Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Sarasota speckled trout fishing, Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota speckled trout fishing is extremely popular. Speckled trout are arguably the most popular it saltwater inshore game fish in Florida. This is really true for the entire Gulf Coast.  An article on trout fishing follows my weekly Sarasota fishing report.

Weekly Sarasota fishing report

Angling success this week required me to keep moving on my Sarasota fishing charters.  Red tide has crept into Sarasota Bay.  The key to catching fish is to find “good” water.  The best water and spots this week were Bishop’s Pt., Buttonwood, Long Bar, and Stephen’s Pt.  Speckled trout and ladyfish were fairly plentiful.  Several times we ran across schools of jack crevelle foraging on the surface.  This is very exciting!  These fish are very aggressive and hit lures with gusto.  Bluefish were mixed in with them as well.  A few decent mangrove snapper were caught, too.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

The wind eased up late in the week and we were able to find schools of “breaking” fish.  Clean water up in north Sarasota Bay had the fish bunched up pretty good.  Ladyfish and jacks were plentiful, with bluefish, Spanish mackerel, trout, and snapper mixed in.  Unfortunately, the red tide has been working north in Sarasota Bay.  I cancelled my Friday trip as the wind shifted west.  It was breezy and I did not think conditions would be good.  The odor was not nice, either.

Effective baits

Jigs and free lined live shrimp produced best this week.  A Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig head produced well.  Live shrimp on a #1 hook and a small split shot was effective as well.  Live shrimp can be small this time of year.  We call it “pee wee season”.  However, they did get a little better this week. 

One strategy that can be effective during red tide outbreaks is to fish “different” areas.  Fish will move out of their normal seasonal spots in search of water free of red tide.  This can push then into unconventional spots.  I don’t normally fish docks in canals and creeks this time of year.  However, we found success in Bowlees Creek up north, catching snapper, black drum, catfish, and other species bottom fishing with shrimp.

Speckled trout fishing in Sarasota

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

There are several reasons for the popularity of speckled trout. They are a beautiful fish. Speckled trout are abundant and available to coastal anglers throughout the state. Trout are aggressive, taking live bait, artificial lures, and flies. Lastly, they are fantastic table fare. What more could an angler ask for?

Most of the Sarasota speckled trout fishing is done on submerged grass beds in Sarasota Bay. A few trout are caught in the surf, in the passes, and near structure. However, the vast majority are found on grass flats in between four and ten feet of water. Some of the largest trout will be caught in very shallow water. These “gator” trout are normally loners and not in schools.

Trout tackle

Speckled trout can be caught using several different tactics and many different baits. This is one of the things that speckled trout so attractive to anglers. The oldest and still one of the most productive techniques is a live shrimp under a popping cork. This is a “system” that works very well on trout as well as other species on the grass flats.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Spinning tackle is the choice of most anglers fishing the inshore flats for speckled trout. A 6 ½ foot to 7 foot rod with a 3000 series reel is a versatile outfit. Ten pound monofilament line works well. Anglers who prefer braided line will do well with 20 lb braid. A 24” shock leader of 25lb to 30lb test finishes off the basic tackle.

The rig consists of a #1/0 live bait hook, 24” of 30 lb leader, and a noisy float or “cork”. These floats have a weight at the bottom and a concave top. It sits upright in the water and when the rod tip is sharply twitched, the cork “pops” in the water. This noise attracts fish as it imitates fish feeding on the surface. The depth can be adjusted, but generally three feet is a good depth.

Live bait for speckled trout

Anglers cast the rig out with a live shrimp hooked in the head under the horn. It is allowed to settle and then the cork is “popped”. The shrimp will rise up in the water then settle back down. Often times the bite occurs right after the cork is popped. When a fish pulls the cork under, the slack is eliminated and the hook is set. The process is repeated several times, then reeled in and cast back out.

Live bait fish such as pinfish and grunts can be used under a float as well. While difficult to obtain, there is no better bait for a nice speckled trout that a 3” grunt. Pilchards and threadfin herring can also be used. One new twist is to fish an artificial shrimp under a noisy cork. This works quite well!

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Catching trout on artificial lures

Artificial lures are very effective for anglers Sarasota speckled trout fishing. The most popular lure is a lead head jig with some type of soft plastic body. ¼ ounce is a very good choice for a jig head. Most often, anglers will be fishing in six feet to eight feet of water. A ¼ ounce jig casts well and will get down in the water column.

Grub bodies come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. #3” to 4” baits work best in Sarasota Bay. That size matches the existing forage nicely. Shad tails have a great built in action and imitate bait fish nicely. Paddle tails and shrimp tails mimic shrimp, a favorite trout food. Color really is not all that important in most cases. The old saying “light colors in light water and dark colors in dark water” is a good guideline. White, pearl, glow, chartreuse, pink, olive, gold, rootbeer, and golden bream are all productive colors.

Scented baits

On days when the bite is tough, switching to scented soft plastic baits will sometimes get the bite going. The most effective scented soft plastic bait in this area are the Gulp line of baits. The 3” Gulp Shrimp has fooled many speckled trout on the west coast of Florida. It also works great fished under a cork with a 1/16 ounce jig head.

Plugs work well for speckled trout, too. Topwater plugs will catch large trout fished over bars and potholes on the high tide. First thing in the morning is the best time. MirrOlure makes several suspending plugs that have been catching trout for many years. The 52M series and Mirrodines work great.

Fly anglers are certainly not to be left out when it comes to Sarasota speckled trout fishing. Many speckled trout are fooled by skilled fly casters. The best out fit is a 7wt to 9wt rod with an intermediate sink tip line. A 9′ leader that tapers down to 20 lb tippet works fine. The most popular fly choice is the Clouser Minnow. Is is a weighted fly that actually fishes like a jig. Chartreuse and white is a proven color pattern.

Trout tactics

Speckled trout spend a lot of their lives loosely schooled over deep grass flats. Therefore, drifting the flats while fan casting out in front of the boat is an extremely effective technique. The best approach is to choose a flat where the wind and tide are moving in the same direction. This will facilitate a good drift.

Once some action is found, anglers have a choice. They can either continue continue the drift and then when the action slows motor around and drift again. Another approach is to quietly anchor the boat and thoroughly work the area with either lures or live bait.

One extremely productive technique is to chum with live bait. This works very well in the summer when bait is abundant and east to catch. A LOT of bait is required for this. Specialized equipment such as a cast net and the ability to toss it, a large well, and high volume pump are also needed.

Once the well is loaded up (“blacked out” as we call it) the boat in anchored in six feet of water or so. Anglers will do well to position the boat on the up-tide end of a good flat. Live bait fish are then tossed out behind the boat. Several baits are hooked up and cast out into the chum. If the trout and other game fish are around, it won’t take them long to show up. The chum will get them fired up and feeding.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing spots

The best flats in Sarasota Bay are from Siesta Key north. Bird Key, Radio Tower, Middlegrounds, Stephen’s Pt., Bishop’s Pt., Buttonwood, and Long Bar are the top spots. In the summer, the flats near the passes are usually the best spots to fish. Strong tidal flow and abundant bait fish as forage are a couple of reasons for this.

The area south, from Siesta Drive to Blackburn Pt. Does hold speckled trout. However, the character is I bit different. Grass beds are not at all plentiful. Most fish relate to oyster bars and mangrove shorelines. This area won’t produce the numbers of the north bay, but it will reward patient anglers with some quality fish.

Shallow water trout fishing

Some of the largest speckled trout will be caught in very shallow water. This seems like a contradiction, but it makes sense. Large fish do not need the safety of numbers. They also are less afraid of birds. Finally, large trout feed primarily on large baits such as pinfish, grunts, and mullet. They prefer one large meal versus a bunch of shrimp.

Shallow water trout fishing is very tide specific. Trout will position themselves on the edges of plats and in holes on the lower tide stages. As the water rises, they will fan out on the flats, scatter out, and feed. As the tide falls, trout will set up in likely ambush points. Bars that drop off, holes, and channels that run through flats are prime examples.

Tactics are a bit different in this “skinny” water. Topwater plugs are a good choice. They imitate a perfect sized mullet and will not hang up in the grass. Soft plastic baits used in conjunction with a weedless swim bait hook works well getting through the grass. If the grass is sparse or the tide high, a 1/8 ounce jig head with a 4” shad tail bait is a good choice. Weedless spoons will also produce in shallow water without hanging up.

Speckled trout fishing in winter

Speckled trout will move off of the flats in the winter if the water temperature drops into the mid 50’s. They will move to deeper holes, most of which are man made “dredge” holes. The same goes for channels cutting through a flat or near the edge. Trout will school up in the deeper, warmer water.

Jigs bounced slowly off the bottom will catch these deep water trout. The fish will be a bit less active, so a more subtle presentation will usually be more productive. Live shrimp free lined with a split shot are seldom refused. It takes a bit of prospecting, but once a large school of trout is found, the action can be frantic.

Another productive winter Sarasota speckled trout fishing tactic is to anchor on the edge of a grass flat that drops off into deeper water. A free lined live shrimp with a small split shot works very well. Again, this can produce a lot of action if a school is found.

Silver trout

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Silver trout are similar in appearance to speckled trout and are sometimes caught on the deep flats while speckled trout fishing.  They do not have spots and can have a purple back.  While they look similar, their habits are quite different.  Silver trout school up tightly in large numbers.  Once located, a bunch of them can be caught in short order. 

Silver trout are usually caught over sandy bottom in water, between 10′ and 20′ deep.  They are often targeted in the Gulf of Mexico, Point of Rocks is a top spot.  Jigs bounced on the bottom are very effective, as are live shrimp.  Silver trout pull surprisingly hard for their size.  There is no size or bag limit on silver trout.  They taste great but don’t freeze all that well.  The flesh can be a bit soft, so only keep enough for a couple of fresh fish dinners.

While speckled trout are outstanding table fare, it is very important to release the larger fish.  The current regulations allow anglers to keep four trout between 15″ and 20″ with one over 20″.  I strongly encourage the release of fish over 20″.  I do not kill them on my trips.  These are female breeders that we need to continue the success of the species.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Longboat Key fishing charters

Anglers taking out Longboat Key fishing charters can experience great action all year long. Longboat Key is eleven miles long and is just north of Lido Key. It is a bit quieter than some of the other keys but has some great accommodations and restaurants.  It also offers some great fishing!

