Well, much to my chagrin Redfish, Snook, and Trout are now open for harvest in the Tampa Bay area. Not to start this report out on a sour note, but I would have liked to see these species continue to repopulate unpressured for harvest for a few more years. As a full-time guide being on the water nearly everyday I’ve seen firsthand how relieving some pressure on these fish populations such as snook has allowed these fish the opportunity to have a larger breeding stock to repopulate after that horrible red tide from 2017. Our snook fishery is now teeming with healthy fish and this has given way to being some of the best fishing in the last 5-7 years that I’ve been on the water.
Trout were inexistent on my charters for a number of years since the red tide but even within the last 8-12 months we have come across some double digit days that are reminiscent of the days before the 2017 Red Tide and although I don’t believe their numbers are back to where they should be to be back open for harvest, it is my hope that anglers will be more cognizant of the amount of fish they keep and not try to repeatedly “fill a cooler”.June has started with great weather and great fishing! I still don’t think I can recall the last day we had rain, which is crazy for this time of year. Nonetheless it hasn’t been scorching out yet so no complaints on Mother Nature’s end. The big breeder Snook are back to being stacked in the passes and littered down the beaches. These fish get tricky because they get lockjaw when they congregate in big schools at slack tide waiting for the tide to move and new opportunities to feed.
There is a new hatch of bait making its way across the flats and the big black ball of schooled up fry bait are being pushed down the beaches by predators including Jack Crevalles, Snook, Mackerel, and Ladyfish. The big schools of Bonito have finally moved away from Egmont Key however, the big jacks, Sharks, and Tarpon can certainly still be found. There is a celestial event to look forward to on June 10th when we will be able to witness the “Ring of Fire” as the first solar eclipse of 2021. A full “strawberry moon” will then follow this event on June 24th.
These events will have an effect on the fishing, as fish will choose these big moon phases to spawn. Snook for instance will move into high tidal flow areas and the female will release her eggs into the tide as the males fertilize the eggs with the flow. These events lead to some hungry fish both pre-spawn and post-spawn. Tarpon on the other hand will typically move offshore during a full moon to partake in their spawning rituals in large groups. Therefore look to target these big ones the week leading up to these events and the week following as well.
The Spring King of the Beach produced an incredible turnout and the winning Kingfish was well suitedfor the title coming in at 54 lbs. There were a handful of 40’s that the scales followed by a slew of 30’s as the weather this year certainly allowed for a lot of fish to be weighed. The day started a bit rougher than forecasted making the early trek for tournament goers testy, but as the day wore on the weather laid down and made for some good fishing opportunities. My team and I chose to run about 25 miles southwest and as we pulled up to our area at first light it quickly became apparent many other boats had the same idea.
There were a handful of early bites around us as we all trolled around each other hoping to hear that drag tear. We were met with a big bite not too long into the morning hours as a king went airborne on our blue runner. After a hefty battle we were broken off by what we think was an unfortunate tail slap as the fish swiftly changed direction. We made a few runs looking for the big bite, but for us this just wasn’t the year. King of the Beach is one of the most electrifying tournaments to be a part of and Old Salt does not disappoint. There were tons of booths, massive raffles, giveaways, and tons of food and drinks, keeping everyone in great spirits all weekend long.
Tarpon are here and they are beginning to get thick in the bay. Boats are beginning to line up at the usual main stays as these big schools roll in. Pick your favorite shadow line between the concrete pillars of the skyway and drift baits through them with the tide and wait for the thump. If fishing around the bridges isn’t your forte, you can always run the beaches looking for schools, post up on sand bars on the outskirts of the passes, or check deep holes around Egmont for your shot at a silver king. Pass crabs are beginning to flush out on these big summer moon-outgoing tides. May has a New Moon beginning on May 11 that will cause big swinging tides and move the baits these fish are searching for. Big threadfins are always a good option during this time and they are plentiful around structure. Both cut and live threads will work well once you establish a good drift. Don’t sleep on the breeder snook opportunities this early summer weather offers as these big females come out of hiding ready to gorge both pre and post spawn around these big moon phases.
Continue to voice your opinion as we await the verdict on Redfish, Snook, and Trout in our area. The FWC is closing in on their course of action in response to the current executive order that was set to be lifted on June 1, 2021.
Spring King of the Beach is rapidly approaching as the end of April draws near. The fishing off of the beach has continued to heat up as these temps remain more and more steady though a stray cold front still blows through, stirring up the water and pushing the bait and fish offshore. The first two weeks of April produced a ton of Kingfish for everyone preparing for the tournament and running charters. The Spanish Mackerel are rampant in the shipping channel as well as inside the bay with an abundance of drag peeling bonito and the always-lurking sharks.
On my recent charters, we have had some fun catches, including a massive barracuda and multiple Spinner, Sandbar, and even Hammerhead sharks, one being more than 6ft long.That shark made for an exhilarating fight and even more exciting reveal. We caught the barracuda on a flat-lined, 12-inch, stinger-rigged mullet near Egmont Key, and it took off like a missile before being able to wear it out and subsequently land it only a few minutes later.Then on the very next trip, we hooked the big Hammerhead on a piece of cut mackerel lying on the bottom. My clients battled the shark for a solid 15 minutes and once they finally got the big shark pulled up next to the 22ft Pathfinder boat, man it sure humbles you quick giving perspective as to what truly lurks beneath.
Big schooling Jack Crevalle in massive numbers have been mixed into the mackerel and bonito frenzy in the shipping channel and near Blind’s Pass, where you can never find a shortage of boats in search of a close Kingfish. These speciesthis time of year always provide a great workout and endless tiring battles. The recent reports I come across have all had great success hooking big threads, greenbacks, blue runners, and mackerel on flat-lines or bump trolling near wrecks, reefs, and hard bottom both close to the beach and out to about 15 miles offshore.
I’m very excited for this season’s KOB and I’m always curious as to what that lucky winning number is going to be. Typically, that depends on the weather leading up to the big day but usually, historically speaking, King fishing always somehow equates to windy conditions making some captains shift their plans and keep closer to the beach and bay while others choose to battle the conditions and trek as far as possible offshore in search of the winning bite.
March kicks off my favorite stretch of fishing seasons, where the cool spring air and rising water temps really get the fish fired up! It’s a great transition time into the explosive summertime bite though brutally hot mid-day, slack tide lulls, making getting an early start all the more important. The beginning of March usually keeps the same pattern consisting of stretches of days with nice fishing weather followed by an end of the week front and windy conditions. As we push forward into mid and late March, the water should hold water temps steady in the low 70’s and that’s when the real magic will happen.
The snook bite will continue to be off the charts and the redfish bite has remained steady. More and more big trout have been making appearances on recent charters, which are all welcomed signs of exciting times to come. As March rolls on we’ll start to see kingfish and mackerel reappearing in close and tarpon starting to make their journey north.
The big question still remains… Will redfish, snook, and trout remain closed when the executive closure order expires in May? My hopes are that all three will remain closed. The Red Tide bloom that prompted the closure lasted for roughly 16 months from 2017-2019 and I can personally recall being on the water throughout that period in disbelief at the vast number of breeder fish that were dead and belly up. It was a tough sight to take in and it truly devastated our estuary. However, if you were to ask any old-timer that has fished Tampa Bay throughout their life they would be the first to tell you our fishery has been rapidly declining long before that terrible Red Tide spell. There are a few key players in why that is: pollution, overfishing, and new and emerging technologies. Therefore, I am glad the FWC took decisive action to close our inshore species giving biologists more time to understand the effects of Red Tide and monitor marine life’s rebound. I don’t believe two years is long enough for these species to make a full recovery from Red Tide nor reverse the rapid decline of these fish, especially redfish, from so many years of abuse. I do want to acknowledge the continued efforts by so many organizations that support conservation and education and that collectively we can all make a difference to see Tampa Bay and our natural resources thrive for generations to come.
February will look to heat up just a touch, as we prepare for a sweet transition into “spring time fishing” and with that, more favorable weather and fishing patterns. Spring is hands down my favorite stretch of months with the most incredible fishing opportunities in Florida, thanks to the great weather and aside from the tropical showers.
From February-May we are blessed with an unbelievably active fishery here in Tampa Bay. Spring offers monster snook coming out of hiding and making their way into the passes and beaches getting ready to spawn with the new and full moons beginning in April. These months also offer a continuingly solid redfish bite, as they remain schooled up and moving across the flats.
Cobia will be making appearances around the buoys and power plant as bait becomes bountiful again with the water temp warming and a new hatch of bait flooding in from January through September. The tides also stabilize between the negative lows of winter and the flood tides of summer leading up to and after the summer solstice.
You can easily spend an entire day this time of year inshore, fishing snook in the passes and redfish in the mangroves. But don’t forget you can also make an amazing day out of checking green and red buoys for cobia while on your way to soak blue crabs at the bridges for schools of the massive black drum that are infiltrating Tampa Bay.
Before we know it tarpon will be here to kick off summer, but for now enjoy the awesome mixed varieties of fish that this spring weather brings.
I hope this report finds everyone well after the holidays and as we move into the New Year!
January brings some of Florida’s coldest weather of the year and with that comes an influx of cold fronts almost weekly. This makes staying on fish patterns challenging but also rewarding.
Redfish are getting the spotlight this month, as they school up and roam the flats in search of food, the winter is a great time to target them. Once you find a particular school of redfish, or schools, in an area, it is likely they will remain in that area for a given time such as a week or even for the month so long as they have similar, recurring environmental factors. There is a reason, or number of reasons they are there, so once I find a school I make mental notes of why they chose this particular area. I look at the depth I found them in and the water temperature/clarity. I look at what stage of the tide it is as well as a presence of bait, mullet, and any wading birds. After I’ve taken as much of my surroundings into focus as possible, I try piecing the puzzle together as to when they will be here again for my next outing or trip.
Recently the redfish I have found have been pushed in tight to the shallow sandy bottoms around spoil islands and mangrove lines, looking for a little extra warmth, as the sand heats up first when the sun gets up in the sky. This is also a great time to look for these fish tailing the shallows trying to uncover crabs and shrimp in the grass flats. There is still some bait around the flats as the water has held at a fairly constant 63-65 degrees, but the majority of wintertime bait is still sitting deep around Tampa Bay, including the north and south piers of the Skyway Bridge. The snook bite has been stellar when you take the time to catch bait first, but they are also picking up live shrimp free-lined or under a popping cork with haste as well.
The Snapper and sheepshead have been steady around docks and bridges this month.However, just as I have found this year with tripletail, the sheepsheads still don’t seem to be inside the bay in full force. The inshore bite has remained great both before and after these steady cold fronts, so get out there and try your luck!
A mountainous journey consisting of peaks and valleys filled with some stellar and some also humbling days of fishing this time of year leads captains and anglers to the pinnacle of fall fishing where cooler air temp meets lowering water temp creating a recipe for success catching fish in late November and early December.
This is the time of year where everything from transitioning snook and redfish – retreating into creeks and rivers, to Kingfish and a surplus of Spanish mackerel terrorizing miles of beach fronts filled with bait,have been as dependable as ever.But just when you think you’re in a rhythm of consistently finding their patterns trip after trip, BOOM a cold front snaps that. You take a day or two off to let the wind settle and water clear up before heading back out only to find that the bait you’ve been catching the last 2 weeks has moved, the birds aren’t diving off the beach, and the water is now 4-5 degrees colder than it previously was. You quickly scrap your plans of running back out onto the beach where the Spanish Mackerel bite was the best its been all year, the kingfish were close to the beaches, the bull redfish would make the unexpected highlight reel, and the bait was plentiful. To now, quickly buying a few dozen shrimp and heading into the backwaters and flats in hopes of taking advantage of the negative low tides the winter has to offer thus helping pinpoint laid up fish.
After a cold front passes through it can feel like the fishing has completely shifted in a matter of days, as the water off the beach looks like chocolate milk, there are no birds crashing bait on the beach, and the shallow bottom bite isn’t on. This makes way however,for the clear water inshore to move the fish into pot holes, drop offs, and shallow, sandy bottoms that will warm up quickly, to make the inshore fishing pop off. The pinched off tail of a big winter time shrimp on a jig head or split shot can entice these redfish, gator trout, and snook to be unable to refuse picking up the easy meal.
Use these cold fronts that push through every few days to be your guide and help determine your objective for fishing on that given day. My pattern for trips this time of year include fishing the beach when a soft east wind allows, fishing docks for snapper, juvenile grouper, and redfish, as well as sheepshead fishing structure in the bay. Get out of your comfort zone this time of year and look for big fish in the shallows using the crystal clear water and negative low tides to your advantage.
Congratulations to those who participated and to all who enjoyed themselves at this year’s King of The Beach! There was a great turnout for the circumstances and the weather was… well…king fishing weather! I sure am hoping and praying that we can put hurricane season behind us as we close out a very active year with Florida fairing pretty well. As I wrap up this report, Eta just came through causing some damage to our coast and some serious storm surge and flooding through the night. I hope everyone stayed safe and dwellings and personal property damage was kept to a minimum.
November fishing around Tampa Bay is a fun and versatile time of year to continue targeting some species that enjoy feeding freely in warmer temps such as snook and redfish, as we also transition towards our more active colder temp fish. Included in this list is one of my personal favorites, tripletail, in addition to mackerel, kingfish, and sheepshead. The beach is extremely lively this time of year as bull redfish are roaming in big schools, Spanish mackerel are tearing through bait schools, and the kingfish are lurking just on the outskirts. Trolling deep diving plugs for gag grouper in the shipping channel is heating up, as we still have more than a month left until their closure that will wrap up the year.
I enjoy switching things up this time of year and trolling Rapala X-Rap Magnum 30’s in purple and green. Varying your speed from high speed trolling of 10+kts down to 4-6kts can help you find the best bite and action from the lure and give you a good chance of hooking both kingfish and grouper. Many of my recent trips have been spent off the beach catching Spanish mackerel until we’re tired, running the crab traps looking for Tripletail, and bump trolling kingfish. However, we’re coming into a great time to bump docks and fly through countless shrimp as grouper, snapper, and sheepshead will be getting right with these cooler temps inshore.
Sheepshead are a great table fare in the winter that require a 12 inch minimum total length and allow a daily bag limit of 8 per person. Make sure you have a sharp knife as sheepshead and tripletail both have thick skin and a large rib cage that make filleting them a bit of a project. However, both fish will reward you with delicious mild and flaky meat that makes all of the work worthwhile. I have been using a 9-inch filet knife made by Seamule this entire season and it has performed and held up beautifully. The German stainless steel blade cuts like butter and holds a sharp edge for many trips before needing a quick swipe on the stone. With so many fishing options this time of year and the gorgeous weather we’re starting to come into, get out there and hook into a big one!
Capt. Skylar Mad Beach Fishing Report – October 2020
As October is now upon us and cooling trends begin, we start to see an influx of our more typical “deeper water” fish make their way into the bay and along our beaches. The sweet spot for these species, including kingfish and bonito, comes in right about that 75 degree water temperature mark, as the water makes its way back down from the consistent upper 80’s and even having broken into the 90’s over these last few sweltering months. Finding water temp below 80, accompanied with good water clarity, and bait balls, will make for a perfect recipe for kings.
Kingfish have once again begun infiltrating the shipping channel, as well as early reports off of Clearwater. These smokers are a great battle when free-lining big baits around the massive bait pods that make their way up and down the coast, as well as slow or bump trolling live bait, lures, and spoons. Blue runners, lady fish, mackerel, mullet, and sardines are always a solid option for hooking up to these highly sought after fish dip delicacies. Twist up a wire stinger rig with a single hook and trailing treble hook or double treble and try your hand at the action. Soon, all of the local hotspots will be littered with them including wrecks, hard-bottom such as Blind Pass, and drop-offs including the Skyway Shipping Channel.
If kingfish may not be your thing and you’re just out looking for action, then it doesn’t get much more exciting than hooking into a bonito. The clients on my recent trips have had a blast listening to these drag-screamers take off on light tackle! My favorite style of fishing for these pelagic fish is running and gunning up to the schools that pop up in the channel off of Egmont Key and retrieving a small silver spoon as fast as you can while keeping it sub surface with the occasional skip on the surface of the water often enticing these incredibly fast fish into top-water chaos.
Bonito are often found chasing after glass-minnows, although they can also be found terrorizing schools of thread-fins and pilchards. Therefore, keeping an eye out for diving birds as a tell tale sign of action below. Mackerel can also be found mixed in with the bonito, which are always a fun catch, not to mention chunking either of them as bait for a looming shark to step up the possible action!
Summer will be coming to an end as September closes and with that change will come a whole new fishing season of opportunity in the bay. Although not much will change throughout the month of September,as the weather remains hot and rainy, we will however begin to see a shift in patterns for some of our inshore species as we inch closer to cooler weather and lower tides approaching fall and winter.
Anglers will find themselves shifting gears from fishing the big swinging high tides of summer, to the extreme tidal lows that come with winter. Therefore, start to plan your routes and tracks on the water in the coming months before you set out, to ensure you will have enough water to make it there and back. For example, the flat on the west side of Tarpon Key near Fort Desoto will typically hold 3-4 ft. of water at high tide and 1.5-2 ft. of water at low tide in the spring and summer. However, this same flat in the winter months may only hold a foot of water at high tide and hold less than a foot of water or be fully exposed by grass and sand at low tide, making that route unusable for me in the winter. These coming months make for a great time of year to scout the flats looking for pot holes and undulation on the flats that predatory fish will use as ambush points throughout the year as bait flushes over the top. These coming months are also a great time to catch tailing redfish and fish getting into skinny water in search for their next meal.
Fall is the perfect time to catch bull redfish in the near shore waters of the Gulf, as these brutes travel up and down the coast chasing baitfish and spawning from September-November. If you are cruising down the coast, keep a sharp eye out for the incredible opportunity to see these big schools of redfish on the surface with their golden glow. Tides will carry the offspring into our estuary where the fish spend the first few years of their life and are heavily targeted by anglers until they reach sexual maturity at roughly 27 inches and then proceed to join the spawning stock (Myfwc.com).
Your best bet to catch a bull redfish can include a wide array of bait from pinfish, shrimp, and crabs to a more simple approach consisting of cut bait soaking in their heavily trafficked areas off the sandbars, near shore reefs, and mitigation areas. Be sure to “up” your tackle, as these aren’t your typical 20-30 inch fish, many of these bull redfish easily push 20+ pounds. I like to use a 6-8000 size reel paired with a medium-heavy to heavy rod and 40-60lb fluorocarbon leader with a 4-6/0 hook and a half or whole blue crab, cut ladyfish, or cut mullet for bait. A good bottom machine paired with the understanding of what is showing will help you to find these big schools in the deeper drop offs around Egmont key and surrounding areas. Keep an eye out for birds and frigates, as they are a great indicator of action on the surface and a great area to drop baits allowing for a better opportunity of hooking up to a wide variety of potential catches including Spanish mackerel, bonito, sharks, as well as schooling bull redfish.