Best Sarasota fishing guide in 2020
Where can visitors find the best Sarasota fishing guide in 2020? Capt. Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. He is very well-rounded and can accommodate anglers of all skill levels and ages. Novice clients are welcome as is the seasoned angler seeking more of a challenge. Capt. Jim runs his Sarasota fishing charters out of a 22” Stott Craft bay boat. It is roomy and stable. Capt. Jim is a great choice for anyone looking for a Sarasota fishing guide.
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.
Anglers have several options when going out on a Sarasota fishing trip. The inshore waters of Sarasota Bay offer plenty of action and variety. On most fishing charters, six or so different species are landed. However, it is not uncommon to land double digits on a four hour fishing charter.
Sarasota fishing charter options
The waters of the Gulf of Mexico close to shore provide very good action as well. In the spring and fall Spanish mackerel, false albacore, king mackerel, sharks, and other species migrate along the Sarasota beaches. Several artificial reefs a couple miles offshore offer good fishing for bottom fish such as sheepshead, grouper, and snapper.
Natural ledges and artificial reefs provide good fishing for anglers heading offshore. The area from about 8 miles out to 30 miles out has plenty of good bottom spots to hold grouper, snapper, amberjack and other species. King mackerel, false albacore, cobia and other pelagic species will be taken as well.
An inshore bay trip is the best Sarasota fishing charter for most clients. This is especially true for novice anglers or families with children. Most trips are four hours long, though trips can certainly be longer. But, four hours is plenty of time to catch a bunch of fish. Mornings are usually the most productive, however in the colder months the afternoons can be better as the water warms up. A big part of the job as a Sarasota fishing guide is to tailor the charter to the anglers experience level and expectations. Experienced anglers may opt for a river snook fishing trip.
Sarasota inshore bay fishing trip
Anglers fishing the inshore waters can drift the grass flats for a variety of species. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, Pompano, bluefish, jacks, snapper, grouper, sharks, ladyfish, catfish, flounder, and other species are often taken on the deep grass flats. These are basically areas of submerged grass and weed beds. This vegetation attracts the shrimp and bait fish, which in turns attracts the game fish.
Artificial lures are used quite often when drifting the grass flats. The number one lure by far is a jig and grub. This is a hook with a little bit of weight in the front and a plastic body. It mimics a shrimp or bait fish. They cast a long way and are easy to learn to use. Jigs often out fish live bait.
Live bait is used quite often on inshore bay trips when drifting the deep grass flats. The number one bait in all of Florida, Sarasota is no exception, is a live shrimp. Shrimp are available all year long at local bait shops. Everything that swims will eat a nice lively shrimp. They are the “nightcrawler of saltwater”!
Small bait fish are used on the deep grass flats as well. This is especially true in the summer time. Bait fish are usually thick on the shallow flats near the passes in the summer. Capt. Jim will catch a bunch of them in his cast net. He will then use the live bait as both chum to attract fish to the boat and as bait to catch the fish. This is an extremely effective technique in the summer and produces a lot of fish.
Sarasota fishing guide
Sarasota has two passes that connect the Gulf of Mexico with Sarasota Bay. They are called Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Passes are basically inlets. Both offer excellent fishing most of the year. The passes can provide excellent action for clients.
Pompano, ladyfish, bluefish, jacks, and Spanish mackerel are caught drifting the passes. As the tide moves the boat along, anglers cast out lures or drift with live bait to catch the species. Ladyfish in particular will oftentimes school up thick in the passes. They are great fun on light tackle and are a good species for novice anglers to practice on.
Structure in the passes provide excellent habitat for bottom fish. Sheepshead spawn there from January through March and are usually available and good numbers. This is another situation that is great for novice anglers. A live or frozen shrimp is hooked on and simply drop to the bottom, casting is not required. Grouper, snapper, drum, and other species will be taken as well all year long.
Snook fishing in Sarasota
More experienced anglers may seek the challenge of trying to catch snook, redfish, and jack crevelle. These fish are larger and more difficult to catch. Shallow flats, mangrove shorelines, docks, bridges, oyster bars, and creeks are all spots that are targeted when pursuing these species.
Once again, both artificial lures and live bait can be employed to achieve success. Lures are a great choice when fish are scattered about. They allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. Often times these flats and mangrove shorelines are fairly large areas. Lures are more practical while searching for fish in the spots. Top water plugs, shallow diving plugs, weedless spoons, and jigs with soft plastic trailers are the top baits.
A large live shrimp is a great bait to catch a snook or redfish under a dock. These big shrimp are not always available. However, when they are, they are terrific baits. They also work well in the cooler months fished around oyster bars, creeks, mangrove shorelines, and any other structure.
Live bait fish are used in the warmer months much the same as on the deep grass flats. Once a well full of bait is acquired, the boat is anchored in a likely spot. Live bait fish are then tossed out to attract the snook and other game fish. Once they are behind the boat and excited, they are usually pretty easy to catch. This is a great technique to use to give a novice angler the chance to catch a nice fish.
Sarasota fishing in the Gulf of Mexico
The inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico off of Lido Key and Siesta Key can provide great action at times. When the seas are calm in the water is clear, pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, false albacore, king mackerel, cobia and more will migrate through the area. They are generally right on the heels of the huge schools of bait fish.
One of the most exciting aspects of this type of fishing is that much of it is visual. Fish will often be seen foraging on the surface as a devour the helpless bait fish. Just about any lure, bait, or fly that remotely resembles the bait fish will draw strike. Spanish mackerel are usually fairly easy to catch in this situation, while false mackerel can be a bit fussier. This is great fun and a popular choice for anglers seeking a Sarasota fishing guide when conditions are favorable.
There are three inshore artificial reefs just off of Lido Key. They consist of old bridges, construction material, and other debris. Most of the bottom in the Gulf of Mexico is barren. Therefore, any structure will attract and hold fish. Both bottom fish and surface feeding pelagic species will be attracted to these reefs.
Sarasota inshore artificial reefs
Sheepshead are plentiful on the inshore artificial reefs in February, March, and April. They provide great action for clients on a Sarasota fishing excursion. Sheepshead pull hard, grow to 5 pounds, and are very good eating. They feed primarily on crustaceans. Therefore, live shrimp are a terrific bait for these members of the porgy family.
Mangrove snapper are found on these reefs all year long. Snapper school up in big numbers and can be quite aggressive. The trick with the snapper is to find the larger specimens. Hordes of 8 inch snapper will devour every bait that’s drop-down. Moving around a bit can help to find the schools of larger fish. Also, a larger bait or a live bait fish may help. Gag grouper, flounder, grunts, and other bottom fish will be caught as well on a Sarasota fishing excursion.
These reefs will also attract pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia, and false albacore. On days when the albacore and mackerel are not seen working on the surface, the artificial reefs can be a great backup plan. The structure on the reefs attract plenty of bait fish, which in turn will attract the game fish. Often times, the bait can be seen dimpling on the surface right over the reef.
Anglers can also choose to target tarpon. Giant tarpon show up in early May and stay until late July. They average 75 pounds and grow to over 200 pounds! Many consider this to be the ultimate fishing challenge. Tarpon are sight fished just off of the Sarasota beaches. Once the fish are found, the boat is eased into casting range. Live crabs and bait fish are cast towards the fish in hopes of a take. When a tarpon eats, it is bedlam!
Sarasota offshore fishing
Many anglers enjoy going offshore fishing off of Sarasota. In most instances, the goal is to put some meat in the cooler. Grouper are a highly sought after bottom species in the Gulf of Mexico. They are structure oriented and will be found over natural ledges as well as artificial reefs and wrecks. Grouper pull hard and once they feel the hook it will dive down into the cover. The trick for anglers is to get their head turned and get them coming up towards the boat.
Live and cut bait is used when bottom fishing for grouper and other species. Along with the grouper, snapper, triggerfish, grunts, and other species will be taken. Amberjack will be caught on the deeper wrecks as well. Red grouper are found over the Swiss cheese bottom about 15 to 20 miles offshore. Anglers can find Florida saltwater fishing regulations on the FWC site.
The primary species for anglers trolling offshore is king mackerel. Kings are taken year-round, but particularly in the spring and fall. Ledges and wrecks from about 7 miles offshore to 30 miles offshore are the prime area. Anglers troll spoons and plugs as well as live bait to catch the king fish. Anglers venturing further offshore may encounter a wahoo, tuna, or dolphin. Occasionally, sailfish and other bill fish are hooked.
Sarasota river fishing charters
Experienced anglers visiting Sarasota and seeking a unique experience may opt for a river fishing charter. In the cooler months, snook and jacks migrate up into area rivers. They do this to escape the cooler temperatures on the shallow flats. The darker river water is often times significantly warmer than the exposed waters on the flats. This provides a sanctuary for the temperature sensitive game fish.
This type of Sarasota fishing charter is not about numbers. This trip is about the chance to catch a trophy snook. Artificial lures are most often used as they allow anglers to fish a lot of shoreline cover in a relatively short amount of time. Shallow diving plugs are generally used. They will elicit a reflex strike from the predatory snook.
The overall experience of a river fishing charter is a bit different. Capt. Jim uses a 14 foot Alumacraft jon boat for this type of fishing. Launching ramps can be primitive and the water is often times shallow in the winter. This requires a boat that can be manhandled off the trailer and will float over a shallow sandbar. Jon boats our perfect for this type of fishing as they meet these requirements and are quite stable.
The scenery in solitude are elements that attract anglers to this Sarasota fishing excursion. It is a very relaxing fishing trip. It won’t produce in terms of numbers or action like an inshore bay fishing charter will. However, persistent and patient anglers will have the opportunity to land the snook of a lifetime!
Sarasota fishing excursions, fly fishing
Fly fisherman are not to be left out either. Many of the species caught in Sarasota will take a well presented fly. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, snook, redfish, false albacore, jack crevalle, ladyfish, and more can be taken in Sarasota throughout the year.
The best all round outfit for fly anglers to use when fishing Sarasota is an 8wt or 9wt rod, matching reel, an intermediate sink tip line. A 9 foot tapered leader with a 30 pound bite tippet works well. Just about any bait fish or a crustacean imitation will catch fish. Top producing flies are the Clouser Minnow, D.T. Special, and Crystal Minnow. White is a great color as are combinations of white and chartreuse, and white and olive.
Fishing Charters in Sarasota during the summer
Sarasota summer fishing charters are a bit complex. It is July and I have a dilemma. The water temperature is in the mid 80s and Sarasota Bay is full of bait fish. Artificial lures can be effective but live bait is tough to beat. Also, the idea of using the early morning “prime time” to catch bait is not appealing. So, what to do? Simple; take advantage of the first light bite by casting lures and mid-morning when things slow down a bit, fill the well with bait and use it to get the fish cranked back up!
Using lures early then switching to live bait later in the morning is a strategy that I use on my Sarasota fishing charters all summer long. Bait is abundant, particularly on those flats near the passes where I often fish, that the speckled trout and other species can be difficult to fool on a lure. The exceptions to this are the low light periods of dawn and dusk when game fish are actively feeding. I also run a lot of family charters that include novice anglers and children. Live bait is the ticket to bent rods and smiling faces. In these instances, live shrimp can replace lures to take advantage of the early bite. At some point the pinfish will become a nuisance, requiring a change to bait fish.
Plug, jigs, and spoons are three very effective and versatile lures on Sarasota summer fishing charters. High tides first thing in the morning will find my clients casting Rapala X-Raps in the (08) size over bars and edges of grass flats. Olive and white are my two top colors. White mimics the “whitebait” that is often present. It works very well in clear water. Olive looks a lot like mullet as well as greenbacks and is a great all-round finish. Baitfish being present at these spots only increases the chance of success.
Snook will also attack Rapala plugs when cast around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars at first light. These baits dive several feet below the surface and are deadly when retrieved back in using sharp twitches with a pause in between. Topwater plugs will elicit explosive strikes on fishing charters! Topwater baits will generally catch less fish, although often times larger ones. The Rapala Skitterprop is my personal choice. This bait has a tapered nose and a propeller on the rear. It make a decent amount of commotion when twitched sharply. Gold is a productive color pattern. Some of the largest trout will be landed using plugs in shallow water at dawn.
Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are great for speckled trout over the grass flats. The venerable 52 series has produced a lot of fish over the years. A recent addition is the MirroDine looks very much live a scaled sardine, which is a prime forage bait for inshore species. These baits work best in slightly deeper water. They will hang up in the grass if used on the very shallow flats.
Jigs are productive on Sarasota summer fishing charters
The lead head jig/plastic tail combination is a proven bait all along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Bass Assassin jigs are very popular in our area. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and colors. My personal favorite on fishing charters is the 4” Sea Shad tail on a ¼ ounce jig head. This is a great bait to use when fishing over deeper grass flats for trout, pompano, and whatever else finds it attractive. Light colors such as gold, silver, and glow work well in clear water while rootbeer and olive are effective in darker water. Lighter jig heads can be used when fishing in shallow water.
Jigs are very versatile along with producing a lot of fish. The best technique is to cast it out ahead of a drifting boat in six feet to ten feet of water that has grass on the bottom. After allowing the bait to sink for several seconds, it is retrieved back using sharp upward twitches. Most bites occur on the fall. Flats that have bird activity or bait fish schooling on the surface are great spots to try. Pinfish can be a problem if the bait is worked too slowly. They will bite the shad tail off when present.
Scented baits can make a huge difference, especially when conditions are tough. The best scented bait, by far, is the Gulp! Line of baits. I prefer the 3” Gulp! Shrimp on a ¼ ounce jig head. Color really does not matter that much, it is all about the scent. They really are like using live shrimp! New Penny, glow/chartreuse, and rootbeer/chartreuse are my top producing colors. A Gulp! Shrimp fished ender a noise popping cork is deadly on speckled trout.
More effective lures
Spoons have been around forever, and to this day are still productive lures. They are great for prospecting as they are easy to cast long distances, allowing anglers to cover a lot of water. Spoons basically come in two styles; either weedless with a single hook or with a treble hook. Gold and silver are the two most popular finishes. Weedless spoons are great for enticing redfish in very shallow water. The treble hook version is a good choice when fishing open water. Spanish mackerel are particularly vulnerable to a quickly retrieved silver spoon. Spoons work very well whenever fish are seen actively feeding on the surface.
Fly fishers are certainly not to be left out of the action on Sarasota summer fishing charters! A fly looks exactly like the small bait that is prevalent on the flats. A #1 white or white and chartreuse Clouser Minnow is tough to beat. A 7wt or 8wt outfit works well. Floating lines work well in shallow water while an intermediate sink tip line would be the best choice in water over four feet deep.
Catching Bait on Sarasota summertime fishing charters
Weather and tide will play a part in my strategy for the morning. Strong tides and a little breeze will usually result in lures being productive later into the morning. Conversely, a still morning with very little water movement will mandate a switch to live bait earlier than normal. Fortunately, bait is usually pretty easy to acquire this time of year. I prefer a light, eight foot net. It is easier to throw and empty. But, many anglers use nets up to twelve feet in diameter.
Bird activity will give away the location of the baitfish. Shallow flats near passes are prime spots to find scaled sardines (pilchards) and threadfins. Sloping points are great spots. Bait fish will position themselves on the up-tide side. Edges of flats can be good as well. Incoming tides are usually the best time to catch bait. Bait will vary in size. All will work, but small bait can be problematic. It will hang up in the net and is a bit more difficult to cast. Small bait-stealers can also be a nuisance. The perfect sized bait for fishing the deep grass flats is around 2”.
Once located, a good toss or two with a cast net should result in a well full of frisky bait. The ideal situation is when baitfish are dimpling up on the surface. Easing into range quietly should allow the angler to get a good cast over the bait. If bait fish are not visible on the surface, they can be chummed into range using canned mackerel or cat food. The same types of spots will produce. Chumming will also result in small pinfish and grunts being captured along with the other bait fish.
Sarasota fishing, Chumming Them Up
Once the bait is obtained, fishing begins. This is a proven tactic on Sarasota summer fishing charters. The technique is pretty simple but as with any other method, subtle nuances can make a big difference. Basically, I anchor up-current of a grass flat in four to eight feet of water. Then, I toss out a handful of bait and if fish are around it won’t take long before they start “busting” the baits on the surface.
Baits are pinned to a 1/0 hook and cast out; a hookup should promptly ensue. A small split shot may be required to get the bait down in the water column. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sharks, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, flounder, and ladyfish are all commonly caught using this technique over the deep grass. This technique does require a decent cast net, a large live well, and a little patience. A quality cast net is a great investment. It will pay for itself in just a few trips. As with all other fishing equipment, better nets will cost a bit more money. However, the payoff can be non-stop action all morning long.
Sometimes clients choose to finish up a Sarasota fishing charters trying for a snook, redfish, or big jack. This does require that the bait be fairly large, in the 3” range. Smaller bait will not work nearly as well. Anchoring near a mangrove point and chumming will lure the fish into range. I have also landed some large mangrove snapper along with the snook and reds when using this technique. This is a great option as it produces even at mid-day.
Summer snook fishing
In the summer, snook will school up thick in both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Structure in the passes such as rocks, docks, and bridges will hold fish. Mangrove shorelines with a bit of depth are prime spots as well. Less chum is requires as the baits are larger. The idea is to get the fish excited, not full. Being judicious with the use of chum is a good idea.
Tackle requirements for snook fishing charters are a bit different. Stouter tackle will be required around the structure. A 7 foot rod with 20 lb braided line is a good combination. 30” of 30 lb or 40 lb flourocarbon leader and a 2/0 short shank live bait hook or #4/0 circle hook completes the basic rig. Weight will be required when fishing deep water in the passes with current. A swivel between the braid and leader with the egg sinker on the braid works well. Anglers should use just enough weight to hold the bottom.
Large jack crevalle, redfish, and other species will be taken this way as well. In the late summer, some large mangrove snapper will please anglers on Sarasota fishing charters who seek a fish to invite home for dinner. The rocks at the north end of Siesta Key in twenty feet of water is a very good spot for snapper. The New Pass Bridge is a good spot for both snapper and snook. Occasionally, a large tarpon will be hooked under the bridge!
Snook fishing on Sarasota beaches
Anglers that choose to fish on their own can catch plenty as snook right off of the beaches. Snook move out to Sarasota Beaches to spawn in the summer. When conditions are right, which means clear smooth water, snook can be seen right in the surf line. The idea is to see the fish, then determine which way it is moving. A lure, bait or fly is and cast out ahead of the fish. Hopefully a bite ensues.
This really is world-class sight fishing. It offers anglers the chance to see the fish, stalk it, cast to it, and catch it! One of the great things about this type of fishing is that light tackle can be used. There is very little structure out on the beach for fish to break off on.
In closing, the fishing in the summer can be fantastic! Anglers just need to change tactics a bit. Versatility and the ability to adapt to conditions are the keys to success, along with understanding how the warm water affects the bait and game fish. Some of my most productive Sarasota fishing charters for both action and variety occur in the summer. Most days we land around eight to ten different species and while I promote catch and release, most clients can take home a meal if desired. Anglers who want to get in on this great action need to get up early, drink a lot of water, and enjoy some “Hot” summer fishing!
Sarasota Family Fishing Charters
Sarasota family fishing charters are a lot of fun! These types of trips probably make up about half of my charters annually. Some might think that taking out kids and inexperienced anglers is difficult. In a lot of ways, it is actually easier. Their goals and expectations are different than those of the seasoned angler.
Sarasota is not a fishing destination. There are places like the Florida Keys, Venice Louisiana, in the Bahamas where people go strictly to fish. Visitors come to Siesta Key, Lido Key, and Sarasota to enjoy the beautiful beaches and soak up some sunshine. So, they come here and fish, they don’t come here to fish. Our fishing is pretty easy and very family-friendly. Anglers of all skill and experience levels can enjoy success on Sarasota family fishing charters.
Fortunately, we are blessed with a unique fishery here. One thing that we have to offer that not all fisheries do is diversity. On an average Sarasota fishing charter my clients land 6 to 8 species. On my best trip, my anglers caught 19 different species of fish and six hours! That was a cool and memorable trip.
