Fishing continued to be very productive on the grass flats near New Pass this week. Overcast skies and some rain resulted in lower water temperatures, down into the low 80s. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, speckled trout, jack crevelle, grouper, snapper, sea bass, ladyfish, and more hit live sardines and threadfin herring as well as Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits.
Jeff Ehman and his girlfriend Danielle, both from the Pittsburg, PA area, had a productive charter this week. Bass Assassin jigs fooled a few trout and ladyfish at first light at the Radio Tower, then I went into New Pass and loaded up on bait. They experienced steady action at a couple of different spots at the Middlegrounds. Bluefish, Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, jack crevelle, sea bass, mangrove and lane snapper, gag grouper, ladyfish, and catfish hit free lined live bait. The weather was threatening, but it never did rain!
I finished up my week with a productive charter on Saturday with Sat Virdee, his son Andrew and brother-in-law Tony, all from the Ft. Lauderdale, FL area. Bait was easy but the bite started off a bit slow. Anout mid-morning things really craked up, with birds and fishing working in several spots at the Middlegrounds. The chum got them excited and for a couple hours the action was very good. Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, sea bass, snapper, grouper, and a lot of ladyfish kept the boys busy.
Once again, catching a well full of live bait and chumming the deep grass flats with them provided clients on fishing charters with outstanding action and variety. The water temperature is still in the mid 80’s and there is a lot of bait on the flats. Fishing with live bait is VERY productive under these conditions, with clients averaging 25-30 fish per person on a morning charter. Speckled trout to 20″, Spanish mackerel to 3 pounds, jacks, snapper, grouper, sea bass, ladyfish, and a cobia were landed this week at the Middlegrounds and Stephen’s Pt.
Jesse Stuart and his girlfriend Nikki from Oklahoma fished with me early in the week. We started off casting jigs at the Radio Tower; nothing happening. I saw some birds diving, eased over and caught a bunch of bait. It was mostly small, but still big enough to use. The couple experienced steady action at the Middlegrounds, catching several nice trout to 19″, jacks, snapper, grouper, and ladyfish. They had a couple of mackerel cut them off. Action slowed so I moved to another spot nearby, not much going on. I re-loaded with bait and ran up to Stephen’s Pt, where the bite was steady for the rest of the charter. Nikki landed a cobia on a pinfish, and plenty of trout also came boatside, as well as some ladyfish. Nikki had a big mackerel just about dump the spool, then fought for a bit before it cut her off. By then it was pretty warm so we called it a morning.
I finished up my week with a charter with Jason Stoltzfus and Brett Ardery from Harrisburg, PA. Conditions were good, incoming tide, overcast shies, light breeze and a front approaching, and the fish responded with great action. We started off catching a few fish on Bass Assassin jigs, but with the weather coming and the chance of the trip being cut short, I hit the bait, then we sat in one spot for several hours with the boys getting a bite on nearly every cast. A dozen Spanish mackerel to 3 pounds, speckled trout, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, sea bass, and ladyfish came to the net. The weather was getting more unstable, so we headed in a little bit early to beat the rain. Great trip with fun guys!
On an off day I fished Lake Manatee. I offer freshwater charters in the cooler months. I expected the fishing to be tough, and it was. No wind, 86 degree water, yikes! We caught a couple of small bass on Rapalas, and that was it. We quit early as it was brutally hot. In another month or so the crappie should start schooling up.
Despite little rain and quite high water temperatures (upper 80’s) fishing remains VERY good throughout Sarasota Bay on the deeper grass flats. Bait is EVERYWHERE and the fish are chowing down. There was quite a bit of surface activity at times. We were not effected physically by Tropical Storm Erica, but the forecast did keep potential clients away early in the week. Tides improved towards the end of the week, as did the weather. Speckled trout to 27″, Spanish mackerel to 3 pounds, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, black sea bass, jack crevelle, and ladyfish hit Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs (Glow/chartreuse) at first light, then as the bite slowed I loaded up with bait and the action was very consistent. Radio Tower and Middlegrounds continue to be the top producing spots for my clients.
My best trip of the week was on Saturday with John Bauer and Tom Hanson, both from Baltimore, MD. The boys caught a few fish on jigs early, then we switched to live bait a did very well. Live pilchards and threadies produced a bit on just about every cast. John caught the most fish, but Tom had the nicest, a 27″ speckled trout. Released, of course!! Tides are excellent next week and the action should continue as long as the weather is good.
Sarasota Fishing Charter
Sarasota is blessed with a wide variety of angling opportunities for clients who embark on a Sarasota fishing charter. Shallow bays with lush grass flats offer great fishing for speckled trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and more!
Both Big Pass and New Pass connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico and can provide fast action.
The shallow backwaters and creeks will thrill experienced anglers as they search for redfish and snook.
Docks and bridges are fish magnets, attracting many gamefish, including sheepshead, grouper, snapper, drum, and flounder.
The most popular Sarasota fishing charter is to drift the deep grass flats throughout the area.
This is pretty simple and easy fishing as clients cast lures or live bait out in hopes of catching a fish.
This technique provides both action and variety for clients of all skill levels, including novices and children.
Docks and bridges are often targeted on a Sarasota fishing charter.
Live bait, usually shrimp, is used to catch sheepshead, snook, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, flounder, redfish, drum, and other species.
Fishing docks with live bait will usually produce a fish dinner for those with a little patience.
Snook are our premier gamefish and are often sought after on a Sarasota fishing charter. Snook can be wily and difficult to catch. Along with redfish, they are a challenging species, but the reward can be a trophy fish! Snook are a lot like largemouth bass, they prefer some type of structure or cover.
Docks, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines all produce fish. Rapalas and soft plastic baits work very well, as does live bait. Snook bite under the lights at night for those who prefer to venture out after dark.
The inshore Gulf of Mexico is another option for visitors going out on a Sarasota fishing charter. Spanish mackerel are usually thick in both the spring and fall.
False albacore, king mackerel, sharks, and the mighty tarpon are also frequently caught. Drifting live bait, trolling, casting lures, and fly fishing are all productive techniques.
The majority of Sarasota fishing charters involve spin fishing, but Sarasota also offers the fly fisherman excellent targets.
Any species that will hit a jig will take a fly. Blind casting over the deep flats is productive, as it sight casting for mackerel and false albacore in the Gulf of Mexico.
In mid-May giant tarpon invade the area beaches and truly offer world-class sport fishing. There are very few places where anglers can cast to 100 pound-plus fish using spinning or fly tackle. This isn’t for everyone, but for anglers seeking a fish of a lifetime, this charter might be the right one!
The Myakka River runs through Sarasota County a half hours drive east of Sarasota. In the cooler months it offers fantastic snook fishing along with the chance to catch largemouth bass, juvenile tarpon, and more.
Plugs and other artificial lures are cast toward likely looking spots. This is a “Quality over quantity” game, clients don’t normally catch a lot of fish, but each charter provides the angler with the opportunity to catch a trophy snook.
Sarasota Fall Fishing
Shorter days and cooling water temperatures announce the beginning of autumn here on the Suncoast. The changes are subtle, but they are there. A sweatshirt might be required on some mornings, along with long pants. The grass stops growing. The oppressive humidity is easing. It is one of my favorite times to fish in Florida! When conditions are right, I will be out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico chasing Spanish mackerel and false albacore. This has been today’s Fishing Report From Sarasota
Spanish mackerel are a terrific and underrated gamefish. They strike lures, flies, and live bait with reckless abandon, make long runs, and are superb table fare. October is a prime month to target these speedsters both in the Gulf of Mexico and in Sarasota Bay. There will be plenty of mornings when the wind is out of the east and the Gulf is flat; these are excellent conditions to run the beach in search of outstanding light tackle action. Birds working on the surface are a certain sign that feeding fish are in the area. Several artificial reefs off of Lido Key are also reliable areas to fish.
When schools of fish are seen feeding on the surface, I usually choose to cast artificial lures at them. My personal favorite is a Rapala X-Rap in the (08) size. Lighter colors work best in the clear water. Cast the plug out and rip it back in with an erratic retrieve, the faster the better. This will produce explosive strikes! Silver spoons, jigs, and flies are also quite effective. I will often times replace the treble hook(s) with a single long shank hook to allow a better release. On days when the fish do not “show” as well, blind casting or free lining live baits can produce.
This is a great opportunity for anglers who fly fish. Larger mackerel will get into the backing. The best outfit is an eight weight with an intermediate sink tip line. A white D.T. Special tied on a long shank hook will catch plenty of fish and reduce cut-offs. An eight foot piece of fluorocarbon leader works well, but a section of 50 lb can be added should the sharp teeth of the macks become a problem. Fast retrieves work best. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to move the fly quickly enough. Keep the rod tip low, strip quickly, then “strip strike” the fish when it hits. This involves pulling sharply on the fly line with the stripping hand and smoothly raising the rod tip.
Anglers who anchor up and chum on one of the inshore artificial reefs are virtually guaranteed to experience success in October. The best approach is to anchor up-wind of the structure and free line a live bait back behind the boat. A long shank 1/0 hook and 30-40 lb leader works well. Use a split shot if wind or current do not allow the bait to sink. Chum is not always necessary but increases the odds. Frozen blocks of chum can be purchased at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key and other local shops. Live baitfish that are crippled and tossed out will bring the gamefish right up to the boat.
False albacore (little tunny, bonita, fat Alberts, albies) will also be encountered in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Albies are incredible sport though more challenging than the mackerel. They can be fussy and usually move faster and do not stay up as long. Patience will pay off. It is better to sit and wait for a good shot than run all over the place. Eventually they will pop up within casting range. The same lures that fool the macks will catch the tunny. Anglers should not be surprised if other gamefish crash the party. Sharks, king mackerel, cobia, and even tarpon will hit baits meant for smaller game. The albies and mackerel can be landed on fairly light tackle but the cobia, kings, and tarpon will require a step up to heavier gear, so bring along some beefier tackle, just in case.
There will be plenty of opportunities to catch Spanish mackerel for anglers who prefer to fish inshore or when the weather keeps boats out of the Gulf of Mexico. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass will be full of mackerel, along with bluefish, pompano, and ladyfish. Surface activity is a dead giveaway to actively feeding fish, but even if the fish are not showing there still may be action to be found. Drifting along with the current and casting jigs, spoons, or plugs will quickly determine if the fish are there. Free lining a live shrimp or baitfish can also be productive as long as there isn’t too much current.
The deep flats near both passes will also attract Spanish mackerel. An added bonus is that speckled trout should be plentiful, along with the chance to catch pompano, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species. The same lures that produce in the passes and on the beach will be effective on the flats. Generally, the best time to fish is during incoming tides that bring clean water and bait in from the Gulf.
The deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay should provide excellent action for speckled trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and more. Live bait and artificials will both be effective. Drifting is the preferred method. Snook and redfish will be available along mangrove shorelines and oyster bars as well as under docks and bridges.
Sarasota Summer Flats
“We are fishing here?” my client asked with a puzzled look on her face. It was a fairly common question on a Sarasota fishing charter.
“Yep” I replied as I quietly dropped the anchor. We were sitting in Sarasota Bay near Big Pass, surrounded by large homes and condos. What she could not see was the grass flat a cast away that dropped off sharply from three feet into eight feet of water. I instructed both clients to cast their live shrimp out towards the edge and allow the shrimp to drift naturally with the current. Within seconds both rods were bent double and any doubt was erased as a pair of fat spotted sea trout came to the boat.
We departed CB’s saltwater Oufitters on Siesta Key that morning and headed north through the “No Wake Zone” towards Sarasota Bay. Along the way we passed a lot of oyster bars and mangrove shorelines that looked very “fishy”. And while those spots can hold fish, only a small percentage will. Bottom line; for action and variety the deep grass flats are the most productive spots to fish. Sarasota Bay from Siesta Drive north to Long Bar has large expanses of grass flats in four to eight feet of water that hold fish year-round. Spanish mackerel, spotted sea trout, silver trout, pompano, bluefish, black sea bass, mangrove snapper, sharks, jack crevelle, gag grouper, flounder, and ladyfish are commonly caught species.
There are several approaches that can be successfully employed on the deep flats on a Sarasota fishing charter. The first choice to make is whether to anchor or drift the flats. Large expanses are most efficiently fished by drifting while smaller patches or edges are best fished from an anchored boat. Working the edge of a shallow flat that drops off sharply into deeper water is a deadly technique that is particularly effective on low tides. The fish will tend to stage on the edge as there isn’t enough water up on top of the flat. While artificial lures can be used this is a situation that is best suited for live bait. A live shrimp or small baitfish free-lined over the edge is simple and very effective.
Drifting the flat while casting lures is an extremely popular and effective technique. One benefit of using artificial lures is that anglers can cover a lot of water fairly quickly. This is important on the larger expanses of grass; the sooner the fish are located, the better! The primary lure used on the Gulf Coast of Florida is the lead head jig and grub combo. This versatile and inexpensive bait will catch anything that swims and has resulted in many a tasty fish dinner. Jigs come in a variety of sizes and colors but ¼ ounce heads in white or red are all that is required. Plastic bodies also come in a myriad of shapes and colors but again it does not need to be complicated. A selection of gold, pearl, olive, rootbeer, and charteuse bodies in both the shad tail and flat grub tail will cover most situations. Scented soft plastics such as Gulp! Shrimp can make the difference if the bite is slow.
Hard plugs also catch a lot of fish on Sarasota fishing charters. The venerable suspending MirrOlure baits have been a staple in tackle boxes for decades. They slowly sink and when twitched suspend motionless in the water. Speckled trout in particular find them irresistible. Shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap also work well when retrieved erratically. They are a great choice when surface activity is present and are also effective when trolled.
Live bait can certainly be used while drifting as well. In fact, it is a fair bet that more speckled trout have been put on ice using a live shrimp under a popping cork than any other method. This is simply a #1/0 live bait hook with a “popping cork” placed on the line three feet or so above the hook. A live shrimp is hooked under the horn and the rig is cast out in front of the boat as it drifts along. The cork has a concave face that “pops” when twitched sharply. This simulates the sound of feeding fish and will attract trout and other species to the shrimp which is dangling there helplessly. There are also several manufacturers of noisy floats such as the Cajun Thunder float. These are very noisy and can be cast a long way. The cork is tied on to the running line and then a leader connects the cork to the hook. Popping corks work great in water depths of six feet or less. A live shrimp can even be replaced with a light jig or artificial shrimp. Live baits can also be drifted out behind the boat. This works well in deeper water and under breezy conditions.
Live baitfish are another terrific producer on the flats. Pinfish and grunts can be purchased at local bait shops or caught out on the flats and are best fished under a float to keep them from getting in the grass. “Whitebait” is a local term used to describe the schools of small silver bait fish that cover the flats in the warmer months. Scaled sardines (also known as pilchards) and threadfins (greenies) are the two most prolific species. Pilchards are the preferred bait as they are much hardier than the threadies, but both are equally effective. Baitfish are sighted on the grass or chummed into range and then cast netted and quickly put into a large, well aerated baitwell. Jack mackerel or canned cat food mixed with bread is a popular chum as well as bulk tropical fish food.
In the summertime these baitfish are thick on the shallow grass near the passes. Loading up the live well with bait practically guarantees success. Once the bait is acquired, anchor up-current of a flat and toss out a handful of bait. Repeat this every few minutes and if the fish are there they will show up in short order. Once the action heats up, slow down the chum flow; use just enough to keep them excited. I average one hundred fish mornings all summer long using this method.
Tackle and rigging is pretty basic when using either live or artificial bait. A 6 ½’ or 7’ spinning rod with 10 lb monofilament or 20 lb braided line is perfect. Several feet of the running line is doubled using a Spider Hitch or Bimini Twist. A 24” piece of fluorocarbon leader is attached to the double line using a double Uni-knot. A hook or lure completes the rig. This set up makes changing lures or hooks and adding or removing corks fast and easy. Once the leader gets down to 12” or so, replace it. Leader strength is determined by water clarity and also by species targeted. Thirty pound is a good all-round leader but lighter line may be required in very clear water or heavier leader used when toothy fish such as Spanish mackerel and bluefish are around.
As with all fishing techniques there are subtle nuances which will increase success. Here are some tips that will help your trips be more successful:
1) Choose a flat that has the wind and current moving in the same direction. Boat positioning and bait presentation will be better. This holds true both when drifting and anchoring.
2) When drifting, keep an anchor with 20’ of line tied off. Once fish are located, quietly slide the anchor in and work that area thoroughly. When the action slows, pull the anchor and continue the drift.
3) Try and set up a drift that covers different depths on the flat. Drifting from eight feet of water into four feet of water is better than drifting at one depth.
4) Keep the noise down. Have the landing net out and keep the bait well lid open. Slamming hatches will shut down the fish!
There is a misconception that fishing is tough in the heat of summer. Nothing could be further from the truth! Fishing is fantastic, but the window is small, from dawn until eleven o’clock or so. One approach that works in the summer is to combine both artificial lure and live bait fishing in a morning charter. I get my clients out on the water at first light, taking advantage of the early morning bite. There is no need to waste that prime time catching bait and making a bunch of noise first thing will put the fish off their feed. Casting jigs and plugs will attract actively feeding fish. Once the bite slows, I net up some bait and chum them into a frenzy. This “best of both worlds” approach has served me well and makes good use of the limited fishing time.
Want action? Want variety? Want dinner? Then take a Sarasota fishing charter!
March Madness is a term most recognized throughout the country as the exciting men’s college basketball tournament. But it has a different meaning for businesses along the west coast of Florida and fishing guides who offer a Sarasota fishing charter are no exception. Sarasota fills to overflowing with visitors from the northern states who come down on their children’s breaks from school. Most enjoy the incredible beaches that we offer but many also choose to fish while they are here. A lot of charters involve anglers with limited experience including kids. Fishing with youngsters is a lot of fun but does require a change in thinking and tactics.
Family fishing is all about one thing; bent rods. Action and variety take precedence over trophy fish or glamour species such as redfish and snook on this type of Sarasota fishing charter. Nothing beats drifting the passes and nearby deep grass flats of Sarasota Bay when it comes to producing action. Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, sea bass, and flounder are all daily catches in March. The two primary techniques are working a lead head jig with a soft plastic tail and using live shrimp. Both methods work well in the passes and on the flats.
Both Big Pass and New Pass can be very productive in March. The only time fishing is slow is after a cold front passes through and the water becomes dirty. Otherwise, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, and ladyfish can be counted on for action and a meal or two. Anglers drift with the wind and tide and cast jigs out in front of the boat. The lure is cast out, allowed to sink, and retrieved back in using sharp twitches. In clear water gold is a great color to use. In deeper water the jig can be dropped straight down and jigged vertically as the boat drifts along.
Anglers who choose to use live shrimp will do well “free-lining” their bait. This means simply using a hook and letting the shrimp swim naturally in the current. If the tide is strong a small split shot may be required to get the bait down a bit. A long shank 1/0 hook will help prevent cutoffs from toothy blues and Spanish mackerel. A live shrimp can also be added to a plain jig head and bounced along the bottom. Shore anglers can access Big Pass from Shell Rd on Siesta Key and South Lido Park on Lido Key. New Pass is even more accessible with parks on both sides on the pass.
The deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay surrounding the passes offer outstanding fishing . Patches of grass in four to eight feet of water will be the most productive. In the clear water the darker grassy areas are easily spotted. The jig and grub combo is a very effective lure. A red or white ¼ ounce jig head is a great all-round choice. Tails come in a myriad of colors and styles but they all catch fish. Gold, chartreuse, rootbeer, olive, pearl, and glow are the most popular colors. Scented baits such as Gulp! Shrimp cost a bit more but can make the difference if the bite is slow. Just as in pass fishing, the jig is cast out and retrieved back in. It is important to get the jig down near the top of the grass.
Live shrimp are deadly when fished over the deep flats and will catch just about every fish that swims. In deeper water the shrimp can be free lined but the most popular method is to use a “popping cork”. This simple but deadly rig consists of a 1/0 live bait hook three feet under the cork. The rig is cast out, allowed to settle, and the rod tip jerked sharply causing the cork to “pop”. This imitates feeding fish and attracts game fish to the cork where they then see the helpless shrimp dangling there. More speckled trout have fallen victim to this technique along the Gulf Coats that all other methods combined.
Another productive technique on a Sarasota fishing charter is working docks, bridges, and other structure in the same areas. Sheepshead are thick under docks and around bridge pilings in March. Flounder, black drum, redfish, grouper, and snapper are often caught, too. The rocks at the northern tip of Siesta Key are a great spot as are all the docks and bridges in both passes. This is basic bottom fishing. The rig consists on a stout #1 or #1/0 hook, a 2 foot piece of thirty pound leader and enough weight to hold the bottom. In shallow water or slack current a split shot will be plenty. In deeper water or in heavy current a small egg sinker threaded on the line will be required.
