Fishing in Sarasota – Capt Jim Shares All!
In this post I will thoroughly cover fishing in Sarasota. Sarasota is a resort town on the west coast of Florida, just south of Tampa. Despite the traffic and popularity, Sarasota offers anglers a wide variety of fishing options throughout the year.
My name is Capt Jim Klopfer. I have been running fishing charters in Sarasota since 1991. Unlike some other guides, I like to fish using a wide variety of techniques throughout the year. I will share what I have learned in my 30 plus years of fishing in Sarasota!
In this article I will cover the tackle required when fishing in Sarasota. The lures, baits, techniques, seasonal migrations, and species will also be discussed.
Best tackle for fishing in Sarasota
There are several types of reels anglers can choose from when fishing in Sarasota and in saltwater in general. These are spincast, spinning, and baitcasting reels. Spincast reels, also known as “pushbutton” reels, have no real place in saltwater fishing. Baitcasting reels certainly do, though are mostly used by more experienced anglers.
Spinning tackle is the best all round choice when fishing in Sarasota. It enables anglers to cast very light lures and baits while still having the ability to handle a decent fish. I like a 7′ medium rod with a ‘fast” action. This means it is limber near the tip. I pair it with a 2500 series reel. Right now I am using St Croix Triumph rods with a Daiwa Black Gold reel.
Anglers can shop at Amazon for a Daiwa Black Gold reel and St Croix Triumph 7′ MF rod spinning combo in this link.
Conventional or bait casting tackle can be used as well, especially in the Gulf of Mexico or when casting heavier lures and fishing for larger fish. A 30 series conventional outfit is a good all round choice for trolling and bottom fishing. Daiwa and Lew’s make decent baitcasting outfits as well.
Rigging up when fishing in Sarasota
I always use a shock leader of some sort when fishing in Sarasota. Some species such as bluefish and mackerel have teeth. Other have a raspy jaw. If the 10 lb line was tied right to the hook or lure, many fish would be lost. Therefore, a “shock” leader is used. I use a 24” piece of 30 lb leader for 95% of my fishing. Anglers can bump it up if needed. I double the line with a spider hitch then use a double uni-knot to attach the leader to the main line.
Anglers can use a swivel to attach the leader, however I prefer a line to line knot. This eliminates the chance of a mackerel hitting the swivel and cutting the hooked fish off, this does occur. I am a “less is more” guy when it comes to terminal tackle. I never use wire, the water is usually too clear. Yes, there will be fish lost to cut-offs, but I would rather get more strikes and take my chances.
Top techniques for fishing in Sarasota
One of the aspects of this area is that the fishing is so varied. Anglers fishing in Sarasota can chase a wide variety of species using multiple techniques. Anglers can cast lures, use live and natural bait, troll, and even fly fish. The top species in Sarasota Bay include snook, redfish, spotted sea trout, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, bluefish, snapper, sheepshead, pompano, flounder, drum, ladyfish, and more!
Fishing with live bait in Sarasota
There is very little doubt that anglers fishing in Sarasota catch plenty of fish using live bait. After all, why use an imitation when you can use the real thing? There are plenty of instances where lures are a better choice. However, for many anglers, especially novice or casual ones, live bait is best. I use a #1/0 live bait hook or #3/0 circle hook for almost all of my fishing in Sarasota with live bait.
Shrimp are without a doubt the top live bait in Sarasota, and in all of Florida for that matter. Shrimp are available year round, can be purchased at every bait shop, are fairly easy to keep alive, and everything eats them! Live shrimp are best but fresh dead and frozen shrimp also produce in certain situations.
A live shrimp can be fished a several manners. I usually prefer to “free line” them when fishing in Sarasota. This entails simple hooking the shrimp under the horn (as in the photo above) and allowing it to swim naturally. If some current is present, I will add a split shot to get the bait down. I like to free line a shrimp when drifting the flats and passes and when fishing structure such as docks and oyster bars. It works well in the surf, too.
Click to read Capt Jim’s Sarasota fishing reports!
When fishing shallow water, the shrimp can be fished under a float. A “popping cork” is often used. This float helps attract fish to the shrimp by twitching the rod, causing the cork to “pop”. A fish will come investigate, then hopefully eat the bait. This is THE classic technique for catch speckled trout all throughout the Southeast.
Shrimp can certainly be used for bottom fishing as well. I catch a lot of sheepshead from January through April on shrimp, along with mangrove snapper, drum, and other species. Often times, fresh dead or frozen shrimp works just as well with no need to keep them alive. Frozen shrimp on a jig head works great for whiting and other species in the surf in the cooler months.
Anglers have been using little fish to catch big fish forever. Any small fish that is legal to use (no game fish) will produce. Pinfish and grunts are top baits and can be free lined or fished under a float. Finger mullet are great for snook. In the summer, hoards of shiny sardines and threadfin herring more in.
Fishing with live bait is more involved as anglers usually catch bait (pinfish can be purchased at times) and keep it alive. Large bait wells on boats make this easy. Shorebound anglers need a bucket and aerator.
There is a technique used by guides and locals called “live bait chumming”. I do this in summer. The well is loaded with hundreds of sardines, then they are used to chum the fish into a feeding mood. This is extremely effective and producues a lot of the snook and redfish caught in Sarasota.
Sarasota bottom fishing
Sarasota bottom fishing is a very simple, yet effective, angling technique. Many fish live and feed on or near the bottom. Bottom structure holds bait and gamefish.
Bottom fishing in Sarasota is an easy and effective technique that any anglers can use successfully. It places natural bait on the bottom in hopes of attracting a fish. Live, fresh dead, and frozen bait can be used. Baits vary by location, depending on the forage available locally. Bottom fishing is effective in just about every fishing location for a wide variety of species.
While bottom fishing is basically dropping a bait to the bottom using a lead weight, there are nuances that will make a difference in success. Leader strength and length, hook sizes, weights, and rigs are all factors that the successful bottom fishing angler will take into account.
Sarasota bottom fishing rigs
There are several rigs that anglers use when Sarasota bottom fishing. Sliding sinker rigs and spreader rigs are two of the most popular rigs for bottom fishing. Both have multiple variations and both are effective. Sliding sinker rigs allow fish to pick up a bait off the bottom and move off without feeling and resistance. Spreader rigs suspend multiple baits at various depths just off the bottom.
A sliding sinker rig consists of a leader and a sinker with a hole in it. Egg sinkers work well in this application. Egg sinkers come in many different sizes. They also roll on the bottom and do not hang up easily. Surf anglers use a device called a “fish finder”. This is a small plastic tube with a clip on it. The line passes through the tube and a clip is used to attach the weight. Pyramid sinkers are most often used by surf casters.
With either rig, most anglers use the same approach. The running line is passed through the sinker or fish finder. A swivel is then attached to the end of the line. The swivel stops the sinker from sliding down. The leader is then tied on to the other end of the swivel. Leader lengths vary, but most anglers use 2′ to 3′ of leader. A hook finishes off the rig.
One variation of this is called the “knocker rig”. It is just like the sliding sinker rig above, except the sinker is placed on the leader, between the swivel and the hook. This results in the sinker sitting right on the eye of the hook. The knocker rig has two advantages. It keeps the bait right on the bottom where the fish feed. Also, if the hook hangs up, the sinker will often “knock” it free, thus the name. I use this rig a lot when targeting sheepshead and snapper on Sarasota fishing charters. It is very effective.
Spreader rigs separate the hooks both horizontally and vertically. Wire arms are often used. Snelled hooks are attached to the arms. The hooks then go off to the side and away from the main line. When the fish are biting, double headers are common. This rig works well fished vertically from a boat, bridge, or pier. Surf casters employ them as well.
Hooks and weights
There are many different styles of hooks that anglers use when bottom fishing. Short shank live bait hooks are the most often used as they are easier to hide in the bait. Some anglers prefer a long shank hook. This is particularly true of flounder fishermen. Circle hooks are popular now as well. Circle hooks more often result in the fish being hooked in the mouth. This reduces the mortality rate among released fish. Circle hooks are mandatory in the Gulf of Mexico.
The rule of thumb when choosing a hook is to match it to the size of the bait being used, not the size of the fish being targeted. A small hook in a large bait will usually not result in a hook up. Using a hook too large may hinder a natural presentation. Many large fish have been landed by anglers using small hooks, so resist the urge to use a hook that is too big.
Sinkers also come in various styles. Egg, bank, and pyramid sinkers are the most commonly used in salt waters by inshore anglers. Egg sinkers work well with sliding rigs while bank sinkers are best for spreader rigs. Pyramid sinkers are primarily used by surf anglers. The amount of weight used is determined by the depth and current that the anglers is dealing with. The goal is for the weight to be just enough to hold bottom when anchored or bounce along the bottom when drifting.
Sarasota bottom fishing baits
Bait choice runs the gamut and is generally determined by the local forage available. Just about any fresh fish caught can be cut into strips or chunks and used as bait. Check local laws to current regulations. Squid is a universal frozen bait that produces fish everywhere. Local bait shops will have other frozen baits available and will give anglers the best advice as to the bait of choice.
Shrimp is king in Florida where I fish and really along the entire Gulf Coast and up the east coast to the Carolinas. Shrimp are a terrific bait live as well as fresh dead or frozen. They are the “nightcrawler of saltwater”, just about every inshore species love them. Live shrimp are hooked in the horn while dead ones are threaded on the hook.
Live bait fish can certainly be used by anglers bottom fishing. Flounder fishermen use live minnows with great success. Florida bottom fishermen use live pin fish for grouper and snapper. As with any fish, live or dead, check local regulations before fishing.
Bottom fishing techniques
Anglers fishing from boats need to make a choice; whether to anchor or drift. Both methods produce and have their advantages and disadvantages. Drifting is generally preferred when anglers are seeking a school of fish in open water. Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of water, eliminating unproductive areas quickly. Both the spreader rig and slider rig will produce for anglers when drifting.
Flounder fishermen use a sliding sinker rig often. Flounder lie right on the bottom and this is an effective rig. Anglers targeting bottom fish that school up such as grunts and sheepshead will do well with the spreader rig while drifting.
Many bottom species such as grouper and snapper relate to structure. This structure includes ledges, hard bottom, wrecks, and artificial reefs. Anglers targeting these species usually choose to anchor and present their baits. This is especially true on smaller pieces of bottom.
Proper anchoring is critical when bottom fishing
Anchoring properly is critical to success when working a piece of structure. The preferred technique it to anchor so that the boat ends up just a bit up-current and up wind of the structure. Baits presented right on the edge of the structure will hopefully draw the fish out away from their protection. Anchoring is a skill that only time and experience will perfect. GPS trolling motors have helped greatly with this!
Anglers bottom fishing from bridges and piers usually choose a spreader rig. It is effective in this application. Sliding sinker rigs can certainly be used, especially when cast out away from the pier or bridge.
Surf fisherman do a lot of bottom fishing. Most fish caught off of the beaches are done so by anglers soaking a piece of bait on the bottom. This is true from Texas to Maine. Cut squid, cut bait fish, shrimp, and crabs are all great baits that produce a wide variety of species.
Sarasota bottom fishing species
Grouper are the king of species for anglers Sarasota bottom fishing. Gag grouper and red grouper are the two primary grouper species caught by Sarasota anglers. Gag grouper are caught both inshore and offshore while red grouper are primarily caught offshore. Any live or cut bait will fool grouper if presented well. Grouper are structure oriented and often hold tight to the cover. Proper anchoring is crucial. Grouper are fantastic on the dinner plate.
Sheepshead are a prime target of anglers bottom fishing. They are caught in the cooler months, especially January through early April. They spawn near structure in the passes and inshore Gulf of Mexico. Big Sarasota Pass, New Pass, nearby docks and bridges, along with the three inshore artificial reefs are prime spots. Sheepshead are very good eating.
Mangrove snapper are a prime target of anglers Sarasota bottom fishing. These tasty saltwater panfish are found both inshore and offshore. Obviously, the larger specimens are caught in deeper water. Shrimp and small bait fish produce for inshore anglers. Snapper are caught offshore by anglers using frozen sardines, shrimp, live pilchards and pin fish, and cut bait fish and squid.
Flounder are a very popular bottom fish that are caught occasionally by anglers Sarasota bottom fishing. Flounder are rarely targeted by are more often an incidental catch. They are caught off the beaches and around structure such as docks, bridges, and submerged rocks. Shrimp, live bait fish, and cut squid.
Key West grunts are an abundant species caught in the inshore Gulf of Mexico by anglers bottom fishing. They are aggressive and are generally easy to catch once located. Many an offshore fishing charter has been saved by switching from grouper and going on a “grunt hunt”! They are a but tough to clean, but are terrific eating. Grunts and grits are a staple of southern anglers!
Whiting are most often caught by anglers fishing off of the Sarasota beaches. They are small but put up a good tussle on light tackle. Shrimp account for most of the whiting landed.
