Sarasota Fishing Forecast

Sarasota Fishing Forecast

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.  Here he shares that experience in his Sarasota fishing forecast.  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.

Sarasota 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 fishing:

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:

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!

Sarasota fishing forecast; spring

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!

Sarasota fishing forecast

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 small spoons, jigs, plugs, and flies 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.

Sarasota fishing forecast; summer

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 fishing forecast

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.

Sarasota fishing forecast; fall

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.

Sarasota fishing forecast

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.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Florida bluefish

Florida Bluefish

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.

Florida bluefish

Read current Sarasota fishing report

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

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 or lower 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!

Florida bluefish

Many bluefish are landed by anglers seeking other species. A very popular technique in Florida is to drift the grass flats while casting a lower 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.

Florida bluefish

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.

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.

Florida bluefish

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 Clouse 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.

Sarasota fishing report

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.

jig fishing for bluefish

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.

Bluefish fishing

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.

inshore saltwater fishing

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.

Florida fishing regulations

Florida bluefish regulations can be found HERE.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota crappie fishing

Sarasota Crappie Fishing

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.

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota crappie fishing

Sarasota crappie fishing lakes

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 and 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.

Sarasota crappie fishing

All three lakes have paved boat ramps for voters 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.

Sarasota crappie fishing

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

Sarasota crappie fishing

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.

Sarasota crappie fishing

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.

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 Park There 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! Give me a call if you want to go on a crappie fishing charter.

Florida pompano fishing

Florida Pompano Fishing

Visiting anglers very much enjoy Florida Pompano fishing. Pompano are very beautiful fish that fight incredibly hard for their size and taste great. What more can an angler ask for!

Pompano are found along the entire coast of Florida. Statewide, most pompano are caught by anglers surf fishing. Here in Sarasota, we catch them both off of the beaches and in the inshore waters of Sarasota Bay.  Pompano may be encountered at any time of year. Cooler months are generally the most productive times of year to catch pompano.

Florida pompano fishing

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Pompano look very similar to juvenile permit. They also tend to live in the same environments. Permit have longer fins with a bit of black on the tips. If anglers have any doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and release the fish.

Florida pompano fishing with jigs

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.

Jigs produce most of the Pompano landed by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. A close look at a Pompano will reveal a small, inferior mouth. The term inferior mouth refers to the fact that the opening of the mouth is on the underside of the head. This will indicate the method by which a Pompano feeds. It swims with its head down and tail up scatter in the bottom for crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.

This explains why jigs are so productive when targeting Pompano. A jig that is bounced off the bottom kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This very closely mimics the action of a fleeing crab or shrimp. Jigs produce on the beach, in the passes, and in the bays. Bright colors such as red, chartreuse, and white are the most productive patterns.  I use them often on my Sarasota fishing charters.

Florida pompano fishing

Many anglers land Pompano while casting 3 inch to 4 inch jigs while drifting over the deep grass flats. The same Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits that work so well for speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species will also fool pompano. The same jig and fall retrieve is productive. The deeper flats in Sarasota Bay, those between 8 feet and 10 feet deep, produce more pompano. However, they can be encountered over sandbars in as little as 2 feet of water.

While the larger jigs will catch the occasional pompano, when specifically targeting pompano, smaller jigs are often used. Not surprisingly, these are called “pompano jigs”. As noted earlier, pompano have a quite small mouth, so a smaller bite-size jig works well. These jigs are very plain looking. There simply a round jig head with a little bit of dressing, usually synthetic care. Combinations of white, yellow, chartreuse, and red have proven to be effective colors.

There is another type of lure specifically designed to for anglers Florida pompano fishing. They are called “banana jigs”. They are long and slender, and shaped like a banana, thus the name. When jerked up sharply, they fall in a very erratic manner. Pompano find this action irresistible. Some also have a little fly near the hook. Often times pompano will be hooked under the chin with the second little teaser hook.

Florida pompano fishing techniques

Florida pompano fishing

Anglers drifting the deep grass flats simply cast the jig out ahead of the drifting boat, allow it to sink, and work it back in using short hops. The same technique works for those fishing for pompano off the beaches. When the bite is tough or when the water is a bit off-color, tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can really make a difference.

If I had to pick one spot to fish for pompano, it would be Big Sarasota Pass. “Big Pass” as we call it has everything a pompano needs. There is an expansive bar at the mouth which will hold schools of pompano at times. Miles of rocky structure on the north end of Siesta Key hold the crustaceans that pompano feed on. Large areas of sand flats in 10 to 12 feet of water have good current flow and also attract pompano.

