker rig work well. On the surface are kingfish and bonito. To catch these high-activity fish, Girle is free-lining live shiners on a long shank hook. When the kings are abundant and in a frenzy, he is adding a wire rig to the long shank hook.

Moving inshore, catch-and-release snook are the primary bite. Catch-and-release reds also are being caught, especially around oyster bars and docks.

Lastly, spotted seatrout and mackerel are being taken while fishing the deeper grass flats.

Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters is on patrol offshore. Bottom fishing with live bait on the surface around offshore wrecks and reefs is providing good action on mangrove and yellowtail snapper, as well as red grouper. Using dead sardines is working as bait, especially for the grouper. Blackfin tuna are in abundance offshore and White is finding numerous candidates interested in his bait. He said live shiners on the surface are working well.

Moving inshore, catch-and-release snook are the primary bite, although catch-and-release redfish and spotted seatrout are taking the hook.

Capt. Jason Stock is finding the blackfin tuna bite is exceptional and irresistible. Targeting these high-speed torpedoes with live baits such as shiners or goggle eyes works well. Lipped plugs and other artificial baits rapidly stripped along the surface can trigger a strike. While targeting tuna, Stock is encountering numerous kingfish.

Switching tactics to bottom fishing is proving well for Stock, too, as mangrove and yellowtail snapper are in abundance offshore. Goliath grouper also are being found while bottom fishing.

Finally, drifting live crabs over offshore wrecks is luring some of the elusive permit to take a bait.

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