Sarasota offers visitors a unique angling opportunity; fly fishing Sarasota rivers. While the saltwater fishing gets the attention, Sarasota has some great river fly fishing.
The Manatee River and Myakka River lie 30 minutes from Sarasota beaches. Fly fishing Sarasota rivers gives anglers the chance to catch trophy snook on fly. This occurs in a very interesting and relaxing setting. Other species such as bass, redfish, jacks, gar and more are also available. This happens in the cooler months, usually from mid October to early April.
“Oooh, I like the looks of that one!” I said as Ben opened up his fly box for me to inspect. I could tell by the look on his face that he did not share my enthusiasm. It was a white and olive Clouser pattern with a lot of gold flash. Gold is always a good choice when fly fishing Sarasota rivers in the tannin-stained water.
“Let’s just give it a half hour or so, and we can change it if it is not producing”.
Ben’s opinion of the fly changed shortly as he fooled a feisty little snook in just a few casts and over the next hour landed several more to 27”. The Myakka River holds a lot of snook in the cooler months and it a fairly reliable fishery for anglers taking out a river fishing charter.
The Myakka River flows through Sarasota County 10 miles east of Sarasota and Venice, an hour south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. It eventually flows south and along with the Peace River. They create a renowned saltwater fishery; Charlotte Harbor. In the summer the water is high and fast from all of the rain, but in the cooler months it settles into a nice tidal river. As the water in the Harbor cools down, snook migrate up into the river to seek sanctuary in the warmer, deeper water. There is also a lot of food (bluegill, tilapia, mullet, fry, and crabs) for them to feed on.
Easy fly fishing, short casts
For the most part, this is fairly easy fly fishing. Short casts are the norm when fly fishing Sarasota rivers. Managing the back cast is the primary challenge. An 8wt or 9wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is a good choice for the river. The leader is simple; just attach a 6’ section of 30 lb fluorocarbon and then tie on a fly. Fly selection is also pretty basic with Clouser patters in darker colors with some gold or rootbeer, along with a “firetiger” fly work well. Tie the fly on a #1 hook using large weighted eyes to get the fly down a few feet. Broad patterns such as Puglisi flies will also fool the wily snook, but are a bit harder to cast and will hang up more often.
Floating down the river with the current and casting towards likely fish-holding structure along the shoreline is the most productive technique. Shallow draft boats such as jon boats, canoes, and kayaks perform best, the water can get very shallow in spots. Make a cast, allow a few seconds to sink, then retrieve the fly back in using one foot strips. When a take occurs, use the “strip set” method to hook the fish. Pull sharply with the stripping hand and then raise the rod tip. Jerking the tip up as you might in trout fishing will result in fewer hook-ups.
As in all fishing, vary the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges. Again, this is pretty straight-forward fishing and it is mostly a matter of covering the water until a hungry fish is located. Though snook is the primary target, largemouth bass, juvenile tarpon, gar, jack crevalle, tilapia, and other species are frequently landed as well.
Fly fishing the Myakka River
The Myakka is one of two rivers designated a “Wild and scenic river” in the state of Florida. This means limited access and development resulting in a relaxed and serene experience. The entire river is also a “No-wake” zone. Fly fishing for snook on the Myakka is a unique experience that is a half hour drive from the resort town of Sarasota, but a world away in terms of environment. Access to the Myakka River is limited, this is partly why it remains so remote feeling. Snook Haven in Venice, Fl offers the bast spot to launch boats to fish the river. It is also a cool little park with a restaurant. Visitors can enjoy lunch after a morning fishing trip. It is also a good place to rent canoes or launch a kayak. Visiting anglers should give fly fishing Sarasota rivers a try!
Fly fishing the Manatee River
The Manatee River runs forty five minutes north east of Sarasota. It begins at Lake Manatee and the river flows west from the dam. Much of the river is very shallow and suited only from kayaks and canoes. The stretch of the Manatee River from Rye Rd to Ft. Hamer is the most productive for fly fishing. Anglers can access the river from a very nice ramp and park at Ft. Hamer. Another more primitive ramp can be used at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway. Ray’s offers canoe rentals along with bait for fishing.
The Manatee River offer anglers the chance to catch the most variety of species. Snook, redfish, jack crevelle, juvenile tarpon, and ladyfish are saltwater species landed. Freshwater species include largemouth bass, catfish, bream, gar, and sunshine bass. The shorter length of the river, freshwater fish washing over the dam, and proximity to Tampa Bay all are factors for contributing to this unique fishery.
Fly fishing the Braden River
The Braden river is quite short and is a tributary of the Manatee River. It is purely saltwater and offers anglers the opportunity to catch snook, redfish, and other species. However, the highlight of the Braden River is the consistent fly fishing for large jack crevelle. Jacks put up a tremendous battle on fly tackle! They use their broad sides to pull very hard. Often times, jacks can be seen working on the surface. Snook fishing can be very good, and redfish are caught with regularity.
The Braden River is more developed than the Manatee and Myakka. It has a lot of houses and road noise can be heard. The Braden River is also shorter, which can tend to concentrate fish in the deeper areas. It is also the most convenient, being a short drive from Sarasota beaches. There is a ramp with parking and facilities on SR 64 where it crosses the river.
Shallow water flats fishing
It sounds like a contradiction, but often times the largest fish are found in the shallowest of water. While the deeper grass flats hold schools of fish and is a better option for action and numbers. Fly anglers seeking a trophy will do well focusing on shallow grass flats, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines. Redfish and jack crevelle school up in shallow water, the largest trout are loners and will set up in potholes in shallow flats, and snook will feed on bait in the skinny water as well.
This type of fishing has exploded in popularity in recent years. Flats and bay boats abound and kayak fishing is very popular. The result is that these fish receive a LOT of pressure, especially in the popular Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor areas. Fish in these shallow areas are spooky and require different tactics in order to be successful.
Tackle requirements are similar to other inshore fishing applications, a 7wt or 8wt outfit is fine. Floating lines are used as the water fished is seldom more that 3 feet deep. Longer leaders with a 20lb bite tippet will increase the chances of fooling fish. But, the biggest change in tactics is the need for patience and stealth.
Fish in water this shallow are extremely spooky and the slightest noise or shadow can send them running for cover. The most popular fly patterns are Clouser Minnow, Lefty Deceiver, and Crystal MInnow patterns in white or bait fish colors.
Fly fishing tactics in Sarasota rivers
The approach when attacking a flat or shoreline is similar to that of the deep flats in that the wind and tide are factors that need to be taken into account. Whenever possible, choosing an area where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. Obviously, a shallow draft boat will be required to access these areas. The classic situation is a flats skiff with the angler positioned on the bow and the guide or other angler poling the boat from the stern or poling platform.
Many anglers prefer the low, incoming tide when working the shallows. Fish will stage on the edges where the flat drops off, waiting for the water to come up. Fish will then get up on the flat, scatter out, and search for food. Along the same lines, fish will gang up in “potholes”. These are depressions in the flats that can range in size from a foot to to over 20 feet and larger. In both instances, the low water concentrates the fish, making them easier to locate. The more water that there is on a flat the more places the fish can be.
Tide strength and heights are crucial elements when fly fishing in the shallows. Anglers need to study the tide charts, it is much more complex than just the times of the high and low tides. The tide height and speed at which it is moving are very important to know so that anglers can understand fish movements. Wind is also a factor; a northeast wind will empty a flat of water while a south wind will flood it.
Drifting and sight casting
Anglers can choose to either blind cast likely looking areas or sight cast to specific fish or small bunches of fish. As the boat eases down the shoreline or across the flat, the fly is cast towards the shoreline or potholes and grass edges. The fly is allowed to sink a moment, and retrieved back in. Unlike the deep grass flats, the fish will normally be found in small areas and bunched up. It will take time, effort, and patience to eliminate unproductive water.
Blind casting will normally produce more fish, but sight casting is very exciting! This is exactly what it sounds like, an angler either readies on the bow while boat fishing or stealthily wades a flat, visually searching for fish. Once sighted, the fly is cast out, taking into account the position of the fish and direction it is moving, and hopefully a take ensues.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but there are some things that anglers should key on to help locate fish. Edges are always worth investigating, whether it is a weed bad, oyster bar, or drop off. Current edges can also be used as ambush points by predators. Mangrove shorelines are very enticing, but there are miles and miles of them and fish will only be in short sections.
Searching out spots
The key is to find something different such as cuts, oyster bars, and especially holes and deeper water, fish will definitely hold there. Also, anglers will want to see signs of life; there is nothing worse than a “dead” flat. Areas that show glass minnows and other baitfish, mullet schools, birds, are promising. The best of all flats with fish tailing, waking, or working bait are prime spots.
Anglers that are serious about mastering this technique will need to put in their time. Choosing a small area and learning it well is a good investment and will serve the angler well. It is amazing how different these types of spots are with just a little change in tide height. Learning the tides, bottom, and local fish migrations in one small area will help them catch fish in other locations.
Wading can be an extremely effective strategy when targeting fish in shallow water, especially once a productive area is located. Some experienced guides will pole an area and not even fish, just look for signs and fish. Once a likely area is identified, they get out of the boat and walk. With the pressure that fish get these days, being able to eliminate boat noises. This will allow fly casters to get much closer to their quarry and have more time to react.
Kayaks have become popular are are great tools to use to fish shallow flats. They give anglers access to waters that power boats can’t launch. Kayaks float very shallow and are virtually silent. Anglers can fish from the kayak or use it to get to productive areas where they can get out and wade. They are low-maintenance and effective platforms from which to fish.
Best Sarasota fishing charter is Adventure Charters!
The best Sarasota fishing charter is Adventure Charters with Capt. Jim Klopfer. Capt. Jim has been guiding in Sarasota full time since 1991. Diversity is what makes Capt. Jim different from all the other fine guides in Sarasota. He will employ multiple tactics using both artificial lures and live bait on a single four hour fishing charter.
Sarasota offers visiting anglers many different species to target and catch and several different techniques with which to do so. This is advantageous as it allows Capt. Jim to tailor the fishing charter to the experience skill level and expectations of the client. Depending on the season, most fishing charters produce 6 to 8 different species. Speckled trout, snook, redfish, Spanish mackerel, blue fish, jack crevelle, flounder, sea bass, grouper, snapper, sheepshead, flounder, black drum, false albacore, sharks, ladyfish, cobia, and even giant tarpon are available throughout the season.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Tackle used on the best Sarasota fishing charter is very similar to what freshwater anglers are comfortable with up north. A 6 1/2 foot spinning outfit spooled with 10 pound line is used on most charters. Heavier tackle is used when targeting large fish such as snook or when fishing around docks and bridges. Capt. Jim can provide conventional tackle for those anglers who prefer that. Fly fisherman are certainly welcome, Capt. Jim provides Orvis tackle for his clients. A seven wt to 9 wt weight outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is a great all round choice.
Fishing charters in Sarasota
The majority of charters are run on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay. The Bay is blessed with large expanses of submerged vegetation and water ranging from ankle-deep to 10 foot. The best action comes on the flats that are between 5 feet and 10 feet deep. This is where the most variety of species will be encountered. Anglers will cast lures or live bait as the boat drifts across the flat.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are inlets that connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. Both can be very productive depending on the conditions. Spring and fall are prime times to fish the passes. Pompano, bluefish, mackerel, and ladyfish are commonly caught in the passes. Structure such as docks, bridges, seawalls, and rocks provide prime habitat for several different species. Sheepshead, grouper, snapper, flounder, and snook are all caught around such structure in the passes at one time of year or another.
Fishing can be fantastic in the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Sarasota beaches. Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species move in to feed on the huge schools of bait fish. A couple days of east wind will result in calm seas and clear water. This brings the bait in which in turn attracts the predator fish. Sharks, king mackerel, cobia, and even tarpon are also landed. This truly is world class fishing!
Anglers seeking a bit more challenge may opt to target snook, redfish, and jacks. These fish are seldom caught by accident. Mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, docks, and potholes in grass flats throughout the area are prime locations for these game fish. Artificial lures such as plugs, jigs, and spoons are most often used. This type of fishing won’t produce the numbers of fish that the deep grass flats will, but it will produce some real trophies!
Sarasota Florida fishing charters
Many anglers going out on Sarasota fishing charters have a specific species that they would like to target. This is especially true of the “glamour” species. Snook, redfish, and tarpon are examples. Below is a list of the most popular fish species available to anglers fishing in Sarasota.
Species caught on the best Sarasota fishing charter. Check HERE for local regulations.
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida, and are very much sought after by anglers in Sarasota. Snook can be caught in a variety of locations using multiple techniques. Snook are really a lot like largemouth bass; they are ambush predators with a large mouth that can inhale prey easily. They have a big broad powerful tale for quick movements in tight quarters. They feed on just about everything that swims and can be taken on live bait along with a wide variety of artificial lures.
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. In the winter, especially if it is cold and the water temperature in Sarasota Bay dips into the upper 50s. Snook will migrate up into creeks and residential canals as the water in these areas is darker deeper and normally significantly warmer than the exposed shallow flats.
Artificial lures are the best approach when targeting snook in these wintertime creeks and canals. Plugs and jigs with a soft plastic body allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly. It is important in this situation to eliminate unproductive water and lures give anglers the best opportunity to do that. Rapala X-Raps and Bass Assassin baits are proven lures for winter snook and jacks.
As it starts to warm up and spring, snook will move out of their winter haunts and into the backwaters of Sarasota Bay. They will take up residence in ambush spots to feed. These can be mangrove shorelines with cover and a little depth, oyster bars that drop off, holes in grass flats, along with man-made structure such as bridges and docks.
Current will position the fish where they can sit just out of the flow and ambush prey as it flows past. Generally speaking, outgoing tides are preferred, especially early and late in the day. Anglers fishing at night do well working the lighted docks and bridges with live shrimp and flies.
The most effective technique for catching snook in the warmer months is to catch a bunch of pilchards, (also known as white bait, shiners, greenbacks) and use them to chum the snook into range and into a feeding mood. This requires a cast net, the ability to toss it, in a boat with a large live well and good pump. But in most cases, it is worth the effort!
By the time we get to late May, many of the snook will be out in the passes and down the beach in large numbers. This is a time and place that snook spawn. It is a great time to catch and release a trophy snook. Live bait generally works best in the deeper waters of the passes. The rocks in Big Pass and New Pass hold a lot of fish. Anglers can also sight cast to snook a long area beaches. This is great sport and can be done with fly or light spinning tackle. By late August the pattern begins to reverse itself, and the snook begin moving back into the base.
Redfish are another popular inshore game fish in Sarasota. Redfish are caught using two distinctly different methods. They are sought after on the shallow, expansive flats, primarily in North Sarasota Bay and around docks and other structure in cooler months.
Redfish start to school up in mid-summer and the schools can be quite large. However, these fish can be extremely spooky in water that shallow. Also, angling pressure is high as this is a very popular way to target redfish. Low incoming tides are best as they will concentrate reds on the edges of flats. They will wait for the tide to come up scatter over the bar and feed.
Fishing in very shallow water can be tricky, especially if grass is present. Presenting a lure or live bait effectively requires lures that are either weedless, floats on the surface, or runs very shallow. Weedless spoons are great baits and can be cast a long way, seldom hang up, and cover a lot of water. Plugs can also be effective; either shallow diving plugs in deeper water or top water plugs in very shallow water.
Live bait can be used on the flats as well, particularly a large live shrimp. Reds will stage in potholes. These are depressions in the flats that are a bit deeper than the surrounding grass. Shrimp can be hooked with no weight, a small split shot, or fished under a float.
Redfish are also targeted by anglers fishing with live shrimp under docks. This is really as simple as it sounds, though there are some nuances involved, as in all fishing. Anglers should anchor upwind and up tide a decent cast away from the dock to be finished. The best docks are usually in 4 feet to 10 feet of water. Live bait fish can also be used successfully.
Spotted sea trout, known locally as speckled trout, are perhaps the most popular fish along the entire Gulf Coast. Abundant, available year-round, aggressive, and great eating, it is no wonder that they are such a desirable species! While trout are very good to eat it is very important to release the larger female fish these are breeders and crucial to the health of the fishery.
Trout school up in decent numbers on the deep grass flats throughout the area. Submerged grass beds and 4 feet to 10 feet of water will hold bait which in turn attracts the trout and other species. A time proven technique on the best Sarasota fishing charter is to use a shrimp under a popping cork while drifting the flat. This ring has accounted for many trout over the years.
Artificial lures also fool plenty of trout and are very easy to use. There is also no bait to purchase, catch, or keep alive. The most popular lure by far here in Sarasota is the jig and grub combination. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch to 4 inch plastic trailer is deadly on a variety of species but speckled trout in particular. Bass Assassin 4 inch Sea Shad baits in glow, new penny, and red, are extremely effective.
Wind and tide are the major considerations when drifting the deep grass flats for speckled trout. As the boat drifts to call across the grass, anglers cast out lures and flies seeking a school of feeding fish. These are large areas and a little breeze helps to cover the water in a reasonable amount of time. Obviously, too much wind will make it difficult to finish. Generally speaking, 6 foot to 8 foot deep is the target depth. At times, Capt. Jim will anchor the boat on the edge of a grass flat and free line a live bait out.
Spanish mackerel are a terrific and often overlooked game fish! They fight hard, make blistering runs, are aggressive, and taste great when eaten right away. They readily take live bait lures and flies. What more can an angler ask for?
Spanish mackerel show up in the spring when the water temperature hits the upper 60s in degrees. They will stay around until late fall when it gets cold. They are caught both inshore and in the Gulf of Mexico. Mackerel are often an unexpected surprise for anglers drifting the deep grass flats. Sometimes they can be seen feeding on the surface, but most of the time they will intercept the jig plug, shrimp, or bait fish intended for trout or other species.
Spanish mackerel can be targeted in the spring and the fall and both passes when they move in. Again, at times they will feed on the surface and that makes them easy to locate. Drifting with a shrimp works well, too. Trolling a #8 Rapala X-Rap in white or olive is a good way to search for schools of mackerel.
Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel will do well to fish the inshore Gulf of Mexico. In the spring and fall they will school up in huge numbers and can be seen working on the surface. Anglers can look for birds, feeding fish, and schools of bait. Casting lures and flies to feeding fish is very exciting! Trolling is another productive method in the Gulf of Mexico. It works well on days with a little chop or when the fish are not feeding on the surface.
Pompano are prized among both local and visiting anglers both for their tenacious fight and their incredible flavor on a dinner plate. They are caught in the passes, out on the beaches, and on the grass flats in Sarasota Bay. The best bet for anglers targeting pompano is to drift Big Sarasota Pass using a small pompano jig. This is a basic jig with a round head and a little dressing. Banana style jigs are also effective. Pompano have small mouth and feed on the bottom.
Pompano are caught by anglers casting jigs and live shrimp as they drift the grass flats as well. Sometimes pompano will be seen skipping on the surface as the boat idles by. This is a sure sign that there are more in the area.
Anglers fishing the surf will do well with jigs and shrimp, but the real pompano surf experts will use sand fleas. Sand fleas, also known as mole crabs, are great for pompano. Sand fleas are caught in the surf using special rakes and then hooked on a small number two or number four hook in a little bit of weight.
Mangrove snapper are another extremely popular species for both their battle and their table fare. Snapper are available all year round near structure such as docks, bridges, submerged rocks, and ledges. Live shrimp fished on the bottom with just enough weight to get down there is the best bet. Smaller hooks and light leaders are often required as snapper can be a bit spooky especially in clear water. The inshore artificial reefs off of Lido Key are great spots to bottom fish when it is calm in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mangrove snapper have been showing up on the grass flats over the last several years and good numbers with some very nice fish mixed in. July, August, and September have been the best months. Chumming with pilchards is the best technique to catch snapper on the grass. Handfuls of live or fresh dead bait is tossed out behind the boat on a deep patch of grass. This will get them excited and fired up behind the boat. Going small on the hook and light on the leader will result in more fish. Of course trout, mackerel, grouper, ladyfish, and other species will be caught as well.
Bluefish are known to many anglers visiting Sarasota as they range up the entire East Coast of the country. They do not grow as large here, 5 pounds is a very nice bluefish, but since most are caught using light tackle they are great fun to catch. They need to be handled correctly and eaten fresh, but they are underrated as table fare. Like many species here, they are caught by anglers drifting the deep grass flats as well as the passes.
Jigs work very well for bluefish and when they cut you off, which they will, your only out a dollar or so. Plugs work very well but can get expensive and they are also tricky to release with a bunch of trouble hooks. Live bait works well and a long shank hook were reduced cutoffs.
Bluefish will be caught in the passes especially in the cooler months. Jigs bounced on the bottom along with spoons and live bait will work. Sometimes bluefish will be caught by surf anglers on the beach as well.
Sheepshead invade Sarasota each year around Christmas and stay around until late spring. These tasty members of the Porgy family are structure oriented and can be found near anything the provides cover and has barnacles. Bridges and docks are prime spots as our seawalls, ledges, submerged rocks, and artificial reefs. Sheepshead are rarely caught on lures, live or frozen bait is required. Shrimp, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas, will work live fresh dead or frozen.
Sheepshead are notorious for being great bait stealers. They bite very lightly and anglers need to be patient and be still an order to catch them. Small hooks rigged up on a short leader with a sliding sinker is the best rate. The sheepshead will be able to pick up the bait and move off without feeling any weight. Sheepshead are great eating but very difficult to clean. The inshore artificial reefs off of Lido Key are great spots to target sheepshead on nice days.
Jack crevalle are a terrific game fish! Jacks are like bluegill on steroids, they turn their broadsides and just pull as hard as they can. Jacks school up and can be voracious at times, devouring anything that moves. They can also be fussy. Jacks are found throughout the area and just about every portion of Sarasota Bay.
In the cooler months jacks are found in backwaters, residential canals, creeks, and area rivers. Live shrimp will work, but fast-moving lures like plugs are more fun and elicit violence strikes. As it warms up, jacks move into the bays to feed. By summer they can be anywhere or nowhere. Anglers land them drifting the deep grass along with other species. The area south of Siesta Drive in Roberts Bay is a good area for jack crevalle. Docks seawalls, canals, and Phillippi Creek are prime spots that attract fish. Jacks will grow to 10 pounds.
Ladyfish have saved the day on many charters in Sarasota, despite the fact that they are sometimes disparaged by local anglers. While not good to eat, they are abundant aggressive, hit lures, baits, and flies, leap high out of the water, and fight very hard for their size. In the cooler months they school up in very large numbers and multiple hookups are the norm. They are caught in the passes out on the beach, and on the deep grass flats.
Ladyfish will certainly take live shrimp and pilchards, but they are much more fun to catch on lures. This is a great opportunity to teach kids to use jigs and other lures as a bites are frequent and easy to feel. A jig and grub combo is tough to be and color rarely matters. Fly anglers can have great fun with ladyfish as well. It is a great opportunity for the novice fly angler to get in some practice and build confidence. Ladyfish are excellent cut bait for sharks and other species.
Cobia are normally caught out in the Gulf of Mexico but they do move into Sarasota Bay. They are an incidental catch on the flats and passes and will hit the same lures and baits that produce all of the other inshore species. They are often seen just cruising under the surface and are mistaken for sharks. Prepare for a long battle on trout tackle. They are terrific eating but need to be 33 inches to the fork.
Flounder are a delicious bottom fish that are well known and prized by anglers everywhere. Most of the flounder in Sarasota are southern golf flounder. Though we really don’t have a population large enough to target they are caught occasionally by anglers fishing for other species. Structure such as docks and bridges along with deeper holes in the grass flats are good spots to try for flounder jigs, live bait, and cut bait all produce. Flounder do school up occasionally on the inshore artificial reefs.
Gag grouper are arguably the most popular and prized offshore species in Sarasota. Most of the grouper that are caught inshore are juveniles that will migrate out into the Gulf of Mexico, where they will grow to full maturity. Legal grouper are seldom caught in Sarasota Bay, though some anglers target them by trolling large plugs and bottom fishing with heavy tackle and large baits. Area bridges are the top spots for larger grouper. Anglers on a best Sarasota fishing charter may land grouper when Sheepshead fishing in the spring and on the deep grass flats in mid to late summer.
Small sharks are great fun to catch and always a crowd favorite, especially for the young anglers! Most are caught incidentally; they will hit jigs and live bait. In the late summer they can be targeted using cut ladyfish on the flats. They are usually plentiful in the inshore Gulf in the spring and again in the fall as they feed on schools of Spanish mackerel.
Many anglers consider tarpon to be the ultimate fishing challenge. There are few opportunities to sight cast to fish well over 100 pounds using fairly light spinning tackle. Tarpon fishing is very specialized however, and not for everyone. It is much like deer hunting, there will be a lot of time spent looking and waiting. But, when it all comes together, there is nothing like it! Tarpon show up in schools off of the Sarasota Beaches in early May and stay until mid July. Most tarpon are caught using small live crabs or hand sized bait fish, however large plugs will fool tarpon as will a well-placed fly.
False albacore make a run along the Gulf Coast in the spring and again in the fall. They are following the large schools of bait fish upon which they feed. False albacore are caught off of the Sarasota Beaches up to 12 pounds. They put up a tremendous fight and a reel with the quality drag is required to catch them. Most are caught sight fishing as they feed actively on the surface. This adds to the excitement of targeting false albacore as the action can be fast and furious. Small lures such as spoons, plugs, and jigs are most often used, as the bait they are feeding on is quite small, usually glass minnows. This is a great opportunity for a fly angler to experience world-class action!
Sarasota river fishing charters
Capt. Jim offers visiting anglers a unique experience; fishing local area rivers. Adventure charters is the only operation offering such a trip. A smaller 14 foot Alumacraft John boat is used for these charters. Launching areas can be primitive and the water can be very shallow and spots thus the need for a light, shallow draft boat. The venerable John boat is perfect for this!
The Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River, all lie a short drive from Sarasota and her beaches. All three are unique and have their pros and cons. The Braden River is the most developed, however offers very consistent fishing for large jack crevelle. Snook, redfish, and other species are caught on most charters. The Myakka River in Venice Florida, offers the best trophy snook fishing. The Myakka River is a wild and scenic river and also has a distinct feel to it. It is almost like being on a South American River! The Manatee River is a bit of a mixture of the two, with some development, but also some very nice stretches. The Manatee River also offers the most variety in terms of species.
River fishing charters are best suited for anglers with a bit more experience. They do not produce as much action as do the inshore bay fishing charters. However, for anglers seeking a bit more challenge, the reward can be a trophy snook of a lifetime! Snook to 40 inches and 20 pounds are not uncommon. It is important to cover as much water as possible, therefore we drift with the current and cast rapidly plugs and other lures to likely looking shoreline cover. Snook, largemouth bass, jack crevelle, redfish, snapper, juvenile tarpon, catfish, gar, and sunshine bass are all available depending on the conditions.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What is the cost of a Sarasota fishing charter and what does it include?
A: A four hour fishing charter for up to four anglers is $400. That cost covers all bait, tackle, licenses, the boat, and capt Jim’s service and experience. Spinning tackle is used on most charters as it is the best choice for our type of fishing. Live shrimp and live bait fish are used along with artificial lures. A cooler with ice is provided for clients to keep their drinks and snacks cold. More information can be found HERE.
Q: What do clients going out on a Sarasota fishing charter need to bring?
A: Clients should bring along whatever they want to eat and drink, hats, sunglasses, and sun screen. Guests should wear boat or tennis shoes with white soles. Everything else for the fishing charter is provided. Anglers may bring along their own tackle if desired, though quality Penn and Shimano tackle is provided. Fly anglers can use Orvis tackle provided by Capt Jim or certainly provide their own outfits if they prefer.
Q: Are clients on a Sarasota fishing charter allowed to keep fish to eat?
A: Yes. Anglers may keep a few quality fish that are good to eat, in season, and meet the legal size requirements. Capt Jim will fillet the fish and bag them up at the end of the charter. Capt Jim does promote catch and release to insure the health of the fishery. The fishing charter is about having fun and making memories, so keeping fish is a bonus and not the focus of the trip.
A: Sarasota Bay is a diverse fishery, offering anglers the opportunity to catch many different species. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, sharks, and other species are caught on the grass flats. Snook, redfish, and jack crevelle are caught by more experienced anglers along mangrove shore lines. Structure in the passes as well as docks and bridges hold sheepshead, snapper, grouper, and flounder. Current species identification and regulations can be found HERE.
Q: Where will clients meet Capt Jim and at what time?
A: The time will be determined by the weather, conditions, and tides. Most fishing charters are run in the morning as that is usually the most reliable fishing. Afternoons can be better in the winter as it warms up later in the day. Most charters will leave around 7:30 a.m. Most charters will leave from Centennial Park in downtown Sarasota, Florida. HERE is a link with a map and the address. That ramp is in a very good location for accessing the fishing grounds and eliminating the slow speed zones.
Q: What is the best time of year to go out on a Sarasota fishing charter?
A: Fishing is good all year long, depending on conditions. Summer offers very reliable action, though it is an early bite. Spring is good as long as the weather is nice, though boat traffic is the heaviest. Fall is fantastic, great weather and no crowds. Winter can be very good, but weather fronts are an issue. Anglers can check out my monthly forecasts HERE to help plan their trip.
Q: Who offers the best Sarasota fishing charter?
A: With respect to the other fine fishing guides in Sarasota, nobody works harder than Capt Jim Klopfer for his clients. He is easy-going and personable, patient with children, and fun. Capt Jim will use whatever baits and techniques needed to give clients the best chance for success. He often fishes with several different lures and baits on a single four hour charter.
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.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
“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.
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.
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.
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 for bottom fishing anglers. 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.
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.
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.
What are the top Sarasota fish species? The top 8 Sarasota fish species are snook, speckled trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, pompano, bluefish, and mangrove snapper. These fish species all fight hard, take both live bait and artificial lures, and are available most of the year. All but jacks are very good eating as well.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
This is just a fun list of the top 8 Sarasota fish species. As with anything, opinions vary on “best”. That applies to food value as well, we all have our own tastes.
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.
Sarasota river snook fishing
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 that guides and recreational anglers use in the warmer months. Anglers can read a comprehensive article on Fishing for Snook to get more information.
#2 Speckled trout
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.
Winter speckled trout fishing tips
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.
Speckled trout is really a nickname, the correct term is “spotted sea trout”. They are found along the entire Gulf Coast and up the East Coast as far as the mid Atlantic. Anglers can read more about Spotted Sea Trout Fishing in this article.
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.
Top artificial lures for fishing for redfish
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
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.
Spanish mackerel are plentiful and great eating when prepared fresh. This makes them an excellent species to pursue when a meal is desired. Fish should be put on ice immediately and eater that night or the next. They are excellent grilled, broiled, baked, or smoked! Anglers can read more about Spanish mackerel fishing in this blog post.
#5 Jack crevalle
Jack crevalle 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 competitive. Jacks do not have food value. If they were good to eat, they might be #1 on my list!
Like snook, jack crevalle 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 crevalle.
Sarasota jack crevalle migrations
As it warms up, jack crevalle 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 crevalle.
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.
The visual aspects of catching jacks makes it very exciting. Schools of jack crevalle are often times seen feeding ferociously on the surface. Just about any lure that remotely resembles the forage will draw a vicious strike! Anglers can read more about Jack Crevalle Fishing in this post.
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, anglers specifically targeting pompano can use the same jigs that work well in the passes.
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. Anglers can read more about Fishing for Bluefish in this detailed article.
#8 Mangrove snapper
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!
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.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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.
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 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 on the Sarasota deep grass flats
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.
Jigs produce in cooler weather
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.
There are many productive methods of catching fish. Sarasota trolling is a technique that every angler should add to his or her arsenal. Sarasota trolling techniques will help put more fish in the boat.
Trolling is a technique that has proven to be extremely effective in saltwater fishing for a very long time. Most anglers envision a large sport fishing boat out on the open ocean, trolling for tuna and marlin. But trolling can also be deadly using fairly light tackle on inland waters, too. I am a fishing guide and troll on fishing charters in Sarasota Bay, the Myakka River, and Lake Manatee. During the cooler months, rivers, creeks, and residential canals offer anglers the chance to catch snook, jack crevelle, tarpon, and other species. Flats and passes can be productive all year long. Trolling produces in the Inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall. Crappie, bream, and bass will hit trolled lures in freshwater lakes and rivers. Trolling is a great technique to both locate and catch quality fish.
Rivers, creeks, and residential canals abound all throughout the state of Florida and provide good fishing at one time or another. As the flats cool off, fish will migrate into these areas as they offer protection from the elements. The best rivers and canals will provide fish the sanctuary of deep water as well as abundant structure. The entire coastline of Florida offers these opportunities for anglers.
Snook took a big hit in the winter of 2010 as a prolonged cold snap dropped the water temperature into the upper forties. I believe that if it wasn’t for the deep holes in the rivers where snook spend their winters, the damage would have been MUCH worse. Numbers of smaller snook are on the increase while larger fish are regularly landed. These are great signs and while snook were opened to a limited harvest, I still release all of them, even if a slot fish is landed in season. Snook are magnificent gamefish, it would break my heart to kill one. There are plenty of other good-eating fish to target, let those big girls go!
Top Sarasota trolling lures
Anglers have been catching snook by trolling for many years. Back in the 50s the Spoonplug was the hot bait, and it still produces to this day. I enjoy trolling shallow diving plugs and Rapalas are my personal favorite. Rapala X-Rap Slashbaits in sizes #8 and #10 in, depending on the depth of the water and the size of the available forage, and Jointed BX Minnows work very well trolled as well as cast. Firetiger, Gold Shiner, and gold are proven colors.
These lures have a great built-in action and strong, sharp hooks. Most fish caught trolling will be hooked in the mouth, resulting in most being released unharmed. Another advantage with these plugs is that they float, therefore when the boat is stopped they rise to the surface instead of sinking and getting hung up on the bottom.
Sarasota trolling tackle
Tackle and rigging for trolling is pretty straightforward. I use the same rods and rigging for trolling as I do when casting the same baits. A 7’ spinning or baitcasting rod and reel with 40 lb braid and 30” of 40 lb fluorocarbon leader is all that is required. Then it is simply a matter of letting back a hundred feet of line and driving up the river or canal at idle speed or a touch above. Florida rivers tend to undulate; the depth will change quite often. Many times the fish will lie on these breaks or edges, waiting to ambush bait; fish-holding structure is not always visible. It is surprising how many big fish will bust a plug right out in the middle, giving the angler a good chance to land it.
I have my clients on a Sarasota fishing charter hold the rod when trolling, for several reasons. First off and most important, it is more enjoyable as they get to feel the strike. Also, the lures I use don’t dive very deep, so having the client keep the rod near the surface maximizes the depth that the plug will run. These plugs “vibrate” and if a piece of debris is picked up the angler can usually feel it and then clear the bait. And finally, it can be a bit tricky removing a rod from the holder when the boat is moving and the rod is bent double!
Trolling with light tackle also produces very well inshore. I do a lot of drifting on my Sarasota fishing charters, both in the passes and over deep expanses of grass. There are usually other anglers fishing, so courtesy dictates a slow idle back around to make another drift. Since we will just be easing along, why not drag a bait behind? My go-to lure is a #8 X-Rap in olive or glass ghost (white), it has been very productive as it matches the bait we have in our area. Once the treble hooks get beat up, I remove them and add a single 1/0 hook on the rear. The hook-up ratio remains good and it makes releasing fish MUCH easier. In fact, some plugs now come with a strong single hook for just this reason.
Again, just let out about half the spool and move at idle speed or just above. Many times clients catch more fish doing this than they do when drifting and casting. Spanish mackerel in particular find it difficult to resist a fast moving plug, but bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, trout, and other species will also fall prey to this method. One technique that often pays off is the twitch the rod tip sharply while trolling along. This will often times elicit a violent strike! Fish find the little pause where the plug drops back to be irresistible at times.
Trolling helps locate fish
Trolling is also a good technique to employ when fish are scattered about over a large area. The best approach is to move into the tide or wind and when a fish is hooked the boat is stopped. Anglers can then cast jigs, plugs, or spoons as the boat drifts back over the school. As action drops off, resume trolling again until another bunch of fish is found. One benefit to this is that the same lures that are great trolling baits are also equally effective cast out and retrieved back in; there is no need to have separate trolling and casting outfits.
Trolling will produce at the same spots inshore as other methods. Grass flats in four feet to ten feet of water will hold speckled trout, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species. Edges of drop offs are good spots to try as well. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are terrific spots to troll for Spanish mackerel and bluefish. These open sandy areas are large and trolling is a great way to locate fish.
Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico
Sarasota trolling has been a staple of anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico for many years. Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and cobia migrate along the west coast of Florida. These game fish follow behind the huge schools of bait fish. This is their primary forage. A fast moving plug or spoon mimics the prey. This is a very easy technique than any angler can employ to catch a big fish!
Plugs are a great choice when Sarasota trolling. The larger the lip on the plug, the deeper it will dive. Fairly stout tackle will be required when trolling a large plug. Conventional tackle in the 30 pound class is perfect. Heavy spinning tackle will work as well. A plug that dives down fifteen feet or so is perfect to target a large king mackerel. I prefer to use a 5′ piece of 80 pound flourocarbon leader instead of wire. Wire will prevent cut-offs but will limit strikes.
Hard bottom holds fish
Game fish will hold over hard bottom, ledges, and artificial reefs. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. Several are close to shore for anglers with a small boat while others are farther offshore. Ledges and good bottom can only be located by spending time out on the water. Once located, these spots will produce year after year. Bait schools milling on the surface can be an indication of structure below.
Small plugs can also be extremely effective in the Gulf of Mexico off of Siesta Key beaches. Often times the bait is very small. A #8 Rapala X-Rap is a prefect match for the smaller forage. White is a very productive color. Surface activity will alert anglers to the presence of game fish. Mackerel and false albacore can be seen terrorizing helpless baitfish on the surface. The best approach is to skirt the edge of the feeding fish. Do not drive the boat right through the action. They will go down and may not resurface.
Spoons also produce a lot of fish. Clark Spoons and other manufacturers make special spoons designed for trolling. Spoons can be used when trolling in a couple of different ways. Due to boat speeds, some type of device is needed to get the spoon down in the water column. The easiest method is to tie a trolling sinker to the end of the line. These are torpedo shaped and come in a variety of weights. A ten foot long leader is tied to the sinker and then a trolling spoon is tied to the tag end. This is really quite simple and deadly on Spanish mackerel.
Planers are another device used to get spoons down deeper. They are effective but are a bit more complicated. The planer is tied onto the running line. A twenty foot leader is attached to the planer, followed by the spoon on the tag end. Planers come in several sizes, but #1 and #2 planers are the ones used in shallow Gulf of Mexico water. A #1 planer will dive five to seven feet. A #2 planer will dive down around fifteen feet.
The planer must be “set”. This is done by slowly lowering the planer into the water after the spoon is let out. With the ring up, water pressure will pull the planer down. The planer is then let out behind the boat to the desired length. The rod is then placed in a holder. When a fish hits, the planer will “trip”, allowing the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer. Plugs can be used with planers, but they must have a small lip. Large lips will trip the planer.
Trolling in freshwater
Speckled perch (crappie, to our northern friends) are a favorite of Florida anglers and trolling for them has become a very popular. The basics are the same, but the technique is a bit different. As in other applications, trolling allows an angler to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. Jigs are most often used, but Beetlespins are also effective. The Blakemore Roadrunner is a very productive bait that combines both a spinner and a jig in one lure. Some anglers use spider rigs and other elaborate set-ups to get as many lines in the water as possible. I prefer to keep it simple; once again having my client hold the road and enjoy feeling the strike.
On deeper lakes with distinct contour changes, the best approach is to very slowly troll back and forth over edges where the bottom changes depth, crappie will often hold in these locations. Changing speeds on the turns will cause the lures to rise and fall, triggering strikes. On shallower lakes, just drive around, skirting the edges of weedlines or over submerged vegetation until the fish are located. On the flat, shallow Florida lakes, even the slightest depth change can make a huge difference. Locating a trough or hole in a featureless lake will result in a reliable fishing spot.
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.
Why do anglers enjoy fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico off of the Sarasota beaches? 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!
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 on a Sarasota fishing charter. 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!
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.
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 fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico
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!
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.
In conclusion, this article on Sarasota trolling techniques will help anglers catch more fish in both freshwater and saltwater. So, the next time you are idling along on your favorite lake, river, or inland bay, try dragging a lure out behind the boat. You never know what might eat it!
Anglers visiting Sarasota and her beaches might like to try some Siesta Key snook fishing. Snook are caught all year long using a variety of techniques.
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They grow large, up to 40 pounds. Snook will hit both live and artificial baits. They can be very aggressive or frustratingly fussy. Snook are challenging, but rewarding. Snook are available all year long. Many clients choose to try Siesta Key snook fishing when on one of my Sarasota fishing charters.
I have been running a bunch of family fishing charters this summer. Most of these trips include children and novice anglers. This limits the kind of fishing that I can do. It is difficult to do Siesta Key snook fishing with four anglers. However, the other day my client received a surprise! We were chumming with bait fish for speckled trout in six feet of water in the open bay. Mitch got a bite and the fish dumped the spool! I fired up the engine, pulled the anchor, and chased it down. I thought it was a shark, but turned out to be a big Sarasota snook! They are rarely caught in open water like that. Snook are schooled up pretty thick in the passes and out on the beach.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Candice headed out on Sarasota Bay on a Sunday afternoon with her step-father to do a little tubing, a little fishing, and enjoy the afternoon on the water. The tide was running out hard and pass crabs were all over the surface. So, they netted a few up, dropped them to the bottom near some rocky structure in Big Pass, and before long she had her hands full with a large Siesta Key snook! It was a tough battle in the swift tide, but Candice subdued the fish, hoisted it up for a quick photo, and released her unharmed to go make babies. She landed several others as well.
An over-slot snook caught at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon? Yep. There is no doubt among anglers along the west coast of Florida that snook have made a rousing comeback since the big cold-water fish kill in 2010. Some anglers credit several mild winters for the increase in snook numbers while others feel the strict management of the species is responsible for the great action. Whatever the reason, snook are pleasing fisherman throughout the region.
As a guide in Sarasota, I am out on the water around 250 days a year. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters caught more snook this spring than they had in years, and in places that would not normally be associated with snook, especially open grass flats. Many of the snook are “schoolies” in the 16” to 24” range, but there are plenty of big fish around as well.
Siesta Key snook local movements
Local snook migrations are pretty basic. They move into creeks, rivers, and residential canals in the winter to escape the extreme temperature fluctuations of the flats. As it warms up they migrate out into the inshore areas to feed up, then by early summer most fish are in the passes and out on the beaches in preparation of spawning. The pattern the reverses itself as the fish move back into the bays and eventually back into the creeks if it gets cold enough.
Passes all along Florida’s west coast are full of snook of all sizes right now. Outgoing tides early or late in the day and at night are prime times to tame a line-sider. Live bait will usually produce the most fish. Large pilchards are a prime bait, but hand-picked shrimp, 3” pinsfish and grunts, and as Candice proved, even crabs will entice a hungry snook. Stout tackle is required when fishing in heavy current and around structure. Diving plugs and soft plastics bumped along the bottom will fool wily snook as well.
Siesta Key Beach snook fishing
Sight casting for snook on the beach is great fun and lighter tackle can be used. Snook will cruise the surf line within a few feet of shore in search of a meal. These fish will spook, so a delicate presentation is required. Small white bucktail jigs are very effective, as are shrimp imitations and small plugs. Fly anglers score with white minnow patters such as the D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow.
Most fly anglers find the idea of spotting a 28” fish in foot deep gin-clear water, quietly stalking it, presenting a fly and watching the take to be the pinnacle of fishing. Does it really get any better than that? That opportunity does exist from Tampa Bay all the way south to Marco Island. Best of all, very little gear or travel is required and a boat is actually a hindrance!
Sight fishing for snook along area beaches is not a secret among local anglers, but it is not widespread knowledge throughout the country. But, that fact is that anyone with a little stamina to walk, a fly rod, the ability to cast 40 feet and a bit of patience can enjoy this experience. As in all fishing, there are nuances that will help fly caster be more successful.
Snook begin migrating out of the back bays and onto the beaches in April, especially in the southern region, and are usually thick by June. They are out there to spawn, but will certainly take a well presented fly. In fact, fly fishing is probably the most effective approach as these fly lands so softly and the fish are in quite shallow water.
The general weather pattern in the summer is for the wind to lay down around midnight, and blow lightly out of the ease or southeast in the morning. The beach should be calm with relatively little surf. Too much chop will stir the water up, making it very difficult to spot snook. By noon the sea breeze will kick up and it will continue to pick up throughout the afternoon.
Beach snook fishing techniques
The technique is relatively simple. Get out on the beach around 7:30, no need to get there too early as it will be too dark to see any fish. Choose a section of beach that has few swimmers, though that usually isn’t an issue that early. The best fishing will be walking north, with the wind and sun at the anglers back. Armed with a 7wt to 9wt outfit, a long leader with a 25lb-30lb tippet and a #2 white D.T. Special, Crystal Minnow, or any small pattern, the angler heads out, walking 15 feet or so away from the water, with 40 feet or so of line coiled in his hand, ready to make a quick cast. This will give a good vantage point to spot fish.
Most snook will be seen right in the surf line, withing a few feet of shore. There is very little structure on most beaches, therefore any rocks, pilings, or other structure can be very good spots. The same goes for beaches near passes, they can be fantastic places to fish. Otherwise, look for schools of bait fish or just seeing snook in the water.
Snook will range from loners to quite large schools, but mostly commonly will be seen in groups of several fish. The angler needs to determine which way they are heading. If they are coming towards the angler, he needs only stop, wait for the fish, and present the fly ahead of them. Subtle strips work best.
If the fish is heading away, most of the time they are moving slow enough that the angler can walk around and get ahead of them, then present the fly. As in all fly fishing, there will be refusals, but plenty of takes as well. Many of the fish are “schoolies” but there will be some trophy snook fish as well! Anglers may occasionally encounter redfish, jacks, msackerel, and other species as well.
Siesta Key Snook Fishing produces other species
While the equipment requirements are minimal, there are a few things required to be comfortable and achieve success. A had, good polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are a few essentials. Comfortable shoes that are still comfortable when wet are important as well. A fanny pack is practical for toting water, sunscreen, leader material, and some flies. Some anglers fin a stripping basket to be an invaluable tool, keeping fly line out of the surf and not under foot. While the walk back may be into the sun and wind, keep a sharp eye out. It is amazing how fish will suddenly appear!
While sight casting to snook is the most glamorous opportunity, fly anglers do have options during other times of year, particularly in the spring and fall. A couple days of east wind will result in calm, clear water along the beach and this will bring in the bait and of course the gamefish. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species will come within range of a decent caster. Clouser Minnow and D.T. Special patterns are solid producers.
Spin anglers are not to be left out when trying to catch snook off the area beaches. Point of Rocks on Siesta Key and the mouths of both New Pass and Big Sarasota Pass on Lido Key are prime spots. As in fly fishing, a subtle presentation is important. Small white lures such as bucktail jigs, soft plastic baits, and plugs all work well. Anglers who prefer live bait will do well on Sarasota snook using large shrimp, pilchards, and pinfish. Keeping bait alive in the summer can be challenging.
Seasonal Snook Migrations
Most anglers are aware of the fact that many species of fish migrate along the Gulf Coast and are generally caught at certain times of the year. Spanish and king mackerel along with false albacore and cobia move through in the spring and again in the fall. Tarpon make their big push in the warmer months, starting in early May. Sheepshead are thick in late winter and spring. But, resident fish also make local migrations and none more distinctly that perhaps the most popular inshore gamefish in Florida; snook. So, let’s go through the annual snook migration pattern.
The cycle begins in the winter, when snook have migrated up into creeks, rivers, and residential canals to escape the harsh conditions on the shallow flats. The more severe the winter, the more pronounced this movement will be. The water in these areas will normally be significantly warmer than the open bays, due to deeper holes, protection from the wind, and darker “tannin” stained water. I prefer casting shallow diving plugs for snook in this situation, they allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly and elicit exciting strikes!
As the water warms up in the spring, snook will move out of the creeks, rivers, and canals and scatter out over the inshore bays. They will set up in their typical ambush spots that offer cover, current, and opportunities to feed. Mangrove shorelines with a depth change, grass flats with potholes, sloping oyster bars, docks, and bridges will all hold snook. At this stage snook can be taken using a variety of techniques; live shrimp and baitfish, plugs, soft plastics, and weedless spoons are all effective baits. Outgoing tides early and late in the day and at night are prime times.
Spring and Summer Siesta Key snook Fishing
By early May, Sarasota snook will be staging heavily in the passes and at some point will move out onto the beaches to spawn. This is one of the easiest times of the year to catch snook, especially a trophy! Live pilchards are extremely effective, especially if a few freebies are tossed into the structure to get the fish excited. Live pinfish and large shrimp are also deadly. Artificial lures can be used successfully as well, though live bait really shines in this situation.
By mid summer the beaches should be thick with snook. Areas with some type of cover such as rocks or pilings will be hold good numbers of fish. This is a fantastic opportunity to sight cast for snook using light spinning or fly tackle. Small lures that can be presented more delicately will draw the most strikes, white bucktail jigs and flies are a great choice. Live bait works very well, too.
As it starts to cool, the pattern reverses itself as snook move back into the inshore waters and then eventually back into the rivers, creeks, and canals once it gets cold enough. Anglers who take the time to learn and understand local fish movements will enjoy success on a more consistent basis. Anglers can check the ever-changing snook regulations on the FWC site.
Siesta Key snook fishing in winter
Winter is a great time to catch snook in Sarasota! Snook migrate up into creeks and residential canals when the water cools off. They do this to escape the open bays. Water in creeks, rivers, and canals are often significantly warmer. Forage migrates into these areas as well. Best of all, it concentrates snook into smaller areas. This makes them easier to locate.
I like casting plugs when Siesta Key snook fishing in the cooler months. Plugs allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly. They also do not snag the bottom. Finally, the hook-up ratio is good with the pair of treble hooks. Speaking of which, care needs to be taken! Some plug manufacturers use single hooks on their plugs as well. My favorite plugs are the #10 Rapala BX Minnow and the Jointed BX Minnow in gold and Firetiger.
Phillippi Creek is a reliable snook spot in the winter. The grand Canal on Siesta Key also offers anglers miles of docks, seawalls, and other structure. Snook will be found here all winter. Large jack crevelle will be taken there as well. Trolling plugs is a great technique to use. It will both locate and catch fish.
Sarasota rivers offer good fishing
There are several rivers that are close to Sarasota and Siesta Key. The Manatee River, Braden River, and Myakka river offer anglers a unique experience. The scenery is awesome as is the fishing. Clients have the chance to catch a trophy snook in a cool setting. This is a relaxing charter with a “freshwater” feel to it. I use my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat for this fishing. A river snook fishing charter is a good option for experienced anglers.
These rivers are a 30 minute to 45 minute drive from the area beaches. But, it will seem like a world away! The Myakka River is especially remote-feeling. It is one of the two designated “Wild and scenic” rivers in Florida.
In conclusion, the next time you are visiting the west coast of Florida, give Siesta Key snook fishing a try. You might just hook the fish of a lifetime!