Fishing in Sarasota with artificial lures
While live bait is effective, I really enjoy fishing with artificial lures. Anglers are often surprised to learn that lures have advantages over bait and out-fish them on a regular basis. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot more water in search of fish. They also elicit strikes from fish that are not necessarily feeding. Also, lures are much more convenient. I only use a few lures; this will help simplify the topic for novice anglers.
Sarasota jig fishing techniques
Jigs are the most effective all-round fishing lure in Sarasota and all along the Gulf Coast. A jig is simply a hook with some lead weight at the front and a tail made of hair or plastic. It is simple but extremely effective. The jig dances seductively in the water. It is jerked up sharply then falls helplessly, triggering strikes. Weights and tails are matched to the conditions fished and targeted species. Jigs will catch virtually every species on my Sarasota fishing charters.
There is evidence pointing to the jig as the first artificial bait used by man. And after all these years, it still catches fish! Like many other lures, they come in a myriad of styles and colors, but they can really be broken down into two types; hair and plastic tailed jigs. A painted lead head jig with a plastic body is the most popular of the two here on the Gulf Coast. They are inexpensive, easy to use, versatile, and productive.
Jig heads and bodies
Jig heads come in many colors, but white and red are the two most popular. ¼ ounce is the most popular and versatile weight for jig heads. A heavier jig head is required occasionally, such as when fishing deeper water or in strong current. Jigging the passes would be an example of this. 1/8 ounce and even 1/16 ounce jig heads will be used in very shallow water.
Tails also come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Shad and curly tail baits imitate fish while paddle tail and shrimp bodies mimic crustaceans. Both catch plenty of fish. I like Bass Assassin products, but they are by no means the only choices. A basic color selection of white, gold, olive, root beer, and chartreuse in both bait and grub style will cover most situations and angler will face.
One advantage of these types of jigs is the ease with which tails can be replaced and colors changed. They are also very economical. This versatility along with the low cost certainly adds to the popularity of Sarasota jig fishing. I use shad tail jigs most of the time. The Bass Assassin 4” Sea Shad is my favorite soft plastic jig trailer. The main reason I prefer shad tail baits is that they have great built in action. Shad tails have a very realistic swimming motion. This makes it a great choice for novice anglers.
Shad tail jigs are very versatile. They produce for anglers using multiple retrieves. A steady retrieve will mimic a bait fish. The shad tail produces a lot of action. However, the most productive retrieve is the “twitch and fall” technique. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink, then retrieved back using a sharp one to two foot movement. Most strikes occur as the jig falls.
Paddle tail and shrimp tails work well, too. One benefit to these baits is that pinfish and other small fish won’t bite off the end of the tail. These baits work best when the water is cooler and there are more shrimp and less bait fish in the water. Cooler water will also result in fish being more active and aggressive. They will be more active and will readily take a jig.
Scented soft plastic baits such as Gulp are a bit more expensive, but on slow days they can make a big difference. I have had many charters where the Gulp and jig combo out-fished live bait. Color seldom matters, it is all about the scent. The 3” Gulp Shrimp is a perfect size for Sarasota Bay species.
Jigs can also be purchased that are manufactured with nylon or natural fibers. Bucktail jigs have been around a long time. White is the best color. Spro jigs are a quality bucktail jig that is an excellent lure. Pompano jigs are usually made with artificial fibers. Typically, they have a heavy head and a short tail. While very productive, hair jigs are not as durable or cost effective as the jig and grub combo is and therefore not as popular. They are a great choice for pompano and speckled trout, but not for bluefish and mackerel.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be great spots to do some jig fishing, as long as the water is clean. Both passes have shallow bars and deep channels and fish can be in either of those spots. In the deeper water, vertically jigging while drifting with the tide is a time-proven technique for pompano and other species. Anglers simply drop a jig to the bottom and drift along while sharply raising the rod tip every couple of seconds, then allow the bait to flutter back to the bottom. Heavier pompano style jigs work very well in this application. Each time the bait hits the bottom it will kick up a puff of sand, imitating a crab or other crustacean. A small piece of fresh or frozen shrimp can be added. This is called “tipping the jig”.
On the shallow bars, casting jigs out and retrieving them back to the boat is the preferred method. Each time the jig hits the bottom, it kicks up a bit of sand. This looks exactly like a crab or shrimp trying to hide. Both pompano jigs and the jig and grub can be used effectively in this application when Sarasota jig fishing.
Jigs on the Sarasota deep grass flats
Jigs are very productive on the deep grass flats. Speckled trout in particular are suckers for a jig and grub combo, but bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, cobia, flounder, sea bass, grouper, jacks, and ladyfish will all readily take a jig. The lure is cast out and retrieved back using a sharp “twitch”, generally from the 10:00 to 12:00 position. Most bites occur as the jig is falling, seemingly helpless.
Anglers who keep the line tight as the jig falls will detect more strikes. A good rule of thumb regarding color is to use light colors in clear water and dark colors in darker water. Glow, white, gold, and silver are good colors when the water is clear. Olive, rootbeer, copper, and other dark colors work great in darker water.
Another popular technique is to fish a jig two feet under a noisy cork. The rig is cast out, allowed to settle, then the rod tip is sharply twitched. This causes the cork to make a loud noise, attracting fish. It also causes the jig to jerk up and then slowly settle back down. The cork not only keeps the lure from hanging in the grass, strikes are easily seen as it disappears. A Gulp Shrimp works great with this technique.
There are times when fish will respond to a steady retrieve while jig fishing. A slow, steady retrieve will produce when the water temperature is down a bit. When Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish are actively feeding on the surface, a very fast retrieve will fool them. Anglers literally can not reel fast enough to get a bait away from a hungry mackerel.
Jigs produce in cooler weather
As the weather cools, the water temperature drops, and the hordes of bait fish that inhabited the bay in the summer migrate to warmer waters, artificial lures become more productive. While lures certainly catch fish all year long, they are even more effective this time of year. And no bait is as versatile or effective on a variety of species as is the lead head jig.
Scented soft plastic baits on a 1/8 ounce jig head are deadly on redfish and snook when fished in shallow water around oyster bars and in pot holes. Root beer is a great color in darker water. The area from Stickney Pt. south to Blackburn Point is a great area to fish in cooler weather There are many oyster bars here and it is more protected on windy days. High tides in the afternoon are the best times to fish.
Potholes in north Sarasota Bay near Long Bar and Whale Key will hold snook and reds when the water is clear. Shallow grass flats on both sides of Sarasota Bay exist from New Pass north. A shallow draft is required for this method of fishing. Shallow water jig fishing is challenging, but rewarding. A 4” or 5” swim bait on a 1/16 ounce jig head is a good choice.
Depending on weather conditions, fishing can be very good in the inshore Gulf of Mexico for both surf fisherman and anglers in boats. Good conditions would be clean, clear water in the mid 60s. Jigs cast from shore will catch pompano, whiting, jacks, mackerel, and ladyfish. Tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can help a lot in the surf. This is particularly true in the winter when the water temperature is lower.
Fishing with jigs in the Gulf of Mexico
Anglers fishing from boats in the inshore Gulf of Mexico will find jigs productive as well. Anglers will target surface activity from breaking false albacore and Spanish mackerel. This is fairly easy fishing when the fish are this active. Just about any lure that is close to the forage in size and color will be devoured quickly. A very fast, steady retrieve will normally produce best.
The jig and grub will produce some very nice snook in area rivers in the winter. Snook migrate up creeks, rivers, and residential canals to survive cold winters. I prefer a slightly larger bait as trophy snook are the target. My favorite is the Bass Assassin 5” Die Dapper swim bait. Dark colors are good with Golden Bream being my go to pattern. There are a lot of downed trees and other submerged cover in the rivers. Jigs with exposed hooks will hang up a bit more often than other lures. Using a soft plastic baits on a special hook that keeps the hook buried will help reduce snags.
A jig with a wide gap, stout hook is required when jig fishing for snook. A 1/8 ounce is a good weight. The jig should fall slowly then reeled back in using a slow, steady retrieve. Snook can become a bit lethargic in the cooler water. However, they need to feed and bluegill, tilapia, and mullet are larger bait fish that the snook feed on. Larger baits tend to produce in this situation.
Small jigs are deadly on panfish when Sarasota jig fishing in area freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers. Jigs have been used successfully all over the country for decades now. 1/8 ounce and 1/16 ounce jig heads with tiny twister tail and shad tail grubs will produce a lot of fish. Bluegill, crappie, and small bass will take these lures which mimic tiny bait fish that are found in these waters.
I use two different tails on my Sarasota fishing charters; the 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad and a 3” Gulp Shrimp. The bass Assassin has more action. They are available in many colors. The Gulp Shrimp is great when the bite is a bit tough, the scent can really make a difference. Glow/chartreuse, chartreuse, and New Penny are my favorite colors.
The lure can be reeled in steadily, especially with the Bass assassin. However, a “jig and fall” retrieve often works best. The lure is twitched sharply and allowed to fall on a slack line. Most takes occur on the fall as the lure mimics a wounded bait fish or shrimp. Anglers will feel the thump and then reel up the slack and set the hook. This lure will catch fish everywhere!
I love fishing with plugs! Plugs are hard-bodied baits that mimic wounded bait fish. They put out a lot of flash and vibration. There are many quality plugs, but I prefer Rapala baits. My favorite plug is the Rapala X-Rap Extreme Action Slashbait. It is a “jerkbait”, which means it is slender with a very erratic action.
The X-Rap can be cast and trolled. Trolling is a very easy way to locate fish. The lure is simply let out behind the boat and pulled along at idle speed. This will catch fish in the bay, passes, in the Gulf, and in creeks and rivers in winter. I use the #(08) size in Sarasota Bay and the # (10) size for snook and other backwater fishing. White, gold, and pilchard (olive) are my top colors.
Most fish are caught by anglers casting. It will catch trout, mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish on the deep flats. It is my favorite snook fishing lure, catching plenty of jacks as well. The lure is cast out and jerked sharply. It is important to let the line go slack after the jerk! This will result in it suspending helplessly.
Other productive plugs include the Heddon Zara Spoon and a MirrOlure MirrOdine. The Zara Spook is a legendary topwater plug. The MirroDine is a suspending lure that works great on trout and other species.
The third type of lure that I use when fishing in Sarasota is a spoon. Spoons are curved pieces of metal that give out flash and vibration. They are generally heavy and can be cast a long way. They catch a variety of species, but are particularly effective on Spanish mackerel. Spoons can be trolled and cast.
My favorite casting spoon is a long, slender spoon called the Kastmaster spoon. I really like the action and it casts a great distance. It is effective when trolled as well. Wider spoons such as the Johnson Sprite are effective as well. Gold seems to be a good color for trout and silver fools mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and more.
I also use spoons for trolling the inshore Gulf. These are specialty spoons designed strictly for trolling. They are long and slender and can be trolled quite fast. I use Clark spoons for trolling. They are deadly on Spanish and king mackerel
The final type of spoon I use is the Johnson Silver Minnow spoon. This is a weedless spoon and I use it strictly for fishing very shallow water for redfish and snook. It casts well and runs shallow while rarely hanging up.
Top Sarasota fishing spots
There are a lot of good fishing spots in Sarasota. I wrote an article with a map, outlining these spots. Anglers can click on the link below to read more.
Sarasota Offshore Fishing Tips
The waters offshore in the Gulf of Mexico offer anglers a wide variety of angling opportunities. Both bottom fishing and trolling produce a wide variety of species. This article on Sarasota offshore fishing will help anglers catch more fish! Many thanks to Marissa for the great pictures and tips!
The Gulf of Mexico on the west coast of Florida near Sarasota slowly and gradually deepens as anglers head west. At ten miles, the water is 60 feet deep, at 30 miles it is 100 feet deep. The bottom is relatively flat, sandy, and featureless. This means that any ledge, coral, hard bottom, wreck, or reef is very likely to be an oasis in the otherwise barren landscape. Just about every species caught in the Gulf of Mexico will relate to some type of structure. Mangrove, red, lane, and yellowtail snapper are caught at these locations. Red, gag, scamp, and black grouper along with huge goliath grouper are found there as well. Triggerfish, porgy, grunts, amberjack, flounder, sea bass, and other species will be caught on these structures.
Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, tuna, and even wahoo will be found over structure, particularly larger reefs. The reefs will attract bait fish, which in turn brings in the game fish. Ledges and other hard bottom will also hold kings and other species. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program.
Near shore fishing in Sarasota
Anglers can experience some outstanding fishing quite close to shore in Sarasota when conditions are right. East winds will have the Gulf water smooth and clear. This will attract bait fish, which in turn brings in the game fish. King and Spanish mackerel, false albacore, bluefish, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon are found in the inshore waters off of the Sarasota beaches.
The techniques used in shallow water are basically the same as those used by anglers fishing many miles offshore. The tackle is similar, though generally a bit lighter as the fish are smaller. Several artificial reefs are located withing two miles in thirty feet of water. These are fish magnets! Ledges are small, rare, and difficult to locate in the shallow water. However, anglers who do find some good bottom close to shore will experience some excellent bottom fishing!
