Sarasota Fishing Report

Sarasota Fishing Report

I will be posting my current Sarasota fishing report on this page. It will be updated every week or two as conditions and species change. It will include the baits or lures along with the species and locations.

October 13 Sarasota fishing report

The area south of Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Point provided steady action for clients on Sarasota fishing charters this week.  I got out a couple of times after Hurricane Michael moved through.  The water was a bit stirred up, but the fish did not mind.  We had outgoing tides in the morning this week.  The best spots were creek and canal mouths along with docks on points.  Rapala X-Raps produced a few fish at first light, but most of the fish were caught using live pilchards.  Bait was present on the flats in several spots near Big Pass.  Chumming docks, shorelines, oyster bars, and creek mouths produced snook (mostly schoolies), jack crevelle to 4 pounds, and mangrove snapper to 15″.  Action should improve as it cools off.  Great to see the bay clearing and the fish biting!

Sarasota fishing report

October 7 Sarasota fishing report

I am back from a long road trip up to New Hampshire and Maine. Red tide was pretty bad when I left around Labor Day. It is still present, though the effects have eased off a bit. Persistent anglers can find juvenile snook, jacks, and mangrove snapper’s in the area at the south end of Siesta Key. A few schools of ladyfish are showing up in the flats around the passes and out on the beach. This is a good sign of things clearing up!

Sarasota fishing report

I have been doing a little freshwater fishing and local lakes. Bluegill and other panfish along with a few crappie are caught using jigs and small spinner baits. This fishing, like our saltwater fishing, will pick up as it cools off and the water temperature drops.

Sarasota fishing report information

There are many factors that go into fishing success. My Sarasota fishing report page will reflect this. Seasonal patterns are one of the primary factors influencing fishing success. Anglers can view my complete Sarasota fishing forecast.

Fishing in the cooler months is all about the weather. We start receiving serious cold fronts here in Sarasota, Florida around November. They usually persist until mid-March. Unseasonably pleasant winters will result in fish maintaining their spring and fall patterns. Conversely, an unusually cold winter will keep fish in their winter pattern.

Sarasota fishing report

In the winter time I do three types of fishing; bottom fishing, River snook fishing, and on nice days drifting the deep grass flats. I use live shrimp to bottom fish for sheepshead, snapper, drum, and other species around docs and other structure. Local area rivers produce snook and bass for anglers casting plugs. When conditions are favorable on the open flats, we use jigs and live shrimp to catch a variety of species.

As it warms up fish move out of the deeper waters where they spend the winter. The flats and passes become alive with snook, redfish, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species. The passes and deep flats produce the most action while some anglers seek the challenge of catching snook in redfish in the back country.

When conditions are right, the fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico can be fantastic! East winds will result in clear water and plenty of baitfish. This will in turn attract Spanish mackerel, false albacore, sharks, cobia, and other species. Often times, the fish will be seen feeding aggressively on the surface. This is great fun as just about anything tossed into the feeding frenzy will draw strike.

Sarasota fishing charters

For many anglers, the heat of summer means one thing; tarpon! The silver Kings invade our area in early May and stay until late July. This is very challenging fishing, and not for everyone. However the reward is the fish of a lifetime! Tarpon to 150 pounds are landed off of the area beaches every summer.

While I still do a little tarpon fishing, most of my summer trips are run in Sarasota Bay. With all the anglers out on the beach chasing tarpon, fishing pressure in the Bay is lighter. My normal approach is to cast lures or shrimp at first light then use my cast net to catch bait and chum midmorning. Either way, with the heat of summer, we are will off the water early.

You’ll see me mention “deep grass flats”often in my Sarasota fishing report. This is where the majority of fish on my fishing charters are landed. These areas are large with a mixture of grass and sand bottom. Shrimp, crabs, and bait fish all hide in the grass. That obviously makes it an attractive place for game fish to feed.

Speckled trout in particular are associated with these deeper grass flats. But anglers will also catch Spanish mackerel, Pompano, bluefish, jacks, a lot of ladyfish, snapper, grouper, cobia, sharks, catfish and more while fishing the deep grass at one time of year or another.

Sarasota fishing

We primarily drift fish while working the deep grass flats. Anglers cast out lures, flies, or live bait as we drift across a productive areas in search of fish. Bass Assassin jigs, Rapala plugs, and spoons are effective artificial lures. The top live bait is a shrimp. These are fished either free line or under a noisy cork. In the summer time, live bait fish such as scaled sardines are used.

Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass produce a lot a fish for clients on Sarasota fishing charters. Anglers reading my Sarasota fishing report will see Big Pass in particular mentioned quite often. Sheepshead school up there thick and late winter and early spring. Mangrove snapper and snook are found in the rocks in the summer time. Ladyfish are often times thick right in the middle of the pass itself. Bluefish and mackerel can also be encountered as well.

Anglers drifting the passes cast jigs out and bounced them along the bottom. This is very effective and produces Pompano, bluefish, mackerel, and loads of ladyfish. Free lining a live shrimp with a split shot or fishing a live shrimp on a jig head can also be very productive. However, when the fish are biting jigs are more efficient as there is no need to stop and rebate the hook.

Sarasota Bay fishing report

There is a ton of structure in Big Pass as well. This is particularly true of the whole area along the north side of Siesta Key. The water is deep, there is good current flow, and abundant structure. This is a recipe for an excellent fishing spot, and it is! Bottom fishing with live shrimp and bait fish is very productive. Anglers do need to time this during periods of lesser current flow. It is difficult to anchor in fish when the tide is screaming.

Spinning tackle is used on the vast majority of my fishing charters. The reason is quite simple; it is effective and easy to use. Many freshwater anglers are experienced with close to faced reels. However, it usually only takes a few minutes before there casting like a pro with the spinning outfits. 10 pound spinning outfits are light enough that anglers enjoy the fight of even a smaller fish while still giving them a chance of the hook something larger.

Anglers seeking a bit more of a challenge will opt to targets snook, redfish, and jacks in the back country areas. This type of fishing is more of a “quality over quantity approach”. I use the trolling motor to ease the boat along a likely looking shoreline, while anglers cast lures towards the shoreline. I do use live bait occasionally as well.

Visitors to my site will often see ”River snook fishing”in my Sarasota fishing report. This is a unique angling opportunity that I offer to clients. I am not aware of any other guide to do so. I use my 14 foot Alumacraft jon boat for this fishing. Shallow water and primitive ramps require this. However, this also results in less boat traffic and a quiet, serene angling adventure.

The Manatee River, Myakka River, and Braden River, are all within a 45 minute drive from the Sarasota beaches. Each has a distinct feel and personality. The Myakka River has some stunning scenery and big snook. The Manatee River is pretty as well but a bit more developed. It offers the most variety. The Braden River is the most developed but offers fantastic fishing for jack crevelle in the cooler months. Snook and redfish are available as well.

One unique aspect of fishing the rivers is the chance to catch freshwater species as well. The Manatee River and Myakka River are both brackish below the dams. This results in saltwater fish such as snuck, redfish, jacks, and juvenile tarpon being found in the same water as largemouth bass, sunshine bass, catfish, gar, and bream. These freshwater species will take the same lures meant for the saltwater fish.

In the spring and again in the fall we experience runs of pelagic species. This means that they spend most of their time in the middle of the water column and do not relate as much to bottom structure. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are prime examples. King mackerel show up here offer beaches as well. This fishing is dependent on conditions, the water needs to be clear and calm. When it is, fishing can be outstanding!

This type of fishing is very exciting in that it is visual. Often times we don’t even fish until we actually see the mackerel and false albacore busting baits on the surface. We will also look for big schools of bait fish which can be seen dimpling on the surface. Artificial lures work very well when the fish are breaking. We will also catch some of the live bait fish and cast them back into the school of bait.

On days when the fish cannot be seen working on the surface, trolling can be an effective technique. Trolling spoons and plugs is a great way to locate Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and even big King fish. It is also a great way to put a lot of fish in the boat quickly and is an easy technique for anglers with limited experience.

The “inshore artificial reefs”will be mentioned regularly in my Sarasota fishing report. I am referring to three man-made groups of structure that were placed between one and to miles off of Lido Key. The Gulf floor is for the most part flat and featureless. Therefore, any structure will attract fish and hold them there. Those three reefs provide excellent fishing for bottom fish such as sheepshead, snapper, and grouper along with pelagic species such as mackerel, King fish, cobia, and false albacore.