The entire east side of Longboat Key has lush grass flats that hold a wide variety of fish species all year long. Residential canals offer refuge in cold weather. New Pass to the south and Longboat Pass to the north are fish highways, connecting Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches off of Longboat Key provide fantastic fishing for both boat and shore anglers.

Longboat Key fishing charters

I use light spinning tackle on my Longboat Key fishing charters. It is the best choice for most anglers. Ten pound spinning outfits allow anglers to cast light lures and baits and fish all morning comfortably. They are also light enough for kids to handle.

Longboat Key flats fishing

The deep grass flats off of Longboat Key in Sarasota Bay offer some of the best fishing in the area. The Middlegrounds, Country Club Shores, Bishop’s Pt, Buttonwood, Long Bar, and Whale Key are all legendary spots for speckled trout and other species. Along with trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, snapper, grouper, jack crevelle, sharks, cobia, ladyfish, and other species a re landed.

Drifting the deep grass flats is a very productive method. The majority of fish caught on my Sarasota fishing charters are caught employing this technique. It really is fairly uncomplicated, though there are nuances, as in all fishing. I position my boat upwind and up-tide of the flat I want to fish. Then, I let the wind and tide push the boat across the flat.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Anglers cast lures and live bait as we drift the flat. The most effective lure is a lead head jig with a soft plastic tail. One quarter ounce jigs work well with a 3” or 4” body. Shad tail, paddle tail, and shrimp bodies are the most popular baits. Colors vary; every angler has his or her favorite. I prefer glow, new penny, and red/gold, but many other colors work fine. Presentation and location are the more important factors.

The jig is cast out and allowed to sing several feet. It is then retrieved back to the boat using sharp twitches. Jigs allow anglers to cover a lot of water. They also catch a lot of fish! Other artificial lures can be used with success. Silver spoons cast a long way and are great bait fish imitations. Plugs are effective as well, though the treble hooks can be an issue; they can damage fish that are to be released.

Live bait certainly works well on the deep grass flats. A live shrimp is without question the top live bait. Shrimp catch every fish species that swims. Live shrimp can be “free lined” on the deeper flats. That means the shrimp id hooked and allowed to swim without any weight.

Anglers fishing water that is five feet or shallower will often times need a float to suspend the shrimp up off the bottom. A “popping cork” is widely used here in Sarasota Bay. It keeps the shrimp out of the grass, provides casting weight, and indicated when a fish takes the bait.

Shallow water flats fishing

Shallow bars and flats all along the east side of Longboat Key hold snook, redfish, and jacks. Fishing these shallow flats can be a bit more challenging. Fish are spooky in water less than three feet deep. Tactics and baits need to change as well to avoid hanging up.

Topwater baits are an obvious choice for anglers fishing shallow. They float on the surface and their erratic action irritates and excites game fish, eliciting a strike. Weedless spoons are a great choice and are a proven redfish bait. These baits can be cast a long distance and run in water as shallow as a foot deep. Spoons are great locator baits as anglers can cover a lot of water in short order.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Soft plastic baits are extremely effective in shallow water as well. Light jig heads can be used when grass is on the sparse side. Weighted, weedless swim bait hooks work great when the grass is a bit thicker.

Tides are very important in Saltwater fishing. Tides will position and locate fish. Many anglers prefer an incoming tide when flats fishing. I personally don’t care, as long as the water is moving. Tides are crucial when fishing shallow. Low tides will concentrate fish in deeper water. Fish will scatter out on a flat when the tide is high.

Fishing Longboat Key canals

There are countless residential canals along the east side of Longboat Key, including the Rim Canal, which runs the length of the key. The water is generally fairly deep, by Florida standards. Docks provide cover and forage. Fish will move into these canals when the water gets cold on the open flats. Snook, redfish, black drum, flounder, sheepshead, snapper and other species are caught in these areas.

The best approach when fishing docks and canals is to fish live shrimp near and under structure. A large, live shrimp is seldom refused. Anglers will also catch fish casting artificial lures along mangrove shorelines and near docks. Rapala X-Raps and jigs work best.

Fishing the passes

New Pass and Longboat Pass are great spots to fish, especially in the spring and fall. Both passes are also accessible to anglers without a boat. Pompano will stage in the passes and feed. The best pompano bait is a small jig with short dressing. These are specially made for pompano and their small mouths. Bouncing these jigs along the bottom will fool them.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish will school up thick in the passes and feed heavily. Artificial lures such as jigs and plugs will do well on these actively feeding fish. Trolling can be a good strategy to locate fish in the passes. Free lining live bait or hooking them on a jig head and bouncing them off the bottom will produce as well.

Structure in both New Pass and Longboat Pass will attract a lot of fish. This structure included the two bridges, numerous docks, and shoreline rip rap. Sheepshead will gang up in huge schools from January through April. Mangrove snapper are available all year. Live shrimp works best for these tasty bottom feeding saltwater pan fish.

Snook will be located in the passes as well in the summer. They will move out of the flats and out into the passes on their way out to the beaches to spawn. Some of the largest snook of the year are caught by anglers fishing live bait fish near structure in the passes.

Inshore Gulf of Mexico fishing

Action in the Gulf of Mexico just off of the Longboat Key beaches can be nothing short of fantastic when conditions are good. Light east winds will result in calm seas and clear water. This will attract both bait fish and in turn, game fish. Spanish mackerel, false albacore, sharks, and cobia are caught in the spring and fall. Tarpon are available in summer. Bottom fish are taken off of the nearshore artificial reefs all year.

Casting to “breaking” mackerel and false albacore is one of my favorite types of fishing! Fish are seen actively feeding on the helpless bait fish. Fish are literally jumping out of the water. Birds are diving, it is great fun! Anglers cast lures into the melee and an instant hook-up is almost always the result. Spoons, jigs, and plugs all produce, but honestly, just about any bait that is close to the right size will get bit.

The approach is pretty simple. I just run out one of the passes and start looking for fish. The three reefs off of Lido Key are always a good place to start as they hold a bunch of bait. Point of Rocks is another good spot, as is Whitney Beach rocks on the north end of Longboat Key. Birds wheeling and diving are always a great sign. Once fish are spotted, I ease the boat into position.

Trolling is a great way to locate fish when they are not showing on the surface. Spoons and plugs being trolled behind the boat using either planers or weights will find the fish. Once located, anglers can then cast to them. This is one situation where free lining live bait is a good option.

This is a great opportunity for clients who fly fish to experience world class action! False albacore are incredible sport on a 9wt fly rod. Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel will do well using a 7wt outfit. Small while bait fish imitations are the best flies to use.

Longboat Key tarpon fishing

Giant tarpon show up off of the Longboat Key beaches in May. This is truly big game fishing. It is a charter best suited for more experienced anglers. It is a lot like hunting and patience is required. There will be days when no tarpon are hooked. But, when it all comes together, it is incredible!

I get my clients out on the beach just before first light. We sit there about a hundred yards offshore and look for pods of tarpon moving through. I then position the boat so that my anglers can cast out if front of them. We use heavy spinning tackle and live crabs or bait fish such as pin fish and sardines.

There are three artificial reefs just off of New Pass at the south end of Longboat Key. These hold fish all year long. Bottom fishing for snapper and sheepshead is easy and a great option for novice anglers and children. It is as simple as dropping a shrimp down to the bottom. Spanish mackerel and false albacore will also school there, attracted to the large schools of bait.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  Do guests on Longboat Key fishing charters need a license?

A:  No.  Florida has a provision where anglers going out on paid charters with a professional, licensed fishing captain.  This is a very convenient feature as it saves clients the time and inconvenience of having to purchase a Florida saltwater fishing license.  However, visitors who want to fish on their own, even from shore, will need to obtain one.  The FWC makes this easy to do.  HERE is a link to the FWC website, where anglers can purchase a license.

Q:  Where do clients going out on Longboat Key fishing charters meet?

A:  I meet most of my clients at the boat ramp on Ken Thompson Parkway.  HERE is a link to the ramp.  There is ample parking, a nice restroom, and docks for easy loading and unloading.  It is also very centrally located as it puts us right in the heart of the prime fishing grounds with very little idle time.  Occasionally clients will be picked up at alternate locations such as their condo dock.

Q:  What kind of fish are caught on Longboat Key fishing charters and can clients keep fish to eat?

A:  Clients are likely to catch six to eight different fish species on a four hour trip.  Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico offer anglers the chance to catch many different species.  Speckled trout, snook, redfish, jack crevelle, Spanish mackerel, flounder, snapper, grouper, drum, sea bass, pompano, bluefish, cobia, sharks, tarpon, ladyfish, and catfish are commonly caught by anglers on Longboat Key fishing charters.  While I am proponent of catch and release, I certainly don’t mind if clients keep a couple of fish for a meal.  I will fillet and bag them at the end of the charter.

Q:  How much does a fishing charter cost and what does it include?

A:  A four hour fishing charter for one to four anglers is $400.  Four hours is plenty for most anglers.  More experienced clients may choose a six hour trip, that cost is $550.  Fishing charters include all bait and tackle for the charter.  While I supply all rods and reels, customers may certainly bring along their favorite rod along.  A cooler with ice is also provided, as is a fishing license for all guests.  Clients should bring whatever they want to eat and drink, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and appropriate clothing.

Sarasota red tide fishing

Fishing in Sarasota with red tide present

Unfortunately, red tide has moved into Sarasota. Red tide is an algae bloom that suffocates fish and other wildlife. Sarasota red tide fishing can be tough. An article on tactics and strategies for fishing under these conditions follows my weekly report.

Sarasota fishing report

Clients on Sarasota fishing charters had success this week, despite the emergence of red tide. The key was to find unaffected areas. The middle of Sarasota Bay from the Moorings to Long Bar was clean and held fish. Speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, catfish, and other species were landed. Bishop’s Pt. And Buttonwood were the top spots. Gulp Shrimp and Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits were productive, as was live shrimp.

We did have a pretty cool thing happen on Friday morning. My clients and I were drifting the flat at Bishop’s Pt. When we noticed something odd. A dark spot appeared, then the water went crazy! It turned out to be a large school of jack crevelle. We landed several before they moved on, great sport on light tackle! 

Red tide is typically worse near the passes and this is the case right now.  Red tide usually blooms out in the Gulf of Mexico and then gets into the bays via the passes.  Unfortunately, a lot of my favorite fishing spots are near the passes.  Also, I catch most of my bait on the shallow flats and bars near the passes, and the red tide has caused that bait to move.

