Calm seas have allowed anglers to get offshore with good results of red snapper and gag grouper this week. For recreational anglers, the red snapper season closed June 20, at midnight. Inshore anglers have been prodding local waters for tarpon as we move into the official start of summer on Thursday, the 21st.
Good numbers of flounder are being caught on nearshore reefs off Pinellas and Manatee shores. Most are being caught on live shrimp. Also in the near shore arena, most any kind of floating object that you find in the Gulf is worthy of a look for either cobia or tripletail. Between the mouth of Tampa Bay and all the way out to the Whistler Buoy, there are plenty of opportunities for trips and cobia. The Egmont Key Ship’s Channel was notorious back in the 60’s for have some giant cobia that followed manta rays. They would also hang around most of the channel markers on the way offshore, feasting on the bait schools that tended to gather around the markers. As of July 1, you’ll have to release all tripletail under 18-inches as they shift the minimum size up from 15-inches to 18-inches measured overall length.
There are still some big smoker kings around. The Spanish mackerel bite has been pretty good too. I got a report this week of an angler catching a 45-pound king around the swim buoys off the beaches of Pinellas. While we’re past the prime season for them, usually there are some that stick around the wrecks offshore this time of year. If you happen to be out fishing on the wrecks or artificial reefs off Bradenton/Sarasota, be sure to check for permit. Schools of permit ranging over 45-pounds are there and a few monsters have been caught this week on live crabs.
Light winds this week have allowed nearshore waters to become clean and clear. Scuba divers are in their hay day right now with all the fish that are open season. According to reports this week, visibility was top to bottom in 50-feet of water. If you’re new to the Gulf and are looking to get out and try your luck at spearfishing or just want some spots to drop a line, here’s a link to a partial list of some potentially good wrecks and artificial reefs off Pinellas shores. Depths range from six to 100-feet. Many are marked with buoys, but all include GPS coordinates. https://www.floridagofishing.com/reefs/cw-reefs-pinellas-county.html
Bottom droppers fishing aboard the party boats out of Hubbard’s Marina have been busy with bent rods. Loads of gag grouper and a variety of snappers are being pulled in. Bruce Rosen, of Seminole was on a recent Hubbard’s 39-hour trip and said they loaded the boat with fish. On a stop at 50-feet of water, Rosen confirmed the amazingly clear, clean water conditions. Capt. Dylan Hubbard echoed that in his report. Fishing in these conditions can make for a tough bite with mangrove snapper because of their keen eyesight and clear conditions. Downsizing tackle is about the only way you’ll catch these wily characters. Hubbard suggests going down to 15 or 20-pound test line. A long fluorocarbon leader is a must under these conditions. While chumming with tiny bits of cut threadfins or pilchards, freeline a small chunk on a small circle hook, allowing the line to pay out of the rod and reel with no resistance. This gives the most natural fall of the bait through the chum slick down to the feeding fish. In years past I’ve had good success “sandball” chumming under these conditions. Add your chum with a little water to sand and form sand balls about the size of a baseball. When you drop the sandball it clouds the water somewhat, making your hooks and terminal tackle less visible to the fish. It will also carry your chum deeper to the fish. Hubbard says they are seeing anywhere from 15-to 25 big gags per trip on the 39-hour trips. For summer fishing, that’s decent. Red grouper tend to put on a better shallow water show from about 60-feet out. The best bite all around has been in the 180-to 200-foot range, Hubbard says.
Light winds for much of the week have made the heat almost unbearable with the “feels like” temps pushing well over 100-degrees. Make sure you bring plenty of water and drink it on a regular basis. Heat stroke is a definite possibility if you’re not careful and proper hydration along with a wet cool towel or “Chilly Pad” like those from Frogg Toggs, makes a big difference.
Tarpon anglers are seeing typical action from the silver king. Light winds make for clear water, making these fish more wary. Rolling fish that are moving quickly, or grey hounding rarely bite. Chasing a school doesn’t work. Motoring well offshore and ahead of the school and shutting down sonar, and the big motor can put you in position if you’re anchored up in a travel lane. Finding “happy fish” or those daisy chaining are your best bet. This weekend will offer decent tides as we approach next Wednesday’s full moon. The biggest tide swing or outgoing tide will be later in the day. The big outgoing tide down in Boca Grande on new and full moons was dubbed the “Hill Tide” since there is an area where the bottom rises coming out of the pass. This hill on the bottom makes for some faster moving water that creates tide rips, weedlines, and makes the crabs and shrimp flush out of the bay just like a food conveyor belt. A similar occurrence happens here but we have no “hill”. But the tide rips and weedlines still form in areas where the water runs hardest. Some of the popular areas for this are near deep channels or passes. The tip of Egmont Key, where the 90-foot hole is located is one such spot. New Pass, Longboat, Pass-A-Grille Pass, Bunces, Blind, John’s Clearwater, and Dunedin Passes can all be good. Live crabs or jumbo shrimp on these big tides work best, but a threadfin herring is also effective. Recently, some anglers are having great success fishing dead shad on the bottom or cut baits.
For some, backcountry fishing takes a back seat to tarpon fishing, however, with a bait spawn coming up on the full moon, fish of all kinds get very active and feed heavily. Snook, being major ambush feeders as are trout, flounder, and some others, get very active and bunch up in schools around the passes and beaches. They get aggressive and sometimes drop their guard. They’ll hammer artificial baits and flies. Night fishing can be the most effective with water and air temperatures being lowered and light being less. Night fishing may be your best bet, and if you have a head lantern you can dip shrimp or gig flounder near passes with good success. Topwater lures at night are excellent. Noisy lures such as the Rapala Skitterwalk, MirrOlure Top Dog, or Heddon Zara Spook are classics for this kind of action.
Approaching the full moon, bass will get active at night and early in the morning. Buzzbaits can be the key to some big bass. But once the sun shows much over the horizon and the water begins warming, going deep and slow is your best bet. DOA Trick worms, their 8-inch worm, Senko worms and similar baits worked slowly in heavy cover or around structure can produce good results. Live bait anglers go for golden shiners for lunker results. But the only way any of these things work is if you get out and try them. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham