Sarasota fishing calendar

Fishing Charters in Sarasota

Fishing Charters in Sarasota with Capt Jim Klopfer

Many visiting anglers are interested in going fishing while in Sarasota.  There are many fishing charters in Sarasota to choose from.  Capt Jim Klopfer has been taking clients out fishing in Sarasota since 1991.

Sarasota offers anglers a wide variety of fishing opportunities to visitors.  Capt Jim Klopfer is very versatile and will cater the fishing charter to the experience and expectations of his clients.  Anglers with very little experience can achieve success, much of the fishing is not overly challenging.  There are a number of productive techniques that will produce fish.  Live bait is perhaps the easiest to use and a good choice for children.  Artificial lures are easy to use and are very productive.

Sarasota fishing calendar

View current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota fishing charter options

There are multiple angling techniques that are productive on fishing charters in Sarasota.  Drifting the deep grass flats produces great action.  Both passes hold a lot of fish.  Bottom fishing is an easy and productive technique.  Experienced anglers may choose to target snook and redfish in the back water areas.  Fishing for mackerel and false albacore can be fantastic in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.

Fishing the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay

Anglers seeking action and variety will do well fishing the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay.  Deep grass flats are patches of submerged vegetation in water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep.  This attracts forage such as shrimp, crabs, and bait fish.  This is what the game fish feed on.  Speckled trout, pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, snapper, grouper, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, cobia, and flounder are the primary species caught fishing the deep flats.

Drifting is usually the best approach when targeting fish on the deep flats.  These are large areas.  Drifting with the wind and tide allows anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish.  Once a productive area in located, the boat can be anchored.  Both live bait and artificial lures are productive.  Flats near the passes are usually very reliable.

Jigs are the top artificial lure for fishing the deep grass flats.  They cast well and are easy to use.  Anglers cast them out ahead of the drifting boat and work it back it.  Live shrimp are either free lined out behind the boat or fished under a float.  Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique that is used in the summer time.

inshore saltwater fishing

Fishing the Sarasota passes

Passes are channels that connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico.  They are basically “inlets”, just termed differently.  The two passes in Sarasota are Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass.  Both can provide excellent fishing throughout the year.

Sarasota family fishing charters

The two techniques used in the passes are drifting with jigs or bait and bottom fishing.  Anglers drifting with the current bounce jigs off the bottom or free line live shrimp.  Both produce pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and loads of hard fighting ladyfish.  This is very easy fishing as casting is really not required.  The current does all of the work!

Bottom fishing is another easy and productive technique.  A hook is baited with a shrimp and lowered to the bottom.  There is a lot of structure in the passes, particularly in Big Pass on the north side of Siesta Key.  Deep water, structure, and current flow make this a great fishing spot!  Sheepshead are prime targets in winter.  Mangrove snapper, grouper, drum, jacks, snook, and more are taken all year long.

Snook fishing in Sarasota

Snook are the top game fish in Florida.  They are quite similar to largemouth bass in habits.  Snook have large mouths, are found near structure, and ambush their prey.  In fact, most of the top snook lures are just converted bass baits.  Anglers targeting snook along mangrove shorelines, under docks, around seawalls, and along oyster bars catch jacks, redfish, and other species as well.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

Artificial lures are often used on fishing charters in Sarasota when snook are the target.  Lures allow anglers to cover quite a bit of shoreline cover.  They also will elicit strikes from fish that are not actively feeding.  This type of fishing does require some decent casting skills.  Therefore, this is best for more experienced anglers.

Live bait certainly produces a lot of snook as well.  In the cooler months, a large, live shrimp is a terrific bait.  In the warmer months, live bait chumming is used successfully.  Capt Jim will use his cast net and load the well up with live baits.  These are then used to attract and excite the fish.  Handfuls of bait are tossed out behind the boat.  If snook and other game fish are around, it won’t be long until they start popping on the free baits.  This is a great way for an inexperienced angler to catch a big fish1

Fishing off of the Sarasota beaches

The inshore Gulf of Mexico can provide fantastic action when conditions are right.  East winds will result in the water close to shore being calm and clear.  Bait fish will be plentiful.  Spanish mackerel, false albacore, king mackerel, sharks, cobia, and other species will move in to feed on the bait.  This can be very exciting fishing as much of the activity takes place on the surface.

Anglers cruise the beaches searching for signs of fish.  Birds are a great indication of feeding game fish.  Spanish mackerel will stay up on the surface for quite a while.  This makes it easy to get the boat into a good casting position.  False albacore are a bit fussier.  They will often pop up, feed ferociously, then be gone in a few seconds.

Sarasota fishing videos

Small artificial lures work very well for this type of fishing.  The fish are feeding on small bait fish, so lures that imitate them work best.  Also, sometimes a bit of casting distance is required.  For these reasons, lures work better than live bait in most instances.  Small plugs, silver spoons, and 3″ soft plastic baits on a jig head are the top lures.

Fishing charters in Sarasota, trolling for success

There will be days when the fish are not showing on the surface.  Trolling is an excellent technique under these circumstances.  This allows anglers to cover a lot of water while presenting several lures at different depths.  Again, this is a very easy way for kids and inexperienced anglers to catch some really nice fish.

There are three artificial reefs just off of Lido Key.  These hold fish during much of the year.  The reefs are prime spots to troll for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and false albacore.  Bait fish are attracted to the structure in large numbers.  They can be seen hovering on the surface over the submerged structure.  These are great spots to troll for kings, Spanish mackerel, and false albacore.

Species caught on Sarasota fishing charters

One of the great aspects of taking a fishing charter in Sarasota is the wide variety of fish species that are available.  Some fish such as snook, redfish, speckled trout, ladyfish, jack crevalle, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, and bluefish are caught all year long.  Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, false albacore, pompano, cobia, and sharks are most often encountered in the spring and fall.  Black drum and sheepshead are winter fish.  Tarpon are caught in the summer.  Anglers can find current regulations on the FWC site.

Snook

Siesta Key snook fishing

Snook are the top inshore game fish in Florida.  They are large, fight hard, leap high out of the water, and are caught on both lures and live bait.  Snook have a distinct seasonal migration pattern.  In winter, snook are found in creeks, rivers, and canals.  As it warms up, they move into Sarasota Bay and Robert’s Bay.  Snook are found out on the beaches and in the passes in the summertime.

Snook are structure oriented.  They are almost always found near some type of cover.  Docks, bridges, oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and seawalls all hold snook.  If bait is present, so much the better!  Anglers catch snook using artificial lures and live bait.  Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water.  Live bait works best when fish are located.

Speckled trout

Gator trout Sarasota

Speckled trout are an extremely popular for anglers taking out fishing charters in Sarasota.  They are a beautiful fish, aggressive, plentiful year round, and are fantastic eating.  Speckled trout school up and once located, a bunch can be caught in short order.  Most of the trout caught in Sarasota are found on the submerged grass beds in Sarasota Bay.

A live shrimp is a great bait for catching speckled trout.  Shrimp can be fished under a popping cork or free lined out behind the boat.  Live pilchards work very well in the warmer months.  Artificial lures catch plenty of speckled trout as well.  The top lure in Sarasota is the jig and grub.  This is a versatile lure that can imitate bait fish and crustaceans.  They work very well on trout and other species.

Redfish

Florida fishing charters

Redfish are another very popular inshore species.  In Sarasota, most reds are caught under docks and on shallow grass flats.  Redfish school up in large numbers in late summer.  Anglers sight fish for them as they can easily be seen “waking” across a flat.  Docks and other structure hold reds all year long.

Redfish feed primarily on crustaceans.  They are built to root on the bottom for crabs and shrimp.  They will take like bait fish as well.  A large, live shrimp is tough to beat when targeting redfish.  They work very well when fishing docks.  Lures such as jigs and weedless spoons imitate the forage and are productive as well.

Spanish mackerel

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Spanish mackerel are a terrific game fish!  Anglers who take out fishing charters in Sarasota target them often.  Mackerel are very fast, aggressive, beautiful, and taste great when prepared fresh.  Spanish mackerel are often found in large schools.  This is particularly true in the Gulf of Mexico.  Spanish mackerel feed mostly on small bait fish.  Live shrimp will certainly produce, too.

Shiny, fast moving lures are effective when targeting Spanish mackerel.  Mackerel are very fast and will track down a fast moving lure that has an erratic action.  Plugs and silver spoons are top artificial lures.  They can be cast or trolled effectively.  Anglers fishing with live scaled sardines and shrimp will catch plenty of mackerel as well.

Pompano

Florida pompano fishing

Pompano are a prized inshore game fish in Sarasota, Florida.  While they put up a great fight, the reason for their popularity is that they are fantastic eating!  Pompano have a delicious flavor and interesting texture.  They are most often found in the surf, in the passes, and on the flats close to the passes.  Pompano cruise around in small schools, feeding on the bottom.

One look at the mouth of a pompano indicated it’s feeding behavior.  Pompano feed on crustaceans on the bottom.  Crabs, sand fleas, and shrimp are the primary forage.  Small jigs bounced on the bottom are the top artificial lure.  Dedicated surf anglers catch sand fleas (mole crabs) and use them for bait.  Live shrimp worked well for pompano as well.

Bluefish

Florida bluefish

Bluefish are well-know to anglers from the northeastern states.  The bluefish we catch in Sarasota are smaller, averaging around three pounds.  Bluefish are aggressive and most often are found in schools.  They are a very aggressive species.  Blues can be found in the bays, passes, and inshore Gulf of Mexico.

Jigs are good lures for catching bluefish.  They work well on the deeper grass flats where bluefish are often found.  They move move erratically and attract the attention of the blues.  Spoons and plugs are effective as well.  Bluefish can often be seen feeding on the surface.  Live bait fish and shrimp will catch them as well.

Jack crevalle

Sarasota fishing report

Jack crevalle are another terrific inshore game fish found in Sarasota.  They grow fairly large, being caught to 15 pounds in this area.  Jacks school up and are often seen feeding aggressively on the surface.  They are found all over the place in the warmer months.  They are easier to locate in the cooler months as they move up into creeks and canals.  Jack crevalle are not considered good to eat.

While jacks are caught on live bait, artificial lures are so much fun to use.  Jacks are very aggressive and strike lures with ferocity.  Plugs and jigs are the top artificial lures.  They need to have stout hooks as jacks are incredibly strong.

Sheepshead

Sarasota fishing calendar

Sheepshead move into the Sarasota area in December and stay around until April.  They are a staple for anglers taking out fishing charters in Sarasota in the cooler months.  They school up heavily in the passes and out on the inshore artificial reefs.  Sheepshead feed on crustaceans and are rarely taken on artificial lures.  Most sheepshead are caught by anglers bottom fishing near structure with live or frozen shrimp.  They fight hard, are fun to catch, and are excellent table fare.

Mangrove snapper

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

Mangrove snapper are found near structure similar to the spots where sheepshead are caught.  They are caught all year long.  Also, mangrove snapper are caught on the deep grass flats in the summer time.  Most mangrove snapper are caught by anglers using live bait.  However, they will hit small plugs and jigs as well.  Snapper put up a good fight and are fantastic on a dinner plate.

Gag grouper

Sarasota bottom fishing

Gag grouper are mostly caught in the offshore waters.  However, juvenile grouper and the occasional larger fish are caught in the inshore waters.  Grouper are almost always found near structure.  However, they are caught on the open grass flats for a month or so in summer when they are migrating through.  Most grouper are caught by accident by anglers bottom fishing for other species.

Tarpon

Sarasota fishing calendar

Tarpon are the largest fish that anglers can target in Sarasota.  The move through from May to August on their annual spawning run.  Tarpon are caught just off of the area beaches in the Gulf of Mexico.  Live crabs and bait fish are cast in front of the cruising fish.  This is truly big game fishing and is best for more experienced anglers.  There is a lot of waiting and stalking, so patience is required.

False albacore

Sarasota fishing calendar

False albacore, known locally as “bonita”, are a terrific game fish that are found in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  They rarely come into the bays.  False albacore are usually sight fished as they often feed on the surface.  The key is to position the boat in front of the feeding fish.  They can be fussy at times and challenging to catch.  However, that is part of the fun!  Small lures and flies that mimic the bait fish work best.

King mackerel

fishing report for Sarasota

King mackerel are often found offshore but do move in close to shore when conditions are right.  Trolling is the most effective way to catch them as it allows anglers to cover a lot of water.  The inshore reefs off of Lido Key are always a good place to start.  Easter and Thanksgiving are usually the prime times to catch king mackerel off of the Sarasota beaches.

Black drum

fishing charters in Sarasota

Black drum are often found in the same locations and time of year as are sheepshead.  Generally, cooler months are best.  Drum rarely hit artificial lures, most are caught by anglers using live or frozen shrimp.  Black drum are good eating.  They can grow quite large as well, to over 30 pounds.

Flounder

best Sarasota fishing charter

Flounder are another species that clients on fishing charters in Sarasota catch when fishing for other species.  They are not abundant, but are more of an occasional catch.  They are caught by anglers bouncing jigs on the bottom and by anglers fishing with live bait.  Surf fishing can be productive for flounder, too.

Cobia

fishing charters in Sarasota

Cobia are a large fish that are most often found in the Gulf of Mexico.  However, some fish do wander into Sarasota Bay.  Anglers fortunate enough to hook one will have their hands full on a light spinning rod!  Cobia are curious and will hit just about any lure or live bait.

Meeting spot for a Sarasota fishing charter

There are several spots that Capt Jim meets his clients at.  The meeting spot will depend on client location, current weather conditions, and fish activity.  Most anglers going out on fishing charters in Sarasota will meet at the public boat ramp at Centennial Park in downtown Sarasota.

Another convenient meet spot on Sarasota fishing charters is the North Bridge Park on Siesta Key.  This spot is often used on breezy days and by Siesta Key visitors.

The last meeting spot used by Capt Jim is the boat ramp on Ken Thompson Island.  This is convenient for anglers staying on Longboat Key or north in Bradenton.

Live bait produces on Sarasota fishing charters

While artificial lures catch plenty of fish during Spring Break, live bait is the most reliable producer on my Siesta Key fishing charters, especially with anglers with limited experience.  Live shrimp are purchased and “whitebait” is cast-netted up on the flats.  “Whitebait” is a Florida term for small white or silver bait fish, mostly pilchards and threadfin herring, that migrate into the area in the spring.  A well full of either live shrimp or frisky pilchards practically guarantees success.

Marcel Hamburger lives in Houston, TX and has fished with me for several years now.  He usually brings his two children Morgan and Grant.  Morgan never gets out-fished.  Never.  She has perfected the art of drifting a live bait across the flats.  She casts her bait out and lets it drift behind the boat with the rod tip held low.  When a fish takes the bait, she does not jerk, which is a common mistake.  Instead, she just reels up the slack while slowly raising the rod tip.  Most of the time, the result is a fish in the boat.

Anchoring up on the edge of a grass flat that drops off into deeper water and fishing with live bait can be deadly.  One trip from several years ago comes to mind and it is a story that I have told many times on the boat.  John Brennan from Brookfield, WI visits Siesta Key regularly for Spring Break, and he usually treats his daughters Laura, Cari, and Theresa to a Sarasota fishing charter.  I filled the well with twelve dozen shrimp and loaded up the Brennan clan.

After anchoring up on the edge of a flat near Bird Key, we experienced non-stop action free lining live shrimp.  I believe the final tally was 119 fish landed, not counting the ones that jumped off.  Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, and ladyfish, kept rods bent the entire time.  It was so hectic, poor John barely got the chance to fish!

Fishing Big Sarasota Pass

Big Sarasota Pass lies to the north of Siesta Key.  It is a fish highway that connects Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.  March is a prime month for fishing the pass.  The same methods that produce on the flats will also work in the deeper water of the pass.  Jigs bounced on the bottom and free lined live bait will catch pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and loads of ladyfish.

Last March the Manby family, friends of the Brennan’s who also reside in Brookfield, WI had a great morning catching large mackerel in Big Pass.  Maria and Jeff along with their three girls Ashleigh, Julia, and Abigail were my guests that morning.  The tide was low and had just turned to come in and we were free lining live shrimp.   The bite was a little slow, just a couple of ladyfish, when Julia’s rod bent double and the drag started screaming.

I knew right away that it was a big mackerel.  Julia fought the fish like an expert and it was landed and tossed on ice, destined for dinner at Clayton’s that evening.  Several minutes later the same thing was repeated.  Then again.  What the heck?  Four baits in the water, same hook, same rig, but she catches all the fish?

“I jiggle it”, she stated.  And the now-famous “Julia Jiggle” was born.  Any time I am on a charter and the bites are slow in coming, I instruct my clients to “jiggle it”.  Action is sure to soon follow.

There is much more to fishing than just catching fish.  The time a family spends together is priceless.  I humbly feel privileged to be a part of it.  Friendships have been forged and to see the kids grow up each year is exciting.  Experience your own Spring Break, Sarasota style!