Sarasota red tide fishing

Red Tide Tactics

The key to finding angling success when red tide is present is to locate unaffected areas. This means anglers need to fish hard and move around. One frustrating aspect is how areas can change over night. A productive area can get an influx of red tide that evening and shut down the spot completely. Another issue that can be difficult is finding bait fish and keeping them alive.

Understanding red tide

From the FWC web site,”What is red tide?”

A red tide, or harmful algae bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call the former the “Florida red tide.”  More red tide questions and answers can be found HERE.

Red tide has been documented for centuries. It gets it’s name by changing the water to a red or brown color. Here in Sarasota, it looks a bit like orange juice. It can cause skin irritations and respiratory issues in humans. It can kill fish and other marine life. Many people say they can “smell” the red tide. In actuality, they are smelling the decaying fish. 

The Florida Wildlife Commission has a very informative and detailed web site.  Anglers can get information on red tide and can sign up for e-mail updates on red tide and policy and law changes.  HERE is their map of the current red tide status.

As previously stated, the key to achieving angling success when red tide is present is finding “clean” water. Water affected by red tide will have a brown hue. Unaffected water will have that nice “green” color. The presence of dead fish floating can be tricky. Some of the dead fish could be from many miles away. Still, it is not very pleasing to fish near dead, stinking fish.

Live bait or artificial lures?

Fishing with live bait can be frustrating during red tide blooms. Anglers can spend an hour loading up the well, only to drive through a little patch and have it all die. This can be true during times where the red tide is present but not strong. Bait will be bunched up and easy to catch, but as soon as it is concentrated in the well, it struggles. This is obvious as the bait “spins”, tries to jump out, or sinks down to the bottom to die.

Shrimp are much less affected by the red tide. Shrimp are purchased at local bait shops and are usually easy to keep alive. This makes them a better choice under these conditions in many instances.

Artificial lures are a good option when red tide is present. There are several reasons for this. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water. This meant that unproductive water can be eliminated in a reasonable amount of time. My personal favorite lure in the lead head jig and grub combination. A ¼ ounce jig head with a 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad tail or a 3” Gulp Shrimp work very well. Silver spoons cast a long way and can be a good “search” bait as well. Suspending and diving plugs can be cast or trolled to locate fish.

Fish behavior during red tide

One thing that red tide can do is concentrate fish. If half on the area is affected by red tide and half is not, obviously the fish will move into the areas with better water quality. Again, don’t stay in one spot too long if it does not produce. There will not always be obvious signs that the algae bloom is present.

Another result of a red tide outbreak is that some species will be found in unusual places. Fish species such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel might be located in backwater creeks. Inshore Gulf of Mexico species may move inshore. They are simply trying to escape the death that will come if they stay in the poor quality water.

I remember one charter a few years ago. I was able to catch a few pilchards and keep them alive. We were anchored up on a mangrove shoreline that had been producing a few snook. My clients hook a fish which made a hard run. It turned out to be a spade fish, a species I had never caught in Sarasota Bay! On another trip we were casting Rapala plugs in Phillippi Creek. This is a fairly brackish area. We found a school of big bluefish in there. Again, I have never caught one in there before or since.

Sarasota red tide fishing

Sarasota red tide fishing

Fishing with live bait fish can be frustrating when red tide is present in the water. On several occasions I have had a well full of great baits die after driving through a patch of the deadly bloom. I have had other trips where as soon as I anchored up to chum, the bait began to act oddly. Bait affected by red tide with “spin up”, swimming around in circles and trying to leap out of the well.

When this happens, I pull the anchor and crank up the motor as quickly as possible. As long as some of the bait lives, all is not lost. The dead baits can be used effectively as chum at another spot. But, clean water needs to be located before this can happen. Once a spot that the bait will stay alive in is found, the dead bait can be used as chum and the live ones used to catch the game fish. 

While I focus primarily on fishing inshore, offshore anglers are not immune from red tide issues.  Patches of red tide can exist from the beach out many miles.  The same strategy of finding clean water applies there as well.  Also, keeping bait alive is a problem as well.  One little area of affected water can kill dozens of great baits in short order.

Clients often ask me if fish are safe to eat during outbreaks of red tide. The answer is “yes”! Fish are safe to eat as long as they are healthy when caught and put on ice. However, all fish should be filleted! This will eliminate any chance for ingesting toxins that might be in the entrails. Shellfish should NOT be eaten during red tide conditions! Commercially caught shellfish are regulated and are safe to eat.  While it is also usually safe to swim when red tide is present, it can cause eye and skin irritations, so maybe best to stay out of the water until it clears up.

Best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

Best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

It comes as a surprise to many visiting anglers that artificial lures can, at times, out fish live baits. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, being flexible in adapting to conditions is critical to success. I use artificial lures very often on my charters, especially in the cooler months. Here is my list of the best 6 Sarasota fishing lures.

Artificial lures are effective for a number of reasons. While live bait primarily produces when fish are hungry, lures will elicit strikes under other conditions. Fish will hit lures out of anger, competitiveness, excitement, or curiosity. A lure can be used to aggravate efficient abiding that is something a live bait won’t do. This makes artificial lures effective when fish are both actively feeding and in a more challenging mood.

Artificial baits allow anglers to cover a lot more water than live baits.  This is crucial to success when fish are scattered over a large area.  Many of the best deep grass flats are large areas. Lures are usually the best option to eliminate unproductive water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Artificial lures are also a lot of fun to fish.  They are a bit more interactive and many anglers get more satisfaction out of fooling a fish on “fake” baits.

My 6 best Sarasota fishing lures are as follows; Bass Assassin jig and grub, Rapala X-Rap, Gulp Shrimp, Johnson spoon, MirrOlure Mirrodine, and Key Largo pompano jig.  These are all lures that have proven themselves over the years for my clients on my Sarasota fishing charters.  These lures cover the entire water column, from the surface to the bottom.  They can also be fished as shallow as a foot up to the deepest water in Big Pass.

4″ Bass Assassin Sea Shad on a 1/4 ounce jig head

best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

The most popular and effective artificial lure on the West Coast of Florida, and really the entire Gulf Coast, is the jig and grub combo. Jigs are inexpensive, easy to use, and effective on a wide variety of species. They can be set up to mimic bait fish or crustaceans. The single hook on a jig also allows for a less invasive release of the fish.

My personal favorite soft plastic bait is the Bass Assassin line of baits. They offer jig heads in several different styles with long shank hooks, wide gap hooks, and different head sizes and colors. The 4 inch Sea Shad tail works very well for me here in Sarasota. Colors are endless, with my favorites being Red Gold Shiner, New Penny, and glow chartreuse.

Jig heads come in a wide variety of sizes styles and colors. Despite that, they are all basically the same. A jig head is basically a hook with a lead weight at the front near the eye. This design allows for some weight to be cast out easily. It also gives the jig a seductive, erratic motion in the water. The most widely used jig size here in Sarasota is a 1/4 ounce. Anglers fishing shallow water will need to go down to a 1/8 or even a 1/16 ounce jig head. Conversely, anglers fishing deeper water or in heavier current may need to bump up the jig weight to 3/8 ounce or even a 1/2 ounce in extreme conditions.

Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits are very easy to use. They can be cast out and retrieved at a steady pace. But, the more effective retrieve is a jig and fall retrieve. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink several seconds, then the rod tip twitched sharply. The jig is then allowed to fall, seemingly helpless. This is the action that triggers most strikes, therefore most strikes occur on the fall. They are effective in almost every angling application. The deep grass flats, passes, backwaters for snook and redfish, and inshore Gulf of Mexico when fish are breaking are all situations in which the Bass assassin 4 inch see Shad is an effective bait.

#8 Rapala X-Rap Slash bait

best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

Plugs have been around freshwater and saltwater fishing for a long time. In freshwater, they are used to mimic a variety of different types of prey. Here in Florida, the primary use is to imitate a wounded bait fish. They do that very effectively! Plugs can be cast a long way and are great to cover a lot of water in a reasonable amount of time. They also elicit some very exciting strikes. One negative of fishing with plugs is the treble hooks. However, several manufacturers, including Rapala, are offering plugs with a single wide gap hook.

My favorite plug is the Rapala X-Rap Slash bait in the number eight size. This slender bait is several inches long and mimics the size, shape, and color of the bait fish that are prevalent in the area. Olive is a very good producer in water that has a little color to it. Ghost is a fantastic color in very clear water and out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.  Rapala X-Raps work very well trolled out in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in Sarasota Bay.

These small plugs have produced many nice catches for clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are fairly easy to use, with a great built in action. They float on the surface, then dive down a couple feet when retrieved. X-Raps have a great erratic action that triggers some vicious strikes.

Rapala plugs are effective in a wide range of angling applications. I use them a lot when targeting snook, redfish, and jacks around oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks. They work very well when trolled in rivers, creeks, and residential canals in the winter. Rapala X-Raps are great fun whenever fish are breaking on the surface. This definitely includes inshore Gulf of Mexico action for Spanish mackerel and false albacore. They are also extremely effective when cast over shallow grass flats that have bait working on them.

The best retrieve when using these plugs is a twitch and pause. The lure is cast out, retrieve quickly for a few feet, then allowed to pause. Short twitches of the rod tip will impart a darting action. Often times, the strike occurs as the bait sits there motionless. Care does need to be taken when using plugs, especially with multiple anglers on the boat. Treble hooks can be dangerous both when casting and releasing fish.

3″ Gulp Shrimp

 

There are times when the bite can be slow, and this is when I switch to scented grubs. The best one by far, in my opinion, is the Gulp line of baits. Gulp Shrimp in the 3 inch size work very well, in some cases better than a live shrimp. These baits can be extremely productive, especially for speckled trout when conditions are a bit tough.

The formula that was created for the gulp shrimp is very effective. It is more than just a soft plastic immersed in a scent. The scent is actually built into the bait itself. In all honesty, color matters very little, in my opinion. It is all about the scent! As with other baits, they come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. The 3 inch shrimp is the most effective size here in Sarasota. Glow, root beer, and new penny are the top colors.

Gulp Shrimp can be used just like any other soft plastic, rigged on a quarter ounce jig head. Anglers will usually have a bit more success with the Gulp Shrimp working them a bit slower. As stated, the sent is the primary attraction, so the bait should be work just above the grass or bottom in a subtle hopping motion.  They can even be brought back in using a steady retrieve, just above the grass.

Another popular way to use a Gulp Shrimp is under a noisy cork. This is very popular in Louisiana and Texas. Noisy floats such as the Cajun Thunder have a concave face which gives off a distinct popping sound when twitched. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is tied to the bottom of the cork, followed by a 1/8 ounce jig head. The gulp shrimp is then added to the jig head hook. The rig is cast out, allowed the settle, and worked back in a series of aggressive twitches. In most cases, the more noise the better! This is just like using a live shrimp under a popping cork, and can be just as effective.

1/2 ounce gold Johnson weedless spoon

Johnson spoons have been around a long time, originating as a freshwater bass lure. The spoon was designed to work through lily pads and other freshwater vegetation without hanging up.

The 1/2 ounce gold weedless Johnson spoon is a mainstay of redfish anglers all over the country. They can be cast a very long way and worked through shallow grass without snagging the bottom. They have a single hook which rides upper right allowing for good hook sets without catching on the grass.

There are two attributes of the Johnson weedless spoon that make it so effective. They have the ability to run very shallow while still given off a wobbling, seductive action and the ability to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. Redfish and snook will scatter over the shallow grass flats and stage in potholes and other areas. The Johnson spoon cast very far and this allows anglers to eliminate unproductive water efficiently. They do come in silver as well, but gold is a more effective color in the slightly stained waters where redfish and snook generally live.

17MR-808 MirrOlure Mirrodine

the 17 MR 808 MirrOlure Mirrodine is an absolutely perfect replica of one of our top baits; the scaled sardine. Also known as shiners, white bait, pilchard, and greenback, it is a primary forage of many game fish in Sarasota and throughout the entire Southeast United States. The number 18 color, green back with a white belly, is a very popular color pattern. As with all manufacturers, MirrOlure offers many different sizes and colors, but this particular pattern works extremely well here in Sarasota.

The MirrOlure Mirrodine is a suspending twitch bait. It does not have a bill as do many plugs. It has a more subtle action which at times is extremely effective. The lure sinks very slowly and is retrieved back using short twitches with a pause in between. The bait suspends, hanging there motionless, an action which drives fish crazy. This bait is most effective and water 5 feet deep or less.  It is deadly when fished over bars on a high tide.

1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig

Pompano jigs are very plain looking. This belies the fact that they are very effective artificial baits. Pompano jigs have a round fairly heavy head with a short, smallish hook and some dressing. This dressing is usually nylon and extends just beyond the bend of the hook. The 1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig works very well, and is quite economical. Chartreuse and white are the two most popular colors.

Pompano jigs are simple and easy to use. They are extremely effective in the passes where they are fished vertically. The angler simply drops the jig down to the bottom and is hopped as the boat drifts along. These baits imitate small crabs and shrimp that live near the bottom. Each time the jig is lifted and falls it kicks up a little puff of sand. This is very natural and will fool pompano, ladyfish, and other species in the passes.

The Key Largo pompano jig can also be used effectively on the deep grass flats. There will be some days where the fish actually prefer the smaller profile especially in the cooler weather. It is especially effective over flats that have a mottled bottom with areas of sand interspersed with the grass. These jigs generally will not catch as many speckled trout as the jig and grub combo well, however it catches everything else and will catch more Pompano.

Pompano jigs work very well for anglers fishing off of the beach.  Anglers can “tip the jig” by adding a small piece of shrimp to the hook.  This is an effective method used to catch whiting, silver trout, and other species out of the surf, especially in the cooler months.

I hope the list of my best 6 Sarasota fishing lures was informative and helps anglers catch more fish!

35 best Sarasota fishing spots

35 best Sarasota fishing spots

Here is a list of my 35 best Sarasota fishing spots. These are places that I fish almost every day on my Sarasota fishing charters, depending on the season and conditions. In order to limit redundancy, I will use the following terms when describing these spots.

THIS IS A GUIDE ONLY, DO NOT USE FOR NAVIGATION!

Deep grass flats” are from 4’ to 10’ in depth and will hold speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jacks, grouper, snapper, sharks, flounder, and ladyfish.  Jigs and live shrimp, either free lined or under a cork work well.

Shallow grass flats” are 3’ or less and hold snook, redfish, larger trout, and jacks.  Topwater plugs, soft plastic baits on a light jig head or weedless hook, and weedless gold spoons are the best baits.  A large live shrimp work very well, too.

Docks” will attract sheepshead, snook, redfish, drum, flounder, and snapper.  Live bait works best, with a live shrimp being the best all round choice.  Baitfish will produce as well.

Bars” are shallow bands of sand, usually with grass and/or oysters that drop off on one side into slightly deeper water.  They attract snook, trout, reds, sheepshead, jacks, and more.  All baits can be effective, depending on the depth and species targeted.

Most of these are large areas, not one specific spot.  Click HERE for current Florida regulations.

23 best Sarasota fishing spots

Fishing spots #1 through #4

1) Long Bar; a very long, shallow bar that nearly crosses the entire bay.  Deep grass flats are found on the west end as well.  Best on a low, incoming tide.  A great spot to fish!  Redfish will school up on the south side of the bar on the low, incoming tide.  Reds will also be seen tailing on the north side along the shore.  Speckled trout are on the deeper grass where the bar drops off.

2) Buttonwood Harbor; a very large area of deep grass with a shoal (shallow flat) on the east end and then deep grass to the south.  A white “Shoal” marker makes it easy to find.  Lush shallows abound near Longboat Key and are good for snook and redfish on the high tide.  Helicopter Shoal is a long, narrow bar several hundred yards to the south. This is a great speckled trout area.  A deeper channel runs into the basin of Buttonwood Harbor and is a good winter spot.  Another VERY good year-round spot.

3) Bowlees Creek; deep grass surround the mouth of Bowlees Creek and spoil islands and bars line the channel itself.  The east side of the bay in both directions has shallow grass flats that drop off and will hold fish at times.  Grass flats out in front hold trout, pompano, and ladyfish.  The creek itself is good for snook and jacks in the cooler months.

4) Bishop’s Point; easily distinguished by four large condominiums, Bishop’s Point is a classic point that starts shallow and slowly tapers off into deeper water.  Excellent deep grass flats exist on both sides while an excellent shallow flat lies between the bar and the shoreline.  Snook and reds will be shallow while the deep flats hold trout and other species.  A canal runs inside the point and is a good winter spot.

23 best Sarasota fishing spots

Fishing spots #5 through #13

5) Stephen’s Point/Ringling flats; this is a great spot, particularly for speckled trout.  An underwater “hump” exists a few hundred yards from shore with a lot of grass that holds bait and fish.  The south end is a bit shallower than the north side.  Breaking fish are often found here, including bluefish and mackerel.  Bars along the shoreline from the Ringling Mansion north are good for snook and reds.

6) The east side of Sarasota Bay can be good, especially on a hard east wind.  Shallow bars with grass and docks drop off into deeper water.  Look for bait and birds. Residential canals along here will hold snook and jacks and are good spots on windy days.

7) Hart Reef; 27.22.015/82.34.574 concrete rubble placed in deeper water that holds grouper, snapper, tarpon and more.  Reef is in ten feet of water.  Anchoring up and bottom fishing with live shrimp or pinfish works best.  Gear up for some larger grouper.

8) Country Club Shores/Moorings; a large bar runs parallel to shore here, starting very shallow then dropping off into deeper water with grass growing to 10’.  This area will hold a wide variety of species.  This is a very reliable “action” spot as so many different species are caught here.  An artificial reef lies at the north end of CC Shores and holds bottom fish.

9) Middlegrounds; a fantastic fishing spot! I have spent entire four hour charters without ever leaving this area.  The Middlegrounds is a large area of both deep and shallow grass close to the Gulf of Mexico that attracts just about every fish that swims.  Trout, bluefish, pompano, mackerel, jacks, ladyfish, sharks, snapper, and even cobia will move into this area to feed.  Artificial lures such as jigs will help anglers find the fish.  It is a large area to be covered.  Free lined live shrimp and chumming with live bait will also certainly produce.  The Middlegrounds is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.

10) New Pass; connects the Gulf and Sarasota Bay and can hold a lot of fish, particularly in spring and fall.  Pompano, mackerel, ladyfish, blues and more will be caught in the pass.  Structure such as docks and the bridge are good for sheepshead, snapper, and more.  Snook school up in the pass in the summer time.  Docks on Ken Thompson Island and another park on the north side of the bridge are great places for anglers without a boat to fish.

11) Zwicks Channel; a deeper cut going north, it holds trout in the winter and docks are good year-round.  Docks near the restaurant and marina hold sheepshead in late winter and spring.  Also a great place to catch white bait.

12) Radio Tower; a large area of submerged grass extending from the anchored sailboats south to the Ringling Causeway, this is another large area that is very productive for a variety of species.  This is a good winter spot, for whatever reason.  West of the flats is a protected area that is good on a north west wind.  It has deep dredge holes along with shallow grass.  Pop Janzen Reef lies at the south end.

13) There is a deep channel that cuts through a shallow flat here and can be very good for trout and redfish.  Docks along here also hold snook, reds, drum, and sheepshead. A good spot in winter and on a strong northwest wind.

23 best Sarasota fishing spots

Fishing spots #14 through #24

14) Bridges; the Ringling Bridge, “Twin Bridges”, and Siesta Drive Bridge are all good spots to catch fish both day and night.  Snook ae caught at night under the lights.  Sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and gag grouper will take live shrimp.  Jacks can be seen working on the surface.  Bay Island Park lies on the west side of the Siesta Drive Bridge and is a handy spot for anglers without a boat.

15) Marina Jacks; an area of submerged grass with a shallower crown just off of the anchored boats.  This is another good “action” flat that produces just about every species.  Shallow flats to the south off of Selby Gardens are good for snook and reds, as is Hudson Bayou.

16) Marker #5; another good grass flat in 5’ to 7’ of water that holds a lot of fish at times.  Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, and more will hit jigs and live bait.  The bar to the south is a good place to catch bait in the summer time.  This  is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.

17) Bird Key docks; Bird Key is man-made and the dredging required to do so results in deeper water surrounding the key.  Docks line Bird Key and many will hold sheepshead, snapper, flounder, and other structure oriented species.  A good, protected spot on north west winds.

18) Otter Key; a deeper dredge area cuts through the keys here.  This is a very good winter area.  Structure and holes abound and holds many species.  Docks and deeper water attract snook, reds, sheepshead, snapper, and more.  The Yacht Club Channel can also be good when windy.

19) Big Pass; a veritable fish highway, Big Pass is a fantastic spot to fish!  Pompano, mackerel, blues, and ladyfish will be found in the middle and hit jigs bounced off the bottom.  Structure such as rocks, sea walls and docks lines the north side of Siesta Key all the way out to the mouth.  This deep structure holds snook, sheepshead, snapper, reds, grouper, and drum  Big Pass is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.

20) South Lido Park; a great spot for shore-bound anglers, offering access to the Gulf and Big Sarasota Pass.  A nice grass flat lies to the southeast and is a great place to wade for trout. The Mercury hole lies to the north.  It is a deep dredge hole in a very shallow flat.  Be wary of strong tides; do NOT wade out near the point or in the channel!

21) Spoil Islands; spoil islands are the result of dredging the Intracoastal and can be great spots to fish. Snook, snapper, trout, reds, and more will hold here, especially when baitfish are abundant.  It is a good spot to catch bait as well.  Be careful of shallow water!

22) Skiers Island; grass flats in 4’ to 6’ of water surround the island, as well as nice oyster bars to the north. The Grand Canal is a good place to fish docks and to troll.

23) Bars and shallow grass good for trout, snook, and redfish.  High tides are best.  Docks along the shoreline hold snook, reds, snapper, and more.

24) Beaches; area beaches are probably the best bet for anglers fishing from shore. Whiting, silver trout, flounder, and sheepshead will take shrimp or a small jig in the winter.  Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, jacks, and more will be found in spring and fall.  Sight fishing for snook can be fantastic in the summertime.  Anglers in boats will catch mackerel, kings, false albacore, sharks, tarpon, and other species.  Surface action for mackerel and false albacore can be fantastic in the spring and fall.  The beaches are one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.

35 best Sarasota fishing spots

Fishing spots #25 through #35

25) Field Club flat; an area of scattered grass in 4’ to 6’ of water, getting very shallow at the south end.  This is a good area on a strong north east wind and incoming tide.  Docks will hold fish as well.

26) Phillippi Creek; a VERY good place to fish in the cooler months.  Jacks, snook, snapper, sheepshead, drum, and more will inhabit the creek.  Live shrimp works well as does shallow diving plugs.  Snook and jacks will migrate a long way up the creek if it gets cold.  It does get shallow in spots so caution is required.  High, afternoon tides are best in winter.  Phillippi Creek is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.

27) This stretch of the Intracoastal has a lot of rocky ledges that are good for snapper and sheepshead.  It is another good, protected winter spot.

28) Stickney Point; a park just south of the bridge offers access to shore-bound anglers. Fishing from the bridge itself is also permitted. Snook, ladyfish, jacks, and bottom fish are the main targets. Very good at night for snook and snapper.

29) A nice little flat lies southeast of Stickney Point and will hold snook, redfish, and trout.  Incoming tides are best.  The small creek is good as well, but is quite shallow.

30) Point of Rocks; the best beach spot in the area, offering great fishing when conditions are right.  It does require a little walking as access is limited, but it is worth it.  Tarpon anglers congregate there in May and June.  Spanish mackerel and other species school heavily in spring and fall.

31) Nice bar and grass flat east of Marker # 51, good for trout.  Bars will hold snook and redfish.

32) Bars on both sides of the bat at Marker #50 are very good. Fish shallow for snook and reds and the deeper edges for speckled trout.

33) Vamo; nice shallow bars and grass with access to North Creek just to the south. There is a park that is a good place to wade or launch kayaks and canoes.

34) Neville Preserve; good grass with sharp drop-offs, fish will school up in the channel.  It is another good winter spot, fish will concentrate in the channel.

35) Flats and bars south of Spanish Point on both sides are good for a variety of species, mostly ladyfish and speckled trout.  Shallow bars hold snook, reds, sheepshead, and jacks.  Best on the higher tide stages.

 

Top 8 Sarasota fish species

Top 8 Sarasota fish species

I have been running Sarasota fishing charters since 1991. We are fortunate to have many different species that we catch in Sarasota Bay. I am going to list my personal top 8 Sarasota fish species. As with all lists, this one is subjective. My criteria are fighting qualities, willingness to take a lure or fly, year long availability, and food value. The first three are obvious choices; snook, trout, and redfish. The others may surprise some anglers.

The top 8 Sarasota fish species are snook, speckled trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevelle, pompano, bluefish, and mangrove snapper.  These fish species all fish hard, take both live bait and artificial lures, and are available most of the year.  All but jacks are very good eating as well.

Candice is a local model that I have worked with on numerous articles and projects. Since she has caught every species on this list, I am going to use her to show off each species. As with anything, opinions vary on “best”. That applies to food value as well, we all have our own tastes.

#1 snook

Top 8 SArasota fish species

The mighty snook is without a doubt the premier inshore game fish in Sarasota. It is #1 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Snook check all the boxes. They put up a great fight, hit lures and flies, and are available year-round. Snook also taste great, but I release them all to live another day.

Snook make a seasonal migration in Sarasota. They winter in creeks, rivers and residential canals. These areas are warmer, deeper, and have forage to feed on. As it warms up, snook move out into the bays and inshore waters to feed. As summer approaches, snook move out into the passes and out on the beaches to spawn. By late summer, they begin to reverse the process.

River snook fishing is one of my favorite Sarasota fishing charters. I use my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat in the area rivers. Anglers cast Rapala plugs in search of a trophy river snook. The Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River all hold snook, as well as other species.

Snook are really a saltwater version of largemouth bass. They have a large mouth to inhale prey, are structure oriented, and have a broad, powerful tail. Most of the popular snook lures started out as bass lures. Topwater plugs, diving jerk baits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic baits all fool snook. Fly anglers score using small, white bait fish imitations.

Live bait works very well for snook. A large shrimp is deadly fished near docks and bridges. Pinfish and grunts will catch some larger specimens. Chumming with scaled sardines (AKA greenbacks, shiners, white bait ) is a deadly, proven technique.

#2 Speckled trout

top 8 Sarasota fish species

I am putting speckled trout in the #2 spot on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. While trout are not the greatest battlers in the water, they make up for it in terms of numbers, availability, aggression, and table fare. They are also a beautiful fish.

Speckled trout are available all year long. They are abundant on the grass flats from very shallow up to ten feet of water in the warmer months. The majority of speckled trout caught in Sarasota are done so by anglers fishing submerged grass in five feet to ten feet of water. Jigs and live shrimp account for most of the trout caught.

In winter they will seek deeper holes, including channels and residential canals if the water temperature gets into the 50’s. Trout will hit a wide variety of artificial baits, with the jig and grub being the most popular artificial bait. Fly anglers will catch them using Clouser Minnow patterns and sink tip lines.

Live bait is also extremely effective for speckled trout. Shrimp are the top bait as they are available at local bait shops all year long. Live bait fish also work well and will produce larger fish. A small 2 inch to 3 inch grunt is a fantastic bait for large trout. Pilchards also work very well. Speckled trout are outstanding table fare! The limit is 15” with one fish over 20”. However, I release all trout over 20”. They are breeder fish, we need them in the water to sustain the fishery.

#3 Redfish

top 8 Sarasota fish species

Redfish are #3 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Some anglers may be surprised to see trout ahead of redfish on my list. The primary reason is that redfish numbers have been down the last several years. For whatever reason, the fish are spawning, but the juvenile fish are not growing. But, redfish are strong, take lures and live baits, are available all year, and taste great.

In the cooler months, reds are caught under docks and around other structure, including oyster bars, bridges, and rocky shorelines. As the water warms up, the fish move out onto the shallow grass flats. Reds are caught in very shallow water. They are also quite spooky and skittish in this very skinny water. Patience, stealth, and long casts are required.

Gold weedless spoons are a top artificial bait. Soft plastic baits rigged weedless are also very productive. Live bait is difficult to fish in the very shallow water, although fishing potholes with live shrimp works quite well. Chumming with pilchards will also produce fish.

In the late summer, redfish school up into big numbers. They can be easily seen on the shallow flats when the surface is calm. This is the best time of year to target reds. They school up before moving out into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these fish are “over slot”, meaning larger than the 27” maximum size to keep. Anglers must be patient, these fish are easily spooked!

#4 Spanish mackerel

top 8 Sarasota fish species

Spanish mackerel are #4 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Spanish mackerel are a very under rated game fish, in my opinion. They are extremely fast and make blistering runs. They take lures and flies with reckless abandon. Mackerel are very good when eaten the day they are caught. The only reason they are this far down is that they are around all year long. If the water is too warm or cool, their numbers decrease.

Spanish mackerel can be caught in a variety of ways. Trolling with spoons and plugs in Sarasota Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico produces a lot of fish. Anglers also do well in the passes and over the flats casting jigs, plugs and spoons. Fly fishers score using white D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow flies. No matter what the lure or fly, a fast retrieve usually works best.

Live bait is very effective as well. Free lined live shrimp do well on the flats and in the passes. Also, while Spanish mackerel can be difficult to locate and catch in the summer, chumming with live bait will get them fired up. It is the only reliable technique for catching them in the warmer months.

Mackerel school up in large numbers in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They can be seen feeding on bait fish right on the surface. Working “breaking fish” in the Gulf is great fun! Mackerel will instantly take any lure or fly that resembles a small bait fish.

#5 Jack crevelle

top 8 Sarasota fish species

Jack crevelle are #5 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Jacks are the bull dogs of the bay. They rarely leap, instead using their broad sides and forked tail to pull relentlessly. Jacks take artificial baits and flies viciously. Most of the time jacks are encountered in schools. They are quite aggressive when schooled up and are very competetive. Jacks do not have food value. If they were good to eat, they might be #1 on my list!

Like snook, jack crevelle will congregate in Sarasota canals and creeks in the cooler months. Phillippi Creek, Hudson Bayou, and Whittaker Bayou are good spots, as is the Grand Canal on Siesta Key. Trolling small plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap in the 08 size is a good way to locate fish. I usually catch my largest fish in the winter. The same rivers that hold winter snook also will attract jack crevelle.

As it warms up, jack crevelle move into the bays. They move around a lot and are found around oyster bars, seawalls, bridges, and open flats. They are caught blind casting, but it is much more fun to cast to schools of fish breaking on the surface. Area bridges will also hold some big jack crevelle.

Most of the jacks that are caught by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters hit artificial lures. Rapala plugs fool them in the rivers and creeks. Plenty of jacks, though normally smaller, take jigs while drifting the open flats. Chumming mangrove shorelines with pilchards will attract jacks while snook fishing.

