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!
All of the pictures in this post are of my friend Candice. She is an excellent angler and we have shared many a successful fishing trip in Sarasota! I spend the vast majority of my time fishing in Sarasota in the inshore waters. Therefore, that is what will be covered the most in detail. Offshore fishing is mostly done with guides or by experienced anglers.
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.
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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.
Check out my comprehensive article on bottom fishing in Sarasota
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.
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.
Jig and grub
The jig and grub combo is without a doubt the top artificial lure in all of saltwater fishing, and it is true in Sarasota as well. It is a versatile lure that catches everything. The lure consists of a jig head and some type of soft plastic body. I use a ¼ ounce jig head almost exclusively and honestly, I do not think the color matters. I will drop down to 1/8 or even 1/16 ounce in shallow water.
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.
Deep grass flats
Deep grass flats are probably where I spend the majority of my time fishing in Sarasota. They produce both action and variety. Anglers do not need great skill or a lot of experience to be successful. Deep grass flats are areas in 5 feet to 10 feet of water with submerged vegetation.
The best approach is to drift the flats while casting lures or live baits. This allows anglers to find the fish. Jigs, plugs, and spoons all produce, as does a live shrimp free lined or fished under a cork. There are a bunch of productive flats around both pass and north to Bradenton. Flats off of Buttonwood and Ringling Mansion are among the best. Anglers can expect to catch trout, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, pompano, jacks, snapper, grouper, sharks, cobia, and other species.
Serious anglers can experience non-stop action chumming with live bait on these same deep flats. Once bait is procured, the boat is anchored up-tide of the flat. Handfuls of bait are tossed into the water. If game fish are nearby, they will soon be seen popping baits.
Sarasota has two passes that connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. They are prime fishing spots! Both passes have structure such as docks, rocks, bridges, seawalls and ledges that hold a variety of fish. Live bait generally works best in these areas. Sheepshead, grouper, snapper, drum, snook, jacks, and other species will be caught.
One of my favorite ways to fish is to drift the passes while bouncing a jig off the bottom. This is a very efficient and effective technique that produces a ton of ladyfish along with pompano, bluefish, whiting, mackerel, and other species. It is also very easy for anglers with very little experience to do as no casting is required. I prefer Big Sarasota Pass, but New Pass is a great spot as well.
Anglers seeking more of a challenge may choose to fish the shallow flats and mangrove shorelines in search of redfish and snook. This is a “quality over quantity” situation where anglers will have to work for their fish. The exception to this is when chumming for them, same as on the deeper flats. Larger bait is required, but it is extremely effective.
The best areas of large shallow grass and mangroves are in north Sarasota Bay. Both sides from Bishop’s Pt north on the west and Stephen’s Pt north on the east side are productive. Long Bar is a top spot.
Little Sarasota Bay
Locals call the area from Stickney Pt to Blackburn Pt “the Little Bay”. It is similar to Sarasota Bay, but is smaller and more sheltered. Also, there are more oyster bars and fewer grass beds. This area fishes best in the cooler months. Ladyfish are usually thick around Spanish Pt. Trout will be caught on the flats. Snook and redfish prowl the oyster bars.
Creeks and canals
Sarasota creeks and residential canals are hot spots in the cooler months! Fish such as snook and jacks move in to avoid the temperature changes on the shallow flats. I prefer to move and fish with lures, especially that (08) X-Rap. It is an excellent trolling lure as well. A large live shrimp is deadly when fished under docks in the back end of canals.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
Anglers fishing in Sarasota right off the beach can certainly have success. Small pieces of shrimp on a jig head or small hook will fool whiting, sheepshead, pompano and other species. Ladyfish, mackerel, and ladyfish are caught around bait schools in spring and fall. Snook move out to the beaches in summer and anglers can sight fish them just inches from shore.
Freshwater fishing in Sarasota
While most anglers come to Sarasota for saltwater fishing, there is some decent, and overlooked, freshwater fishing as well. There are several small lakes and river systems that give anglers the chance to catch freshwater species. Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and other panfish, catfish, and gar are the top freshwater fish in the area.
I really enjoy fishing for panfish in Sarasota using ultra light spinning and fly tackle. MAnglers can certainly use live bait, with worms, crickets, and minnows being the top baits. Most of the time I use artificial lures, with a black Beetle spin and chartreuse Road Runner being my favorite lures for crappie and panfish.
Of course, largemouth bass are the top freshwater game fish in Florida. Anglers come from all over to catch them. While Sarasota offers some decent fishing for bass, we really do not have a trophy bass fishery. Most really large bass are caught by anglers fishing the larger lakes in central Florida, mostly using live shiners.
Read more about largemouth bass fishing in Florida
Top lakes and rivers for freshwater fishing in Sarasota
The top three lake and river systems in Sarasota are the Myakka River, Manatee River, and Braden River systems. Each has a lake created by a dam, with a freshwater portion upriver and a brackish or saltwater section below the dam. Each of the lakes is a bit different. Myakka Lake is very shallow and has good bass fishing. Lake Manatee is deep and the best all-round lake, offering good fishing for crappie, bass, and panfish. It is a VERY good lake for channel catfish. Lake Evers on the Braden River is the most convenient, but is the toughest as far as fishing. It is deep with very few contour breaks.
In conclusion, this article on fishing in Sarasota will help anglers catch more fish when visiting our area!