A live shrimp is hooked through the horn and cast out towards the structure. Once the bait settles the slack is reeled up taut and the wait begins. Sheepshead can be a bit tricky to hook; it can be a very subtle bite. The trick is to let the fish peck at it until it picks it up and moves off. Then just reel quickly while raising the rod tip high.
In the cooler months snook migrate out of the bays and up into the rivers and creeks. They are seeking warmer, cleaner water this time of year. One benefit is that this tends to congregate the fish into smaller areas. I am one of the few guides that offers river trips on a Sarasota fishing charter. This is a unique angling experience that offers clients the chance to catch a large fish. This nice snook was caught on Jan 13, 2013,
The most productive technique is casting shallow diving plugs. They allow anglers to cover a lot of water and this is important as the fish are spread out. The multiple treble hooks also result in a good ratio of hook-ups to bites. I prefer Rapalas and the shallow diving X-Rap Slashbait in gold is my personal favorite. The X-Treme Shallow X-Rap in Firetiger has also proven itself to be a reliable bait.
While snook are the most commonly caught species, largemouth bass, baby tarpon, gar, ladyfish, redfish, and catfish are also caught on river charters in the Sarasota area. Jennifer shows that bass will hit the same X-Raps as she landed this average sized fish on Jan 12,
If you are visiting the west coast of florida and are looking for a different kind of Sarasota fishing charter, contact me and I will show you the “Real” Florida. The scenery is breathtaking and the serenity and solitude is only interupted by the sounds of excited anglers catching snook! Capt Jim Klopfer (941) 371-1390 email@example.com www.MyakkaRiverFishing.com
Here is a link to an article I wrote for GAFF Magazine, http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/12fbc8ed#/12fbc8ed/46
Wind, tide, and water clarity all play a role in choosing which flats to fish. The best situation is one in which the wind and tide are moving in the same direction. Generally speaking, incoming tides are preferred but as long as the water is moving, fish can be caught. Flats just inside a pass can be the best spots of all as they flood with bait and clean water from the Gulf of Mexico. The exception to this is right after a cold front passes through. Those flats will soon be covered with “dirty” water due to wind churning up the water in the Gulf. On breezy days it is easier to fish flats that are in protected water as opposed to those in open bays.
Many inshore bays have a shallow bar that runs parallel to the shoreline. These bars generally have a sloping bottom with lush grass that drops off into deep water. These are great spots to fish! Speckled trout and pompano might be taken in the four to five foot depths while Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish are usually found on the outer edges of the grass. Points usually have good grass flats on both sides and are also excellent spots to try. Areas near passes will have natural deep channels along with man-made dredged channels. Any grass flat that drops off sharply into deep water can hold fish, particularly on a low tide.
Artificial lures are both very productive and a lot of fun to fish. Casting lures out in front of a drifting boat is a great way to cover a lot of water efficiently. Begin the drift on the up-tide or up-wind side of the flat. Fan cast the area while varying the retrieve. Pay attention to details such as depth and water clarity. If a drift produces good action, idle around and make another pass through the same area. If not, move on to another spot. This technique allows anglers to eliminate unproductive water fairly quickly.
Occasionally, I will anchor when using lures. One recent charter comes to mind. It was very windy and Spanish mackerel were isolated on the up-tide side of grassy points with good current flow. The wind and tide made working these points difficult while drifting. I anchored a short distance away and had my clients cover the small flat using Rapala X-Raps. A fast, erratic retrieve triggered some very exciting strikes! We ended up with a dozen nice Spanish for the box along with speckled trout and ladyfish.
The most popular artificial bait on the west coast of Florida is the lead head jig with a soft plastic body. These baits come in a myriad of colors and styles, but they all basically work the same. And they all catch fish. D.O.A. CAL jigs come in some great colors and sizes and are very cost-effective to fish. My personal favorite is the gold shad tail on a ¼ ounce white jig head. Grub tails and jerk baits are also effective. Dark colors such as olive, green, and rootbeer work well in dark water while gold, silver, and white are good choices in clear water. Chartuese is a great all-round choice and hot pink is a good option when the water is dirty. Scented soft plastic baits such as Gulp! and Trigger-X can make a big difference on days when the fish are reluctant to bite.
