Several days of showers and thunderstorms this week shook things up a bit inshore and made for a good bite. Thunderstorms have been the biggest threat for anglers heading out. Be sure to check the current weather before you go out and always file a float plan, even if you’re inshore fishing.
There’s been a wide variety of fish caught and reported this past week. Several anglers reported catching or seeing sailfish off Bradenton in depths from 80-to 120-feet of water. Anglers hitting depths of 200-to 250-feet are finding some big red snapper and gag grouper. While both are presently closed, catch and release action, with proper venting, has been good. Capt. Dylan Hubbard out of Hubbard’s Marina in John’s Pass anticipates a good red snapper season, as on many of their offshore trips anglers are having to get past a lot of red snapper to get down to their targeted species. Hubbard said about a recent 39-hour long-range trip that anglers recently took that they saw plenty of mangrove, yellowtail, and vermilion snappers being caught along with creole snapper, porgies, rock and red hinds, some kingfish, blackfin tuna, red and scamp groupers caught.
While many of the kingfish tournaments are done, king and Spanish mackerel continue to be viable targets for anglers willing to look for them. In most cases, finding the schools of baitfish means that you’ll also be on the macks and kings. Captain Dave Zalewski, of Lucky Too Charters out of Madeira Beach Marina knows that one easy way to locate Spanish and king mackerel is to troll hardware. Spoons and plugs are what Zalewski runs out the back of his boat most times. If you’re going to get really big kings, it might be best to slow troll a blue runner in most cases. The slower you can pull it, the better.
Good numbers of Spanish mackerel are hitting in the Ship’s Channel off Egmont Key. Cobia are showing from time to time around several of the buoys leading out the channel there as well. Bluefish and bonito are also in the mack mix, ripping drags and cutting lines.
Hogfish action has slowed according to many of my reports. Look for some of the best action between 60 and 80-feet off Clearwater.
Action along the beaches for tripletail continues, but with stone crab season closing, those trap floats will soon be disappearing. This portable structure holds a lot of these fish, but finding other structure, like channel markers, swim buoys, or even floating objects like a 5-gallon bucket that may have flown overboard by a passing boat, can all hold these fish. Smaller baits work well for these fish. A live shrimp will rarely be refused. Small jigs, artificial shrimp like the DOA Shrimp, and live scaled sardines can all work.
With snook, trout, and redfish now catch-and-release only until May 31, 2020 from the Hernando/ Pasco County line south to an area in Collier County, anglers should handle these fish as little as possible during a release. Proper tools can aid in this. While some like to use needle nose pliers, I use three different tools to remove hooks and control fish. I use a fish gripping device like the Boga Grip, a long handled stainless jawed trigger tool called the Baker Hook-Out, and a stainless J-hook shaped tool with a floating handle to ‘flip’ fish off without touching and removing the protective slime coat. With these tools, hook removal is safe for you and easier on the fish. Crimping barbs on hooks can make the chore even easier and cause even less damage to the fishes tissue. Extra care now removing hooks from these fish will ensure a good release with minimal mortality, and the sooner we can get these fish back to spawning, the sooner we can relax the restrictions that have been placed on them to again make for a sustainable fishery.
The hush talk about tarpon is over and greater numbers of these fish are showing up by the day. Saturday’s full moon will draw many tarpon to the passes and along the beaches early in the morning and late afternoons as the tides fall out, carrying crabs and shrimp with the swift-moving currents. Poons caught inside the bays from Sarasota to Clearwater will hit lures like the Trolling model Baitbuster from DOA Lures and the 20MR18 Catch 2000 from MirrOlure. Deep waters along the beaches will produce tarpon for anglers tossing faster sinking lures like the 65MRPD or 65MRFGO from MirrOlure. Anglers off Clearwater have reported numerous hook-ups using live bait. Pinfish, shad, jumbo shrimp, and threadfins have been chewed, but on this weekend’s outgoing tide, look for small crabs like blue claw crabs or calico crabs and threadfin herring to be the top natural baits for tarpon.
Tarpon may be the perfect fish for inshore and nearshore fly anglers. Permit may be the only other skinny water fish that rivals the silver king in the quest for big game fish in the shallows. Capt. Rick Grassett, fishing out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key is targeting tarpon on the bars that lead out of Sarasota Bay’s passes. Toad patterns and black and purple bunny strips have been effective flies for tarpon in the past. It remains to be seen what these fish will chew best on this year.
Capt. Court Douthit, a northern transplant from Illinois, now living and fishing out of Dunedin, specializes in fly fishing, and when he’s not chasing snook, trout, redfish, tripletail or some other species he’s either fishing for or dreaming about catching tarpon, one of his top targets this time of year. Capt. Court loves the Skinny Water Culture he lives and at 6 P.M. each third Wednesday of the month, heads over to the Soggy Bottom Brewery in downtown Dunedin at 662 Main Street to set up a fly tying and casting clinic. It’s free and open to all. One dollar from each beer sold will be donated to CaptainsforCleanWater.org. Come on out and learn the art of fly tying and fishing while supporting a good cause.
Backwater anglers are seeing fewer snook as these fish continue to move out of the creeks, rivers, and canals toward spawning areas. The spoil island out of Port Manatee has been holding snook in the surrounding area. Bishop’s Harbor, the South Shore, and Cockroach Bay are all producing some nice snook for catch and release action. Redfish are also active in these areas and across the bay around the Gandy Bridge area. Anglers fishing the Anclote Key area are finding more and more snook as they move out around the barrier islands.
We’re just around the corner from Memorial Day weekend and the start of CCA Florida’s STAR Tournament. The tournament runs from May 25 through Labor Day, Sept. 2. To enter, go to www.ccaflstar.com. With thousands of dollars in scholarships and prizes up for grabs, it’s a great deal for conservation with some big prizes. You don’t have to catch the biggest fish either to be a winner. Multiple categories give you many different chances to win and help conservation at the same time.
A number of anglers are turning their attention toward fish they can take home for dinner. There is a wide variety of very tasty fish available inshore. This time of year, Spanish mackerel, cobia, tripletail, sheepshead, flounder, pompano, whiting, mangrove snapper, black drum, and black seabass are several that are easy to target. Inside the mouth of Tampa Bay even kingfish are hanging around bait schools. The edges of the Clam Bar in southern Tampa Bay and around Pinellas Point hold mackerel. Bunces Pass is holding Spanish mackerel as well. Watch for bait pods showering or birds diving to the mackerel’s location. Fast-moving jigs like the CAL Shad, flashy spoons like the Clark Spoon Squid, and glass minnow imitations like the MirrOlure MirrOglass 9MR11 are all deadly effective on mackerel. The Gotcha Jig is a great lure and can be cast long distances from piers, boats or bridges.
Highly prized pompano are being caught around the ten cent bridge leading out to Fort Desoto and at the front side of Shell Key. They can be caught on Doc’s Goofy Jigs, live shrimp, and small bucktail jigs. Cobia may also be found there and near East Beach at the Fort or just inside most major passes. Cobia will eat live shrimp, crabs, pinfish and grunts with little hesitation. Artificial bait users will also be able to catch these fish on soft plastic eel imitations like the Berkley Power Eel. The DOA Sna- Koil has also been very effective as has the ½-ounce DOA Shrimp and 37MR49 MirrOlure MirrOdine.
Sheepshead continue to hold on pilings of most bridges, docks, and around the Skyway fishing piers along with pompano. Sheepies love fiddler crabs, live shrimp, clams, mussels, barnacles and sand fleas and can be caught on them, but you have to be quick on the hook-set as these are natural born bait thieves.
Black seabass will be found on areas of hard bottom in Lower Tampa Bay. They love crustaceans and will take live shrimp, fiddler crabs, or a DOA Shrimp along with an assortment of jigs. I’ve had good success with ¼-ounce CAL Shads and curly tail jigs.
Whiting typically are found along the shorelines of beaches and off jetties from Sarasota to Tarpon Springs. A shrimp-tipped jig works well on these fish. Cast off the beaches into the first or second trough in the surf and twitch your rod to make the jigs bounce off the bottom to catch these fish.
Mangrove snapper can be caught around most any structure this time of year. Hard bottom areas and patches of debris or rock piles are excellent holding spots. Mangos vary in size in the Tampa Bay area but it’s not uncommon to catch them up to 2 or 3-pounds. The smaller snapper like live shrimp, while larger mangos will chow down on small scaled sardines. Chumming for these fish will get them up off the bottom and many times right to the surface, making them easier to catch.
Black drum are around most bridges. Sizes range from 14-inches to upwards of 40-pounds or more. They love a cut blue crab fished on the bottom, but the smaller fish will hit a CAL Jig tipped with shrimp in a heartbeat. While the smaller of these fish are better table fare, big drum can put a bend in your rod that will make you cry for momma.
Capt. Angie Douthit fishes and guides on Lake Okeechobee. She says with south Florida temperatures heading up the fishing has been best early in the day and late afternoon toward sundown. These times can produce some excellent bass action on topwater lures like the Heddon Zara Spook, Smithwick Devil’s Horse, and MirrOlure 12LS popper. Strikes can be very explosive from topwater baits. Most bass are caught around outside weed lines and in potholes in grass in open water. Weedless topwater frog baits are excellent choices as well here. Kids love catching bream, and the Big O is a top lake for them. Simple cane poles with worms or crickets will fill the bill but if you want a little more challenge, nothing beats bream on a light fly rod with a foam spider fly. The lake is at a low level right now and navigation can be hazardous if you don’t know where you’re going. Capt. Angie Douthit can safely take you out for a trip of a lifetime on the Big O and can be reached through her website at www.southfloridabassfishing.com. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham