Quite a few of my clients are surprised to find out that we have Florida bluefish. Experienced anglers from the Northeast and mid Atlantic are quite familiar with this saltwater brawler. However, Florida has a good population of them as well.
Bluefish are the sole member of the family “Pomatomidae”. They are a pelagic species, meaning they spend their time in the middle of the water column. They are widely distributed throughout the world. Anglers from Maine to the Carolina’s target them from boats, jetties and peers, and the surf. Pound for pound, bluefish are one of the strongest fighting game fish in the sea. Florida has them in good numbers most of the year.
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.
Most of the bluefish that we see in Florida are smaller than their northern brethren. Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide, bluefish average 2 pounds and a 5 pound are is a nice fish. However, though they are smaller, they are just as much fun. This is due mostly to the fact that we fish for them with very light tackle on my Sarasota fishing charters.
Florida bluefish locations
Florida bluefish are caught in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and along the beaches. They prefer clean, clear water and water temperatures in the low to mid 70s. Bluefish school up in large numbers and are very aggressive. Often times bluefish will be seen feeding voraciously on the surface. This is a great opportunity as just about any lure or bait cast into the mix will draw strike.
Florida inshore bays for the most part are fairly shallow. Grass flats abound. Florida bluefish seem to prefer areas that are a mixture of sand and grass in depths of between six and 12 feet deep. Flats and bays near inlets and passes are generally the most productive. Bluefish require a high level of salinity, they cannot tolerate brackish water.
Florida bluefish follow baitfish
At one point or another every mile of the Florida coast will experience some type of bait fish run. Predators will usually not be very far behind. This includes Florida bluefish as well. East Coast anglers experience the famous mullet run while on the West Coast it is more thread fin herring and Spanish sardines.
No matter what the bait fish being pursued, there are few angling circumstances that can compete with breaking fish when it comes to pure excitement! The sight of a school of game fish terrorizing hapless bait fish on the surface is exhilarating. Also, anglers know that just about any bait tossed into the mix will draw a strike.
While many anglers target Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species, bluefish can be often found in these feeding frenzies. This is one instance whether anglers can bump up the leader to steel and not see a market decrease in strikes. These fish are usually so fired up and aggressive that they will hit a spoon, plug, or jig with reckless abandon. This is a fun and exciting Sarasota fishing charter!
Many bluefish are landed by anglers seeking other species. A very popular technique in Florida is to drift the grass flats while casting lures or live bait in search of fish. Anglers will encounter schools of Florida bluefish while doing this. When one fish is caught, expect more to follow. Bluefish will sometimes be seen feeding on the surface, but quite often there will be no indication of their presence until one is hooked.
Florida bluefish lures
Florida bluefish are very aggressive and a fast-moving lure will get their attention. Jigs, spoons, and plugs are the most popular artificial lures. If I was targeting bluefish or was fishing in an area where I knew they could be present, I would choose a jig and grub as my preferred lure.
Jigs are my preference when fishing for Florida bluefish for several reasons. Most importantly, they are effective and catch fish. But there are other reasons as well. Bluefish have very sharp teeth and cutoffs will occur. In clear Florida waters, a fluorocarbon leader will produce many more strikes than a steel leader will. For this reason, lures and hooks will be cut off by bluefish. Jigs are relatively inexpensive. They also have one large single hook, making handling and releasing bluefish easier.
Spoons are another effective lure when targeting Florida bluefish. A 1/2 ounce spoon is very aerodynamic and will cast a long way on light spinning tackle. Silver is the preferred color in clear water. Most casting spoons come with a trouble hook which can be easily replaced with a single hook if desired. A snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and running line will reduce line twist.
Plugs are very productive when chasing Florida bluefish. It is very exciting to see bluefish blowup on a top water plug! However, there are a couple drawbacks to casting plugs. Plugs are expensive with the average cost being around $10. Several anglers casting into a school of bluefish can lose a fair amount of money quickly! Also, most plugs come equipped with trouble hooks. These can be dangerous when trying to unhook an angry bluefish. Trolling with plugs can be very effective.
Florida bluefish on a fly rod
Anglers who enjoy catching their fish on a fly rod will find bluefish to be great fun! Since most of the Florida bluefish run between two and 5 pounds, and eight weight outfit is perfect. The best line choice would be an intermediate sink tip line. This will allow the fly to get down in the water column and still be stripped back quickly. As the spin fishing, bluefish respond best to a fast retrieve.
A 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch section of 40 pound bite tippet is a good all-around choice. When bluefish are feeding aggressively, the fly choice really isn’t that important. If I had to choose one fly, it would be in all white Clouser Minnow with 3/16 ounce eyes tied on a number one hook. However, just about any bait fish imitations will produce. One trick we use here in Sarasota is to tie are flies on a long shank#1/0 hook. The longer shank acts like a steel leader and reduces cutoffs without reducing the number of strikes.
Florida bluefish on live bait
While casting artificial lures and flies is great fun, many bluefish are caught using live and cut bait as well. Live shrimp and live bait fish are the top live baits. Mullet, squid, and sardines are the top cut baits. In reality, any fish that is legal to keep can be cut up and used effectively as bait.
Anglers choosing to surf fish almost always opt for cut bait. It really just is a practical decision and is effective. The East Coast beaches tend to have higher waves and rougher surf. Cut bait stays on the hook better during a long cast and with the stronger current and wave action. Bait can be cut into long narrow strips or into chunks. Pier anglers often times use cut bait as well.
The best rig when using cut bait to surf fish for Florida bluefish is the fish finder rig. This consists of a narrow tube with a big clip on. The running line passes through the tube and then is tied onto a swivel. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is attached to the other end of the swivel and then a large hook is attached to the other end of the leader. A pyramid sinker of appropriate weight given the wind and tide is attached using the clip.
Live bait for surf bluefish
Anglers can certainly use live bait when surf fishing as well. This is particularly true on the West Coast of Florida where the wave and tide action is generally more gentle. When using live bait, the best approach is to use the least amount of weight possible. Anglers will find bluefish on the West Coast quite close to shore, often in the first trough.
Anglers drifting over the grass flats and in the passes will catch Florida bluefish on live bait. One technique that works really well is to free line the bait. This means that the shrimp is hooked on to the hook with no weight being added to the line. The shrimp or bait fish then swims naturally in the water. Since bluefish are often high in the water column, this is a very effective technique. To reduce cutoffs, a long shank hook is preferred.
Passes and inlets are virtual fish highways that game fish and bait fish use to migrate between the inshore bays and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. These are natural spots to find bluefish. Currents can be strong in these areas, so artificial lures are usually a better choice. Anglers can cast to rocks and rip rap or bounce a jig vertically along as they drift. Once again, keeping an eye out for surface activity will increase the chances of success.
There are several spots here in Sarasota that consistently produce bluefish. Probably the most reliable area is called the middle grounds. It is a large area with a sandy bottom and grass growing out to 10 feet deep. It lies just north of New Pass on the west side of Sarasota Bay. This spot is adjacent to new pass, which gives it excellent current flow. It is a large area and drifting is usually the best approach.
Jigs are the best lure to use when fishing for bluefish at that spot. The fish can be out into the water is deep is 12 feet, and jigs will get down deep enough to cover the water column effectively. Spoons and plugs can be used when fish are seen actively breaking on the surface.
Deep grass flats and passes are productive for bluefish
There are several other flats that produce bluefish in Sarasota. The area between Bird Key and Siesta Key is just east of Big Pass and is another spot that produces bluefish regularly. Further North and Sarasota Bay, Bishop’s Pt., Stephen’s Pt., and Buttonwood are good deep grass flats that produce bluefish.
Both passes can be good spots for bluefish, especially in the cooler months. Fish use these passes to migrate between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Bluefish will often be seen foraging on the surface. Sometimes Spanish mackerel will be mixed in as well as ladyfish. When surface activity is not seen, drifting with jigs will help anglers locate fish.
Point of Rocks off of Siesta Key is a spot along the beach that will concentrate bluefish. There is not a lot of structure along the beach, with the exception of the spot. That is why it attracts so many fish. It is a large area with rocks that protrude out into the water. Bluefish and many other game fish can be caught at the spot.
Bluefish for dinner
In my opinion, bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating quality. The smaller bluefish and the 2 to 3 pound range are delicious! However they do require a bit more care. I bleed any bluefish that I plan to keep. I do this by cutting the gills and putting the fish in the bait well. This will result in the fish pumping all the blood out of its body, making the flesh not quite as dark.
Then, I get the fish on ice as quickly as possible. Bluefish are oily and do not freeze well. Keep only what you need for a meal that evening. There is an area of darker meat on the backside of the fillet. On larger fish, this area can be cut out for cooking. On smaller fillets, it is best to cook it and work around the dark strip if desired. This darker meat is perfectly safe to eat, some people just find it a bit unappealing.
My favorite recipe when preparing bluefish is very simple. I preheat an oven to 400° then cover both sides of the bluefish filet and a tire breadcrumbs. Tire breadcrumbs have plenty of seasoning which makes things nice and easy along with making a nice c crust. Thin lemon slices are placed over top of the fillets in the fishes baked for 8 to 10 minutes. I can then be served with a lemon dill sauce or any other sauce that is preferred. Bluefish are also good grilled, smoked, and used in chowder.
Anglers who like freshwater fishing will enjoy Sarasota crappie fishing. Most visitors naturally associate Sarasota was saltwater fishing. However the Sarasota Bradenton area does have some good and really overlooked fishing. Several area watersheds offer good fishing for bream (that is southern for bluegill and other panfish), crappie, catfish, and bass.
The three dominant river systems in Sarasota County and Manatee County are the Manatee River, Braden River, and Myakka River watersheds. All three are similar in that they are freshwater streams which have dams that created reservoirs. The water upstream from the dams is totally fresh, while the portion downstream from the dams is tidally influenced. This creates a really interesting fishery, where bass and panfish mix it up with snook and other saltwater species.
Lake Manatee differs from the other two in that the water release can be controlled at the dam. Lake Evers on the Braden River and Lower Myakka Lake are very simple weir dams. The water level in Lake Manatee varies quite a bit depending on the release of water. The water level in Upper Myakka Lake inside of Myakka River State Park fluctuates greatly and is entirely based on rainfall. Lake Evers is quite deep and is a bit more stable due to that factor.
All three lakes have paved boat ramps for boaters to access the lakes. Lake Evers and Upper Myakka Lake are idle speed only lakes. Lake Manatee has no speed restrictions but does have a 20 hp limit. This results in all three lakes having very little recreational boat traffic and wakes from other boaters.
Sarasota crappie fishing techniques
The same techniques produce crappie in all three lakes. Some anglers use live bait with the Missouri minnow being the most popular. These minnows are commercially grown and are very hardy. They will live all morning in a small bucket of water. They are fished on a #4 hook either under a float or with a light weight to take it to the bottom.
Many anglers, myself included, prefer to use artificial lures when targeting crappie. By far the most popular and effective lure is the jig. Tiny spinner baits can also be effective. A unique and very effective bait is the Blakemore Roadrunner. It is sort of a hybrid between the two, with a jig body and a spinner blade coming off of the eye of the hook.
Florida waters are generally speaking very dark. They are tannin stained and the color of root beer or coffee. Therefore, brightly colored jigs are generally the most productive. Pink, chartreuse, and white are the most effective colors. Often times, a combination of colors works best. For example, a white jig head with a chartreuse curly tail grub body is one of the most effective combinations. A good approach is to use several different colors and see if one pattern emerges as being more effective.
Anglers who get up early will be rewarded when crappie fishing in Sarasota. For the most part, the first light bite is best. This is not always the case but is a good rule of thumb. The two basic techniques when targeting crappie are to cast lures or bait out or troll. Both can be effective, depending on conditions.
Sarasota crappie fishing seasons
We start crappie fishing here in Sarasota in early October. Fish can be taken all year long, but October through March are the prime months. The first cool front or two will have the crappie schooling up. Both Lake Manatee and Lake Evers are fairly deep. Crappie will generally school up on the edges of the channels and and deep water over structure. Myakka Lake is quite shallow with the constant depth being 3 to 5 feet depending on lake level.
Trolling is fairly simple and deadly effective. On shallow Myakka Lake the bait is cast out 30 feet or so behind the boat. The boat is then idled along using the gas or trolling motor at a slow speed until fish are located. In the deeper Lake Manatee and Lake Evers, trolling is a bit more nuanced.
Crappie will relate to the channel edges. Therefore, zigzagging over the channel edge is the best approach. Vary lure selection and speed until a productive pattern emerges. Often times the fish will hit on turns. Slack line will cause the lure to fall, then jerk up as the slack is removed. This often times triggers a bite.
By late December or early January depending on the weather, the crappie will have moved up to the bank. Trolling the banks can still be effective. However, many anglers choose to cast to the bank. They can do so using the same artificial lures or live minnows under a small float.
Successful anglers actually use both techniques. They will troll was shoreline until a school of fish is found, then use the live minnows to catch the fish I have located. This is a common technique used and saltwater fishing that works quite well and freshwater also. Shore bound anglers usually opt for live minnows, using several rods out in a spread. Florida does not limit the number of rods that can be used in freshwater.
Sarasota crappie fishing lures
The top artificial lures are jigs, small spinner baits, tiny plugs, and Roadrunners. A 1/16 ounce marabou jig or jig head with a twister tail or shad tail body is preferred. Chartreuse is a great color and has proven to be a great lure for crappie along with bluegill and small bass. White works well, too.
My personal favorite spinner bait is the 1/16 ounce black Beetlespin. This lure has caught many fish for me and clients over the years. The grub body is very simple, but is effective. A tiny spinnerbait with a chartreuse twister tail grub is a good choice as well. Anglers can see an article dedicated to the best crappie lures here.
Tiny plugs work well for anglers Sarasota crappie fishing, too. They are very effective for trolling in shallow water as they only dive a couple of feet down. Plugs also tend to catch larger fish. They also work well on small bass and big bluegill. Anglers do have to deal with treble hooks.
Roadrunners are another bait that is both a jig and a spinner. It has a jig head, with 1/8 ounce and 3/16 ounce are the best sizes. A grub body slides on the jig. A spinner blade comes off of the head hear the eye of the hook. This results in a compact bait that casts well, gets down deep, and has a lot of color and flash.
Fly anglers can certainly enjoy crappie fishing along with the spin fishermen. A 3wt or 4wt outfit is perfect. Anglers can use a floating line, but an intermediate sink tip line works better. Small bait fish patterns in white, gold, and chartreuse tied on #6 hooks are a great choice. Fly fishing for crappie is best when the fish move shallow to the banks.
Sarasota crappie fishing; where to fish
Lake Manatee: This lake is several miles long and sits 10 miles east of the interstate. There is a very nice boat ramp located in Lake Manatee State ParkThere is also a primitive ramp near the fish camp just off of the State Road 64 bridge. The Manatee River below the dam offers very good crappie fishing. However, access is difficult that time of year as the water level is low.
Evers Lake: Also known as Ward Lake, this lake is conveniently located in Bradenton just off of State Road 70 and west of the interstate. There is an excellent ramp at Jiggs Landing, which has bait, tackle, and facilities.
Upper Myakka Lake: This lake sits 10 miles east of Sarasota off of State Road 72. It is shallow with a decent ramp, suitable for boast bass boats as long as the water is up a bit. Anglers should call the park to make sure the ramp is open. The river inside the Myakka River State Park has some deeper holes which are great for kayak and canoe anglers to target crappie.
Benderson Lake: This lake was renovated to create a world class facility for rowing competitions. It is a reclaimed strip pit with a good population of larger crappie. It is electric motor or paddle only. There is a good ramp at the south end of the lake.
Next time you are looking for a different Sarasota angling experience, think about giving crappie fishing a try. Expect some fun, cool scenery, and some good eating! Give me a call if you want to go on a crappie fishing charter.
Visiting anglers very much enjoy Florida Pompano fishing. Pompano are very beautiful fish that fight incredibly hard for their size and taste great. What more can an angler ask for!
Pompano are found along the entire coast of Florida. Statewide, most pompano are caught by anglers surf fishing. Here in Sarasota, we catch them both off of the beaches and in the inshore waters of Sarasota Bay. Pompano may be encountered at any time of year. Cooler months are generally the most productive times of year to catch pompano.
Pompano look very similar to juvenile permit. They also tend to live in the same environments. Permit have longer fins with a bit of black on the tips. If anglers have any doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and release the fish.
Pompano fishing tackle
As in most inshore saltwater applications, the same rod and reel used to target speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species will work fine when targeting pompano. As these fish do not grow too large, a light spinning outfit is perfect. A 7 foot medium action rod with a 2500-3000 series reel and 10 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line is perfect. Below is the rod and reel combo that Capt Jim uses on his fishing charters, a Penn Fierce reel and Shimano Convergence rod. Click on the images to purchase.
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Florida pompano fishing with jigs
Jigs produce most of the Pompano landed by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. A close look at a Pompano will reveal a small, inferior mouth. The term inferior mouth refers to the fact that the opening of the mouth is on the underside of the head. This will indicate the method by which a Pompano feeds. It swims with its head down and tail up, searching the bottom for crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.
This explains why jigs are so productive when targeting Pompano. A jig that is bounced off the bottom kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This very closely mimics the action of a fleeing crab or shrimp. Jigs produce on the beach, in the passes, and in the bays. Bright colors such as red, chartreuse, and white are the most productive patterns. I use them often on my Sarasota fishing charters.
Many anglers land pompano while casting 3 inch to 4 inch jigs while drifting over the deep grass flats. The same Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits that work so well for speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species will also fool pompano. The same jig and fall retrieve is productive. The deeper flats in Sarasota Bay, those between 8 feet and 10 feet deep, produce more pompano. However, they can be encountered over sandbars in as little as 2 feet of water.
Small jigs are best for pompano fishing
While the larger jigs will catch the occasional pompano, when specifically targeting pompano, smaller lures are often used. Not surprisingly, these are called “pompano jigs”. As noted earlier, pompano have a quite small mouth, so a smaller bite-size jig works well. These jigs are very plain looking. There simply a round jig head with a little bit of dressing, usually synthetic care. Combinations of white, yellow, chartreuse, and red have proven to be effective colors.
There is another type of lure specifically designed to for anglers Florida pompano fishing. They are called “banana jigs”. They are long and slender, and shaped like a banana, thus the name. When jerked up sharply, they fall in a very erratic manner. Pompano find this action irresistible. Some also have a little fly near the hook. Often times pompano will be hooked under the chin with the second little teaser hook.
Florida pompano fishing techniques
Anglers drifting the deep grass flats simply cast the jig out ahead of the drifting boat, allow it to sink, and work it back in using short hops. The same technique works for those fishing for pompano off the beaches. When the bite is tough or when the water is a bit off-color, tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can really make a difference.
If I had to pick one spot to fish for pompano, it would be Big Sarasota Pass. “Big Pass” as we call it has everything a pompano needs. There is an expansive bar at the mouth which will hold schools of pompano at times. Miles of rocky structure on the north end of Siesta Key hold the crustaceans that pompano feed on. Large areas of sand flats in 10 to 12 feet of water have good current flow and also attract pompano.
Jigging for Florida pompano in passes
Jigs work extremely well in the passes. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be very productive spots. For those who don’t know, a pass is basically an inlet. “Pass” is the term used on the Gulf Coast. As the current flows in and out of the passes, pompano will cruise the bottom in search of food. Pompano tend to school up in the passes. Once a productive area is located, that area should be drifted several times. Anglers can catch quite a few in a short period of time.
New Pass can also be a very productive spot to catch pompano. This pass is a bit different. It is shorter and narrow with deeper water. Most of the fishing is done west of the bridge. Pompano can be found in the channel in the deep water. Bouncing a jig as the boat drifts along is the best approach on a Sarasota fishing charter.
Most of the pompano landed in New Pass are caught on the shallow bars at the mouth of the pass. This is a unique area that is really more like a large saltwater flat. Yet, it has excellent current flow. Anglers need to be careful as the water can go from ten feet deep to very shallow quickly. The best area is from the markers to the south. The outside bars may produce a few fish as well.
Florida pompano fishing with live bait
Many pompano are caught using live bait as well. Live shrimp are the most popular bait. They are readily available at every Florida bait shop. While live shrimp or fresh dead shrimp are best, pompano will certainly take a frozen shrimp as well.
There is another bait that’s very effective when targeting pompano, though using it can be a bit more involved. These are called mole crabs, better known as sand fleas. Very few shops keep these, though some do have frozen sand fleas available. Live sand fleas are much preferred to frozen baits. Anglers can purchase a special rake which they use in the surf line to catch the sand fleas. Obtaining sand fleas requires more effort, but many anglers swear by them.
Surf fishing for Florida pompano
One great thing about Florida pompano fishing is that anglers without a boat catch more than their fair share. Surf fishing for pompano is very popular throughout the state. Pompano Beach is even named after this special fish! Surf fishing tactics vary a bit on each coast, so I will go into the difference and techniques.
The surf along the Gulf Coast of Florida is generally a bit more gentle than out of the ocean. Starting from the beach and moving out to sea, beaches will have several troughs and bars. Many times the pompano will be in the first trough 10 to 15 feet from shore. This means that long casts are not required.
West coast pompano surf fishing
The best approach for targeting pompano on the West Coast of Florida beaches is to use fairly light spinning tackle, in the 10 pound class. Anglers can then choose to use a quarter ounce jig and cast and retrieve, or to fish with live bait. As stated above, putting a piece of fresh shrimp on a jig head can be the best of both worlds. As an added benefit, other species such as whiting, sheepshead, flounder, ladyfish, and more will take a shrimp-tipped jig.
Anglers choosing to fish with live bait will do well by keeping it simple. A small #4 hook and a split shot or two will get the job done. By using as little weight as possible, anglers will achieve a very natural presentation. It is best if the shrimp is slowly moving along the bottom with the current.
Florida pompano fishing, East Coast
The surf on the East Coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean tends to be a bit rougher. Also, tide differences are more extreme. Lastly, anglers are often have to cast into a stiff breeze. For these reasons, angler surf fishing for pompano on the East Coast use the more traditional style.
Surf rods are spinning rods that are 10 to 13 feet or even longer. They have large spinning reels with high-capacity spools. These long rods allow anglers to make a very long cast and keep the line up out of the crashing waves. After the cast rods are placed into sand spikes. These are simply pieces of PCV tubing that hold the rod upright. Here is a nice Penn Battle combo for $130.
Florida pompano surf fishing rigs and tackle
There are several rigs that can be used for this type of surf fishing. The most common when targeting pompano is the “high low” rig. This is simply two different hooks where one is close to the bottom and the other about a foot or so above. A heavy pyramid style weight is at the very bottom. It is not uncommon to catch two fish at a time with this rig.
The other commonly used rig off of the surf is the fish finder rig. This is a device that has a clip to hold on the pyramid sinker with a hollow tube allowing the line to run freely through it. The biggest advantage of this rig is that fish can pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. However, because the bait lies on the bottom it tends to attract more sharks and other undesirable species.
Anglers surf fishing will also do well with standard surf fishing tackle. A 10 foot surf rod with matching reel will do fine in most situations. Experienced anglers will often step up to a 13 foot rod when the surf is high. This allows them to cast further and get the line up above the breaking waves.
Baits for catching pompano in the surf
Shrimp and sand fleas are two most popular baits for surf anglers targeting pompano. Shrimp have an advantage in that they will catch many other species. Hard core pompano anglers do not want these other species and will opt for sand fleas. They are a bit more of a specialized bait. In some areas, clams and mussels are also used.
The fishing technique with both rigs is basically the same and quite simple. The hooks are baited up, and the rig is cast out as far as possible. Once the bait settles, the rod is placed in the sense bite with the line taught. Once the rod tip indicates that a fish is biting the rod is removed from the spike in the hook is set. Click HERE for current Florida pompano regulations.
Fishing for pompano
Many anglers enjoy fishing for pompano. They are found along the Gulf of Mexico coast and up the Atlantic coast to North Carolina. They fight very hard for their size and are fantastic eating!
Pompano average a couple of pounds. However, they put up a terrific fight for their size. These smaller cousins to the permit use their broad sides and forked tails to pull very hard. Pompano feed on the bottom, normally on crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. They range from Texas along the US coast as far north as Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Pompano are prized as table fare by anglers. Jigs, live shrimp and sand fleas are the top baits.
One look at a pompano will clue anglers as to their feeding habits. The mouth is small and “inferior”, meaning it is behind the nose. It feeds by using that hard nose to root in the bottom in search of crabs and shrimp. It then vacuums up the prey. Pompano will be found over sandy bottoms, grassy bottoms and around rocky structure. All of these areas hold the forage that they feed on.
Best pompano baits
Anglers fishing for pompano do well using both artificial lures and live and natural bait. Shrimp are an excellent bait used either live or fresh dead. They are available at just about every coastal bait shop. Sand fleas (also known as mole crabs), are prized as a pompano bait and many experienced anglers consider them to be the most productive bait to use when fishing for pompano. Fiddler crabs and oyster crabs will catch fish as well.
Jig fishing for pompano
The top artificial lure by far is the jig. A jig is a hook with a piece of lead molded near the eye. The hook is then dressed with either natural or synthetic hair or a plastic grub body of some sort. Anglers fishing for pompano work the jig right on the bottom. Each time it hits the bottom it kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This mimics a fleeing crab or shrimp and is a very effective presentation.
Pompano have fairly small mouths. Anglers drifting the flats and inlets and passes will catch pompano on the larger jigs meant for speckled trout and other species. Therefore, anglers fishing for pompano specifically generally scale down the size of the lure.
Special pompano jigs are productive
There are several types of jigs on the market specifically designed for pompano. There are two types, the ball head jig and the banana jig. Ball head jigs are basically smaller versions of a buck tail jig. It will have a round head with a smaller hook, around a size #4. The dressing will normally be synthetic and will be trimmed close, just beyond the bend of the hook. These jig sink very quickly and are great choice when fishing passes and inlets. They can also be cast out by anglers fishing for pompano on the flats.
Banana jigs are odd looking little lures. As the name implies, they are long and slender with a bend in them, looking a bit like a banana. Some also have a little fly attached to add some flash. They have a very erratic action when falling. Anglers can work them either vertically or casting out by jerking the rod tip up and letting the jig falls sharply to the bottom.
Fishing for pompano with natural bait
Shrimp are probably the most popular live bait for anglers fishing for pompano. They are very effective and easily obtained at most bait shops. This availability is certainly one of the keys to their popularity and productivity. Fresh dead shrimp can be quite effective as well, especially for anglers surf fishing. Frozen shrimp can produce in fresh shrimp are not available.
Shrimp will also catch just about every other species and saltwater. For some anglers this is a great thing as it results in more action. Anglers specifically targeting pompano sometimes find these other fish to be a nuisance. This is not the worst problem in the world to have!
