Florida saltwater fishing in spring can be outstanding! Like most parts of the country, warming weather and rising water temperature has fish moving and feeding. Many species spawn or are preparing to spawn. Forage is abundant and the fish are hungry. Anglers have a wide selection of species to pursue. Anglers can view Florida fish species and Florida saltwater fishing regulations in the FWC link.
The flats come alive in Florida in the spring. The severe cold fronts that quickly drop water temperatures to uncomfortable levels are no longer an issue. Bait fish become more plentiful, as do shrimp, crabs, and other crustaceans. This in turn attracts the game fish to move out of their deeper winter staging areas to feed on them.
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 and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
Anglers will have plenty of offshore and nearshore options in the spring as well. Of course, offshore fishing will be dictated by the weather. Pelagic species such as mackerel and false albacore will migrate along the beaches. Bottom fishing will be good both inshore and offshore.
Deep grass flats in Florida provide excellent spring fishing
Anglers seeking action and variety will do well to fish the deep grass flats in Florida in the spring. These are large areas of submerged vegetation in water that is between 4′ deep and 10′ deep. These areas will hold forage and therefore attract game fish. Many of the species caught on the deep grass school up in large numbers, which can result in fast action.
Spotted sea trout or speckled trout are probably the Florida species most associated with these deep flats. Trout are available in good numbers throughout the state. Along with trout, anglers will catch Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jacks, sharks, snapper, ladyfish, and more.
Top fishing techniques on the deep flats
There are several different techniques that anglers use to produce when fishing the deep flats. Most drift as opposed to anchor in order to cover more water. A live shrimp fished under a noisy float has probably accounted for more spotted sea trout than all other methods combined. The noisy float attracts fish to the helpless shrimp hanging below. Other live baits such as pinfish, grunts, mullet, and sardines can be fished under a float or free lined out behind the boat.
Once a school of fish is found or a productive area is located, anglers can anchor and use live bait to thoroughly fish the area. Chumming can be an effective method to bring fish to the boat. Frozen chum blocks can be used, but live bait used as chum is even more effective. Once a school of fish is attracted to the chum and excited, the action can be fast and furious!
Many anglers prefer to cast artificial lures when drifting the deep flats. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot more water than they can using live bait. The most popular lure is the jig and grub. This uses a jig head, usually ¼ to ½ ounce, with a plastic grub on the hook. The grub can mimic a shrimp or bait fish. Silver spoons and plugs can be cast and retrieved as well as trolled to locate and catch fish. Suspending plugs are particularly effective for trout, with the MirrOlure MirrOdine being a top bait.
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.
Shallow Florida flats come alive in spring
When the term “flats fishing” comes up, many anglers picture fishing in gin clear water that is a foot deep for bonefish, permit, and maybe even tarpon in the Florida Keys. That style of fishing was basically invented there. However, anglers chase fish on the shallow flats throughout the entire state.
In the Keys, tarpon, bonefish, and permit are pursued on the flats in very shallow water. This is quite challenging fishing as these fish are quite skittish in the shallow water. Patience is required as well as good angling skills. Anglers sneak up on fish in special skiffs designed to float very shallow. Live bait, lures, and flies are all used.
In the areas north of the keys, snook, redfish, and trout become the main targets of anglers fishing the skinny water. The same techniques are used, though in many cases anglers are fishing grass beds instead of sandy flats. Anglers can sight fish, but blind casting produces as well. A gold weedless spoon is a top lure. Light jigs and plastic baits on swim bait hooks work well, too. Topwater plugs can produce exciting strikes!
Spring time tarpon fishing in Florida
Tarpon fishing gets going in earnest in the early spring in south Florida. As the water warms up, fish begin to school up and start moving along both coast lines. The bridges and flats in the Keys all have fish in early spring. As it gets later in the season, areas such as Boca Grande, Tampa Bay, and Jacksonville become better spots.
There are several different methods anglers can use to catch tarpon. In shallow water areas, they can be sight fished. This is great sport and is challenging and exciting! In the Keys, boats anchor under bridges in the afternoon on the outgoing tide and fish with live mullet and crabs. Schools of fish can be sight fished as they migrate along the beaches. In the passes and inlets, anglers drift with live bait or jigs.
Spring fishing off of the Florida beaches
As it warms up many migratory species begin to move along the Florida beaches. Much of this action will take place within a few miles of shore. This puts them in safe range of anglers with smaller boats. These fish include Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, false albacore, sharks, tarpon, jack crevalle, and more.
One exciting aspect of fishing the beaches in the spring is that much of the action is on the surface. This results in casting lures, baits, and flies into schools of actively feeding fish. This is great fun as a bite is almost a certainty, as long as the lure resembles the bait being devoured.
When fish are not seen feeding on the surface, anglers can use a couple of techniques to catch them. Trolling is a very effective way to both locate and catch these pelagic game fish. Special spoons designed for fairly fast trolling speeds are fished behind planers. These are devices that take the lure down to a desired depth. Plugs can be used as well.
Anglers can also anchor or drift and use live and cut bait as well. This is often done over structure such as a ledge, wreck, reef, or area of hard bottom. While most of these species do not relate to structure, bait does, so game fish will be close by. Chum can be used to get the fish up behind the boat.
Florida bottom fishing in spring
Bottom fishing is very productive in Florida in the spring. This is a very popular form of fishing that anglers of all ages and skill levels can participate in. Bottom fishing is basically dropping a live or dead bait to the bottom, usually around some type of cover or structure.
There are many different species that anglers can catch when bottom fishing in Florida. Grouper and snapper are the “glamour” species when bottom fishing, there are several species of each that are caught inshore and nearshore. Gag grouper, black grouper, red grouper, mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, and lane snapper are some of the most common.
Sheepshead are abundant inshore, especially in early spring. They are a great option on windy days and are usually cooperative. Mangrove snapper are plentiful in most parts of Florida in the bays and passes. Just about every bridge and other structure will hold snapper and other species. Flounder, red and black drum, sea bass, grunts, and other tasty bottom fish can be caught as well. A live shrimp is tough to beat.
Passes and inlets offer good fishing
Passes and inlets are terrific fishing spots in Florida in the spring. Current and structure along with bait results in an ideal environment to hold fish. Most inshore species can be caught in these areas. Anglers can drift with jigs or bait or anchor and bottom fish.
Drifting along with the current while vertically fishing a jig on the bottom is an extremely effective technique in the spring. Pompano are a prized species and many are caught by anglers doing this. Ladyfish can be thick and provide good action. Bluefish and mackerel often feed heavily in passes and inlets.
Bottom fishing can be excellent in Florida in the spring, especially for sheepshead, snapper, and flounder. Most inlets and passes have a good amount of structure including docks, bridges, seawalls, jetties, rocks, and more. These all will attract bottom species. The best times to fish are during periods of slack tides.
Offshore fishing in Florida in the spring
Offshore fishing in Florida in the string is all about the weather. There will be some breezy days that will make fishing offshore difficult if not impossible. However, on nicer days, anglers can experience some terrific action on a variety of both bottom and pelagic species.
Bottom fishing is very good all along the west coast of Florida in the spring. Water temperatures are ideal and bottom fish such as grouper and snapper will be closer to shore than in other times of year. Patch reefs and wrecks in the Atlantic Ocean will also hold a lot of hard fighting grouper and snapper.
King mackerel fishing is at it’s apex in the string. Schools of hungry kings move north from the Keys, right behind the schools of threadfin herring and other bait fish. Trolling is an excellent way to catch them. Fast trolling with spoons will put numbers into the boat while slow trolling with live bait will fool the larger fish. Spanish mackerel and false albacore will be caught as well.
Boats heading out deeper will find the tail end of the sailfish and wahoo season. Tuna and dolphin numbers will be on the rise, especially in the southern part of the state. Amberjack will be caught on the deeper reefs. Cobia may be encountered at any depth.
In conclusion, this article on Florida saltwater fishing in spring will help anglers understand the species and options when fishing in Florida that time of year.
While anglers have many choices when it comes to fishing, more choose to go panfish fishing over all other species combined. There are good reasons for this.
Panfish are the most pursued fish species in North America. Panfish are widely distributed and there are quite a few different panfish species. Most anglers can find a place to catch panfish a short distance from home. Panfish are abundant, aggressive, and less challenging than other species, resulting in a great option for kids and novice anglers. Expensive equipment is not required, this is very basic fishing.
Panfish are found in every warm water body to some degree. Some waters are known for numbers of fish while others produce large fish. In most instances, it is actually beneficial to take out some fish to eat, as the stocks can easily become stunted. A body of water can only support so many fish. That said, many anglers are now releasing the largest specimens to maintain the health of the fishery. Keeping the “medium” sized fish is a great approach.
There are many different species of panfish that anglers have the opportunity to catch. Some of these species will be covered individually in a later chapter. Bluegill are perhaps the best known and most widely available. They are quite aggressive for their size. Crappie are certainly extremely popular and are the largest of the panfish species. Depending on the area of the country, anglers can catch redear sunfish (shellcracker), spotted sunfish (stumpknocker), pumpkinseed, redbreast sunfish, warmouth, rock bass, and more!
Panfish tackle and equipment
One of the best aspects of panfish fishing is the simplicity. This type of fishing is not complicated or expensive by any means. Many a panfish has been caught by anglers using a cane pole with a worm under a bobber. In some states, a license is not even required for this type of fishing.
Best panfish fishing rod and reel
In most cases, ultra light spinning tackle is the best choice for anglers panfish fishing. A decent rod and reel can be purchased for less than $50. A longer rod will allow anglers to make longer casts as well as have a better chance if a larger bass or other fish is hooked. A 5′ to 6′ ultra light rod with a 1000 series reel spooled up with 4 lb line is a great all round combination.
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While spinning reels, also known as “open faced” reels are considered the most versatile outfits to use, many anglers still prefer to use closed faced reels. These are also inexpensive and easy to use. Many anglers caught their first fish on the venerable Zebco 202! These reels do have their limitations; the retrieve ratio is slow, line capacity is limited, and the drags are fair at best. However, for most panfish fishing, they are more than adequate.
Panfish fishing line choices
Anglers have several choices when it comes to fishing line. These are monofilament, flourocarbon, and braid. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Monofilament line is inexpensive and works well in most applications. It does stretch, which can actually be beneficial when using such light equipment. It is clear and relatively hard to see.
Flourocarbon line is almost invisible in the water with less stretch than monofilament line. The only real negative is the initial cost. However, considering how little is needed and the fact that it lasts a long time, it really is a great option.
Braided line is very thin and has zero stretch. It is extremely sensitive, giving anglers excellent feel for the lure or bait. It is expensive, but lasts a very long time. Knots are more difficult to tie as well. Some anglers tie the lure or hook right to the braid, especially in dark water. However, most use a 3′ piece of 4lb to 6 lb flourocarbon leader.
Terminal tackle for panfish fishing
Panfish are caught by anglers using both live bait as well as artificial lures. Those using live bait do not need a lot of terminal tackle. A selection of short shank live bait hooks and long shank thin wire hooks in sizes #10, #8, #6 and #4 will cover most situations. Anglers seeking larger crappie may need #2 size hooks as well.
There are several other items that will be needed in the panfish live bait angler’s tackle box. A selection of floats will be required. Quill floats are used when the bite is very subtle, even the lightest take will result in the float moving upright. The old red and white clip on bobbers are fine as well. Generally speaking, the smallest bobber that will suspend the bait should be used. Split shot in several sizes and rubber core or sliding egg sinkers in a ¼ ounce and ½ ounce will get the bait down when fishing deep. Dipsey sinkers or drop shop weights can be used when using a dropper rig, which will be discussed later.
A selection of artificial lures should be included in every panfish angler’s tackle box. These would include small spinners, spinnerbaits, plugs, and a selection of jigs and jig heads with some grub bodies. It takes some anglers time to grow confident using lures, but they really are productive as well as being fun to fish.
Finally, there are a few other pieces of gear that will be needed for panfish fishing. A tackle box of some type will be needed, the soft bag styles with removable boxes are quite popular these days. Pliers and clippers are handy to have along. Bait boxes and buckets will be needed for anglers who fish with live bait. Some anglers put fish on a stringer, but getting them on ice is a better option where possible.
Fishing for panfish with live bait
It is probably safe to say that the majority of panfish landed by anglers is done so using live bait. A live worm under a bobber has accounted for more panfish than any other method. Crickets are a fantastic bait for large bluegill in summer. Live minnows are far and away the top live bait for crappie. Grass shrimp are extremely effective, though not always available. Grubs such as meal worms are deadly under the ice and in open water.
Worms and nightcrawlers for panfish
Worms have been the universal panfish bait for as long as anglers have been chasing them. They are readily available to catch or purchase, are easily kept alive, and are very effective on a variety of fish species. More retail outlets offer live worms these days, from local gas stations to big box stores. Red wigglers are the perfect size for panfish and are extremely lively when placed on a hook. Most anglers use a whole one unless they are extra large in size. They are kept alive in a refrigerator for a long time.
Common earthworms are found all over North America. Anglers can dig them up in moist, fertile soil. Some go extra lengths to make a compost pile in a cool, shady spot in the yard. Sometimes, watering the area before digging will help. Like all worms, as long as they are not exposed to extreme hot or cold, they will live a good while in moist soil. Both wigglers and earthworms can be threaded on a hook or hooked several times through the body.
Nightcrawlers are a fantastic freshwater fishing bait! Whole nightcrawlers are great for larger gamefish such as bass and walleye. Anglers fishing for panfish will do better pinching off a small piece and placing that on the hook. Often times, several fish will be caught on one small piece of bait. This makes nightcrawlers a very cost effective option. They are readily available at most stores that sell fishing equipment.
