Expect crowds as tarpon arrive — abide boater distancing

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Pomp and shine Joey Rearden of Atlanta shows off a beautiful African pompano he caught May 4 on a live pinfish in 140 feet of water off Anna Maria Island in the Gulf of Mexico with Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters.

The waters surrounding Anna Maria Island are on the verge of being more crowded than normal.

The boat ramps will be stressed for loading and parking.

With the arrival of tarpon, we’re going to see an increase in boat traffic around the passes and along the beaches.

Everyone on the water needs to abide by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rule to maintain 50 feet between boats.

Although tarpon season is in its early stages here, fish are making a showing. And, in the weeks to come, we should see large numbers of tarpon congregating along the beaches of Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key and Egmont Key — and especially in the passes of Bean Point and the north side of Egmont Key and around the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Tarpon is big game — and a big draw for charter guides and their sportfish clients.

Moving to the flats, catch-and-release snook are a mainstay. Casting live shiners along the mangrove shorelines is a good bet if you’re looking to hook into a linesider.

On the shallower flats, I’m seeing large schools of smaller snook measuring 20-26 inches.

As for the larger slot-size and over-slot fish, areas that have mangroves and access to deeper water seem to be best.

Catch-and-release redfish are being caught along the shallower grass flats and are usually mixed in with the snook bite.

Targeting spotted seatrout over deep grass areas is consistent. Most trout are slot-size, with a few coming in larger than slot. Fishing structure in Tampa Bay is providing action, especially for Spanish mackerel. As for the offshore bite, blackfin tuna, amberjack and African pompano seem to be up for a bait offering. Sailfish are present offshore but require a search if they’re targeted.

Bottom fishing is proving good for red grouper and mutton snapper, as well as yellowtail and mangrove snapper.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is finding good action in Tampa Bay. Fishing mangrove shorelines — where oyster bars and outflow from creeks exist — results in numerous hookups on catch-and-release snook. Lowman noted some catch-and-release redfish mixed in with the snook bite. Chumming with live shiners works well to instigate the fish to feed.

Big catch-and-release spotted seatrout are being found over deeper grass flats and are readily taking soft plastics on a jig head.

Moving into the Gulf of Mexico, Lowman is luring a few permit to the hook from structures about 9 miles offshore. The clear, calm conditions on the water are ideal to target this elusive fish.

Capt. Jason Stock is running offshore to wrecks and reefs to target a variety of species. Blackfin tuna, amberjack and African pompano are being caught with regularity. The tuna bite is growing more difficult due to the vast amounts of sharks frequenting the area. Anglers who hustle to reel in the fish are finding success with getting them to the boat.

Permit are biting at the offshore wrecks, where sharks are not present. Bottom fishing offshore is resulting in yellowtail and mutton snapper.

Highlights of the week for Stock were hooking into a few sailfish and managing to get one to the boat.

Lastly, Stock is targeting tarpon along the beaches. Casting live crabs or threadfin herring is producing the bite from the silver kings.

Capt. David White is taking advantage of the weather and working offshore beyond 30 miles, where African pompano and blackfin tuna are most apparent. Casting live sardines or shiners to these fish is attracting a bite. Bottom fishing is proving to be good, too. Red grouper, yellowtail snapper and mangrove snapper are the primary catches.

Moving inshore, catch-and-release snook are the most reliable target for sportfishers. Free lining live shiners on lush grass flats around mangroves edges is working well. Spanish mackerel are being caught around inshore structure and rock piles.

Lastly, casting shrimp around docks is providing some black drum for the cooler.

Capt. Warren Girle says he’s been working inshore on the deeper grass flats, where catch-and-release spotted seatrout are providing consistent action. Casting jigs or live shiners is working well, and mixed in with the trout bite are bluefish, big jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel and ladyfish. This bite is great action for anglers — it’s occurring on just about every cast.

Moving offshore, Girle is finding some good size mangrove snapper as well as some kingfish for the smoker and Spanish mackerel.

            Send high-resolution photos and fishing reports to fish@islander.org.



University studying COVID-19 impact on fishing charters

The University of Florida was circulating an online survey in early May, seeking to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the charter industry.

Results could be used to inform “policy and industry response and to provide critical support to operations across Florida,” according to an introduction to the survey questions.

UF’s Food and Resource Economics Department was conducting the survey of fishing, scalloping, dive and sightseeing charters.

Orders and guidelines that came with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus forced many fishing guides from Anna Maria Island and nearby to suspend operations.

Survey results were not available as of The Islander’s press time May 11.

For more information, contact principal investigator Andrew Ropicki at aropicki@ufl.edu or 352-294-7667.

— Lisa Neff