There is no doubt that among serious pompano fisherman that the best bait to use as a sand flea, also known as a mole crabs. These little critters are about the size of your thumbnail and are found in the sand right at the edge of the surf. In prime pompano areas, they may be available at bait shops. However, most anglers catch them along the surf line using special rakes. Serious anglers fishing for pompano will often times spend more time catching bait than they will catching the fish.
Pompano locations and seasons
Pompano are found along the beaches, in passes and inlets, and on the flats. Generally speaking, the flats closest to the open waters of the Gulf and Atlantic are best. Inlets on the East Coast and passes on the West Coast are also prime spots for anglers fishing for pompano. Many fish are caught by anglers surf fishing as well.
Pompano are found in Florida all year long. The cooler months are best, but the occasional fish can be caught at any time. As it warms up, the fish will move north along the east coast. Summer is the best time to catch them off of the Carolina beaches. Pompano are landed along the Gulf Coast with the exception of really cold weather in the northern portion of the Florida panhandle area.
Passes and inlets
Inlets are veritable fish highways that pompano and other species use to travel from the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean into the back bays. The current is always stronger in these areas due to the natural constricting of the land masses. The result is a natural spot for fish to congregate and feed, especially when structure is present.
Inlets and passes are virtually the same thing. In the Gulf of Mexico, they are called “passes”. And Atlantic Ocean, they are called “inlets”. While they are similar in most cases, they are actually fished a bit differently. This is mainly due to the fact that on the East Coast tides are stronger and boat traffic can be significantly heavier.
Pompano fishing in passes
The best technique to use when fishing for pompano and passes is to drift using a vertical presentation. Jigs work really well in this application and can be tipped with a small piece of shrimp to increase the chances of success. The jig is simply lower to the bottom and twitched sharply using short 1 foot movements. The jig stays in the strikes on the entire time and as the boat drifts a lot of water can be covered in a short amount of time. Once a school is located, anglers will re-drift that area until the bite slows.
Pompano will often times get up into very shallow water on the sandbars in the passes. As the drifting boat will spook them in this skinny water, it is best to make long casts and work the lure back to the boat. Jigs are effective in this situation as well, though anglers can certainly catch fish using live shrimp or sand fleas.
Inlets on the Atlantic Ocean side can be a bit tricky. Tides are often times quite swift, resulting in a potentially dangerous boating situation. It also requires a lot of weight to get down to the bottom. Finally, boat traffic, especially on weekends, can be quite heavy. Often times, the best way to fish for Pompano in inlets is from the jetty. Anglers can cast out live bait or jigs and thoroughly work the rocks.
Often times, the best spots in the inlets are little eddies or edges where the rocks transition to sand. These are prime spots for pompano to hold in and feet. The Eddie on the backside of the jetty on the Atlantic Ocean side is a prime spot for anglers fishing for pompano and the inlets.
Surf fishing for pompano
One of the great things about fishing for pompano is that anglers do not need a boat to catch them. All things considered, more Pompano are probably landed by anglers surf fishing than they are by anglers in boats. The entire coastline from South Texas around the tip of Florida and up to Cape Hatteras can produce pompano at one time or another.
Most anglers fishing for pompano in the surf use natural bait, with shrimp and sand fleas being the top to baits by far. Techniques for surf fishing for pompano on both coasts are similar, however anglers fishing on the Atlantic Ocean side will often times have to deal with a higher surf.
There are two basic rigs that are most often used by anglers surf fishing for pompano. These are the fish finder rig and the dropper rig (also known as spreader rig, high low rig, and chicken rig). Both can be effective and often times anglers use two different rods, each rigged differently, to see what the fish want that day.
Surf fishing rigs
A fish finder rig sits right on the bottom. It includes a clever little device that is plastic with a hole through the center and a clip. The main line slides through this hole and is attached to a swivel. A leader is then tied between the other end of the swivel and the hook. Anglers can include a small float near the hook to lift the bait up off the bottom. The clip allows for easy weight change to adjust to the current conditions.
The dropper rig has the sinker at the bottom of the running line with several hooks tied in line at various intervals above the weight. These rigs can be purchased already made up. However, many anglers tie their own. This rig has the advantage of presenting multiple baits at different depths in the water column.
Most anglers surf fishing for pompano opt for the spreader rig. It has several advantages over the fish finder rig. Anglers can present multiple baits on one rod. These baits can also be presented right on the bottom or a few feet above. Finally, it keeps the baits up off the bottom when sharks, skates, crabs and other life that feeds on the bottom become a nuisance.
Using lures for pompano in the surf
While most anglers target pompano in the surf using natural bait, they can certainly be caught on artificial lures as well. This is particularly true when the tide is high in the seas are flat. Pompano will cruise the first trough, quite close to shore, in search of sand fleas and other forage. Anglers casting jigs and working at through this area will catch fish under these conditions.
Fishing for pompano on the flats
Pompano are also caught on the flats in the inshore bays. Often times, there are an incidental catch for anglers fishing for speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species. They are a most welcome intrusion! Pompano generally swim around in small bunches, so once one is landed anglers can be fairly certain that others are nearby.
Flats close to the inlets and passes are generally the most productive ones for anglers fishing for pompano. They tend to be a bit deeper and have good current flow. The best flats are generally those that have a nice mix of grass and sand. Pompano will often times hold in the transition area where it changes from grass to sand.
Drifting is the best technique to use when targeting pompano on the flats. As with the passes, it allows anglers to cover a large amount of water fairly quickly. The best approach is to set up a drift where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. This will result in a nice efficient drift.
Jigs and live shrimp produce on the flats
Both jigs and live bait work well in this situation. Generally speaking, anglers will cast jigs out in front of the drifting boat and work it back in. As with fishing in the passes, the jig will work best when presented right on the bottom. The lure is worked back using short, sharp twitches of the rod tip and then allowing the jig to fall to the bottom.
Live shrimp can also work well when drifting the flats. It will also catch a variety of other species as well. Free lining the shrimp works well on flats with water deeper than 6 feet. Anglers simply hook the shrimp through the horn and allow it to drift out behind the boat. A small split shot may be required when it is breezy or the current is strong. In shallower water, shrimp can be fished under a popping cork to keep it up out of the grass.
Pompano are excellent table fare
One of the best aspects of fishing for pompano is the opportunity for a fresh dinner. Some of the best chefs in the world consider Pompano to be the best eating fish of all species that swim! Pompano have a very fine, moist, buttery flavor. However, they really do not freeze all that well and angler should only keep enough for a fresh meal or two. There are several different ways to prepare them. Anglers can see current Florida fishing regulations on the FWC site.
Pompano are excellent when sautéed in a pan. A 50-50 mixture of butter and olive oil is heated in a pan. Pompano is covered in a tire breadcrumbs on both sides then placed into the hot skillet. The fishes allowed to cook for two minutes on each side and then is finished off in a 400° oven for five minutes or so depending on the thickness of the fillets.
Marinades work very well with Pompano as they absorb the flavor. However, it is best not to use one that is too strong that will mass the delicate flavor of the pompano. An easy marinade is one that is 1/4 cup light soy sauce, three-quarter cup olive oil, with some honey, ginger, and parsley mixed in. The fillets are allowed to set for 1 to 2 hours they can be baked, broiled, or grilled.
While Pompano are great fun to catch, anglers prize them for their incredible table fare. I am a proponent of catch and release, however I don’t mind if clients keep a fish or two for dinner, and these are really a treat. Pompano are one fish that I usually cook with the skin on. It peels right off after cooking.
Pompano are delicious with a very delicate white flesh. The meat has a kind of “buttery” flavor with a unique texture. They are a tad bit oily but in a good way. This means that they are best baked, broiled, or grilled. Pompano do not freeze all that well. Keep a couple for dinner and release the rest to please other anglers!
Baked Pompano; this is a very simple way to prepare Pompano. The oven is heated to 400°. The fillets are laid on a greased sheet pan and covered with a tire breadcrumbs. They are then bake for 8 to 10 minutes and can be served with a sauce such as lemon dill or teriyaki. This is very simple and the fish are delicious!
More pompano recipes
Broiled Pompano; broiling is another simple and easy way to enjoy Pompano. I like to prepare a marinade that consists of olive oil, light soy sauce, ginger, and honey or sugar. This gives it that Oriental sweet and sour flavor. The fillet should be marinated for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The fillets are then put on a sheet pan and broiled under high heat 5 inches away from the heat for 6 to 8 minutes.
Grilled Pompano; Pompano are fantastic when grilled as well. I do like to keep the skin on when grilling Pompano. The fillets are seasoned to taste with a homemade or prepared grilling seasoning. Some olive oil or melted butter can be drizzled over top. The fillet is then put on a grill pan and grilled for eight minutes or so. As with the baked Pompano, a sauce can be served on the side.
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
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.
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 on a Sarasota fishing charter.
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. Anglers can get a list of the reefs and coordinates HERE.
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. Anglers who would like to discuss a fishing charter can contact me at (941) 371-1390 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing: Tackle and baits
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.
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.
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 HERE.
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.
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.
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.
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 Lors 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 planar once the planar 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. Anglers can check current regulations HERE
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. An article on trout fishing follows my weekly Sarasota fishing report.
Weekly Sarasota fishing report
Angling success this week required me to keep moving on my Sarasota fishing charters. Red tide has crept into Sarasota Bay. The key to catching fish is to find “good” water. The best water and spots this week were Bishop’s Pt., Buttonwood, Long Bar, and Stephen’s Pt. Speckled trout and ladyfish were fairly plentiful. Several times we ran across schools of jack crevelle foraging on the surface. This is very exciting! These fish are very aggressive and hit lures with gusto. Bluefish were mixed in with them as well. A few decent mangrove snapper were caught, too.
The wind eased up late in the week and we were able to find schools of “breaking” fish. Clean water up in north Sarasota Bay had the fish bunched up pretty good. Ladyfish and jacks were plentiful, with bluefish, Spanish mackerel, trout, and snapper mixed in. Unfortunately, the red tide has been working north in Sarasota Bay. I cancelled my Friday trip as the wind shifted west. It was breezy and I did not think conditions would be good. The odor was not nice, either.
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.
Jigs and free lined live shrimp produced best this week. A Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig head produced well. Live shrimp on a #1 hook and a small split shot was effective as well. Live shrimp can be small this time of year. We call it “pee wee season”. However, they did get a little better this week.
One strategy that can be effective during red tide outbreaks is to fish “different” areas. Fish will move out of their normal seasonal spots in search of water free of red tide. This can push then into unconventional spots. I don’t normally fish docks in canals and creeks this time of year. However, we found success in Bowlees Creek up north, catching snapper, black drum, catfish, and other species bottom fishing with shrimp.
Speckled trout fishing in Sarasota
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.
Anglers taking out Longboat Key fishing charters can experience great action all year long. Longboat Key is eleven miles long and is just north of Lido Key. It is a bit quieter than some of the other keys but has some great accommodations and restaurants. It also offers some great fishing!
Longboat Key offers good fishing all year long for a number of species. The entire east side of Longboat Key has lush grass flats that hold a wide variety of fish species all year long. Residential canals offer refuge in cold weather. New Pass to the south and Longboat Pass to the north are fish highways, connecting Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. The beaches off of Longboat Key provide fantastic fishing for both boat and shore anglers.
I use light spinning tackle on my Longboat Key fishing charters. It is the best choice for most anglers. Ten pound spinning outfits allow anglers to cast light lures and baits and fish all morning comfortably. They are also light enough for kids to handle.
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.
Longboat Key flats fishing
The deep grass flats off of Longboat Key in Sarasota Bay offer some of the best fishing in the area. The Middlegrounds, Country Club Shores, Bishop’s Pt, Buttonwood, Long Bar, and Whale Key are all legendary spots for speckled trout and other species. Along with trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, snapper, grouper, jack crevalle, sharks, cobia, ladyfish, and other species a re landed.
Drifting the deep grass flats is a very productive method. The majority of fish caught on my Sarasota fishing charters are caught employing this technique. It really is fairly uncomplicated, though there are nuances, as in all fishing. I position my boat upwind and up-tide of the flat I want to fish. Then, I let the wind and tide push the boat across the flat.
Anglers cast lures and live bait as we drift the flat. The most effective lure is a lead head jig with a soft plastic tail. One quarter ounce jigs work well with a 3” or 4” body. Shad tail, paddle tail, and shrimp bodies are the most popular baits. Colors vary; every angler has his or her favorite. I prefer glow, new penny, and red/gold, but many other colors work fine. Presentation and location are the more important factors.
Fishing with jigs on Longboat Key fishing charters
The jig is cast out and allowed to sink several feet. It is then retrieved back to the boat using sharp twitches. Jigs allow anglers to cover a lot of water. They also catch a lot of fish! Other artificial lures can be used with success. Silver spoons cast a long way and are great bait fish imitations. Plugs are effective as well, though the treble hooks can be an issue; they can damage fish that are to be released.
Live bait certainly works well on the deep grass flats. A live shrimp is without question the top live bait. Shrimp catch every fish species that swims. Live shrimp can be “free lined” on the deeper flats. That means the shrimp id hooked and allowed to swim without any weight.
Anglers fishing water that is five feet or shallower will often times need a float to suspend the shrimp up off the bottom. A “popping cork” is widely used here in Sarasota Bay. It keeps the shrimp out of the grass, provides casting weight, and indicated when a fish takes the bait.
Shallow water flats fishing on Longboat Key fishing charters
Shallow bars and flats all along the east side of Longboat Key hold snook, redfish, and jacks. Fishing these shallow flats can be a bit more challenging. Fish are spooky in water less than three feet deep. Tactics and baits need to change as well to avoid hanging up.