Many of the species that we have our perfect for Sarasota family fishing charters. We have bottom fish such as sheepshead and snapper. These species can be caught without even having the ability to cast. If an angler can drop the weight to the bottom, he or she can catch a fish. Current Florida regulations can be found on the FWC website.
Sarasota fishing charters, action and variety!
Many other species are caught out in open water. You do have to cast to these fish, but precision as it required. It can be a simple as floating a shrimp out behind the boat and waiting for a bite. These would include speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, Pompano, and ladyfish.
Ladyfish in particular are species I target with novice anglers on Sarasota family fishing charters. They hit hard, usually jump high up out of the water, and are very aggressive. They usually run around in very large schools. I have had many trips where every angler had a fish on at once.
Light spinning tackle is used on these Sarasota family fishing charters. It is versatile, can hold up of a big fish gets hooked, and is easy to use. I get many freshwater anglers who have only used closed face spinning reels. These are also known as “push-button” reels. These will not hold up and saltwater.
However, I can take even a young child and with 10 or 15 minutes of instruction have them casting well enough to catch a fish. Sometimes I do this using artificial lures. Inexperienced anglers are often surprised to learn that artificial lures can actually be easier to use and more productive than live baits. I do use live bait often on Sarasota family fishing charters.
Charter fishing Sarasota; techniques
When using artificial lures with novice anglers or children, I use the lead head jig and grub combo. This is a single hook artificial lure that has a lead weight at the front and a plastic tail on the back. The tail is made to either mimic a bait fish or a shrimp or other crustacean. The primary advantage of the lure is the weight. It is much heavier than a live shrimp and it is easier to teach a novice to cast with the heavier jig.
Jigs also allow anglers to cover a lot of water more quickly. Fish can be scattered out all over the place. Casting a jig while drifting over grass flats and 5 feet to 8 feet of water produces a lot a fish on my Sarasota family fishing charters. Jigs are specially popular with little boys. They are less apt to want to sit still and always want to be doing something. With Sarasota jig fishing, they are constantly casting and reeling.
Trolling is a productive fishing technique
Trolling is another great method for anglers with little experience. Basically, it involves me driving the boat around while dragging a lure out behind the boat. My clients sit in the bow holding the rods with the tips extended out to the side. This way I can keep an eye on everything.
This is very easy fishing and there is little doubt when a fish grabs the lure. This fishing technique works very well on Spanish mackerel along with ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevalle, and other species. When a Spanish mackerel show up thick in the inshore Gulf of Mexico, trolling is deadly effective. Clients can put a ton of fish in the boat in relatively short order.
Sarasota family fishing charters, live bait tactics
As stated earlier, I do use live bait a lot on Sarasota family fishing charters. By far the number one live bait is a live shrimp. They are found the naturally in our waters and good numbers. They are available at every bait shop in town. Shrimp are like the ‘nightcrawlers of saltwater”, everything eats them!
Drifting the passes and deep grass flats produces more fish for my clients than all other methods. The reason for that is simple, fish congregate in these areas. We are blessed with many acres of submerge grass beds in Sarasota Bay. These grass flats that occur in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep are the most productive in terms of quantity of fish.
Shrimp and bait fish live in the grass. That is what attracts the game fish. Speckled trout and ladyfish are plentiful on the deep grass flats year-round. At certain times of the year, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, sharks, jacks, mangrove snapper, grouper, flounder, catfish, and other species are encountered.
The fishing technique is fairly straightforward. As the boat drifts across the flat, anglers either cast out in front of the drifting boat or free line a bait behind the boat. If the drift does not produce much action, I will try new spot. If the fishing is good, I will idle the boat around quietly and re-drift the same area.
Siesta Key fishing charters
The passes provide excellent action for clients on Sarasota family fishing charters as well. Passes are basically inlets. They are channels that connect the Gulf of Mexico to Sarasota Bay. Big Sarasota Pass lies between Siesta Key and Lido Key. New Pass lies between Lido Key and Longboat Key. Both can offer fantastic fishing.
There are two techniques that I employee when fishing the passes. I either drift with the current or anchor up and fish structure. Both can be very productive depending on conditions and seasons. The passes also offer an advantage in that they provide protection from the wind. I often choose to fish the passes on breezy days.
