Sarasota redfish are highly sought after by visiting anglers. These popular inshore game fish are second only to snook.
Sarasota redfish are a hard-fighting and popular inshore species. They are available all year long. Redfish have a distinct seasonal migration. While any species may be caught in any location, the vast majority of Sarasota redfish are caught on the flats and under docks. Redfish may be encountered in singles or and schools of 500 fish or more. They are a common target on Sarasota fishing charters.
Redfish have an inferior mouth. This means that the mouth is below the nose. This indicates the habits of the fish and the type of feeding that it does. Redfish are built to scour the bottom in search of crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. However, they are not limited to this diet. Small bait fish are a primary forage as well. This is particularly true as reds grow larger.
The seasonal migration of redfish is similar to that of both snook and jack crevelle. While more tolerant of cold water then these other two species, redfish will seek deeper water in the winter. Creeks and residential canals will be particularly attractive. Water in these areas is deeper, darker, and generally at least several degrees warmer than the open bays.
As it warms up, redfish will move out of these areas and scatter out onto the open flats. It will inhabit these areas until late summer. At this point, redfish will school up into big numbers on the flats. Many of these fish will be over sized breeder females. These fish will move out into the Gulf of Mexico to spawn. By late October, the schools have broken up and the fish begin to migrate back towards their winter locations.
Sarasota redfish locations
Sarasota has quite a bit of prime habitat that holds redfish. Expansive flats in North Sarasota Bay are great spots to target redfish. On the east side of the bay, Long Bar in the flats north of it produce a lot of reds. Productive flats on the west side of the bay begin at country club Shores and go all the way up to Longboat Pass.
The character of the inshore waters change south of Siesta Drive. The inshore bays from Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Point have less open grass flats and more oyster bars and mangrove shorelines. There are also many docks and canals that attract and hold reds. The Siesta Key area also tends to get a bit less fishing pressure. It is particularly good in the cooler months.
Live Bait for redfish
It is tough to beat a large live shrimp when it comes to catching Sarasota redfish. Live shrimp are available at local bait shops all year long. When available, it is best to purchase “hand picked” shrimp. That means that the largest shrimp are separated out from the other average sized shrimp.
Live bait fish produce redfish as well. Small pin fish and grunts are very effective baits. Occasionally, they are available at bait shops. But in most instances, anglers will have to catch their own. They do so with either a cast net or with small hooks and a tiny piece of shrimp or squid. Live scaled sardines and threadfin herring are caught by anglers using a cast net.
Cut bait can be extremely effective for Sarasota redfish, especially in the heat of summer. Water temperature in the upper 80s can have the fish a bit lethargic. A chunk of freshly caught ladyfish or mullet will often entice a redfish to bite when it is less than willing to chase down a lure or live bait.
Artificial lures for redfish
Artificial lures catch plenty of redfish, especially on the flats. The three most popular lures for Sarasota redfish are weedless spoons, soft plastic baits, and plugs. These three lures cover the water column and will catch redfish all year long and in all locations.
Weedless spoons are great choice for anglers targeting redfish on the shallow grass flats. Anglers can cast them a long way. This results in a stealthy presentation as well is allowing the angler to cover a lot of water. It is a great bait to prospect a large flat. Gold is the most productive color with 1/2 ounce being the best all-around size.
Soft plastic baits produce Sarasota redfish on the flats, under docks, and along mangrove shorelines. These very versatile baits can be rigged to fish very shallow water as well as deeper holes and canals. They come in a wide assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Plugs are another very effective bait for catching Sarasota redfish. They imitate small bait fish such as mullet and sardines. Plugs come in two varieties, top water plugs and diving plugs. Top water plugs are worked exclusively on the surface. Diving plugs float on the surface, but a lip causes them to dive down several feet below the surface. Plugs should match in size and color the local forage that redfish are feeding on.
Sarasota redfish on the shallow flats
Many anglers enjoy the challenge of targeting redfish on the very shallow grass flats. Site fishing for reds in a foot of water is great sport! However, it requires patients and a time commitment. Fish and water that shallow are very skittish and can be very difficult to catch. But, for many anglers the reward is worth the effort.
Redfish on the shallow grass flats can be caught along the shoreline, in potholes, along the edges of oyster bars, and even over the open grass. Tides are very important when targeting redfish in the shallow flats. Reds will make fairly distinct movements depending on the tides.
On the low tide stages, reds will be concentrated in deeper holes. They have no choice, is there simply is not enough water on the flats for them to swim and feed. Potholes (which are depressions in the grass flats) will hold fish on the low tides. The same is true for drop-offs and deeper areas along shorelines and along oyster bars.
For this reason, many anglers prefer a low, incoming tide when targeting Sarasota redfish. They understand that the reds will be schooled up along the edges of bars and in potholes waiting for the tide to rise. Redfish are easier to locate then as there is less water to search.
As the tide rises, redfish will move out of these deeper areas and scatter out over the flats. While they are in a mood to feed, they are more difficult to locate. Anglers can blind cast these areas as they drift along. Anglers can also wait until they cite a fish and cast towards it. Often times, especially in summer, the larger schools are easily spotted as they “wake” across the flat.
By the time the tide reaches the highest stage, redfish can be anywhere. This can be a difficult time to locate them. The best bet is often to work a mangrove shoreline. Redfish tent to move up under these areas on the higher tide stages. As the tide reverses itself and begins to flow out, redfish will reverse their movements. Reds that are chased off the flat on the following tide can be difficult to catch.
Small small channels and cuts in flats and between oyster bars are great spots to try on a falling tide. Redfish (and other species) will stage in the spots as they are good feeding stations. The current will bring food to them as they lie in these ambush spots.
While live bait can be used when targeting redfish on the shallow flats, many anglers choose to use artificial lures. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. This is important when searching for fish in a large area. Once fish are located, live or cut bait can be used very effectively.
Live bait chumming is a deadly technique on the grass flats. This involves the angler catching several hundred scaled sardines with a cast net. The angler than anchors up current of a likely pothole, oyster bar, or mangrove shoreline. Live bait fish are then thrown out a handful of the time to attract the redfish and get them in a feeding mood. This technique requires a fair amount of effort, but it can really pay off!
Weedless spoons, soft plastic baits, and top water plugs are all effective baits for targeting redfish on the shallow grass flats. 4 inch to 6 inch soft plastic baits can be fished on a light jig head as well as specially designed swim bait hooks. These hooks have a weight built in that results in the soft plastic bait being presented horizontally. They can also be rigged weedless.
Shallow diving plugs are very effective when fishing slightly deeper water. This would include oyster bars that drop off into three or 4 feet of water as well as mangrove shorelines with a little depth. These plugs are not effective and water less than a couple feet deep as they will hang up on the bottom.
Docks produce Sarasota redfish
Many Sarasota redfish are landed by anglers fishing under docks. Docks provide shade, cover, and food. These are all elements of a great fishing spot. Docks are also generally found in slightly deeper water. Only experience and trial and error will determine docks that produce redfish on a reliable basis.
The best docks are those in water between three and 8 feet deep with good current flow. Isolated docks are better than a row of docks tightly bunched. These will tend to congregate the fish as there is less available structure. Redfish will relate to docks all year long.
There are many miles of residential canals on Longboat Key, Siesta Key, and the mainland. There are also several creeks including Bowlees Creek, Phillippi Creek, North Creek, Hudson Bayou, and Whittaker Bayou that will attract redfish, particularly in the cooler months. All of these creeks and canals have fish producing docks.
Cock fishing techniques
Generally speaking, live bait works best when fishing docks. The best approach is to anchor upwind and up tied of the dock to be finished. The angler can then present the live bait back under the dock in a natural manner. As mentioned earlier, a large live shrimp is a great bait when targeting Sarasota redfish under docks.
Other live and cut baits will produce as well. A live pin fish, grunts, or scaled sardine will produce a strike from a nice redfish as well. The same goes for a chunk of cut bait such as mullet or ladyfish. Cut bait seems to work best when the fish are less active such as when the water is quite warm or cold.
Artificial lures do have a place for fishing docks as well. This is particularly true in creeks and canals or along shorelines were docks are bunched together. It is simply a matter of efficiency. A can take too long to spend 10 or 15 minutes at each dock trying to to determine if it holds fish. Slowly moving along while casting plugs or jigs is a good way to locate productive docks.
The same inshore tackle that anglers use for snook, speckled trout, and other species will work fine when targeting Sarasota redfish. A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series real and 20 pound braided line is a great outfit. Anglers can opt for monofilament line. However, I find that braided line is a better choice, especially when fishing around docks. Braided line also cast further which can be an advantage when fishing the flats on a clear day.
Redfish get a lot of fishing pressure in this area. Like most fish species, they can be cyclical. As of right now, 2018, redfish numbers are down a bit. Lower numbers of juvenile redfish along with a pretty severe bout of red tide have resulted in the redfish population being below average.
However, nature is resilient and these fish can bounce back quickly. I understand that redfish are good eating, but on my charters I promote catch and release for both redfish and snook. Florida fishing regulations for redfish do change. Anglers can find the current regulations at the FWC site.
In closing, anglers visiting the area should give Sarasota redfish a try. They are a hard fighting, challenging species. However, they are well worth the effort!
Chumming has been around for as long as humans have been fishing. Anglers use Sarasota chumming techniques to catch a wide variety of species. Fish will respond to chum of all kinds in a variety of applications. These tactics not only work in Sarasota, but anywhere that anglers fish.
Chumming is basically the art of using food to attract fish to the angler. It can be done from shore, bridges, and piers. However, most associate chumming with boats. Chum can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. All are effective when used properly. Chumming is a deadly technique that should be part of every angler’s arsenal.
Frozen chum blocks are very effective. These are basically chunks of ground up oily fish. Oily fish such as menhaden, sardines, mackerel, and mullet make the best frozen chum. The oils that are emitted from the chum block help to attract the fish. Chum blocks often come in a mesh bag. This makes using them very easy. They are simply tied to a cleat at the start of the boat. As the chum melts, it is dispersed behind the boat. Chum blocks are available at just about every saltwater bait shop.
Fresh dead chum can also be extremely effective. This can be as simple as cutting up a few pieces of shrimp and tossing him in the water. This can work very well in the cooler months for fish species such as sheepshead and snapper. Anglers bottom fishing offshore will often caught up a fish they have caught, using it as chum.
One of the most effective Sarasota chumming techniques is the use of live bait fish as chum. This is a bit of a specialized method. It does require a lot of bait fish. Anglers catch scaled sardines (AKA pilchards), threadfin herring, and small Spanish sardines using a cast net. The baits are then put in a large, recirculating live well. Keeping a lot a baits alive and frisky is very important. The live bait is then tossed out behind the boat in hopes of attracting game fish.
Sarasota chumming techniques
The technique when using chum, no matter what kind, is basically the same. The angler is usually stationary, but it can be done from a drifting boat as well. This is primarily done offshore in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. Whether from an anchored boat or a dock, bridge, or pier, the chum is dispersed into the water. The current will take the chum away from the boat or structure and draw in the game fish.
Strategy comes into play when using Sarasota chumming techniques. Tide is the most important factor. Anglers will want to anchor the boat up tide of the area that is to be fished. This is true whether anglers are chumming inshore or offshore. The stronger the current, and the deeper the water, the further up current the angler will need to position the boat.
Chumming has been a mainstay of offshore anglers for decades. Those fishing wrecks, artificial reefs, and areas of hard bottom use chum to excite the resident fish. Chum can be dispersed both on the surface and on the bottom surface. Chum will attract species such as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, tuna, and other species. Bottom fish such as grouper, snapper, grunts, and other species will respond to chum on the bottom.
Chumming the water column
Chum deployed on the surface can attract bottom fish as well. This is true if the angler is fishing and water that isn’t that deep or if the current isn’t very strong. Surface chum can also be used to pull fish up off the bottom. It is very cool when a school of mangrove snapper rises up off the bottom and starts feeding on chum right at the surface!
Anglers will oftentimes use both methods of chumming. A frozen chum block can be lower to the bottom while another is tied off the stern. Sometimes the surface chum will attract bait fish, which in turn will attract the game fish. Once the fish are in the chum “slick”, it is time to go fishing!
Every angler has his or her favorite rig for offshore fishing. It is basically a running line, a leader, a hook, and if required, some weight. If fish are seen right at the surface in the chum, free lining bait back to them can be extremely productive. A piece of bait with no weight floating back looks very natural. In fact, the desired effect is to have it looked exactly like the other chum floating back.
Rigging for chumming
Anglers bottom fishing will obviously need to add some weight. I prefer the “knocker rig”where the egg sinker lies right on the eye of the hook. Many anglers prefer to put the sinker on the running line then a swivel and a leader and hook. Both work fine, it’s just a matter of preference. With both bottom fishing and surface fishing, water clarity will be a determining factor in leader size.
Just a quick note; here in Sarasota in the Gulf of Mexico, anglers are required to use circle hooks when fishing offshore. Florida fishing regulations have become a bit strict. There are close seasons on grouper and snapper. The consensus is that circle hooks reduce the mortality rate of released fish.
Chumming can be effective from a drifting boat as well. This is something that is done more often in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. The chum is just dispersed over the side of the boat as it drifts with the current and wind. As in all forms of chumming, the hope is that it will draw game fish to the angler.
Inshore chumming tactics
While many anglers think of chumming as in offshore technique, it is used quite often when fishing inshore as well. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, I use every trick that I know to help my clients catch fish. I use Sarasota chumming techniques on a regular basis to achieve this goal on a Sarasota fishing charter.
We experience a strong run of sheepshead starting around the first of the year. These tasty saltwater panfish stick around until early April or so. The water can get quite chilly this time of year. The number one bait for catching sheepshead on my Sarasota fishing charters is shrimp. Both live shrimp and frozen shrimp are effective.
On those days when the water is chilly, chumming with small pieces of shrimp can be the difference between success and failure. The sheepshead and snapper are a bit lethargic in this cold water. A couple shrimp diced up into tiny bits and tossed back into the current will oftentimes stimulate the fish.
