Mangrove snapper invade structure, coolers fill for fish fries

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Emmett Mays, on holiday from Kentucky, shows off his July 12 catch, a gag grouper hooked while using shiners on a charter fishing trip guided by Capt. Warren Girle.

If you enjoy catching mangrove snapper, fishing around Anna Maria Island might be a good choice.

These little snapper have invaded every piece of structure in Tampa Bay and the adjacent inshore waters. Fishing reefs, wrecks, rock pile, bridges, piers and even some grass flats is yielding catches of this fry-friendly fish. As for bait, a variety will work — live shrimp and shiners or frozen sardines — will get a mango.

Although these fish are in abundance, there are times when they can be leader shy. This being said, you’ll want to carry some varying sizes of fluorocarbon leader. I usually start with 20-pound test and, if they don’t like that, I scale down to 15-pound. On occasion, they’ve even shied away from the 15, so use some 10-pound if you must. The 10-pound is kind of “living on the edge,” but it may be the difference on your success at catching these smart little fish.

Hook size also may play a factor. As of now, I am using a No. 4 Mustad hook. These small hooks can be buried in the bait, concealing them from the great eyesight of the mangrove snapper. Other tactics you may wish to employ are live chum or a frozen chum bag. This really gets them fired up, which, in some cases, makes them more apt to take a bait.

Other catches occurring around Anna Maria Island include Spanish mackerel and catch-and-release snook and trout. All three species are being caught in respectable numbers.

Venturing offshore is producing good action, especially for American red snapper. Limits of these tasty large snappers are being caught by anglers willing to make the long trek to the offshore fishing grounds.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m cleaning limits of mangrove snapper for my anglers as small shiners or “hatch bait” is proving deadly.

While targeting the snapper, I’m seeing an abundance of Spanish mackerel, as well as jack crevalle and ladyfish.

On the flats, the catch-and-release snook bite settled down a little after the July 5 full moon, but I’m managing to lead my clients to some good action.

Lastly, catch-and-release spotted seatrout are being found over deep grass areas during swift-moving stages of the tide.

Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier is boasting the pier bite is quite good for anglers. Baiting live shrimp is producing limits of mangrove snapper, most around 10-12 inches. Malfese keeps a ruler handy to make sure the bag limits are legal. The sport fishers also are hooking up with live shrimp on some slot-size catch-and-release redfish and snook.

Meanwhile, casting silver spoons is attracting Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and ladyfish.

Lastly, working fresh-cut pieces of mackerel on the bottom is resulting in blacktip sharks at the pier.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing the inshore waters from Tampa Bay south to Sarasota Bay, where the reefs and wrecks are yielding good numbers of mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel. Both species are responding to free-lined live shrimp. Mixed in are some juvenile groupers and some jack crevalle.

Moving to the grass flats, Girle is putting clients on catch-and-release snook and a handful of catch-and-release redfish while working along the mangrove shorelines.

On deeper grass areas, away from shore, Girle is finding some catch-and-release spotted seatrout for his anglers, as well ladyfish and Spanish mackerel.

Capt. Aaron Lowman is working structure in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, where he’s finding a variety of fish for his charter clients. Predominantly, the bite is consisting of Spanish mackerel and mangrove snapper, although Lowman says other varieties — gag grouper and permit — are available.

Moving inshore, catch-and-release snook and trout are taking Lowman’s bait. For both species, clean, clear water during swift tides is providing the best action.

Capt. Jason Stock is spending his days limiting out on American red snapper. Along with red snapper, Stock is putting anglers on other snappers, including yellowtail and mangroves.

Adding a little challenge to this bite is the abundance of sharks in the offshore waters. Trying to reel up snapper to the surface amidst some of the Gulf’s top predators can end up more times than not with a partial fish on the hook. The sharks take the rest.

On windier days, Stock is staying slightly closer to shore around the artificial reefs, which is yielding some great permit catches and action from the over-slot snook. Goliath grouper and barracuda are rounding out the bite on the reefs.

Capt. David White says he’s spending a lot of time at the fillet table due to all of the American red snapper his clients are catching. Both live and frozen baits are quickly being devoured as they reach the bottom. After catching a limit of ARs, White moves on to smaller snappers — mangrove and yellowtail. Both are cooperating nicely, rewarding White’s clients with more fish for the cooler.

The American red snapper season ends July 25.

Lastly, gag grouper are rounding out the bite for White’s clients.

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