Minnows for crappie and other panfish
Big fish eat little fish, it is a basic fact of life. While most panfish mostly feed on crustaceans and insects, some panfish, especially larger bluegill, will take a live minnow. However, live minnows are by far the number one choice of anglers targeting crappie. Crappie are the largest member of the panfish family and feed primarily on small bait fish. Minnows are most often hooked through the lips from the bottom up.
Bait shops that service waters that hold crappie will keep live minnows in stock. The type of minnow used depends on the geographical location. Missouri Minnows are hardy and are very popular. In cooler months when the water temperature is low, a few dozen will remain lively in a bucket or cooler. However, in warmer months when more minnows are needed, anglers will need an aerator to keep the bait alive. These are available in 12 volt of battery operated units at a very reasonable cost. They come with a plastic tube and an air stone.
Anglers can catch their own minnows. In fact, it can be great fun! It is important to check local regulations to ensure compliance. The two best ways to catch minnows are with a seine net and a minnow trap. Minnow traps are easy; the trap is baited with bread or cat food and tossed into the water. If minnows are plentiful, the trap will produce enough bait in a few hours. Many anglers let them sit overnight.
Minnow seines require 2 anglers. They are usually 4 feet wide and ten feet long or so with poles on each end. Again, check local regulations. With an angler at each end, the net is moved through the water, encircling the bait. This is actually great fun on a warm, summer day!
Insects make great panfish bait
Insects are a primary part of a panfish’s diet. They are just the right size and are plentiful in and around the freshwater bodies of water that they inhabit. While panfish will eat just about any insect, the top two live baits used by anglers are crickets first, followed by grasshoppers.
Crickets are commercially raised and sold at many bait shops as well as pet stores. They are mostly gray crickets and are small in size. They are terrific panfish baits, particularly for bluegill in the warmer months. Anglers can purchase special containers for crickets which make it easier to get one out without the others escaping. Grasshoppers are also excellent panfish baits, but anglers must catch their own. This is best done in the morning when the grass is still wet. Later in the day, they are much more difficult to catch. Both are best hooked under the collar behind their head.
Grass shrimp are a tremendous bait for just about every species of panfish. In some areas they can be purchased live at local bait shops. Anglers can catch their own by using a fine net with a long handle and probing the weed edges close to shore. They look just like saltwater shrimp, though much smaller. They are delicate baits that are best used with a tiny, fine wire hook. Grass shrimp are usually threaded on the hook.
Mealworms and waxworms (waxies) are without a doubt the top live bait for anglers targeting panfish under the ice. They are readily available at shops and can even be ordered online. They live a good while as long as they are not exposed to extreme hot or cold conditions. While mostly used when ice fishing, they are also very effective, though underutilized, in open water applications. They are threaded on a hook.
Live bait panfish fishing techniques
While panfish fishing with live bait is relatively uncomplicated, there are nuances which will increase success for the angler. Bait and hook size combinations are important; anglers should be careful to keep their offerings on the small size. This is especially true in clear water and on pressured lakes. Also, depth presentation is important as most panfish feed facing up.
Shallow water live bait tactics
Fishing for panfish with live bait in shallow water is pretty simple and that is where most anglers fish for panfish. In most cases, a live bait suspended several feet under a bobber is the best approach. The bobber serves as weight to cast, a visual reference for a strike, and presents the bait at the desired depth. This works well with all live baits.
The hook size should match the size of the bait being used and the fish being targeted. Erring on the smaller size is usually a good idea. A #10 or #8 hook is a good size for most panfish. Anglers using worms do well with a “baitholder” hook. These have little barbs on them which helps hold the worm on the hook. Fine wire hooks are better for minnows, crickets, and grass shrimp.
There are several different types of floats to choose from. Many experienced panfish anglers prefer quill floats. These are long and even the lightest take can be detected as the long quills tip upwards. Round floats are easier to cast and work better when using live minnows. A small split shot can be added if current is present or in deeper water.
The best technique is to set the float two feet or so above the hook. Obviously, in slightly deeper water the float can be adjusted. The baited rig is then cast out to a likely looking spot. These include submerged weed beds, edges of grass and pads, docks, fallen trees, gravel bottom, and rocky shorelines. When the float moves or disappears, the angler reels up the slack with the rod tip pointed at the float. Once the slack is removed and the line comes tight, the rod tip is raised sharply.
Anglers can also free line a live bait. This means hooking a bait and casting it out with no weight or float. This can be extremely effective as it gives a very natural presentation. The bait will slowly flutter through the water column, putting out signals of distress. Panfish will find this irresistible and often attack it before it reaches the bottom. If no strike occurs, the bait can sit on the bottom for a few moments. The best approach is to keep the bail open as the bait sinks. When a fish takes, the line will move off. The angler can then engage the reel and come tight on the fish.
Live bait fishing in deep water
Fishing for panfish in deeper water with live bait is a bit trickier. Locating the fish is more difficult as the visual clues are not there. Anglers must understand how fish will use structure to migrate from deeper water to shallow water. Points and main river and creek channels are top locations. Anglers most often target panfish in deeper water in the coldest and warmest months.
Generally speaking, anglers fishing deeper water for panfish will do so in a boat, most often times using a vertical presentation. This can be done with a dropper rig, split shot, a jig head, or even under a sliding float.
The simplest rig is a hook with a split shot or two attached. This works well in areas that are a bit too deep for a fixed float, but really not much deeper than ten or twelve feet. It also is the best choice for casting out away from the boat or shore. The bait will slowly sink though the water column and settle on or near the bottom.
A dropper rig is a very effective method to get a live bait down in deeper water. Some anglers refer to them as drop shot rigs as well, which normally uses a soft plastic bait. However, they both work the same. The sinker sits at the end of the main line and a hook is tied on a short dropper loop a foot or so above the sinker. Anglers can add a second hook another foot above the first one.
Rigs for fishing live bait in deep water
The result is a rig that presents the bait or baits just a little bit above the bottom. This is a very effective way to fish in deeper water, as fish often hold close to bottom structure. It can also be used on suspended fish by stopping the sinker at the desired depth. Crappie anglers use this rig extensively with a pair of #4 thin wire long shank hooks and live minnows.
Another simple and easy way to fish live bait in deeper water is to simply add the bait to a bare jig head. Most panfish anglers have a good selection of jig heads, so it really is easy to just tie one on. 1/32 ounce is a good size, but anglers can go up if conditions dictate. A piece of worm, grass shrimp, or minnow can be used. Meal worms and wax worms fished on a tiny jig head can be extremely effective when the bite is tough.
Anglers that prefer to fish live bait under a float can do so in deep water as well. This works best when casting out away from shore or the boat. The line slides through the middle of a float and is stopped by a small swivel. A 2′ leader connects the hook to the swivel. A split shot is used a foot above the hook. A bobber stop is placed on the main line at the depth that is to be fished. It is basically a small piece of yarn or thread. The rig is cast out and the main line slides through the float, stopping at the bobber stop. The bobber stop goes through the guides easily. This allows anglers to cast out and fish a bait deep under a float, something that will not happen with a fixed float.
Fishing for panfish with artificial lures
Many anglers use live bait such as worms and crickets to catch bluegill and panfish. However, artificial lures can be used successfully as well. This is particularly true for the bluegill. They have a fairly large mouth given their size. Also, they are probably the most aggressive species in the panfish family. Remember, largemouth bass are really just giant sunfish, and we all know how they can be taken using lures! These are the top lures for panfish and crappie.
Artificial lures have a couple of advantages over live bait. The first is convenience; no need to acquire bait or keep it alive. A tackle box full of lures is always ready to fish! Lures also allow anglers to cover water much faster than live bait. This is advantageous in locating schools quickly. Finally, lures will trigger strikes when fish are not feeding.
The same artificial lures that are effective on largemouth and smallmouth bass work well on panfish, just in much smaller sizes. These include spinners, spinnerbaits, jigs, spoons, and plugs. For the most part, anglers fishing for panfish with lures can keep it pretty simple. A basic selection of baits will get the job done.
A 1/16 ounce Johnson Beetlespin is Capt Jim’s favorite lure for fishing for bluegill and other panfish. Black is his favorite color, with green being second. The lure is very easy to use. It is simply cast out and reeled back in slowly. Weed edges and fallen trees are top spots. It also works well when trolled to help locate fish.
Spinners are proven lures for most freshwater species and panfish are no exception. The Warden’s Original Rooster tail is Capt Jim’s favorite spinner. It puts out a lot of flash at slow speeds. These spinners are very light, making them a great choice when fishing shallow rivers. The 1/16 or 1/8 sizes in bright colors work best. As with most lures, a slow steady retrieve works best.
Spinners work best in fairly open water. The treble hook will hang up on weeds fairly easily. Once cast, the lure should be given a good “twitch” to get the blade spinning. Slow and steady, as slowly as possible to keep the blade turning, works best.
Plastic curly tail and shad tail as well as marabou jigs are proven panfish lures. Jigs are by far the number one lure for crappie as they feed primarily on minnows. Chartreuse is a good all round color. White works well in clear water. Bright colors such as pink are better in tannin or stained water.
Jigs are versatile lures that can be cast or trolled. Marabou jigs have a lot of action with very little movement are work well when fish are finicky. Curly tail and shad tail grubs put out great action when retrieved. They can be used under a float or with a spinnerbait frame as well.
Blakemore Road Runner
The Blakemore Road Runner is a terrific freshwater fishing lure, especially for crappie. It combines a jig with a spinner blade, which adds flash and vibration to the jig. They come in a variety of colors and either hair or plastic tails. 1/16 ounce is best for bluegill and panfish while 1/8 is the better size for crappie. They are very effective when trolled.
Spoons are good lures for bluegill, panfish and crappie as well. They tend to catch larger fish as they mimic minnows. The Acme Kastmaster in the smallest sizes are Capt Jim’s favorite spoon. It can be cast or trolled. They are dense and cast a long distance, making them a good choice to cover open water.
Rapala plugs are for anglers looking for trophy bluegill and other panfish. These baits will not catch a lot of fish, but will catch larger ones. They are a mouthful for a panfish. The Original Floating Minnow in silver and the Husky Jerk in gold and black in the smallest sized are capt Jim’s favorite plugs. They can be cast or trolled.
Fly Fishing for bluegill and panfish
When fly fishing is mentioned, many anglers imagine casting for trout in a remote mountain stream. However, panfish are great fun on a fly and relatively easy to catch. Bluegill in particular will aggressively take a fly. Short easy casts are the norm, the techniques are not difficult to learn.
The biggest difference between fly casting and spinning is that in fly fishing, the line provides the weight since the fly weighs very little. Once that concept is adopted, fly fishing is not that complicated.
Fly fishing tackle has designated sizes. The lower the number, the lighter the tackle. It is dispayed as “Wt” for “weight”. A 2 wt outfit is very light. A 10Wt outfit would be for large saltwater fish. Anglers fly fishing for bluegill and panfish will do well with a 3Wt or 4Wt outfit. Rods are usually 8′ or 9′ long.
The fly line and reel is also designated by “weight”. This makes it easy to match the equipment. Fly lines come in several varieties, but anglers fishing for panfish only need a floating weight forward line. The package will look like this “F4WF”. Floating 4wt weight forward. The fly reel basically just holds the line. A decent complete outfit can be purchased for less than $200.
A leader is needed between the fly and fly line. The fly line is thick and easily seen. The leader is tapered, making it easier to cast. Leaders that are 4 lb to 6 lb test at the end (tippet) are fine. This would be a 6x leader.
Fly fishing tactics for panfish
Fly fishing is not all that different from spin fishing. The fly is cast out to a likely spot, allowed to settle or sink, then retrieved back in. Just as with lures, subtle retrieves work best. Surface flues are twitched sharply and allowed to settle. Sinking flies are slowly retrieved.
When a fish takes the fly, the angler pulls sharply with the stripping hand (the hand not holding the rod) then raises the rod tip sharply. The fish is then brought in by stripping the line in by hand. If a larger fish such as a bass is hooked, the angler can fight the fish with the reel.
Fishing the Popper/dropper rig
The popper dropper rig is an excellent way to catch panfish on fly. It features a floating fly, usually a popper, with a small sinking fly tied 18” below. A leader it tied to the bend of the popper’s hook. It allows anglers to fish the surface and mid depth. The popper also functions as a float to indicate a strike.
Anglers do not need to get fancy when it comes to fly selection. Anything dark and “buggy” works well. In reality, a #8 or #10 black Wooly Bugger is all any panfish fly angler needs. Nymphs such are a Hairs Ear are good for use under a popper. Small baitfish patterns produce as well. A few poppers and floating sponge bugs will round out the box.
Fishing for panfish in ponds, rivers, and lakes
Panfish are found in just about every body of water that is warm enough to support them. While the fish species are the same, they do behave differently in certain types of water and tactics need to change in order for anglers to be successful.
Fishing for panfish in ponds and small lakes.
Ponds and small natural lakes are ideal habitat for bluegill and other panfish. They are for the most part shallow, weedy, and loaded with forage for bluegill and other species. Ponds are fairly easy to fish, in many cases a boat is not required. It is every angler’s dream to get invited to fish a private farm pond that is loaded with fish and sees little pressure!