Jigging for Florida pompano in passes

Jigs work extremely well in the passes. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be very productive spots. For those who don’t know, a pass is basically an inlet. “Pass” is the term used on the Gulf Coast. As the current flows in and out of the passes, pompano will cruise the bottom in search of food. Pompano tend to school up in the passes. Once a productive area is located, that area should be drifted several times. Anglers can catch quite a few in a short period of time.

New Pass can also be a very productive spot to catch pompano. This pass is a bit different.  It is shorter and narrow with deeper water.  Most of the fishing is done west of the bridge.  Pompano can be found in the channel in the deep water.  Bouncing a jig as the boat drifts along is the best approach on a Sarasota fishing charter.

Most of the pompano landed in New Pass are caught on the shallow bars at the mouth of the pass. This is a unique area that is really more like a large saltwater flat.  Yet, it has excellent current flow.  Anglers need to be careful as the water can go from ten feet deep to very shallow quickly.  The best area is from the markers to the south.  The outside bars may produce a few fish as well.

Florida pompano fishing

Florida pompano fishing with live bait

Many pompano are caught using live bait as well. Live shrimp are the most popular bait. They are readily available at every Florida bait shop. While live shrimp or fresh dead shrimp are best, pompano will certainly take a frozen shrimp as well.

There is another bait that’s very effective when targeting pompano, though using it can be a bit more involved. These are called mole crabs, better known as sand fleas. Very few shops keep these, though some do have frozen sand fleas available. Live sand fleas are much preferred to frozen baits. Anglers can purchase a special rake which they use in the surf line to catch the sand fleas. Obtaining sand fleas requires more effort, but many anglers swear by them.

Surf fishing for Florida pompano

One great thing about Florida pompano fishing is that anglers without a boat catch more than their fair share. Surf fishing for pompano is very popular throughout the state. Pompano Beach is even named after this special fish! Surf fishing tactics very a bit on each coast, so I will go into the difference and techniques.

The surf along the Gulf Coast of Florida is generally a bit more gentle than out of the ocean. Starting from the beach and moving out to sea, beaches will have several troughs and bars. Many times the pompano will be in the first trough 10 to 15 feet from shore. This means that long casts are not required.

The best approach for targeting pompano on the West Coast of Florida beaches is to use fairly light spinning tackle, in the 10 pound class. Anglers can then choose to use a quarter ounce jig and cast and retrieve, or to fish with live bait. As stated above, putting a piece of fresh shrimp on a jig head can be the best of both worlds. As an added benefit, other species such as whiting, sheepshead, flounder, ladyfish, and more will take a shrimp-tipped jig.

Anglers choosing to fish with live bait will do well by keeping it simple. A small #4 hook and a split shot or two will get the job done. By using as little weight as possible, anglers will achieve a very natural presentation. It is best if the shrimp is slowly moving along the bottom with the current.

Florida pompano fishing, East Coast

The surf on the East Coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean tends to be a bit rougher. Also, tide differences are more extreme. Lastly, anglers are often have to cast into a stiff breeze. For these reasons, angler surf fishing for pompano on the East Coast use the more traditional style.

Surf rods are spinning rods that are 10 to 13 feet or even longer. They have large spinning reels with high-capacity spools. These long rods allow anglers to make a very long cast and keep the line up out of the crashing waves. After the cast rods are placed into sand spikes. These are simply pieces of PCV tubing that hold the rod upright.

Florida pompano surf fishing rigs

There are several rigs that can be used for this type of surf fishing. The most common when targeting pompano is the “high low” rig. This is simply two different hooks where one is close to the bottom and the other about a foot or so above. A heavy pyramid style weight is at the very bottom. It is not uncommon to catch two fish at a time with this rig.

The other commonly used rig off of the surf is the fish finder rig. This is a device that has a clip to hold on the pyramid sinker with a hollow tube allowing the line to run freely through it. The biggest advantage of this rig is that fish can pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. However, because the bait lies on the bottom it tends to attract more sharks and other undesirable species.

Shrimp and sand fleas are two most popular baits for surf anglers targeting pompano.  Shrimp have an advantage in that they will catch many other species.  Hard core pompano anglers do not want these other species and will opt for sand fleas.  They are a bit more of a specialized bait.  In some areas, clams and mussels are also used.

The fishing technique with both rigs is basically the same and quite simple. The hooks are baited up, and the rig is cast out as far as possible. Once the bait settles, the rod is placed in the sense bite with the line taught. Once the rod tip indicates that a fish is biting the rod is removed from the spike in the hook is set. Click HERE for current Florida pompano regulations.

Pompano recipes

While Pompano are great fun to catch, anglers prize them for their incredible table fare. I am a proponent of catch and release, however I don’t mind if clients keep a fish or two for dinner, and these are really a treat.  Pompano are one fish that I usually cook with the skin on.  It peels right off after cooking.

Pompano are delicious with a very delicate white flesh. The meat has a kind of “buttery” flavor with a unique texture. They are a tad bit oily but in a good way. This means that they are best baked, broiled, or grilled. Pompano do not freeze all that well.  Keep a couple for dinner and release the rest to please other anglers!

Baked Pompano; this is a very simple way to prepare Pompano. The oven is heated to 400°. The fillets are laid on a greased sheet pan and covered with a tire breadcrumbs. They are then bake for 8 to 10 minutes and can be served with a sauce such as lemon dill or teriyaki. This is very simple and the fish are delicious!

Broiled Pompano; broiling is another simple and easy way to enjoy Pompano. I like to prepare a marinade that consists of olive oil, light soy sauce, ginger, and honey or sugar. This gives it that Oriental sweet and sour flavor. The fillet should be marinated for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The fillets are then put on a sheet pan and broiled under high heat 5 inches away from the heat for 6 to 8 minutes.

Grilled Pompano; Pompano are fantastic when grilled as well. I do like to keep the skin on when grilling Pompano. The fillets are seasoned to taste with a homemade or prepared grilling seasoning. Some olive oil or melted butter can be drizzled over top. The fillet is then put on a grill pan and grilled for eight minutes or so. As with the baked Pompano, a sauce can be served on the side.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota Sheepshead fishing

Sarasota Sheepshead Fishing

Sarasota sheepshead fishing is fun for all anglers.  They are a great fish for anglers of all ages and experience levels. They are widely distributed along the Gulf Coast and up the East Coast to New York. Sheepshead put up a great battle and are fine table fair.

Sheepshead are a member of the porgy family.  They arrive in the Sarasota area around Christmas and stay until early April.  The sheepshead run peaks in February and March.  Sheepshead are bottom feeders and are taken almost exclusively by anglers using live, fresh dead, or frozen bait.  Live shrimp are the most popular bait.  They spawn around structure such as submerged rocks, docks, bridges, and oyster bars.

sheepshead fishing

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Many of my northern clients confuse our Sheepshead with their “sheephead”. It is an entirely different species. The northern sheephead is considered a trash fish with no real food value. Our Sheepshead, while difficult to clean, is fantastic eating. Sheepshead also put up a great fight, using their wide bodies to pull hard against the bent rod. Imagine a bluegill on steroids and you have a sheepshead.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing tackle and baits

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 anglers targeting sheepshead using spinning tackle. Conventional tackle can be used, especially when fishing vertically. Many anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico prefer conventional tackle. Spinning tackle is certainly more popular for inshore anglers. It allows them to present baits both vertically and also to cast the bait towards some likely structure.

A 7 foot spinning rod with either 12 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line is ideal. A 30 inch piece of 30 pounds fluorocarbon leader is tied onto the running line. Anglers can attach the leader using a line to line not such as the double Uni-knot or a number 10 black swivel. A #1 live bait hook or #3/0 circle hook completes the rig.  Anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico are required by law to use circle hooks.  The reason for this is than invariably other reef fish such as grouper and snapper will be caught.  Circle hooks allow for a healthy release.

sheepshead fishing

Sliding egg sinkers are used to keep the bait on the bottom. The general rule of thumb is to use the lightest sinker possible to get down and hold the bottom. The sinker can be slid onto the running line ahead of a swivel.  Then the leader is attached to the other end of the swivel. The leader can be attached without a swivel.  The sinker is then allowed to ride on the eye of the hook. This is what we term a “knocker rig”. Both allow the sheepshead to pick the bait up and move off without feeling the resistance of the weight.

Dedicated, experienced sheepshead anglers have their favorite secret bait. Sand fleas, oyster crabs, fiddler crabs, and others are well kept secrets. Many anglers consider fiddler crabs in particular the top sheepshead bait. They are an effective bait and are relatively easy to collect. But the reality is that shrimp catch plenty of sheepshead. I use live or frozen shrimp whenever I target sheepshead on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are easily obtained and are very effective

Sarasota sheepshead fishing structure

sheepshead fishing

Sheepshead will almost always be found near some type of structure. Here in Sarasota, we began our sheepshead hunt near the passes. Both big Sarasota pass and New Pass have deep water, good current flow, and plenty of structure. This makes for ideal sheepshead habitat for anglers Sarasota bottom fishing.

The best time to fish the passes is during times of slower moderate current flow. It is just too difficult to fish when the tide is running hard. Anchoring is difficult and a lot of weight is required to keep the shrimp on the bottom. During these times of high current flow, docks and 6 to 10 feet of water that are near the passes can be very productive spots.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing techniques

Anglers fishing the passes can choose to either anchor or drift. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Drifting is a great approach when tides are slack. It allows anglers to cover some water without drifting to quickly over the fish. Snags are more of an issue from a drifting boat on a Sarasota fishing charter.

sheepshead fishing

I anchor most of the time when sheepshead fishing. The boat stays exactly where I wanted to, and once the bite gets going the fishing can be fast and furious. Structure in 8 to 20 feet of water hold most of the sheepshead. Other species such as gag grouper, mangrove snapper, gray snapper, pompano, and flounder will also be taken.

Sheepshead are notorious for their ability to take bait off a hook without being caught. They are world class bait thieves! One mistake many anglers make when sheepshead fishing is trying to “set the hook” when a bite is felt. This really applies to all fishing with live or cut bait.

Here is the technique that I teach my clients when sheepshead fishing on my charters. When sheepshead take a bait, anglers will usually feel a “tap” or series of “taps”. It is crucial that the bait be kept perfectly still while this occurs. Eventually, the angler will feel a steady pull while the rod tip bends. The angler should reel quickly, taking up the slack, then slowly raise the rod tip. This will result in a much higher hook-up ratio. If the fish is missed (which will happen many times) the hook is re-baited and cast back out.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing docks and canals

Sarasota is fairly developed. This means a myriad of residential canals, all of which have plenty of docks. Docks are great places to target sheepshead from December through March. As previously mentioned, docks in 6 to 10 feet of water with a little current flow are perfect. The best technique is to anchor a cast away up current of the dock. Anglers then pitched baited hooks towards the pilings.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Often times we are faced with windy conditions during this time of year. Docks and canals along Siesta Key and Lido Key offer protection from the wind, giving anglers on Sarasota fishing charters the chance to enjoy a productive day when they may perhaps be forced to stay home otherwise. Black drum, redfish, flounder, snook, and other species will take a shrimp meant for sheepshead.

Oyster bars can be an overlooked sheepshead hot spot. The best bars are those that are just covered up on high tide and drop off into four or 5 feet of water. Sheepshead will cruise the edges of the bars in search of oyster crabs and other crustaceans. A hook with just a light split shot will get the job done.

Sheepshead fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

There are several artificial reefs just off the Lido Key beaches. These reefs consist of concrete rubble and the remains of bridges and other structure. They lie in 30 feet of water to miles offshore. When the seas are calm, they can be terrific spots to target sheepshead. I will often times catch my largest fish of the year in these locations. All three inshore reefs hold fish, but all are different. 

The Roehr Reef is the smallest and the closest to shore. It holds sheepshead as well as other bottom fish.  Only three or four boat can fish it at once.  The Fisher Reef has some very good structure and is a bit further out, right off of New Pass.  Several boats can fish there at once.  The Silvertooth Reef has a ton of structure scattered out over a large area.  It is very good for sheepshead along with bottom fish and mackerel.

Natural ledges in the same areas will also hold sheepshead along with mangrove snapper and gag grouper. These ledges are small and difficult to locate, but once found can be highly productive. Most anglers don’t take the time to find a spots, so they get less fishing pressure than do the artificial reefs.The best way to locate these ledges is to key a sharp eye on the bottom machine while trolling. Most anglers do some trolling for king mackerel or Spanish mackerel at one time or another.  This is a great way to find good bottom fishing spots.

Sheepshead fishing top spots in Sarasota

The Rocky structure at the north end of Siesta Key is a fantastic Sheepshead spot in the winter and early spring. Deep water, plenty of structure, and good current flow attract and hold the fish.

Docks along bird key in the northeast part of Siesta Key are proven Sheepshead spots. They are a great option when title flow and the passes is too strong. Also, no matter how stiff the breeze, there is usually a protected side to fish.

Docks and rocks and New Pass are productive as well. New Pass is also a bit more protected from the weather. The new pass bridge is a fish magnet, holding sheepshead and just about every other bottom fish species. Bait is easily obtained at the New Pass bait shop near the bridge.

The Ringling Bridge pilings hold plenty of sheepshead as well. The bridges and 10 to 12 feet of water and has plenty of structure for sheepshead and snapper. Drifting near the pilings with the bait as close as possible is a great technique. The New Pass Bridge, Siesta Drive Bridge, and Stickney Point Bridge all hold fish as well.

Docks in Roberts Bay south of the Siesta Drive bridge hold plenty of sheepshead and black drum. They are great spots to fish when it is blowing hard, offering protection from the open Bay.

The channel edges in the no wake zone in the Intracoastal Waterway between the mouth of Phillippi Creek and the Stickney Point Bridge are another good spots of fish on breezy days.

Artificial reefs off of the Lido Key beaches are easy accessed on a nice day and hold a lot of sheepshead in the cooler months. Anglers can get a list of the reefs and coordinates HERE.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236