Weather effects on fishing-
We are coming up on the full moon this weekend which means we will have increased tidal flow more moving water throughout the area. More moving water means more actively feeding fish. As the tide flushes and moves bait those fish get excited, and we get more water volume moving in the Bay creating more tidal rips more temperature changes and more opportune environments for actively feeding fish. Along with the increased tidal flows we’re also looking at frontal boundaries kind of fighting over our area in the coming week, but this effect will be felt most dramatically around this weekend especially. This will cause the barometer to fluctuate in a moving barometer is always best for fishing. Along with these variables another thing that’s contributing to a successful weekend on the water would be the lower water temperature. Following hurricane Ian we had a huge influx of fresh water to our estuarian system and a lot of mixing of that water coupled with a lot of cloud cover for multiple days. All these things have helped to dramatically lower water temperatures and really got the fish moving and excited.
Right now, the big thing inshore is a super active redfish bite. Red fish are very concentrated around areas of our back bay waters cruising the grass flats, mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, and even in some channels. These red fish are schooled up right now in large concentrations as they gear up for their movement near shore to spawn. We are seeing pretty good concentrations of red fish moving through local passes onto the beaches as well as they will congregate along the beaches sometimes too. If you’re able to find these concentrations or pockets or schools of redfish they’re typically super cooperative and willing to eat just about anything you present in front of them. Just keep in mind it’s spawning season and these fish are going offshore to proliferate the species so we need to take extra care and releasing any fish and handling any fish during this time of year.
Snook action has been going well in the back bay waters especially in staging areas as many snook move off the beaches and out of the passes. There are still snook on the beaches but much lower numbers cruising the local troughs along the beaches looking for whitebait, croakers, moharas, live shrimp, and soft plastics. There’s still a few snook in the passes too especially at night prior to sunrise around dock lights and bridge lights. These concentrations of snook in the passes can be leader shy and finicky but if you catch them at the right tide they’re typically actively feeding along the surface but it takes lighter tackle and a more stealthy approach. The snook that are in the back bay areas are typically more aggressive and on the move to their winter time staging areas where they’ll hide out for the winter and try to find warmer more regulated water to keep their body temperatures higher during those cooler months. Think of areas that you hit with great success in the spring and those are the areas holding plentiful active snook right now. Points or dock lines adjacent to grass flats and mangrove shorelines areas where those fish can stage up as they move from the beaches and passes further back into the Bay ultimately to land in the creeks rivers and bayous for the winter.
Mackerel are super super prolific inshore right now around almost any fishing pier pass or area with deep moving water and bait present. We’re seeing a lot of mackerel around fishing piers and jetties along the coast especially in the early morning hours just following sunrise. Fishing piers like the skyway fishing pier, the gulf pier at Fort DeSoto, big pier 60 in Clearwater, and the rod and reel pier in Anna Maria are inundated with mackerel. Mackerel are super fast swimming and aggressive species looking for fast moving flashy lures. Making long casts with heavy quick sinking shiny jigs are the best options retrieving that lure or jig very quickly back to you along the edges of the bait schools it’s a good way to get those macro feeding. My favorite lure for targeting mackerel would be a gotcha plug around 7/8 ounce to one ounce.
Sheepshead are starting to return in good concentrations to local structures even though it’s a little early we’re starting to see good numbers as sheepshead and some cooperative fish. As water temperatures continue to drop the sheepshead will become more prolific more aggressive and more concentrated around these areas through the duration of the winter time. Sheepshead love small pieces of shrimp, clams, oysters, barnacles, and fiddler crabs as well.
Mangrove snapper, like the snook, are on the move right now but we’re still seeing some good numbers around local structures. This is your opportunity or last opportunity for at least the cooler months to go have a good shot at concentrations of aggressive mangrove snapper. As water temperatures cool the smaller mangrove snapper will retreat further back into the Back Bay areas to hide in the mangroves and get bigger for next year while the bigger mangrove snapper will make their way near shore and ultimately offshore as they get bigger.