Most of the action in ponds will occur close to the shoreline. This is where weeds, lily pads, and other aquatic vegetation will be found. Any cover such as a dock or fallen tree deserves extra attention. Many ponds are “bowl” shaped with little deep water and almost no sharp contour changes. This will concentrate panfish near the vegetation. For these reasons, ponds usually do not provide great action on crappie.
Since ponds are often fished from shore, one good approach is to walk the shoreline while casting a lure or fly. This is an excellent method to cover a lot of water while learning the spots that hold fish. Once a productive area is located, anglers can slow down and fish it thoroughly with lures or live bait. A 1/16 ounce black or green Beetle spin is the perfect lure for this. As an added bonus, lures will often catch a bunch of small bass, if they are present.
Live bait certainly produces in ponds as well. Ponds that are brushy along the shore with limited openings to fish are better suited for using live bait, as access is limited. A live worm under a float is a time proven combination that will produce plenty of bluegill and other panfish. Small docks will usually attract panfish as well and offer a good spot to fish from.
Anglers fishing in larger ponds and small lakes will probably do better using a small boat, canoe, or kayak. The same applies to ponds that do not offer much shoreline access. The best approach is to simply work the shoreline with lures or bait and hunt the fish down. This works best for anglers fly fishing as well.
Fishing for panfish in rivers
Rivers are often overlooked by anglers fishing for panfish, and this is a mistake! There are several advantages to fishing rivers. First, fish are easier to locate; the current and geography will dictate where fish hold. Rivers usually get less fishing pressure. They are also protected, making them good areas to fish on breezy days. Finally, the serenity and scenery add other elements that increase the enjoyment of fishing rivers.
Current is the primary factor to deal with when panfish fishing rivers. Water level is a close second. These two will combine to determine where to fish. First off, if the river is high, fast, and muddy, do not bother fishing it, especially for panfish. Conditions will be tough and can be downright dangerous.
Panfish do not like current. Slower rivers that meander along are better choices. On rivers with a bit of current, oxbows and coves out of the main current will be spots where panfish will concentrate. The same applies to deep, slow pools, fish will congregate there.
Fallen trees are usually plentiful in rivers as the current under cuts the bank and trees fall into the water. Bluegill in particular love wood! Fallen trees, especially in outside bends with deeper water, will often hold good numbers of fish. Artificial lures work well when prospecting. A small Rooster Tail spinner is a great choice, as is a curly tail grub. Live bait works best when fishing isolated cover such as fallen trees.
Anglers may encounter some different panfish species in rivers than they will in lakes. While not technically “panfish”, many small rivers are full of smallmouth bass. Rock bass can also be abundant, almost a nuisance to some anglers. Spotted sunfish, also known as stumpknocker, are aggressive and thrive in flowing water as well. Crappie may be found in deeper holes, especially if the river flows from a productive crappie lake.
Fishing for panfish in lakes and reservoirs
Larger lakes can provide anglers with excellent fishing for panfish and other species. This is especially true for anglers targeting crappie, which prefer and do well in larger bodies of water. The primary issue in these larger bodies of water is locating fish, there is a lot of water that is devoid of fish. The old saying that “90% of the fish are in 10% of the water” is really on point. However, there are some strategies that will help anglers be successful on these larger, more intimidating, bodies of water.
Many lakes are part of river systems. The Tennessee River lakes are a prime example of this. These long, narrow lakes often have current and fish like rivers. In these lakes, most panfish will be found in secluded coves and tributaries with less current. Bluegill and other panfish just do not like to fight a strong current.
One good approach when fishing larger lakes is to take a large, secluded or isolated cove, and treat it like a mini lake. Learn where the points and deeper areas are along with the prime shallow spots. Areas with sandy or gravel bottom will be prime spawning areas. Weed growth in these areas will only increase the chances for success.
Seasonal migrations in larger lakes
Larger lakes also experience more of a seasonal migration than smaller bodies of water, for obvious reasons. There is access to so much more area, including deeper water. Most panfish, crappie included, will be found shallow in the spring. Bluegill and other panfish will stay there all summer, while crappie will move out after late spring in most areas.
Lily pads, weed edges, submerged vegetation, gravel banks, rip-rap, docks, and fallen trees are all good spots to try for shallow water panfish. Areas that combine several of these will be hot spots. For example, an area with sandy bottom, a small patch of lily pads, and a fallen tree should hold a bunch of panfish. Crappie are particularly fond of submerged brush and timber. Many anglers make their own spots by planting bunches of brush in likely spots.
Both live bait and artificial lures can be productive when fish are shallow. One effective strategy is to take a two pronged approach by using lures to cover a lot of water then switch to bait once the fish are located. This is an efficient fishing method. Trolling the weed lines is another excellent way to locate productive areas in larger bodies of water. Beetlespins and small plugs are perfect for that, as are curly tail jigs.
In the warmer months, crappie will have moved out deeper. The same applies to bluegill and other panfish once spawning ends and the water gets too warm in shallow. Sloping points and creek channel edges are prime spots. Fish are more difficult to find, but once located, the action can be fast. Anglers will often find larger than average fish in this situation.
In most cases, a vertical presentation works best for panfish in deeper water. Anglers can use the depth finder to stay right on top of the fish. A double dropper rig with live minnows works very well for deep water crappie. A small jig and grub combination works well for bluegill and other panfish, as does a jig head with a worm. Often times these fish will be suspended, so fishing different depths is important, the sonar will help.
Fall can be a tricky time to fish. In the south, panfish and crappie will start moving shallow. In Florida, crappie will start schooling up to spawn as early as October. These lakes really do not turn over, nor do they get very cold, so fish spend their winters in fairly shallow water.
In northern lakes, anglers will have to put the time in to learn the local migration patterns. Lake turnover is a huge variable. This is where cold surface water “falls” through the water column to the bottom, stirring things up. This can result in tough fishing conditions.
One fall pattern that does hold up is to fish the back ends of creeks. Normally, water levels are low in the fall and these creeks are pretty clear. Panfish, and bass, will move into these areas to feed on shad and other forage. They will stay there until the water temperature drops and pushes them out to the first breaks in 10′ to 15′ of water.
Panfish and crappie can be caught in the winter up north, especially for those further north where ice fishing is very popular. Despite the cold water, bluegill, crappie, and other panfish will feed. Some specialized tactics and equipment are required, which will be covered in the next chapter.
There are quite a few different panfish species that are available to anglers. While many are similar in habit, there are differences that anglers will need to know in order to maximize their success. Therefore, individual species will be covered in this chapter.
Bluegill are arguably the most popular of all panfish. They are widely available and are one of the larger members of the panfish family. Bluegill tolerate a wide range of water temperatures. They also have a varied diet. These combine to make bluegill a very prolific and adaptable species.
Bluegill are very aggressive and feed on insects, crustaceans, and bait fish. They also have a fairly large mouth relative to their size. These traits make them prime candidates for anglers casting lures and flies, more so than most other panfish species.
Bluegill have a fairly round body with a small head. Their color varies greatly from blueish purple to a lighter olive or green. Most fish have six to eight vertical bars, though they can be very difficult to see at times. The fish has a dark flap on the rear of the gill cover, which gives the fish it’s name. There is no lighter border around the flap as in some other panfish. Breeding males take on vibrant dark colors. There are several sub-species of bluegills, which can make identifying them difficult.
Bluegill prefer areas with little or no current, preferably with aquatic vegetation or submerged trees or brush present. They will be found in varying depths, depending on the season. Bluegill spawn in the late spring and summer. They create bowl shaped nests in clusters that are easily seen. Spawning bluegill are very aggressive, especially on the full moon.
Bluegill feed on a variety of worms, insects, crustaceans, snails, fish eggs, and minnows. Smaller fish will mainly feed on insects and very small prey. They will feed throughout the water column and at all times of day, though early and late are best. Top live baits include crickets, worms, grass shrimp, and grubs.
Bluegill are more likely to take an artificial lure than most panfish, excluding crappie and rock bass. Just about any small lure will fool them. Spinners, spinnerbaits, spoons, jigs, and plugs all work well. The best retrieve is usually slow and steady, but as with all lure fishing, anglers should vary the retrieve.
Crappie are an extremely popular freshwater gamefish, second only to bluegill, and that is a subject for debate! They are the largest of the panfish and are fantastic eating. Crappie come in two different varieties; black crappie and white crappie. While very similar, there are a couple of differences. Black crappie prefer clear water and timber while white crappie like vegetation and can tolerate more stained water. For all intents, anglers can treat them the same when fishing for them.
Crappie are an extremely popular freshwater gamefish, second only to bluegill, and that is a subject for debate! They are the largest of the panfish and are fantastic eating. Crappie come in two different varieties; black crappie and white crappie. While very similar, there are a couple of differences. Black crappie prefer clear water and timber while white crappie like vegetation and can tolerate more stained water. For all intents, anglers can treat them the same when fishing for them.
The number one factor when it comes to catching crappie is locating them. They will school up into large schools at times, as well as scatter out in little bunches. In the spring, crappie move in shallow to spawn, and this is when many anglers target them. In most situations, it is the easiest time of year to catch them. Areas with brush piles (often man made) and fallen or submerged timber are top spots.
As reservoirs have become old and submerged timber has rotted, boat docks have become prime crappie holding structure. They really replace the trees as cover. In spring, shallow docks will produce. Deeper docks will hold fish all year long. These same docks also attract shad, which the crappie feed on.
Larger lakes are normally the best fisheries for both size and numbers of crappie. They simply provide the best cover along with abundant forage. Crappie feed primarily on minnows, though they will eat insects and crustaceans. Other than spring when fish are shallow, points, channel edges, bridges, rip-rap, and submerged islands or humps are all good spots to catch crappie.
Crappie are caught by anglers using both live bait and artificial lures. Live minnows are without a doubt the top live bait. Shops that cater to crappie anglers will keep a good supply on hand. Minnows can be fished in shallow water under a float or in deeper water on a dropper rig.
The top artificial lure for crappie is a jig. Jigs realistically mimic bait fish. Anglers can use small marabou hair tied on their jig. Most anglers now use the jig and grub combo. This allows anglers to quickly and easily change colors. Jigs can be cast out or trolled. Generally, a fairly subtle retrieve works best. Another very effective lure is the Blakemore Road Runner. It is a jig with a blade, combining two great lures; a spinner and a jig. It is more compact than a spinnerbait.
Trolling has become an extremely popular method to fish for crappie. It is very efficient, allowing anglers to cover a lot of water while keeping the lure in the strike zone. Jigs are primarily used, but some anglers use live minnows. Trolling can be done simply by dropping a couple of lures down and slowly moving along.
However, there is a relatively new technique called “spider rigging”. It uses multiple rods of varying lengths to cover a wide swath of water as the boat trolls along. The rods are specifically designed for this. The differing lengths keep the lines from tangling. This is difficult to master at first, but those that do put a lot of fish in the boat!
Redear sunfish (shellcracker)
Redear sunfish, also known as shellcracker, grow larger than bluegill and are terrific eating. They get their nickname from the diet they eat; freshwater mollusks and snails. They will also feed on worms and grass shrimp. Redears have been successfully stocked across the country, though native to the southeast. The meat is snow white and delicious!
Shellcrackers have a plate in their throat that allows them to crush the shell of crustaceans. They are also found a bit deeper, as that is where their favorite forage is often located. They are most often caught by drifting worms or grass shrimp under a float over deep submerged grass beds. While they occasionally take artificial lures and flies, live bait is usually more productive.
Shellcrackers, or redear sunfish, are easily identified by the red (on males) or orange (on females) ring around the rear of the flap. They are also a little more olive in color than bluegill. They also spawn in late spring and summer over sand or shell bottom.
Sunfish; spotted sunfish, green sunfish, redbreast, longear, green, and pumpkinseed
There are quite a few other species in the sunfish family. These include, but are not limited to, pumpkinseed, green sunfish, spotted sunfish, redbreast sunfish, longear sunfish. These are all fairly similar, with some minor differences. It can be difficult to identify some of these species, especially with the number of bluegill sub-special and hybrid species, it gets tricky. However, for the most part, they can all be treated the same. All of them are very good eating, fun to catch, and in very few circumstances have no special regulations.
In most cases, live bait is the most effective bait. Many of these sunfish have a small mouth and are less likely to take lures, especially large ones. Worms, grass shrimp, and grubs are the best live baits. Small spinners and jigs will catch sunfish as well, especially the spotted sunfish, which is a bit more aggressive.
In states where it is legal, some anglers do use these smaller sunfish for bait. Anglers targeting yellow or flathead catfish in particular use them for trophy fish.
Rock bass are a bit of an under-appreciated panfish. They end up with this dubious reputation partly by smallmouth anglers who find them to be a nuisance. Rock bass are not large by bass standards, but are compared to panfish, and they are very aggressive. They will most certainly take an artificial lure.
Rock bass are often associated with rivers, and for good reason. That is why they are often fooled by lures meant for smallmouth bass. They can be caught on just about any live bait, but are so much fun to catch on lures that most anglers chasing them go that route. Small plugs, spinners, spinnerbaits, spoons, and jigs are all effective. They are very good to eat and since they are larger, produce great fillets.
Yellow perch are a very popular panfish that prefer cooler water, they are not found in the southern portions of the country. They school up in large numbers and in many instances are found in deeper water. The Great Lakes region is well known for yellow perch fishing. They are an extremely popular fish for anglers ice fishing as they remain fairly active even in the colder water.
Yellow perch love minnows! That is the top live bait, followed by nightcrawlers. Lures that resemble minnows work as well, including jigs and spoons. The presentation is often a vertical one as the fish are found in deeper water. In the spring, yellow perch will make a run up into tributary creeks and rivers.
In conclusion, this article on panfish fishing will help anglers catch more of these hard-fighting little game fish!
This article will cover walleye fishing tackle and lures. Walleye are one of the most popular game fish species for anglers fishing the northern United States and Canada. They thrive in cold, clear water. The Great Lakes and clear, deep northern lakes offer prime habitat. Walleye are fun to catch and are considered one of the finest eating fish anywhere!
Anglers fishing for walleye have success using several different techniques. Casting, drifting, trolling, and ice fishing all produce walleye. Each type of fishing requires slightly different tackle. In this article, the tackle and equipment will be thoroughly covered.
The best walleye fishing tackle consists of a light trolling rod and matching reel with a line counter. This is the outfit that the majority of anglers will use when fishing for walleye. Plugs, spoons, and live bait can be trolled successfully for walleye. This is a versatile and effective walleye fishing combination.
Best rod and reel combinations for walleye fishing
There are several different types of rods and reels that anglers can choose from when walleye fishing, depending on the type of fishing being done. Spinning rods, light baitcasting rods, and trolling rods all serve a different purpose when walleye fishing. In most cases, a rod with a stiff backbone is not desired, a rod that is a bit softer works better. Walleye often take a bait or lure lightly and they also have a soft mouth. A more limber rod will help anglers hook and land more fish.
Spinning rods and reels for walleye fishing
Anglers who prefer to cast or drift with artificial lures and live bait will do well with a medium light spinning rod and reel. A 7′ to 7 ½’ rod with a medium action and a 3000 series reel is an excellent all round combination. In some fishing situations, a ‘fast” action rod is preferred. This really is not the case with walleye. In most situations, a rod that is a bit softer and more limber is better for this type of fishing.
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Spinning rods are versatile and are a great choice in many walleye fishing situations. Anglers casting light jigs and other lures will do that well with a light spinning outfit. They are also fine for drifting and very light trolling. Anglers trolling with larger lures or in deep water will do better with conventional tackle.
Baitcasting rods and reels for walleye fishing
A light baitcasting, or conventional rod and reel certainly has it’s place in walleye fishing. These are versatile outfits that can be used to troll plugs and spoons, vertically drift a crawler harness, and cast larger lures to shoreline cover. The only thing they realll are not suited for is casting light lures.
Trolling rods and reels
Trolling is an extremely popular and effective technique used by anglers when walleye fishing. This is an efficient technique that allows anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish. Walleye are often found in schools or scattered about in a fairly small area. That means that there are a lot of places that walleye are not! Trolling covers both area and the water column very effectively.
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While spinning rods can be used to troll for walleye, conventional tackle is a much better choice. Special rods and reels that are designed to troll are available at a reasonable cost. The reels have line counters, which is an excellent feature that allows anglers to know exactly how far back behind the boat the lure is running.
Walleye fishing terminal tackle
Many walleye anglers fish with live bait. A live nightcrawler on a Lindy Rig has produced a bunch of fish over the years. Slow trolling or drifting a nightcrawler on a special harness continues to be an effective technique. It is also fairly easy to do. Minnows and leeches are also effective walleye baits.
Every walleye anglers should have a selection on crawler harnesses in the tackle box. These rigs have multiple hooks and a spinner to attract fish. The Berkley walleye rig has different blade choices to match the water conditions. Silver works well in clear water while gold is better in murky water or low light conditions.
The Lindy Rig is another rig that every walleye angler should have. These were designed years ago by the best walleye guides up north. They are used to present live bait on bottom structure without snagging due to the sinker shape. The rig can also be purchased with a float, which raises the bait up a but off the bottom.
The Erie Dearie is a walleye fishing legend. It has been around for decades and is fairly easy to use. Anglers can drift or troll very slowly and a half of a nightcrawler is added.
Some walleye anglers prefer to put their own rigs together, either using harnesses or tying up their own rigs. Also, fishing conditions will require different sized weights. Here are a couple of sinker choices that are fairly snag free.
Bottom bouncers are similar to the Lindy Rig, except that they are usually used when trolling. The weights bounces off the bottom, walking over rocks and structure, while the lure or bait swims behind. This rig is effective with both live bait and artificial lures. Anglers can adjust the weight based on speed, depth, and current.
Trolling gear for walleye fishing
Anglers who troll for walleye can get pretty serious about their gear. Obviously, trolling can be as simple as dragging a diving plug behind the boat. However, serious trollers use various devices to present multiple baits and different depths and spreads. These include planer boards, downriggers, and Dipsey Divers.
Downriggers are clever devices that were basically invented by Great Lakes anglers to effectively troll in deep water. They are a bit more complicated, but anglers can very closely monitor the depth that the lures are presented at. Downriggers can get quite expensive and are available in electric or manual models. All serious walleye anglers who troll will use them at one time or another.
Planer boards are devices that take the line off to the side of the boat. This results in anglers covering a wide swath of water. It can be tricky trolling with boards, particularly in choppy water. However, it is very effective, especially in shallow water.
There are two types of planer boards, clip on boards and “big boards”. Clip on boards are simply clipped onto the main line, then removed as the fish is reeled in.
Big boards are fixed to the boat and have clips that release the line when a fish hits.
Dispey divers are clever little devices that can take a lure down as well as off to the side. It works a bit like the bill on a diving plug. It has a clip that releases when a fish strikes. They are best used in calm water when trolling slow with small to medium lures.
Top walleye fishing lures
Many walleye anglers fish for them using artificial lures. There are several advantages to this, with the primary one being that anglers can cover so much water in a much shorter time. This applies to both trolling, drifting, and casting. Since most walleye are caught on or near the bottom, the classic shoreline casting as one would do with bass is less effective.
The three most effective lure styles for walleye are jigs, spoons, and plugs. Jigs are a hook with a weighted head which gives it action. The tail is usually plastic, but can be natural or synthetic hair as well. Spoons are curved pieces of metal that imitate bait fish. Plugs are mostly made of plastic and are designed to dive down to a particular depth. They mimic bait fish, craw fish, and leeches. All three can be cast, jigged, or trolled, though jigs are not trolled as much as spoons and plugs.
There are many manufacturers that design and sell jigs and jig and grub combinations that will catch walleye. In fact, there are way too many to cover. Instead, three proven walleye jigs will be highlighted. These are the VMC Moon Eye Jig, Northland Thumper Jig, and Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub jig.
VMC Moon Eye jig
The VMC Moon Eye Jig head is a quality jig head. It has a strong thin hook, a keeper that helps hold bait and soft plastic grubs on the hook, and a brightly colored head. It is an excellent all round jig head to use with a soft plastic grub or a live bait.
Northland Thumper jig head
The Northland Thumper jig head is an excellent jig head with an added feature; a spinner blade. This blade adds extra flash and vibration. This jig head can be used with a live bait, but is most often used with a grub body of some sort.
Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub jig
The Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub jig is an excellent “finesse” lure for walleye when conditions are tough. It combines the jig head, grub body, and hair tail all in one unit. It has an excellent action when worked slowly. The lure can be tipped with live bait as well.
There are countless fine soft plastic baits on the market, and they will all produce. A good approach is to check with local tackle shops to see what produces in area waters. Bass Assassin makes a line of excellent 4” soft plastic swim baits in a variety of colors.
Spoons are excellent walleye fishing lures! A spoon is basically a curved piece of metal with a hook. The shape and size of the spoon determines the action. Long slender spoons have a tight wiggle while wider spoons have a slow wobble. Silver and gold are the most popular finished, but painted lures work well, too.
As with all walleye fishing lures, there are many productive spoons that anglers can choose from. Once again, local tackle shops can provide the best information as to what spoons are productive. There are a few spoons that have proven themselves over time to be consistent effective lures for catching walleye. These include Acme Kastmaster, Luhr Jensen Krocodile, and Michigan Stinger spoons.
Best plugs for walleye fishing
Plugs are excellent walleye lures. While they can be cast out and retrieved, most are trolled out behind a boat. The lip size and design will determine how deep it will dive and the action it produces.
There are many excellent plugs that anglers can use to catch walleye. Rapala Husky Jerk, Reef Runner Ripstick, and Bandit Walleye plugs are all very productive. They can be purchased in a variety of sizes, colors, and depth that they run.
In conclusion, this article on walleye fishing tackle and lures will help anglers choose the proper tackle and gear need, which will result in more success.
This article will feature 11 valuable Tampa Bay fishing tips. Tampa Bay is a large Bay and estuary system on the West Coast of Florida, pretty much in the center of the state. It consists of a large, open bay which still gets significant commercial traffic. It has miles of mangrove shorelines, acres of pristine grass flats, and many tributary creeks and rivers. These are combined to make Tampa Bay an outstanding fishery for a variety of species.
Special thanks to Paige for the great photos! Follow Paige on IG
One of the advantages of fishing in this part of Florida is the variety that anglers can experience. Tampa Bay offers those casting artificial lures, live baits, and flies the opportunity to catch a myriad of saltwater species. These include tarpon, redfish, spotted sea trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, sharks, cobia, pompano, permit, snapper, grouper, sheepshead, flounder, drum, jack crevelle, and more.
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.
Just as with the abundant species, anglers have a choice as to how they want to pursue their quarry. Spinning tackle is the primary choice and is most often used to cast artificial lures or live bait. Anglers can use heavier tackle to bottom fish near the shipping channel and around the Skyway Bridge. Fly anglers have many opportunities as well.
11 valuable Tampa Bay Fishing Tips
The list of 11 valuable Tampa Bay fishing tips is a guide to get anglers unfamiliar with the area or the tactics a place to get started. However, even the most seasoned angler may pick up a tip or two
1) Medium action spinning outfit is the best rod and reel choice
Number one on the list of Tampa Bay fishing spots is choosing the best rod and reel combination. For most anglers, a medium spinning outfit is the best choice. Most of the fish landed will be between 1 pound and 10 pounds. This makes a medium action spinning outfit an excellent choice which will handle virtually all of the situations that an angler fishing Tampa Bay will encounter. Of course, anglers targeting very large species such as big grouper or tarpon especially around heavy cover will have to bump up the tackle a notch or two.
A 7 foot medium action rod with a fast action is an excellent all round choice. Fast action refers to the design of the rod. It will be stout at the lower half to enable fighting a big fish while being limber at the tip to make casting lighter lures and live baits easier. A 3000 series reel spooled up with either 20 pound braided line or 10 pound monofilament line completes the rig. Below is a quality Penn Conflict combo at a reasonable price.
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2) Chumming with live bait is extremely effective in Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay has become a bit of a live bait fishery. This is especially true in the warmer months. Many guides as well as experienced recreational anglers use a technique called “live bait chumming”. This is an incredibly effective technique that produces a lot a fish and is easy for even the novice angler to succeed with. It is a bit complicated and require some special gear, but the efforts are worth it.
In the warmer months, the flats are inundated with millions of small a bait fish. These are locally called white bait or shiners. For the most part, they include scaled sardines, threadfin herring, and Spanish sardines. Large rounded live wells with high-volume pumps are required to keep the bait alive.
Using a cast net, the angler loads up the bait well with between several hundred and a thousand or more frisky live baits. Then, the boat is anchored up current from a productive spot and this live bait is used as chum to lure in snook, redfish, trout, jack crevalle and other species. It can get very exciting seeing the game fish viciously attack the freebies that are tossed out behind the boat. Of course, it is even more exciting when one takes a bait with a hook in!
3) Live shrimp is the best all round bait in Tampa Bay
Live shrimp are the most versatile and widely available live bait for anglers fishing in Tampa Bay and throughout the southeast part of the United States. Every species in saltwater will happily devour a live shrimp. They are available at every bait and tackle store and are fairly easy to keep alive, especially in the cooler weather. A simple aerator and stone will keep them alive and frisky all day.
Live shrimp can be fished a variety of ways. Anglers bottom fishing around docks, bridges, submerged rocks, and other structures do well using a live bait hook and just enough weight to get to the bottom. Snapper, sheepshead, grouper, drum, and a variety of other species can be taken. Anglers fish them either under a float or free lined on the grass flats as well for speckled trout, snook, redfish, and more.
4) Frozen shrimp produces as well
Frozen shrimp can be quite effective as well. There are times both in the summer and in the winter where live shrimp are not available. This usually happens in the winter when several days of rough weather prohibit the shrimp boats from going out. However, anglers who prefer to fish with live or natural bait can do very well using frozen shrimp. In some cases, it is actually preferred.
Anglers will get more bait for their money when purchasing frozen shrimp over live shrimp. While live shrimp are much preferred on the flats, frozen shrimp work very well for anglers bottom fishing. Again, in some cases they actually work better. Frozen shrimp are easier to dice up into smaller pieces. There are many days when sheepshead, drum, and snapper will take a piece of frozen shrimp eagerly.
5) The jig and grub combo is the top artificial lure
The number one artificial lure for anglers fishing Tampa Bay is the jig and grub combo. In fact, this bait is the most popular lure for anglers fishing the inshore salt waters from Texas all the way up to New England. There are several reasons for both the popularity and effectiveness of the jig and grub combination.
These lures are very cost effective. They consist of a jig head and then a plastic body of some type. The jig head is simply a hook of lead molded near the eye. This molded material is available and several different shapes and designs as well as multiple colors. The grub bodies are available and countless sizes, shapes, and colors. Most are designed to imitate either a shrimp or a bait fish. All of them will catch fish when properly presented.
The weight of the jig had will be determined by the depth of the water being fished and the amount of current that is present. Anglers fishing the deeper grass flats for speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species will do well with a 1/4 ounce jig head and a 3 inch to 4 inch grub body. Those plying the shallow flats will go down as light as 1/16 of an ounce to avoid snagging in the grass.
6) Understanding seasonal migrations when fishing Tampa Bay
One key to having fishing success is understanding the seasonal migrations that the local fish exhibit. Understanding these migrations is number six on the list of 11 valuable Tampa Bay fishing tips. Basically, at the temperature extremes, both hot and cold, fish will go deep. Then, as the water either warms up or cools off, fish will move to the mid depth areas and feed heavily.
In the winter, many fish species will move up into area rivers in creeks as well as residential canals. This is especially true for temperature sensitive species such as snook, jack crevalle, and juvenile tarpon. Other species such as spotted sea trout and redfish will often move into deeper holes near the flats as well as deeper residential canals.
As it warms up, fish will move out of these winter hunts and scatter out over the flats. This is an excellent time to fish for a variety of species! As the water temperature reaches the mid 70s, baitfish will show up in huge numbers. This action will continue all summer and into the fall. During times of very warm weather, fish may become a little sluggish and once again seek out deeper water. As winter approaches, the pattern will reverse itself and fish will begin moving back into their winter areas.
7) Noisy popping corks are productive and easy to use
Popping corks have been used in Florida for a long time on the grass flats. A popping cork is basically a float that makes some noise which attracts fish. In times past, these corks had a slit and the side and a stem which held him in place along with a concave face. These corks are handy and that they are easily added, removed, as well is the depth being fished can be easily changed.
Some newer designs are very popular as well. The Cajun Thunder is an example of this. These were designed in Louisiana where the water is much murkier than here in Tampa Bay. A 2 to 3 foot leader is used under the float with a hook attached. This rig is most often fished with a live shrimp. However, anglers can use a jig or artificial shrimp under the popping cork as well.
The concept with either float is that the rod is twitched sharply in the cork either pops or makes a bunch of noise. This noise simulates fish feeding and in turn attracts game fish such as spotted sea trout to investigate. Once in the area, the fish spots the live shrimp or artificial offering dangling below and hopefully takes. This is a great rig to fish children and novice anglers as it is easy to cast as well as easy to see the bite.
8) Trolling is a very productive fishing technique in Tampa Bay
Trolling is an excellent technique that anglers can use to locate and catch fish. It is simply the act of idling the boat around while pulling artificial lures behind. It can be done in a variety of depths to catch multiple species.
Many anglers overlook trolling on the flats. However, this is a very effective technique, especially when there is little wind which inhibits drifting. The best lures to troll are plugs and spoons. The #8 Rapala X-Rap in olive or white is an excellent bait for this application. It closely matches the size of the locally available forage. The lure also dives down to to 3 feet, which will keep it from snagging in the submerged grass. 1/2 ounce silver spoons are excellent as well. Anglers need to make sure they use a swivel when using a spoon or line twist will ensue.
Experienced anglers have learned that trolling the open waters of Tampa Bay can be extremely effective as well. This is particularly true around the channel edges of the main shipping channel. The steep drop-offs along with abundant structure make this a natural fish holding area. Anglers in the winter troll large deep diving plugs and catch some very large gag grouper. In the spring and the fall, silver spoons trolled behind number one and number two planers produce king mackerel and Spanish mackerel.
9) Best time of day to fish varies with seasons
Anglers who are successful fishing and Tampa Bay will also adjust the time of day that they fish to the time of year. In the warmer months, the best action is almost always in the morning. Water temperatures will cool slightly on the flats before heating up during the middle of the day. Also, from an angler comfort level, warnings are the way to go in the summer time. The exception to this is anglers who fish at night around the lighted docks and bridges.
Conversely, anglers fishing in the wintertime will often do better by going out in the afternoon. Winter tides can be extremely low in the morning, making fishing difficult. Also, the water will be quite chilly. The best bite on the flats in the cooler months is in the afternoon when the tide comes in and the water warms up a tad. The same is true for anglers chasing snook and area creeks and rivers.
In the spring time, action can be good all day long as the water temperature is in the optimal zone and anglers will be comfortable for most of the day. During this time of year, tides are the prevailing factor as opposed to weather.
10) Understanding how tides affect fishing in Tampa Bay
Understanding tides and their effect on fish is crucial to angling success in Tampa Bay and really anywhere in saltwater fishing. While there is no one perfect tide, it is more about understanding where fish will feed on certain tide stages. There are two things to consider when dealing with tides; the strength of the tide and the height of the water.
The level of the water is crucial when fishing the shallow flats. On extreme low tides, fish will have no choice but to gang up in the holes. As the tide comes in, they will move up out of these holes and scatter out over the flats to feed. By high tide, many of the fish will be up under the mangroves and difficult to reach. Most anglers prefer the low, incoming tide when fishing the shallow flats.
Tides affect fish on the deeper flats as well. Most anglers fishing for spotted sea trout and other species on the deeper flats prefer two hours before and after the high tide. While fish can certainly be taken at other times, this is an excellent time to fish in those locations.
Tides will affect anglers fishing in deeper water as well, especially when bottom fishing. While the height of the tide matters very little, the strength of the current is a significant factor. While fish like to feed during strong current, fishing can be difficult both anchoring and getting the bait down to the fish. Many anglers choose to bottom fish and the deeper areas during periods of slack tide were controlling the bait and the boat is much easier.
11) Leaders are important when fishing in Tampa Bay
Anglers will almost always have to use a leader of some sort. That is tip number x on the list of xx fantastic Tampa Bay fishing tips. Most saltwater fish species either have teeth, raspy lips, or a sharp gill plates. This means that tying the hook or lure straight to the running line will result in a lot of lost fish. For that reason, anglers almost always opt for a shock leader of some sort.
In the vast majority of fishing applications, a 2 foot section of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader is an excellent choice. Anglers can bump it up to 40 pound leader or even higher when targeting large snook and jacks around mangrove shorelines and other structure. Conversely, when the water is very clear and trout or snapper are the quarry, anglers can reduce the leader down to 20 pound test. The leader can be attached to the running line by using a line to line not or a small swivel.
Some anglers opt for wire leader’s when targeting king mackerel and Spanish mackerel. However, this can be a trade-off as wire will almost certainly reduce the number of bites in the clear water. It can be necessary though at times, if constant cutoffs become an issue. Anglers targeting king mackerel in particular when using large live bait fish almost always use a wire leader.
Surf Fishing Tackle, Tips, and Techniques, a Complete Guide
This article will thoroughly cover surf fishing tackle and techniques. There is something magical about standing on the shores of an ocean and casting a lure or bait out into it in search of fish. In some ways, surf fishing is very simple and basic. However, there are nuances that will be the difference between success and a slow day. These techniques along with surf fishing tackle, rigs, baits, and more will be discussed.
Special thanks to Henry Busby for a bunch of great surf fishing pictures!
Capt. Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida. While he runs his trips out of a 22 foot bay boat, he has extensive surf fishing experience. He has caught fish from the beach in Maine, the Maryland and Virginia beaches where he grew up, the famous Outer Banks of North Carolina, the East and West Coast of Florida, and in the Panhandle.
Best surf fishing rods and reels
Like most sports and hobbies, some equipment will be needed in order to participate. While surf fishing is fairly simple and uncomplicated, it does require some special fishing tackle. All of the rods, reels, hooks, sinkers, line, and other gear needed will be covered thoroughly and in detail.
Spinning tackle is best for surf fishing
The main piece of equipment that an angler will need when getting started surf fishing is the rod and reel. The primary difference between surf fishing outfits and regular inshore saltwater outfits is the length of the rod. 10 foot rods are quite common, but anglers can go as long as 16 feet. Longer rods are used to make further casts as well as to keep the line up over the crashing waves.
The majority of surf fishing situations, spinning tackle is the best choice. It is certainly easier for novice anglers to learn to use. Spinning tackle is easy to use and versatile. Also, with the spool being exposed, it is easier to rinse the sand off when the rod falls, which will invariably happen.
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.
Conventional, or bait casting, tackle does have its place in surf fishing as well. In fact, in the hands of a skilled angler, it will outperform spinning tackle in most cases. It is more difficult to master.
Surf fishing rod and reel combinations
Anglers can get by with one basic surf fishing outfit. However, to really cover all the circumstances and situations that may arise when surf fishing, three outfits will be needed. These are a 7 foot medium spinning outfit, a 10 foot medium surf fishing outfit, and a 13 foot to 15 foot heavy surf fishing rod and reel.
Light spinning outfit
A 7 foot medium or medium light spinning outfit will catch a lot of fish in the surf. A 7 foot rod with a fast action and paired with a 3000 series reel is a great all round combo. The good thing is, many saltwater anglers already own a suitable light tackle rod and reel such as this. It is perfect for casting lighter lures such as jigs and spoons. Often times, fish will be found close to shore, right in the first trough. Casting these lighter lures can be the most productive technique to catch fish in this situation. 10 lb monofilament or braided line works well.
Medium surf fishing outfit
The second rod and reel combination would be a 10 foot rod paired up with a 6000 size or so reel. This is a versatile combination, and if anglers had to only choose one outfit with which to surf fish, this would be the best choice. It is long enough and heavy enough to soak a cut bait on the bottom while still being suitable for casting larger lures such as spoons and plugs to breaking fish. it can be spooled up with 15-20 lb braided or monofilament line.
Heavy surf fishing outfit
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The third outfit would be a heavy outfit between 12 feet and 15 feet long. These are known in North Carolina as “Hatteras heavers” as they are used to cast heavy weights a long way over the breaking surf. Of the three outfits, this one can be omitted by anglers who do not think that they will be doing this type of fishing very often.
Many anglers take a two-pronged approach when surf fishing. By having these several different outfits, live or cut baits can be soaked on the bottom while the rods sit in a rod holder. Anglers can then work the trough close to shore with the lighter spinning outfit while waiting for a bite on the heavier rigs. This is a versatile way to approach surf fishing, and often times the most productive.
Surf fishing rigs
There are two basic rigs that will cover the majority of surf fishing situations. These are the fish finder rig and the high low rig, also known as a spreader rig or chicken rig. Some anglers will use other specialized rigs or variations, but these two basic rigs will get the job done and just about every situation.
Fish finder rig
The fish finder rig is a staple among surf fisherman everywhere. The main component is a device called a slider. The running line passes through a hole in the slider and then a swivel is attached. A leader is then used between the swivel and the hook. The leader lengths will vary depending on the situation, but generally around 2 feet or so is used. Some anglers will put a small float near the hook to lift the bait up off the bottom, especially when crabs, sharks, and skates become a nuisance.
The slider has a clip on it which makes changing sinkers quick and easy. Most anglers use pyramid style surf fishing sinkers with these rigs. When cast out, the sinker will dig into the bottom and hold. The hole in the slider will allow a fish to pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. This is an extremely productive and effective rig, especially when fishing for larger species.
High low rig
The high low (AKA chicken rig and spreader rig) is a very basic bottom fishing rig used by anglers surf fishing. It is also used extensively by those vertically bottom fishing from boats and piers as well. The advantage of this rig is that multiple baits can be presented at varying depths. This rig is most often used when fishing for smaller species such as whiting and pompano. However, larger fish can certainly be caught by anglers using this rig as well.
The high low rig consists of a sinker at the bottom and then multiple hooks at several different depths coming off of either the mainline or a prepared rig. Most tackle shops that cater to surf anglers will have ready-made rigs for sale. Some of these consist of wire arms that protrude off to the side, spreading the baits out. Anglers can quickly and easily tie their own by simply using dropper loops. Pyramid sinkers are mostly used, though bank sinkers can be used as well.
Surf fishing sinkers
Most anglers surf fishing will use pyramid style sinkers. These cast well and will generally hold the bottom, unless the current is very strong. In some types of fishing, it is desired to have the bait bouncing along the bottom. In most surf fishing situations, this is not the case. It is preferred to have the bait anchored in one spot. Anglers who desire the bait to move about the bottom will use a sliding egg sinker in place of the fish finder slider.
For most anglers surf fishing, 3 ounce or 4 ounce weights will work fine. As in all fishing, the size of the weight can be adjusted to the given conditions. Often times, anglers are dealing with wind right in their face, limiting casting distance. Heavier sinkers may be required in this situation. Conversely, on calm days when the fish are not too far out, a lighter sinker may be a better choice. Anglers using heavy rods and large baits will often go up to 6 ounces or even 8 ounces of weight.
Surf fishing hooks
Hooks come in a myriad of sizes and designs. Anglers often make the mistake of using too large a hook. The hook size should match the size of the bait being used, not the size of the fish being targeted. In most situations, a short shank, stout, live bait hook is the best choice. Some of these hooks have little barbs on the shank which helps hold the bait on the hook. These are called bait holder hooks for obvious reasons. Flounder and fluke anglers will sometimes use a long shank hook.
In Maine and other parts of the Northeast, circle hooks are required to reduce fish mortality. Many anglers have switched over to circle hooks even when not required by law. A circle hook has a unique design which most often results in the hook rotating and ending up in the side of the fishes mouth. This certainly reduces fish mortality, especially when using cut bait.
Fishing line choices
The best line for surf fishing is a matter of debate. The two basic choices are monofilament and braided line. Like most things in life, each comes with its advantages and disadvantages. It really just comes down to personal choice Monofilament line is less expensive, knots are easier to tie, and the line is easier to manage. However, monofilament line will twist up and need to be replaced much more often. It is probably the best choice for beginners and novice anglers. In most situations, 20 pound monofilament line is a good all-around choice.
Braided line is much more expensive, however it lasts a long time. Braided line is much smaller in diameter when compared to monofilament lines of the same strength. It also has no stretch, which is both good and bad. Strikes are very easy to detect. However, the drag needs to be set a bit lighter as there is no stretch in the line from a surging fish when being landed. Finally, knots can be a bit more difficult to tie with braided line. Anglers most often used 30 pound to 40 pound braided line on their surf fishing tackle.
Other surf fishing gear
There are a few other pieces of gear that anglers will want when heading out surf fishing. Sand spikes are essential! They allow anglers to bottom fish with one rod or more as well as casting lures with a lighter outfit. Even if anglers do not plan on bottom fishing, a sand spike gives anglers a place to put the rod up out of the sand while re-rigging or taking a break.
A good pair of saltwater resistant fishing pliers is another basic piece of equipment that all surf fishing anglers will need, for obvious reasons. Anglers will need to work on their terminal rigs as well as release fish. Pliers is assistant both of these situations.
Surf fishing cart
Some serious surf anglers either purchase or build a cart. These can be very handy when getting all of the tackle and gear required out to the beach and back. This is particularly true in places were anglers can’t park very close to their fishing spot. They can be made cheaply and easily using PVC pipe from the hardware store. Carts can also be purchased commercially.
Knives and cutting boards
Surf fishing anglers will need a cutting board and a couple of different knives as well. An inexpensive bait knife can be used to cut fresh or frozen bait. The fillet knife can be used for this as well, though some anglers prefer to save the blade when filleting a fish. Some type of cutting board comes in handy for both cutting bait and filleting fish.
Surf fishing techniques
Many entire books have been written about surf fishing. In this section, some basic tips, techniques, locations, and species will be covered. Fishing in the surf is no different than fishing anywhere else and fish have similar requirements. Game fish will look for advantageous spots to stage where they can feed efficiently and easily. Obviously, some type of forage needs to be present. One different aspect of surf fishing as that most often there is no cover present.
Reading the surf
One of the most difficult things for novice surf fishing anglers to learn is how to read the beach. Experienced anglers will stand on the beach and scan the horizon and pick out areas where fish are more likely to move through and be located. While this really only comes with experience, there are few tips that will help novice anglers achieve success a little more quickly.
The waves are the best indicator as to what is going on below the surface. The further out a wave breaks, the more shallow the water. Gaps in between areas of breaking waves often signal a deeper trough or hole. This can be a prime spot to fish! Also, the further the water pushes up on the beach when it hits the shore often indicates a slightly deeper area. These depth changes are subtle, only a few feet, and they make a huge difference when it comes to fish locations and movements.
While most angler surf fishing prefer the higher tide stages, anglers can learn a lot about the beach by doing some scouting on the lower tide stages. This is particularly true on the extreme low tides. During these times, anglers will be able to better pick out sandbars, cuts, troughs, and holes that can be likely fish holding spots when the tide comes in.
Importance of tides when surf fishing
Tides are one of the most important factors to consider when saltwater fishing, and surf fishing is no exception. The two most important factors are the height of the tide and the strength. It can be very difficult fishing when the tide is running hard. Even large weights will not hold bottom and the bait will roll and tumble in the current. This is especially true up north, were tides can exceed 10 feet of movement and six hours. Capt. Jim ran into this one fish in old Orchard Beach Maine for stripers in the fall several years back.
One tried-and-true rule that seems to hold up well no matter where angler surf fish is to fish two hours before and after the high tide. As the tide reaches both high and low, the current flow eases up and then eventually stops before changes direction. In many situations, due to thermal dynamics, this results in the wind easing up as well. If anglers can time this high tide with dusk or dawn, so much the better!
However, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. The old saying that the best time to go fishing is whatever you can pretty much holds up. Each trip will bring an angler more experience as conditions change constantly with each fishing trip. The only time Capt. Jim will really cancel a trip is when it is extremely windy and the surf conditions too rough. Fishing cannot only be difficult, it can be dangerous under these circumstances.
Best surf fishing baits
The best baits to use when surf fishing will very depending upon a geographical location. In most situations, anglers not familiar with the area will do best to visit a local bait and tackle shop that caters to anglers surf fishing. They will get some excellent advice that will save them a lot of time regarding both fishing conditions, spots, and the best baits to use.
From the Carolinas south around Florida and over to Texas, it is tough to beat either fresh or frozen shrimp. Everything and saltwater eats these tasty little critters! Shrimp are also easy to obtain and fairly economical. Most anglers agree that fresh shrimp is better, however frozen shrimp will work fine in most situations.
The majority of surf fishing anglers who fish with bait or use some variety of cut up fish or other marine animal such as clams, squid, and oysters. In many cases, anglers use one of their lighter rods to catch a smaller fish and then use it for bait. It is important to make sure that it is a legal fish and that all regulations are being obeyed. It is really tough to beat a fresh cut a piece of fish that is locally available. Cut bait also stays on the hook longer than any other bait. These fish vary greatly depending on the area being fished.
Anglers who do not want to catch their own bait can certainly buy it as well. Local bait shops will have a good supply of bait as well as information as to what the fish are hitting. Squid is a great all round bait for a variety of species anywhere on the planet. It is easy to use and stays on the hook pretty well. Anglers fishing with cut squid or cut bait will either use a strip or a chunk, depending on the species being targeted. Smaller chunks are better for smaller fish on a high low rig. Larger strips work better on a fish finder rig when targeting larger species.
There are a few other baits that anglers can you surf fishing as well. Bloodworms and sandworms are popular baits in the Northeast. They are a bit expensive but are also quite effective. Clams and oysters are used by some anglers as well. Clams stay on the hook better than oysters do. Finally, in some parts of the country crabs are used. In the southern part of the country and along the Gulf Coast, mole crabs, also known as sand fleas, are a popular surf fishing bait.
Best surf fishing lures
Artificial lures can be extremely effective for anglers surf fishing as well. The main three types of artificial lures that are used are spoons, plugs, and jigs. These are basically the same lures that anglers have been using and saltwater from boats and from shore for a long time. One difference anglers have one casting lures from the surf is that the bait needs to be fairly heavy as anglers are often times facing a fairly stiff breeze.
Jigs are very effective lures to use when fishing the surf. Anglers most often used them when blind casting. By this we mean when fish are not seen actively feeding on the surface. Capt. Jim was visiting Nags Head in the spring a few years ago and the most productive technique for most of the anglers was casting a 1/4 ounce jig and grub combination into the first trough right near the shore. Bluefish and spotted sea trout were plentiful!
In most situations, anglers casting jigs will find fish in this location, the first deep trough off of the beach. Game fish will run parallel to the shore in search of food. A jig cast out and bounced along the bottom can be an extremely productive way to catch a variety of species. Jigs between 1/4 ounce and 1 ounce work best. A white buck tail jig is extremely effective. Many anglers have gone to the jig and grub combination, as it makes changing the tail quick and easy.
Spoons are another very effective surf fishing lure. A spoon is basically a curved piece of metal with a hook in it. While they come in a variety of colors, most anglers casting off the beach use silver as it imitates locally available forage fish the best. Spoons also come in a variety of sizes to match the local bait fish.
One of the advantages of using spoons is that they can be cast a long way. This can be very important when fish are seen breaking just outside of the first bar. This is too far for anglers casting a small jig on a light spinning rod. That 10 foot outfit will cast a three or 4 ounce spoon far enough to get in on the action. Spoons can also be used to blind cast in area. They are very effective search baits is a lot of water can be covered in a fairly short amount of time.
Plugs are basically chunks of plastic or wood that resemble wounded bait fish. Surf fishing anglers are especially fond of using surface plugs such as pencil poppers. This type of fishing is great fun as anglers can see the strike. Striped bass and bluefish are often caught by anglers surf fishing with top water plugs in the Northeast.
Subsurface plugs, or jerkbaits, generally float on the surface and then dive down a few feet when retrieved. They are more often times more effective than top water plugs, though the strike is not quite as exciting. Plugs come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, colors, and styles. Once again, local bait shops are by far the best resource to pick up the best plug for the area being fished.
Top surf fishing species
There are a wide variety of species that anglers can catch when surf fishing in the United States. It would be impossible to cover them all, the Capt. Jim will list the top species as well as the range that they inhabit and a tip or two to catch them.
Striped bass are arguably the most popular species targeted by anglers surf fishing. They are found from the Outer Banks in North Carolina up to Maine. The season with which they can be caught will vary depending on the geographic location. Striped bass stocks seem to fluctuate quite a bit. This results in fish management constantly changing the regulations in order to protect the species. Anglers need to stay abreast of these laws when fishing for striped bass.
Stripers can be caught by anglers using both natural bait and artificial lures. Striped bass are an apex predator that grow very large, with some specimens pushing 100 pounds. Fresh cut baits such as pogies, menhaden, and mackerel work well. Any freshly caught fish, especially oily ones, will catch striped bass. Blood worms, sandworms, crabs, and even live eels are top natural baits.
Striped bass will take just about any artificial lure as well. A white buck tail jig with a strip of squid is an excellent choice as it combines both and artificial lure with the scent and smell of bait. Jig heads with larger swim baits are productive as well. Silver spoons and plugs are excellent lures to cast, especially when fish are seen feeding on the surface.
Bluefish are another popular species caught by anglers surf fishing. Larger bluefish are caught in the Northeast and down to the Carolinas, while in Florida and along the Gulf Coast bluefish average a couple pounds. They are a very hard fighting and aggressive fish and are an excellent species to catch from the beach.
Bluefish are a schooling fish that are voracious in their feeding habits. In fact, they are one of the few if not the only species that will regurgitate its food so that they can keep feeding even when they are full. Many of the “blitzes” that surf fishing anglers talk about involve bluefish. They do have very sharp teeth and anglers will often times opt for a wire leader when bluefish are plentiful. However, this will often times reduce the number of bites, so anglers will have to make the decision as to which is more important.
Bluefish will hit just about any live or cut bait as well as flashy, erratic, fast-moving artificial lures. Silver spoons are excellent lures to use when targeting bluefish. Most anglers choose not to use plugs for them, as the treble hooks can be tough along with the chance of the bluefish biting off an expensive plug. A swim bait on a jig head works quite well, too. Just about any piece of fresh cut bait will produce bluefish when fished on the bottom.
Fluke and flounder
There may not be any other species that are prized more than fluke and flounder are by anglers surf fishing. While they put up a decent fight, these fish are prized for their snow white fillets. Known as fluke in the Northeast and flounder south of New Jersey, they are basically the same fish and habits.
Flounder and fluke are bottom dwelling species that bury themselves in the sand and ambush prey as it goes by. That is the reason one side of the fish is white, the other side is camouflaged and both eyes are on the same side of the head. Obviously, the best presentation is one on or near the bottom. While some flounder and fluke are caught by anglers bouncing jigs, particularly with a live or frozen minnow or strip of cut bait, most fish are caught by anglers bottom fishing. Top baits include minnows either live or frozen, squid, and strips of cut bait.
Spanish mackerel are an aggressive, schooling fish that are found from the mid-Atlantic states south. They are beautiful, fast, and put up a terrific fight. They are often times found feeding on the surface and will attack any fast moving lure or fly. Spanish mackerel are good eating when prepared fresh that day or the next, but they do not freeze well. They also make terrific cut bait for striped bass, sharks, bluefish, and other species.
Spotted sea trout
Spotted sea trout, also known as speckled trout, become a prime surf fishing target from the mouth of Chesapeake Bay south. These are a schooling fish that are very beautiful and put up a decent little battle. They are outstanding on a dinner plate! Most are caught by anglers casting a jig head with a grub body on it fairly close to shore. However, they will certainly take a fresh bait fished on the bottom, especially shrimp.
Red drum, also known as redfish or reds are an extremely popular game fish that are found from Virginia south along Florida and along the entire Gulf Coast to Texas. Redfish vary greatly in size from small rat reds to the giant bulls of over 50 pounds. Smaller redfish in the 20 inch to 25 inch range are generally considered the best to eat. In many states, fish over 27 inches must be released.
Artificial lures catch many redfish for anglers on the shallow flats and bays, and they will catch a few fish in the surf. However, the majority of red drum and landed by anglers surf fish and are done so using natural bait. A chunk of fresh mullet is tough to beat. Half a blue crab or a large shrimp will work as well. Redfish do tend to school and when the bite is on the action can be hot.
Whiting are a top prize of angler surf fishing, both for their spirited tussle given their size and their fantastic eating! Also known as surf mullet, whiting are a schooling fish and once located the action can be fast and furious. They are best targeted by anglers fishing with medium-size surf rods, fairly small hooks, and pieces of shrimp. A few may be taken by anglers using artificial lures, but the majority will be taken on bait. They are widely distributed along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Surf fishing for sharks, especially large ones, is a bit of a specialized pursuit. Anglers will often times use very heavy tackle and even sometimes use kayaks and row offshore in order to get the bait out a ways from the beach. However, smaller sharks can be great fun for anglers fishing with normal surf fishing tackle. If sharks are around, a strip or chunk of fresh bait on the bottom will catch them. Some species are good to eat, but anglers need to check local regulations and be very careful when handling sharks.
Pompano are a highly desirable species caught in the surf from Chesapeake Bay south. The average a couple pounds and put up a terrific fight for their size. There may not be a better eating fish in the sea! Pompano can be caught by anglers surf fishing in saltwater by using small jigs, often times tipped with a piece of shrimp. Most pompano are caught by anglers using a high low rig with either pieces of shrimp or sand fleas.
There are a variety of bottom fish that anglers can catch when surf fishing. These include croaker, spot, white perch, scup, sheepshead, and more. Most of these fish are caught by anglers using small pieces of cut bait or shrimp on smaller hooks. While not huge, they can be fun to catch, especially when a fish fry is the result.
This post will list the top 17 Tennessee game fish species. Tennessee offers anglers a wide variety of fishing opportunities. The geography is quite diverse and Tennessee, from low lying plains to fairly high mountains. There are many streams, rivers, and lakes that hold a wide variety of game fish species. Anglers can get some terrific information from the state anglers guide.
The TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) as created many lakes as part of their flood control program. A secondary benefit is the fantastic recreational opportunities. These lakes are what Tennessee is most known for. The top species are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and striped bass, but many other species are available as well. Tennessee is the southernmost state in which anglers can catch musky. Freshwater trout fishing is excellent and areas of higher elevations. Anglers can find a detailed article on the best fishing spots in Tennessee here.
Happy lives in Tennessee and fishes mostly with her husband Adrian. He is also her photographer, his website can be seen HERE. She shares her awesome pics and information in this article.
“I started fishing about 8 years ago, but didn’t really start getting serious until the last couple years. We fish Old Hickory Lake a lot, sometimes Percy Priest. Stripers are by far my favorite to fish! We downline live shad mostly. I’m working an Alabama rig into my arsenal this season too. We usually fish during the week and leave the weekend to all the pleasure boaters and wake boarders. I have a favorite spot on Old Hickory to striper fish that’s just so beautiful and peaceful. We may not see another boat all day. I do enjoy fishing other species, but I’ve gotten hooked on stripers”.
Tennessee black bass
1) Largemouth bass
Largemouth bass are perhaps most popular freshwater fish in the United States. Panfish anglers may argue, but the attention that professional bass tournaments garner is undeniable. Tennessee lakes and rivers offer anglers excellent opportunities to catch largemouth bass. The state record is a 15 lbs. 3 oz. largemouth bass caught in Chickamauga Reservoir.
Largemouth bass prefer warmer water temperatures and areas where the current is not too strong. They will seldom be found in fast-moving rivers. Instead, they prefer bays and backwater areas. They will certainly be found in main river channels in larger lakes, particularly in the summer and winter. Largemouth bass spawn in the spring when the water temperature eases into the mid to upper 60s.
Largemouth bass habits
These fish are ambush predators. They are stout and powerful with a large broad tail. They use their large mouth to inhale prey. It would generally relate to some type of structure. In the 1960s and 70s, submerged timber was abundant. As this timber has deteriorated, bass relate more to man-made structure such as docks, bridges, and rip-rap. Large flats with weeds, sloping points, river channel edges, and feeder creeks are all excellent spots to target largemouth bass.
Most anglers targeting largemouth bass use artificial lures. Bass fisherman are always on the cutting age of innovation when it comes to fishing tackle. Soft plastic baits, spinner baits, hardbody plugs, and jigs are the most popular bass fishing lures. Anglers targeting largemouth bass with live bait use nightcrawlers, minnows, and crayfish.
The top Tennessee largemouth bass waters are Lake Chickamauga, Kentucky Lake, Parksville Lake, Dale Hollow Reservoir, and Center Hill Lake.
2) Smallmouth bass
Smallmouth bass are a much sought after species in Tennessee. The entire state of Tennessee offers superb smallmouth bass habitat in both rivers and lakes. The world record smallmouth bass is an 11 lbs. 15 oz. monster caught in Dale Hollow Reservoir. Smallmouth bass, while in the same family, are quite different inhabits than their cousins the largemouth bass.
Smallies are as much like a trout as they are a bass. They prefer cool, clear water with some current if possible. Faster flowing rocky streams and small rivers provide excellent fishing for smallmouth bass. They are quite comfortable and larger reservoirs as well. Deep, clear, legs are generally the most productive. These types of Tennessee lakes are legendary for their smallmouth bass fishing.
Smallmouth bass habits
Smallmouth bass will generally spawn in the spring, preferring tributaries with gravel bottoms and a little bit of current. They can be caught year-round in lakes and will generally be found a bit deeper than largemouth bass. Underwater structure such as submerged islands, underwater points, and channel edges will hold schools of smallmouth bass. Fish in rivers will stage in pockets behind boulders and at the heads and tails of pools.
Tackle for smallmouth bass is similar to that of largemouth bass, though on a smaller scale. Light spinning tackle is the best choice in most cases. Lighter lines will draw more strikes in clear water. Small crank baits, soft plastics, spinners and spinner baits, and jigs are the top artificial lures.
Smallmouth bass are well-known for their affinity for crawfish. This is the main reason that smallmouth bass are often found in areas where rock is present. Any lure or bait that resembles a crawfish is likely to draw strike from a smallmouth bass.
The top Tennessee smallmouth bass waters are Pickwick Lake, Dale Hollow Reservoir, Cherokee Lake, Chickamauga Lake, and Watts Bar Reservoir.
3) Spotted bass
Also known as “Kentucky bass”, spotted bass are found in many of the larger Tennessee reservoirs. They prefer cool, clear water. Spots look more like largemouth bass, but they are more like smallmouth bass in their habits. Most spots are caught in deeper water over structure such as points and ledges. They school up and once located, the action can be fast. Soft plastic baits are very effective. They do not grow as large, with the state record being 6 pounds, 1 ounce.
Tennessee striped bass fishing
Striped bass are a huge success story for the Tennessee fish management professionals. Many if not most of the Tennessee lakes were created in the mid-60s and early 70s by the TVA. These lakes had countless acres of flooded timber, offering perfect habitat for largemouth bass. However, over the years this timber rotted and deteriorated. Largemouth bass moved to other structure.
This left an opportunity for an open water fish species and striped bass were the perfect fit. The Tennessee state record of 65 lbs. 6 oz. caught in Cordell Hull reservoir is an excellent example of a thriving striper population
4) striped bass
Striped bass are a saltwater species that can tolerate absolute freshwater. They naturally migrate from saltwater into freshwater rivers to spawn. While striped bass and lakes can reproduce, and most lakes they don’t. This is due to the fact that dams inhibit the migration of fish up into the tributary creeks and rivers.
In order to support this new fishery, forage species needed to be introduced as well. Several different species of shad were introduced and have thrived as well. Shad school up in large numbers over underwater structure. These are the same places where striped bass are found.
Anglers targeting striped bass used two primary methods. Live or cut Shad produces the majority of striped bass by Tennessee anglers. Drifting, slow trolling, and bottom fishing with live baits is extremely productive. The biggest hurdle is catching and keeping the baits alive. Cut Shad will produce as well, though it will also attract large catfish.
Anglers casting artificial lures can catch striped bass as well. This is particularly true when they are found feeding on the surface. This is great fun as any spoon, crank baits, jig, or any other lure cast into the fray will normally draw a strike. Anglers vertically jigging deeper channel edges and blind casting shorelines and riprap areas near dams will also produce fish. Where allowed, tell water fisheries just below the dams can produce some fantastic striped bass fishing and Tennessee!
The top Tennessee striped bass fishing lakes are Old Hickory Reservoir, Cordell Hull Reservoir, Caney Fork, Melton Hill Reservoir, and Watts bar Reservoir.
5) Cherokee bass
Many states have successfully stocked a striped bass white bass hybrid. Tennessee is no exception. They introduced a female striper/male white bass hybrid into the Cherokee Reservoir in the mid 60’s. Thus the name. They are a schooling fish that are aggressive and fight hard. Tennessee white bass average 18” with the state record being 23 pounds, 3 ounces. They are found in the same lakes as striped bass.
6) White bass
White bass are a very prolific fish species. They school up in large numbers, usually in open water. They feed primarily on small bait fish and can be seen feeding on the surface. While bass prefer clear, cool water. In the spring, they migrate up tributaries to spawn. They are plentiful in most of the Tennessee lakes. They average 12′ with the state record fish being 5 pounds, 10 ounces.
Tennessee has all three of the major catfish game species; channel catfish, blue catfish, and yellow (flathead) catfish. There are similar in habits, though each are a little different. Catfish do well in lakes, ponds, and rivers. They have a very diverse diet, which is one o the reasons that they are so successful.
7) Channel catfish
Channel catfish are the most numerous. They thrive in the smallest creeks and up to the largest lakes. They feed on insects, crustaceans, and bait fish. Channel cats average around five pounds. The state record is 41 pounds. They are terrific eating! Nightcrawlers, cut bait, and prepared catfish baits are the top baits.
8) Blue catfish
Blue catfish grow very large. The state record is 112 pounds! While blue catfish feed on a variety of prey, they do prefer larger bait fish. Blue cats are a “big water” species, preferring larger river systems and lakes.
9) Flathead catfish
Flathead catfish feed primarily in bait fish. Bluegill and other panfish are the preferred live bait. Flathead catfish will be found in sluggish, slow moving streams and rivers. They like structure in deeper holes but will move up very shallow at night to feed.
Tennessee trout species
Tennessee offers anglers some excellent trout fishing! Tailwaters fisheries below dams are ideal habitat for freshwater trout to thrive in. These rivers stay below 70 degrees, which is needed for the fish to survive. Water temperature and flow can be controlled by the dams. The state heavily stocks streams on a regular basis. Anglers can find the trout stocking information on the Tennessee government website.
10) Brook trout
Brook trout are the only trout that are native to Tennessee. They are found in the upper stretches on streams in the mountains in the eastern part of Tennessee. They can not tolerate water warmer than the upper 60’s. Brook trout feed on insects and small fish and crustaceans. They are small, averaging 6” or so.
11) Brown trout
Brown trout are not native to Tennessee. However, they have been successfully stocked in many rivers and lakes. Brown trout have a varied diet. Smaller fish feed mostly on insects. Larger trout turn to more substantial meals such as minnows and crayfish. The average brown trout is around 12”.
12) Rainbow trout
Rainbow trout are also a non native trout species to Tennessee. They are most plentiful in the eastern part of the state. Rainbow trout feed on insects and small bait fish. They are a beautiful fish and one of the most easily identified game fish.
The top trout fishing waters in Tennessee are the Watagua River, South Holston River, Hiwassee, Clinch River, Little River, Abrams Creek, Hurricane Creek, Duck River, and Cane Creek. Anglers can read more about these spots HERE.
It would be easy to argue that freshwater panfish are the most targeted fish in the country. There are many reasons for this. They are abundant and easily available to all anglers. They are prolific and numerous. Many species are fairly easy to catch using a variety of techniques. Finally, most are terrific eating!
Crappie are fast becoming one of the most popular freshwater fish species in the United States. They are fun to catch, putting up a decent little tussle on light tackle. Crappie are beautiful as well. However, the reason for their popularity is their value on a dinner plate. Crappie are delicious! They are also the largest of the “panfish” family.
Crappie mostly feed on small bait fish once they become mature. Therefore, small lures that mimic minnows work best. Jigs are extremely effective, as are time crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Anglers using live minnows catch a lot of crappie as well.
The top Tennessee crappie fishing lakes are Chickamauga Lake, Percy Priest Reservoir, Center Hill Reservoir, Barkley Lake, Kentucky Lake, Old Hickory Lake, and Cordell Hull Reservoir.
14) Bluegill and other panfish
There are several species of smaller panfish that will be grouped together. Most are similar in habits and diets, though there are certainly some differences. Most prefer shallow, slow moving waters with weeds, submerged timber, docks, or other structure. Bluegill, redear sunfish, longear sunfish, green sunfish, warmouth, rock bass, redbreast sunfish, flier, and pumkinseed are all available to Tennessee anglers.
Other Tennessee game fish species
There are two species of pike available to anglers in Tennessee; the muskellunge and the pickerel. There are two musky strains. The first is native to streams in the northern portion of the Cumberland Plateau. The other strain of musky prefer lakes and has been successfully stocked in several Tennessee reservoirs.
Musky prefer cool clear water with cover suck as submerged grass beds. They are ambush predators and will seldom be found in open water. Musky feed primarily on fish, but they will feed on just about anything, including ducks, frogs, and small mammals. Anglers target them using heavy tackle. Muskellunge averages about 32 inches. The state record is 43 pounds, 14 ounces.
The top Tennessee muskellunge are the tributaries of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, and also the Emory River and its tributaries in the Tennessee River system, Upper Caney Fork River and its tributaries, and Collins and Calfkiller rivers. They are also found in Melton Hill, Dale Hollow, and Parksville Reservoirs.
Walleye are an extremely popular species in the northern states and Canada. They are usually found in clear, cool rivers and lakes. Rocky structure is a plus. They feed on or near the bottom in most instances. Live bait fish are their preferred prey, but they also eat crayfish. Walleye are one of the best eating fish on the planet! Tennessee walleye average 18”. The world record walleye came from Tennessee and weighed in at a whopping 25 pound!
The top walleye (and sauger) lakes in Tennessee are Center Hill, Norris, Dale Hollow, Cherokee, South Holston, Tellico, Tim’s Ford, and Watagua.
Sauger are similar in appearance and habits to their cousins the walleye. They do prefer rivers a bit more. They are less fussy about clear water as well. Sauger average 16” and the state record is 7 pounds, 6 ounces.
In conclusion, this article on the top 17 Tennessee game fish will help anglers understand the habits and locations that will result in more fishing success. What is your favorite Tennessee fish species?
