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.
What is Sarasota bottom fishing? Bottom fishing 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.
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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.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
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.
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236