Wonderful weather equals 'finest kind' fishing action
Islander Beau Smith-Kerr caught this 7-foot-long dusky shark off the Manatee Public Beach on Dec. 2. It took about 45 minutes to land the fish, a struggle that drew a crowd of onlookers as well as lifeguards to keep the public at bay. Smith-Kerr used a ladyfish as bait, and caught the dusky on 40-pound-test line with a 120-pound steel leader. “Everybody I know got shark steaks for Christmas,” he said. Islander Photo: Courtesy Becky Smith
Won’t this pesky fair weather ever end? How many more days of balmy temperatures in the mid-70s, mild winds and warming water temps do we have to put up with?
Hopefully a lot.
Fishing action is following the warm winter days with some heat of its own. Gag grouper catches are as good as anybody can remember, both in the Gulf of Mexico and in the bays. Find a rock ledge or artificial reef and you’ll find some hefty gags, as well as snapper. There is also good offshore action for amberjack, bluefish and bonito.
Bay fishing is good for trout, with most hookups falling within the slot limit or a tad bigger. There are also redfish and flounder to be caught in the backwater, plus catch-and-release snook.
Even the Cortez mullet fishers are happy with a catch they call the “finest kind.”
Whitebait is everywhere, with big fish not far behind.
The shark bite is also great both just off the beaches and farther offshore. A prime shark haunt is between Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key across the shipping channels.
Don’t have a boat? Book a charter with any of the local captains and have a great day on the water.
Capt. Sam Kimball out of Annie’s Bait & Tackle on Cortez Road said offshore fishing for gag grouper remains phenomenal. There are big fish to be caught anywhere from 5 to 15 miles from Anna Maria Island in the Gulf — beside gags, there are amberjack, kingfish and banded rudderfish, plus mangrove snapper and red grouper.
Capt. Mark Johnston of Annie’s said his backwater charters are producing terrific gag grouper by the inlets. He suggests fishing off any ledge or rock outcrop to bring in keeper-size grouper. He’s also following the thick whitebait, which in turn is being followed by big bluefish, bonito and kings. Mangrove snapper are also thick in the bays, he said, with lots of 12- to 16-inch fish being caught.
Capt. Logan Bystrom said waters have warmed and bait is plentiful — a good combination for good catches of redfish and catch-and-release snook in the mornings. Reds and linesiders are also responding well to artificials, he said.
Danny Stasny at Island Discount Tackle at Catchers Marina in Holmes Beach said the shark bite off Anna Maria Island is “crazy right now between Bean Point and Egmont Key.” His best catch was a 7 1/2-foot-long bull shark, but he’s also getting bonnetheads in the “crazy stretch,” and is hearing reports of sharks coming from the piers and beaches. Gag grouper is also a good bet offshore, and he’s hearing lots of reports of hogfish being landed. Gags and mangrove snapper are thick in Tampa Bay, especially near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and along any of the ship channels. Backwater action for trout is great in the first days of the open season, with north Sarasota Bay yielding fish better than 15 inches in length, plus a few 20-inchers. Flounder are also coming off the piers, he said, and he’s heard good reports of some catch-and-release snook being caught at night.
At the Rod & Reel Pier, reports include nice catches of black drum, flounder and sheepshead.
Capt. Zach Zacharias on the Dee Jay II out of Parrot Bay Marina in Cortez said December's Spring-like weather has brought the water temperatures up to unseasonable levels. “Just a few weeks ago, it was in the mid 50s and now has reached the 70-degree mark in a lot of backwater areas — it makes it kind of tough to nail down any patterns.” He said he’s found that speckled trout have taken over as the top species since the reopening of the season, and he’s catching trout from 14 inches up to a 26 1/2 inches. Most of the trout have been found on grassy drop-offs near shoals and bars. “Once you find the trout,” he said, “the trick for the bigger ones is to move short distances in the same area until you hone in on the bigger units. A good number of pompano, bluefish, flounder and ladyfish have been taken in the same areas.” Capt. Zach said that above-average snapper fishing inshore continues, and “It is easier to catch a mess of mangos then it is sheepshead right now, although the sheepies have been coming on a little better this past week. Black drum to 27 inches and precious few redfish to 25 inches have been nailed fishing docks and structure.” He’s also catching Spanish mackerel and bonito.
Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me The Fish Charters said he’s been catching lots of big gag and red grouper, “and on some trips hooking into some so big they are too much for some guys to handle. Our parties are also catching monster amberjack, mangrove and yellowtail snapper, porgys, flounder and sharks. There is great action from 40 feet out to 165 feet, but going out deeper is better. Best bait has been live pinfish and Spanish sardines. On one of our four-hour trips with Jim and Nanci Farese and family we caught eight big gag grouper and some big mangrove snapper. Their sons 8-year-old Ryan and 12-year-old Michael and daughter, 17-year-old Kate, all caught keeper grouper and snapper.”
Good luck and good fishing.
Fishing news and photos are welcome and may be submitted to Paul Roat by e-mail at email@example.com.