Progressing through fall, migratory species invade local waters

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Deb Gregory of Palmetto shows off the nice pompano she caught Oct. 11 on a 1/4-ounce Dock’s Jig in pink and white while fishing in Sarasota Bay with Capt. Rick Gross.

It’s time to start the hunt in the Gulf of Mexico for migratory species.

Spanish mackerel, king mackerel and bonito, as well as a variety of sharks can be found within a couple of miles of Anna Maria Island.

Be on the lookout for bait schools, shorebirds diving and similar disturbances on the surface of the water to locate the bite.

Good places to start looking are around the artificial reefs and other structure in the Gulf.

Live bait fishing is proving most effective, although artificials — jigs and silver spoons — are working, too.

Most fishers are anchoring and chumming with live shiners to attract the migratory fish to the hook. Once the chummers are in the water, you’ll know the predators are there by the sudden explosion on the surface caused by the feeding fish.

For tackle, longshank hooks tied to 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon for a leader is most effective. If you find you’re getting cut off, you can add a small length of wire to the rig.

Sometimes this works to keep the fish on the hook. You just have to be careful that the fish aren’t seeing the wire, which can spook the fish, resulting in no bites.

So play it by ear. If you can get away with not having to use the wire, you may be better off.

As for the sharks, you’ll need a wire leader. For bait, fresh-cut chunks of mackerel — make sure to use legal-sized fish —are working great. A nice slab of bonito also is prized bait.

And be ready to hook all shapes and sizes of shark.

Hammerhead, spinner and blacktip sharks are the most frequent predators in our waters. They range in size from 4-8 feet, so heavy tackle is required.

Moving to the flats of Tampa Bay, catch-and-release spotted seatrout are dominating the bite. Casting live shiners over deep grass flats can yield catches of 20 or more trout in a morning. And typically it’s more than that, provided you’re fishing on a good tide where there is clean, clear water.

Catch-and-release snook fishing is quite good for sport fishers, especially along the mangrove shorelines. And, if you’re lucky, you might encounter some catch-and-release redfish mixed in with the linesiders.

On my Southernaire charters, I’m targeting migratory fish along the beaches. The action is spectacular, and it’s nice to get out of the back country into a different style of fishing.

With an ample supply of live shiners in the bait well, I’m anchoring in depths of 20-30 feet of water, where I chum the water heavily with live shiners. The chumming attracts a variety of species to the boat, including Spanish mackerel and kingfish, bonito, blue runners, jack crevalle and sharks.

For rigging, a 2/0 extra-long shank Eagle Claw hook combined with 4-5 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader is getting the job done.

We are experiencing some cut-offs every now and again, but when you’re getting a bite on every bait, cut-offs are bound to happen.

The bonito and king mackerel are putting up the biggest fight when compared to the Spanish mackerel, jacks and blue runners.

And don’t forget about the sharks. They’re at the top of the food chain for a reason. We’ve seen numerous bonito and mackerel falling victim to the sharks as we reel them to the boat. It’s a bloody affair but quite exciting to witness the large predator at work.

One second the fish is fighting tirelessly at the end of your line. The next, a huge explosion on the surface of the water, and the result is a half fish on your line — or just the head. Or maybe nothing at all.

After everyone on the boat is worn out fighting the high-activity fish, we retire to the backwaters of Tampa Bay for a little action on catch-and-release spotted seatrout.

Don’t doubt for a minute that this bite won’t keep you busy. In some areas, the trout are so abundant that we’re getting a bite on just about every cast.

Hamilton Brown at the Rod & Reel Pier says Spanish mackerel are the most frequent bite and pier fishers using an assortment of jigs, spoons and Gotcha plugs are catching as many keeper macks as they want.

Mixed in with the mackerel bite are jack crevalle and ladyfish — which adds some variety to the day. Those anglers opting to use live bait — such as shrimp — are being rewarded with a variety of species, including mangrove snapper, whiting, as well as catch-and-release snook and redfish. For the big snook and reds, slightly larger baits — pinfish and grunts — are working well according to Brown.

Capt. Jason Stock is enjoying some great offshore fishing while in the Gulf of Mexico. Migratory species such as amberjack, blackfin tuna, mahi, kingfish and sailfish are being caught while fishing around reefs, wrecks and hard bottom areas.

On windier days — when offshore fishing is less than favorable — Stock is hunting prey in the Gulf of Mexico, but slightly closer to shore. This bite is also good. Spanish mackerel, kingfish, sharks and tripletail are on Stock’s charter menu. These fish are great action without having to run 15-20 miles offshore in heavy surf.

Capt. Warren Girle is fishing along the beaches of Anna Maria Island with good results on migratory fish — mackerel, kingfish and sharks. Free-lining live shiners in depths of 20-30 feet is yielding Girle’s clients non-stop action on these fish.

Bonito, jack crevalle and blue runners also are present, which makes for quite a variety of species.

Moving inland to the bays, Girle is finding catch-and-release spotted seatrout in impressive numbers. Also in the backwater, catch-and-release snook and redfish are taking bait from Girle’s clients.

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