Offshore fishing in Sarasota; trolling
Trolling is a great way to locate productive bottom fishing spots, particularly on a calm day. Experienced anglers like to start trolling 5 to 10 miles before reaching the bottom spot that she is heading to. Then, with the lines put out, anglers keep their eyes on the bottom machine. Any bottom irregularity is saved on the GPS. These spots can the be explored later that day or on another trip.
The trolling spread consists of planers, plugs, and flat lines. On a large vessel, six lines can easily be put out. A planer is a device that digs down into the water, taking the lure down into the water column while allowing the boat to be driven fairly fast. Planers have a sliding ring where the planer “trips” when a fish hits. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the resistance of the planer.
Spoons are very productive offshore fishing lures
Spoons are most often used behind planers. They work well when trolled at higher speeds. Plugs can be used, however if they are too large, they will trip the planer. Trolling at 5-7 knots is effective for most Gulf of Mexico species. Several sizes and colors should be used until a productive pattern emerges.
Planers come in sizes, the smaller the number, the smaller the planer. A #1 planer dives 5-7 feet and is used with a 20′ piece of 30 lb flourocarbon leader and a small spoon. A #2 planer dives 12-15 feet and is used with 20′ of 50 ln leader and a medium spoon. A #3 planer will get down to 30 feet. It is used with 20′ of 80 lb leader and a large spoon. Conventional tackle is used as the planer puts a strain on the rod as it is trolled. A #3 planer requires a stout outfit!
Trolling with plugs
Plugs are also very effective when trolled. Plugs come in many different sizes and colors. The lip on the front of the plug determines the depth that it will dive down to. Most manufacturers have a chart that gives anglers an idea of how deep the plug will run. Rapala and Bomber both make excellent lures for offshore trolling. Trolling in shallow water with plugs is a very effective technique for anglers targeting gag grouper in the cooler months.
Trolling with skirted lures
Skirted lures are also effective lures for offshore trolling. These are often combined with a ballyhoo or other natural bait. The skirt adds action and color while the bait adds scent and texture. These lures are often fished right on the surface or just below it by our ladies offshore fishing.
The general rule when putting out a trolling spread is that the shallower running baits are put out the farthest behind the boat and are put out first. Marissa likes to put out a skirted ballyhoo on a flat line, way back and right down the middle. Then, she will put out a shallow diving plug, not quite as far back. The 3 planer outfits are then deployed, the #1, first, followed by the #2 and #3, each a little closer to the boat. Finally, a diving plug is put out 20 feet behind the stern, right in the prop wash.
Once the lines are put out, it is time to sit back and enjoy the day. Again, keeping an eye on the bottom machine will help locate other spots, along with bait and fish. Many anglers like to put a fairly small spoon on the #1 planer outfit. This will often result in blue runners and small mackerel being caught, which are excellent baits.
Offshore fishing in Sarasota; bottom fishing
Bottom fishing is extremely popular in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary reasons for this are simple; grouper and snapper! These much-desired bottom species are plentiful on the ledges and reefs offshore of Sarasota. Many other species are landed as well, including amberjack, triggerfish, grunts, porgies, sheepshead, flounder, and more.
Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. This is a boon to anglers. While they are productive, the most successful anglers find their own “private” fishing spots. An isolated ledge or piece of hard bottom that nobody else fishes is an angling gold mine! Once an angler finds a handful of these spots in various depths, there will be very few fish-less days.
It does take time to find these hidden gems. Many of these ledges or “breaks”, as they are termed locally, are small. A two foot rocky ledge in an otherwise barren, sandy area will hold a lot of fish. Trolling on a calm day is an excellent way to locate these spots. Also, there are usually multiple ledges that protrude from the bottom in an area. So, once a piece of bottom is found, that area should be explored to see if other ledges can be located.
Sarasota offshore fishing tips; anchoring
Anchoring properly is crucial to success when bottom fishing offshore. The deeper the water, the more difficult it is. Anglers must take the wind and current into account, then position the boat just up-wind and up-tide of the structure. Many anglers toss out a buoy of some sort to make the spot, providing a visual reference. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to anchoring. Dragging the anchor through a spot and ruining it is a terrible feeling!
The best approach is to mark the spot with a buoy. Then, anglers idle around back to the buoy, going straight into the wind. After traveling a short distance (which is determined by the wind and depth), the anchor is lowered and the boat eased back to the spot. Ideally, the boat will rest a short distance up-wind and up-tide of the spot.
Pro tip: once the boat comes to rest, take note of the compass heading. Unless the wind or current changes, this heading should work on the next spot or two if moving is necessary.
Smaller bay boats are now using GPS trolling motors to hold their position, especially on calm days. These powerful electric motors have revolutionized bottom fishing. The motor will hold the boat precisely over a spot. The angler can easily move 10-15 feet and fish another piece of the same structure. Obviously, it needs to be relatively calm to use a bow mounted trolling motor.
Bottom fishing techniques
Once properly positioned, it is time to fish. The first order of business is to put out some chum. Most anglers tie a bag of frozen chum, to the stern. As it thaws, the chum will disperse into the water. This will often times bring fish, especially snapper, up off the bottom. A handful or two of fresh chopped bait will slowly sink down and stimulate the fish.
Most anglers opt for basic bottom rigs. A sliding egg sinker is placed on the running line. A swivel it tied on the end of the line. A leader is tied on the other end of the swivel, followed by the hook. Leader lengths vary by preference and depth. A three foot leader is fine in shallow water while a ten foot leader might be better in over a hundred feet. Anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico are required to use circle hooks. Florida fishing regulations can be found at the FWC site.
Another very simple rig is the “knocker rig”. The angler slides the sinker on the running line, followed by the hook. Not only is this simple and re-rigging very fast, it is very effective as well. The bait will rest right on the bottom, near the sinker. The line will freely move through the sinker without feeling any resistance. Finally, snags are easy to free up as the sinker knocks against the hook. Thus the name, “knocker rig”.
Offshore fishing tackle for Sarasota anglers
Conventional tackle and spinning tackle can be used offshore. Spinning tackle in the 20 lb class works well for snapper, which can be line shy at times. A 7′ to 8′ spinning rod, matching reel, and 20 lb monofilament or braided line is a good outfit. Anglers using braid will need a long flourocarbon leader. The lightest sinker that will reach the bottom is used. A slowly sinking bait will produce on the snapper.
Mangrove snapper will often “rise up” into the surface chum. This is fantastic! The fish can be caught using fairly light tackle as they are so far from the protection of the structure. A hook baited with a piece of bait floated back naturally will get the job done.
Serious grouper diggers use heavy conventional tackle. This is required to winch and angry grouper up and out of it’s hole. The same is true if amberjack are present. These hard-pulling fish are not called “reef donkeys” for no reason, their nick name is well-earned.
Sarasota offshore fishing baits
Every offshore anglers has a favorite bait. Marissa has found that as an all-round multi species bait that catches everything, it is hard to beat frozen Spanish sardines. They are available at every tackle shop. Sardines, and other frozen bait, need to be thawed out. It is best to use salt water to thaw out bait. Using fresh water will make the bait mushy. Anglers should thaw out a little at a time, keeping it firm.
Other frozen baits such as squid and mullet work well, too. Any fresh caught legal fish can be cut up and used as bait. Fresh cut bait works very well for grouper and red snapper, along with just about every other species.
Live baits are effective offshore
Live baits are a little more trouble, as in most instances they must be caught, but many anglers find them worth the effort. Pinfish are a terrific bait for grouper, snapper, and amberjack when bottom fishing offshore. Many anglers feel that a large, live shrimp is the best bait for mangrove snapper.
The technique for fishing both live and cut bait is the same. Anglers drop the bait to the bottom, then reel up the slack. They stand ready, with the rot tip down near the surface. When a fish bites, the angler waits until until a steady pull is felt. Then, he or she reefs fast and hard, pulling the fish up away from the structure.
Once the angler gains a few feet, a steady lifting of the rod tip, then reeling down to pick up the slack, will usually result in a landed fish. Setting the hook does NOT work with circle hooks anywhere, especially in deep water.
Sarasota Chumming Techniques
Chumming has been around for as long as humans have been fishing. Anglers use Sarasota chumming techniques to catch a wide variety of species. Fish will respond to chum of all kinds in a variety of applications. These tactics not only work in Sarasota, but anywhere that anglers fish.
Chumming is basically the art of using food to attract fish to the angler. It can be done from shore, bridges, and piers. However, most associate chumming with boats. Chum can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. All are effective when used properly. Chumming is a deadly technique that should be part of every angler’s arsenal.
Frozen chum blocks are very effective. These are basically chunks of ground up oily fish. Oily fish such as menhaden, sardines, mackerel, and mullet make the best frozen chum. The oils that are emitted from the chum block help to attract the fish. Chum blocks often come in a mesh bag. This makes using them very easy. They are simply tied to a cleat at the start of the boat. As the chum melts, it is dispersed behind the boat. Chum blocks are available at just about every saltwater bait shop.
Fresh dead chum can also be extremely effective. This can be as simple as cutting up a few pieces of shrimp and tossing him in the water. This can work very well in the cooler months for fish species such as sheepshead and snapper. Anglers bottom fishing offshore will often caught up a fish they have caught, using it as chum.
One of the most effective Sarasota chumming techniques is the use of live bait fish as chum. This is a bit of a specialized method. It does require a lot of bait fish. Anglers catch scaled sardines (AKA pilchards), threadfin herring, and small Spanish sardines using a cast net. The baits are then put in a large, recirculating live well. Keeping a lot a baits alive and frisky is very important. The live bait is then tossed out behind the boat in hopes of attracting game fish.
Sarasota chumming techniques
The technique when using chum, no matter what kind, is basically the same. The angler is usually stationary, but it can be done from a drifting boat as well. This is primarily done offshore in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. Whether from an anchored boat or a dock, bridge, or pier, the chum is dispersed into the water. The current will take the chum away from the boat or structure and draw in the game fish.
Strategy comes into play when using Sarasota chumming techniques. Tide is the most important factor. Anglers will want to anchor the boat up tide of the area that is to be fished. This is true whether anglers are chumming inshore or offshore. The stronger the current, and the deeper the water, the further up current the angler will need to position the boat.
Chumming has been a mainstay of offshore anglers for decades. Those fishing wrecks, artificial reefs, and areas of hard bottom use chum to excite the resident fish. Chum can be dispersed both on the surface and on the bottom surface. Chum will attract species such as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, tuna, and other species. Bottom fish such as grouper, snapper, grunts, and other species will respond to chum on the bottom.
Chumming the water column
Chum deployed on the surface can attract bottom fish as well. This is true if the angler is fishing and water that isn’t that deep or if the current isn’t very strong. Surface chum can also be used to pull fish up off the bottom. It is very cool when a school of mangrove snapper rises up off the bottom and starts feeding on chum right at the surface!
Anglers will oftentimes use both methods of chumming. A frozen chum block can be lower to the bottom while another is tied off the stern. Sometimes the surface chum will attract bait fish, which in turn will attract the game fish. Once the fish are in the chum “slick”, it is time to go fishing!
Every angler has his or her favorite rig for offshore fishing. It is basically a running line, a leader, a hook, and if required, some weight. If fish are seen right at the surface in the chum, free lining bait back to them can be extremely productive. A piece of bait with no weight floating back looks very natural. In fact, the desired effect is to have it looked exactly like the other chum floating back.
Rigging for chumming
Anglers bottom fishing will obviously need to add some weight. I prefer the “knocker rig”where the egg sinker lies right on the eye of the hook. Many anglers prefer to put the sinker on the running line then a swivel and a leader and hook. Both work fine, it’s just a matter of preference. With both bottom fishing and surface fishing, water clarity will be a determining factor in leader size.
Just a quick note; here in Sarasota in the Gulf of Mexico, anglers are required to use circle hooks when fishing offshore. Florida fishing regulations have become a bit strict. There are close seasons on grouper and snapper. The consensus is that circle hooks reduce the mortality rate of released fish.
Chumming can be effective from a drifting boat as well. This is something that is done more often in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. The chum is just dispersed over the side of the boat as it drifts with the current and wind. As in all forms of chumming, the hope is that it will draw game fish to the angler.
Inshore chumming tactics
While many anglers think of chumming as in offshore technique, it is used quite often when fishing inshore as well. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, I use every trick that I know to help my clients catch fish. I use Sarasota chumming techniques on a regular basis to achieve this goal on a Sarasota fishing charter.
We experience a strong run of sheepshead starting around the first of the year. These tasty saltwater panfish stick around until early April or so. The water can get quite chilly this time of year. The number one bait for catching sheepshead on my Sarasota fishing charters is shrimp. Both live shrimp and frozen shrimp are effective.
On those days when the water is chilly, chumming with small pieces of shrimp can be the difference between success and failure. The sheepshead and snapper are a bit lethargic in this cold water. A couple shrimp diced up into tiny bits and tossed back into the current will oftentimes stimulate the fish.
Live bait chumming
Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique! This is something I do all summer long and into the fall until the water temperature hits around 70°. When baitfish are plentiful, it is a simple matter to cast net up a bunch of pilchards (scaled sardines) or threadies (threadfin herring) to use. Local anglers call this “white bait”or “shiners”.
Using live bait is one of the Sarasota chumming techniques that I use all summer long. I mostly do this on the deep grass flats. These are submerge grass beds in between 6 feet of water and 10 feet of water. This deeper water is cooler than the shallower water is. Anglers seeking action and variety target the deep grass flats in the summer time.
I anchor the boat up current and upwind of the flat that I want to chum. Then, I simply toss out a few handfuls of live bait as chum. If the game fish are around, it won’t take them long to find the chum. Often times fish will be seen “popping”the bait behind the boat. Hooked baits are then tossed out and hookups are soon to follow.
Many different species are caught in Sarasota on the deep grass flats using this technique. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, bluefish, Seabass, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, jack crevalle and other species will all be attracted to the chum. This is a great time of year for novice anglers and children to experience some terrific action on a Sarasota fishing charter!
Chumming for snook
I will also use this technique to catch snook, redfish, and jacks in the spring and the fall. The bait fish needs to be a bit larger to attract the snook. However, not as many bait fish are required. The procedure is similar to fishing the deep grass flats. The boat is anchored up current of the area to be fished. Docks, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines are all productive spots.
Once in position, a few pieces of bait are tossed out behind the boat. Less chum is used in this situation. We want to excite and attract the fish, not fill them up. Too much bait in the water will result in the snook losing interest. Again, this is a great way for less experienced anglers to have a chance to catch a big fish.
Sarasota chumming techniques are used extensively in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. In the spring and again in the fall, Spanish and king mackerel along with false albacore, sharks, cobia, and other species migrate along the beaches. They are following the migrating schools of bait fish. All of the species respond well to frozen and live chum.
Chum works especially well for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. These fish are very fast, school up in big numbers, and are aggressive. There are three artificial reefs within 2 miles of Lido Key. These reefs are fish magnets and attract mackerel, false albacore, and other species.
Chumming the inshore Gulf of Mexico
The best technique is to anchor up current of the artificial reef. The chum can then be dispersed out behind the boat to attract the game fish. Frozen chum blocks work fine for this type of fishing. However, anglers live bait chumming can really get the fish fired up! When the fish get feeding heavily, it can sound like hand grenades going off in the water.
Using the proper amount of chum is extremely important. This is something that an angler will only learn by experience. Also, every day is different. This is especially true with live bait chumming. Some days just several baits every five minutes will be plenty. On other days, it will take a lot of chum to keep them behind the boat and excited.
The goal when chumming is to attract the fish, and get them excited, but without filling them up. If too much chum is used, the fish will remain back in the slick, but will become difficult to catch. The best bet is to use chum sparingly in the beginning then step it up if the bite is a bit slow. It is always better to start slow like this than to chum too much in the beginning.
Anglers will sometimes find that fish are hitting the chum bait but will not take a baited hook. This tends to occur more often when the water is very clear. The solution is to go lighter with the leader and use a smaller hook. Also, wherever possible use little or no weight. Anglers can view current Florida regulations here.
Chumming for sharks
One of the other Sarasota chumming techniques I use is to cut up fish for small sharks. In the summer time, black tip and bonnet head sharks move in from the Gulf of Mexico and scatter out on the flats to feed. The flats closest to the passes are generally the most productive. The sharks are often caught in water as shallow as 3 feet deep. They are a really fun size, averaging between 15 pounds and 40 pounds.
I most often do this at the end of a Sarasota fishing charter. I will save a few ladyfish and jacks to use for bait and chum. Both of these fish are oily and are good shark baits. I will fillet the fish and cut a couple nice chunks of that fillet for bait. I’ll take the rest of the fillet and chop it up into pieces. This I will use for chum. I also take the fish carcasses, tie them together, and put them in the water for chum as well.
Sarasota snook fishing
Visiting anglers love Sarasota snook fishing! Snook are without a doubt Florida’s premier inshore game fish. Snook grow quite large, the state record is 44 pounds. They fight very hard, hit artificial lures with abandon, and are available here all year for clients taking out a Sarasota fishing charter.
Snook habits are a lot like those of largemouth bass. They are structure oriented ambush predators. Snook are usually found under or near cover such as docks oyster bars, bridges, mangrove shorelines, and other structure, natural or man-made. They use their broad powerful tail to quickly overtake prey. Snook have very large mouth and can easily inhale a large bait fish. Sarasota has a good population of snook and offers good year-round fishing for them.
Capt Jim wrote a very detailed article on snook fishing tackle and lures
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. Let’s go through the annual process. In the winter, especially if it’s been chilly, snook will be up in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. The water in these areas is warmer than the exposed shallow flats of Sarasota Bay. Snook are very temperature intolerant; extended exposure to water below 60° can kill them. Most canals creeks and rivers have deeper holes where snook can find sanctuary. Often times, the water is darker as well. Darker water is usually warmer. Finally, bait fish move up into these areas for the same reason thus providing forage for the snook.
As it begins to warm up and spring, snook will migrate out of these creeks canals and rivers. They will move into the backwater inshore areas of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay. These bays have expanses of shallow grass along with mangrove lined banks. Oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks will hold snook as a set up feeding stations.
Summertime snook habits
By May, many of the snook, especially the larger ones, will move into the passes and out onto the beaches. Snook spawn out on the beach and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They tend to school up this time of year. By September, the pattern reverses itself. Snook will move back into the bays to feed up, eventually winding up in the creeks rivers and canals by the end of the year.
Tackle for Sarasota snook fishing needs to be a bit stouter than what is used for speckled trout and other species. A 7 foot fast action rod (that is strong at the handle with a lot of back bone but with a softer tip) and a 3000 series reel is a good outfit. Braided line is best as a lot of snook fishing is done near structure. A “shock leader” is used when snook fishing. They have a razor sharp gill plate, so a 24” piece of 40 pound flourocarbon leader is required.
River snook fishing
I really enjoy fishing for snook in the creeks and rivers in the wintertime. Snook are relatively concentrated in the smaller bodies of water, thus easier to locate. There are several creeks in the area; Philliippi Creek, Bowlee’s Creek, and Whittaker and Hudson Bayous that hold snook in the winter. Siesta Key and Longboat Key have many miles of residential canals that hold fish as well.
I especially enjoy making the short drive out to several of the area rivers. The Myakka River in Venice Florida and the Manatee River in Bradenton Florida offer terrific winter snook fishing. These rivers have a freshwater feel to them. Using my 14 foot Alumacraft Jon boat, we drift down the peaceful river with the current while trolling or casting lures to likely fish holding structure. Downed trees, rocky banks, and deep holes are all likely spots.
Both the Manatee River and Myakka River are just a short 30 to 40 minute drive from the Sarasota beaches. But it seems like a world away! The Myakka River in particular offer some fantastic scenery in a very unique fishing opportunity. Bird life is abundant and large alligators are seen regularly. Another bonus is the opportunity to catch largemouth bass mixed in with the snook.
Snook thrive in brackish water
These rivers are brackish, which means they are a mixture of fresh and saltwater. This is an environment that both snook and bass thrive in. Jack crevelle, redfish, catfish, juvenile tarpon, gar, sunshine bass ( a striper white bass hybrid) and other species are also taken on these river fishing charters.
The Braden River is a tributary on the Manatee River and offers good winter Sarasota snook fishing. It is strictly saltwater, the dam at Lake Manatee keeps the fresh water from mixing with the salt water. Large jack crevelle are plentiful there in the winter. The Braden River is a bit more developed, but is also closer to Sarasota. It is a good winter snook option on Sarasota fishing charters.
I prefer artificial lures for my winter snook fishing. My favorite lure is the Rapala X Rap. These lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water quickly which is important. The erratic action of the plug’s triggers some jarring strikes! The pair of treble hooks results in a good bite to hookup ratio. Gold with a black back is a great color in the tannin river water.
Soft plastic swim baits such as the Bass Assassin Die Dapper are used as well. Dark colors such as Golden Bream work well in the dark, tannin water. Most times the bait is taken on the fall or after the first couple of hops. Anglers can rig soft plastic baits weedless on a horizontal weighted hook. In more open water, a 1/8 ounce jig head works well.
Artificial lures work well when snook fishing on the flats
Fishing for snook in the inshore flats and backwaters of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay is also very enjoyable. Once again, artificial lures are my choice as they allow anglers to cover as much water as possible. Clients will work oyster bars drop-offs, docks, and other likely ambush points. The same Rapala X Raps work well here, with olive and ghost being better colors in the lighter water.
Soft plastic baits work very well in this application as well. A 1/8 ounce Bass Assassin Pro Elite jig head is a good choice. A stout hook is required when fishing for big snook. The Die Dapper swim bait in root beer works well. White Gulp jerk worms are another proven bait for backwater snook fishing. Redfish and jacks will also hit the same lures in the same areas, just an added bonus!
Snook fishing with live bait
Live bait certainly produces when Sarasota snook fishing in the back country. A live large shrimp fished near the dock pilings, oyster bar, or other structure will often produce snook as well as other species. Shrimp produce very well for anglers fishing lighted docks and bridges at night as well. Small bait fish such as pin fish and grunts will produce, often catching larger fish.
There is a specialized technique I utilize in the spring and the fall to catch a lot of snook. This is called live bait chumming. When conditions are right, I will use my cast net to catch a bunch of good-sized pilchards in the 3 inch range. I will then anchor the boat near a likely spot, be it a dock or mangrove shoreline. I will toss out a couple handfuls of baits that are not hooked. These free swimming baits will hopefully attract snook. Once the snook are excited and into a feeding mood, hooked baits are tossed into the fray. This technique gives even the novice angler a chance to catch a nice fish.
Night fishing for snook
Night fishing is another very productive, yet kind of specialized technique. Snook are nocturnal feeders and do most of their active feeding at night. All area bridges have lights on the fender systems. These lights attract glass minnows and shrimp, which in turn attracts game fish. Snook can be seen stacked up under these lights. Many docks have “snook lights” on them as well.
Boat positioning is very important when night fishing. The best approach is to anchor forty feet or so out from the light and a bit up-current. This allows for a natural presentation to the fish in the light. It is not quite as easy as it sounds, especially on a breezy evening with strong tides.
Live shrimp works very well for night fishing. They will catch speckled trout, snapper, ladyfish, and other species as well. A medium sized shrimp is perfect. Free line the shrimp on a #1/0 bait hook and add a split shot if required due to a strong current. Lures such as plugs, jigs, and shrimp imitations work well, too. Fly anglers can catch a lot of snook at night! Small white bait fish patterns mimic the glass minnows perfectly. Flies can also be very subtle in their presentation.
Tides are very important when it comes to locating snook. Very low tides will concentrate fish in the holes and in the deeper water of channels. Snook will not allow themselves to be exposed on a very shallow flat at low tide. As the tide rises fish will move out of these deeper areas and up on the flats and shorelines to feed. High tides allow anglers to get all the way up into the back country, but can also make it difficult to locate fish as a scatter over a large area.
Think of tide direction like current in a river. Game fish will take up station down tide of a piece of structure. Tide ( or current) will bring shrimp and bait fish to them. It is a lot like a freshwater trout holding behind a rock in a stream. Tides will position fish on a piece of structure as well as a large flat. Understanding tides and how they affect fish movements is critical to being a successful snook angler.
Falling tides are my preferred tide for snook fishing. As water pulls out of the bays, fish will stage at likely ambush points. Even the slightest depth change can hold fish. Cuts and oyster bars, mouths of creeks, and points with tide swirling around it are all great spots to targets snook on a fallen tide. Schools of bait fish such as glass minnows and others small bait fish only increase the chances. Add in some cloud cover or low light conditions such as early-morning late afternoon, and you have very good chances of catching and inshore snook!
Snook fishing in the passes
Both big Sarasota Pass and New Pass hold a lot of snook all summer long. The north end of Siesta Key in Big Pass in particular has abundant structure and deep water. Snook and other game fish find this very attractive. As much is I enjoy using artificial baits, live bait works best in the passes. Large hand picked shrimp are fantastic bait! 3 inch to 4 inch pin fish and grunts also work well, as does a large pilchard.
Again, outgoing tides are preferred for snook fishing in the passes, however, they will feed on the incoming tide as well. A 2/0 live bait hook with a 24′ piece of 40 pound leader and just enough weight to hold bottom is the preferred rate. During periods of very little title movement, the bait can be free lined. This means no weight is used at all, just the hook and bait. Some of the largest snook of the year will be caught using these techniques.
Fly fishing for snook
One little secret we have in this area is the fantastic site fishing for snook off of the Sarasota and Siesta Key beaches. When the water is clear and the surface calm, snook can be seen cruising right in the surf line searching for crabs and bait fish. Anglers can use light spinning tackle and fly tackle to sight cast to these cruising fish. Light tackle can be used as this is all open water, there are very few obstructions for the snook to wrap up in.