Fly fisherman are certainly not to be left out of the action! False albacore in Spanish mackerel will most certainly hit a well presented fly out in the Gulf of Mexico. This is terrific sport for anglers wielding a fly rod. Any inshore species that can be caught on a jig will also take a fly. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, and more will hit a Clouser Minnow on the deep flats. Snook and jacks prefer whiteCrystal Minnow patterns in the back bays.

An 8wt outfit is a good all-around choice for fly fishing in Sarasota. It might be a tad light if the false albacore are running large. Otherwise, it is a good choice for the water and species that Sarasota offers. An intermediate sink tip line and then 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch piece of 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the outfit.

Readers will see a lot a families including children and my Sarasota fishing report. I really enjoy taking families out, it has become a big part of my Sarasota fishing charters. Many of these anglers have limited experience. One great thing about fishing here is that there are many species that do not require a great deal of skill or patience to catch. This is a good thing!

Also, while I don’t mind if clients keep a couple fish for dinner, I strongly encourage catch and release. Sarasota gets a lot a visitors and thus a lot of fishing pressure. It is important that the focus of the fishing trip beyond catching fish and enjoying quality time with families. I will certainly filet and bag up your catch at the end of the trip.  Current Florida fishing regulations and license requirements can be found HERE.

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.

Plug fishing Sarasota

Plug fishing Sarasota, weekly Sarasota fishing report

Plugs are very versatile and productive lures.  They catch a wide variety of species and are effective in many angling situations.  As a full time guide, I really enjoy plug fishing Sarasota on my fishing charters.  A detailed article on the subject follows my weekly Sarasota fishing report.

Sarasota plug fishing, Sarasota fishing report

Weather was an issue for clients on Sarasota fishing charters this week.  The wind switched to the southwest, which brings morning storms instead of the normal afternoon rains.  I did not get out until Wednesday, to find conditions a bit challenging.  The water was a bit stirred up and murky.  This makes bait harder to find.  Still, persistent anglers did well on a variety of species.

The deep grass flats at the Radio Tower, Middlegrounds, Country Club Shores, and Bishop’s Pt. were productive this week.  Speckled trout to 24″, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, sea bass, snapper, gag grouper, ladyfish, jack crevelle, and catfish were landed.  Gulp Shrimp and Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits on a 1/4 ounce jig head were productive.  Though bait was small and a bit tough to get, chumming was effective later in the morning.

The wind let up and switched to the southeast on Friday.  What a difference that made!  We started off in Big Sarasota Pass, catching several small snook and nice mangrove snapper free lining large live shrimp.  Bait was much easier, and I filled up the well.  We snook fished a bit more with no success.  A switch to the deep flats was a good decision.  The guys landed a bunch of trout along with other species.

plug fishing Sarasota

Plug fishing article

Jessica made a perfect cast placing her plug right next to the dock piling on the up current side. A sharp twitch of her rod to caused the Rapala to dive a couple of feet below the surface and dart seductively. On the third pause, the lure just stopped and a nice redfish boiled on the surface, furious at the hook stuck in its lower jaw. Several minutes and a half dozen head-shaking runs later, the slot size red came alongside, posed for a quick picture, and was released back into the water to contemplate its recent adventure. Two hours of afternoon plug casting resulted in this red small snook, several Jack crevelle and ladyfish.

I love fishing, but I really love plug fishing! The reason? Plugs are very productive on a wide variety of species and are a blast to use. Casting is half the fun, making accurate casts under mangrove trees or near docks is very satisfying and challenging. Bites range from subtle takes to downright ferocious strikes. Anglers need to take care, however.  Anytime a lure with multiple treble hooks in involved, extra caution is required.  Plugs come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, but can be broken down into two categories: surface or top water plugs and sub-surface baits.

plug fishing Sarasota

Top water plugs

Top water plugs come in two styles; poppers and walk the dog baits. Poppers are very easy to fish and are quite effective. The Rapala Skitter Pop, Rebel Pop R, and Chug Bug are three popular examples. These are floating baits that have a concave face. The technique is simple; cast it out, let it settle for a moment, then twitch the rod tip sharply causing the face of the plug to dig into the water and make a loud “pop”. The famous Zara Spook is the best-known example of a walk the dog. The Rapala Skitterwalk and MirrOlure Top Dogs are also local favorites. The retrieve is a bit more difficult to master. After being cast out, the rod tip is held down near the water and a rhythmic twitching retrieve causes the lure to dance back and forth on the surface.

One common mistake anglers make plug fishing Sarasota is working top water baits to quickly and aggressively. This is particularly true on a very calm day. Slow, subtle action will generally draw more strikes. Another mistake often made is striking too soon. The sight of a large predator blowing up on the top water plug is very exciting, often resulting in a reflex strike that pulls the lure out of the fishes mouth. Instead, wait until the weight of the fish is felt and set the hook in a smooth, sideways manner. This is safer as well.

Diving plugs

While a top water strike can be spectacular, more fish are caught on subsurface baits. Most of these lures float on the surface and dive down when retrieved Primarily, the lip on the lure determines the depth the plug will run. However, line size and speed are also factors. Lure manufacturers will have the pertinent information on the box. Rapala X-Raps are my personal favorites.

Plugs are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Generally speaking lures that dive down to to 5 feet are the most effective in our local waters. Match the size of the plug to the available forage. Olive is my favorite all-around color, but gold and black and chartreuse work great in stained water, and pearl and silver are very effective in clear water.

Suspending plug such as the venerable MirrOlure can be deadly, particularly on speckled trout. They sink slowly and are worked back with a twitch and pause retrieve. That pause, where the bait just suspends, seemingly helpless, really triggers the strikes. Lipless crank baits, such as the Rattletrap are very easy to use. Just cast it out and reel it back in; they have a great built in action. Chrome with a blue back is the favorite color when plug fishing Sarasota.

Tackle requirements

I use the same basic rod and reel combos for most of my inshore fishing. Spinning reels matched to 6 1/2 to 7 foot rods with either 10 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided work well. I like the monofilament in open water in the braided line when fishing around structure. A 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader is attached to the end of the running line. 30 pounds is a good starting test for leader, though you may need to bump it up when fishing for big snook or toothy mackerel.

Plugs are versatile; just about every game fish that inhabits the Suncoast will devour them. In addition to casting to structure for snook, redfish, jacks, and other species, plugs are deadly when fished over the grass flats. On a recent charter I had a pair of 11-year-old boys score on a bunch of Spanish mackerel using a number eight Olive X Rap. The boys cast into thick bait schools near Big Pass and burned the baits back as fast as they could turn the real handle. Needless to say, the strikes were explosive!

Plugs catch big fish!

Plugs also catch a lot of speckled trout, oftentimes fooling larger than average sized fish. Top water baits are an excellent choice for fishing very shallow water early and then late in the day. In the summer, shallow bars on the edge of grass flats load up with bait, which in turn attracts game fish. Add in a high tide at first light and the result is an excellent situation to catch a nice fish on top water.

Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are deadly on speckled trout when fished over the deeper grass, in 4 to 8 feet of water. They also fool mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and other species. These baits do not have a lip, therefore they do not dive. Instead they are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds, then twitched sharply. The lure just hangs there motionless, helpless, inducing a fish to strike it.

Trolling with plugs

Trolling plugs is a great technique to locate fish when scattered about in a large area. This also works well with children and novice anglers; if they can hold rod they can catch a fish. This applies to the inshore bays, passes, and Gulf of Mexico. That number eight Olive saltwater X rap is my go to lure for trolling. Simply let out half the line, close the bail, and drive the boat around just above idle speed. Sometimes working the rod tip will elicit more strikes.

One trick that served me well on charters when plug fishing Sarasota is to troll the passes. The traditional method is to drift with the current and cast jigs plugs or spoons. Once the drift is complete the boat idles back up and drift is repeated. As you idle back to the start, why not drag plug behind? Many mornings I catch more Spanish mackerel this way, as they prefer a fast-moving bait.

Casting and trolling plugs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico is an extremely effective technique in the spring and again in the fall when pelagic species move through. A large Yozuri 3-D will produce some very nice king mackerel and large Spanish mackerel. Look for birds and bait schools on the surface and troll around the edges of the bait, not right through the middle. The inshore reefs off of Lido Key hold a lot of fish and are very reliable producers.

Sight casting to breaking fish is terrific sport! Spanish mackerel and false albacore will often be seen tearing up schools of helpless baitfish on the surface. Spanish will stay on top longer and not move as much is the false albacore. The Albies can also be very fussy; you need to scale down the offering and go lighter on the leader. With either species, ease the boat into position and cast into the fish or troll around the edge of them and be prepared to hear your drag scream! Anglers can also employ the same tactics from the beach to catch Spanish mackerel.

River fishing

plug fishing Sarasota

In the cooler months snook migrate into creeks canals and rivers. The Phillippi Creek, Bowley’s Creek, Hudson Bayou, and area residential canals all hold fish. The Manatee, Braden, and Myakka Rivers are all productive winter spots. The fish are scattered and plugs allow an angler to cover a lot of water effectively and thoroughly. Black and gold is an excellent color combination in the tannin stained water, as are bright patterns such as fire tiger. If you venture far enough upstream, don’t be surprised if a nice largemouth bass intercepts your offering meant for a snook.

River fishing is a charter that is best for more experienced anglers.  This is more of a “quality over quantity” trip.  Some trips come up empty, though not very often.  But, there is a chance to land a trophy snook on every river fishing charter.  Along with the large snook, average sized fish in the 18″ to 24′ range are commonly caught.  Largemouth bass, jack crevelle, are also available and are a fun by-catch!

Top river spots when plug fishing Sarasota

Outside bends in the river are prime spots to hold snook.  The deeper holes in the rivers will be found on the bends.  The current carves out a deep hole in these spots.  If cover such as fallen trees exists, that even improves the chances of catching a nice snook!  Tides are crucial as well.  Outgoing tides are preferred.  If these tides occur early or late in the day, better yet.  The ideal river fishing conditions would be as flows.  A high, outgoing tide first thing in the morning with cloud cover and even some light rain falling.

While saltwater fishing gets the majority of the attention in Sarasota, there are freshwater opportunities as well. Myakka River State Park has upper Myakka Lake in the river flowing through it. Both offer opportunities to catch bass Bram crop he and other species using plugs very small number for Apple is working very well cast towards lily pads and other shoreline vegetation.

Lake Manatee is another local productive freshwater lake. It is quite a bit larger and deeper and offers excellent trolling for crappy in the fall and early winter. The Manatee River flows from the dam towards Tampa Bay it has a good population of largemouth bass sunshine bass a local hybrid and snook as well.

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 fishing

Sarasota fishing strategies for success

Anglers doing some Sarasota fishing can expect action and variety on the deep grass flats.  Summer is a great time of year to fish here on the west coast of Florida.

Many different species are landed by anglers Sarasota fishing, especially in the warmer months.  Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, jack crevelle, bluefish, pompano, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, cobia, ladyfish, and sharks are taken on the deep flats.  Snook and redfish are available in the passes and nearby flats.  Summer is a great time to do some fishing in Sarasota!

SSarasota speckled trout fishing

Sarasota Fishing Charters

The morning dawned clear with a light southeast wind.  Perfect conditions for summertime fishing!  I met my clients at the ramp at Centennial Park in downtown Sarasota.  Pilchards are abundant and easy to net first thing in the morning.  In short order the livewell was full of frisky bait.  After another short run, I anchored up on the edge of a shallow grass flat near Big Pass.  For the next three hours we experienced non-stop action on speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, a cobia, bluefish, ladyfish, sail cats, and small sharks.

The west coast of Florida is famous for great fishing.  Glamour species such as snook, redfish, and the mighty tarpon get a lot of attention from anglers, and for good reason.  However, many of my charters include novice anglers who really just want to bend the rod and catch a bunch of fish.  The deep grass flats in Sarasota are a great place to do just that. 

Sarasota fishing charters

I find the flats adjacent to the passes to be the most consistent summertime spots.  Bird Key, which is across the channel from Lido Key, produces a lot of fish on my charters.  It is an area that has seen a lot of dredging resulting in flats that drop off sharply into deep water.  The combination of depth change, current, and abundant bait attracts and holds game fish. The Radio Tower and Middlegrounds flats are close to new Pass and are also excellent spots to fish.  Early morning is usually the best time to fish, especially on a high tide.   

Rigging is very basic on my Sarasota fishing charters.  Use a spider hitch to double 3’ of the running line and use a double uni-knot to attach 24” of 30 lb leader.  If this seems a bit much, simply tie a small black swivel to your running line then tie on the 30 lb leader to the swivel.  Attach a hook or artificial bait onto the end of the leader and you are ready to fish! 

Sarasota fishing charters

Sarasota Fishing With Live Bait

Live bait is tough to beat for both action and variety.  A live shrimp fished under a popping cork in four to six feet of water over a grassy bottom is a tried and true method to catch a bunch of speckled trout, along with just about every other species in Sarasota Bay.  Tie a 1/0 live bait hook onto the leader then attach a “popping cork” on the line three feet above the hook.  When drifting in water deeper than six feet, I prefer to just free line a bait out behind the boat.  Shrimp are the most popular live bait.  They are available at most local bait shops, are easy to keep alive, and everything eats them!

Live bait fish are extremely effective in the summertime for anglers on fishing charters.  Pinfish, grunts, and whitebait, (pilchards and threadfins) are the predominant baitfish in our area.  A cast net is required for the whitebait.  Cast over visible schools of bait or anchor and use chum consisting of jack mackerel and wheat bread to lure the bait within range.  Pinfish and grunts can be caught with either a hook and line or a cast net.  Catching and keeping baitfish alive is more time consuming, but can pay off big time.  One very popular technique is “live bait chumming”.  This requires a LOT of whitebait, but practically guarantees success.  Simply anchor up tide of a likely flat and toss out handfuls of bait at five minute intervals.  I usually squeeze the bait before throwing them in, this causes the bait to swim erratically on the surface.  Game fish will be drawn in and the action will be non-stop!

Sarasota fishing charter

Fishing With Artificial Lures

A jig/grub combo is by far the most popular artificial lure on the west coast of Florida.  A ¼ ounce jig head with a plastic grub is a deadly bait when fished over the grass flats.  I prefer Bass Assassin baits; gold in clear water and rootbeer or olive in darker water.  Don’t let the myriad of colors and styles confuse you, they all either imitate shrimp or baitfish and are for the most part fished in the same manner.  Cast the jig out, allow a few seconds for the it to sink and twitch the rod tip sharply.  Let the lure fall on a tight line, most strikes occur as the bait is falling, the helpless look triggers the bite.  Keeping the rod tip at ten o’clock and allowing the jig to fall on a tight line will allow anglers to feel more bites.  Grubs with a shad tail or curly tail that mimic baitfish can be worked with a steady retrieve.  Scented soft plastics such as Gulp! baits are more expensive but can make a difference on days when the fish are a little fussy.

Plugs are another great choice for anglers who prefer to cast artificial lures.  Rapala X-Raps in the (08) size are my personal favorite.  They cast well and have great action.  Cast the lure our and retrieve it back to the boat with sharp twitches followed by a short pause.  As in all lure fishing, vary the retrieve until one is found that produces strikes when Sarasota summer fishing!

Sarasota fishing

I was unhooking and releasing a small trout for Jesse when I saw Lily bowed up and heard the drag squeal in protest as a decent fish made a couple of short runs.

Sarasota fishing forecast

“I thought it was a tiddler”, she said, (I learned just that morning that “tiddler” was British slang for something small), “but then it got a lot bigger!”

The mystery was solved shortly as a huge speckled trout came into view. Riding on the line was a hand-sized pinfish. Obviously, the pinny hit the pilchard and the big trout ate it. Lily fought the fish gently and with patience and I slid the net under it, hoisted it up for a quick photo, then released it to live and breed, those big trout are the future of the fishery.

I get asked a lot of questions while performing my duties as a fishing guide, and none more often than,

“What is the best time of year to come to fish in Sarasota?”

For anglers seeking fast action and variety, the answer is easy, and to some a bit surprising; summertime! I have fished with the Derry family from the UK several times, and like many of my clients this time of year, they do not fish a lot at home. I need to be able to put them on a bite that is both productive and easy for novice anglers. Chumming the deep grass flats meets both of those goals when Sarasota summer fishing.