Summer Sarasota fishing charters

All three rods were bent deep as I tried to keep the bedlam under control.  Sweat was dripping from my forehead and it was only nine o’clock in the morning.  The heat was one reason, the other was that I was scrambling to keep my client’s hooks emptied of a fish and then re-baited.  It was non-stop action as nearly every pilchard that hit the water was devoured within seconds.  Welcome to summertime fishing Sarasota!

Many anglers are surprised when I tell them that fishing Sarasota in the heat of summer is outstanding.  Some of my best days, especially when it comes to quantity, come in July and August.  The reason for this is the abundance of live bait fish that flood into the bays at first light.  Pilchards and threadfin herring are thick on the shallow grass flats near the Venice Inlet.  A few tosses of the cast net will usually result in a well full of bait.  After that, success is practically guaranteed.  A few handfuls of live chum will bring speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, jacks, and sharks right up to the boat.  Bait fish are easiest to catch at first light, especially on a high tide.  Grass flats near both passes are good spots to load up the well.

While fishing Sarasota can be spectacular in the heat of summer, it does require a few tactical changes.  The prime low-light periods of dawn and dusk will be very productive, as will fishing at night.  Getting up early is a requirement, not an option.  Get out there early, catch bait or take advantage of the early morning low light conditions to cast artificial lures.  On most days the bite winds down by late morning.  By then it is usually just too hot to fish, anyway.

Night fishing in Sarasota

Fishing Sarasota at night is another productive option in July.  Evenings are pleasant, just monitor the weather; thunderstorms are an issue this time of year.  Snook in particular will be caught around the lighted docks and bridges throughout the area.  Speckled trout, redfish, snapper, ladyfish, and even tarpon will also be caught at night.  Plugs, jigs, flies, and live bait will produce around lighted structure.

Successful anglers will quietly approach a likely spot and either anchor or use a trolling motor to work the spot.  Shore bound anglers will score at the area bridges, too.  The prime spot is a cast away on the up-current side just on the fringe of the lighted area.  Outgoing tides are preferred, but as long as the water is moving the fish will bite.

Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are productive lures, as are small plugs such as the (08) size Rapala X-Rap.  Live shrimp free lined in the current can also be deadly.  Medium sized shrimp work best on a 1/0 short shank hook for clients fishing Sarasota.  Large hand-picked shrimp don’t look natural and are usually not as effective.    Spinning tackle with a 2’ piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is best for tossing lures and live bait.  Glass minnows are a primary forage around lights and small white flies are effective imitations.  A 7 or 8 weight rod with an intermediate sink tip line and 8 foot piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader works well.

Beach snook fishing in Sarasota

Siesta Key snook fishing

Another productive July technique when fishing Sarasota is beach fishing for snook.  This is a great opportunity for anglers without a boat to experience the thrill and challenge of sight fishing.  Anglers will hit the beach around 8:00 a.m., by then there is enough sunlight to spot the fish.  Walking north will put the sun behind, making it easier to see the snook.  Quite often, they will be right in the surf line, inches from the edge.

Live bait will work but it cumbersome to carry around.  Artificial lures are more convenient and catch plenty of fish.  Small light colored lures are best.  A delicate presentation is required so as not to spook the fish in the shallow water.  A 1/8 ounce white bucktail jig works great, as do small plugs and soft plastic baits.

This is a terrific situation to catch a snook on a fly rod.  White bait fish patterns are productive.  The fly lands very softly in the water and will not spook the snook.  Since the fish are in open water for the most part, the chance of them breaking off is greatly diminished.  A seven or eight weight outfit with a floating line and eight feet of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is the standard rig.

The large schools of tarpon will have broken up but there will still be plenty of fish out there.  Although they don’t “show” as well, they eat better!  Point of Rocks, Grassy Point, and the Venice Pier are good spots to try.  Again, get out there at first light and either cast to rolling fish or drift a pinfish out behind the boat under a float.  Fish until mid-morning, then call it a day.

There are plenty of ways to fish Sarasota and catch fish in July and still beat the summertime heat!

