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. Anglers can read Capt Jim’s post on the best redfish lures here.
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.
Dock 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.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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.
Chumming the inshore Gulf of Mexico
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?
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!
Seasonal snook 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.
The 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.
The 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.
The 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 crevalle.
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.
River fishing with plugs
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.
Drift with the current
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.
In conclusion, this post on river snook fishing charters will excite anglers into taking a trip!
Jack Crevalle Fishing, a complete guide for Anglers
Anglers jack crevalle fishing will find one of the toughest of all of the inshore saltwater game fish. Jacks grow large, are aggressive, school up in large numbers, and have a fairly wide wide range throughout the tropics.
Jack crevalle are found in tropical and sub tropical waters throughout the world. Jacks grow large, with the world record being over 54 pounds and caught in Jupiter, Florida. They are most often found in large schools. This results in them being very aggressive in most instances. Jack crevalle will readily hit most lures and flies that resemble the bait that they are feeding on. Most jacks are released as they are prized for they fighting qualities and not their fillets.
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
Jack crevalle fishing tackle
Tackle for jack crevalle fishing runs the gamut. Anglers catching two pound jacks on the flats will do fine with light spinning tackle. Conversely, anglers fishing for jacks on inshore wrecks will need stout conventional gear. Fly anglers will choose a 9 wt outfit as a good all around rig for targeting these bruisers.
A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 2500-3000 series reel will do well for jack crevalle fishing in most inshore applications. This allows anglers to cast a fairly light lure or bait a decent way while providing enough backbone to handle a nice fish. Anglers fishing for larger fish around structure will need to bump it up a notch or two. Heavy spinning tackle or medium conventional tackle is better suited to fishing for jack crevalle in tight quarters. Here is a link to a Penn Conflict combo that is a good all-round outfit. 2500 is a great size for most applications, bump up to the 4000 for big jacks around bridges and docks.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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Rigging up for jack crevalle
The same rig that works for other inshore saltwater game fish will work fine for jack crevalle. Jacks really do not have teeth (they do have little stubby ones), yet a shock leader is required. A shock leader is 2′ or so of stronger flourocarbon line. 30 lb test is a good all around size. Anglers will need to bump it up higher when targeting larger jack crevalle or when fishing near heavy cover.
Jack crevalle range and habits
Jack crevalle are widely distributed across the temperate and tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Jacks range from Canada to lower South America and the west Atlantic. They are also found in the east Atlantic, including the Mediterranean. Jacks are one of the largest fish in the genus Caranx. They grow to over 50 pounds. However, most jack crevalle landed by anglers are in the 3 pound to 15 pound range.
Jack crevalle can be found in inshore saltwater areas as well as the waters close to shore in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. In Florida, jacks also move up into brackish rivers in winter. Juvenile jacks will drift north with the currents. However, jack crevalle can not tolerate cold water and will migrate south or die in winter.
Anglers fishing for jack crevalle will find these powerful game fish to be voracious predators. Jacks are opportunistic and will feed on both bait fish and crustaceans. Shrimp and crabs are a primary forage, especially for juvenile fish. Bait fish are devoured all year long. Jacks are often a target of opportunity and are fished for as they are seen terrorizing helpless bait fish on the surface. This is fantastic sport as they will take just about any lure or bait that is cast into the melee!
Top jack crevalle fishing lures
While jacks can certainly be caught by anglers using live or cut bait, many fish are landed by anglers casting artificial lures. The primary reason for this is the aggressive nature of jack crevalle. In addition, their habit of schooling in large numbers adds to the competition factor. Finally, lures are fun to fish with!
The top artificial lures for jack crevalle fishing are
shallow diving plugs
Jigs are probably the most effective artificial lure for catching jacks. They are versatile, cast well, and imitate a wide variety of forage species. Most anglers use a jig with a plastic grub body. This makes changing or replacing the body easy and inexpensive. Hair jigs still produce, though they are less versatile. The jig size should be matched to the size of the forage and water depth.
Capt Jim prefers the 4″ Bass Assassin Sea Shad grub on a 1/4 ounce jig head for most of his inshore fishing. They come in a wide variety of colors to match any fishing situation.
Plugs are very effective lures for catching jack crevalle. Small shallow diving plugs closely resemble the small bait fish that the jacks are feeding on. The Rapala X Rap in the #08 size works well when jack crevalle are feeding on smaller bait. Larger plugs work well when fish are feeding on mullet and other larger bait fish.Olive and white are Capt Jim’s favorite colors.
Spoons are another effective lure for jack crevalle fishing. They cast a long distance and the flash and erratic action appeal to feeding jacks. A 1/2 ounce silver spoon is a great all around choice, but anglers can certainly go larger to match the forage. Capt Jim likes the Kastmaster spoon, it is effective and durable.
There is nothing more exciting than catching a large predator fish on a topwater plug! Jacks will push a big wake as they attack a topwater plug When they are feeding, just about any bait will work. Capt Jim likes the Rapala Saltwater Skitter Walk, it has sturdy hardware.
Live bait is certainly effective for anglers targeting jacks. They feed on live shrimp, crabs, and bait fish. Anglers fishing without a boat often find that live bait is the best choice. Shore bound anglers can’t chase feeding schools of jacks. Fishing structure or the surf from a fixed location with live bait can be the best approach.
The list of effective live baits is long. Depending on the location, shrimp, crabs, pinfish, grunts, mullet, pogies, sardines, and more will fool a jack crevalle. As with all bait fishing, the hook size should be matched to the size of the bait, not the fish being targeted. 1/0 live bait hooks and 4/0 circle hooks are a good place to start.