#6 pompano

 top 8 Sarasota fish species

Pompano are #6 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Most pompano are caught by anglers using jigs and live shrimp. Pompano pull incredibly hard for their size. Also, they are some of the finest eating there is. Pompano are definitely my favorite fish to eat. Their only failing is that they are not around all year long. Then tend to move through in “runs”.

Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are good spots to target pompano. A small jig with a heavy head will get down quickly in a strong current. The jig is then bounced up in short motions. This vertical jigging is very efficient as the bait stays in the strike zone as the boat drifts. It is a great way to cover a lot of water and locate fish.

Pompano are also encountered on the deep grass flats. Anglers casting jigs catch them while trout fishing. The same jigs that produce trout, mackerel, and other species will fool pompano. Also specifically targeting pompano can use the same jigs that work well in the passes.

#7 bluefish

top 8 Sarasota fish species

Bluefish are #7 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. North east anglers are very well acquainted with bluefish as they are popular all along the Atlantic coast up to Maine. Our bluefish are smaller, five pounds is a nice one. Blues fight very hard, assault lures and flies, but are only available at certain times of the year. Also, they are only considered fair on the table, though if cared for properly, they are pretty good. Bluefish should be bled out and iced right away, this will make the flesh less dark and strong.

Bluefish can be anywhere or nowhere. They are found both in the passes and on the grass flats. Jigs, plugs, spoons, and flies will all elicit strikes from aggressive bluefish. Live shrimp will also fool them, as will any small bait fish. I catch them in the summer chumming the deep flats as well.

#8 Mangrove snapper

top 8 Sarasota fish species

Mangrove snapper round out my “great eight” list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Snapper are fantastic eating, pull hard, and are available year round. While clients catch snapper using lures, the majority of fish are taken using live bait. Small Rapala X-Raps and jigs with a Gulp Shrimp catch the majority of snapper that fall for lures.

Mangrove snapper are caught along the mangrove shorelines. However, for the most part, anglers targeting snapper fish man made structure. Bridges, docks, sea walls, and rocky structure all hold snapper. A live shrimp lowered down near and of the above structure can result in a feisty snapper being hooked.

In the summer, we catch some very nice snapper chumming the deep grass flats. This really started several years ago. I have no idea why, but they are certainly most welcome! At times the mangrove snapper actually prefer dead bait and chum. Some bait almost always dies and sinks to the bottom of the well. I use this as both chum and bait to attract and catch snapper. At times a switch to smaller hooks and lighter leaders is required.

I hope you enjoyed my list of top 8 inshore species, along with the tips and locations. I have fished 200 days a year for over twenty years now. These are the fish that my clients and I enjoy catching in the inshore waters of Sarasota. Any angler who would like to experience a Sarasota fishing charter can e-mail or call me!Top 8

Sarasota jig fishing

Sarasota jig fishing, Sarasota fishing report

Clients on Sarasota fishing charters did well this week once again on the deep grass flats.  Many species were landed Sarasota jig fishing and chumming with live bait fish.  Snook were also caught in New Pass.

Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, jack crevelle, whiting, ladyfish, catfish, and more were landed by anglers on Sarasota fishing charters this week.  The Radio Tower, Middlegrounds, and Bishop’s Pt were the top spots.  Casting jigs at first light then switching to live bait mid-morning was the most productive pattern.  I fished docks in New Pass one morning in search of snook.  We landed one and had another hit a topwater plug.  The wind and rain showed up, so we headed in early.

Sarasota jig fishing

Jig fishing techniques

Family fishing is a big part of my business this time of year.  My Sarasota fishing report usually includes children catching fish and having fun.  As a fishing guide I need to adjust my techniques and tactics to my clients experience and skill level.  Live bait is a great equalizer.  Once fish are chummed up behind the boat, they are easy to catch.  Anglers only need to cast fifteen or twenty feet behind the boat to catch fish.

Jigs have been performing very well for me, especially early in the morning.  While it might seem more difficult, Sarasota jig fishing is actually quite easy.  I can usually work with a client for fifteen minutes, even young anglers, and get them catching fish.  Gulp Shrimp are almost like using live shrimp, they are that effective.  In some ways they are even better.  Pinfish destroy live shrimp in short order, the Gulp Shrimp last longer.

Jigs are the most effective all-round fishing lure in Sarasota and all along the Gulf Coast. A jig is simply a hook with some lead weight at the front and a tail made of hair or plastic. It is simple but extremely effective. The jig dances seductively in the water. It is jerked up sharply then falls helplessly, triggering strikes. Weights and tails are matched to the conditions fished and targeted species. Jigs will catch virtually every species on my Sarasota fishing charters.

There is evidence pointing to the jig as the first artificial bait used by man.  And after all these years, it still catches fish!  Like many other lures, they come in a myriad of styles and colors, but they can really be broken down into two types; hair and plastic tailed jigs.  A painted lead head jig with a plastic body is the most popular of the two here on the Gulf Coast.  They are inexpensive, easy to use, versatile, and productive.

Jig heads and bodies

Jig heads come in many colors, but white and red are the two most popular. ¼ ounce is the most popular and versatile weight for jig heads. A heavier jig head is required occasionally, such as when fishing deeper water or in strong current. Jigging the passes would be an example of this. 1/8 ounce and even 1/16 ounce jig heads will be used in very shallow water.

Tails also come in various shapes, sizes, and colors.  Shad and curly tail baits imitate fish while paddle tail and shrimp bodies mimic crustaceans.  Both catch plenty of fish.  I like Bass Assassin products, but they are by no means the only choices.  A basic color selection of white, gold, olive, root beer, and chartreuse in both bait and grub style will cover most situations and angler will face. 

Sarasota jig fishing

One advantage of these types of jigs is the ease with which tails can be replaced and colors changed.  They are also very economical.  This versatility along with the low cost certainly adds to the popularity of Sarasota jig fishing. I use shad tail jigs most of the time. The Bass Assassin 4” Sea Shad is my favorite soft plastic jig trailer. The main reason I prefer shad tail baits is that they have great built in action. Shad tails have a very realistic swimming motion. This makes it a great choice for novice anglers.

Shad tail jigs are very versatile. They produce for anglers using multiple retrieves. A steady retrieve will mimic a bait fish. The shad tail produces a lot of action. However, the most productive retrieve is the “twitch and fall” technique. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink, then retrieved back using a sharp one to two foot movement. Most strikes occur as the jig falls.

Paddle tail and shrimp tails work well, too. One benefit to these baits is that pinfish and other small fish won’t bite off the end of the tail. These baits work best when the water is cooler and there are more shrimp and less bait fish in the water. Cooler water will also result in fish being more active and aggressive. They will be more active and will readily take a jig.

Scented baits

Scented soft plastic baits such as Gulp are a bit more expensive, but on slow days they can make a big difference. I have had many charters where the Gulp and jig combo out-fished live bait. Color seldom matters, it is all about the scent. The 3” Gulp Shrimp is a perfect size for Sarasota Bay species.

Jigs can also be purchased that are manufactured with nylon or natural fibers.  Bucktail jigs have been around a long time. White is the best color.  Spro jigs are a quality bucktail jig that is an excellent lure.  Pompano jigs are usually made with artificial fibers.  Typically, they have a heavy head and a short tail. While very productive, hair jigs are not as durable or cost effective as the jig and grub combo is and therefore not as popular.  They are a great choice for pompano and speckled trout, but not for bluefish and mackerel.

Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be great spots to do some jig fishing, as long as the water is clean.  Both passes have shallow bars and deep channels and fish can be in either of those spots.  In the deeper water, vertically jigging while drifting with the tide is a time-proven technique for pompano and other species.  Anglers simply drop a jig to the bottom and drift along while sharply raising the rod tip every couple of seconds, then allow the bait to flutter back to the bottom.  Heavier pompano style jigs work very well in this application.  Each time the bait hits the bottom it will kick up a puff of sand, imitating a crab or other crustacean.  A small piece of fresh or frozen shrimp can be added. This is called “tipping the jig”.

On the shallow bars, casting jigs out and retrieving them back to the boat is the preferred method. Each time the jig hits the bottom, it kicks up a bit of sand. This looks exactly like a crab or shrimp trying to hide. Both pompano jigs and the jig and grub can be used effectively in this application when Sarasota jig fishing.

Jigs are very productive on the deep grass flats.  Speckled trout in particular are suckers for a jig and grub combo, but bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, cobia, flounder, sea bass, grouper, jacks, and ladyfish will all readily take a jig.  The lure is cast out and retrieved back using a sharp “twitch”, generally from the 10:00 to 12:00 position.  Most bites occur as the jig is falling, seemingly helpless. 

Anglers who keep the line tight as the jig falls will detect more strikes. A good rule of thumb regarding color is to use light colors in clear water and dark colors in darker water. Glow, white, gold, and silver are good colors when the water is clear. Olive, rootbeer, copper, and other dark colors work great in darker water.

Another popular technique is to fish a jig two feet under a noisy cork.  The rig is cast out, allowed to settle, then the rod tip is sharply twitched.  This causes the cork to make a loud noise, attracting fish.  It also causes the jig to jerk up and then slowly settle back down.  The cork not only keeps the lure from hanging in the grass, strikes are easily seen as it disappears. A Gulp Shrimp works great with this technique.

There are times when fish will respond to a steady retrieve while jig fishing. A slow, steady retrieve will produce when the water temperature is down a bit. When Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish are actively feeding on the surface, a very fast retrieve will fool them. Anglers literally can not reel fast enough to get a bait away from a hungry mackerel.

As the weather cools, the water temperature drops, and the hordes of bait fish that inhabited the bay in the summer migrate to warmer waters, artificial lures become more productive.  While lures certainly catch fish all year long, they are even more effective this time of year.  And no bait is as versatile or effective on a variety of species as is the lead head jig.

Scented soft plastic baits on a 1/8 ounce jig head are deadly on redfish and snook when fished in shallow water around oyster bars and in pot holes.  Root beer is a great color in darker water.  The area from Stickney Pt. south to Blackburn Point is a great area to fish in cooler weather  There are many oyster bars here and it is more protected on windy days.  High tides in the afternoon are the best times to fish. 

Potholes in north Sarasota Bay near Long Bar and Whale Key will hold snook and reds when the water is clear. Shallow grass flats on both sides of Sarasota Bay exist from New Pass north. A shallow draft is required for this method of fishing. Shallow water jig fishing is challenging, but rewarding. A 4” or 5” swim bait on a 1/16 ounce jig head is a good choice.