Plugs are also effective lures when fished over the deep grass. Suspending plugs such as the venerable MirrOlure are deadly on speckled trout. Both topwater and shallow diving plugs will also catch plenty of fish. The Rapala X-Rap slashbait is a great choice for working areas where fish are breaking on the surface. These lures dive a few feet down and have great action. A fast, erratic retrieve is usually very effective. One disadvantage in using plugs is that the multiple treble hooks can damage small trout.
Silver and gold spoons have been around a long time and they still catch fish. Spanish mackerel love a quickly retrieved silver spoon while speckled trout seem to prefer a slowly wobbling gold spoon. In open water spoons with a treble hook such as the Johnson Sprite are utilized; there is really no need for a weedless spoon in this application.
Fly fisherman can use the same tactics to score on the deep flats. Any fish that will hit a jig will take a weighted fly. The most popular pattern by far is the Clouser Deep Minnow. There are a ton of variations on this fly, but basically it is a hook with some dressing and a weighted eye that allows it to sink. The fly is cast out, allowed to settle for several seconds, and retrieved back in short strips. White, green/white, olive/white, and chartreuse/white Clousers tied on a #1 or #2 hook are the most popular flies. A 7or 8 weight rod with an intermediate sink-tip line works best. Many fly anglers make the mistake of using a floating line. Even with a weighted fly, the line will not get down deep enough when fishing in water over six feet.
While artificial lures are productive, live bait is tough to beat. Shrimp and bait fish are the two most popular live baits. Shrimp are purchased locally while bait fish are usually caught, but they are sometimes available at bait shops. Pinfish, grunts, and “whitebait” are the most commonly used live bait fish. “Whitebait” is a generic term for any shiny white fish that schools up in large numbers (pilchards, threadfin herring, etc). Match the hook size to the size of the bait. A 1/0 live bait hook is a great all-round choice. I usually free line the bait, but sometimes either a split shot or a float will be required, depending on current flow and depth. Use a long shank hook if cut-offs from mackerel and bluefish become a problem.
A well full of 3” pilchards practically guarantees success. These are caught with a cast net over shallow flats or out on the beach. In the summertime flats near the passes will be covered with these bait fish, especially on an incoming tide. If they are seen on the surface “dimpling”, it is easy enough to quietly ease into range by drifting or using a trolling motor. Chumming is a great way to get a bunch of baitfish within range of a cast net. A can of jack mackerel (purchased at your local Publix) and a half loaf of wheat bread is a proven mixture. Add just enough salt water to make a thick paste. Anchor in two to four feet of water on the up-tide side of a flat and sparingly toss pea-sized pieces into the water. The bait should show up within a few minutes.
I use the same tackle and rig with both live bait and artificial lures. A 6 ½ foot spinning rod with a matching reel spooled with ten pound monofilament line works well in both applications. A Spider Hitch is used to double the last three feet of line and a double Uni-Knot attaches a 24” piece of fluorocarbon shock leader. 30 lb test is a good all-round choice, but conditions will dictate what size leader to use. Clear water will perhaps require lighter leader while dirty water or the presence of toothy critters such as bluefish, mackerel, or sharks will make 40 lb or 50 lb leader a better choice. The lure or hook is then tied on to the end of the leader. I do not like to use snaps, swivels, or any other types of “hardware”. The exception to this is when using spoons. A snap swivel will eliminate line twist.
One charter last summer illustrates how exciting this technique can be. I was fishing the last hour of an outgoing tide early in the morning. Several spots produced a couple of ladyfish and snapper. The third spot was a small grass patch that dropped off into ten feet of water with bait fish activity on the surface. An 18” speckled trout was quickly landed and then Anne-Christine’s line started moving off to the side. She reeled up the slack while raising the rod tip, expecting another nice trout. Instead, the mystery fish took off on a long, powerful run, getting perilously close to a channel marker. She was able to turn the fish, then started working it patiently back to the boat. I caught a glimpse of the fish before it took off again; it looked like a pompano. Moments later the mystery was solved as an eight pound permit slid into the net!