Although snook can be caught at all times of day off the beach mornings are best. The prime time is from around 7:30 AM to 10 o’clock or so. At this morning our it is still cool and there are very few swimmers. Anglers will pick a likely stretch of beach and walk north with the sun at his or her back, optimizing sight fishing possibilities. Once fish are spotted, the lure fly is cast out a bit ahead of the fish and worked back to it. It is great fun to watch the snook take your lure fly and then put up a great battle!
Sarasota speckled trout fishing
Sarasota speckled trout fishing is extremely popular. Speckled trout are arguably the most popular it saltwater inshore game fish in Florida. This is really true for the entire Gulf Coast.
There are several reasons for the popularity of speckled trout. They are a beautiful fish. Speckled trout are abundant and available to coastal anglers throughout the state. Trout are aggressive, taking live bait, artificial lures, and flies. Lastly, they are fantastic table fare. What more could an angler ask for?
Most of the Sarasota speckled trout fishing is done on submerged grass beds in Sarasota Bay. A few trout are caught in the surf, in the passes, and near structure. However, the vast majority are found on grass flats in between four and ten feet of water. Some of the largest trout will be caught in very shallow water. These “gator” trout are normally loners and not in schools.
Speckled trout can be caught using several different tactics and many different baits. This is one of the things that speckled trout so attractive to anglers. The oldest and still one of the most productive techniques is a live shrimp under a popping cork. This is a “system” that works very well on trout as well as other species on the grass flats.
Spinning tackle is the choice of most anglers fishing the inshore flats for speckled trout. A 6 ½ foot to 7 foot rod with a 3000 series reel is a versatile outfit. Ten pound monofilament line works well. Anglers who prefer braided line will do well with 20 lb braid. A 24” shock leader of 25lb to 30lb test finishes off the basic tackle.
The rig consists of a #1/0 live bait hook, 24” of 30 lb leader, and a noisy float or “cork”. These floats have a weight at the bottom and a concave top. It sits upright in the water and when the rod tip is sharply twitched, the cork “pops” in the water. This noise attracts fish as it imitates fish feeding on the surface. The depth can be adjusted, but generally three feet is a good depth.
Live bait for speckled trout
Anglers cast the rig out with a live shrimp hooked in the head under the horn. It is allowed to settle and then the cork is “popped”. The shrimp will rise up in the water then settle back down. Often times the bite occurs right after the cork is popped. When a fish pulls the cork under, the slack is eliminated and the hook is set. The process is repeated several times, then reeled in and cast back out.
Live bait fish such as pinfish and grunts can be used under a float as well. While difficult to obtain, there is no better bait for a nice speckled trout that a 3” grunt. Pilchards and threadfin herring can also be used. One new twist is to fish an artificial shrimp under a noisy cork. This works quite well!
Catching trout on artificial lures
Artificial lures are very effective for anglers Sarasota speckled trout fishing. The most popular lure is a lead head jig with some type of soft plastic body. ¼ ounce is a very good choice for a jig head. Most often, anglers will be fishing in six feet to eight feet of water. A ¼ ounce jig casts well and will get down in the water column.
Grub bodies come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. #3” to 4” baits work best in Sarasota Bay. That size matches the existing forage nicely. Shad tails have a great built in action and imitate bait fish nicely. Paddle tails and shrimp tails mimic shrimp, a favorite trout food. Color really is not all that important in most cases. The old saying “light colors in light water and dark colors in dark water” is a good guideline. White, pearl, glow, chartreuse, pink, olive, gold, rootbeer, and golden bream are all productive colors.
On days when the bite is tough, switching to scented soft plastic baits will sometimes get the bite going. The most effective scented soft plastic bait in this area are the Gulp line of baits. The 3” Gulp Shrimp has fooled many speckled trout on the west coast of Florida. It also works great fished under a cork with a 1/16 ounce jig head.
Plugs work well for speckled trout, too. Topwater plugs will catch large trout fished over bars and potholes on the high tide. First thing in the morning is the best time. MirrOlure makes several suspending plugs that have been catching trout for many years. The 52M series and Mirrodines work great.
Fly anglers are certainly not to be left out when it comes to Sarasota speckled trout fishing. Many speckled trout are fooled by skilled fly casters. The best out fit is a 7wt to 9wt rod with an intermediate sink tip line. A 9′ leader that tapers down to 20 lb tippet works fine. The most popular fly choice is the Clouser Minnow. Is is a weighted fly that actually fishes like a jig. Chartreuse and white is a proven color pattern.
Speckled trout spend a lot of their lives loosely schooled over deep grass flats. Therefore, drifting the flats while fan casting out in front of the boat is an extremely effective technique. The best approach is to choose a flat where the wind and tide are moving in the same direction. This will facilitate a good drift.
Once some action is found, anglers have a choice. They can either continue continue the drift and then when the action slows motor around and drift again. Another approach is to quietly anchor the boat and thoroughly work the area with either lures or live bait.
One extremely productive technique is to chum with live bait. This works very well in the summer when bait is abundant and east to catch. A LOT of bait is required for this. Specialized equipment such as a cast net and the ability to toss it, a large well, and high volume pump are also needed.
Once the well is loaded up (“blacked out” as we call it) the boat in anchored in six feet of water or so. Anglers will do well to position the boat on the up-tide end of a good flat. Live bait fish are then tossed out behind the boat. Several baits are hooked up and cast out into the chum. If the trout and other game fish are around, it won’t take them long to show up. The chum will get them fired up and feeding.
Sarasota speckled trout fishing spots
The best flats in Sarasota Bay are from Siesta Key north. Bird Key, Radio Tower, Middlegrounds, Stephen’s Pt., Bishop’s Pt., Buttonwood, and Long Bar are the top spots. In the summer, the flats near the passes are usually the best spots to fish. Strong tidal flow and abundant bait fish as forage are a couple of reasons for this.
The area south, from Siesta Drive to Blackburn Pt. Does hold speckled trout. However, the character is I bit different. Grass beds are not at all plentiful. Most fish relate to oyster bars and mangrove shorelines. This area won’t produce the numbers of the north bay, but it will reward patient anglers with some quality fish.
Shallow water trout fishing
Some of the largest speckled trout will be caught in very shallow water. This seems like a contradiction, but it makes sense. Large fish do not need the safety of numbers. They also are less afraid of birds. Finally, large trout feed primarily on large baits such as pinfish, grunts, and mullet. They prefer one large meal versus a bunch of shrimp.
Shallow water trout fishing is very tide specific. Trout will position themselves on the edges of plats and in holes on the lower tide stages. As the water rises, they will fan out on the flats, scatter out, and feed. As the tide falls, trout will set up in likely ambush points. Bars that drop off, holes, and channels that run through flats are prime examples.
Tactics are a bit different in this “skinny” water. Topwater plugs are a good choice. They imitate a perfect sized mullet and will not hang up in the grass. Soft plastic baits used in conjunction with a weedless swim bait hook works well getting through the grass. If the grass is sparse or the tide high, a 1/8 ounce jig head with a 4” shad tail bait is a good choice. Weedless spoons will also produce in shallow water without hanging up.
Speckled trout fishing in winter
Speckled trout will move off of the flats in the winter if the water temperature drops into the mid 50’s. They will move to deeper holes, most of which are man made “dredge” holes. The same goes for channels cutting through a flat or near the edge. Trout will school up in the deeper, warmer water.
A jig bounced slowly off the bottom will catch these deep water trout. The fish will be a bit less active, so a more subtle presentation will usually be more productive. Live shrimp free lined with a split shot are seldom refused. It takes a bit of prospecting, but once a large school of trout is found, the action can be frantic.
Another productive winter Sarasota speckled trout fishing tactic is to anchor on the edge of a grass flat that drops off into deeper water. A free lined live shrimp with a small split shot works very well. Again, this can produce a lot of action if a school is found.
Silver trout are similar in appearance to speckled trout and are sometimes caught on the deep flats while speckled trout fishing. They do not have spots and can have a purple back. While they look similar, their habits are quite different. Silver trout school up tightly in large numbers. Once located, a bunch of them can be caught in short order.
Silver trout are usually caught over sandy bottom in water, between 10′ and 20′ deep. They are often targeted in the Gulf of Mexico, Point of Rocks is a top spot. Jigs bounced on the bottom are very effective, as are live shrimp. Silver trout pull surprisingly hard for their size. There is no size or bag limit on silver trout. They taste great but don’t freeze all that well. The flesh can be a bit soft, so only keep enough for a couple of fresh fish dinners.
While speckled trout are outstanding table fare, it is very important to release the larger fish. The current regulations allow anglers to keep three trout between 15″ and 19″ with one over 20″ per boat. I strongly encourage the release of fish over 20″. I do not kill them on my trips. These are female breeders that we need to continue the success of the species.
Sarasota Spanish Mackerel Fishing
Anglers very much enjoy Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing! Spanish mackerel are aggressive, fight very hard, are one of the fastest fish in the sea, and taste great when eaten fresh. What more could an angler ask for? It is one of the favorite species of clients on my Sarasota fishing charters.
Atlantic Spanish mackerel is the species that Sarasota, Florida anglers will catch. They migrate up the east coast as far as Cape Cod. They will cover the entire Gulf Coast. Anglers catch Spanish mackerel using a wide variety of baits and techniques. These will be covered in this article on Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Tackle
Spanish mackerel average 2 to 5 pounds in Florida. Therefore, spinning tackle is usually the best choice when pursuing them. The lures and live baits often used when fishing for mackerel can be quite light. Long cast can be required at times as well. While conventional tackle can be used, especially when trolling, spinning tackle works best in most applications.
The same inshore spinning outfits that most anglers use for snook, redfish, and speckled trout will work well when targeting Spanish mackerel. A 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot fast action rod combined with a 3000 series spinning reel is a great all around combo. I prefer monofilament line when targeting Spanish mackerel. I feel that the stretch in the line can actually be beneficial as these fish are so fast and pull so hard.
Some type of leader will be required when fishing for Spanish mackerel. They have very sharp teeth, and cutoffs will occur. While steel leaders will reduce or eliminate cutoffs, they will also reduce strikes. This is especially true in a clear water that Spanish mackerel prefer. A good compromise is to use a 30 inch piece of 30 pound to 40 pound fluorocarbon leader.
Anglers seeking to catch Spanish mackerel on fly can easily do so. A 7wt outfit works well. Both floating and intermediate sink tip lines will be fine. Spanish mackerel are easy to catch when they are working up on the surface. A white D.T. Special fly tied on a long shank hook is effective and will reduce cut-offs.
Baits and lures for Spanish mackerel
Both artificial lures and live baits are extremely effective when Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing. Both have their advantages, depending on conditions. Anglers casting lures can cover a lot of water quickly and also elicit savage strikes from the aggressive mackerel. Live bait is usually a better choice when anchored over structure or when chumming fish behind the boat.
Spoons, jigs, and plugs are all effective lures for Spanish mackerel. Silver spoons can be cast a long way and mimic the bait fish that mackerel are usually feeding on. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch Shad tail grub also works well. The grub tail is easily replaced when torn up by the toothy Spanish mackerel. Plugs are also very effective, though a bit more costly. Anglers need to be prepared to lose some lures, it is just part of fishing for Spanish mackerel.
Anglers can read more about the best Spanish mackerel fishing lures in this link.
Live bait certainly accounts for many Spanish mackerel being caught. Live shrimp is probably the number one live bait, as it is available at bait shops year-round. Small live bait fish such as pilchards, threadfin herring, and sardines can be extremely productive baits. Cut bait will catch plenty of mackerel as well, especially if it is fresh.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Techniques
Spanish mackerel require a high level of salinity. Therefore, they are found in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and inshore waters close to inlets and passes. Inshore bays, passes and inlets, in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean are the prime areas to target Spanish mackerel. They are often targets on a Sarasota fishing charter.
Inshore Spanish mackerel fishing
The most effective technique when targeting Spanish mackerel in the inshore bays is to drift over grass flats and 6 feet to 10 feet of water. Anglers can cast artificial lures such as spoons, jigs, and plugs as they drift along with the tide and wind. The best approach is to cast with the wind ahead of the drifting boat. Mackerel prefer a fast, aggressive retrieve. Fish can often times be seen working on the surface. Bird activity is another good sign that Spanish mackerel are present.
Anglers can also drift a live bait behind the boat when drifting the inshore flats. A # 1/0 long shank hook works well and will help reduce cutoffs. A live shrimp or bait fish is simply hooked in the front then cast out behind the boat and allowed to drift naturally. If the current or wind is strong, a small split shot may be required to get the bait down in the water column.
Chumming is also a very effective technique on the inshore flats. Both frozen chum and live chum can be used to draw mackerel up behind the boat. The technique is fairly simple; the boat is anchored up current of a likely flat or spot and chum is added into the water. Blocks of frozen chum can be purchased at most bait shops and work well. Chumming with live bait fish is more complicated but is a deadly technique. Once the fish are actively feeding behind the boat, they will hit both live and artificial baits.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Passes
On the East Coast of Florida the term inlet is used while on the Gulf Coast we call them passes. They are essentially the same thing, a narrow channel that connects the inshore bays to the open Gulf or ocean. They are both prime spots to target Spanish mackerel. Fish use passes and inlets as highways to migrate in and out of the bays and into the open waters of the Gulf and ocean.
Anglers can target Spanish mackerel in passes and inlets using several different techniques. Drifting with the current is very productive. The boat is idled up current of the area to be finished, then the current moves the boat over the targeted spot. Artificial lures work very well in this application, particularly spoons and jigs. These lures are heavy and will sink down in the current. Plugs will work well when fish are seen actively feeding on the surface.
Spanish mackerel may be found anywhere in a pass or inlet, but there are a few areas that will consistently hold fish. The mouth of the inlet or pass can be very productive on the last couple hours of the falling tide. Shallow bars that drop off into deep water can produce at any time. Structure such as rip-rap and docks will also hold fish.
Many inlets and passes have long rock jetties on either side. These are terrific spots for anglers without a boat to catch Spanish mackerel. In the spring and the fall when bait is plentiful, mackerel will usually be thick in these areas. When the run is on, it is mayhem! Artificial lures are tough to beat in this situation, as at times longer cast will need to be made. A half ounce silver spoon is tough to beat.
Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: The beach
Many Spanish mackerel are caught in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico within a couple miles of shore. Spanish mackerel are generally caught reasonably shallow, in water around 30 feet deep. Often times, fish can be seen feeding voraciously on the surface. This is one of my favorite forms of fishing! It is great fun casting a lure into a fish feeding frenzy, knowing that you’re going to get a strike. False albacore and other species can be an added bonus.
While mackerel can be encountered in open water almost anywhere, structure in hard bottom areas will attract bait. This will in turn attract the Spanish mackerel and other game fish. Artificial reefs and water between 20 feet deep and 50 feet deep are prime spots. Here in Sarasota where I guided fish, we have several artificial reefs just a couple miles off the beach. These are very reliable spots to target Spanish mackerel.
Hard bottom areas in the same depths will also concentrate Spanish mackerel. The same ledges that you fish for grunts, sheepshead, grouper, and snapper will hold bait and attract mackerel. Since the spots are generally fairly small, anchoring is often the best approach. Anglers should anchor just up current from the break and free line baits back behind the boat. Live or frozen chum should get the bite going quickly.
Trolling for Spanish mackerel
Trolling is an incredibly effective technique and will put a lot of Spanish mackerel and the boat in a short amount of time. Trolling has several advantages when targeting Spanish mackerel. Anglers can cover a lot of water in a short period of time when trolling. This can be particularly important on days with a little chopped on the surface or when fish aren’t showing on top. Once a school of fish is located, trolling can produce a lot a fish in short order. Finally, trolling is really quite easy to do.
Trolling is simply driving the boat around 5 to 7 knots while dragging lures behind. But, as in all fishing, there are nuances and techniques that will improve the success rate. Spanish mackerel prefer lures that are moving at a brisk pace. This means that we have to get the lures down in the water column while still moving along fairly quickly. There are several different ways to accomplish this.
The easiest way to get the lure down to the fish is to use a plug with a diving lip on it. These lures float on the surface and as the boat begins to move they dive down to a certain depth. The depth that they dive is determined by the size and shape of the bill. In most cases, a lure that dive down 5 to 7 feet is ideal.
Trolling sinkers are another tool that allow anglers to troll for mackerel at the correct speed while getting the bait down to the fish. Sinkers for trolling come in two different styles, torpedo and keel designed weights. I prefer the keel weights. The sinker is tied onto the end of the running line and then a 6 foot to 10 foot piece of leader is attached to the other end. The angler can then use a spoon, plug, or jig on the terminal end.
Planers are the third method by which anglers can get their lures down to the fish. While they do work very well, planers are a bit more complicated. Planers come in several sizes. A number one planer will dive down 5 to 7 feet and a number two planar will dive down to 15 feet or so. A long leader, usually around 20 feet, is attached to the end of the planar and then the lure.
Planers have a sliding ring on them which allows the planar to dive down deep when trolled but then trip when a fish strikes. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the added drag of the planer once the planer is reeled up to within a foot of the rod tip, the fish must be hand lined in the last 20 feet. This can be cumbersome but can be extremely effective when the mackerel are down deeper in the water column. It will also produce king mackerel.
Several manufacturers produce spoon specifically designed for trolling. The spoons are designed to have a tight wobble at quite high speeds and are extremely effective. They come in multiple sizes, allowing anglers to match the spoon to the size of the bait and the water. They have a large single hook, making it easier to handle than does a lure with treble hooks. I use these spoons for most of my trolling in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. I will troll a #8 Rapala X rap when I see fish working on the surface.
Anglers can catch Spanish mackerel right off of the beach. Artificial lures work best in this application as long casts are often needed. A heavier spoon or jig is a good choice. The best approach is to walk the beach while scanning the surface for signs of bait, fish, or bird activity. Schools of bait dimpling on the surface are always worth a cast or two.
Sarasota Sheepshead Fishing
Sarasota sheepshead fishing is fun for all anglers. They are a great fish for anglers of all ages and experience levels. They are widely distributed along the Gulf Coast and up the East Coast to New York. Sheepshead put up a great battle and are fine table fair.
Sheepshead are a member of the porgy family. They arrive in the Sarasota area around Christmas and stay until early April. The sheepshead run peaks in February and March. Sheepshead are bottom feeders and are taken almost exclusively by anglers using live, fresh dead, or frozen bait. Live shrimp are the most popular bait. They spawn around structure such as submerged rocks, docks, bridges, and oyster bars.
Many of my northern clients confuse our Sheepshead with their “sheephead”. It is an entirely different species. The northern sheephead is considered a trash fish with no real food value. Our Sheepshead, while difficult to clean, is fantastic eating. Sheepshead also put up a great fight, using their wide bodies to pull hard against the bent rod. Imagine a bluegill on steroids and you have a sheepshead.
Sarasota sheepshead fishing tackle and baits
Most anglers targeting sheepshead using spinning tackle. Conventional tackle can be used, especially when fishing vertically. Many anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico prefer conventional tackle. Spinning tackle is certainly more popular for inshore anglers. It allows them to present baits both vertically and also to cast the bait towards some likely structure.
A 7 foot spinning rod with either 12 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line is ideal. A 30 inch piece of 30 pounds fluorocarbon leader is tied onto the running line. Anglers can attach the leader using a line to line not such as the double Uni-knot or a number 10 black swivel. A #1 live bait hook or #3/0 circle hook completes the rig. Anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico are required by law to use circle hooks. The reason for this is than invariably other reef fish such as grouper and snapper will be caught. Circle hooks allow for a healthy release.
Sliding egg sinkers are used to keep the bait on the bottom. The general rule of thumb is to use the lightest sinker possible to get down and hold the bottom. The sinker can be slid onto the running line ahead of a swivel. Then the leader is attached to the other end of the swivel. The leader can be attached without a swivel. The sinker is then allowed to ride on the eye of the hook. This is what we term a “knocker rig”. Both allow the sheepshead to pick the bait up and move off without feeling the resistance of the weight.
Dedicated, experienced sheepshead anglers have their favorite secret bait. Sand fleas, oyster crabs, fiddler crabs, and others are well kept secrets. Many anglers consider fiddler crabs in particular the top sheepshead bait. They are an effective bait and are relatively easy to collect. But the reality is that shrimp catch plenty of sheepshead. I use live or frozen shrimp whenever I target sheepshead on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are easily obtained and are very effective
Sarasota sheepshead fishing structure
Sheepshead will almost always be found near some type of structure. Here in Sarasota, we began our sheepshead hunt near the passes. Both big Sarasota pass and New Pass have deep water, good current flow, and plenty of structure. This makes for ideal sheepshead habitat for anglers Sarasota bottom fishing.
The best time to fish the passes is during times of slower moderate current flow. It is just too difficult to fish when the tide is running hard. Anchoring is difficult and a lot of weight is required to keep the shrimp on the bottom. During these times of high current flow, docks and 6 to 10 feet of water that are near the passes can be very productive spots.
Sarasota sheepshead fishing techniques
Anglers fishing the passes can choose to either anchor or drift. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Drifting is a great approach when tides are slack. It allows anglers to cover some water without drifting to quickly over the fish. Snags are more of an issue from a drifting boat.
I anchor most of the time when sheepshead fishing. The boat stays exactly where I wanted to, and once the bite gets going the fishing can be fast and furious. Structure in 8 to 20 feet of water hold most of the sheepshead. Other species such as gag grouper, mangrove snapper, gray snapper, pompano, and flounder will also be taken.
Sheepshead are notorious for their ability to take bait off a hook without being caught. They are world class bait thieves! One mistake many anglers make when sheepshead fishing is trying to “set the hook” when a bite is felt. This really applies to all fishing with live or cut bait.
Here is the technique that I teach my clients when sheepshead fishing on my charters. When sheepshead take a bait, anglers will usually feel a “tap” or series of “taps”. It is crucial that the bait be kept perfectly still while this occurs. Eventually, the angler will feel a steady pull while the rod tip bends. The angler should reel quickly, taking up the slack, then slowly raise the rod tip. This will result in a much higher hook-up ratio. If the fish is missed (which will happen many times) the hook is re-baited and cast back out.
Sarasota sheepshead fishing docks and canals
Sarasota is fairly developed. This means a myriad of residential canals, all of which have plenty of docks. Docks are great places to target sheepshead from December through March. As previously mentioned, docks in 6 to 10 feet of water with a little current flow are perfect. The best technique is to anchor a cast away up current of the dock. Anglers then pitched baited hooks towards the pilings.
Often times we are faced with windy conditions during this time of year. Docks and canals along Siesta Key and Lido Key offer protection from the wind, giving anglers on Sarasota fishing charters the chance to enjoy a productive day when they may perhaps be forced to stay home otherwise. Black drum, redfish, flounder, snook, and other species will take a shrimp meant for sheepshead.
Oyster bars can be an overlooked sheepshead hot spot. The best bars are those that are just covered up on high tide and drop off into four or 5 feet of water. Sheepshead will cruise the edges of the bars in search of oyster crabs and other crustaceans. A hook with just a light split shot will get the job done.
Sheepshead fishing in the Gulf of Mexico
There are several artificial reefs just off the Lido Key beaches. These reefs consist of concrete rubble and the remains of bridges and other structure. They lie in 30 feet of water to miles offshore. When the seas are calm, they can be terrific spots to target sheepshead. I will often times catch my largest fish of the year in these locations. All three inshore reefs hold fish, but all are different.
The Roehr Reef is the smallest and the closest to shore. It holds sheepshead as well as other bottom fish. Only three or four boat can fish it at once. The Fisher Reef has some very good structure and is a bit further out, right off of New Pass. Several boats can fish there at once. The Silvertooth Reef has a ton of structure scattered out over a large area. It is very good for sheepshead along with bottom fish and mackerel.
Natural ledges in the same areas will also hold sheepshead along with mangrove snapper and gag grouper. These ledges are small and difficult to locate, but once found can be highly productive. Most anglers don’t take the time to find a spots, so they get less fishing pressure than do the artificial reefs.The best way to locate these ledges is to key a sharp eye on the bottom machine while trolling. Most anglers do some trolling for king mackerel or Spanish mackerel at one time or another. This is a great way to find good bottom fishing spots.
Sheepshead fishing top spots in Sarasota
The Rocky structure at the north end of Siesta Key is a fantastic Sheepshead spot in the winter and early spring. Deep water, plenty of structure, and good current flow attract and hold the fish.
Docks along bird key in the northeast part of Siesta Key are proven Sheepshead spots. They are a great option when title flow and the passes is too strong. Also, no matter how stiff the breeze, there is usually a protected side to fish.
Docks and rocks and New Pass are productive as well. New Pass is also a bit more protected from the weather. The new pass bridge is a fish magnet, holding sheepshead and just about every other bottom fish species. Bait is easily obtained at the New Pass bait shop near the bridge.
The Ringling Bridge pilings hold plenty of sheepshead as well. The bridges and 10 to 12 feet of water and has plenty of structure for sheepshead and snapper. Drifting near the pilings with the bait as close as possible is a great technique. The New Pass Bridge, Siesta Drive Bridge, and Stickney Point Bridge all hold fish as well.
Docks in Roberts Bay south of the Siesta Drive bridge hold plenty of sheepshead and black drum. They are great spots to fish when it is blowing hard, offering protection from the open Bay.
The channel edges in the no wake zone in the Intracoastal Waterway between the mouth of Phillippi Creek and the Stickney Point Bridge are another good spots of fish on breezy days. Artificial reefs off of the Lido Key beaches are easy accessed on a nice day and hold a lot of sheepshead in the cooler months.
Sarasota redfish are highly sought after by visiting anglers. These popular inshore game fish are second only to snook.
Sarasota redfish are a hard-fighting and popular inshore species. They are available all year long. Redfish have a distinct seasonal migration. While any species may be caught in any location, the vast majority of Sarasota redfish are caught on the flats and under docks. Redfish may be encountered in singles or and schools of 500 fish or more. They are a common target on Sarasota fishing charters.
Redfish have an inferior mouth. This means that the mouth is below the nose. This indicates the habits of the fish and the type of feeding that it does. Redfish are built to scour the bottom in search of crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. However, they are not limited to this diet. Small bait fish are a primary forage as well. This is particularly true as reds grow larger.
The seasonal migration of redfish is similar to that of both snook and jack crevelle. While more tolerant of cold water then these other two species, redfish will seek deeper water in the winter. Creeks and residential canals will be particularly attractive. Water in these areas is deeper, darker, and generally at least several degrees warmer than the open bays.
As it warms up, redfish will move out of these areas and scatter out onto the open flats. It will inhabit these areas until late summer. At this point, redfish will school up into big numbers on the flats. Many of these fish will be over sized breeder females. These fish will move out into the Gulf of Mexico to spawn. By late October, the schools have broken up and the fish begin to migrate back towards their winter locations.
Sarasota redfish locations
Sarasota has quite a bit of prime habitat that holds redfish. Expansive flats in North Sarasota Bay are great spots to target redfish. On the east side of the bay, Long Bar in the flats north of it produce a lot of reds. Productive flats on the west side of the bay begin at country club Shores and go all the way up to Longboat Pass.
The character of the inshore waters change south of Siesta Drive. The inshore bays from Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Point have less open grass flats and more oyster bars and mangrove shorelines. There are also many docks and canals that attract and hold reds. The Siesta Key area also tends to get a bit less fishing pressure. It is particularly good in the cooler months.
Live Bait for redfish
It is tough to beat a large live shrimp when it comes to catching Sarasota redfish. Live shrimp are available at local bait shops all year long. When available, it is best to purchase “hand picked” shrimp. That means that the largest shrimp are separated out from the other average sized shrimp.
Live bait fish produce redfish as well. Small pin fish and grunts are very effective baits. Occasionally, they are available at bait shops. But in most instances, anglers will have to catch their own. They do so with either a cast net or with small hooks and a tiny piece of shrimp or squid. Live scaled sardines and threadfin herring are caught by anglers using a cast net.
Cut bait can be extremely effective for Sarasota redfish, especially in the heat of summer. Water temperature in the upper 80s can have the fish a bit lethargic. A chunk of freshly caught ladyfish or mullet will often entice a redfish to bite when it is less than willing to chase down a lure or live bait.
Artificial lures for redfish
Artificial lures catch plenty of redfish, especially on the flats. The three most popular lures for Sarasota redfish are weedless spoons, soft plastic baits, and plugs. These three lures cover the water column and will catch redfish all year long and in all locations. Anglers can read Capt Jim’s post on the best redfish lures here.
Weedless spoons are great choice for anglers targeting redfish on the shallow grass flats. Anglers can cast them a long way. This results in a stealthy presentation as well is allowing the angler to cover a lot of water. It is a great bait to prospect a large flat. Gold is the most productive color with 1/2 ounce being the best all-around size.
Soft plastic baits produce Sarasota redfish on the flats, under docks, and along mangrove shorelines. These very versatile baits can be rigged to fish very shallow water as well as deeper holes and canals. They come in a wide assortment of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Plugs are another very effective bait for catching Sarasota redfish. They imitate small bait fish such as mullet and sardines. Plugs come in two varieties, top water plugs and diving plugs. Top water plugs are worked exclusively on the surface. Diving plugs float on the surface, but a lip causes them to dive down several feet below the surface. Plugs should match in size and color the local forage that redfish are feeding on.
Sarasota redfish on the shallow flats
Many anglers enjoy the challenge of targeting redfish on the very shallow grass flats. Site fishing for reds in a foot of water is great sport! However, it requires patients and a time commitment. Fish and water that shallow are very skittish and can be very difficult to catch. But, for many anglers the reward is worth the effort.
Redfish on the shallow grass flats can be caught along the shoreline, in potholes, along the edges of oyster bars, and even over the open grass. Tides are very important when targeting redfish in the shallow flats. Reds will make fairly distinct movements depending on the tides.
On the low tide stages, reds will be concentrated in deeper holes. They have no choice, is there simply is not enough water on the flats for them to swim and feed. Potholes (which are depressions in the grass flats) will hold fish on the low tides. The same is true for drop-offs and deeper areas along shorelines and along oyster bars.
For this reason, many anglers prefer a low, incoming tide when targeting Sarasota redfish. They understand that the reds will be schooled up along the edges of bars and in potholes waiting for the tide to rise. Redfish are easier to locate then as there is less water to search.
As the tide rises, redfish will move out of these deeper areas and scatter out over the flats. While they are in a mood to feed, they are more difficult to locate. Anglers can blind cast these areas as they drift along. Anglers can also wait until they cite a fish and cast towards it. Often times, especially in summer, the larger schools are easily spotted as they “wake” across the flat.
By the time the tide reaches the highest stage, redfish can be anywhere. This can be a difficult time to locate them. The best bet is often to work a mangrove shoreline. Redfish tent to move up under these areas on the higher tide stages. As the tide reverses itself and begins to flow out, redfish will reverse their movements. Reds that are chased off the flat on the following tide can be difficult to catch.
Small small channels and cuts in flats and between oyster bars are great spots to try on a falling tide. Redfish (and other species) will stage in the spots as they are good feeding stations. The current will bring food to them as they lie in these ambush spots.
While live bait can be used when targeting redfish on the shallow flats, many anglers choose to use artificial lures. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. This is important when searching for fish in a large area. Once fish are located, live or cut bait can be used very effectively.
Live bait chumming is a deadly technique on the grass flats. This involves the angler catching several hundred scaled sardines with a cast net. The angler than anchors up current of a likely pothole, oyster bar, or mangrove shoreline. Live bait fish are then thrown out a handful of the time to attract the redfish and get them in a feeding mood. This technique requires a fair amount of effort, but it can really pay off!
Weedless spoons, soft plastic baits, and top water plugs are all effective baits for targeting redfish on the shallow grass flats. 4 inch to 6 inch soft plastic baits can be fished on a light jig head as well as specially designed swim bait hooks. These hooks have a weight built in that results in the soft plastic bait being presented horizontally. They can also be rigged weedless.
Shallow diving plugs are very effective when fishing slightly deeper water. This would include oyster bars that drop off into three or 4 feet of water as well as mangrove shorelines with a little depth. These plugs are not effective and water less than a couple feet deep as they will hang up on the bottom.
Docks produce Sarasota redfish
Many Sarasota redfish are landed by anglers fishing under docks. Docks provide shade, cover, and food. These are all elements of a great fishing spot. Docks are also generally found in slightly deeper water. Only experience and trial and error will determine docks that produce redfish on a reliable basis.
The best docks are those in water between three and 8 feet deep with good current flow. Isolated docks are better than a row of docks tightly bunched. These will tend to congregate the fish as there is less available structure. Redfish will relate to docks all year long.
There are many miles of residential canals on Longboat Key, Siesta Key, and the mainland. There are also several creeks including Bowlees Creek, Phillippi Creek, North Creek, Hudson Bayou, and Whittaker Bayou that will attract redfish, particularly in the cooler months. All of these creeks and canals have fish producing docks.
Dock fishing techniques
Generally speaking, live bait works best when fishing docks. The best approach is to anchor upwind and up tied of the dock to be finished. The angler can then present the live bait back under the dock in a natural manner. As mentioned earlier, a large live shrimp is a great bait when targeting Sarasota redfish under docks.
Other live and cut baits will produce as well. A live pin fish, grunts, or scaled sardine will produce a strike from a nice redfish as well. The same goes for a chunk of cut bait such as mullet or ladyfish. Cut bait seems to work best when the fish are less active such as when the water is quite warm or cold.
Artificial lures do have a place for fishing docks as well. This is particularly true in creeks and canals or along shorelines were docks are bunched together. It is simply a matter of efficiency. A can take too long to spend 10 or 15 minutes at each dock trying to to determine if it holds fish. Slowly moving along while casting plugs or jigs is a good way to locate productive docks.
The same inshore tackle that anglers use for snook, speckled trout, and other species will work fine when targeting Sarasota redfish. A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series real and 20 pound braided line is a great outfit. Anglers can opt for monofilament line. However, I find that braided line is a better choice, especially when fishing around docks. Braided line also cast further which can be an advantage when fishing the flats on a clear day.
Redfish get a lot of fishing pressure in this area. Like most fish species, they can be cyclical. As of right now, 2018, redfish numbers are down a bit. Lower numbers of juvenile redfish along with a pretty severe bout of red tide have resulted in the redfish population being below average.
However, nature is resilient and these fish can bounce back quickly. I understand that redfish are good eating, but on my charters I promote catch and release for both redfish and snook. Florida fishing regulations for redfish do change. Anglers can find the current regulations at the FWC site.
Sarasota Mangrove Snapper Fishing
Anglers Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing experience action, tough battles on light tackle, and terrific eating! Mangrove snapper please anglers of all ages and skill levels on the inshore waters of Florida and beyond.
Mangrove snapper are abundant and widely distributed throughout the southern United States and the Caribbean. Snappers school up in large numbers and usually associate with structure of some sort. Many anglers bottom fish for mangrove snapper offshore. However, they are plentiful inshore as well, and are often the target of anglers seeking a meal.
Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing: Tackle and baits
As a full time fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida, it is my job to meet my clients expectations. Sarasota is a tourist destination and I get a lot of casual anglers. Mangrove snapper are the perfect fish for these anglers. They are quite aggressive at times, school up in good numbers, pull hard, and taste great. They are basically “saltwater panfish” with white, tasty flesh.
Light spinning tackle is the best choice for anglers targeting mangrove snapper in shallow, inshore waters. A 7 foot rod with ten pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line works well. Snapper can be fussy and bite very lightly at times. Light tackle increases sensitivity, resulting in more hook-ups. If large grouper or snook are also an option, slightly heavier tackle may be in order.
With snapper fishing, “less is more”. The lighter the rig, the more success anglers will have. Mangrove snapper have keen eyesight and can be finicky. A small hook will draw more strikes. In most instances, a #1 live bait hook or a #3/0 circle hook is perfect. Circle hooks are required when fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers should use the minimum weight required to get the bait down. A light leader should be used as well. A 24” piece of flourocarbon leader is a good choice.
I live to use a “knocker rig”. This lets the sinker ride right up against the eye of the hook. This allows a snapper to pick the bait up without feeling any weight while keeping the bait right on the bottom. The sliding sinker with “knock” the hook off of most snaps, thus the name. ¼ ounce sinkers work fine in most circumstances. Strong currents may require more weight.
Most anglers go mangrove snapper fishing inshore using live or frozen bait. While snapper will take artificial lures, live bait is best in most applications. The number one bait in Florida is shrimp. Live shrimp is preferred, but plenty of snapper have fallen prey to frozen shrimp. Shrimp is available at every bait shop in Florida and the south east United States.
Live baitfish can be a very effective bait as well, particularly for anglers seeking larger fish. A 2” live pinfish or grunt will not get as many bites, but the fish will be larger. Small bait fish such as pilchards (scaled sardines), threadfin herring, and Spanish sardines are also very good baits. The same bait fish will produce presented as cut bait. Mullet and squid are both good frozen baits that can be cut into chunks or strips and fished effectively on the bottom.
Sarasota snapper fishing charters
In most instances, anglers will have success mangrove snapper fishing inshore by targeting some type of structure. Bridges, docks, and seawalls are all prime examples of man made structure. Oyster bars, natural ledges, and grass flat edges are all examples of natural structure. All will hold mangrove snapper at times. Bait fish presence and tidal flow are factors as well.
Passes and inlets are prime snapper fishing spots. The water is usually deeper than the flats. Also, current flow is usually present. Structure such as docks and rip rap in passes and inlets will hold snapper and other species all year long. Current can actually be too strong at times. This is particularly true on the east coast where tides are stronger. Slack tides can be the best option.
Bridges are mangrove snapper magnets! Bridges are generally in water around ten feet deep, which is perfect. They are also normally in narrow spots, which results in good tidal flow. Some bridges are also in “No Wake Zones”, resulting in less waking by passing vessels. Bridges also offer access for anglers without a boat to fish for mangrove snapper.
Oyster bars are terrific spots to locate and catch mangrove snapper. Prime bars have a steep drop off into water that is several feet deep or more. High tide just starting to fall is the best time to fish oyster bars.
Grass flats that drop off sharply are rime snapper spots as well. Here in Sarasota where I fish, there are areas that have been dredged to make fill. This resulted in shallow flats that drop off into 15 feet of water. Mangrove snapper will congregate on these edges. In the Florida Keys, there are “banks” that hold a lot of mangrove snapper. These are basically “humps” with grass that pop up in the open bays.
Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing techniques
Anglers fishing for mangrove snapper with live or frozen bait will almost always anchor either up-current of the spot to be fished or directly over the top of it. In water ten feet deep or shallower, it is usually best to anchor a cast away from the structure. In water deeper than ten feet, vertically fishing can be the most effective presentation.
Anchoring is a skill in itself. Wind and tide must be taken into consideration when anchoring. The worst thing an angler can do it to drag the anchor through the fishing spot. This will certainly ruin the spot. Only practice and experience will give anglers the skill they need to anchor up on a spot properly.
Once the boat is anchored, it is time to fish. Live shrimp can be hooked in several ways. The shrimp can be hooked under the horn. This allows for a natural presentation, but also makes it easier for the snapper to take the shrimp off of the hook. Shrimp can be threaded on the hook as well. This works well, even though it kills the shrimp. The fresh juices will permeate the water and attract snapper to the bait.
Frozen shrimp and cut bait are fished in exactly the same manner. Frozen shrimp should be threaded onto the hook. Live baitfish work best when hooked through the lips, especially if current is present. Fish can be cut into small chunks or strips. Both methods are effective. Squid work best when cut into long strips.
One mistake many anglers make when mangrove snapper fishing inshore is trying to “set the hook”. Once the bait settles on the bottom, anglers will initially feel a “tap”. There may be several “taps”. It is crucial that the angler remain still and not move the bait at all. At some point the snapper will take the bait. The angler will see the rod tip bend steadily. The angler should simply reel quickly, removing the slack while the rod tip is raised up. If the snapper steals the bait, re-bait and try again!
Here in Sarasota, we have experienced a very productive summer snapper bite. For whatever reason, schools of snapper showed up on the deep grass flats once the bait fish showed up on the flats. Chumming over grass flats in 6 feet to 10 feet of water brought schools of snapper up behind the boat and in an aggressive mood.
Chumming is widely practiced when fishing for snapper offshore. Inshore it can be used, but it must be done judiciously. Chumming in strong tides will have the opposite effect, it will disperse the snapper instead of attracting them to the boat. One technique that is deadly is to use live bait to chum on the deep grass flats. Currents are not as strong on the open flats. This requires a lot of bait, but bait fish are usually abundant in the summer and easily caught.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
Sarasota has an extensive artificial reef program. Several of these reefs are within a couple miles of the beach. They hold mangrove snapper and other bottom fish. These reefs consist of concrete rubble, bridge remains, and other fish-holding structure. The three nearshore reefs are in thirty feet of water. The best approach is to anchor and fish vertically. However, when the wind and current are both light, anglers can drift the reef. Snags will become more prevalent. The reef coordinates can be found in the link.
Most of the inshore Gulf of Mexico bottom consists of sand. There are some ledges and rocky outcroppings. These are fish magnets! Small ledges that get little fishing pressure can produce for many years if fished judiciously. Once a good ledge is found, anglers should search nearby, there are usually more spots in the neighborhood.
Mangrove snapper fishing with lures
While live bait works best, mangrove snapper will hit artificial lures. Most of the snapper that my clients catch on lures are done so while targeting other species. I use a #8 Rapala X-Rap when fishing for snook and other species. Since snapper share the same spots, they will be caught as well. The small plug closely resembles the small finger mullet and other bait fish that inhabit the inshore bays.
Jigs will also fool mangrove snapper, especially on the deep grass flats. Scented soft plastic baits can be particularly effective. My personal favorite is the 3” Gulp! Shrimp and the color really does not matter.
Mangrove snapper recipes
While I very much promote catch and release, I do not mind if clients keep a few tasty snapper for a meal. This is especially true with our resident species. These snapper are migrating out of the bays and into the open Gulf of Mexico. Snapper are delicious and can be prepared many ways. Here are a few of my favorites. They are all simple and very easy. Florida snapper regulations are found here.
A skillet is warmed up to a pretty good temperature. Snapper fillets are dipped in melted butter or olive oil and seasoned to taste with blackening seasoning. The fillets are then cooked for 3 minutes or so on each side.
Fish have been fried for a long time! Fillets are covered in a commercial or home made coating and then fried in 350 degree oil.
Snapper are placed on a baking sheet and covered with Italian bread crumbs and placed into a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.
Sarasota False Albacore Fishing
Sarasota false albacore fishing is incredible! It is one of my favorite forms of angling here in Sarasota, right up there with casting plugs for big snook. Part of what makes it so exciting is that there is much more involved than just fishing. It is a bit like hunting and fishing combined. Patience is required as we tried to figure out the movements of the false albacore, waiting for a good opportunity.
False albacore are a pelagic species. That means they spend most of their time in the middle to upper part of the water column. Bottom structure and other cover is really not a factor, other than bait tends to congregate in those areas. False albacore basically roam the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and devour helpless bait fish. They are available in Sarasota around Easter and Thanksgiving most years.
But, it’s not as easy as just seeing where they are, driving over, and casting into them. Will actually, sometimes it is! But most of the time it is not. Most of the time the fish are quite fussy. There are days where they pop up here, pop up there, never stay in one place long enough to get a good shot. That is just part of the game. Most days though, staying patient will result in at least a few good opportunities.
There are several factors that add to making the fish finicky. Generally speaking, fishing for false albacore is best when the water is clear. Obviously, that means they can see well. Therefore, longer casts and lighter leaders are required. Also, often times the false albacore are feeding on glass minnows. Glass minnows are very small, sometimes only and inch long. A a 6 inch bait tossed into the middle of that 1 inch bait will not look natural and usually will not draw strike.
Sarasota false albacore fishing charters
Tackle for false albacore fishing is pretty basic, though it needs to be an excellent working condition. False albacore make long, fast runs and will test the drag system on the real. They are basically small tuna fish and are fast and powerful. The guides on the rod need to be free of nicks and abrasions. Finally, all not need to be well tied.
The best all round outfit for false albacore fishing is a 7 foot spinning rod in a medium heavy action. A stiffer butt section is required to subdue a nice false albacore. But, the tip needs to be limber enough to cast a light lure a fair distance. A 3000 series spinning reel spooled up with 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line completes the outfit.
I like to double 4 feet or so of my running line when using monofilament. I do so using a spider hit, but a Bimini Twist is fine as well. Then, I attach a 30 inch section of 20 pound fluorocarbon leader to the double line using a Double Uni Knot. Going is light is 20 pound leader will increase strikes however, Spanish mackerel can be a nuisance. They will cut right through that 20 pound leader quickly. If Spanish mackerel are present, and you can get away with it, bump the leader up to 30 or even 40 pound test.
Sarasota false albacore fishing seasons
Every season is different, but generally speaking Easter and Thanksgiving are the peak times. The fall runs seem to be more reliable. This may be due to the fact that there is less angling pressure in the fall than there is in the spring. It also feels like the fronts that move through in the spring are little more severe.
A strong onshore breeze will shut down the Sarasota false albacore fishing. Rough, choppy, dirty water is not to the liking of the fish. Several days of East when will have the water settled down. That is just part of the game when false albacore fishing, and really fishing in general.
I rarely use live bait when Sarasota false albacore fishing. Artificial lures are very productive and to me just more enjoyable to fish. My number one bait is a #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. White and olive are my two favorite colors. These lures are just the right size and have a great action. They float on the surface and dive down a couple feet when retrieved.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are my second choice for Sarasota false albacore fishing. Lighter colors work best. Jigs are particularly effective when the fish are a little deeper in the water column. There will be days when the albacore are up and down. Anglers cast the jig to the last known location of the fish and are allowed to sink before being retrieved back in.
Small Silver spoons are another productive lure for false albacore. Spoons come in all shapes and sizes and can be easily tailored to match the available forage. Spoons cast the mile and can be worked either near the surface or down deeper. They are great all round lower for both false albacore and Spanish mackerel.
Sarasota false albacore fishing techniques
With all artificial lures the technique is basically the same. I like to run on plane as slowly as the boat will stay up and search for signs of fish. Any bait fish dimpling on the surface or birds working will get my attention. I will then stop and patiently scan the area to see if fish are coming up. If nothing materializes, I move on.
Sometimes if I see a big flock of birds sitting there, I will give it more time. This can be an indication of a big school of bait beneath them. Birds will oftentimes sit on the surface like that waiting for the false albacore and mackerel to drive the bait fish to the surface.
Once fish are found, the boat is stopped and I try to determine a pattern in their movements. Here in Sarasota, the fish mostly seem to be moving north to south. If the fish are staying on the surface and not moving the boat can be eased into casting position. I then shut the motor off and allow the boat to drift into casting range and my clients fire off a couple long cast into the fish.
Fast, erratic retrieves are productive
The best retrieve for Sarasota false albacore fishing is usually a very fast and erratic one. The plug and spoon both have this type of action built-in. A fast retrieve with short jerks of the rod tip should produces strike.
The best retrieve with the jig and grub combo is usually to allow the jig to sink a few seconds then reel it back in as fast as humanly possible. But, fishing is not the same every day. If you get into the fish and these retrieves don’t produce, switch up the retrieves and then even maybe the baits until a productive pattern is found.
This is the ideal situation, and does not happen all the time. More often than not the fish pop up quickly for a few seconds and are moving fast. If the speed and direction can be determined, the boat can be placed in a position to intercept them. If this sounds hit or miss, well that’s because it is! There are times where you just can’t get on them. But that’s part of the challenge and part of what makes it fun.
While I prefer casting lures to breaking false albacore, trolling can be an effective way to locate them. If the fish are up and down and hard to get on, trolling can be an effective way to hook one. Those Rapala X-Raps do a fine job when trolling. Spoons may be trolled as well, though anglers will need to use a swivel between the leader and the running line. Jigs tend to roll over and are not as effective when trolling.
Using live bait to catch false albacore
While I primarily fish for false albacore with artificial lures, live bait will certainly catch them. One extremely effective technique is to chum with live bait. This is a great technique for children and other inexperienced anglers. It gives them a good chance to catch a big fish without having great casting skills.
A cast net is used to obtain the bait fish. This can be done on the flats just inside the passes or out on the beach itself. Once the well is fall of several hundred frisky baits, the boat is anchored. There are three artificial reefs right off of Lido Beach and these usually hold Spanish mackerel when they are around. Otherwise, I try to find an area where I see fish or just choose a spot that has been productive for me in the past.
Once the boat is anchored a couple handfuls of chum are tossed out behind the boat. I may even take some of the bait fish and chop them up in pieces. If the mackerel and false albacore are around, it won’t be long before they find the chum. Then, it is just a matter of hooking a bait on and tossing it out behind the boat. I hookup should quickly ensue. No weight is used on the line, just a #1/0 hook.
Fly fishing for false albacore
Fly fishing for false albacore is fantastic sport! Other than tarpon, it is the hardest fighting fish that Sarasota offers to visiting fly anglers. The technique is basically the same, as I try to put the boat 30 or 40 feet away from a school of breaking fish. The fly is cast out and the angler strips back as quickly as possible. The strikes are ferocious!
A 9wt fly outfit is best, though if the albacore are run an unusually large, a 10wt will be a better choice. Floating lines are fine as the fish are almost always taken on the surface. A 10 foot tapered leader with a 20 pound bite tippet and a #4 bait fish pattern fly completes the rig. Glass minnows, Crystal Minnows, Clouser Minnows, and D.T. Specials are the top producing flies.
False albacore are generally considered not very good to eat. After catching one of these gallant game fish, angler should hoisted up for a quick photo than get it back in the water as soon as possible. It is also important to use tackle heavy enough to subdue them in a reasonable amount of time.
The procedure for releasing a false albacore is a bit different than other species. They need water moving through their mouth and over there gills. Therefore, when a fish is being released, the angler throws it headfirst into the water as quickly as possible. This will get the water moving over it skills and it should respond and swim away.
Fishing charters Sarasota, Fl; Additional species
Anglers targeting false albacore do have opportunities for other species. There are days when many Spanish mackerel are seen, but not as many false albacore. The same artificial lures mentioned above will catch a lot of Spanish mackerel. The only real difference is the need to bump the leader up to 40 pound test.
King mackerel also sometimes come in close to shore. These fish can run in excess of 40 pounds. Is very difficult to land one on the light spinning tackle used for mackerel and false albacore. Anglers targeting king mackerel use heavier spinning tackle or medium conventional outfits. The primary technique is to slowly troll large live bait fish such as blue runners and cigar minnows.
Sharks can be plentiful in the inshore Gulf of Mexico off of Siesta Key and Lido Key this time of year as well. The best approach is to catch a small mackerel and cut it into chunks or small fillets. A slightly heavier spinning outfit is used with a 5 foot 80 pound leader and a large #6/0 hook. Anglers can also use a steel leader, the sharks are not nearly as shy as the other species.
So, if you happen to be in Sarasota and the spring or fall and you have this opportunity, give it a try. It is a very cool and unique angling experience. It is a bit like fishing, a bit like hunting, all while sitting on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on a pretty Florida morning!
In conclusion, this article on fishing in Sarasota will help anglers catch more fish when visiting our area!