Depending on weather conditions, fishing can be very good in the inshore Gulf of Mexico for both surf fisherman and anglers in boats.  Good conditions would be clean, clear water in the mid 60s.  Jigs cast from shore will catch pompano, whiting, jacks, mackerel, and ladyfish. Tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can help a lot in the surf. This is particularly true in the winter when the water temperature is lower.

Fishing with jigs in the Gulf of Mexico

Anglers fishing from boats in the inshore Gulf of Mexico will find jigs productive as well. Anglers will target surface activity from breaking false albacore and Spanish mackerel. This is fairly easy fishing when the fish are this active. Just about any lure that is close to the forage in size and color will be devoured quickly. A very fast, steady retrieve will normally produce best.

The jig and grub will produce some very nice snook in area rivers in the winter. Snook migrate up creeks, rivers, and residential canals to survive cold winters. I prefer a slightly larger bait as trophy snook are the target. My favorite is the Bass Assassin 5” Die Dapper swim bait. Dark colors are good with Golden Bream being my go to pattern.  There are a lot of downed trees and other submerged cover in the rivers.  Jigs with exposed hooks will hang up a bit more often than other lures.  Using a soft plastic baits on a special hook that keeps the hook buried will help reduce snags.

A jig with a wide gap, stout hook is required when jig fishing for snook. A 1/8 ounce is a good weight. The jig should fall slowly then reeled back in using a slow, steady retrieve. Snook can become a bit lethargic in the cooler water. However, they need to feed and bluegill, tilapia, and mullet are larger bait fish that the snook feed on. Larger baits tend to produce in this situation.

Small jigs are deadly on panfish when Sarasota jig fishing in area freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers. Jigs have been used successfully all over the country for decades now. 1/8 ounce and 1/16 ounce jig heads with tiny twister tail and shad tail grubs will produce a lot of fish. Bluegill, crappie, and small bass will take these lures which mimic tiny bait fish that are found in these waters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing

Sarasota inshore Gulf of Mexico fishing

Sarasota has some truly word class fishing off of the area beaches in the spring and fall.  Several different species migrate through, following hordes of bait fish.  Some of my most exciting fishing has been taking clients on Sarasota fishing charters, doing some Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing.

When conditions are right, Sarasota beaches offer world class angling.  The inshore Gulf of Mexico offers visitors the opportunity to cast lures and flies into schools of breaking fish.  This is some very exciting fishing!  False albacore and Spanish mackerel will be terrorizing helpless bait fish.  It is a feeding frenzy and the action can be spectacular!

Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing

We were greeted on a sunny fall morning with a sight that would make any angler’s blood boil.  Every few hundred yards or so, the flat calm surface of the Gulf of Mexico was disturbed by breaking fish and diving birds.  I eased the boat quietly into casting range of the nearest school of working fish and cut the engine.

As soon as the fish show, cast your plugs out to the edge of the fish”, I instructed my two anglers.  Several tense moments passed before the water exploded thirty feet in front of us.  Two Rapala X Raps were sent out into the fray, twitched once, and instantly devoured.  A double-header on the first cast!  My initial thought was that we had tied into a couple of Spanish mackerel, but the long runs that threatened to “spool” our ten pound spinning outfits contradicted that.  Ten minutes later we had our answer as a pair of false albacore reluctantly gave up their valiant struggle.  After a quick photo, they were released to thrill other anglers with their speed and power.

Sarasota fishing charters

In the spring time and again in the fall, Sarasota is blessed with fantastic light tackle Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing off our beaches.  This truly is world class fishing.  Huge schools of bait fish will move through on their annual migrations.  Game fish will be hot on their trail.  While the primary species are king and Spanish mackerel, along with false albacore, other pelagic species such as cobia, tarpon, and sharks will also be encountered.  Every season is different, but action generally peaks on Easter and again on Thanksgiving.  Optimum conditions are water temperature between 65 and 75 degrees, along with easterly breezes and clear water.  This offers anglers with small boats an opportunity to catch large fish quite close to shore.

Point of Rocks on Siesta Key is a great spot to do some inshore Gulf fishing.  The bars at the mouths of both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are great spots as well.  However, the fish can be anywhere along the beach.  Three artificial reefs were placed within two miles of shore off Lido Key between the two passes.  These are fish magnets on the otherwise barren Gulf of Mexico floor and provide a great contingency plan.  Action of some kind is practically guaranteed at one, if not all three, of the reefs.

Sarasota Fishing Techniques

Several techniques are used in pursuit of these nomadic speedsters.  The most exciting, when conditions dictate, is sight casting to “breaking” fish.  A spinning rod with ten to twelve pound line is ideal and a reel with a smooth drag is essential.  Casting rods can be used, although the light lures and baits make spinning outfits a better choice for most anglers.  Small plugs such as a Rapala X-Rap are extremely effective baits that result in a high hook-up rate.  Spoons, Diamond jigs, Gotchas, and Bass Assassin jigs with bait tails will also catch plenty of fish.  White and silver are the preferred colors.  Be careful not to use lures that are too big, the forage is usually quite small, better to “match the hatch”.  A 24” piece of fluorocarbon shock leader is needed, start out with 20 lb in clear water and go up to 40 lb if cut-offs from mackerel become an issue.

A patient angler will prevail when Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing.  Charging around from school to school will only result in putting the fish down.  Instead, sit and wait for a good opportunity.  There will be days when it can be frustrating.  However, at some point you will be in the right spot and get your opportunity.  A trolling motor is a great asset, allowing the angler to fine tune the boat’s position.  As with all fishing, vary baits and retrieves until a productive pattern is identified.  The fish are usually quite aggressive and a fast, erratic retrieve will result in bone-jarring strikes.  Most of the time, the reel handle can’t be turned too fast!

Sarasota Gulf fly fishing

This is a terrific situation to catch a nice fish on a fly rod.  Long casts are not normally required and the fish are hungry and cooperative.  An average sized little tunny will get deep into the backing on its initial run.  As with spin fishing, try different retrieves and flies.  Allowing the fly to settle a moment, then retrieving it back in with short, hard strips is often productive, while at other times just letting the fly sink through the bait, seemingly helpless, will trigger a strike.  A 7 weight rod is fine for Spanish mackerel while a 9 weight is a better choice for false albacore.  Floating lines with a nine foot leader work well.  20 pound tippet is good for the false albacore.  They can be a bit leader shy.  A 40 pound bite tippet will help reduce cut-offs from the mackerel. 

Fly selection is pretty basic.  #1 white D.T Special flies, #1 white Clouser Minnow flies, and #1 white glass minnow flies are the top producing flies.  When fish are seen breaking on the surface, the angler should approach up-wind of the fish.  The engine should be cut and the boat allowed to drift down on the fish.  Spanish mackerel tend to stay on the surface in one spot longer than false albacore.  A cast into the middle of the fish should produce a take.  False albacore move a lot faster and do not stay up on the surface.  Anglers need to determine the direction that they are moving and “lead” the fish when fly fishing.

Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing

Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Trolling is an extremely effective technique that will usually put more fish in the boat than sight casting when Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing.  This can be particularly true on mornings when there is a chop on the surface, when the fish are not showing, or when targeting king mackerel.  Plugs and spoons are the two most productive lures.  Both lures can be trolled using a light trolling sinker or behind a planer, but a plug with a large lip will “trip” the planer.  Shallow and deeper running plugs are effective on all species.  Spinning and conventional rods are both fine for trolling plugs.  Simply tie the lure to a 6’ piece of 80 lb fluorocarbon.  Rapala X-Raps, Yozuri 3 D Minnows, and gold Bombers are all effective plugs.

The key to trolling several lures without tangling them is to vary the depth and distance that the lure is let out behind the boat.  I use a “count back” method when inshore Gulf fishing.  The shallowest running bait is let out first with the engine idling in gear.  This is usually a plug but can also be a spoon/trolling sinker combo.  Count out to twenty five and then put the rod in an outside rod holder.  Next shallowest would be the #1 planer.  Count out to twenty while letting the line out.  Put that rod on the other side of the boat.  Last, and deepest, is the #2 planer or deep diving plug.  Count out to fifteen and set the rod in a holder as close to center as possible.  Now there are three baits at different depths and distances, allowing the boat to be turned without the lines fouling.  Increase speed to four to five knots and troll while looking for birds, bait, and surface activity.  Keeping the boat moving after a strike can result in multiple hook-ups.

Live bait Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing

While I prefer the excitement of tossing artificial lures and flies, drifting and slow trolling live bait will often out fish all other methods, and will usually catch the largest fish.  Live shrimp and small bait fish that can be cast-netted up are best free lined on light tackle using a 2/0 long shank hook on a 24” piece of 30 lb leader.  This works great for catching Spanish mackerel and false albacore.  Larger species such as king mackerel, cobia, tarpon, and sharks prefer a large threadfin or blue runner.  Cast out a Sabiki rig into the bait pods and use a slight jigging motion to attract the bait.  Once procured, use a heavy spinning rod (tarpon tackle is perfect for this) with a 5’ piece of 80 lb fluorocarbon leader and a 6/0 live bait hook.  Drift the bait out behind the boat, a cork may be required if the wind and tide are slack.

Live bait fish can also be slow trolled.  This is an extremely effective tactic for large king fish.  A “stinger” rig is preferred.  This consists of a long wire leader with two hooks about 6” apart.  The bait is attached by the nose to the first hook, the second hook swings free.  The bait is let out 100 feet behind the boat and slowly trolled around the edges of bait schools and over structure.  The boat should be in idle and moving as slowly as possible.  Drags are set lightly allowing the fish to run after a strike.  In most instances, the fish will be hooked in the side of the face with the stinger hook, necessitating the light drag pressure.

A couple of seasons back, I was out on the beach on a charter the day before Thanksgiving.  It was a little choppy and the fish were not showing, so I had my clients drifting live baits out behind the boat.  We had landed a small king and several nice Spanish mackerel when a rod baited with a big threadfin doubled over.  Line peeled off the reel as my client scrambled to get the rod out of the holder.  His face lit up as a hundred pounds of silver fury leapt several feet out.

of the water.  Yes, a tarpon at the end of November!  You never know what you might hook into off of the Suncoast beaches.  Come and experience Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing for yourself!

Sarasota Fishing Tips

Tip #1

Planers are deadly, but require the use of heavier tackle.  A #1 planer on a 15-20 lb conventional outfit and 20 feet of 50 lb leader and will dive down six to eight feet at five knots.  A #2 planer on a 30-40 lb conventional rod and 20’ of 80 lb leader will work the 12’-15’ depths.  Match the spoon to the size of the planer.  A 2”-3” Clark spoon works best on a #1 planer while a large King spoon works better on the #2 planer.  Quality swivels on both ends of the leader will minimize line twist.