Live bait chumming
Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique! This is something I do all summer long and into the fall until the water temperature hits around 70°. When baitfish are plentiful, it is a simple matter to cast net up a bunch of pilchards (scaled sardines) or threadies (threadfin herring) to use. Local anglers call this “white bait”or “shiners”.
Using live bait is one of the Sarasota chumming techniques that I use all summer long. I mostly do this on the deep grass flats. These are submerge grass beds in between 6 feet of water and 10 feet of water. This deeper water is cooler than the shallower water is. Anglers seeking action and variety target the deep grass flats in the summer time.
I anchor the boat up current and upwind of the flat that I want to chum. Then, I simply toss out a few handfuls of live bait as chum. If the game fish are around, it won’t take them long to find the chum. Often times fish will be seen “popping”the bait behind the boat. Hooked baits are then tossed out and hookups are soon to follow.
I will also use this technique to catch snook, redfish, and jacks in the spring and the fall. The bait fish needs to be a bit larger to attract the snook. However, not as many bait fish are required. The procedure is similar to fishing the deep grass flats. The boat is anchored up current of the area to be fished. Docks, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines are all productive spots.
Once in position, a few pieces of bait are tossed out behind the boat. Less chum is used in this situation. We want to excite and attract the fish, not fill them up. Too much bait in the water will result in the snook losing interest. Again, this is a great way for less experienced anglers to have a chance to catch a big fish.
Sarasota chumming techniques are used extensively in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. In the spring and again in the fall, Spanish and king mackerel along with false albacore, sharks, cobia, and other species migrate along the beaches. They are following the migrating schools of bait fish. All of the species respond well to frozen and live chum.
Chum works especially well for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. These fish are very fast, school up in big numbers, and are aggressive. There are three artificial reefs within 2 miles of Lido Key. These reefs are fish magnets and attract mackerel, false albacore, and other species.
The best technique is to anchor up current of the artificial reef. The chum can then be dispersed out behind the boat to attract the game fish. Frozen chum blocks work fine for this type of fishing. However, anglers live bait chumming can really get the fish fired up! When the fish get feeding heavily, it can sound like hand grenades going off in the water.
Using the proper amount of chum is extremely important. This is something that an angler will only learn by experience. Also, every day is different. This is especially true with live bait chumming. Some days just several baits every five minutes will be plenty. On other days, it will take a lot of chum to keep them behind the boat and excited.
The goal when chumming is to attract the fish, and get them excited, but without filling them up. If too much chum is used, the fish will remain back in the slick, but will become difficult to catch. The best bet is to use chum sparingly in the beginning then step it up if the bite is a bit slow. It is always better to start slow like this than to chum too much in the beginning.
Anglers will sometimes find that fish are hitting the chum bait but will not take a baited hook. This tends to occur more often when the water is very clear. The solution is to go lighter with the leader and use a smaller hook. Also, wherever possible use little or no weight. Anglers can view current Florida regulations here.
Chumming for sharks
One of the other Sarasota chumming techniques I use is to cut up fish for small sharks. In the summer time, black tip and bonnet head sharks move in from the Gulf of Mexico and scatter out on the flats to feed. The flats closest to the passes are generally the most productive. The sharks are often caught in water as shallow as 3 feet deep. They are a really fun size, averaging between 15 pounds and 40 pounds.
I most often do this at the end of a Sarasota fishing charter. I will save a few ladyfish and jacks to use for bait and chum. Both of these fish are oily and are good shark baits. I will fillet the fish and cut a couple nice chunks of that fillet for bait. I’ll take the rest of the fillet and chop it up into pieces. This I will use for chum. I also take the fish carcasses, tie them together, and put them in the water for chum as well.
In closing, using these Sarasota chumming techniques will help you catch more fish. After all, isn’t it easier to have the fish come to you than the other way around?
Capt. Jim Klopfer offers Siesta Key fishing charters to visiting anglers. Siesta Key is a barrier island near Sarasota, Florida. Siesta Key is world famous for its white sand beaches. However, it offers excellent fishing as well.
Siesta Key fishing charters offers visiting anglers a variety of fishing opportunities. Six to eight species are landed on most trips. Speckled trout, snook, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, and many other species are targeted. The deep grass flats, passes, back country bays, and inshore Gulf of Mexico all produce year-round.
One of the advantages of Siesta Key fishing charters is a wide variety of available fishing opportunities. We have over two dozen species that are available at one time of year or another. On most trips, anglers catch 6 to 8 different species. Anglers of all ages and experience levels can take advantage of this.
Many of my clients over the course of the year are very casual anglers. These include families with children. Quite a few of our fish species are fairly easy to catch. This makes them great targets for these types of clients. More experienced anglers may enjoy targeting more challenging fish such as snook, redfish, or even tarpon.
I use a 22 foot bay boat on my Siesta Key fishing charters. It is very stable and roomy, with plenty of storage. I provide everything the angler needs for the day of fishing. Tackle, bait, licenses, and a cooler with ice all come with the trip. Anglers need only bring comfortable clothing, drinks and snacks, and hats and sunglasses.
Siesta Key fishing charters
I tailor my charters to the current conditions and angler expectations and experience. I always like to speak to my clients the afternoon before. This way I can get as much information as I can and have everything rigged and ready on the boat in the morning. I am very flexible as far as the time and location that we will be leaving.
There are many different species to target on Siesta Key fishing charters. There are also several different techniques to employ. I would say that the majority of the fish caught with me by clients are done so using two different methods. Fishing the passes and drifting the deep grass flats produce a lot of fish for my customers.
Florida is flat. Therefore, the geography underwater is similar to that on land. Sarasota Bay is only about 10 feet deep maximum. There are acres and acres of submerge grass beds. We call these grass flats. These grass beds that exist in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep are extremely productive for a variety of species
Fishing charters in Siesta Key
Speckled trout are caught on these deep grass flats all year long. They are plentiful, aggressive, beautiful, and not overly challenging for the novice angler. There also very good to eat for those clients who want to keep a couple fish for dinner. I drift the deep grass flats and use either live bait or artificial bait. Many other species are caught doing this as well.
Spanish mackerel, pompano, jack crevelle, gag grouper, bluefish, mangrove snapper, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, cobia, and sea bass are just some of the other species that anglers will catch will targeting speckled trout on the deep grass flats. The variety of species caught is definitely one of the high points of the charter.
Fishing Siesta Key
There are two passes in Sarasota. They are Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. These passes connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. On the West Coast of Florida they are called passes, but they are basically inlets. They are veritable fish highways. Fish use them to migrate between the Bay and the Gulf.
Big Pass lies at the north end of Siesta Key and has fish in it all year long. There are two types of fishing we do in Big Pass; bottom fishing and drifting. The entire north shore of Siesta Key is covered with structure such as submerged rocks, docks, and seawalls. These hold bottom fish such as sheepshead, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts, grouper, drum, and pompano.
Bottom fishing is as basic as it gets. Anglers take a baited hook and just drop it straight to the bottom, no casting is even required. Anglers with no experience can catch fish using this method right away. Live or frozen shrimp is the preferred bait. Sheepshead are thick in the passes December through April. Snook are plentiful in the summer. Snapper are present all year long.
Clients also catch a lot of fish drifting in the passes. This is another fairly easy fishing technique that can be learned in short order. There is usually current present in the pass. Anglers bounce jigs along the bottom or free line a shrimp out behind the boat as it drifts along with the current. This drifting covers a lot of water and helps anglers find the fish.
Ladyfish school up thick in Big Pass. These are great fish for anglers to practice on. They hit hard and almost always jump several feet up out of the water. It gives children and novice anglers a chance to fight a fish that takes drag. However, there is no pressure to land it as they are not good to eat and are usually plenty of them. Mackerel, bluefish, and pompano are also commonly caught drifting the passes.
Siesta Key fishing charters using live bait
I use live bait on many of my Siesta Key fishing charters, especially with small children on board. Using live bait is easier for them and increases the odds of success. Live shrimp are the number one live bait in Sarasota. They are available all year round and catch just about everything that swims. Dead or frozen shrimp works well for many bottom species.
I also use my cast net to catch small bait fish. This is mostly done in the warmer months, especially in the heat of summer. Scaled sardines and thread fin herring along with pin fish and grunts are most commonly caught. Live bait fish can be fantastic baits and will often catch larger fish then shrimp will. They also don’t get harassed by the little bait stealers.
In the summer time I do a lot of live bait chumming. This is an incredibly productive technique! It is also another great method for children and inexperienced anglers. Once I load the bait well up with minnows, I anchor the boat. Next, I throw a few handfuls of the live bait out behind the boat. It usually doesn’t take long before these freebies attract the game fish.
When the tide is right in the bait is easy, this method is deadly. I have had many Siesta Key fishing charters that produced over 100 fish for three anglers in a morning. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, bluefish, grouper, and loads of ladyfish respond to the live chum. We also use this technique along mangrove shorelines to catch snook and redfish.
I use artificial lures on a lot of my Siesta Key fishing charters. Clients are often surprised to learn that on many days, lures will actually out fish live bait. This is especially true in the cooler months when fish are more active in eight is less plentiful. In this situation, fish are more apt to chase down a lure.
The number one artificial bait on the West Coast of Florida by far is the lead head jig and grub combo. A jig is a hook with the weight at the front of it. This weight provides casting distance as well is giving the bait a specific action. The jig hops and falls as its retrieved through the water. That is how it gets its name!
The jig hook is then adorned with some type of plastic trailer. For the most part, these are made to mimic either shrimp or bait fish. The two most popular are paddle tails and shad tails. Both are very effective. I prefer lighter colors in clear water and darker colors and stained water. I also believe that presentation is much more important than color.
Jigs and plugs
This is an easy lure to use. I have converted many live bait anglers! The jig is cast out, and allowed to sink several feet. It is then retrieved in using sharp hops with a pause in between. Most strikes occur as the jig is falling. I’m sure it looks like a wounded and helpless shrimp or bait fish as it slowly blotters down.
The other artificial lure that I use quite often is a plug. This is basically a plastic imitation of a bait fish. I generally use these with more experienced anglers. Plugs come with a pair of treble hooks. That, along with and inexperienced angler, is not a great combination.
I use plugs to work shorelines for snook, jacks, and redfish. Plugs allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly and they draw some exciting strikes. Mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, and docks in the backwater areas produce for anglers casting plugs. They are also effective trolled on the deep flats and off the beaches.
I choose plugs most of the time for anglers who want to target snook and other species. These lures closely mimics the finger mullet and other bait fish that the game fish feed on. They float at rest and dive several feet down when sharply twitched. This also results in less snags then when using jigs.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
Fishing just off the beaches and the Gulf of Mexico can be fantastic when conditions are right. In the spring and the fall huge bait fish migrations occur along the entire coast. Of course, the game fish are right on their heels. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are the primary species. However, sharks, cobia, tarpon and other species can be hooked as well on Sarasota fishing charters.
After a day or two of east wind, it will be calm along the coast. These are the conditions that we are looking for. Not only do I want my clients to be comfortable, but it needs to be calm in order to see the bait fish and feeding game fish. One of the most exciting aspects of this is that often times fish will be feeding right on the surface. We call these ”breaking fish”. It is always fun finding this situation as just about any lure or bait get instantly attacked.
Trolling is a great way to catch fish in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Once again, it is an extremely easy technique for inexperienced anglers. I simply draw the boat around while dragging a lure behind and waiting for fish to eat it. The fish takes, the rod bends, and the fish is hooked. The angler only has to reel it in, no casting required.
Experienced anglers will enjoy the fun of casting to these breaking fish. I position the boat upwind of a school of feeding fish, whether they be mackerel or false albacore. The angler then cast into the school and begins a fast, erratic retrieve. These fish are in a feeding frenzy and are very aggressive and will eat just about anything shiny that’s moving. I use jigs, plugs, and spoons effectively in this situation.
There are several artificial reefs a couple miles off the beach. These are fish magnets in the otherwise barren Gulf floor. Bottom fish such as sheepshead, grouper, snapper, and flounder will be found there most of the year. Spanish mackerel will be thick on these reefs in the spring and the fall. They provide great fishing when the seas are calm.
River fishing charters
I also provide anglers a unique experience, one that no other guide offers in this area. I take clients on river snook fishing charters. There are several rivers that are a short drive from Siesta Key beaches. In the wintertime, snook migrate up into these rivers. Using my 14 foot John boat, anglers drift the rivers casting plugs towards the shoreline in hopes of fooling a trophy snook.
This charter is best suited for experienced anglers. It produces less in terms of numbers than the bay fishing trips usually do. However, there is always the chance to land a true trophy fish. Snook 225 inches are caught on most trips. 30 inch fish are common and 40 inch snook are landed every season.
The scenery is part of the attraction to this charter as well. It has a “freshwater”feel to it. In fact, this water is brackish and largemouth bass are commonly caught. This is “Old Florida”and has a kind of Amazon like feel to it. It is a great experience and one that is less than an hour away from Siesta Key. I run out of Snook Haven on the Myakka River.
Siesta Key fishing charters species
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are ambush predators. These fish will usually be found near structure of some sort such as bridges, docks, mangroves, and oyster bars. Snook take artificial and live baits. They grow to 40 pounds are put up a terrific battle!
Snook have a local, seasonal migration. They are found in creeks, rivers, and canals in the winter. In spring and fall they are found throughout the flats in Sarasota Bay and Robert’s Bay. They spend their summer in the passes and out on the beaches.
Speckled trout may be the most popular inshore species along the entire Gulf Coast. Trout are beautiful fish, school up in decent numbers, are fairly plentiful, and taste great. The vast majority of speckled trout in Sarasota are caught on the submerged grass beds in 5′ to 10′ of water.
Speckled trout are caught by anglers using live shrimp and small bait fish. Shrimp are available year round while bait fish work better in the warmer months. Artificial lures such as jigs and plugs work well, too.
Redfish are another very popular fish species. They are found individually or in small bunches for most of the year. They are caught under docks and on the shallow flats. In late summer, they school up into large schools. Reds are targeted this time of year on the shallow grass flats in north Sarasota Bay. Jigs, plugs, and live shrimp account for most of the redfish caught.
Spanish mackerel are a pelagic species that migrate through the area. Prime times to target Spanish mackerel are spring and fall. However, they can be found all year with the exception of cold water, below 65 degrees. Mackerel are very fast fish. Spanish mackerel love fast-moving lures. They will also take live bait. They taste great when eater fresh but do not freeze well.
Bluefish are a hard-fighting fish species that are found in Sarasota in the cooler months. Blues are most often caught by anglers casting lures for trout and other species. They prefer slightly deeper water and are found over grass flats and in the passes. They school up and are very aggressive. Bluefish are oily, but the small ones are decent to eat when fresh.
Pompano put up a great fight for their size. However, their real value is on the dinner plate. Pompano are perhaps the finest eating fish that Sarasota offers. The swim around in schools of varying size. They feed on the bottom, mostly eating crustaceans. Small jigs and shrimp fished in the passes and on the flats produce most of the pompano caught. Surf anglers catch them using jigs, shrimp, and sand fleas.
Sheepshead are a bottom dwelling saltwater panfish. They are members of the porgy family are are very good eating. Sheepshead move in to spawn around structure in winter. They are found in good numbers in Sarasota from January through April. Sheepshead are rarely caught on lures. Shrimp are the most popular bait, but sand fleas and fiddler crabs work well.
Mangrove snapper are available all year long in Sarasota. While small, they are plentiful and feisty. They are also superb eating, right there with pompano. Most snapper are caught by anglers using live shrimp and small bait fish. Snapper will take small lures as well. They are found near docks, bridges, underwater ledges, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines.
Jack crevelle are one of the hardest fighting fish that we have in Sarasota. They have broad sides and large tails. Jacks are aggressive and very powerful. Jacks also are a school fish and that feeds into their aggressiveness. While live bait works, jack crevelle are much more fun to catch on lures such as jigs and plugs. Jacks are not considered good to eat.
Ladyfish are great fun! Locals disparage them as they are not good to eat. However, they provide great action on Siesta Key fishing charters. They are numerous, school up, are aggressive, and leap high up out of the water. Ladyfish are great for novice anglers and children looking for a bent rod. They bite year round and readily take lures and live bait.
False albacore are found in the inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall. They migrate along with the bait fish that they feed on. Conditions need to be right to catch them. It needs to be calm with clear water. When it all comes together, the action can be fantastic! They are not good to eat.
Small sharks are always a crowd pleaser, especially with kids. They are caught randomly on charters. Summer and early fall are the best times to target them. Sharks will usually be found near schools of mackerel in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Blacktip and bonnethead sharks are the species most often caught.
So in closing, if you are visiting our area and enjoy fishing, I hope that you will book one of my Siesta Key fishing charters. I work hard and will do everything I can to make the trip enjoyable and productive!
Spring Siesta Key fishing charters
Siesta Key Beach is world famous and attracts many visitors in March. In fact, it just won the prestigious award for ” Best Beach”. Young ladies flock to the famous white sand beaches during Spring Break to soak up the sun. But many come to fish, too. This time of year, families make up the majority of my charters and most of these trips include at least one female angler. Sarasota offers great family-friendly fishing for a variety of species. Vast experience is not required, just basic skills and the desire to have a good time.
Deep grass flats are very productive, offering reliable spring time fishing. Speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, cobia, sea bass, and flounder are all regular catches. Both anchoring up and drifting are equally productive, depending on the tide and wind.
The most popular artificial lure in this area is the jig/grub combo. This is a lead head jig with a plastic tail which imitates a shrimp or bait fish. Bass Assassin manufactures a full line of effective products; my personal favorite is the red/gold shad tail on a ¼ ounce jig head. The lure is cast out in front of the boat as it drifts across the flat. It is allowed to sink several seconds then is retrieved back with a twitching motion. Most strikes come as the bait falls.
Live bait produces on Siesta Key fishing charters
While artificial lures catch plenty of fish during Spring Break, live bait is the most reliable producer on my Siesta Key fishing charters, especially with anglers with limited experience. Live shrimp are purchased and “whitebait” is cast-netted up on the flats. “Whitebait” is a Florida term for small white or silver bait fish, mostly pilchards and threadfin herring, that migrate into the area in the spring. A well full of either live shrimp or frisky pilchards practically guarantees success.
Marcel Hamburger lives in Houston, TX and has fished with me for several years now. He usually brings his two children Morgan and Grant. Morgan never gets out-fished. Never. She has perfected the art of drifting a live bait across the flats. She casts her bait out and lets it drift behind the boat with the rod tip held low. When a fish takes the bait, she does not jerk, which is a common mistake. Instead, she just reels up the slack while slowly raising the rod tip. Most of the time, the result is a fish in the boat.
Anchoring up on the edge of a grass flat that drops off into deeper water and fishing with live bait can be deadly. One trip from several years ago comes to mind and it is a story that I have told many times on the boat. John Brennan from Brookfield, WI visits Siesta Key regularly for Spring Break, and he usually treats his daughters Laura, Cari, and Theresa to a Sarasota fishing charter. I filled the well with twelve dozen shrimp and loaded up the Brennan clan.
After anchoring up on the edge of a flat near Bird Key, we experienced non-stop action free lining live shrimp. I believe the final tally was 119 fish landed, not counting the ones that jumped off. Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, and ladyfish, kept rods bent the entire time. It was so hectic, poor John barely got the chance to fish!
Big Sarasota Pass fishing
Big Sarasota Pass lies to the north of Siesta Key. It is a fish highway that connects Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. March is a prime month for fishing the pass. The same methods that produce on the flats will also work in the deeper water of the pass. Jigs bounced on the bottom and free lined live bait will catch pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and loads of ladyfish.
Last March the Manby family, friends of the Brennan’s who also reside in Brookfield, WI had a great morning catching large mackerel in Big Pass. Maria and Jeff along with their three girls Ashleigh, Julia, and Abigail were my guests that morning. The tide was low and had just turned to come in and we were free lining live shrimp. The bite was a little slow, just a couple of ladyfish, when Julia’s rod bent double and the drag started screaming.
I knew right away that it was a big mackerel. Julia fought the fish like an expert and it was landed and tossed on ice, destined for dinner at Clayton’s that evening. Several minutes later the same thing was repeated. Then again. What the heck? Four baits in the water, same hook, same rig, but she catches all the fish?
“I jiggle it”, she stated. And the now-famous “Julia Jiggle” was born. Any time I am on a charter and the bites are slow in coming, I instruct my clients to “jiggle it”. Action is sure to soon follow.
There is much more to fishing than just catching fish. The time a family spends together is priceless. I humbly feel privileged to be a part of it. Friendships have been forged and to see the kids grow up each year is exciting. Experience your own Spring Break, Sarasota style!
Summer Siesta Key fishing charters
All three rods were bent deep as I tried to keep the bedlam under control. Sweat was dripping from my forehead and it was only nine o’clock in the morning. The heat was one reason, the other was that I was scrambling to keep my client’s hooks emptied of a fish and then re-baited. It was non-stop action as nearly every pilchard that hit the water was devoured within seconds. Welcome to summertime fishing Sarasota!
Many anglers are surprised when I tell them that fishing Sarasota in the heat of summer is outstanding. Some of my best days, especially when it comes to quantity, come in July and August. The reason for this is the abundance of live bait fish that flood into the bays at first light. Pilchards and threadfin herring are thick on the shallow grass flats near the Venice Inlet. A few tosses of the cast net will usually result in a well full of bait. After that, success is practically guaranteed. A few handfuls of live chum will bring speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, jacks, and sharks right up to the boat. Bait fish are easiest to catch at first light, especially on a high tide. Grass flats near both passes are good spots to load up the well.
While fishing Sarasota can be spectacular in the heat of summer, it does require a few tactical changes. The prime low-light periods of dawn and dusk will be very productive, as will fishing at night. Getting up early is a requirement, not an option. Get out there early, catch bait or take advantage of the early morning low light conditions to cast artificial lures. On most days the bite winds down by late morning. By then it is usually just too hot to fish, anyway.
Siesta Key night fishing
Fishing Sarasota at night is another productive option in July. Evenings are pleasant, just monitor the weather; thunderstorms are an issue this time of year. Snook in particular will be caught around the lighted docks and bridges throughout the area. Speckled trout, redfish, snapper, ladyfish, and even tarpon will also be caught at night. Plugs, jigs, flies, and live bait will produce around lighted structure.
Successful anglers will quietly approach a likely spot and either anchor or use a trolling motor to work the spot. Shore bound anglers will score at the area bridges, too. The prime spot is a cast away on the up-current side just on the fringe of the lighted area. Outgoing tides are preferred, but as long as the water is moving the fish will bite.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are productive lures, as are small plugs such as the (08) size Rapala X-Rap. Live shrimp free lined in the current can also be deadly. Medium sized shrimp work best on a 1/0 short shank hook for clients fishing Sarasota. Large hand-picked shrimp don’t look natural and are usually not as effective. Spinning tackle with a 2’ piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is best for tossing lures and live bait. Glass minnows are a primary forage around lights and small white flies are effective imitations. A 7 or 8 weight rod with an intermediate sink tip line and 8 foot piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader works well.
Siesta Key Beach snook fishing
Another productive July technique when fishing Sarasota is beach fishing for snook. This is a great opportunity for anglers without a boat to experience the thrill and challenge of sight fishing. Anglers will hit the beach around 8:00 a.m., by then there is enough sunlight to spot the fish. Walking north will put the sun behind, making it easier to see the snook. Quite often, they will be right in the surf line, inches from the edge.
Live bait will work but it cumbersome to carry around. Artificial lures are more convenient and catch plenty of fish. Small light colored lures are best. A delicate presentation is required so as not to spook the fish in the shallow water. A 1/8 ounce white bucktail jig works great, as do small plugs and soft plastic baits.
This is a terrific situation to catch a snook on a fly rod. White bait fish patterns are productive. The fly lands very softly in the water and will not spook the snook. Since the fish are in open water for the most part, the chance of them breaking off is greatly diminished. A seven or eight weight outfit with a floating line and eight feet of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is the standard rig.
The large schools of tarpon will have broken up but there will still be plenty of fish out there. Although they don’t “show” as well, they eat better! Point of Rocks, Grassy Point, and the Venice Pier are good spots to try. Again, get out there at first light and either cast to rolling fish or drift a pinfish out behind the boat under a float. Fish until mid-morning, then call it a day.
There are plenty of ways to fish Sarasota and catch fish in July and still beat the summertime heat!
Fall Siesta Key fishing charters
Contrary to popular belief, autumn does arrive in Florida, although the changes can be fairly subtle. While still fairly warm, evening temperatures are a tad lower and the days are a little shorter. Fish are very much in tune with these changes and it affects their behavior. In Sarasota where I fish, on the west coast, the arrival of Spanish mackerel and false albacore just off the beaches in the inshore Gulf of Mexico officially signals the fall fishing season. This is great sport and it does not require a large boat or fancy gear to take advantage of this bonanza.
The reason for this fantastic fall fishing on Siesta Key is simple; bait, and LOTS of it! As the water and land temperatures drop, the weather pattern changes. The sea breezes will be gone and high pressure systems will bring northeast winds both during the day and in the evening. The result will be clear, calm water along the beaches, attracting huge schools of baitfish which in turn attracts the gamefish. Saltwater fishing can be pretty basic, “Find the groceries; find the fish”. Other species will also be encountered when fishing “Out on the beach”. Jack crevelle, bluefish, ladyfish, king mackerel, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon will follow the forage to take advantage of the abundance of forage.
As a full-time fishing guide, I rely on live bait a majority of the time to provide action for my clients who book a Siesta Key fishing charter. In this application, artificial lures are not only extremely productive but are a lot of fun to fish! Quite often schools of “breaking” fish will be seen terrorizing the helpless baitfish on the surface. Opportunistic gulls and terns will be picking at the scraps as well. This is a sight that will stir any angler’s soul and is the perfect situation to use an artificial lure. The strikes will be immediate and savage! Of course, a frisky live baitfish or shrimp will very seldom go unmolested when fall fishing Siesta Key.
Artificial lures catch fish on Siesta Key fishing charters
My “go to” lure for fishing the inshore Gulf is #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. It perfectly mimics the small pilchards, glass minnows, and threadfin herring that the gamefish are feeding on. Olive is my favorite color with white being a close second. The lure is simply cast out into the bait and retrieved back with sharp twitches and a pause in between. X-Raps can also be trolled along when there is not any surface activity; they are a great “locator” bait. The venerable jig and grub combo also works well, with the 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad being my personal favorite.
Silver spoons will also produce plenty of fish for anglers fall fishing Siesta Key. The same tackle that is used for speckled trout and redfish will work fine in this application. My preferred rig is a 10 lb spinning outfit with monofilament line, the last 5’ doubled with a Spider Hitch, then 30” of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is added using a double Uni-knot, then the lure or hook completes the rig.
Fly anglers can certainly take advantage of this situation as well. An 8wt outfit with a weight forward floating line is a good choice. The leader should be 8’ of 30 lb fluorocarbon and any small white fly will produce well, with D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow patterns being the most popular. Fly anglers do well fall fishing Siesta Key!
Once rigged up and ready, it is time to go fishing! Often times the fish will be schooled up just outside the passes, particularly on an outgoing tide. Any bird or surface activity should be investigated. Sometimes just a couple of terns diving will clue an angler into the location of a school. If nothing is happening at the pass, simply cruise down the beach on plane but at as slow a speed as possible in order to completely scan the area.
Spanish mackerel and false albacore off of Siesta Key
Once a school of actively feeding fish is located, determine whether they are mackerel or albacore. Spanish will generally stay up in the same spot for a longer period of time. False albacore can be much more difficult to get on, they move fast and change directions constantly. But, there is no greater sport than catching a big albie on light tackle or fly!
In either case, patience will pay off! Charging into the school on plane will usually shut down the bite. Instead, cut the motor up-wind of the fish and drift down on them until in casting range or use the electric trolling motor if so equipped. Trolling the edges will also work well but avoid driving through the middle of the school. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program with 3 nice reefs within 2 miles of shore just off Lido Key. These are a great back-up plan (as is any reef or hard bottom area) in the event that surface activity is absent as they almost always hold bait and fish.
Later in the morning as the sun comes up, particularly if the water is clear, anglers will do well to look for bait balls. These appear as large dark spots in the water. NEVER pass up a nice, big ball of bait as there will usually be predator fish on the edges. Anglers seeking larger game will score consistently on sharks by putting out a chunk of mackerel under a cork on a larger rig with a steel leader. Free-lining a large live threadfin herring at the edges will also produce some larger fish. Do not be surprised if a cobia, king mackerel, or even a tarpon are hooked as well fall fishing Siesta Key.
Shore bound anglers can get in on the action as well. While false albacore seldom venture in close enough to be caught from land, Spanish mackerel, jacks, bluefish, ladyfish, and more will often cruise within casting range while feasting upon the abundance of forage. The same lures, baits, flies, and techniques that produce for anglers in boats will also allow surf casters to achieve success.
Winter Siesta Key fishing charters
The key to angling success is the ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions. February tactics are unique. Severe fronts move through on a weekly basis, drastically changing the water temperature and clarity. Wind will prevent anglers from fishing the open waters in north Sarasota Bay. Extreme low winter tides will chase fish off the flats. So, let’s go through a typical winter weather cycle that would be experienced on a fishing charter in the winter.
A severe front has just moved through. The water temperature has dropped several degrees and there is a blue-bird sky with bright sun and a northeast wind. The northeast wind will fight the tide, making it even lower than normal. And it can be downright chilly. Flats near the passes will be flooded with dirty water from the churned up Gulf of Mexico. Finding clean, protected water will be a priority when employing February tactics.
The area south of Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Pt. usually stats clearer and offers protection from the north wind. Oyster bars, canals, and docks will be good places to soak a shrimp for sheepshead, drum, and other species. On low tide the trout, pompano, and ladyfish will concentrate in deeper water. This can be the Intracoastal channel or any deep water. As the tide floods the flats and the day warms up the fish will move out of the holes and onto the nearby flats. Casting jigs and live shrimp while drifting the flats is the preferred technique.
After a couple of days the wind will shift to the southeast and it will be warm and sunny. The water in the passes will be clearer and fishing will be good throughout the area. Both passes will hold pompanp, bluefish, and ladyfish. Jigs, spoons, and live shrimp will all produce. Taking advantage of these favorable conditions is an aspect of February tactics.
Surf fishing off of Siesta Key beaches
This is the best time to surf fish for whiting, silver trout, pompano, flounder, and more. The water will be clean and calm with an east wind. A live shrimp or piece of frozen shrimp fished on the bottom works best.
Any Structure in or near the passes should be thick with sheepshead. Bottom fishing with live or frozen shrimp will produce the best. Anchoring a cast away up-current and allowing the bait to drift back to the structure in a natural manner is the best presentation. A #1 live bait hook on a 2’ piece of 30 lb leader and a bit of weight is the best rig. Use just enough weight to barely hold the bottom.
Grass flats in four to seven feet of water will be good for speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, and ladyfish. Again, drifting and casting jigs and live shrimp works best. The flats near the passes are always a goiod place to start but any flat can produce. The key is to keep moving until fish are located; don’t spend too much time in an unproductive spot. Gold, rootbeer/gold, olive, and glow are popular colors. Scented baits such as Gulp! Can make the difference on a tough day.
Hot bite before a weather change
After a couple of days of nice weather, another front will approach. As this occurs the wind will turn south, then southwest and start to blow fifteen to twenty knots. Often times the fish will bite like crazy as they sense the weather change coming. The south wind will flood the bays with water, tides will be higher than normal. This is a good time to target snook and reds in shallow water. Casting gold spoons or jigs will fool them.
Trout will be actively feeding on the deep flats. The wind will require anglers to find a little protection. The west side of Sarasota Bay north of New Pass has excellent flats and is protected on a south wind. Structure in Big Pass on the north end of Siesta is also protected and is a great spot for sheepshead.
Snook move up into the creeks and canals in winter and the high afternoon tides are a good time to target them. Plugs and jigs cast are to structure and worked back in an erratic manner. Big jack crevelle will also seek refuge in these areas in the cooler months.As the front moves through the wind will turn northwest and blow hard. This pretty much shuts down fishing for a day or two. The wind will shift northeast and the whole process will repeat itself.
Be aware of the effects of local weather patterns and you can be very successful fishing in February.
There are many fine resorts for anglers to stay at when visiting Siesta Key. Fisherman’s Cove on the South end of Siesta Key is the top spot for tourists who place a priority on fishing. Further south in Englewood, Pearl Beach Inn is a great spot for visiting anglers to stay.
Anglers seeking the chance to catch a trophy snook in a unique environment with awesome scenery my choose to do a river snook fishing charter. Several area rivers offer anglers this opportunity. The Myakka River and Manatee River experience snook migrations in the winter. Anglers can catch trophy snook along with largemouth bass in a very cool setting.
Snook are the premier inshore gamefish in Florida. They are a saltwater version of largemouth bass. Snook are ambush predators with a huge mouth and big, broad tail. They are very powerful! Snook are found from about Orlando, Florida south along both coasts and in central America. The Florida record snook is 44 pounds, but they grow to over 50 pounds. Clients on these river snook charters catch fish of 25″ on most trips. 30″ snook are not uncommon and fish to 40″ are hooked every year. That truly is a trophy on medium spinning tackle!
River snook fishing, seasonal migrations
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. They spend spring, summer, and fall our in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and open Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. They spawn out in open water. Snook spend their winters in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. They do this to escape the temperature extremes that can occur on the open flats. Shallow water can change temperature quickly. The water temperature on the flats can drop ten degrees in a couple of days.
Snook are a sub-tropical species that can not tolerate water below 55 degrees for very long. For this reason, they migrate up into creeks, rivers, and canals. River waters are dark and stained. They also have deeper holes. For these reasons, snok move nto these areas to survive a harsh Florida winter. River waters are generally significantly warmer than the open bays. Many fish species migrate up into freshwater streams and rivers. However, snook are one of the few fish species that do this for reasons other than to spawn. Snook can live and thrive in both pure fresh and pure salt water.
There are three rivers near Sarasota that experience these migrations. They are the Myakka River, Manatee River, and Braden River. All three offer good snook fishing. They are similar but each has it’s own character and advantages. The Myakka is the prettiest, the Manatee has the most variety, and the Braden is the most convenient. Let’s go through the three of them.
River snook fishing, Myakka River
The Myakka River is one of the two rivers in Florida designated a “Wild and scenic river”. That means that there is limited access and development. The Myakka River flows 70 miles from a small stream in Manatee County to Charlotte Harbor. It flows through Myakka River State Park. There is a dam that creates Lower Myakka Lake. The water below the dam is the tidally influenced portion of the river that holds snook.
The best place to access the Myakka River is at Snook Haven. It is right in the center of the best river snook fishing. There is a brand new ramp with ample parking. The river does get shallow in spots. The entire river is a “No Wake” zone, idle speed only. There are canoe and kayak launches at Myakka River Park in Laurel and Sleeping Turtles Reserve in Venice.
As mentioned earlier, the scenery is awesome on the Myakka! It has an “Amazon River” like feel to it. Bird life is prolific and other wildlife will normally be seen. There are some large gators! The Myakka River offers anglers the best chance for trophy snook. Largemouth bass are present in decent numbers as well. Juvenile tarpon, jacks, catfish, and gar are occasional catches.
River snook fishing, Manatee River
The Manatee River flows west from Manatee County 20 miles easy of I-75. A dam created Lake Manatee, which provides drinking water for Sarasota and Manatee Counties. The river below the dam runs for 10 miles or so and empties into Tampa Bay. There is more development on the Manatee River, but it is still pretty, especially upriver from Rye Road Bridge. This area of the river has some shallow bars and can be difficult to navigate during periods of low water.
I like to fish the stretch between Ft. Hamer and Rye Road. I usually launch at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway, a place that time kind of forgot! The ramp is narrow and a 16′ boat is about the limit. There is parking and facilities, along with a little store. They offer canoe and kayak rentals. There is a very nice ramp with facilities and parking at the new Ft. Hamer Bridge. This ramp is much better suited for larger boats. The best river snook fishing is usually up-river.
The Manatee River offers anglers the opportunity to catch multiple species along with trophy snook on a river fishing charter. Snook, jack crevelle, redfish, juvenile tarpon, snapper, and ladyfish are saltwater species that are taken there. Freshwater fish are plentiful, especially the further up-river and angler goes. I think that during the summer floods fish get washed over the dam. Bass, bluegill, catfish, sunshine bass, and crappie are all available.
River snook fishing, Braden River
The Braden River is located in Bradenton west of I-75. It again is a stream with a dam, creating a lake. The stretch below the dam is about five miles long before emptying into the Manatee River. The water is quite salty, due to the short length. Therefore, it really does not offer the opportunity to catch freshwater fish. The Braden River is fairly developed and the scenery does not match the other two rivers. It is very convenient, especially to the Bradenton beaches. That is the trade off. Snook fishing can be very good, though.
Anglers access the Braden River at the ramp at the State Road 64 Bridge. The ramp is decent, with parking and a clean Porta Potti. In the cooler months the best fishing is up-river. Anglers do well in spring and fall right at the mouth of the Braden River.
River snook fishing lures
I use artificial lures when river snook fishing. There are several reasons for this. The primary reason is that lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. Lures will elicit reaction strikes from fish that may not be in a feeding mood. Finally, I just think it is more fun feeling the strike when working artificial baits. They also fool other species such as largemouth bass and jack crevelle.
My favorite lure for catching river snook is a shallow diving plug. There are many fine plug manufacturers out there. My personal preference is the Rapala line of baits. The three plugs that I most often use are the #10 Rapala X-Rap slash bait, #10 Rapala BX Minnow, and the Rapala Jointed BX MInnow. Gold and Firetiger have been the most productive colors for me and my clients. These lures also run at the perfect depth. They go deep enough yet run above much of the submerged cover.
These lures cast well, are easy to use, and produce some exciting strikes! The plug is cast out towards some shoreline cover. It is then retrieved back in using sharp twitches followed by a short pause. Many strikes occur on the pause. No hook set is required when a fish takes the plug. Anglers should just come tight and sweep the rod smoothly off to the side. Care must be taken when plug fishing as they have multiple treble hooks! Angler need to fish the bait all the way back in. Strikes occur regularly right at the boat.
Soft plastic baits can produce as well, especially in cooler water when snook are not as active. They are also effective to thoroughly work an area once fish are located. Bass Assassin baits are my preference. They come in many different sizes and colors. I like darker colors with Golden Bream being my favorite. The Die Dapper on a 1/8 ounce Pro Elite jig head works well. These baits will hang up more often that plugs. The hook-up ratio is lower as well as the bite can be more subtle.
River snook fishing techniques
Fishing these rivers is relatively uncomplicated. Anglers drift with the current and cast lures towards structure along the shoreline. Even if cover is not visible, chances are there is a ledge or come submerged cover that may hold a fish. The best areas of the river are those that twist and wind. Outside bends and corners in the river tend to be deeper. Current flow gouges out a hole in the bends. Snook and other fish will concentrate in these spots.
Long straight sections of a river tend to be less productive. I will usually move a little quicker through these stretches. Anglers will still give each trell or piece of brush a cast or two, but we will move faster and concentrate on the more high percentage spots.
I have found that it is much more productive to drift in the direction of the current. Trying to fish while going against the current results in a “bow” in the line. This is especially true when fly fishing. I either case, this causes the lure or fly to be presented in a less than natural manner. The slack created makes hooking the more difficult as well. The angler must remove the extra line before coming tight on the fish. So, fewer bites, less hooked fish equals; drifting with the current and not against it!
River current is caused by both the natural flow and by the tidal influence. This can be a bit confusing. There can be a swift down stream current from rain and then an incoming tide, causing the water to rise. This is another reason that falling tides are preferred. However, tides are tricky. There are no charts for anglers fishing this far up-river. I use the closest tide tables and add an hour or two. However, only experience and time on the water will give an anglers the tide variables.
Tackle for river snook
Medium spinning tackle is most often used for river snook fishing. It is versatile and perfect for the size of the lures being cast. It works well for the size of the fish being targeted. A7′ medium/heavy action rod with a fast action works best. A “fast” action rod is stout at the butt with a limber tip. This allows lures to be cast but backbone for fighting fish.
Experienced anglers, especially bass fishermen, may opt for bait casting tackle. That is perfectly fine, as the lures are heady enough for that tackle. Bait casting reels are great for casting plugs towards the shoreline. They also provide a bit more power than spinning reels do.
Braided line is a must for fishing in this environment, in my opinion. Snags and cover are plentiful. It is important to be able to stop a big fish. Also, the line will often rub up against cover when fighting a fish. 20 pound braid works well with spinning outfits. 40 pound braid is a good choice with conventional rigs. A 30″ piece of 40 pound flourocarbon shock leader is attached to the braid.
Fly fishing for river snook
Fly anglers can certainly target river snook as well. A stout 9wt outfit is required in the heavy cover. An intermediate sink tip line works best to get the fly down in the water column. The leader need not be long, 6′ to 8′ is fine with a 40 pound bite tippet. Fly selection would include bait fish patterns in white, chartreuse, and gold/black. Clouser Minnow and Puglisi patterns have been productive for my clients. The fly should be cast out and allowed to sink. It is then retrieved back in using sharp strips.
River snook fishing is not for every angler. It requires patience and some casting skill. The river fishing angler is there as much for the experience as the fish. Quality is the goal, not quantity. However, every angler goes knowing that each cast can produce a 30″ snook. Come out with me on a river snook fishing charter and experience the “Old Florida” on these rivers! For other Florida fishing reports, click HERE.
While saltwater fishing gets the vast majority of attention, Sarasota bass fishing gets overlooked. We don’t have the large, famous lakes that are loaded with 10 pound bass. But, we do have three watersheds, several lakes, and countless ponds that offer anglers the opportunity to catch largemouth bass.
Lake Manatee, upper Myakka Lake, and Evers Lake are similar in several respects. All three start off as small, meandering streams with lakes that are created by dams. The water below the dams is either brackish or saltwater and is tidally influenced. While similar, each is a bit different and unique in its own way. All three have good populations of bass on the freshwater side and snook in the tidal portion.
Sarasota bass fishing, Lake Manatee
Lake Manatee lies off of State Road 64 about 10 miles east of I 75. It provides the drinking water for much of Sarasota and Manatee Counties. It is about 5 miles long and the major portion which runs from the State Road 64 bridge to the dam. Gilley’s Creek is the one main tributary. Lake Manatee tapers down east of the State Road 64 bridge, and after a mile or so takes on more of a river feel.
Lake Manatee is fairly deep by Florida standards. It has holes that are over 50 feet deep. While there is ample shoreline cover, particularly on the east half of the lake, the Bass relate heavily to the channel edges. It kind of fish is like a northern impoundment. Outside corners and the submerged river channel with some cover on it are prime spots. Lake Manatee is also a good crappie and catfish lake.
Bass will school up on Lake Manatee, busting baits on the surface. Anglers casting small top water lures and poppers can often times draw strike. However, more successful anglers will actually work the bottom using drop shot rigs and Carolina rigs. As with everywhere else in the country, a Texas rigged plastic worm will work as well.
Bass spawn in January and February on most seasons. Gilley’s Creek is a prime area for betting bass. Channel runs very close on the southern shore near the mouth of the creek. The creek it shallower further up in with the decent sandy bottom.
bass fishing in Sarasota, Florida
Anglers fishing the banks should do well from the post spawn up until late April. Early and late in the day are best times. Top water plugs work well at dusk and dawn. White and chartreuse spinner baits are a good choice during the day. If the bite on the bank is slow, it is best to drop off to the deeper water and work some of the channel edges with soft plastic baits.
The water level in lake Manatee is regulated by the dam. This results in a fairly steady water level. The Manatee River downstream from the dam, while tidally influenced, is fairly fresh. Bass and other freshwater species will be found as far downstream as Fort Hamer.
Manatee River, upstream
This section of the Manatee River is very scenic and can offer some fantastic Sarasota bass fishing. It takes a bit more effort to fish, as anglers need to put in downstream and work their way back up River. During periods of low water, there are shallow bars which will restrict all but the smallest of craft from getting by. The result is a very lightly pressured fishing spot.
Lake Manatee is known more for crappie fishing than bass, to be perfectly honest. It has a good population of crappie, bluegill, and other panfish. Lake Manatee is the best lake in Sarasota for catching channel catfish, some of them quite large. Sunshine bass are stocked there as well. These are a striped bass/white bass hybrid.
Anglers can access lake Manatee into places. There is of excellent surfaced ramp inside lake Manatee State Park. There is also a rough on surfaced ramp, basically a landing, right at the base of the State Road 64 bridge. Anglers fishing the river can put in at a small boat ramp at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway. There is an excellent surfaced ramp with parking and facilities at Fort Hamer Park.
Sarasota bass fishing, Evers Lake
Evers Lake is conveniently located in Bradenton, just south of State Road 70 and a couple miles west of the interstate. Once again, there is a pretty little stream that flows in that is damned to create the reservoir. Evers Lake can be tough. It has a very uniform depth of about 15 feet. There is very little bottom contour, though there are a few underwater reefs. These reefs are fish magnets for anglers who know where they are located.
There is an excellent shoreline vegetation and cover and Evers Lake. Several aerators placed near the dam, and these can be excellent spots as well. There are a couple shallower spots with lily pad fields that can be good spots in the spring.
The Braden River flows upstream from Evers Lake for maybe 10 miles. However, it gets very shallow and narrow east of I 75. That stretch of the river between Evers Lake and I 75 can be quite productive. There are plenty of outside corners and a lot of submerged trees and structure. Boat docks are plentiful as well. Bass, tilapia, and panfish beds can be seen in the shallower portions of the river.
Slow, finesse presentations work best in both the lake and the river. Because of its convenient location and excellent launching facility, Evers Lake in the Braden River could quite a bit of fishing pressure. Lighter lines, smaller baits in a more patient presentation is usually required. Baits like to 6 inch Senko work well. Night fishing can be an excellent alternative, especially in the warmer months.
Braden River below the dam
The Braden River below the dam flows for 5 miles or so and empties into the Manatee River. This stretch of the river holds mostly saltwater fish. It is a bit more developed than the Manatee River but still has some nice scenery. Fishing can be outstanding there in the winter!
Schools of jack crevelle, some of them more than 10 pounds, move into the river in the fall. Snook also migrate from Tampa Bay to find sanctuary in the Braden River. There are sections of this River that are quite shallow. However, there are areas with 15 feet deep holes. Snook in jacks seek the sanctuary of this deeper water. Redfish, snapper, ladyfish and other saltwater species will be caught as well.
Since bass are not really present and this section of the river I will skip over it. However anglers seeking more information on fishing this section of the Braden River can find it HERE. I run Sarasota fishing charters there.
Anglers fishing Evers Lake in the upper portion of the Braden River can access it at Jiggs landing. There is an excellent boat ramp, dock, facilities, and a small shop selling snacks and bait. Anglers access the saltwater portion of the Braden River at the State Road 64 bridge.
Myakka River and lakes
Myakka River State Park lies about 10 miles east of Sarasota off of State Road 72. It is a large area and in it is Upper Myakka Lake, Lower Myakka Lake, and the Myakka River. The best fishing is an upper Myakka Lake in the Myakka River between the upper leg and State Road 72. Lower Myakka Lake is very shallow and weedy.
Upper Myakka Lake can offer some of the Sarasota best bass fishing around when conditions are right. The dam that creates upper Myakka Lake is a weir dam. That means it is simply a concrete wall and the dam cannot control the water level. The water level in the Myakka River system varies greatly. It floods in the summer and in the dry season the river can actually become a series of puddles.
Upper Myakka Lake is typical of natural Florida lakes and that it is round and very shallow. During normal water levels, the lake is 45 feet deep. The Myakka River feeds the lake at the northeast corner and another Creek feeds it at the northwest corner. These can both be terrific spots when there’s a little rainfall and water is coming in from these creeks.
All of the traditional bass catching methods work well on upper Myakka Lake. Anglers fishing the grassy areas and edges can throw spinner baits, buzz baits, top water plugs, and soft plastic. Larger worms Texas rigged work well.
The ideal condition is to have a foot or so of water above the submerged vegetation. Anglers and fish buzz baits, spinner baits, and top water plugs across the top. Bass will blowup through the weeds and anglers will experience some exciting strikes.
Fishing the Myakka River
I personally enjoy fishing the river between the dam and the State Road 72 bridge. The bass aren’t large and here but they are aggressive and there are plenty of them. Also, the scenery is unbelievable! You almost feel like you’re in the Amazon or someplace exotic. Access is limited to a couple areas and the park where canoes, kayaks and small boats can be manhandled into the water. But the effort is worth it as this area does not get a lot of fishing pressure.
There is one issue with Upper Myakka Lake, and it frustrates us anglers. The biologist at the State Park have decided that the vegetation in the lake is invasive and they don’t want it there. Therefore, they spray the lake to kill the vegetation. This has a very detrimental impact on the fishing. Without this cover, bass, bream, and other fish are easy prey for the alligators and birds.
Tidal Myakka River
The Myakka River below the lower lake is tidally influenced. In the cooler months, which is the best time to fish the river, the water is normally fairly low. Bass fishing from the lower leg all the way down to the bridge at US 41 can be excellent at times.
This stretch of the river does not have a lot of access. Therefore, fishing pressure is light. There are quite a few kayakers, but not too many anglers. This stretch of the river is long perhaps 20 miles. The best time to fish is on a high, outgoing tide. I prefer to cast plugs is a allow me to cover a lot of water. If a productive stretch is located, I may slow down and fish it more thoroughly with a soft plastic bait.
There is a decent boat ramp inside Myakka River State Park on the south end of upper Myakka Lake. It is surfaced but there is no dock. Boats 17 feet and shorter should have no problem under normal water level conditions. The only public ramp on the lower portion of the river as Snook Haven. There are kayak lunches at Myakka River Park and its sleeping turtles preserve.
Benderson Lake is a reclaimed strip pit that has been converted into a world-class rowing facility. Competitors come from all over the country for events held here. It is fairly deep with underwater humps. The best approach when bass fishing is to work the shoreline early that switch to the offshore structure later.
There is one boat ramp at the south end of Benderson Lake. It is a good, surfaced ramp with a nice little floating dock. There is ample parking and a clean porta potty. It is a trolling motor only or paddle only lake, no gas motors.
There are countless ponds, small lakes, and retention ponds throughout the Sarasota Bradenton area. These ponds can offer some outstanding fishing for largemouth bass. Most of these are way too small for a boat and are fished by anglers walking the shoreline. Just about every residential neighborhood has at least a couple ponds, and most of them hold bass. Some are private and are usually posted. However, many are public and as long as anglers are courteous, they will be allowed to fish.
Sarasota bass fishing in ponds
Perhaps the best area for this type of fishing is a large development called Lakewood Ranch. It is east of the interstate between University Boulevard and State Road 64. A glance at Google Earth or any other Matt will reveal a myriad of small and medium-size ponds. Several of these areas are parks which have parking right near the ponds. Most all of them are public. There is a large lake right behind the movie theater in downtown Lakewood Ranch that has a lot a bass and it.
My favorite lure for fishing the smaller ponds is a black Beetlespin. This is just a small spinner bait with a little black grub body. Soft plastics work well, especially finesse type worms such as the Senko. Light lines and smaller hooks will draw more strikes. Larger, noisier baits are less effective in the smaller bodies of water. Live shiners and nightcrawlers will produce for anglers who prefer a more relaxed approach and want to use live bait.
Many bass anglers release everything they catch, and this is a great thing. Florida has just changed the regulations regarding largemouth bass. There is no longer a minimum size. Anglers can keep five bass with one being over 16 inches. The reason for this is that they actually want some of the smaller fish harvested as the last few spawns have been very efficient. Check HERE for current Florida largemouth bass regulations.
Many saltwater anglers consider tarpon to be the ultimate challenge. Sarasota tarpon fishing offers guests the opportunity to sight cast to tarpon that average 75 pounds and go up as high as 200 pounds. They do so using spinning tackle in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Anglers taking out a Sarasota fishing charter choose to target these fish in May and June.
Tarpon show up off the Sarasota beaches in early to mid May. They normally stick around until late July. In the early part of the season, they are usually bunched up in larger schools. This is particularly true as we come up on the full moon. Tarpon school up on the moon and then move offshore to spawn.
By early July these larger schools have broken up. The fish also don’t surface quite as well and there will be a lot of singles and doubles seen. However, these late-season fish bite better than do the early-season larger schools. I suppose it is because they have completed their spawning run and are more focused on feeding.
Tarpon fishing can be incredibly exciting! Standing on the bow the boat with your finger on the line in the bail open while waiting for the tarpon the surface can be nerve-racking. Then, the fish surface and the crab is tossed out just ahead of the school. The line gets tight, the fish leaps up out of the water, and it is fish on! However, there can be hours and hours in between when this happens.
Sarasota tarpon fishing
Tarpon fishing is not for everyone. It is as much fish hunting as it is fishing. Anglers get out on the beach just before first light. They sit patiently, 100 yards or so offshore. Then everybody just looks. Schools of tarpon can be seen moving through the area. They can also be seen milling or “daisy chaining”on the surface.
Once the tarpon are sighted, the guide must determine the best approach in stock the fish. Using an electric trolling motor, the boat is eased into casting range. There is a lot that goes into this. The guide must determine the direction the fish are moving in the speed at which their doing so. Also, the interval between their surfacing is a huge component.
When everything goes right, the boat will be in a position where when the fish surface the anglers can get baits in front of the fish. The optimum opportunity would be a very slow moving school that is just easing along and staying up near the surface. This will allow the guide to put the boat in the proper position, resulting in an easy cast for the angler.
Tarpon bites can be surprisingly subtle, given the size of the fish. This is particularly true when casting to milling fish. Often times, the slightest tick or bump is all that will be felt. It is actually a lot like largemouth bass taking a plastic worm. The bite is easier to feel with fish that are moving as normally the line just gets tight and moves off to the side.
We don’t set the hook when of tarpon takes the bait. This is difficult for many anglers to not do. The technique when employee when a tarpon takes the bait is to keep the rod tip low and just real as fast as possible. Once a line gets tight and the fish is taking drag, the rod tip is raised.
Now comes the hard part! There is a saying, “bow to the Silver King”. When the tarpon jumps in the line is tight it will often throw the hook. So, the angler must be ready, and as soon as the fish clears the water he or she takes the rod tip and points it right at the fish. This will result in the fish jumping on a slack line. This is something that only comes with experience.
Sarasota tarpon fishing tackle
Spinning tackle is used on the majority of Sarasota tarpon fishing trips. The reason for this is the need to make a cast. It is simply difficult to cast a 3 inch crab or small bait fish using heavy can conventional tackle. These spinning outfits are quite beefy, though.
7 foot to 8 foot spinning rods mass with 6000 series and larger reels are the preferred outfits. Reels need to have smooth drags, large handles, and substantial line capacity. If there are any weak spots in the tackle, tarpon will find them. These fish put an incredible strain on the line, knots, and tackle, so it all needs to be in tip top shape.
Terminal rigging varies by preference as every angler has their favorite. The first choice is whether to use braided line or monofilament line. Most anglers have now switch to braided line. Braided line can last all season and not twist up like monofilament line. It is also thinner, resulting in longer casts. However, it does not have the stretch, which can sometimes be a good thing with a tarpon on.
A leader of some sort is used when Sarasota tarpon fishing. When using monofilament line, I like to double about 6 feet of the running line using a spider hitch. Then, I attach a 30 inch piece of 80 pound fluorocarbon leader and a hook. No weight is used, with the exception of times when the crabs are really small. A pinch on weight may be required in this circumstance.
Rigging for Sarasota tarpon fishing
Just like everything, hooked choices vary depending on opinion. Tarpon are large, in a large hook is required. However, just like in all fishing, it is best to match the hook to the size of the bait and not the size of the fish being pursued. A #4/0 octopus live bait hook is a good all-around choice. Many anglers prefer circle hooks, in which case a #8/0 works well.
I still prefer the use of the conventional “J” hooks when tarpon fishing. I have not seen my hookup ratio chains with the use of circle hooks. Also, circle hooks are much meatier and sometimes putting one through a crab will kill it. Circle hooks are great choice when fishing larger live baits or cut bait on the bottom.
Anglers using braided line will need a longer leader, generally 6 to 8 foot. They can then attach the leader to the braided line using a double Uni knot or not of choice. Since there is very little stretch when using braided line, the drag setting is critical. If it is a bit too tight, the line will break almost immediately.
Not all anglers use spinning outfits, however. Some guides in anglers prefer to anchor and put a spread of baits out behind the boat. These anglers normally choose to use conventional tackle as there really is no need to make long cast with light baits.
While it is not quite as exciting as stalking the fish, it has several advantages. Several lines can be placed out at once, some on the bottom and other suspended under floats. This obviously ups the chances for a bite. Also, the heavier tackle allows the angler to put more pressure on the fish, subduing it in a shorter amount of time. This is better for both the fish and the angler.
There are several different approaches when using this technique. Some guides in anglers just choose a spot, anchor up, and sit there all morning. Others will employee the same site fishing method mentioned above. However, they try to get way ahead of the fish and anchor. They then deploy the spread and wait for the fish to come to them.
Tarpon fishing Sarasota; baits
Anglers can use live and cut bait using this approach. Some anglers go to the trouble of catching a lot of bait. They keep some of the bait alive, but most of it will be used is chum. Then, once anchored up they put a couple live baits out and a couple chunks of the dead fresh bait on the bottom. Then, a lot of the bait is cut up in the small pieces and tossed out into the water as chum to attract the tarpon and get them in a mood to feed.
A 3 inch blue crab is undoubtedly the top tarpon bait in Sarasota. These little critters are in high demand in May and June and can cost up to five dollars a piece. However, they cast very well, and live a long time. Most importantly, tarpon love them. The hook is carefully inserted near one of the tips of the crab.
Live bait fish account for many anglers Sarasota tarpon fishing. The number one live bait fish is probably a threadfin herring. These, along with cigar minnows, pin fish, and blue runners are caught using a Sikibi rig while out on the beach searching for tarpon. Live bait fish can be either free lined or fished under a cork. Corked bait fish are a great option when the fish are not showing on the surface very well.
Most of the fish will be moving from north to south. This is especially true early in the year. After the full moon in June, more fish will be seen heading northbound. It seems as if they are heading to the mouth of Tampa Bay to feed.
Tampa Bay tarpon
Speaking of Tampa Bay, an interesting fishery has developed over the last few years. Huge schools of tarpon seem to be congregating there at the mouth of Tampa Bay just off of Been Point. Locals call this “Boca Grande North”in deference to the famous spot about 50 miles south of Sarasota well-known for its tarpon fishing.
This type of fishing is not for the faint of heart! Local tarpon anglers, especially some of the guides, will be quick to let you know that you are in their way. There are a lot of boats in a small area and it can get crazy when multiple fish are hooked at once. Novice anglers will do best to sit back a bit and watch and see how the other boats interact before jumping into the fray.
There is a neat bite that happens occasionally, called “Hill tides”. These are strong afternoon outgoing tides that occur several times a month. A small purplish crab called a “pass crab” gets caught up in the strong current. Tarpon feet heavily on these crabs as they are easy prey.
The technique is fairly simple. Anglers use a debt net and scoop up a dozen crabs or two for bait. Then, either look for feeding fish or just set up a drift and free line the baits out behind the boat. When the bite is on, the fishing can be incredible. Anglers do need to be careful of the afternoon thunderstorms. This is big open water and it can get nasty quickly. Current Florida tarpon fishing regulations can be found HERE.
Sarasota tarpon fishing etiquette
Tarpon fishing is very competitive. Unfortunately, there can be confrontations out there. There are some rules of etiquette that most of us follow. Some anglers don’t know these or can get caught up in the heat of the moment as it is very exciting. Here are a few rules that we all try to follow.
there is a slot that the fish usually swim in, from 100 feet out from the beach to about a half a mile from the beach. Whenever possible, try not to run at high speed on plane in this area. This is especially true early in the morning. Boats running over top of the fish will put them down and they won’t show or eat.
Most fish will be moving from north to south. If you see fish coming in there are no boats between you and the fish, just sit there and let the fish come to you. This usually works better than charging up on them.
If another boat or boats is working a school, give them room. It is okay to stay where you are and if the fish come to you take a shot. But don’t drive in on a school that other anglers are working. The exception to this is when they waive you in.
Some anglers choose to fly fish for tarpon. This is very difficult as they need to get fairly close and need the right kind of fish. Give anglers flyfishing a school a very wide berth or better yet leave them alone to work the school.
Do not cast your line over top of tarpon that are moving away from you. This never works, all it does a spook the fish. If they get past you, give them time to put some distance between you and the boat. Then, idle around in front of them giving them a wide berth and set up again.
Once a tarpon is hooked, try to get it out of the school as quickly as possible. Sometimes this is difficult. But, the quicker the the fish can be pulled out of the school, the better chance anglers down the beach have of hooking a fish.
Sarasota family fishing charters are a lot of fun! These types of trips probably make up about half of my charters annually. Some might think that taking out kids and inexperienced anglers is difficult. In a lot of ways, it is actually easier. Their goals and expectations are different than those of the seasoned angler.
Sarasota is not a fishing destination. There are places like the Florida Keys, Venice Louisiana, in the Bahamas where people go strictly to fish. Visitors come to Siesta Key, Lido Key, and Sarasota to enjoy the beautiful beaches and soak up some sunshine. So, they come here and fish, they don’t come here to fish. Our fishing is pretty easy and very family-friendly. Anglers of all skill and experience levels can enjoy success on Sarasota family fishing charters.
Fortunately, we are blessed with a unique fishery here. One thing that we have to offer that not all fisheries do is diversity. On an average Sarasota fishing charter my clients land 6 to 8 species. On my best trip, my anglers caught 19 different species of fish and six hours! That was a cool and memorable trip.
Many of the species that we have our perfect for Sarasota family fishing charters. We have bottom fish such as sheepshead and snapper. These species can be caught without even having the ability to cast. If an angler can drop the weight to the bottom, he or she can catch a fish. Current Florida regulations can be found HERE.
Sarasota fishing charters, action and variety!
Many other species are caught out in open water. You do have to cast to these fish, but precision as it required. It can be a simple as floating a shrimp out behind the boat and waiting for a bite. These would include speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, Pompano, and ladyfish.
Ladyfish in particular are species I target with novice anglers on Sarasota family fishing charters. They hit hard, usually jump high up out of the water, and are very aggressive. They usually run around in very large schools. I have had many trips where every angler had a fish on at once.
Light spinning tackle is used on these Sarasota family fishing charters. It is versatile, can hold up of a big fish gets hooked, and is easy to use. I get many freshwater anglers who have only used closed face spinning reels. These are also known as “push-button” reels. These will not hold up and saltwater.
However, I can take even a young child and with 10 or 15 minutes of instruction have them casting well enough to catch a fish. Sometimes I do this using artificial lures. Inexperienced anglers are often surprised to learn that artificial lures can actually be easier to use and more productive than live baits. I do use live bait often on Sarasota family fishing charters.
Charter fishing Sarasota; techniques
When using artificial lures with novice anglers or children, I use the lead head jig and grub combo. This is a single hook artificial lure that has a lead weight at the front and a plastic tail on the back. The tail is made to either mimic a bait fish or a shrimp or other crustacean. The primary advantage of the lure is the weight. It is much heavier than a live shrimp and it is easier to teach a novice to cast with the heavier jig.
Jigs also allow anglers to cover a lot of water more quickly. Fish can be scattered out all over the place. Casting a jig while drifting over grass flats and 5 feet to 8 feet of water produces a lot a fish on my Sarasota family fishing charters. Jigs are specially popular with little boys. They are less apt to want to sit still and always want to be doing something. With Sarasota jig fishing, they are constantly casting and reeling.
Trolling is another great method for anglers with little experience. Basically, it involves me driving the boat around while dragging a lure out behind the boat. My clients sit in the bow holding the rods with the tips extended out to the side. This way I can keep an eye on everything.
This is very easy fishing and there is little doubt when a fish grabs the lure. This fishing technique works very well on Spanish mackerel along with ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevelle, and other species. When a Spanish mackerel show up thick in the inshore Gulf of Mexico, trolling is deadly effective. Clients can put a ton of fish in the boat in relatively short order.
Sarasota family fishing charters, live bait tactics
As stated earlier, I do use live bait a lot on Sarasota family fishing charters. By far the number one live bait is a live shrimp. They are found the naturally in our waters and good numbers. They are available at every bait shop in town. Shrimp are like the ‘nightcrawlers of saltwater”, everything eats them!
Drifting the passes and deep grass flats produces more fish for my clients than all other methods. The reason for that is simple, fish congregate in these areas. We are blessed with many acres of submerge grass beds in Sarasota Bay. These grass flats that occur in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep are the most productive in terms of quantity of fish.
Shrimp and bait fish live in the grass. That is what attracts the game fish. Speckled trout and ladyfish are plentiful on the deep grass flats year-round. At certain times of the year, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, sharks, jacks, mangrove snapper, grouper, flounder, catfish, and other species are encountered.
The fishing technique is fairly straightforward. As the boat drifts across the flat, anglers either cast out in front of the drifting boat or free line a bait behind the boat. If the drift does not produce much action, I will try new spot. If the fishing is good, I will idle the boat around quietly and re-drift the same area.
Siesta Key fishing charters
The passes provide excellent action for clients on Sarasota family fishing charters as well. Passes are basically inlets. They are channels that connect the Gulf of Mexico to Sarasota Bay. Big Sarasota Pass lies between Siesta Key and Lido Key. New Pass lies between Lido Key and Longboat Key. Both can offer fantastic fishing.
There are two techniques that I employee when fishing the passes. I either drift with the current or anchor up and fish structure. Both can be very productive depending on conditions and seasons. The passes also offer an advantage in that they provide protection from the wind. I often choose to fish the passes on breezy days.
Anglers drifting the passes do so with either jigs or live shrimp. The jig is simply drop down and bounced off the bottom as the boat drifts along. Clients catch a lot of ladyfish doing this. If the current is not too strong, we can also free line a live shrimp out behind the boat. The drift of the shrimp creates a natural presentation. This can be deadly when Spanish mackerel are in the vicinity.
Bottom fishing in the passes can be extremely productive. This is particularly true of Big Pass. The entire north end of Siesta Key is covered with structure of some sort. There is rocky bottom along with Rocky shorelines, seawalls, and docks. This structure attracts crustaceans and bait fish which in turn attracts the bottom fish.
Bottom fishing on Sarasota family fishing charters
Bottom fishing is great on Sarasota family fishing charters with kids and novice anglers. Once I get the boat situated, it is an easy method to employ. The rods are rigged up with a hook in a small weight. The hooks are then baited with fresh or frozen shrimp and drop to the bottom. If there are fish around, it won’t take long to start catching them.
The last several years we have experienced a fantastic run of sheepshead in the passes. The run starts in late January and runs until about the end of March. Sheepshead move into the past to spawn. They show up there in huge numbers. Sheepshead are kind of like a saltwater bluegill. They are basically a larger saltwater panfish. They are very good to eat, though quite difficult to clean.
Anglers bottom fishing the north end of Siesta Key will also catch gag grouper, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts, flounder, pompano, and black drum. The drum and grouper in particular can be quite large and will test an angler skill with light tackle.
There is a specialized live bait technique that I use in the summer time. It is called live bait chumming. Chumming refers to putting something in the water to attract fish. In most cases it is fish that have been ground up and frozen. In this case, I actually use live bait fish to attract the game fish to the back of the boat.
Chumming with live bait
I use my cast net to procure several hundred live bait fish. These are mostly scaled sardines and threadfin herring. Schools of these baitfish are usually plentiful on the shallow grass flats close to the passes. In the summer time, the water temperature can get into the upper 80s. A large recirculating live well with a good pump is required to keep the bait fish alive in that warm water.
Once the bait is obtained, the fishing begins. I choose a deep grass flat where the tide will carry the chum out to where I think the fish are. As the boat settles on the anchor, I start tossing out live bait fish behind the boat, about a dozen at a time. Usually, I will give the bait a little squeeze to injure it. This will cause the bait fish to swim erratically on the surface. This drives fish crazy!
It won’t be long before the game fish will home in on this helpless prey. They will be seen popping on the surface as they feed on the bait. Then, it is simply a matter of putting a bait fish on the hook and casting it out behind the boat.
When the fish get going, it is a fish on every cast. You can imagine how busy gets with for anglers catching fish on every cast! It is chaos, but it is a lot of fun as well. This is great for little kids as the action is fast and furious. The only downside to this is the heat of summer. We are out on the water at first light and usually done by 10 o’clock in the morning. But there are plenty of days when three to for anglers catch over 100 fish employing this technique.
The inshore Gulf of Mexico can be a great option for Sarasota family fishing charters when conditions are right. Several days of east wind will have the Gulf waters nice and smooth and the water clear. In the spring and the fall Spanish mackerel and ladyfish will gorge themselves on baitfish on the surface.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
This feeding frenzy can be seen from quite a distance away. The water will be turned to a frothing white and birds will be seen wheeling and diving. The best thing about this is that just about any bait that gets anywhere near the fish will be instantly inhaled. Trolling can be deadly and is very easy to do. However, I like to take advantage of this situation to teach children to cast and give them confidence using artificial lures.
There are three artificial reefs that Sarasota County has placed to miles off of Lido Key. The floor of the Gulf of Mexico is flat and relatively featureless. Therefore, any structure or rocky outcropping becomes a fish magnet. These artificial reefs are very productive all year long, but particularly and spring and fall. Mackerel and bonito are caught on top while grouper, snapper, and sheepshead are caught by anglers bottom fishing.
In closing, don’t let the lack of experience of either you, your guests, or especially her children keep you from enjoying fun day out on the water. Sarasota family fishing charters is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a day of fishing in calm water while experiencing good action. For whatever reason, little girls in particular seem to really take to this type of fishing. There’s a joke among us fishing guides; when we see our clients walking up to the boat and there’s a little girl in the party, we know are going to catch fish!
Jack crevelle are one of the many species available to anglers. Sarasota jack crevelle are great fun!
Sarasota jack crevelle are the bar room brawlers of inshore saltwater fishing. They are mean. Jacks are nasty. They have broad shoulders and large forked tails. Jack crevelle pull extremely hard. They swim around in big schools which results in a competition factor. They are one of my favorite game fish!
Sarasota is a good environment for Jack crevelle to thrive in. We have a nice mixture of shallow flats, deeper flats, passes, and most importantly creeks and residential canals. Jacks cannot tolerate water that’s below 55° for very long. Back in 2010 we had a severe cold snap and jacks were one of the first fish to die.
Jack crevelle spend their winter in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. These areas are typically five or six degrees warmer than the exposed open grass flats. Small bait fish, primarily glass minnows, seek refuge in these areas as well. This results in jacks having a place that they can thrive during cold weather.
As it warms up, jacks move out of these areas and scatter out onto the nearby flats to feed. They will often be seen terrorizing bait fish on the surface. We call this “breaking fish”and it is one of the most exciting ways to catch Sarasota jack crevelle. Jacks will pen the helpless bait fish up against a seawall. From a distance, it looks like a boat wake crashing up against the wall. In reality, it is a school of feeding fish.
Sarasota jack crevelle locations
I probably catch more fish for clients on Sarasota fishing charters while drifting the deep grass flats than I do any other technique. Sarasota has many acres of submerge grass in water between five and 10 feet deep. These are very fertile waters as the grass houses shrimp, crabs, and bait fish such as pin fish and grunts.
The technique is quite simple. Anglers cast jigs, flies, or live baits out as the boat drifts over the flat with the wind and the tide. Jacks and other game fish tend to roam the flat in search of food. When anglers do fine fish, they generally come in bunches. This is especially true with jack crevelle, bluefish, and ladyfish. We don’t normally see jacks working the surface and this deeper water, but it does occur occasionally.
Jacks will also school up in both passes. Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass will both have concentrations of jacks in them at certain times. The rocky shoreline at the northwest corner of Siesta Key holds a ton of bait in the summer. This in turn attracts the jack crevelle. This is a good spot to target jacks in the summer time.
They will also be encountered in the middle of the passes as anglers drift for pompano, ladyfish, and other species. Vertically jigging is a very productive technique, especially in water deeper than 15 feet. Anglers drop a 1/4 ounce to 1/2 ounce jig down to the bottom. Then, as the boat drifts along the jig is bounced up and down. Each time it hits the bottom it kicks up a little puff of sand, which closely imitates the crab.
The best area to fish for Sarasota jack crevelle would be from Siesta Drive Bridge south to Blackburn Point. This area is a bit shallower with oyster bars, docks, holes, residential canals, and Phillippi Creek. Perhaps it is because it is a bit smaller of a body of water in the jacks are easier to see and locate, but this stretch of water produces more jack crevelle then does the area up north.
Sarasota jack crevelle tackle
Phillippi Creek is a very reliable spot for jacks in the winter, though they can be found there all year long as well. They can be anywhere in the Creek from the mouth all the way up to Bee Ridge Road. Casting and trolling Rapala plugs is a great way to find and catch jacks. Trolling is a great way to cover a lot of water and eliminate unproductive areas. Other productive creeks include Bowlees Creek, Hudson Bayou, Whittaker Bayou, and the Grand Canal on Siesta Key.
Anglers can choose either medium spinning tackle or light bait casting tackle when targeting jacks. Most of the Sarasota jack crevelle are in the 2 to to 5 pound class. This makes spinning tackle a great choice. Also, often times the lures and baits used are fairly light. A medium spinning outfit spooled up with 20 pound braid is an excellent choice. More experienced anglers who like tossing heavier top water plugs may opt for a bait casting outfit.
The rig is fairly simple. I like to double about 3 feet of the running line using a Spider Hitch. Then, I attach a 30 inch piece of 30 pound test fluorocarbon leader using a Double Uni Knot. Jacks have small teeth, but we use the shock leader more because of their abrasive jaws and Gill plates. A lower or hook is and attached to the free end of the leader.
My personal favorite way to catch jacks is to do so casting plugs. I find it to be an enjoyable way to fish, and soda my clients. Using the trolling motor, I ease the boat down a shoreline that has fish holding structure. These would include docks, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines with a little depth. It’s fun making a good cast and then the anticipation of a strike. When a Jack takes the plug, there is no mistaking it!
Sarasota jack crevelle lures
My favorite lure for this type of fishing is the #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. It is about 3 inches long and it very closely mimics the bait fish that we have here in the water. Those include finger mullet, scaled sardines, glass minnows, and even small pin fish. Olive is an excellent all round color. White works very well in clear water and gold is a better choice in darker or stained water.
Jigs and other soft plastic baits fool a lot of jack crevelle as well. As stated earlier, anglers casting jigs over the deep grass flats catch jacks, mostly by surprise. For the deeper grass flats a quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch to 4 inch plastic body works best. Anglers targeting jacks and shallower water will do better to lighten up the jig head to 1/8 of an ounce.
Bass Assassin jigs are my preference when it comes to soft plastic baits. They produce an incredible array of colors and tail sizes and shapes. They also offer a nice selection of jig heads. When targeting Sarasota jack crevelle, I prefer their Pro elite jig head. It has a wide gap and a very strong hook. Keep in mind, anglers will also encounter snook and redfish in the same areas that they will find jack crevelle.
Catching jack crevelle on live bait
While I personally prefer using artificial lures when targeting jacks, live bait catches plenty of fish as well. In the cooler months, anglers casting live shrimp under docks in search of redfish and snook will catch their share of jacks. Likewise, a free line shrimp over the deep grass flats will catch jack crevelle.
There is one live bait technique that is incredibly effective for jacks. Live bait chumming is incredibly productive. It is something that we do in the summer time when bait fish are thick on the grass flats near the passes. Using our cast nets, we load up the live well with to inch bait fish. Once the well is full, it is time to go fishing.
The boat is anchored up current of a likely looking spot. This can be a dock, and oyster bar, a grass flat, or a mangrove shoreline. Several handfuls of live bait are tossed out behind the boat. If the jacks are around, it won’t take them long for them to find this free meal. Once the fish are boiling behind the boat, baited hooks are tossed out into the melee. Hookups are usually immediate. This is a great way for less experienced anglers to have the chance to catch a nice fish!
Jacks on the fly
Jack crevelle are an ideal target for fly anglers as well. The fact that jacks are often sight fished and are so aggressive makes them popular to fly fisherman. The take is savage and jacks put up an incredible fight on a fly rod! When fish are breaking up on the surface it is certainly a great fly fishing opportunity.
An 8wt fly rod with an intermediate sink tip line is a great all round choice for targeting Sarasota jack crevelle. Anglers can certainly get away with a 7wt outfit if they prefer. A 9wt would be better if the jacks are running large, in the 10 pound class. An 8 foot to 10 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch piece of 30 pound test fluorocarbon bite tippet finishes off the rig.
Fly selection when targeting jacks is very simple. When they are in a feeding frenzy, fly pattern rarely matter as long as the fly is a drastically larger than the bait that they are feeding on. If I had to pick one fly pattern to fish with all the time for jacks, it would be in all white Clouser Minnow tied on a #1 hook.
Sarasota jack crevelle techniques
The technique when fish are breaking a simple, cast to the edge of the school of breaking fish and strip as fast as you can. When the fish are worked up like this, they are easy to hook. When fish are not breaking on the surface, anglers blind cast the same spots as mentioned above for anglers using artificial lures. The fly is cast out, allowed to sink a few seconds, then retrieved back using 12 inch to 18 inch strips.
Anglers seeking a unique experience can choose a river fishing charter. I am one of the only guides in Sarasota that offers this to visiting anglers. There are several rivers that lie a half hour away from Sarasota and Bradenton. These can provide excellent fishing for jacks in the cooler months.
The Myakka River flows from Manatee County south into the north end of Charlotte Harbor. It is an excellent river for catching large snook. Jack Gravelle and several other species are found there as well. The best area for targeting jacks in the Myakka River is the portion around Tamiami Trail Bridge. This area seems to have the best salinity level for jacks.
Jacks in the Manatee River
While the Myakka River offers good fishing for jack crevelle, my first choice would be the Manatee River. This River is not quite as long as the Myakka River. This means that jacks tend to concentrate and it and easier to locate. The Manatee River flows into the south end of Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay has an excellent population of jacks. They migrate up into the Manatee River and its tributaries in the wintertime
My clients catch the largest jack crevelle of the year fishing the Manatee River in the wintertime. It is hard to believe the fight that a 10 pound Jack and put up on light spinning gear or especially on a fly rod. The scenery is one of the attractions of the trip as well. It is peaceful and relaxing as much of the fishing is done in “no wake” zones. There is also the chance to catch snook, redfish, ladyfish, and even largemouth bass as well.
While jacks will be seen working on the surface, many more are caught by anglers blind casting. Sometimes boils and other activity will be seen, but most of the time it is just a matter of drifting the shoreline and casting lures or flies out. The random nature of the bite and it being unexpected certainly adds to the fun!
So, the next time you’re down this way and would like to tangle with one of the toughest fish in the sea, give Sarasota jack crevelle fishing a try! You won’t see them on the cover of any glamorous fishing magazine. They are bit too rough and unrefined for that. But tangle with them, and I think you’ll agree with me that they are one of the most exciting fish to catch! More information on jack crevelle can be found HERE.
Visiting anglers love Sarasota snook fishing! Snook are without a doubt Florida’s premier inshore game fish. Snook grow quite large, the state record is 44 pounds. They fight very hard, hit artificial lures with abandon, and are available here all year for clients taking out a Sarasota fishing charter.
Snook habits are a lot like those of largemouth bass. They are structure oriented ambush predators. Snook are usually found under or near cover such as docks oyster bars, bridges, mangrove shorelines, and other structure, natural or man-made. They use their broad powerful tail to quickly overtake prey. Snook have very large mouth and can easily inhale a large bait fish. Sarasota has a good population of snook and offers good year-round fishing for them.
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. Let’s go through the annual process. In the winter, especially if it’s been chilly, snook will be up in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. The water in these areas is warmer than the exposed shallow flats of Sarasota Bay. Snook are very temperature intolerant; extended exposure to water below 60° can kill them. Most canals creeks and rivers have deeper holes where snook can find sanctuary. Often times, the water is darker as well. Darker water is usually warmer. Finally, bait fish move up into these areas for the same reason thus providing forage for the snook.
As it begins to warm up and spring, snook will migrate out of these creeks canals and rivers. They will move into the backwater inshore areas of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay. These bays have expanses of shallow grass along with mangrove lined banks. Oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks will hold snook as a set up feeding stations.
By May, many of the snook, especially the larger ones, will move into the passes and out onto the beaches. Snook spawn out on the beach and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They tend to school up this time of year. By September, the pattern reverses itself. Snook will move back into the bays to feed up, eventually winding up in the creeks rivers and canals by the end of the year.
Tackle for Sarasota snook fishing needs to be a bit stouter than what is used for speckled trout and other species. A 7 foot fast action rod (that is strong at the handle with a lot of back bone but with a softer tip) and a 3000 series reel is a good outfit. Braided line is best as a lot of snook fishing is done near structure. A “shock leader” is used when snook fishing. They have a razor sharp gill plate, so a 24” piece of 40 pound flourocarbon leader is required.
River snook fishing
I really enjoy fishing for snook in the creeks and rivers in the wintertime. Snook are relatively concentrated in the smaller bodies of water, thus easier to locate. There are several creeks in the area; Philliippi Creek, Bowlee’s Creek, and Whittaker and Hudson Bayous that hold snook in the winter. Siesta Key and Longboat Key have many miles of residential canals that hold fish as well.
I especially enjoy making the short drive out to several of the area rivers. The Myakka River in Venice Florida and the Manatee River in Bradenton Florida offer terrific winter snook fishing. These rivers have a freshwater feel to them. Using my 14 foot Alumacraft Jon boat, we drift down the peaceful river with the current while my anglers cast lures to likely fish holding structure. Downed trees, rocky banks, and deep holes are all likely spots.
Both the Manatee River and Myakka River are just a short 30 to 40 minute drive from the Sarasota beaches. But it seems like a world away! The Myakka River in particular offer some fantastic scenery in a very unique fishing opportunity. Bird life is abundant and large alligators are seen regularly. Another bonus is the opportunity to catch largemouth bass mixed in with the snook. These rivers are brackish, which means they are a mixture of fresh and saltwater. This is an environment that both snook and bass thrive in. Jack crevelle, redfish, catfish, juvenile tarpon, gar, sunshine bass ( a striper white bass hybrid) and other species are also taken on these river fishing charters.
The Braden River is a tributary on the Manatee River and offers good winter Sarasota snook fishing. It is strictly saltwater, the dam at Lake Manatee keeps the fresh water from mixing with the salt water. Large jack crevelle are plentiful there in the winter. The Braden River is a bit more developed, but is also closer to Sarasota. It is a good winter snook option on Sarasota fishing charters.
I prefer artificial lures for my winter snook fishing. My favorite lure is the Rapala X Rap. These lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water quickly which is important. The erratic action of the plug’s triggers some jarring strikes! The pair of treble hooks results in a good bite to hookup ratio. Gold with a black back is a great color in the tannin river water.
