Spring arrives with improved bait, fishing
This 70-pound amberjack was caught by Denver Hardy, center while fishing with Capt. Chris Galati Sr. aboard Team Galati 30 offshore of Anna Maria Island. Hardy is pictured with his “crew,” Chris Galati Jr., left, and Christian Hightower. Hightower and Galati Jr. also caught amberjacks in the 50-pound range. Islander Photo: Courtesy Kellie Galati
With the full bloom of Azalea flowers and an invasion of glass minnows, we know that spring is here, and that means Spanish mackerel are flying through the bays to snatch up minnows and shoddy leaders that are not heavy enough for this toothy fish.
Also, there are reports from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge fishing pier that king mackerel are back. If the wind shifts from westerly to easterly, the offshore waters will clear and invite kingfish to the beaches.
Water temperatures in Tampa Bay hit 68 degrees by Friday afternoon, and although kingfish prefer over 70 degrees, anglers can head to the end of the south fishing pier and let out a live blue runner out under a balloon, or other strike indicator, into the water. If the water is muddied up in windy weather, however, don’t attempt to target the kingfish, which stay away from any dirty water.
The sheepshead spawn is in full bore, and the tasty convict fish can be found around many docks and piers as well as rock piles. Find the docks where sheepshead are gathered to spawn. Make sure to use a small, sturdy hook with a small piece of shrimp. Anglers can even bait with barnacles scraped from a piling.
The best area for inshore game fish is north Sarasota Bay, where trout and Spanish mackerel are moving in 4-6 feet of water. Some of the bigger redfish schools also are rolling the waters.
If an angler can get to the nearshore artificial reefs, there should be excellent action from mangrove snapper, as well as big sheepshead, porgeys, and possibly grouper and cobia.
Grouper season re-opens April 1. The minimum size limit for red grouper is 20 inches in total length, and 22 inches for gag grouper. The daily bag limit is two per angler with a four-grouper aggregate bag.
Capt. Bill Ware of The Damn Yankee said on a windy March 25 that he did well with trout in Palma Sola Bay, tucked in a canal near the Manatee Avenue Bridge. He said most of the trout were 16-18 inches. He also had good action earlier in the week on mangrove snapper that were hitting live shrimp by the railroad trestle in the Manatee River.
“I also saw the biggest school of sheepshead, it had to be 150 fish in this school, by the docks in the river,” Ware said. “Things are definitely looking up.”
Capt. Warren Girle reported there are still a lot of redfish schools in north Sarasota Bay . He also reported finding Spanish mackerel and pompano where birds are diving on bait fish. “Certainly the reds I’m getting are during high tide, all my spots are high-tide spots, except one grouper with probably 700 fish in it,” Girle said. “A lot of people know about that group. You need a real skinny boat to get to those. Twice I’ve tried to get my big boat in and I can’t get to them. My little boat, we push pole in there and if you’re really quiet you can stick a bunch of fish.”
Girle reported big trout on the flats in high schools, with schooling fish in 3-4 feet of water. He also has caught Spanish mackerel in the area that he’s noticed have been eating small glass minnows. A sparse amount of white bait also has showed up. “A friend of mine made 40 throws at Skyway for white bait and got 40 baits,” Girle said. “Another week with 74-degree weather and there will be white bait everywhere.”
Girle has heard of a bunch of white bait a mile offshore, cobia in 45-50 feet of water, and a bunch of 40-60-pound black drum that fishers have been hammering the past few weeks at DeSoto Point.
Capt. Rick Gross of the charter boat Fishy Business said sheepshead fishing has busted wide open. “Their spawn in the area has been unbelievable,” Gross said. “Usually they spawn in high structures like artificial reefs and docks and in passes.”
He said the trout bite has been phenomenal, with most of the trout running 13-14 inches, and the best up to 22 inches.
Gross reminded anglers to not get stuck in one area. He said, for example, one dock at Key Royale was loaded with about 30 sheepshead that were biting rapidly during the first 20 minutes of the outgoing tide. But he said the bite slowed down thereafter.
Gross said redfish around the docks are starting to move onto the flats. Gross has been working five schools in north Sarasota Bay but said it has been difficult to get the reds to bite.
Also, Gross has been getting some 3-4-pound pompano in the same areas on Berkley Gulp baits under Cajun Thunder floats.
Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions said fishing has been very good this past week with a lot of nice-sized trout being caught in lower Tampa Bay, from the Bulkhead to Joe Bay, over grass and rock bottoms in 5-12 feet of water.
He said top baits include the DOA Shrimp, CAL Jigs with shad tails and MirrOlures new soft plastic jerk bait called the LiL Jon.
Markham said his half-day trips averaged 40-70 speckled trout with about a dozen silver trout.
“Excellent catches are as a result of these better days with warmer weather, and rising water temperatures,” Markham said. “An influx of baitfish is bringing in pelagics and lots of other species.”
Markham reported that Larry and Annie Mahoney, winter Longboat Key residents, fished multiple days with good results, catching as many as seven species, and a total of 78 fish caught on a single trip.
Also, Markham said Carl Pryor of Indiana caught dozens of spotted sea trout, silver trout, ladyfish, bluefish and Spanish mackerel.
Rocky Corby from Anna Maria City Pier said anglers have caught Spanish mackerel and some sheepshead. He said there are some glass minnows hanging at the base of the pier.
Derek Olson from Rod & Reel Pier said anglers have been slaying some big sheepshead with shrimp all around the pilings.
Richard Miley from the south Skyway fishing pier said that some anglers have been catching kingfish off the end of the pier. Miley also reported a great sheepshead bite, an influx of Spanish mackerel to about 25 inches, and decent catches of pompano for those who are targeting them. Miley added that tarpon are everywhere at night, just past the bait shop on the south pier.
Capt. Logan Bystrom reported Spanish mackerel are starting to flow through, and he’s still getting some redfish and sheepshead under docks and around oyster beds. He said the trout bite is still good on the flats. Bystrom is anxious to go grouper fishing, and he plans on heading about 15-20-miles offshore to fish over ledges and hard bottoms for possible keepers.
Kim Schearer from Annie’s Bait & Tackle said the wind laid down enough this week for Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Fishing Charters to go about 9 miles out. She said Kimball’s customers have caught catch-and-release grouper, snapper, sheepshead and porgies. Kimball has been using cut bait, squid and sardines because he says when the water is cold, the fish are sluggish and don’t like fighting for their food. Cut bait also makes for an easy target. He is also slamming sheepshead with live shrimp.
Shearer said the incoming tide was no blessing for Capt. Mark Johnston, also of Legend Charters, because, along with the west wind, it brought cloudy, milky waters to Longboat Pass and fish wouldn't bite. Johnston found cleaner waters in Sarasota Bay, and although the water was choppy and windy, Johnston was able to catch a bunch of small trout along with a 16-inch keeper and a lot of what Schearer considers our savior right now, sheepshead, which are still running up to the 5-pound range.
Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters said the winter-to-spring transition has begun with white bait slowly starting to move into Anna Maria Sound. Speckled trout have been active this week on a moving tide with fish up to 20 inches being landed. The trout are holding on the edges of drop offs and eating live shrimp and jigs rigged with Berkley Gulp baits. Howard said redfish have slowed down around his wintertime docks and are starting to make their move to the flats. Sheephead fishing has finally busted wide open with some very big convict fish — up to 7 pounds — landed on a recent charter. He said live shrimp works well.
“Look for the high tides and 75-degree temperatures this week to help kick start the spring fishing,” Howard said.
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