Tip # 2

Watch the teeth!  Spanish mackerel and king mackerel have VERY sharp teeth.  It can be easy to become careless when in the middle of a fishing frenzy.  A release tool is a great aid.  Fish that are going to be kept should be released right into the cooler.  Fished to be released should just be unhooked over the side. 

Tip # 3 

False albacore will fight to the death, literally.  It is important to use tackle heavy enough to subdue them in a reasonable amount of time.  Also, when releasing an albacore, point it head fist towards the water and briskly shove it into the water.  This will get the water moving across it’s gills. 

Tip # 4 

Anglers may be tempted to use wire after getting several cut-offs from toothy mackerel.  This is understandable.  However, the number of strikes will be decreased, especially if the water is clear.  Several manufacturers make wire that is limp and can be tied in knots.  This is a good compromise.  Tip # 5  Birds are your friend!  As the game fish feed on minnows, they will drive them to the surface.  Birds will see this and dive in on the helpless prey.  It is much much easier for anglers to see birds working from a long distance than the actual fish feeding.  Small white terns are a sure indication of feeding mackerel or false albacore.

Sarasota Summer Fishing Charters

Sarasota summer fishing charters

Sarasota Fishing Charters

Sarasota summer fishing charters are a bit complex. It is July and I have a dilemma. The water temperature is in the mid 80s and Sarasota Bay is full of bait fish. Artificial lures can be effective but live bait is tough to beat. Also, the idea of using the early morning “prime time” to catch bait is not appealing. So, what to do? Simple; take advantage of the first light bite by casting lures and mid-morning when things slow down a bit, fill the well with bait and use it to get the fish cranked back up!

Using lures early then switching to live bait later in the morning is a strategy that I use on my Sarasota fishing charters all summer long.  Bait is abundant, particularly on those flats near the passes where I often fish, that the speckled trout and other species can be difficult to fool on a lure. The exceptions to this are the low light periods of dawn and dusk when game fish are actively feeding. I also run a lot of family charters that include novice anglers and children. Live bait is the ticket to bent rods and smiling faces. In these instances, live shrimp can replace lures to take advantage of the early bite. At some point the pinfish will become a nuisance, requiring a change to bait fish.

Sarasota fishing charters

Artificial Lures

Plug, jigs, and spoons are three very effective and versatile lures on Sarasota summer fishing charters. High tides first thing in the morning will find my clients casting Rapala X-Raps in the (08) size over bars and edges of grass flats. Olive and white are my two top colors. White mimics the “whitebait” that is often present. It works very well in clear water. Olive looks a lot like mullet as well as greenbacks and is a great all-round finish. Baitfish being present at these spots only increases the chance of success.

Snook will also attack Rapala plugs when cast around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars at first light. These baits dive several feet below the surface and are deadly when retrieved back in using sharp twitches with a pause in between. Topwater plugs will elicit explosive strikes on fishing charters! Topwater baits will generally catch less fish, although often times larger ones. The Rapala Skitterprop is my personal choice. This bait has a tapered nose and a propeller on the rear. It make a decent amount of commotion when twitched sharply. Gold is a productive color pattern. Some of the largest trout will be landed using plugs in shallow water at dawn.

Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are great for speckled trout over the grass flats. The venerable 52 series has produced a lot of fish over the years. A recent addition is the MirroDine looks very much live a scaled sardine, which is a prime forage bait for inshore species. These baits work best in slightly deeper water. They will hang up in the grass if used on the very shallow flats.

The lead head jig/plastic tail combination is a proven bait all along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Bass Assassin jigs are very popular in our area. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and colors. My personal favorite on fishing charters is the 4” Sea Shad tail on a ¼ ounce jig head. This is a great bait to use when fishing over deeper grass flats for trout, pompano, and whatever else finds it attractive. Light colors such as gold, silver, and glow work well in clear water while rootbeer and olive are effective in darker water. Lighter jig heads can be used when fishing in shallow water.

Jigs are very versatile along with producing a lot of fish. The best technique is to cast it out ahead of a drifting boat in six feet to ten feet of water that has grass on the bottom. After allowing the bait to sink for several seconds, it is retrieved back using sharp upward twitches. Most bites occur on the fall. Flats that have bird activity or bait fish schooling on the surface are great spots to try. Pinfish can be a problem if the bait is worked too slowly. They will bite the shad tail off when present.

Sarasota fishing charters

Scented baits can make a huge difference, especially when conditions are tough. The best scented bait, by far, is the Gulp! Line of baits. I prefer the 3” Gulp! Shrimp on a ¼ ounce jig head. Color really does not matter that much, it is all about the scent. They really are like using live shrimp! New Penny, glow/chartreuse, and rootbeer/chartreuse are my top producing colors. A Gulp! Shrimp fished ender a noise popping cork is deadly on speckled trout.

Spoons have been around forever, and to this day are still productive lures. They are great for prospecting as they are easy to cast long distances, allowing anglers to cover a lot of water. Spoons basically come in two styles; either weedless with a single hook or with a treble hook. Gold and silver are the two most popular finishes. Weedless spoons are great for enticing redfish in very shallow water. The treble hook version is a good choice when fishing open water. Spanish mackerel are particularly vulnerable to a quickly retrieved silver spoon. Spoons work very well whenever fish are seen actively feeding on the surface.

Fly fishers are certainly not to be left out of the action on Sarasota summer fishing charters! A fly looks exactly like the small bait that is prevalent on the flats. A #1 white or white and chartreuse Clouser Minnow is tough to beat. A 7wt or 8wt outfit works well. Floating lines work well in shallow water while an intermediate sink tip line would be the best choice in water over four feet deep.

Catching Bait on Sarasota summertime fishing charters

Weather and tide will play a part in my strategy for the morning. Strong tides and a little breeze will usually result in lures being productive later into the morning. Conversely, a still morning with very little water movement will mandate a switch to live bait earlier than normal. Fortunately, bait is usually pretty easy to acquire this time of year. I prefer a light, eight foot net. It is easier to throw and empty. But, many anglers use nets up to twelve feet in diameter.

Bird activity will give away the location of the baitfish. Shallow flats near passes are prime spots to find scaled sardines (pilchards) and threadfins. Sloping points are great spots. Bait fish will position themselves on the up-tide side. Edges of flats can be good as well. Incoming tides are usually the best time to catch bait. Bait will vary in size. All will work, but small bait can be problematic. It will hang up in the net and is a bit more difficult to cast. Small bait-stealers can also be a nuisance. The perfect sized bait for fishing the deep grass flats is around 2”.

Once located, a good toss or two with a cast net should result in a well full of frisky bait. The ideal situation is when baitfish are dimpling up on the surface. Easing into range quietly should allow the angler to get a good cast over the bait. If bait fish are not visible on the surface, they can be chummed into range using canned mackerel or cat food. The same types of spots will produce. Chumming will also result in small pinfish and grunts being captured along with the other bait fish.

Sarasota fishing charters

Sarasota fishing, Chumming Them Up

Once the bait is obtained, fishing begins. This is a proven tactic on Sarasota summer fishing charters. The technique is pretty simple but as with any other method, subtle nuances can make a big difference. Basically, I anchor up-current of a grass flat in four to eight feet of water. Then, I toss out a handful of bait and if fish are around it won’t take long before they start “busting” the baits on the surface.

Baits are pinned to a 1/0 hook and cast out; a hookup should promptly ensue. A small split shot may be required to get the bait down in the water column. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sharks, mangrove snapper, jack crevelle, flounder, and ladyfish are all commonly caught using this technique over the deep grass. This technique does require a decent cast net, a large live well, and a little patience. A quality cast net is a great investment. It will pay for itself in just a few trips. As with all other fishing equipment, better nets will cost a bit more money. However, the payoff can be non-stop action all morning long.

Sometimes clients choose to finish up a Sarasota fishing charters trying for a snook, redfish, or big jack. This does require that the bait be fairly large, in the 3” range. Smaller bait will not work nearly as well. Anchoring near a mangrove point and chumming will lure the fish into range. I have also landed some large mangrove snapper along with the snook and reds when using this technique. This is a great option as it produces even at mid-day.

Snook fishing

In the summer, snook will school up thick in both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Structure in the passes such as rocks, docks, and bridges will hold fish. Mangrove shorelines with a bit of depth are prime spots as well. Less chum is requires as the baits are larger. The idea is to get the fish excited, not full. Being judicious with the use of chum is a good idea.

Tackle requirements for snook fishing charters are a bit different. Stouter tackle will be required around the structure. A 7 foot rod with 20 lb braided line is a good combination. 30” of 30 lb or 40 lb flourocarbon leader and a 2/0 short shank live bait hook or #4/0 circle hook completes the basic rig. Weight will be required when fishing deep water in the passes with current. A swivel between the braid and leader with the egg sinker on the braid works well. Anglers should use just enough weight to hold the bottom.

Large jack crevelle, redfish, and other species will be taken this way as well. In the late summer, some large mangrove snapper will please anglers on Sarasota fishing charters who seek a fish to invite home for dinner. The rocks at the north end of Siesta Key in twenty feet of water is a very good spot for snapper. The New Pass Bridge is a good spot for both snapper and snook. Occasionally, a large tarpon will be hooked under the bridge!

Anglers that choose to fish on their own can catch plenty as snook right off of the beaches. Snook move out to Sarasota Beaches to spawn in the summer. When conditions are right, which means clear smooth water, snook can be seen right in the surf line. The idea is to see the fish, then determine which way it is moving. A lure, bait or fly is and cast out ahead of the fish. Hopefully a bite ensues.

This really is world-class sight fishing. It offers anglers the chance to see the fish, stalk it, cast to it, and catch it! One of the great things about this type of fishing is that light tackle can be used.  There is very little structure out on the beach for fish to break off on.

In closing, the fishing in the summer can be fantastic! Anglers just need to change tactics a bit. Versatility and the ability to adapt to conditions are the keys to success, along with understanding how the warm water affects the bait and game fish. Some of my most productive Sarasota fishing charters for both action and variety occur in the summer.  Most days we land around eight to ten different species and while I promote catch and release, most clients can take home a meal if desired.   Anglers who want to get in on this great action need to get up early, drink a lot of water, and enjoy some “Hot” summer fishing!