Anglers drifting the passes do so with either jigs or live shrimp. The jig is simply drop down and bounced off the bottom as the boat drifts along. Clients catch a lot of ladyfish doing this. If the current is not too strong, we can also free line a live shrimp out behind the boat. The drift of the shrimp creates a natural presentation. This can be deadly when Spanish mackerel are in the vicinity.
Bottom fishing in the passes can be extremely productive. This is particularly true of Big Pass. The entire north end of Siesta Key is covered with structure of some sort. There is rocky bottom along with Rocky shorelines, seawalls, and docks. This structure attracts crustaceans and bait fish which in turn attracts the bottom fish.
Bottom fishing on Sarasota family fishing charters
Bottom fishing is great on Sarasota family fishing charters with kids and novice anglers. Once I get the boat situated, it is an easy method to employ. The rods are rigged up with a hook in a small weight. The hooks are then baited with fresh or frozen shrimp and drop to the bottom. If there are fish around, it won’t take long to start catching them.
The last several years we have experienced a fantastic run of sheepshead in the passes. The run starts in late January and runs until about the end of March. Sheepshead move into the past to spawn. They show up there in huge numbers. Sheepshead are kind of like a saltwater bluegill. They are basically a larger saltwater panfish. They are very good to eat, though quite difficult to clean.
Anglers bottom fishing the north end of Siesta Key will also catch gag grouper, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts, flounder, pompano, and black drum. The drum and grouper in particular can be quite large and will test an angler skill with light tackle.
There is a specialized live bait technique that I use in the summer time. It is called live bait chumming. Chumming refers to putting something in the water to attract fish. In most cases it is fish that have been ground up and frozen. In this case, I actually use live bait fish to attract the game fish to the back of the boat.
Chumming with live bait
I use my cast net to procure several hundred live bait fish. These are mostly scaled sardines and threadfin herring. Schools of these baitfish are usually plentiful on the shallow grass flats close to the passes. In the summer time, the water temperature can get into the upper 80s. A large recirculating live well with a good pump is required to keep the bait fish alive in that warm water.
Once the bait is obtained, the fishing begins. I choose a deep grass flat where the tide will carry the chum out to where I think the fish are. As the boat settles on the anchor, I start tossing out live bait fish behind the boat, about a dozen at a time. Usually, I will give the bait a little squeeze to injure it. This will cause the bait fish to swim erratically on the surface. This drives fish crazy!
It won’t be long before the game fish will home in on this helpless prey. They will be seen popping on the surface as they feed on the bait. Then, it is simply a matter of putting a bait fish on the hook and casting it out behind the boat.
When the fish get going, it is a fish on every cast. You can imagine how busy gets with for anglers catching fish on every cast! It is chaos, but it is a lot of fun as well. This is great for little kids as the action is fast and furious. The only downside to this is the heat of summer. We are out on the water at first light and usually done by 10 o’clock in the morning. But there are plenty of days when three to for anglers catch over 100 fish employing this technique.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
The inshore Gulf of Mexico can be a great option for Sarasota family fishing charters when conditions are right. Several days of east wind will have the Gulf waters nice and smooth and the water clear. In the spring and the fall Spanish mackerel and ladyfish will gorge themselves on baitfish on the surface.
This feeding frenzy can be seen from quite a distance away. The water will be turned to a frothing white and birds will be seen wheeling and diving. The best thing about this is that just about any bait that gets anywhere near the fish will be instantly inhaled. Trolling can be deadly and is very easy to do. However, I like to take advantage of this situation to teach children to cast and give them confidence using artificial lures.
Fishing the artificial reefs
There are three artificial reefs that Sarasota County has placed to miles off of Lido Key. The floor of the Gulf of Mexico is flat and relatively featureless. Therefore, any structure or rocky outcropping becomes a fish magnet. These artificial reefs are very productive all year long, but particularly and spring and fall. Mackerel and bonito are caught on top while grouper, snapper, and sheepshead are caught by anglers bottom fishing.
In closing, don’t let the lack of experience of either you, your guests, or especially her children keep you from enjoying fun day out on the water. Hiring a Sarasota fishing guide is an excellent opportunity to enjoy a great day of fishing!
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236