Many anglers enjoy going out on Siesta Key fishing charters. Siesta Key is world famous for her beaches, restaurants, shopping, and more. However, Siesta Key offers visiting anglers a variety of fishing opportunities. Six to eight species are landed on most trips. Speckled trout, snook, redfish, tarpon, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, and many other species are targeted. The deep grass flats, passes, back country bays, and inshore Gulf of Mexico all produce year-round.
One of the advantages of fishing charters in the Sarasota and Siesta Key area is the wide variety of available fishing opportunities. We have over two dozen species that are available at one time of year or another. On most trips, anglers catch 6 to 8 different species. Anglers of all ages and experience levels can take advantage of this.
There are many different species to target on Siesta Key fishing charters. There are also several different techniques to employ. I would say that the majority of the fish caught with me by clients are done so using two different methods. Fishing the passes and drifting the deep grass flats produce a lot of fish for my customers.
Florida is flat. Therefore, the geography underwater is similar to that on land. Sarasota Bay is only about 10 feet deep maximum. There are acres and acres of submerge grass beds. We call these grass flats. These grass beds that exist in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep are extremely productive for a variety of species
Fishing the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay
Speckled trout are caught on these deep grass flats all year long. They are plentiful, aggressive, beautiful, and not overly challenging for the novice angler. They are also very good to eat for those clients who want to keep a couple fish for dinner. Capt Jim drifts the deep grass flats and using both live bait and artificial baits. Many other species are caught doing this as well.
Spanish mackerel, pompano, jack crevelle, gag grouper, bluefish, mangrove snapper, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, cobia, and sea bass are just some of the other species that anglers will catch will targeting speckled trout on the deep grass flats. The variety of species caught is definitely one of the high points of the charter.
Fishing the Siesta Key passes
There are two passes in Sarasota. They are Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. These passes connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. On the West Coast of Florida they are called passes, but they are basically inlets. They are veritable fish highways. Fish use them to migrate between the Bay and the Gulf.
Big Pass lies at the north end of Siesta Key and has fish in it all year long. There are two types of fishing we do in Big Pass; bottom fishing and drifting. The entire north shore of Siesta Key is covered with structure such as submerged rocks, docks, and seawalls. These hold bottom fish such as sheepshead, mangrove snapper, black sea bass, Key West grunts, grouper, drum, and pompano.
Bottom fishing is as basic as it gets. Anglers take a baited hook and just drop it straight to the bottom, no casting is even required. Anglers with no experience can catch fish using this method right away. Live or frozen shrimp is the preferred bait. Sheepshead are thick in the passes December through April. Snook are plentiful in the summer. Snapper are present all year long.
Clients also catch a lot of fish drifting in the passes. This is another fairly easy fishing technique that can be learned in short order. There is usually current present in the pass. Anglers bounce jigs along the bottom or free line a shrimp out behind the boat as it drifts along with the current. This drifting covers a lot of water and helps anglers find the fish.
Ladyfish school up thick in Big Pass. These are great fish for anglers to practice on. They hit hard and almost always jump several feet up out of the water. It gives children and novice anglers a chance to fight a fish that takes drag. However, there is no pressure to land it as they are not good to eat and are usually plenty of them. Mackerel, bluefish, and pompano are also commonly caught drifting the passes.
Siesta Key fishing charters use live bait
Capt Jim uses live bait on many of his Siesta Key fishing charters, especially with small children on board. Using live bait is easier for them and increases the odds of success. Live shrimp are the number one live bait in Sarasota. They are available all year round and catch just about everything that swims. Dead or frozen shrimp works well for many bottom species.
Capt Jim also uses a cast net to catch small bait fish. This is mostly done in the warmer months, especially in the heat of summer. Scaled sardines and thread fin herring along with pin fish and grunts are most commonly caught. Live bait fish can be fantastic baits and will often catch larger fish then shrimp will. They also don’t get harassed by the little bait stealers.
In the summer time Capt Jim does a lot of live bait chumming. This is an incredibly productive technique! It is also another great method for children and inexperienced anglers. Once the bait well is loaded up with minnows, he anchors the boat. Next, he throw a few handfuls of the live bait out behind the boat. It usually doesn’t take long before these freebies attract the game fish.
When the tide is right in the bait is easy, this method is deadly. I have had many Siesta Key fishing charters that produced over 100 fish for three anglers in a morning. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, bluefish, grouper, and loads of ladyfish respond to the live chum. We also use this technique along mangrove shorelines to catch snook and redfish.
Artificial lures on Siesta Key fishing charters
Artificial lures are used often on Siesta Key fishing charters. Clients are often surprised to learn that on many days, lures will actually out fish live bait. This is especially true in the cooler months when fish are more active in eight is less plentiful. In this situation, fish are more apt to chase down a lure.
The number one artificial bait on the West Coast of Florida by far is the lead head jig and grub combo. A jig is a hook with the weight at the front of it. This weight provides casting distance as well is giving the bait a specific action. The jig hops and falls as its retrieved through the water. That is how it gets its name!
The jig hook is then adorned with some type of plastic trailer. For the most part, these are made to mimic either shrimp or bait fish. The two most popular are paddle tails and shad tails. Both are very effective. I prefer lighter colors in clear water and darker colors and stained water. I also believe that presentation is much more important than color.
This is an easy lure to use. I have converted many live bait anglers! The jig is cast out, and allowed to sink several feet. It is then retrieved in using sharp hops with a pause in between. Most strikes occur as the jig is falling. I’m sure it looks like a wounded and helpless shrimp or bait fish as it slowly blotters down.
Fishing with plugs in Sarasota
The other artificial lure that I use quite often is a plug. This is basically a plastic imitation of a bait fish. I generally use these with more experienced anglers. Plugs come with a pair of treble hooks. That, along with and inexperienced angler, is not a great combination.
I use plugs to work shorelines for snook, jacks, and redfish. Plugs allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly and they draw some exciting strikes. Mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, and docks in the backwater areas produce for anglers casting plugs. They are also effective trolled on the deep flats and off the beaches.
I choose plugs most of the time for anglers who want to target snook and other species. These lures closely mimics the finger mullet and other bait fish that the game fish feed on. They float at rest and dive several feet down when sharply twitched. This also results in less snags then when using jigs.
Fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico
Fishing just off the beaches and the Gulf of Mexico can be fantastic when conditions are right. In the spring and the fall huge bait fish migrations occur along the entire coast. Of course, the game fish are right on their heels. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are the primary species. However, sharks, cobia, tarpon and other species can be hooked as well on Sarasota Florida fishing charters.
After a day or two of east wind, it will be calm along the coast. These are the conditions that we are looking for. Not only do I want my clients to be comfortable, but it needs to be calm in order to see the bait fish and feeding game fish. One of the most exciting aspects of this is that often times fish will be feeding right on the surface. We call these ”breaking fish”. It is always fun finding this situation as just about any lure or bait get instantly attacked.
Trolling in the Gulf of Mexico
Trolling is a great way to catch fish in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Once again, it is an extremely easy technique for inexperienced anglers. I simply draw the boat around while dragging a lure behind and waiting for fish to eat it. The fish takes, the rod bends, and the fish is hooked. The angler only has to reel it in, no casting required.
Experienced anglers will enjoy the fun of casting to these breaking fish. I position the boat upwind of a school of feeding fish, whether they be mackerel or false albacore. The angler then cast into the school and begins a fast, erratic retrieve. These fish are in a feeding frenzy and are very aggressive and will eat just about anything shiny that’s moving. I use jigs, plugs, and spoons effectively in this situation.
There are several artificial reefs a couple miles off the Siesta Key and Sarasota beaches. These are fish magnets in the otherwise barren Gulf floor. Bottom fish such as sheepshead, grouper, snapper, and flounder will be found there most of the year. Spanish mackerel will be thick on these reefs in the spring and the fall. They provide great fishing when the seas are calm.
River fishing charters in Sarasota
I also provide anglers a unique experience, one that no other guide offers in this area. I take clients on river snook fishing charters. There are several rivers that are a short drive from Siesta Key beaches. In the wintertime, snook migrate up into these rivers. Using my 14 foot John boat, anglers drift the rivers casting plugs towards the shoreline in hopes of fooling a trophy snook.
This charter is best suited for experienced anglers. It produces less in terms of numbers than the bay fishing trips usually do. However, there is always the chance to land a true trophy fish. Snook 225 inches are caught on most trips. 30 inch fish are common and 40 inch snook are landed every season.
The scenery is part of the attraction to this charter as well. It has a “freshwater”feel to it. In fact, this water is brackish and largemouth bass are commonly caught. This is “Old Florida”and has a kind of Amazon like feel to it. It is a great experience and one that is less than an hour away from Siesta Key. I run out of Snook Haven on the Myakka River.
Siesta Key fishing charter species
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are ambush predators. These fish will usually be found near structure of some sort such as bridges, docks, mangroves, and oyster bars. Snook take artificial and live baits. They grow to 40 pounds are put up a terrific battle!
Snook have a local, seasonal migration. They are found in creeks, rivers, and canals in the winter. In spring and fall they are found throughout the flats in Sarasota Bay and Robert’s Bay. They spend their summer in the passes and out on the beaches.
Speckled trout may be the most popular inshore species along the entire Gulf Coast. Trout are beautiful fish, school up in decent numbers, are fairly plentiful, and taste great. The vast majority of speckled trout in Sarasota are caught on the submerged grass beds in 5′ to 10′ of water.
Speckled trout are caught by anglers using live shrimp and small bait fish. Shrimp are available year round while bait fish work better in the warmer months. Artificial lures such as jigs and plugs work well, too.
Redfish are another very popular fish species. They are found individually or in small bunches for most of the year. They are caught under docks and on the shallow flats. In late summer, they school up into large schools. Reds are targeted this time of year on the shallow grass flats in north Sarasota Bay. Jigs, plugs, and live shrimp account for most of the redfish caught.
Spanish mackerel are a pelagic species that migrate through the area. Prime times to target Spanish mackerel are spring and fall. However, they can be found all year with the exception of cold water, below 65 degrees. Mackerel are very fast fish. Spanish mackerel love fast-moving lures. They will also take live bait. They taste great when eater fresh but do not freeze well.
Bluefish are a hard-fighting fish species that are found in Sarasota in the cooler months. Blues are most often caught by anglers casting lures for trout and other species. They prefer slightly deeper water and are found over grass flats and in the passes. They school up and are very aggressive. Bluefish are oily, but the small ones are decent to eat when fresh.
Pompano put up a great fight for their size. However, their real value is on the dinner plate. Pompano are perhaps the finest eating fish that Sarasota offers. The swim around in schools of varying size. They feed on the bottom, mostly eating crustaceans. Small jigs and shrimp fished in the passes and on the flats produce most of the pompano caught. Surf anglers catch them using jigs, shrimp, and sand fleas.
Sheepshead are a bottom dwelling saltwater panfish. They are members of the porgy family are are very good eating. Sheepshead move in to spawn around structure in winter. They are found in good numbers in Sarasota from January through April. Sheepshead are rarely caught on lures. Shrimp are the most popular bait, but sand fleas and fiddler crabs work well.
Mangrove snapper are available all year long in Sarasota. While small, they are plentiful and feisty. They are also superb eating, right there with pompano. Most snapper are caught by anglers using live shrimp and small bait fish. Snapper will take small lures as well. They are found near docks, bridges, underwater ledges, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines.
Jack crevalle are one of the hardest fighting fish that we have in Sarasota. They have broad sides and large tails. Jacks are aggressive and very powerful. Jacks also are a school fish and that feeds into their aggressiveness. While live bait works, jack crevelle are much more fun to catch on lures such as jigs and plugs. Jacks are not considered good to eat.
Ladyfish are great fun! Locals disparage them as they are not good to eat. However, they provide great action on Siesta Key fishing charters. They are numerous, school up, are aggressive, and leap high up out of the water. Ladyfish are great for novice anglers and children looking for a bent rod. They bite year round and readily take lures and live bait.
False albacore are found in the inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall. They migrate along with the bait fish that they feed on. Conditions need to be right to catch them. It needs to be calm with clear water. When it all comes together, the action can be fantastic! They are not good to eat.
Small sharks are always a crowd pleaser, especially with kids. They are caught randomly on charters. Summer and early fall are the best times to target them. Sharks will usually be found near schools of mackerel in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Blacktip and bonnethead sharks are the species most often caught.
So in closing, if you are visiting our area and enjoy fishing, I hope that you will book one of my Siesta Key fishing charters. I work hard and will do everything I can to make the trip enjoyable and productive!
Spring Siesta Key fishing charters
Siesta Key Beach is world famous and attracts many visitors in March. In fact, it just won the prestigious award for ” Best Beach”. Young ladies flock to the famous white sand beaches during Spring Break to soak up the sun. But many come to fish, too. This time of year, families make up the majority of my charters and most of these trips include at least one female angler. Sarasota offers great family-friendly fishing for a variety of species. Vast experience is not required, just basic skills and the desire to have a good time.
Deep grass flats are very productive, offering reliable spring time fishing. Speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, cobia, sea bass, and flounder are all regular catches. Both anchoring up and drifting are equally productive, depending on the tide and wind.
The most popular artificial lure in this area is the jig/grub combo. This is a lead head jig with a plastic tail which imitates a shrimp or bait fish. Bass Assassin manufactures a full line of effective products; my personal favorite is the red/gold shad tail on a ¼ ounce jig head. The lure is cast out in front of the boat as it drifts across the flat. It is allowed to sink several seconds then is retrieved back with a twitching motion. Most strikes come as the bait falls.
In conclusion, this article on Siesta Key fishing charters will help anglers understand the options for a great fishing trip with Capt Jim!