Fall Sarasota Florida fishing charters

Contrary to popular belief, autumn does arrive in Florida, although the changes can be fairly subtle.  While still fairly warm, evening temperatures are a tad lower and the days are a little shorter.  Fish are very much in tune with these changes and it affects their behavior.  In Sarasota where I fish, on the west coast, the arrival of Spanish mackerel and false albacore just off the beaches in the inshore Gulf of Mexico officially signals the fall fishing season.  This is great sport and it does not require a large boat or fancy gear to take advantage of this bonanza.

The reason for this fantastic fall fishing on Siesta Key is simple; bait, and LOTS of it!  As the water and land temperatures drop, the weather pattern changes.  The sea breezes will be gone and high pressure systems will bring northeast winds both during the day and in the evening.  The result will be clear, calm water along the beaches, attracting huge schools of baitfish which in turn attracts the gamefish.  Saltwater fishing can be pretty basic, “Find the groceries; find the fish”.  Other species will also be encountered when fishing “Out on the beach”.  Jack crevelle, bluefish, ladyfish, king mackerel, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon will follow the forage to take advantage of the abundance of forage.

As a full-time fishing guide, I rely on live bait a majority of the time to provide action for my clients who book a Siesta Key fishing charter.  In this application, artificial lures are not only extremely productive but are a lot of fun to fish!  Quite often schools of “breaking” fish will be seen terrorizing the helpless baitfish on the surface.  Opportunistic gulls and terns will be picking at the scraps as well.  This is a sight that will stir any angler’s soul and is the perfect situation to use an artificial lure.  The strikes will be immediate and savage!  Of course, a frisky live baitfish or shrimp will very seldom go unmolested when fall fishing Siesta Key.

Artificial lures catch fish!

My “go to” lure for fishing the inshore Gulf is #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait.  It perfectly mimics the small pilchards, glass minnows, and threadfin herring that the gamefish are feeding on.  Olive is my favorite color with white being a close second.  The lure is simply cast out into the bait and retrieved back with sharp twitches and a pause in between.  X-Raps can also be trolled along when there is not any surface activity; they are a great “locator” bait.  The venerable jig and grub combo also works well, with the 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad being my personal favorite.

Silver spoons will also produce plenty of fish for anglers fall fishing Siesta Key.  The same tackle that is used for speckled trout and redfish will work fine in this application.  My preferred rig is a 10 lb spinning outfit with monofilament line, the last 5’ doubled with a Spider Hitch, then 30” of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is added using a double Uni-knot, then the lure or hook completes the rig.

Fly anglers can certainly take advantage of this situation as well.  An 8wt outfit with a weight forward floating line is a good choice.  The leader should be 8’ of 30 lb fluorocarbon and any small white fly will produce well, with D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow patterns being the most popular.  Fly anglers do well fall fishing Siesta Key!

Once rigged up and ready, it is time to go fishing!  Often times the fish will be schooled up just outside the passes, particularly on an outgoing tide.  Any bird or surface activity should be investigated.  Sometimes just a couple of terns diving will clue an angler into the location of a school.  If nothing is happening at the pass, simply cruise down the beach on plane but at as slow a speed as possible in order to completely scan the area.

Spanish mackerel and false albacore off of Siesta Key

Once a school of actively feeding fish is located, determine whether they are mackerel or albacore.  Spanish will generally stay up in the same spot for a longer period of time.  False albacore can be much more difficult to get on, they move fast and change directions constantly.  But, there is no greater sport than catching a big albie on light tackle or fly!

Sarasota fishing charters

In either case, patience will pay off!  Charging into the school on plane will usually shut down the bite.  Instead, cut the motor up-wind of the fish and drift down on them until in casting range or use the electric trolling motor if so equipped.  Trolling the edges will also work well but avoid driving through the middle of the school.  Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program with 3 nice reefs within 2 miles of shore just off Lido Key.  These are a great back-up plan (as is any reef or hard bottom area) in the event that surface activity is absent as they almost always hold bait and fish.

Later in the morning as the sun comes up, particularly if the water is clear, anglers will do well to look for bait balls.  These appear as large dark spots in the water.  NEVER pass up a nice, big ball of bait as there will usually be predator fish on the edges.  Anglers seeking larger game will score consistently on sharks by putting out a chunk of mackerel under a cork on a larger rig with a steel leader.  Free-lining a large live threadfin herring at the edges will also produce some larger fish.  Do not be surprised if a cobia, king mackerel, or even a tarpon are hooked as well fall fishing Siesta Key.

Shore bound anglers can get in on the action as well.  While false albacore seldom venture in close enough to be caught from land, Spanish mackerel, jacks, bluefish, ladyfish, and more will often cruise within casting range while feasting upon the abundance of forage.  The same lures, baits, flies, and techniques that produce for anglers in boats will also allow surf casters to achieve success.

Winter Sarasota fishing charters

The key to angling success is the ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions.  February tactics are unique.  Severe fronts move through on a weekly basis, drastically changing the water temperature and clarity.  Wind will prevent anglers from fishing the open waters in north Sarasota Bay.  Extreme low winter tides will chase fish off the flats.  So, let’s go through a typical winter weather cycle that would be experienced on a fishing charter in the winter.

A severe front has just moved through.  The water temperature has dropped several degrees and there is a blue-bird sky with bright sun and a northeast wind.  The northeast wind will fight the tide, making it even lower than normal.  And it can be downright chilly.  Flats near the passes will be flooded with dirty water from the churned up Gulf of Mexico.  Finding clean, protected water will be a priority when employing February tactics.

The area south of Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Pt. usually stats clearer and offers protection from the north wind.  Oyster bars, canals, and docks will be good places to soak a shrimp for sheepshead, drum, and other species.  On low tide the trout, pompano, and ladyfish will concentrate in deeper water.  This can be the Intracoastal channel or any deep water.  As the tide floods the flats and the day warms up the fish will move out of the holes and onto the nearby flats.  Casting jigs and live shrimp while drifting the flats is the preferred technique.

After a couple of days the wind will shift to the southeast and it will be warm and sunny.  The water in the passes will be clearer and fishing will be good throughout the area.  Both passes will hold pompanp, bluefish, and ladyfish.  Jigs, spoons, and live shrimp will all produce.  Taking advantage of these favorable conditions is an aspect of February tactics.

Surf fishing off of Sarasota beaches

This is the best time to surf fish for whiting, silver trout, pompano, flounder, and more.  The water will be clean and calm with an east wind.  A live shrimp or piece of frozen shrimp fished on the bottom works best.

Any Structure in or near the passes should be thick with sheepshead.  Bottom fishing with live or frozen shrimp will produce the best.  Anchoring a cast away up-current and allowing the bait to drift back to the structure in a natural manner is the best presentation.  A #1 live bait hook on a 2’ piece of 30 lb leader and a bit of weight is the best rig.  Use just enough weight to barely hold the bottom.

Grass flats in four to seven feet of water will be good for speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, and ladyfish.  Again, drifting and casting jigs and live shrimp works best.  The flats near the passes are always a goiod place to start but any flat can produce.  The key is to keep moving until fish are located; don’t spend too much time in an unproductive spot.  Gold, rootbeer/gold, olive, and glow are popular colors.  Scented baits such as Gulp! Can make the difference on a tough day.

Hot bite before a weather change

After a couple of days of nice weather, another front will approach.  As this occurs the wind will turn south, then southwest and start to blow fifteen to twenty knots.  Often times the fish will bite like crazy as they sense the weather change coming.  The south wind will flood the bays with water, tides will be higher than normal.  This is a good time to target snook and redfish in shallow water.  Casting gold spoons or jigs will fool them.

Trout will be actively feeding on the deep flats.  The wind will require anglers to find a little protection.  The west side of Sarasota Bay north of New Pass has excellent flats and is protected on a south wind.  Structure in Big Pass on the north end of Siesta is also protected and is a great spot for sheepshead.

Snook move up into the creeks and canals in winter and the high afternoon tides are a good time to target them.  Plugs and jigs cast are to structure and worked back in an erratic manner.  Big jack crevelle will also seek refuge in these areas in the cooler months.As the front moves through the wind will turn northwest and blow hard.  This pretty much shuts down fishing for a day or two.  The wind will shift northeast and the whole process will repeat itself.

Be aware of the effects of local weather patterns and you can be very successful fishing in February.

There are many fine resorts for anglers to stay at when visiting Siesta Key. Fisherman’s Cove on the South end of Siesta Key is the top spot for tourists who place a priority on fishing. Further south in Englewood, Pearl Beach Inn is a great spot for visiting anglers to stay.

In conclusion, this post on fishing charters in Sarasota will help anglers decide if this trip is right for them!

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236