March 24, 2023
By Capt. Ray Markham
Capt. Ray Markham covers the fishing forecast from Aripeka to Longboat Key, including Hudson, Anclote Key, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Clearwater, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Anna Maria Island and Bradenton
March 24 - 26
An easing of the red tide bloom in the southern half of our region and much of the northern areas along the coast has been encouraging. The brief cooler weather along with the new moon’s strong tides this past Tuesday has spurred some good fishing in many back bays and offshore waters when winds were down. Welcome to spring!
Some nice weather ushered in the first day of spring this past Monday. The days that followed got warmer and provided an excellent chance to get offshore. This upcoming weekend's weather predictions shows increasing winds on Saturday that could throw a fly in the ointment. Just be sure to monitor current weather reports and while onboard, the weather channel on your VHF radio.
It's time for mackerel! Both king and Spanish mackerel are moving into the region in greater numbers. Right now, it’s primarily Spanish mackerel with a few kings mixed in, but the kings will become more plentiful in the next several weeks. Flat lines deployed while at anchor with a chum line going will draw fish to the boat. To concentrate fish in a small area, hanging several frozen chum blocks off the transom and slowly running a figure 8 pattern over about a half-block area will draw fish to the chummed spot. Anchor down-tide and wait for the fish to come to the slick and your live baits. A variety of baits will work well. For Spanish, smaller baits like live pilchards, threadfin herring, or even shrimp work well suspended under a cork rig. Use the lightest trace of coffee-colored wire leader to help prevent cut-offs or a #1 long-shank Eagle Claw hook with 40# mono leader and a black or coffee-colored swivel. While the mono leader could still get cut off, you’ll typically get more bites.
Trolling in nearshore waters is pretty effective and covers a lot of water using a planer. Just off the beaches in depths of 10 to 30 feet of water, #1 or #2 planers will get baits down. From the planer to the hook (for slow-trolling live baits) or planer to a spoon or jig, use about a 30-foot mono or fluorocarbon leader testing 40 pounds. Trolling speed for artificial lures should be around 3 to 4 knots. If you like trolling plugs, try one of the silver or gold Rapala X-Raps or a gold Bomber Long A in the 5-to 6-inch size range. Be sure and use single hooks vs. trebles on these plugs to make it easier to unhook the fish and minimize getting yourself hooked.
If you’re into schools of Spanish where you see diving birds, and skyrocketing fish, a jig or spoon reeled quickly will usually draw strikes.
Lane snapper have been active in the 50-to-100-foot range with small squid chunks working. Mangrove snapper have been active in 60 to 100 feet of water and chewing on cut threadfin herring. Vermilion snapper, almaco jacks, porgies and white grunts are typically available in most locations from 60 feet and deeper.
Red grouper have been chewing in 80 to 120 feet of water on cut squid, threadfin herring, sardines, and cigar minnows or on a combination of squid and sardines. Most of the legal-sized fish have been averaging 10 to 12 pounds. The closure of red grouper beyond the 120-foot mark is holding some much larger fish that must be released for now. Be sure to have your venting tool or descending device handy for these fish. The tools are now required for those fishing for reef fish.
Triggerfish are open again, and a few are being caught. Beyond 120 feet anglers have been catching some bit amberjacks as well as the occasional blackfin tuna. As our waters warm up, look for the possibility of mahi mahi, wahoo, and even a sailfish beyond 150 feet.
The new moon this week has triggered a good snook bite for most anglers working mangrove shorelines and points where there is some moving water. Topwater lures like the Berkley Cane Walker, MirrOlure Top Dog, and Rapala Skitterwalk are very effective in triggering strikes from ambushing linesiders. Snook that are laid up in potholes have been hitting DOA Shrimp when sight-fished and on CAL Jigs with Shad tails around the edges of sand holes on the flats and points. A few snook are beginning to show around the passes at New Pass, Longboat Pass, Pass-A-Grille, and Blind Pass. In fact, it’s a good time to check out all the passes up the coast for snook prepping for the spawn.
Redfish action has been very good around Weedon Island in the sand holes and around Christmas Pass. The incoming tide has fish moving up on small oyster bars to feed. MirrOlure MirrOdines have been exceptional producers of some over-slot fish here. Across Tampa Bay from the Little Manatee River to Bishop’s Harbor, anglers have been producing some good catches of reds and snook on live whitebait. Cockroach Bay has been very consistent. Capt. Mike Goodwine, of Blackneck Adventures out of Plant City, has been putting his anglers on some big reds and some very nice snook this past week.
Anglers from Tarpon Springs and north reported good trout fishing while fishing live shrimp under popping corks. Areas with depths between 5 and 7 feet deep were holding good numbers of trout that were taken on TTR26 MirrOlures. This classic lure, as well as the 7MRS, and 52MR18 have been favorites of anglers in Florida for generations and continue to produce amazing catches of fish.
Bass fishing has been terrific around this week’s new moon. Local bodies of water like lakes Tarpon and Seminole, and the Walsingham Reservoir in Largo, as well as the Braden River in Bradenton have been very active with bass and some bream. Live shiners and spinnerbaits have been working well. I fished Lake Seminole this week and landed several bass on an antique lure that I fished as a young kid back in the ‘50’s called the Al Foss Shimmy Wiggler that was given to me by my grandfather. The lure is somewhere between 80 and 100 years old and works as well today as it did from the beginning. It’s an inline spinnerbait of sorts. Fish were hanging under boat docks and near the bridge pilings at the midpoint of the lake and were hitting at mid-afternoon.
Take a look at your solunar tables when you plan your next trip. Fishing around and during these major and minor periods can be the most productive times of the day.
'Till then...I'll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham