Summer break begins, but no letting up on spring tarpon run

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Capt. David White of Anna Maria Charters takes the reel May 16 in a battle with a silver king. He hooked the fish on a crab while running schools of tarpon off the beach of Anna Maria Island. He said the hookups were running about 130 pounds of excitement. Islander Photo: Dustin Moore
Gary Loughlin of Sarasota holds onto his tarpon catch May 17 for a photo. He hooked the sparkler on a pass crab while on a charter fishing trip with Capt. Warren Girle.

For yet another week, tarpon are the main attraction for anglers who reside or make the trek to the Tampa Bay area.

Anna Maria Island — a prime destination for both the anglers and the tarpon — are providing focus for the next few weeks.

Schooling tarpon are being spotted along the beaches, with most schools containing 20-40 fish, although larger schools of 100 or more silver kings are roaming near the Gulf of Mexico shoreline.

Fishing in the passes around Anna Maria Island, Egmont Key and Longboat Key is proving results especially during the hill tides that occurred during the full and new moons. The passes can be a good bet, as long as you don’t mind crowded conditions.

If fishing alongside or near 30-40 boats isn’t your cup of tea, try patrolling along the beaches to find schools of fish that aren’t so spooky.

Moving to the flats, catch-and-release snook fishing remains consistent in areas where the water quality is good. Clear water and swift tidal flow, combined with some mangroves, lush grass and oyster beds, is the perfect recipe when hunting snook. Put all of these together and you should find some fish.

Casting live shiners is working well in these areas, including for a redfish bite. They’ve been found in these same areas and, if you’re lucky a couple of reds will stumble across your bait.

Fishing deeper grass areas is providing good action on spotted seatrout. For others it seems the tail-end incoming tide is producing the best bite. Free-lined shiners work well, especially if you find an area with a large concentration of fish. If you’re struggling, switch to a soft plastic on a jig head and drift so you can cover more area.

On my Southernaire charters, I’ve been leaving the tarpon behind and taking clients to the tranquility of fishing in the backcountry. With the tarpon craze, everyone has cleared out of the shallows to pursue bigger and better things. I see this as an opportunity to relax a little without having to beat the crowds to the snook and trout spots and, with less pressure back there, the catch-and-release snook and trout fishing is pretty darn good. Both species are cooperating nicely. Snook hookups are 20-30 inches. As for the trout, I’m catching a lot of slot-size fish and actually quite a few over slot. I guess the closure is working.

Capt. Warren Girle is concentrating his efforts on tarpon. Patrolling the coastline from Egmont Key south to Longboat Key, Girle is hunting on any given day. Casting live pass crabs to approaching schools of tarpon is Girle’s preferred method for attracting hook ups. Most catches are 75-100 pounds, with some larger specimens mixed in.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is targeting catch-and-release snook on days with big tides and good water flow. These are the best days to target linesiders, according to Lowman. Casting live freelined shiners along mangrove shorelines, where turtle grass and other seagrasses flourish, is resulting in action. On some days, as many as 50 snook are being caught and released, with sizes ranging 18-30 inches.

While targeting the snook, catch-and-release redfish are being found here and there. Fishing slightly deeper grass flats away from the mangroves is proving to be good for spotted seatrout. Freelined live shiners or artificial — soft plastics — are resulting in a bite. Fishing even slightly deeper, on local wrecks and reefs in Tampa Bay, is proving to be good for Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper.

Capt. Jason Stock is banking on blackfin tuna and amberjack while fishing offshore on the wrecks and reefs where bait schools are present. He’s finding good numbers of the blackfins, as well as AJs. Live bait offerings working well, but artificials also get the job done. On a recent charter, Stock said they hooked up a 60-pound amberjack on a surface popper.

Moving inshore, Stock is targeting the silver kings along the beaches. Large sharks like hammerhead and bull sharks are following the tarpon along the beaches and Stock isn’t afraid to mess with them, too. These large predators provide some great catch-and-release action, as well as good trophy videos.

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