Topwater baits are an obvious choice for anglers fishing shallow. They float on the surface and their erratic action irritates and excites game fish, eliciting a strike. Weedless spoons are a great choice and are a proven redfish bait. These baits can be cast a long distance and run in water as shallow as a foot deep. Spoons are great locator baits as anglers can cover a lot of water in short order.
Soft plastic baits are extremely effective in shallow water as well. Light jig heads can be used when grass is on the sparse side. Weighted, weedless swim bait hooks work great when the grass is a bit thicker.
Tides are very important in saltwater fishing. Tides will position and locate fish. Many anglers prefer an incoming tide when flats fishing. I personally don’t care, as long as the water is moving. Tides are crucial when fishing shallow. Low tides will concentrate fish in deeper water. Fish will scatter out on a flat when the tide is high.
Fishing Longboat Key canals
There are countless residential canals along the east side of Longboat Key, including the Rim Canal, which runs the length of the key. The water is generally fairly deep, by Florida standards. Docks provide cover and forage. Fish will move into these canals when the water gets cold on the open flats. Snook, redfish, black drum, flounder, sheepshead, snapper and other species are caught in these areas.
The best approach when fishing docks and canals is to fish live shrimp near and under structure. A large, live shrimp is seldom refused. Anglers will also catch fish casting artificial lures along mangrove shorelines and near docks. Rapala X-Raps and jigs work best.
Fishing the Longboat Key passes
New Pass and Longboat Pass are great spots to fish, especially in the spring and fall. Both passes are also accessible to anglers without a boat. Pompano will stage in the passes and feed. The best pompano bait is a small jig with short dressing. These are specially made for pompano and their small mouths. Bouncing these jigs along the bottom will fool them.
Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish will school up thick in the passes and feed heavily. Artificial lures such as jigs and plugs will do well on these actively feeding fish. Trolling can be a good strategy to locate fish in the passes. Free lining live bait or hooking them on a jig head and bouncing them off the bottom will produce as well.
Structure in both New Pass and Longboat Pass will attract a lot of fish. This structure included the two bridges, numerous docks, and shoreline rip rap. Sheepshead will gang up in huge schools from January through April. Mangrove snapper are available all year. Live shrimp works best for these tasty bottom feeding saltwater pan fish.
Snook will be located in the passes as well in the summer. They will move out of the flats and out into the passes on their way out to the beaches to spawn. Some of the largest snook of the year are caught by anglers fishing live bait fish near structure in the passes.
Action in the Gulf of Mexico just off of the Longboat Key beaches can be nothing short of fantastic when conditions are good. Light east winds will result in calm seas and clear water. This will attract both bait fish and in turn, game fish. Spanish mackerel, false albacore, sharks, and cobia are caught in the spring and fall. Tarpon are available in summer. Bottom fish are taken off of the nearshore artificial reefs all year.
Casting to “breaking” mackerel and false albacore is a favorite fishing charter! Fish are seen actively feeding on the helpless bait fish. Fish are literally jumping out of the water. Birds are diving, it is great fun! Anglers cast lures into the melee and an instant hook-up is almost always the result. Spoons, jigs, and plugs all produce, but honestly, just about any bait that is close to the right size will get bit.
The approach is pretty simple. I just run out one of the passes and start looking for fish. The three reefs off of Lido Key are always a good place to start as they hold a bunch of bait. Point of Rocks is another good spot, as is Whitney Beach rocks on the north end of Longboat Key. Birds wheeling and diving are always a great sign. Once fish are spotted, I ease the boat into position.
Trolling on Longboat Key fishing charters
Trolling is a great way to locate fish when they are not showing on the surface. Spoons and plugs being trolled behind the boat using either planers or weights will find the fish. Once located, anglers can then cast to them. This is one situation where free lining live bait is a good option.
This is a great opportunity for clients who fly fish to experience world class action! False albacore are incredible sport on a 9wt fly rod. Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel will do well using a 7wt outfit. Small while bait fish imitations are the best flies to use.
Longboat Key tarpon fishing
Giant tarpon show up off of the Longboat Key beaches in May. This is truly big game fishing. It is a charter best suited for more experienced anglers. It is a lot like hunting and patience is required. There will be days when no tarpon are hooked. But, when it all comes together, it is incredible!
I get my clients out on the beach just before first light. We sit there about a hundred yards offshore and look for pods of tarpon moving through. I then position the boat so that my anglers can cast out if front of them. We use heavy spinning tackle and live crabs or bait fish such as pin fish and sardines.
There are three artificial reefs just off of New Pass at the south end of Longboat Key. These hold fish all year long. Bottom fishing for snapper and sheepshead is easy and a great option for novice anglers and children. It is as simple as dropping a shrimp down to the bottom. Spanish mackerel and false albacore will also school there, attracted to the large schools of bait.
A: No. Florida has a provision where anglers going out on paid charters with a professional, licensed fishing captain. This is a very convenient feature as it saves clients the time and inconvenience of having to purchase a Florida saltwater fishing license. However, visitors who want to fish on their own, even from shore, will need to obtain one. The FWC makes this easy to do. HERE is a link to the FWC website, where anglers can purchase a license.
Q: Where do clients going out on Longboat Key fishing charters meet?
A: I meet most of my clients at the boat ramp on Ken Thompson Parkway. There is ample parking, a nice restroom, and docks for easy loading and unloading. It is also very centrally located as it puts us right in the heart of the prime fishing grounds with very little idle time. Occasionally clients will be picked up at alternate locations such as their condo dock.
Q: What kind of fish are caught on Longboat Key fishing charters and can clients keep fish to eat?
A: Clients are likely to catch six to eight different fish species on a four hour trip. Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico offer anglers the chance to catch many different species. Speckled trout, snook, redfish, jack crevelle, Spanish mackerel, flounder, snapper, grouper, drum, sea bass, pompano, bluefish, cobia, sharks, tarpon, ladyfish, and catfish are commonly caught by anglers on Longboat Key fishing charters. While I am proponent of catch and release, I certainly don’t mind if clients keep a couple of fish for a meal. I will fillet and bag them at the end of the charter.
Q: How much does a fishing charter cost and what does it include?
A: A four hour fishing charter for one to four anglers is $400. Four hours is plenty for most anglers. More experienced clients may choose a six hour trip, that cost is $550. Fishing charters include all bait and tackle for the charter. While I supply all rods and reels, customers may certainly bring along their favorite rod along. A cooler with ice is also provided, as is a fishing license for all guests. Clients should bring whatever they want to eat and drink, hats, sunglasses, sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and appropriate clothing.
Sarasota freshwater fishing is an underutilized and overlooked resource for visiting anglers. Saltwater fishing gets the bulk of the attention in Sarasota. Very good freshwater fishing can be experienced in several watersheds close to Sarasota and her beaches.
The three primary freshwater systems are the Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River watersheds. All three are similar in a couple of ways. Small rivers flow into damned lakes. These portions are entirely freshwater. The water is brackish below the dams. Brackish rivers hold both freshwater and saltwater species.