**REMEMBER, please help spread the word and knowledge on what to do if you hook or entangle a bird. NEVER CUT THE LINE, stay calm and reel in the bird and get all your line back and dehook them and release. Never leave any line in the water, if you accidentally hook a dock make sure to break the line off at the hook never cut your line. Seabirds in the area are more and more often showing up with line hanging off them and we are in danger of loosing access to fishing areas due to this. While anytime a bird is in danger or having issues is concerning too, but a wave of support of closing areas to fishing due to negative bird interactions is extremely concerning to an already dwindling number of areas you can fish around Tampa Bay from a shoreline, dock, bridge or pier! Check out the NEW podcast we did with salt strong on this issue – https://www.saltstrong.com/articles/shutting-down-fishing-at-busy-pier/ **
Near shore –
Mackerel action is going super well in the near shore waters especially along artificial reefs wrecks and any area that will hold plentiful bait. We’re starting to see big bait pods along the beaches throughout the near shore areas primarily anywhere from about 10 to 15 foot up to around 60 foot of water. When you can find the bait pushed up to the surface showering on the surface being chased by birds typically it’s because there’s mackerel underneath those bait fish balling them up and feeding actively. While you’re cruising near shore or heading offshore through near shore waters keep your eyes peeled for these bait pods and don’t be afraid to stop and throw some gotcha plugs or put out planers and spoons and troll through those areas for plenty of rod bend and action. It doesn’t take a very large boat or any special set up to be able to go out there and catch plenty of mackerel quickly along our near shore waters at this time. Even a small boat like a skiff can go out any one of our local passes right now with just two rods a number one planar about 15 feet of 40 pound monofilament behind the planer to a drone spoon about four to six inches in length and have plenty of fun catching almost endless mackerel. We are seeing a lot of these mackerel being caught on our five hour half days trolling on the way out and even while bottom fishing.
Kingfish or king mackerel have shown up too this past week! We have caught 2 kingfish and expect that action to only heat up as water temperatures are getting in the right range to get those kingfish fired up. We typically will catch kingfish in the same manner that we are targeting the mackerel with a number one planner in four to six inch drone spoon trolling on the way out on our five hour half days. You can also use different style lures for the kingfish too. The ones that we like to use with great success are the rapala X rap or nomad DTX diving lipped plugs. Also, you can flat line for the kingfish while you bottom fish. Having a flat line out this time of year is super important or you’ll just miss passing kingfish while you’re bottom fishing. Especially if you anchor at a spot for any length of time you’re likely to chum a kingfish or 10 past your vessel. A flat line could be set out with a kingfish Stinger rig and even a dead threadfin or sardine you don’t have to wait for premium flatline bait like a small blue runner or a cigar minnow. You can often have success even with a dead bait on the Stinger rig especially if your drift fishing or if you’re at anchor and using a balloon.The movement of the boat while drifting or the wave action on the balloon is enough to create movement to the dead bait and often enticing nice kingfish to chew.We typically utilize around #4 wire when the water is dirty for our kingfish rigs but if the water clears up significantly once this hurricane Ian water settles out then we might drop down to #3 wire.
Hogfish action has also started to heat up as water temperatures drop especially behind hurricane Ian the fish seemed to be extra concentrated on the ledges including hogfish. Hogfish like lighter tackle and live shrimp and typically we utilize around a 4000 series spinning reel on a rod that is rated around 17 to 20 pounds with around 20 pound braid with a long 30 pound fluorocarbon leader then a three to four ot hook and around a one oz egg sinker rig knocker rig style with a live shrimp. Hogfish are super leader shy smart fish but we have a lot of success catching hogfish when we anchor up on a smaller ledge and fish hard catching the more aggressive species like grey snapper or white grunt, porgies, and sand perch get them out of the way and then all of a sudden you’ll start catching the hogfish.You almost have to fish down the spot a little bit before the hogfish will start to chew and then once they do often they’ll stop as quickly as they started and you’ll have to move set up on a new spot and start the process over again. We look forward to many more months of great hogfish action through these cooler months typically around October till around early May is the best time to target the hogfish near shore in our area.