Soft plastic swim baits such as the Bass Assassin Die Dapper are used as well. Dark colors such as Golden Bream work well in the dark, tannin water. Most times the bait is taken on the fall or after the first couple of hops. Anglers can rig soft plastic baits weedless on a horizontal weighted hook. In more open water, a 1/8 ounce jig head works well.
Fishing for snook in the inshore flats and backwaters of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay is also very enjoyable. Once again, artificial lures are my choice as they allow anglers to cover as much water as possible. Clients will work oyster bars drop-offs, docks, and other likely ambush points. The same Rapala X Raps work well here, with olive and ghost being better colors in the lighter water.
Soft plastic baits work very well in this application as well. A 1/8 ounce Bass Assassin Pro Elite jig head is a good choice. A stout hook is required when fishing for big snook. The Die Dapper swim bait in root beer works well. White Gulp jerk worms are another proven bait for backwater snook fishing. Redfish and jacks will also hit the same lures in the same areas, just an added bonus!
Snook fishing with live bait
Live bait certainly produces when Sarasota snook fishing in the back country. A live large shrimp fished near the dock pilings, oyster bar, or other structure will often produce snook as well as other species. Shrimp produce very well for anglers fishing lighted docks and bridges at night as well. Small bait fish such as pin fish and grunts will produce, often catching larger fish.
There is a specialized technique I utilize in the spring and the fall to catch a lot of snook. This is called live bait chumming. When conditions are right, I will use my cast net to catch a bunch of good-sized pilchards in the 3 inch range. I will then anchor the boat near a likely spot, be it a dock or mangrove shoreline. I will toss out a couple handfuls of baits that are not hooked. These free swimming baits will hopefully attract snook. Once the snook are excited and into a feeding mood, hooked baits are tossed into the fray. This technique gives even the novice angler a chance to catch a nice fish.
Night fishing for snook
Night fishing is another very productive, yet kind of specialized technique. Snook are nocturnal feeders and do most of their active feeding at night. All area bridges have lights on the fender systems. These lights attract glass minnows and shrimp, which in turn attracts game fish. Snook can be seen stacked up under these lights. Many docks have “snook lights” on them as well.
Boat positioning is very important when night fishing. The best approach is to anchor forty feet or so out from the light and a bit up-current. This allows for a natural presentation to the fish in the light. It is not quite as easy as it sounds, especially on a breezy evening with strong tides.
Live shrimp works very well for night fishing. They will catch speckled trout, snapper, ladyfish, and other species as well. A medium sized shrimp is perfect. Free line the shrimp on a #1/0 bait hook and add a split shot if required due to a strong current. Lures such as plugs, jigs, and shrimp imitations work well, too. Fly anglers can catch a lot of snook at night! Small white bait fish patterns mimic the glass minnows perfectly. Flies can also be very subtle in their presentation.
Tides are very important when it comes to locating snook. Very low tides will concentrate fish in the holes and in the deeper water of channels. Snook will not allow themselves to be exposed on a very shallow flat at low tide. As the tide rises fish will move out of these deeper areas and up on the flats and shorelines to feed. High tides allow anglers to get all the way up into the back country, but can also make it difficult to locate fish as a scatter over a large area.
Think of tide direction like current in a river. Game fish will take up station down tide of a piece of structure. Tide ( or current) will bring shrimp and bait fish to them. It is a lot like a freshwater trout holding behind a rock in a stream. Tides will position fish on a piece of structure as well as a large flat. Understanding tides and how they affect fish movements is critical to being a successful snook angler.
Falling tides are my preferred tide for snook fishing. As water pulls out of the bays, fish will stage at likely ambush points. Even the slightest depth change can hold fish. Cuts and oyster bars, mouths of creeks, and points with tide swirling around it are all great spots to targets snook on a fallen tide. Schools of bait fish such as glass minnows and others small bait fish only increase the chances. Add in some cloud cover or low light conditions such as early-morning late afternoon, and you have very good chances of catching and inshore snook!
Snook fishing in the passes
Both big Sarasota Pass and New Pass hold a lot of snook all summer long. Big Pass in particular has abundant structure and deep water. Snook and other game fish find this very attractive. As much is I enjoy using artificial baits, live bait works best in the passes. Large hand picked shrimp are fantastic bait! 3 inch to 4 inch pin fish and grunts also work well, as does a large pilchard.
Again, outgoing tides are preferred for snook fishing in the passes, however, they will feed on the incoming tide as well. A 2/0 live bait hook with a 24′ piece of 40 pound leader and just enough weight to hold bottom is the preferred rate. During periods of very little title movement, the bait can be free lined. This means no weight is used at all, just the hook and bait. Some of the largest snook of the year will be caught using these techniques.
Fly fishing for snook
One little secret we have in this area is the fantastic site fishing for snook off of the Sarasota and Siesta Key beaches. When the water is clear and the surface calm, snook can be seen cruising right in the surf line searching for crabs and bait fish. Anglers can use light spinning tackle and fly tackle to sight cast to these cruising fish. Light tackle can be used as this is all open water, there are very few obstructions for the snook to wrap up in.
Although snook can be caught at all times of day off the beach mornings are best. The prime time is from around 7:30 AM to 10 o’clock or so. At this morning our it is still cool and there are very few swimmers. Anglers will pick a likely stretch of beach and walk north with the sun at his or her back, optimizing sight fishing possibilities. Once fish are spotted, the lure fly is cast out a bit ahead of the fish and worked back to it. It is great fun to watch the snook take your lure fly and then put up a great bat
Sarasota false albacore fishing is incredible! It is one of my favorite forms of angling here in Sarasota, right up there with casting plugs for big snook. Part of what makes it so exciting is that there is much more involved than just fishing. It is a bit like hunting and fishing combined. Patience is required as we tried to figure out the movements of the false albacore, waiting for a good opportunity.
False albacore are a pelagic species. That means they spend most of their time in the middle to upper part of the water column. Bottom structure and other cover is really not a factor, other than bait tends to congregate in those areas. False albacore basically roam the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and devour helpless bait fish. They are available in Sarasota around Easter and Thanksgiving most years.
But, it’s not as easy as just seeing where they are, driving over, and casting into them. Will actually, sometimes it is! But most of the time it is not. Most of the time the fish are quite fussy. There are days where they pop up here, pop up there, never stay in one place long enough to get a good shot. That is just part of the game. Most days though, staying patient will result in at least a few good opportunities.
There are several factors that add to making the fish finicky. Generally speaking, fishing for false albacore is best when the water is clear. Obviously, that means they can see well. Therefore, longer casts and lighter leaders are required. Also, often times the false albacore are feeding on glass minnows. Glass minnows are very small, sometimes only and inch long. A a 6 inch bait tossed into the middle of that 1 inch bait will not look natural and usually will not draw strike.
Tackle for false albacore fishing is pretty basic, though it needs to be an excellent working condition. False albacore make long, fast runs and will test the drag system on the real. They are basically small tuna fish and are fast and powerful. The guides on the rod need to be free of nicks and abrasions. Finally, all not need to be well tied.
The best all round outfit for false albacore fishing is a 7 foot spinning rod in a medium heavy action. A stiffer butt section is required to subdue a nice false albacore. But, the tip needs to be limber enough to cast a light lure a fair distance. A 3000 series spinning reel spooled up with 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line completes the outfit.
I like to double 4 feet or so of my running line when using monofilament. I do so using a spider hit, but a Bimini Twist is fine as well. Then, I attach a 30 inch section of 20 pound fluorocarbon leader to the double line using a Double Uni Knot. Going is light is 20 pound leader will increase strikes however, Spanish mackerel can be a nuisance. They will cut right through that 20 pound leader quickly. If Spanish mackerel are present, and you can get away with it, bump the leader up to 30 or even 40 pound test.
Sarasota false albacore fishing seasons
Every season is different, but generally speaking Easter and Thanksgiving are the peak times. The fall runs seem to be more reliable. This may be due to the fact that there is less angling pressure in the fall than there is in the spring. It also feels like the fronts that move through in the spring are little more severe.
A strong onshore breeze will shut down the Sarasota false albacore fishing. Rough, choppy, dirty water is not to the liking of the fish. Several days of East when will have the water settled down. That is just part of the game when false albacore fishing, and really fishing in general.
I rarely use live bait when Sarasota false albacore fishing. Artificial lures are very productive and to me just more enjoyable to fish. My number one bait is a #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. White and olive are my two favorite colors. These lures are just the right size and have a great action. They float on the surface and dive down a couple feet when retrieved.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are my second choice for Sarasota false albacore fishing. Lighter colors work best. Jigs are particularly effective when the fish are a little deeper in the water column. There will be days when the albacore are up and down. Anglers cast the jig to the last known location of the fish and are allowed to sink before being retrieved back in.
Small Silver spoons are another productive lore for false albacore. Spoons come in all shapes and sizes and can be easily tailored to match the available forage. Spoons cast the mile and can be worked either near the surface or down deeper. They are great all round lower for both false albacore and Spanish mackerel.
Sarasota false albacore fishing techniques
With all artificial lures the technique is basically the same. I like to run on plane as slowly as the boat will stay up and search for signs of fish. Any bait fish dimpling on the surface or birds working will get my attention. I will then stop and patiently scan the area to see if fish are coming up. If nothing materializes, I move on.
Sometimes if I see a big flock of birds sitting there, I will give it more time. This can be an indication of a big school of bait beneath them. Birds will oftentimes sit on the surface like that waiting for the false albacore and mackerel to drive the bait fish to the surface.
Once fish are found, the boat is stopped and I try to determine a pattern in their movements. Here in Sarasota, the fish mostly seem to be moving north to south. If the fish are staying on the surface and not moving the boat can be eased into casting position. I then shut the motor off and allow the boat to drift into casting range and my clients fire off a couple long cast into the fish.
The best retrieve for Sarasota false albacore fishing is usually a very fast and erratic one. The plug and spoon both have this type of action built-in. A fast retrieve with short jerks of the rod tip should produces strike.
The best retrieve with the jig and grub combo is usually to allow the jig to sink a few seconds then reel it back in as fast as humanly possible. But, fishing is not the same every day. If you get into the fish and these retrieves don’t produce, switch up the retrieves and then even maybe the baits until a productive pattern is found.
This is the ideal situation, and does not happen all the time. More often than not the fish pop up quickly for a few seconds and are moving fast. If the speed and direction can be determined, the boat can be placed in a position to intercept them. If this sounds hit or miss, well that’s because it is! There are times where you just can’t get on them. But that’s part of the challenge and part of what makes it fun.
While I prefer casting lures to breaking false albacore, trolling can be an effective way to locate them. If the fish are up and down and hard to get on, trolling can be an effective way to hook one. Those Rapala X-Raps do a fine job when trolling. Spoons may be trolled as well, though anglers will need to use a swivel between the leader and the running line. Jigs tend to roll over and are not as effective when trolling.
While I primarily fish for false albacore with artificial lures, live bait will certainly catch them. One extremely effective technique is to chum with live bait. This is a great technique for children and other inexperienced anglers. It gives them a good chance to catch a big fish without having great casting skills.
A cast net is used to obtain the bait fish. This can be done on the flats just inside the passes or out on the beach itself. Once the well is fall of several hundred frisky baits, the boat is anchored. There are three artificial reefs right off of Lido Beach and these usually hold Spanish mackerel when they are around. Otherwise, I try to find an area where I see fish or just choose a spot that has been productive for me in the past.
Once the boat is anchored a couple handfuls of chum are tossed out behind the boat. I may even take some of the bait fish and chop them up in pieces. If the mackerel and false albacore are around, it won’t be long before they find the chum. Then, it is just a matter of hooking a bait on and tossing it out behind the boat. I hookup should quickly ensue. No weight is used on the line, just a #1/0 hook.
Fly fishing for false albacore
Fly fishing for false albacore is fantastic sport! Other than tarpon, it is the hardest fighting fish that Sarasota offers to visiting fly anglers. The technique is basically the same, as I try to put the boat 30 or 40 feet away from a school of breaking fish. The fly is cast out and the angler strips back as quickly as possible. The strikes are ferocious!
A 9wt fly outfit is best, though if the albacore are run an unusually large, a 10wt will be a better choice. Floating lines are fine as the fish are almost always taken on the surface. A 10 foot tapered leader with a 20 pound bite tippet and a #4 bait fish pattern fly completes the rig. Glass minnows, Crystal Minnows, Clouser Minnows, and D.T. Specials are the top producing flies.
False albacore are generally considered not very good to eat. After catching one of these gallant game fish, angler should hoisted up for a quick photo than get it back in the water as soon as possible. It is also important to use tackle heavy enough to subdue them in a reasonable amount of time.
The procedure for releasing a false albacore is a bit different than other species. They need water moving through their mouth and over there gills. Therefore, when a fish is being released, the angler throws it headfirst into the water as quickly as possible. This will get the water moving over it skills and it should respond and swim away.
Fishing charters Sarasota, Fl; Additional species
Anglers targeting false albacore do have opportunities for other species. There are days when many Spanish mackerel are seen, but not as many false albacore. The same artificial lures mentioned above will catch a lot of Spanish mackerel. The only real difference is the need to bump the leader up to 40 pound test.
King mackerel also sometimes come in close to shore. These fish can run in excess of 40 pounds. Is very difficult to land one on the light spinning tackle used for mackerel and false albacore. Anglers targeting king mackerel use heavier spinning tackle or medium conventional outfits. The primary technique is to slowly troll large live bait fish such as blue runners and cigar minnows.
Sharks can be plentiful in the inshore Gulf of Mexico off of Siesta Key and Lido Key this time of year as well. The best approach is to catch a small mackerel and cut it into chunks or small fillets. A slightly heavier spinning outfit is used with a 5 foot 80 pound leader and a large #6/0 hook. Anglers can also use a steel leader, the sharks are not nearly as shy as the other species.
So, if you happen to be in Sarasota and the spring or fall and you have this opportunity, give it a try. It is a very cool and unique angling experience. It is a bit like fishing, a bit like hunting, all while sitting on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on a pretty Florida morning!