After a feverish bite with tarpon much of the week, the action will likely slow down as we approach this weekend’s first quarter moon.
Next Monday, June 1, the pursuit of gag grouper resumes in the West Central Region. Many anglers have been scouting out good spots to drop for gags while looking for hogfish, mangrove snapper, amberjacks and other bottom dwelling species. Much of the action south from Pinellas to Sarasota has been coming from depths greater than 80-feet with some of the best action between 120- and 150-feet of water in areas with hard bottom, ledges, and high relief. Legal sized red grouper have been caught from 80-to 150-foot depths with some consistency. Look for live pinfish, sardines, and cut baits to get good action when combined with squid. Northern Pasco and Hernando anglers have been catching legal grouper ranging from 20-to 100-feet of water. Lots of good grouper habitat up in that area holds good numbers of fish.
Hogfish action has slowed, according to reports. For those who continue to target them, look for hogs from 60-to 100-feet and drop small live shrimp, sand fleas, and fiddler crabs.
Kingfish have taken a back seat to a lot of other species that have been targeted since tournaments have been cancelled. But for those anglers who have targeted them, there are still plenty of fish around. Egmont Key Ship’s Channel continues to be a hot spot if you’re looking for a smoker king for some fish dip. Most anglers will keep the smaller fish to smoke as they have less mercury in them.
Morning action along the beaches has been ok when there have been calm seas. Spanish mackerel are available to anglers tossing jigs or dragging spoons. Anchoring up and fishing live scaled sardines or threadfin herring works very well, especially when you use chum. Keeping a steady chum stream going, either with frozen chum blocks that you give a shake every five minutes or so, or just by clipping small baitfish with scissors into thumbnail sized bits steadily will draw these fish to the boat. Live shrimp are also overlooked bait that work very well for Spanish mackerel. They work under popping corks, but they work best when free lined, since there is no drag on the line from the cork when you hook a fish. The extra drag sometimes will allow the fish to break off more easily or pull the hook. Using long-shank hooks will help minimize cut-offs, as will stepping up mono leaders to 40-pound test.
Tarpon is the word since tides picked up last week approaching the new moon. That smoking late afternoon outgoing tide was the period of most activity and best action. Many anglers stayed out after sunset and the bit continued. There were many locations that kept anglers reeling with action. Tampa Bay has been a hot spot for just about all the bridges, but the Sunshine Skyway has held more bait and continues to see the most tarpon. All of lower Tampa Bay is dotted with patches of hard bottom that hold schools of baitfish. These areas have all produced some peonage. Bean Point, with its hard-running outgoing currents that create good action for tarpon has been loaded with boats using a method of chunking or chumming with chunks of fresh baitfish then corking a chunk and letting the line out. Some anglers are just allowing the bait to move with the tide hooked with a circle hook and a weight just large enough to get the bait down. Southwest Pass, near Egmont Key has seen some fish as well as a few cobia moving through that area. The “Ditch” off the northern point of Egmont Key has also held some fish. The stretch from Bunces Pass to the Fort Desoto fishing piers has seen some tarpon along the beaches there. Crabs have been the best baits for most anglers but threadfin herring have also been a good bet.
Anglers chucking artificial lures have done fairly well with tarpon. Several lures have produced some outstanding catches of tarpon. The DOA Trolling model Baitbuster in pearl color with an olive green back and red throat has been very effective. DOA TerrorEyz with a 3/8-ounce head has been surprisingly effective in the rootbeer/ gold glitter color. I say surprisingly effective not because a tarpon catch is rare. That’s quite the contrary, but catching tarpon over 100-pounds might be with the original size lure. There are three sizes…the Tiny TerrorEyz, which is deadly on juvenile backwater tarpon and around dock lights, the original size which has caught thousands of tarpon, and the ‘Big One’, which is larger and has a heavier hook, capable of landing most fish we see here on the Suncoast. MirrOlure has a slew of lures that have been effective for tarpon over the years, and many of them are the go-to lures for guides and savvy anglers. For years, the 65MRFGO or the 65MR11 have been the top dogs for poons in water depths of 10-to 20-feet off the beaches, but closer in, MirrOlure makes a two-hook special tarpon lure with only two heavier trebles on the TT Series lures in the same colors. I have found that the new MirrOlure 37MR49, the MirrOdine XXL, has been extremely effective, as has the MirrOlure 20MR18 Catch 2000 with heavier hooks. That lure has produced some terrific fish for me in a number of colors. Crab patterns like the Culprit Rip Tide seem to work very well on afternoon outgoing tides when rigged on a jig head heavy enough to work the upper half of the water column when drifting with the current.
Anglers working waters off Anclote Key are also finding good numbers of tarpon. Those anglers fishing with a fly rod are seeing some action using black and purple toads or bunny strip flies. To the north, south of Citrus County, a few fish are being reported but not in good numbers yet.
Snook fishing was brisk last week and at the beginning of this week. Lots of snook were caught and released. Big snook were caught on cut baits. Passes and beaches are all holding these fish as well as barrier islands with mangroves and swash channels. The CAL 3-inch Shad on ¼-ounce jig heads have produced some nice fish as have the 3-inch DOA Shrimp. The shrimp produces the best results when allowed to drift with the current around ambush points. The smaller 2.75” shrimp works very well in stronger currents with its faster sink rate.
Trout fishing on the flats has improved quite a bit. Live shrimp under popping corks works but you can expect to go through a lot of shrimp with the number of pinfish pecking away at them.
Flounder and pompano have been hit-and-miss for most anglers but if you put in the time they might be worth targeting.
We’re less than a month away from the official start of summer but already, temperatures in area lakes and ponds are rising into the mid-to upper 80’s. It’s getting to be an early or late bite for bass if you can find good depth. For those lakes with some good depth, or that are spring-fed with cooler water, try throwing some deep-diving crank baits like a square-bill bait that bumps off bottom structure. Working heavy grass mats with large worms or creature baits like the DOA Sna-Koil are rarely refused. One of the top soft plastics for any lake or river has been the Gary Yamamoto Senko. Rig it ‘whacky style’. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham