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.
As the summer months tick on towards a close, we will start to see the vast majority of migrating Tarpon continue on their journey out of Tampa Bay and surrounding waters in August. However, August is a great month for fishing, as we get geared up for fall!
This month the weather and water temperatures will remain constant, allowing for very similar fish and fishing patterns as June and July. August remains hot and rainy in the afternoons, so getting out early will give you a good jump on the day. Start by targeting redfish, snook, and trout on the flats in the morning and then as the sun gets to its peak right about the same time as high tide, you can continue fishing the mangroves and docks or switch gears and target one of the many other species Tampa Bay has to offer that will keep a rod bent.
The sharks are plentiful this time of year and 3-foot bonnet heads make for a great time around the bridges with moving water or deeper cuts and channels around the flats. For these fun fighters, I typically use a split shot big enough to keep bottom and a big shrimp on a long shank hook or 2/0 circle hook. The snapper are still littered inshore around any structure including: docks, bridges, ledges, rock piles, and even mangroves. Even at one of my typical redfish spots near Fort Desoto, the redfish have been pushed out by juvenile gag grouper and mangrove snapper the last few times I’ve stopped by. If sharks aren’t your forte, the Spanish Mackerel have been sky rocketing bait schools around the skyway all month. Follow the bait and tide in or out and you’re going to come across a ton of these toothy critters that make for a great fight and even good table fare when eaten fresh, as they tend to get mushy when frozen.
I was lucky enough to sneak away with some friends to the keys on August 6th for the opening of lobster season and we couldn’t have asked for better weather or a better time. We managed to miss the rain everyday and finished the trip with enough lobsters to bring back and spoil our friends and family that didn’t make the trip. We snorkeled around the grass ledges and bridges picking our way through many “shorts” in order to come up with keepers, but they were still plentiful. “Lobstering” is like “scalloping” but on steroids,where you hold your breath long enough to swim down anywhere from 10-20 feet in our case and then battling with these spiny creatures that require just enough finesse to coax them out of their hideouts and into your net before you run out of breath. Every few lobsters you find yourself pushing your limits when they are being uncooperative leaving their cozy homes or you miss netting them and you’re trying to track them down and wrestle them before running out of breath or risk losing them for good if you need to make a second dive. Although it was tough leaving paradise in the keys, it made it a little easier knowing I was coming back to what I consider paradise right here in St. Petersburg and the incredible fishery we are blessed with in our backyard.
Over the last month, the inshore snapper bite has been tremendous. From bottom fishing around the skyway and shipping channel, to fishing under the mangroves, there has been no shortage of these aggressive feeders, which also make great table fare!
Only needing a 10” minimum tail length and bag of 5 per person in state waters, these fish are perfect to target in the summer. While bottom fishing for snapper, I like to use just enough weight to get your desired bait to stay on the bottom or bounce across the bottom in stronger currents. A typical set-up would consist of a ¼ oz. jig head or ½-1 oz. knocker rig with a small hook usually being a 1-2/0 depending on the size of snapper you are targeting, with a nice piece of shrimp being frozen or alive. I like to start the tip of the hook at the base of the shrimp’s tail and feed the hook all the way through the body and out the bottom so that the tip of the hook gets camouflaged amongst the legs and you can feel every bite. Snapper are a wonderful species to keep you engaged, while you also try your hand at a gag grouper, which often times can be found hanging around the same structure and habitat as the snapper. For these big ones, up your tackle to 30-50 lb. fluorocarbon leader at least and a 5/0 hooked pinfish or cut bait, drop it down and hold on tight. While fishing around the mangroves for snapper I use a light jig head or split shot weight positioned roughly 10” above the hook and use live shrimp or small pilchards.
Speaking of small pilchards, it’s that time of summer where we have a new hatch of small baits flooding the passes, flats, and beaches. Break out your ½ in (¼ sq.) mesh nets or you’ll have a tough time cleaning out the gilled baits after you’ve thrown. Using these smaller baits can be just as effective as bigger baits around the flats just remember to pair it with a smaller hook to allow the bait freedom to swim. If you enjoy throwing artificial baits, sizing those down as well can provide more strikes as you to match the hatch.
It has been a long time since I have been able to put clients on a consistent trout bite since that devastating red tide spell we had in 2018. However, in recent months and particularly this month, the trout have been fired up! I am seeing more and more pushing that 20-inch plus range, which is a great sign of things to come for the trout fishery rebounding in our region. These extremely hot summer days and high water temps have made for a tough bite as that sun gets up to its peak in the middle of the day.Although the big tides around that new moon at the end of June has brought with it big swinging tides keeping the water moving and the fish chewing.
High tide makes finding the fish tough and accessing them even tougher, as they push their way further into the mangroves searching for lower temps and protection from predators. Your best bet for redfish, snook, trout, and even snapper is finding a mangrove line with moving water and putting your baits on the edges of the mangroves. The trick is keeping them in a position to be an easy meal enticing these fish from their hideouts. Techniques that can assist you in doing so, include a float or bobber 18-24 inches above your bait or a slip weight/ split shot to hold that bait to the bottom and on that edge, both requiring a cast flirting with danger,as you side arm it under those low lying branches.