Anglers with boats will use live bait when fishing for jack crevalle as well. Live bait works well when fishing docks, bridges, jetties, seawalls, and other structure. Anglers anchor up-tide from the structure and drift the bait back to it. Chumming with live bait is an extremely effective for jacks and other species. This technique is used extensively by charter boat captains throughout the Southeast.
Jack crevalle techniques and tactics
While jack crevalle are a fantastic game fish, few anglers actually target them. Most jacks are caught while fishing for snook, redfish, speckled trout, and other species. Also, jacks are “targets of opportunity” as they are spotted blowing up on bait. The same inshore techniques that produce most fish will produce jacks if they are present.
Drifting the flats for jack crevalle
Many anglers drift the flats all over the country to catch reds, trout, flounder, striped bass, and other species. Jacks are often caught by anglers doing this. The technique is pretty simple. Anglers choose a flat to fish then motor up-wind and up-tide of the flats. As the boat drifts across, lures are cast out ahead of the boat or live baits are drifted on the bottom or out behind the boat.
Jigs are a great artificial lure to use when drifting the flats. Most of the time the water depth will be ten feet or less. A 1/4 ounce to 1/2 ounce jig can be used to cover the entire water column. Jigs also catch just about every fish that swims. White is an excellent color in normal or clear water while brighter colors such as chartreuse or hot pink are better in stained water. Spoons are another productive lure that casts a long way and allows anglers to cover a lot of water.
Casting to shoreline cover for jack crevalle
Anglers will often work a productive shoreline in search of fish. This is an effective technique in both saltwater and freshwater. Plugs are an excellent artificial lure to use when doing this. Plugs float initially, then dive down upon the retrieve. Shallow diving plugs go down 3-4 feet, which is ideal in most instances. The Rapala X-Rap and Yozuri Crystal Minnow are both good examples of these baits.
Topwater plugs are great fun to fish, especially when jacks are seen feeding on the surface. Anglers do need to take care and not “set the hook” as soon as the take is seen. Instead, the best approach is to wait until the fish is felt, then the line is reeled up tight and the rod tip raised.
Jigs and soft plastic baits are also good baits for working productive shoreline cover. They do need to be worked more slowly than do plugs. The best shorelines with have trees, docks, rip rap, points, and other irregular features and structure. Add in some depth and good tidal flow, and you have a likely fishing spot!
Fishing for jack crevalle in inlets and passes
Passes and inlets are natural spots that hold fish. These are “fish highways” that connect the inshore bays to the open ocean and Gulf. Jack crevalle will stage in the inlets and passes and use the current to their advantage. Most inlets and passes have abundant structure and strong current flow along with an abundance of bait fish.
Anglers can drift, anchor, or fish from shore in inlets and passes. Boats should not be anchored in a strong current. This can be dangerous. Often times the tail end of the outgoing tide is the best time to fish inlets and passes. When the tide is not strong, anglers can anchor and fish structure such as docks, seawalls, and jetties.
Catching jack crevalle in open water
Jacks are often times found in the inshore waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. They are usually seen foraging on schools of helpless bait fish. These are usually some of the larger jacks that are caught. Anglers enjoy great sport casting lures into the schools of feeding fish. This is pretty easy fishing. The boat is idled out in front of the fish and then lures presented to them.
Trolling for jack crevalle
Trolling is a very effective fishing technique. It produces a wide variety of species, and jack crevalle are no exception. While jacks are caught by anglers trolling in the inshore bays, passes, and open waters, most anglers use this technique in the winter. Jacks do not tolerate cold water. They migrate up into creeks, rivers, and residential canals in search of warmer water.
Most anglers use plugs when trolling for jack crevalle. The primary reason is that plugs float upon rest. This means that when the boat is stopped, the lure will not sink down and hang up on the bottom. Jigs and spoons do not share this habit. Anglers fishing for jack crevalle in tight quarters with docks and other structure will require stout tackle.
Fly fishing for jack crevalle
It was a foggy Sunday morning during Christmas week. That means that the traffic was going to be heavy as it was a beautiful day that hit 80°. We spent the first half hour hitting a likely shoreline in a creek with an outgoing tide, but with no luck. I was headed to another spot when all of a sudden a small bunch of fish started working on the surface.
Greg’s cousin Mike grabbed the spinning outfit with the Bass Assassin Sea Shad jig and grub combo while Greg scrambled for the seven weight fly outfit that was rigged and ready. Mike got is bait in the water first and was instantly hooked up to a fish. By the time Greg got his line stripped out and was ready to go the fish had moved past us.
Mike fought the fish well, letting the scrappy 3 pound Jack in several minutes. We held it up for a quick photo, then released it unharmed. Now that we were all set up, I tried to find the fish again. However, after idling in the direction that they were swimming and looking around for several minutes, we did not find them and moved on.
After a short “no wake zone”, I jumped the boat up on plane and had not gone for more than half a mile when we saw several more bunches of fish. A couple were in the deeper channel, in 10 foot of water while others were on the shallow flats in a couple feet of water. Since we were fly fishing, we decided to target the shallow fish.
Jack crevelle fly fishing techniques
After several attempts to get the boat in position, a school of jacks popped up 15 feet away from the boat and downwind. Greg was on the bow with the wind over his casting shoulder and the school of forging fish and easy cast away. He lay the fly out perfectly stripped it several times and a large jack crevelle charge the fly, half of its back sticking out of the water. It was an epic take!
Mike was on the stern and had also hooked up, this time using a shallow diving Rapala since we were in only a couple feet of water. Fortunately, the fish went in different directions and it was easy to fight the two fish to the boat. Mike released another 3 pound fish while Greg landed a nicer Jack of around 7 pounds. The action continued for another couple hours with the fellas landing a half dozen fish each.
Eventually, the Sunday morning boat traffic put the fish down. However, this is a perfect example of “opportunity fishing”. The plan was to target snook along mangrove shorelines as neither Mike or Greg had ever caught one. The big jacks were a most welcome distraction and an excellent example of why it is important to be rigged and ready and also being flexible on your fishing strategy.
While jack crevelle are available year-round, the most consistent fishing for them here in Sarasota and in most of Florida is in the cooler months. Our fish average 3 to 5 pounds while fish on the East Coast can be significantly larger. It is not uncommon to run into jacks that are pushing 20 pounds in the inshore waters.
Fly fishing for jack crevalle, tackle
Anglers targeting jack crevalle on fly need to adjust their tackle to the fish that are generally found in the area. Greg enjoyed the action using a seven weight outfit. That was borderline for a couple of the larger fish. Anglers fishing on the East Coast of Florida and in other tropical destinations where jacks grow large may have to bump the tackle up as high as a 10wt outfit.
I prefer to use an intermediate sink tip line for the vast majority of the fly fishing we do in Sarasota. Seldom do we actually target fish on flats in water between one and 2 feet deep. Therefore, an intermediate sink tip line is more versatile. Anglers can begin stripping as soon as it lands and still keep the fly up high in the water column. But, they can also allow it to sink and work the 4 to 8 foot depths where speckled trout, mackerel, and other species are found.
Many fly anglers over complicate the leader, in my opinion. I prefer to keep the leader simple. That morning when Greg was catching those jacks, the leader consisted of 4 feet of 40 pound fluorocarbon with another 3 feet of 30 pound fluorocarbon. That, combined with a weighted fly, in this case a Clouser Minnow, resulted in the fly turning over easily.
Fly selection is pretty easy when it comes to targeting jacks. Any small bait fish pattern that remotely resembles the forage that are being devoured should elicit a take. In this case, Greg was tossing a green over white Clouser with fairly heavy eyes. Clouser Minnows are by far the most popular fly in this area. A large arbor reel with a smooth drag finishes off the rig.
Jack crevalle fishing strategies
One of the most important requirements when working schools of breaking jacks, or any other kind of breaking fish, is patience. It can get very exciting and sometimes intense as schools of fish erupt on the surface. Jack crevelle tend to move fairly quickly. I have experienced four hour charters where I have followed the same school of fish for several miles in that time span.
Other boats working the fish can complicate the situation as well. Successful anglers will resist the urge to go charging into the fish. It is much better to try to determine the direction and speed the fish are heading and then intercept them. One good, quality opportunity is much better than 10 shots that are less than ideal.
As mentioned above, the ideal situation is to have the fish blowup a nice easy cast away downwind. When this occurs, the best approach is to cast the fly right to the edge of the school. While the fish are very aggressive, it is possible to spook them by “lining” the fish. This means having the fly line land right on top of them. Also, by plucking a fish off the edge of the school it allows two anglers to work to same school. Finally, doing this will reduce the chance of the leader being caught on the backs of one of the other fish that are in the school.
Once the fly lands, a fast, aggressive stripped will usually draw a strike. If the fish are working on the surface, the angler does not need to let the fly sink very far. With the rod tip low, near the surface of the water, the line is stripped sharply with a pause in between. When the take occurs, the line is pulled tight with the stripping hand and then the rod tip slowly raised. This is called a “strip set” and is used with most streamer fishing in both fresh and saltwater.
Fly casting to jack crevalle
Just because the fish are not feeding on the surface, do not assume that they have gone. Greg hooked a couple of his fish by casting into the area where the jacks had been recently seen. In this case, it is best to let the fly sink for several seconds before beginning the retrieve.
Once a Jack is hooked, if it is of any decent size, the angler will soon be “on the reel”. This means that all the loose fly line will be gone from his or her feet and the fish can be fought using the rod and reel. As the fight nears the end, it is important not to “high stick” the fish. This means raising the fly up high putting it in a severe arch. Many a fly rod has been broken by a large fish close to the boat, particularly in deep water.
The best technique is short pumps of the rod while taking up the slack with the reel. Anglers should try to keep the fly rod below the horizon. This not only gives the angler more power, but it will drastically reduce the chance of breaking your favorite fly rod!
Jack crevelle in rivers and creeks
There is one situation where I do target jacks and that is in creeks, rivers, and canals in the winter. Jacks are a subtropical species and do not tolerate water temperature much below 60° for very long. Severe cold fronts will drop the water on the shallow flats as much is 10° in a couple days. However, the water and residential canals, creeks, and rivers is often significantly warmer. This will result in jacks as well as snook migrating into these areas, particularly if were having a cool winter.
One advantage to this type of fishing as that the fish become concentrated. These are relatively small areas, all things considered, especially if the tide is low. Winter is the dry season as well here in Florida. That means that most rivers will be fairly low. Jacks and other game fish will be concentrated in the holes and deeper sections of the rivers and creeks.
While jacks will occasionally forage on the surface in these areas, the vast majority are caught by anglers blind casting. For whatever reason, jacks in these backwater creeks and rivers just tend to not feed on the surface as much. However they do feed and remain aggressive. Also, once a productive area is located, multiple fish can usually be caught.
Sarasota rivers produce jack crevalle
The Braden River in particular is a terrific spot to target jack crevalle from December through March. It is a small river and is a tributary of the Manatee River, which can also be very productive. The Braden River is quite close to Tampa Bay. Jacks that spend their summer on the open flats of Tampa Bay move into both rivers in the winter to seek the warmer water and available forage. As an added bonus, snook, redfish, juvenile tarpon, and other species are available as well.
Sarasota Jack Crevalle Fishing
Jack crevalle are one of the many species available to anglers. Sarasota jack crevalle are great fun!
Sarasota jack crevalle are the bar room brawlers of inshore saltwater fishing. They are mean. Jacks are nasty. They have broad shoulders and large forked tails. Jack crevalle 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 crevalle 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 crevalle 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 crevalle. 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 crevalle 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 crevalle, 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 crevalle. This is a good spot to target jacks in the summer time.
Jack crevalle fishing
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 crevalle 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 crevalle then does the area up north.
Sarasota jack crevalle 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 crevalle 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.
Sarasota jack crevalle rig
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 crevalle 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 crevalle 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 crevalle, 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 crevalle.
Catching jack crevalle 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 crevalle.
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 crevalle 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 for anglers fly fishing for jack crevelle 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 crevalle 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 cravalle 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 crevalle, 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 crevlle 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.
Blind cast for jack crevalle
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 crevalle 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!
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 is fairly deep. 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 can rent canoes and kayaks and even a cozy cabin! 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 lake and State Road 72. Lower Myakka Lake is very shallow and weedy. There is a decent ramp in the upper lake inside Myakka River state Park.
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 shallow
Upper Myakka Lake is typical of natural Florida lakes and that it is round and very shallow. During normal water levels, the lake is 4 to 5 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. Buoys for the rowing races really inhibits offshore fishing.
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. Check Bass Resource for more great bass fishing information.
In conclusion, this article on Sarasota bass fishing will help anglers understand the bass fishing opportunities that Sarasota offers!
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.
Summertime snook habits
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 trolling or casting 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.
Snook thrive in brackish water
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.
Artificial lures work well when snook fishing on the flats
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. The north end of Siesta Key in 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 battle!
In conclusion, this article on Sarasota snook fishing will help anglers catch more of these terrific game fish!
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.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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 lure 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.
Fast, erratic retrieves are productive
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.
Using live bait to catch false albacore
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!
This post will share Capt Jim’s Sarasota fishing forecast for 2020. Capt Jim Klopfer has been fishing in Sarasota, Florida since 1985. He earned his USCG license in 1991has been running Sarasota fishing charters ever since. In that time he has gained experience that only time can provide. Capt Jim also shares a regular Sarasota fishing report.
Every year is different, but annual fishing patterns tend to repeat themselves. Our seasons do change, though the change is more subtle. Slight changes in water temperature will trigger fish migrations. The length of time the sun is out is a factor as well. Tactics change with the seasons as well. Water temperature, bait availability, and other factors will affect how fish feed. My Sarasota fishing forecast does hold up over time as a guide that anglers can use to predict fish locations and tactics.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Most fish species make some type of migration. Resident fish such as speckled trout, snook, jack crevalle, and redfish stay in a relatively small area, but do change locations. A cold winter will push them into deeper water in channels and creeks and canals. As it warms up they will move out into the bays to feed up. In the summer they will seek the depths of cooler water while snook move out onto the beaches.
Pelagic species move through Sarasota in spring and fall
Other fish species migrate through the area, called “pelagic” species. They include Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, tarpon, false albacore, sharks, cobia, and more. Pelagic fish generally school up in good numbers. They also are very much keyed in to bait. Bait fish migrate as well and this in turn affects the pelagic species movements. Sight casting to schools of fish that are feeding voraciously on the surface is incredibly exciting!
Any lure, bait, or fly that is cast into the melee is instantly devoured! We also have other fish that are seasonal. These include sheepshead, pompano, bluefish, flounder, sea bass, and more. While these species are occasionally taken all year long, there are specific times when they are much more plentiful. All of the fish movements, locations, and techniques will be explained in these Sarasota fishing forecasts.
Sarasota fishing forecast; winter
Weather is the overwhelming factor in winter fishing in Sarasota. While winters are much milder than other parts of the country, we still experience them. The water temperature will be the lowest all year, sometimes into the upper 40’s! That is cold for our fish species. Here is my Sarasota winter fishing forecast.
Deep flats fishing in Sarasota:
Cold water will push fish off of the flats and into deeper holes. Speckled trout will be found in channels with deeper water, as will ladyfish and other species. A free lined live shrimp is very effective. After a couple of warm days, fish will move back out onto the flats. Fish that are on the grass flats will be a bit deeper. Flats in 8 feet to 10 feet of water will be more productive. Bluefish, jacks, trout and pompano will take a 1/4 ounce jig with a grub tail. Smaller baits, no longer than 4″, are generally more productive. By the end of winter, the deep flats should be very productive with Spanish mackerel joining the party.
Fishing Sarasota passes:
When the winds ease up for a couple of days and the water clears, both passes can be very productive. It is important for the water to be “clean”. When it is, ladyfish wil be piled up in Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Mackerel, pompano, bluefish, jacks, and other species will be caught as well. Drifting with the tide while casting or vertically jigging is a proven technique. Live shrimp either on a jig head or free lined will also catch a lot of fish.
Structure such as docks, bridges, seawalls, and rocky bottom will hold fish in the winter. Any quality Sarasota fishing forecast will include bottom fishing for sheepshead and snapper. This is very easy fishing as anglers simply find some good structure and fish live or frozen shrimp on the bottom. Flounder, black drum, redfish, and more will also be landed. Sheepshead are a very popular winter target for Sarasota anglers bottom fishing. They will bite in cold, dirty water. On windy days, docks in residential canals offer some protection.
Surf fishing will depend greatly on wind. Wind churns the water u, making it rough and dirty. Fishing is poor under these conditions. However, when the water is calm and clean, silver trout, whiting, pompano and more will be caught. I live shrimp or piece of shrimp on a #1 hook with just a bit of weight works well. A shrimp tipped jig is a great choice as well.
Fishing creeks and rivers:
In the winter, snook and jack crevalle migrate up into area creeks and rivers. Rivers have deep holes and darker water. This results in significantly higher water temperatures. Game fish seek the warmer water, as well as the forage. Capt Jim offers anglers visiting Sarasota a unique opportunity, fishing for large snook in area rivers. The Myakka River, Manatee River, and Braden River all hold snook, big jacks, redfish, and more. Read more about Sarasota river fishing. Rapala plugs and swim baits are generally used as it allows anglers to cover a lot of water. The scenery is also very cool! I hope you enjoyed my Sarasota winter fishing forecast!
Spring Sarasota fishing forecast
Spring is a fantastic time of year to be fishing in Sarasota. The biggest question anglers have to answer is what to fish for! Just about every species is available this time of year. Sheepshead are still present early and tarpon will have shown up by late spring, with just about everything else in between. Sarasota spring fishing can be fantastic!
Spring flats fishing:
Both the deep and shallow grass flats will come alive in spring. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jacks, ladyfish, and more will be caught on grass flats in 5″ to 10′ of water. The flats near the passes will be very productive. Anglers drift with the wind and tide and cast their baits out, searching for a school of fish. Most fish will be found in schools or bunches. Live shrimp and a 1/4 ounce jig are the two most popular baits. Shrimp can be fished undr a float or just free lined out behind the boat.
Snook, redfish, jacks, and trout will move into the shallow flats as they warm up and forage becomes available. It seems like a contradiction, but the largest fish often inhabit very shallow water. Artificial lures that cover a lot of water are often the best choice. Plugs, weedless spoons, and light jigs are the top choices. Low, incoming tides are best. A live hand picked shrimp can work very well in water that is just a tad deeper.
Sarasota pass fishing in spring:
Both passes will be great options for anglers Sarasota spring fishing. The rocks in Big Pass will still hold sheepshead, though their numbers will be dwindling. Snapper will still be plentiful. Drifting the passes while bouncing a jig will produce a LOT of ladyfish along with mackerel, blues, and pompano.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico fishing
When conditions are right, fishing the inshore Gulf can be world class. East winds will result in calm, clear water. Hordes of bait fish will move in, followed by the predator fish. This is one of my favorite types of Sarasota fishing charters. Spanish mackerel and false albacore will be seen feeding actively on the surface. King mackerel, sharks, and even tarpon will be mixed in, especially . Casting and trolling small spoons, jigs, and plugs is great sport! A chunk of cut mackerel on a large hook with a steel leader will catch some fun sized sharks.
Surf fishing in Sarasota in the spring
Surf anglers Sarasota spring fishing should do well when the water is clear. Trout, whiting, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, and ladyfiish will be caught using both live shrimp and lures. High tides are best.
Summer Sarasota fishing forecast
Many of the clients that go out on a Sarasota fishing charter are surprised to learn that fishing can be outstanding in the summer. The key is the abundance of bait through the inshore bays and passes and out on the beach. Catching bait and using it as chum is extremely effective. It is very hot, however, and fishing needs to be done early or late. Heat indexes are very high mid day and the fish normally don’t bite as well. Get out there early and do some Sarasota summer fishing!
Sarasota summer flats fishing:
Fishing on the deep grass flats from 6′ to 10′ is outstanding in summer. What I like to do is start out at first light casting jigs. That bite will last an hour or two, depending on the breeze and overcast. Once that slows, I move in and load up on bait. Using my cast net, I fill the well with small live minnows. I then anchor up-tide and up-wind of a good flat. Live minnows are tossed out behind the boat, attracting gamefish up behind. Speckled trout, mackerel, snapper, grouper, bluefish, ladyfish, and more will readily take a live bait in this situation. Action on the shallow flats will depend on water temperature. If it gets too warm, fish will move off deeper. But, as long as the water temperature hangs arounf 85 degrees and bait is present, anglers should succeed.
Sarasota summer snook fishing:
Snook fishing is very good in summer as well. Just keep in mind that they are out of season and must be released immediately. Anglers Sarasota summer fishing for snook will find them in the passes and out on the beaches. Live bait works well when fishing the passes. The water is deep in spots and the current can be swift. Large pilchards and thread fin herring along with shrimp, pinfish, and grunts all work well. Heavier jigs with a large swim bait tail can also produce vertically jigged while drifting. Out of the beach, it is a completely different situation. While anglers can use bait, artificial lures and flies work well, and are a better option for shore fishermen. Any small, white jig, plug, or fly will fool them. Snook can be seen right i the surf line, cruising the beach. Sight casting to snook is great sport!
Tarpon fishing off of Sarasota beaches:
Sarasota sees a strong tarpon migration each year in late May and summer. These fish average 75 pounds and grow over 200 pounds. Tarpon are the ultimate game fish and the opportunity to cast to them with relatively light tackle is a unique one. This is not for every angler. There will be days that no fish are hooked. Tarpon fishing is “big game” fishing and the success rate is lower than that with smaller fish.
Fall Sarasota fishing forecast
Fall is an awesome time to go out on Sarasota fishing charters! The weather is usually fantastic with cooler temperatures and the crowds are non-existent. Angling opportunities abound as fishing is good both inshore and in the coastal Gulf of Mexico. Fall is generally the best time to target Spanish mackerel and false albacore in the Gulf.
Inshore, flats, and passes in the fall:
Just about every inshore species will be available this time of year for anglers Sarasota fall fishing. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, pompano, snapper, and ladyfish will be caught on the deep flats. Jigs, plugs, and live shrimp will all produce. Chumming with bait fish will be effective until the bait leaves, which is normally around Thanksgiving, but every year is different. Snook will move back into the bays and scatter out and feed as winter approaches. Topwater plugs, jigs, and live bait will produce around oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks throughout the area.
Redfish will be schooled up in large numbers on the shallow flats, especially up north near Long Bar. Weedless spoons and light soft plastic baits work well, but these fish can be spooky! Passes should be thick with ladyfish, with pompano, Spanish mackerel, and bluefish mixed in. Anglers can find the current Florida fishing regulations at the FWC site.
Fall fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico:
I fish the beaches just off of Sarasota and Siesta Key whenever I get the chance in fall. The opportunity to sight cast to breaking schools of ten pound false albacore using light tackle is great sport! On my Sarasota fishing charters, I like to sit out on the beach or slowly idle around in Search of fish. The three artificial reefs off of Lido Key in Sarasota and off Point of Rocks on Siesta Key. Rapala plugs and Bass Assassin jigs are cast out into schools of breaking fish and worked quickly. A hook up is almost assured, especially with mackerel. Sharks are still fairly plentiful and will hit a piece of cut bait such as mackerel.
In conclusion, this Sarasota fishing forecast will help anglers understand the species, locations, and patterns that will help them catch more fish.
Quite a few of my clients are surprised to find out that we have Florida bluefish. Experienced anglers from the Northeast and mid Atlantic are quite familiar with this saltwater brawler. However, Florida has a good population of them as well.
Bluefish are the sole member of the family “Pomatomidae”. They are a pelagic species, meaning they spend their time in the middle of the water column. They are widely distributed throughout the world. Anglers from Maine to the Carolina’s target them from boats, jetties and peers, and the surf. Pound for pound, bluefish are one of the strongest fighting game fish in the sea. Florida has them in good numbers most of the year.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Most of the bluefish that we see in Florida are smaller than their northern brethren. Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide, bluefish average 2 pounds and a 5 pound are is a nice fish. However, though they are smaller, they are just as much fun. This is due mostly to the fact that we fish for them with very light tackle on my Sarasota fishing charters.
Florida bluefish locations
Florida bluefish are caught in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and along the beaches. They prefer clean, clear water and water temperatures in the low to mid 70s. Bluefish school up in large numbers and are very aggressive. Often times bluefish will be seen feeding voraciously on the surface. This is a great opportunity as just about any lure or bait cast into the mix will draw strike.
Florida inshore bays for the most part are fairly shallow. Grass flats abound. Florida bluefish seem to prefer areas that are a mixture of sand and grass in depths of between six and 12 feet deep. Flats and bays near inlets and passes are generally the most productive. Bluefish require a high level of salinity, they cannot tolerate brackish water.
Florida bluefish follow baitfish
At one point or another every mile of the Florida coast will experience some type of bait fish run. Predators will usually not be very far behind. This includes Florida bluefish as well. East Coast anglers experience the famous mullet run while on the West Coast it is more thread fin herring and Spanish sardines.
No matter what the bait fish being pursued, there are few angling circumstances that can compete with breaking fish when it comes to pure excitement! The sight of a school of game fish terrorizing hapless bait fish on the surface is exhilarating. Also, anglers know that just about any bait tossed into the mix will draw a strike.
While many anglers target Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species, bluefish can be often found in these feeding frenzies. This is one instance whether anglers can bump up the leader to steel and not see a market decrease in strikes. These fish are usually so fired up and aggressive that they will hit a spoon, plug, or jig with reckless abandon. This is a fun and exciting Sarasota fishing charter!
Many bluefish are landed by anglers seeking other species. A very popular technique in Florida is to drift the grass flats while casting lures or live bait in search of fish. Anglers will encounter schools of Florida bluefish while doing this. When one fish is caught, expect more to follow. Bluefish will sometimes be seen feeding on the surface, but quite often there will be no indication of their presence until one is hooked.
Florida bluefish lures
Florida bluefish are very aggressive and a fast-moving lure will get their attention. Jigs, spoons, and plugs are the most popular artificial lures. If I was targeting bluefish or was fishing in an area where I knew they could be present, I would choose a jig and grub as my preferred lure.
Jigs are my preference when fishing for Florida bluefish for several reasons. Most importantly, they are effective and catch fish. But there are other reasons as well. Bluefish have very sharp teeth and cutoffs will occur. In clear Florida waters, a fluorocarbon leader will produce many more strikes than a steel leader will. For this reason, lures and hooks will be cut off by bluefish. Jigs are relatively inexpensive. They also have one large single hook, making handling and releasing bluefish easier.
Spoons are another effective lure when targeting Florida bluefish. A 1/2 ounce spoon is very aerodynamic and will cast a long way on light spinning tackle. Silver is the preferred color in clear water. Most casting spoons come with a trouble hook which can be easily replaced with a single hook if desired. A snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and running line will reduce line twist.
Plugs are very productive when chasing Florida bluefish. It is very exciting to see bluefish blowup on a top water plug! However, there are a couple drawbacks to casting plugs. Plugs are expensive with the average cost being around $10. Several anglers casting into a school of bluefish can lose a fair amount of money quickly! Also, most plugs come equipped with trouble hooks. These can be dangerous when trying to unhook an angry bluefish. Trolling with plugs can be very effective.
Florida bluefish on a fly rod
Anglers who enjoy catching their fish on a fly rod will find bluefish to be great fun! Since most of the Florida bluefish run between two and 5 pounds, and eight weight outfit is perfect. The best line choice would be an intermediate sink tip line. This will allow the fly to get down in the water column and still be stripped back quickly. As the spin fishing, bluefish respond best to a fast retrieve.
A 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch section of 40 pound bite tippet is a good all-around choice. When bluefish are feeding aggressively, the fly choice really isn’t that important. If I had to choose one fly, it would be in all white Clouser Minnow with 3/16 ounce eyes tied on a number one hook. However, just about any bait fish imitations will produce. One trick we use here in Sarasota is to tie are flies on a long shank#1/0 hook. The longer shank acts like a steel leader and reduces cutoffs without reducing the number of strikes.
Florida bluefish on live bait
While casting artificial lures and flies is great fun, many bluefish are caught using live and cut bait as well. Live shrimp and live bait fish are the top live baits. Mullet, squid, and sardines are the top cut baits. In reality, any fish that is legal to keep can be cut up and used effectively as bait.
Anglers choosing to surf fish almost always opt for cut bait. It really just is a practical decision and is effective. The East Coast beaches tend to have higher waves and rougher surf. Cut bait stays on the hook better during a long cast and with the stronger current and wave action. Bait can be cut into long narrow strips or into chunks. Pier anglers often times use cut bait as well.
The best rig when using cut bait to surf fish for Florida bluefish is the fish finder rig. This consists of a narrow tube with a big clip on. The running line passes through the tube and then is tied onto a swivel. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is attached to the other end of the swivel and then a large hook is attached to the other end of the leader. A pyramid sinker of appropriate weight given the wind and tide is attached using the clip.
Live bait for surf bluefish
Anglers can certainly use live bait when surf fishing as well. This is particularly true on the West Coast of Florida where the wave and tide action is generally more gentle. When using live bait, the best approach is to use the least amount of weight possible. Anglers will find bluefish on the West Coast quite close to shore, often in the first trough.
Anglers drifting over the grass flats and in the passes will catch Florida bluefish on live bait. One technique that works really well is to free line the bait. This means that the shrimp is hooked on to the hook with no weight being added to the line. The shrimp or bait fish then swims naturally in the water. Since bluefish are often high in the water column, this is a very effective technique. To reduce cutoffs, a long shank hook is preferred.
Passes and inlets are virtual fish highways that game fish and bait fish use to migrate between the inshore bays and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. These are natural spots to find bluefish. Currents can be strong in these areas, so artificial lures are usually a better choice. Anglers can cast to rocks and rip rap or bounce a jig vertically along as they drift. Once again, keeping an eye out for surface activity will increase the chances of success.
There are several spots here in Sarasota that consistently produce bluefish. Probably the most reliable area is called the middle grounds. It is a large area with a sandy bottom and grass growing out to 10 feet deep. It lies just north of New Pass on the west side of Sarasota Bay. This spot is adjacent to new pass, which gives it excellent current flow. It is a large area and drifting is usually the best approach.
Jigs are the best lure to use when fishing for bluefish at that spot. The fish can be out into the water is deep is 12 feet, and jigs will get down deep enough to cover the water column effectively. Spoons and plugs can be used when fish are seen actively breaking on the surface.
Deep grass flats and passes are productive for bluefish
There are several other flats that produce bluefish in Sarasota. The area between Bird Key and Siesta Key is just east of Big Pass and is another spot that produces bluefish regularly. Further North and Sarasota Bay, Bishop’s Pt., Stephen’s Pt., and Buttonwood are good deep grass flats that produce bluefish.
Both passes can be good spots for bluefish, especially in the cooler months. Fish use these passes to migrate between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Bluefish will often be seen foraging on the surface. Sometimes Spanish mackerel will be mixed in as well as ladyfish. When surface activity is not seen, drifting with jigs will help anglers locate fish.
Point of Rocks off of Siesta Key is a spot along the beach that will concentrate bluefish. There is not a lot of structure along the beach, with the exception of the spot. That is why it attracts so many fish. It is a large area with rocks that protrude out into the water. Bluefish and many other game fish can be caught at the spot.
Bluefish for dinner
In my opinion, bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating quality. The smaller bluefish and the 2 to 3 pound range are delicious! However they do require a bit more care. I bleed any bluefish that I plan to keep. I do this by cutting the gills and putting the fish in the bait well. This will result in the fish pumping all the blood out of its body, making the flesh not quite as dark.
Then, I get the fish on ice as quickly as possible. Bluefish are oily and do not freeze well. Keep only what you need for a meal that evening. There is an area of darker meat on the backside of the fillet. On larger fish, this area can be cut out for cooking. On smaller fillets, it is best to cook it and work around the dark strip if desired. This darker meat is perfectly safe to eat, some people just find it a bit unappealing.
My favorite recipe when preparing bluefish is very simple. I preheat an oven to 400° then cover both sides of the bluefish filet and a tire breadcrumbs. Tire breadcrumbs have plenty of seasoning which makes things nice and easy along with making a nice c crust. Thin lemon slices are placed over top of the fillets in the fishes baked for 8 to 10 minutes. I can then be served with a lemon dill sauce or any other sauce that is preferred. Bluefish are also good grilled, smoked, and used in chowder.
Anglers who like freshwater fishing will enjoy Sarasota crappie fishing. Most visitors naturally associate Sarasota was saltwater fishing. However the Sarasota Bradenton area does have some good and really overlooked fishing. Several area watersheds offer good fishing for bream (that is southern for bluegill and other panfish), crappie, catfish, and bass.
The three dominant river systems in Sarasota County and Manatee County are the Manatee River, Braden River, and Myakka River watersheds. All three are similar in that they are freshwater streams which have dams that created reservoirs. The water upstream from the dams is totally fresh, while the portion downstream from the dams is tidally influenced. This creates a really interesting fishery, where bass and panfish mix it up with snook and other saltwater species.
Lake Manatee differs from the other two in that the water release can be controlled at the dam. Lake Evers on the Braden River and Lower Myakka Lake are very simple weir dams. The water level in Lake Manatee varies quite a bit depending on the release of water. The water level in Upper Myakka Lake inside of Myakka River State Park fluctuates greatly and is entirely based on rainfall. Lake Evers is quite deep and is a bit more stable due to that factor.
All three lakes have paved boat ramps for boaters to access the lakes. Lake Evers and Upper Myakka Lake are idle speed only lakes. Lake Manatee has no speed restrictions but does have a 20 hp limit. This results in all three lakes having very little recreational boat traffic and wakes from other boaters.
Sarasota crappie fishing techniques
The same techniques produce crappie in all three lakes. Some anglers use live bait with the Missouri minnow being the most popular. These minnows are commercially grown and are very hardy. They will live all morning in a small bucket of water. They are fished on a #4 hook either under a float or with a light weight to take it to the bottom.
Many anglers, myself included, prefer to use artificial lures when targeting crappie. By far the most popular and effective lure is the jig. Tiny spinner baits can also be effective. A unique and very effective bait is the Blakemore Roadrunner. It is sort of a hybrid between the two, with a jig body and a spinner blade coming off of the eye of the hook.
Florida waters are generally speaking very dark. They are tannin stained and the color of root beer or coffee. Therefore, brightly colored jigs are generally the most productive. Pink, chartreuse, and white are the most effective colors. Often times, a combination of colors works best. For example, a white jig head with a chartreuse curly tail grub body is one of the most effective combinations. A good approach is to use several different colors and see if one pattern emerges as being more effective.
Anglers who get up early will be rewarded when crappie fishing in Sarasota. For the most part, the first light bite is best. This is not always the case but is a good rule of thumb. The two basic techniques when targeting crappie are to cast lures or bait out or troll. Both can be effective, depending on conditions.
Sarasota crappie fishing seasons
We start crappie fishing here in Sarasota in early October. Fish can be taken all year long, but October through March are the prime months. The first cool front or two will have the crappie schooling up. Both Lake Manatee and Lake Evers are fairly deep. Crappie will generally school up on the edges of the channels and and deep water over structure. Myakka Lake is quite shallow with the constant depth being 3 to 5 feet depending on lake level.
Trolling is fairly simple and deadly effective. On shallow Myakka Lake the bait is cast out 30 feet or so behind the boat. The boat is then idled along using the gas or trolling motor at a slow speed until fish are located. In the deeper Lake Manatee and Lake Evers, trolling is a bit more nuanced.
Crappie will relate to the channel edges. Therefore, zigzagging over the channel edge is the best approach. Vary lure selection and speed until a productive pattern emerges. Often times the fish will hit on turns. Slack line will cause the lure to fall, then jerk up as the slack is removed. This often times triggers a bite.
By late December or early January depending on the weather, the crappie will have moved up to the bank. Trolling the banks can still be effective. However, many anglers choose to cast to the bank. They can do so using the same artificial lures or live minnows under a small float.
Successful anglers actually use both techniques. They will troll was shoreline until a school of fish is found, then use the live minnows to catch the fish I have located. This is a common technique used and saltwater fishing that works quite well and freshwater also. Shore bound anglers usually opt for live minnows, using several rods out in a spread. Florida does not limit the number of rods that can be used in freshwater.
Sarasota crappie fishing lures
The top artificial lures are jigs, small spinner baits, tiny plugs, and Roadrunners. A 1/16 ounce marabou jig or jig head with a twister tail or shad tail body is preferred. Chartreuse is a great color and has proven to be a great lure for crappie along with bluegill and small bass. White works well, too.
My personal favorite spinner bait is the 1/16 ounce black Beetlespin. This lure has caught many fish for me and clients over the years. The grub body is very simple, but is effective. A tiny spinnerbait with a chartreuse twister tail grub is a good choice as well. Anglers can see an article dedicated to the best crappie lures here.
Tiny plugs work well for anglers Sarasota crappie fishing, too. They are very effective for trolling in shallow water as they only dive a couple of feet down. Plugs also tend to catch larger fish. They also work well on small bass and big bluegill. Anglers do have to deal with treble hooks.
Roadrunners are another bait that is both a jig and a spinner. It has a jig head, with 1/8 ounce and 3/16 ounce are the best sizes. A grub body slides on the jig. A spinner blade comes off of the head hear the eye of the hook. This results in a compact bait that casts well, gets down deep, and has a lot of color and flash.
Fly anglers can certainly enjoy crappie fishing along with the spin fishermen. A 3wt or 4wt outfit is perfect. Anglers can use a floating line, but an intermediate sink tip line works better. Small bait fish patterns in white, gold, and chartreuse tied on #6 hooks are a great choice. Fly fishing for crappie is best when the fish move shallow to the banks.
Sarasota crappie fishing; where to fish
Lake Manatee: This lake is several miles long and sits 10 miles east of the interstate. There is a very nice boat ramp located in Lake Manatee State ParkThere is also a primitive ramp near the fish camp just off of the State Road 64 bridge. The Manatee River below the dam offers very good crappie fishing. However, access is difficult that time of year as the water level is low.
Evers Lake: Also known as Ward Lake, this lake is conveniently located in Bradenton just off of State Road 70 and west of the interstate. There is an excellent ramp at Jiggs Landing, which has bait, tackle, and facilities.
Upper Myakka Lake: This lake sits 10 miles east of Sarasota off of State Road 72. It is shallow with a decent ramp, suitable for boast bass boats as long as the water is up a bit. Anglers should call the park to make sure the ramp is open. The river inside the Myakka River State Park has some deeper holes which are great for kayak and canoe anglers to target crappie.
Benderson Lake: This lake was renovated to create a world class facility for rowing competitions. It is a reclaimed strip pit with a good population of larger crappie. It is electric motor or paddle only. There is a good ramp at the south end of the lake.
Next time you are looking for a different Sarasota angling experience, think about giving crappie fishing a try. Expect some fun, cool scenery, and some good eating!