Lane snapper action still going well near shore as well around 60 to 100 foot of water we’re catching a lot of lane snapper using lighter tackle and live shrimp or even cut squid. Lane snapper are super aggressive and seemingly very prolific at this time and we’re catching some pretty good-sized lane snapper too. Along with the lane snapper we’re seeing some pretty decent mangrove snapper action, and while we’re not catching as many mangrove snapper as lane snapper but the mangrove snapper we are catching are of a respectable size. Mangrove snapper are more leader shy, smart, and pickier than the lane snapper too. While targeting the mangrove snapper near shore we are typically using live shrimp or small chunks of cut threadfin.
Red grouper fishery has closed, but they are hard to avoid when fishing near shore. We are still seeing lots of super aggressive small to medium red grouper, while it’s a great sign for the future of our fishery, it does create bit of an issue. You really need to be aware and make sure you get these guys up quickly, dehooked quickly, and back in the water quickly either with a venting tool or descending device if needed. If they are floating away dead then they will never get big enough for anyone to keep so make sure you are prepared with a good quality dehooking tool, like our hook extractor here: https://shop.hubbardsmarina.com/shop/Tackle/Tools/Hook-Extractors–Dehookers/p/Hook-Extractor-Barracuda-135-x56386467.htm
Triggerfish action still going well offshore and season still remains open on the trigger fish. We typically catch these fish in large keeper size once we are beyond 120 or more foot of water. Triggerfish will bite small strips of squid, cut threadfin, and sometimes even small pin fish as well.
Mangrove snapper action is going super well offshore. Mostly because we’ve had a lot of overcast days which have helped the mangrove snapper fishing to be hot even during the day time. However, we are currently more clear and cloudless which has made it a little bit more tricky during the day. We are coming up on that full moon and we do have more cloudy days in the forecast next week so we expect the mangrove snapper fishing offshore to resume being very good. Mangrove snapper offshore we are typically utilizing a small chunk of cut threadfin and the double Snell rig around 5 to 6ot double Snell hooks and around 40 to 50 pound floor carbon leader.
Gag grouper action is a little hit and miss offshore in deeper water but the biggest challenge is getting them successfully to the boat. We are catching gags on large dead bait or large live baits however we’re breaking off more than we’re landing successfully. At the minimum, you wanna use 80 pound leader when targeting the gag grouper but really 100 pound test is even better especially when fishing deeper beyond 140 to 160 foot of water. You will also need a very powerful real with 40 plus pounds of drag and a lower gear ratio to be more successful at landing a keeper gag.
Scamp grouper are still coming up offshore too. However, they are more of a surprise or a bycatch, but we’ve seen pretty good numbers in concentrated areas. Scamp grouper love to bite cut threadfin while we’re targeting the mangroves and smaller pin fish too.You can sometimes catch the scamp grouper successfully using vertical jigs as well.
Amberjack action is still on the table, but they seem to be deeper then we are able to reach often. We were doing well on amberjack previous to the Florida fisherman going to dry dock when we were able to have more range and time on 39 and 44 hour trips to get out deep.The areas we were most successful catching amberjack were every bit of 180 to 200 foot of water or more.The amberjack love big live baits in deep water and you need heavy tackle to be successful landing them.We are looking forward to getting back after them once the Florida fisherman is backed from dry dock hopefully very soon.
REMEMBER, when fishing deeper near shore of especially offshore the Descend Act is in effect so when in federal waters you must have a descending device or venting tool ‘rigged and ready’ so be prepared with that venting tool if you know exactly where to vent the fish, but if you don’t here’s some helpful tips – https://bit.ly/3L5HTnv Plus, keep in mind using a descending device is super easy and doesn’t take much practice or as much precision as venting does, and right now you can get over $100 in FREE DESCENDING DEVICE GEAR by visiting this link and taking a short course on barotrauma mitigation techniques that will help more fish survive! The course is only about 10-15 minutes, and it will really help you preserve, protect, and proliferate our offshore fishery so spread the word -> https://returnemright.org/