In many fishing situations, the heat of summer can be a tough time to go at it, but not so here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide.  Despite water temperatures in the upper eighties, action on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay is usually fast and furious. The reason for this bonanza is simple; bait, and lots of it! Speckled trout are probably the most commonly caught species in Sarasota Bay, but Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, jack crevelle, juvenile gag grouper, flounder, sea bass, ladyfish, sharks, and more will respond to this technique.

Lido Key fishing charters

Each year is different, but generally speaking, by the first part of June the baitfish show up in big numbers. They are small at first, but grow quite rapidly. Large baits are not needed, or even preferred, for this type of fishing. As long as they are large enough to cast, the gamefish will readily devour them. Smaller baits also make good chum as the fish won’t get filled up as quickly. Just about every shallow grass flat and bar near either Big Pass or New Pass will have schools of bait. Scaled sardines, AKA “pilchards” are the preferred bait, being a bit hardier, but threadfin herring can also be abundant as well and are extremely productive on Lido Key fishing charters.

Chumming for success

The technique of chumming with live bait over the deep grass flats is relatively simple and straight-forward and will work just about any place where large quantities of baitfish can be easily acquired and kept alive. The most important requirements are a large livewell with a good pump and the ability to throw a cast net. There are a lot of videos available online that can teach the art of casting a net, so I won’t get into it here. Once the well is full of frisky baits, angling success is virtually guaranteed for clients!

The best time to catch bait is in the morning on an incoming tide. The current tends to position the bait on the up-tide edge of a flat or bar. Often times they can be seen dimpling on the surface. When this occurs, the boat is eased up to them and then the net is cast over them. On cloudy or breezy days, the bait can be more difficult to locate. A chum mixture of cat food, canned mackerel and bread, or even tropical fish food can be used to lure the bait into range and get them knotted up in a bunch. Bait will be thick on the beach at times, but boat handling can make catching them a tricky proposition, so be careful when taking that approach. I prefer an 8’ net with ¼” mesh. The mesh size is very important since our baitfish are fairly small. Using a larger mesh will result in a lot of bait getting “gilled”; in other words stuck in the net. Be careful not to over load the well, particularly when the water temperature is high.

Once the well is loaded, or “blacked out” as we say here, it is time to go fishing. Tackle requirements are very basic. A 6 ½’ or 7’ spinning rod with 10 lb line is an ideal outfit. I prefer monofilament line when using live bait; I believe that the stretch in the line is actually beneficial. A 24” piece of 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader is attached to the running line using either a #10 black swivel or using a double uni-knot. A #1 or #1/0 short shank live bait hook finishes off the rig. Anglers may choose a small circle hook as well. A long shank hook will help prevent cut-offs in the event that Spanish mackerel or bluefish show up in the chum.

Sarasota fishing locations

The next decision an angler must make is where to fish. Choosing a flat where the wind and tide are moving in the same direction will generally be the most effective situation. Find such a flat that has good signs such as birds working, fish breaking, or schools of bait on the surface and chances of success will be very high. If no visual signs of fish are found, simply choose a flat that has been productive in the past. In my area in the summer, I look for clear water and lush grass in 6’ to 8’ of water.  Anglers can see a map with great fishing spots.

There are some nuances to chumming; it is not as simple as shoveling bait out behind the boat. The idea is to attract fish and get them excited, not to fill them up. Start with just a dozen or so baits and see how the fish respond. Squeezing the baits slightly will injure the bait, making them even more attractive. The less chum that can be used to keep them behind the boat, the better. Strong currents will require more chum, slack tides less chum. Some days they just “want” a lot to keep them wound up. Some species such as mackerel and ladyfish like more aggressive chumming than trout do. Don’t overlook the baits that die in the well, mangrove snapper often times respond well to it.

Casting topwater plugs for snook and tossing crabs at rolling tarpon is challenging and very exciting. But, there are times when the goal is just to go out and catch a bunch of fish. Chumming with live bait is a deadly technique that is guaranteed to put smiles on the faces of anglers!  Get out there and enjoy dome great Sarasota summer fishing!