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Date of Issue: August 11, 2010

Invasive Lionfish found in Anna Maria waters

A live lionfish was collected offshore of Anna Maria Island. Islander Photo: Courtesy Florida Seagrant Extension

Yet another invasive species has come to the Tampa Bay area. On Aug. 5, two members of the University of Florida Sea Grant Extension Advisory Committee collected a live lionfish in about 40 feet of water off Anna Maria Island.

The lionfish numbers reportedly have expanded along the U.S. coast and in the Caribbean. Lionfish are native throughout the western Pacific from southern Japan to Micronesia, Australia and the Philippines.

“The scary part about the lionfish is that it’s a highly-effective predator,” Stevely said. “They corral juvenile fish and suck it right in. They’re about to expand their stomach and eat pray half their size.” A lionfish averages about 18 inches long.

The most notable invasive species to come to Tampa Bay before the lionfish was the green mussel, which was first established here more than 10 years ago. The mussels are abundant on pilings below the surface of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Stevely said.

But, he said, the green mussels are nowhere near as threatening to native species as the lionfish.

Stevely asks those who sight or collect a lionfish to report the incident online at the U.S. Geological Survey website at http://nas.er.usgs.gov/SightingReport.aspx.

For local fishers heading out with a hook and line, the nearshore waters are ripe with pods of bait fish that are enticing a large number of sharks and Spanish mackerel.

Capt. Logan Bystrom said the best action in hot water temperatures is from sharks, which come closer to shore when the summertime balls of bait group together. Bystrom uses chunks of Spanish mackerel for bait on a 6/0 to 8/0 circle hook and a steel leader. He brings the shark in close with chum blocks for some fierce action.

Annamae Lahay from Corky’s Live Bait & Tackle said fishers have reported the early mornings and early-to-late evenings as the best fishing. She’s heard the grass flats and docks have been great for redfish, with some over 30 inches in length. Also, she said, spotted sea trout are plentiful in the grass flats and in deeper waters.

Also, Lahay is hearing Palma Sola Bay and Sarasota Bay are giving up mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and ladyfish. Sharks have been plentiful, she said, and rather easy to catch in the waters of Longboat Pass and at the tip of Anna Maria Island, mostly in the evening to night hours.

Capt. Mike Greig said he has been catching plenty of trout and redfish in the local bays on shiners. “They’re starting to school up pretty good,” Greig said. “Some days you find them and some days you don’t.”

Capt. Larry McGuire of Show Me the Fish Charters out of the Cortez Fishing Center said he went out to about 130 feet of water on Aug. 5 for some keeper red and scamp grouper. “The grouper are improving on their bite,” he said. “Generally late-summer red grouper move closer in. In the wintertime, they move down deep because it got real cold. Usually in late August and September the grouper seem to really do well. We’re catching them non-stop each day. When you go with the larger baits like pinfish and grunts, you go with the large grouper. But we got an outrageous amount of smaller ones.”

He said his clients are still catching kingfish to 35 pounds, big cobia, mangrove snapper and amberjack over deeper wrecks in 125-plus feet of water. “Just like Discovery Channel, we’ve caught a lot of sharks,” he said. “It’s shark week. We’re doing our part to celebrate it.”

Also, McGuire said, he’s boated some smaller fish, such as porgies and triggerfish.

Kyle Dodrill from the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier said mangrove snapper have been slow to bite, but pompano and jack crevalle are everywhere. He said Spanish mackerel are in the shallow waters, running up and down the pier. Small tarpon are around, and the best time to target them has been before sunrise.

Capt. Mark Howard of SumoTime Fishing Charters said the fishing around Anna Maria Island is picking up, with many species starting to school up and chew. On the artificial reefs, he said, the bite is hot with mangrove snapper to 3 pounds, and Spanish mackerel in the mix. “The key is to use chum blocks and a mix of live and dead shiners to fire up the bite,” Howard said. “Downsize your tackle with 20-pound fluorocarbon leaders and 1/0 hooks to fool these tasty fish.”

He said redfish are starting to school, with some big pods cruising the flats. He suggests looking for the nervous water and approaching the fish in a stealthy matter.

“The schools of redfish are showing all over the bay from the Skyway area to Sarasota Bay,” he said. “On a scouting trip this past Thursday, me and my sister, Capt. Cindy McClure, found schools of redfish the size of a tennis court. Now is the time to concentrate on redfish.  Some more good news for our fishing scene is the shiners, which hatched back in June, are finally starting to grow big enough to use for bait. No more cast nets gilled with small shiners.”

Capt. Warren Girle said late last week he had snook to 31 inches, redfish to 28 inches, and a bunch of 16-18 inch trout. He said in north Sarasota Bay there are a bunch of 40-60 pound tarpon mixed in with bait schools. “We did hook one on a top-water plug one morning and we had him on for 10 minutes but busted him off,” Girle said.

He also said Spanish mackerel, bluefish and jack crevalle are tearing up bait pods in north Sarasota Bay. He said in the bay he was able fish a nice group of 50-75 redfish, most of them 28-31 inches.

Kim Schearer from Annie’s Bait & Tackle reported that Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters has been is fishing about 25 miles offshore.

“He says that the fish are either biting like crazy or not biting at all, no happy medium,” Schearer said.

She said Kimball is catching some nice red and gag grouper up to 15 pounds and an occasional kingfish — one at 18 pounds — and some catch-and-release red snapper in the 8- to 10-pound range.  “The seas have been calm and he’s catching these fish on live shiners and pinfish,” Schearer said.

 She said Capt. Mark Johnston of Legend Charters is catching his limit on trout, although the trout have not been very big around Long Bar in Sarasota Bay and Longboat Pass. He’s also catching some baby grouper.

Send fishing news and photos to fish@islander.org.

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