Manatee River system
Lake Manatee lies in Manatee County about 10 miles east of I-75 on SR 64. There are two access points the Lake Manatee for boating anglers. Lake Manatee State Park has a surfaced ramp and great facilities and is near the dam. There is also an unimproved ramp at the State Road 64 bridge several miles upstream from the dam. Lake Manatee supplies to drinking water for much of Sarasota and Manatee County. Water levels in lake Manatee are controlled by the dam.
The State Road 64 bridge is a natural divider in Lake Manatee the portion east of the bridge has a river like feel to it. It is narrower with a deep winding channel. Lake Manatee Fish Camp is on the dirt road leading to the landing. Anglers can purchase bait, drinks, and snacks there. The main lake lies between the State Road 64 bridge and the dam. Lake Manatee is similar to a northern lake. It is deeper than most Florida lakes, reaching 50 feet in several places. It also has a distinct river channel, which is the main structure in the lake.
Fishing Lake Manatee
Lake Manatee offers very good fishing for bass, bream, and catfish. There are some very large catfish in lake Manatee. Crappie, also known as speckled perch, are probably the most sought after species in lake Manatee. Sunshine bass are stocked there as well. These are a striped bass and white bass hybrid. Northern anglers will recognize them as wipers or hybrids. It is basically the same species.
Anglers fishing the Manatee River down stream from the dam can launch boats and rent canoes and kayaks at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway. There is also a nice ramp and park with facilities at Ft. Hamer. This is a very nice park adjacent to the new bridge crossing the river. Most of the freshwater fishing will be east, or up-river, from Ft. Hamer.
Myakka River system
Upper Myakka Lake lies totally within the boundaries of Myakka River State Park. It is in Sarasota County 7 miles east of I-75 on State Road 72. This lake as much more typical of Florida lakes. A small, shallow river feeds the lake. The water is held back by a simple weir dam. Water then flows down a narrow river to lower Myakka Lake. The lower lake can only be accessed by foot or by River. It is very shallow and weedy. There is another small weir dam which stops tidal water from entering the system. Fishing is good in both the lakes and connecting river. The river between the two lakes gets very little pressure and offers good fishing for kayak anglers.
Upper Myakka Lake has a very good population of bass some of them quite large. It also has a very good population of bluegill, stump knocker, catfish, and crappie.The lake is very weedy and shallow, with the deepest portion being about 5 feet deep. The best fishing is generally when the water levels are up. Fishing can be tough in the winter during the drought when the water is low. A surfaced ramp exist on the lake inside the State Park.
Braden River system
The Braden River is the most convenient to Sarasota. It lies west of I-75 just off State Road 70. There is a very nice boat ramp at Jiggs Landing along with a bait and snack store, canoe rentals, and even cabin rentals. The Braden River flows into Lake Evers. This lake has a uniform depth of around 20 feet with very little structure on the bottom. Bass, bluegill, and crappie are the primary species. Access to the lake and river is from the park at Jiggs Landing.
All three rivers offer anglers the chance to catch snook in the cooler months. While snook are saltwater fish, they can survive quite well and absolute freshwater. Snook move up into these rivers to find warmer water and forage when it gets cold. The Myakka and Manatee rivers are brackish below the dam, while the Braden is pure salt water.
Ponds are abundant and offer Sarasota freshwater fishing. Many housing developments have retention ponds. These are areas designed to catch excess rainfall. Almost all of them have bass and bluegill in them. Many are private, but there are also a lot of public ponds, particularly in Lakewood Ranch. These are a great option for anglers without a boat, kayak, or canoe.
I really enjoy Sarasota freshwater fishing for panfish (AKA bream). It might sound odd that being a full-time fishing guide, that I would spend my time fishing for these little guys. However, I find it very relaxing and enjoyable. They are also fabulous eating! Florida is blessed with many different pan fish species. Bluegill, shallow cracker, stump knocker, war mouth, along with crappie are caught by anglers using ultralight tackle.
Personally, I prefer to fish for bream with artificial lures. My go to lure is a 1/16 ounce black Beetlespin. I have caught just about every freshwater species using this little lure! Small jigs are also extremely effective. A tiny chartreuse curly tail jig on a 1/16 ounce jig head is deadly on bream and small bass. It mimics the small bait fish that are in most Florida lakes. Tiny plugs can also be effective, especially for anglers targeting the larger specimens.
Live bait certainly catches plenty of bream. Crickets and red wigglers are the two top live baits for anglers Sarasota freshwater fishing. They are most often fished a couple feet under a small float. This is as basic as fishing gets. Ultralight spinning or spend cast tackle with 4 to 6 pound line works great. Cane poles still have their place in freshwater, and have accounted for many a fish dinner.
Catching bream is not very complicated. The key to success is moving around until a school of fish is located. Shoreline cover, especially with fallen trees, are prime spots. Edges of weed beds are also great places to look for panfish. Anglers can cast small artificial lures or live baits towards the spots. When using artificial lures, a slow steady retrieve is preferred. Do not get to aggressive, it will spook the fish.
Trolling is also an extremely successful technique when searching out panfish. Crappie in particular are targeted using this method. I like to slowly troll the edge of a weed line for bluegill and stumpknocker. I use two rods, one with a jig on one rod and a Beetlespin on the other. If bluegill are around, this will usually find them.
Trolling for crappie, especially in Lake Manatee where it is deeper, is a bit more technical. One of the best lures is a Blakemore Road Runner. This is a small jig with a spinner attached to it. Bright colors produce best in the dark Lake Manatee water. The most productive technique is to slowly troll back and forth over the edges of the submerged river channel. Crappie will school up on these edges. Once a school is located, the action can be fast and furious!
Largemouth bass fishing in Sarasota
While fishing for bream is fun and puts fillets on the table, there is little doubt that the largemouth bass is king of freshwater. Florida is famous and well-known for its giant largemouth bass. Sarasota has some very good bass fishing, however it is not well-known for the giant bass. Lake Manatee and Myakka Lake have good populations of one pound to 5 pound largemouth. However 10 pound bass are not common, by any means.
Many different techniques and lures will produce largemouth bass when Sarasota freshwater fishing. Soft plastic baits are extremely productive and are probably the most popular artificial lures for bass. Every angler has his or her favorite soft plastic, but all will catch fish if presented properly. I personally prefer the Senko worms. Lighter colors such as watermelon work in clear water and darker colors such as golden bream are better in dark water.
Soft plastic baits can be rigged several different ways. In shallow water can be rigged without any weight on a weedless hook. The wacky warm hook works really well with these finesse baits. At times a heavier weight will be required. Deeper water and punching through heavy vegetation will require a 1/2 ounce to 1 ounce sinker.
More lures for bass
Top water plugs are great fun to fish and will elicit some exciting strikes! Again, angler preferences will very, but I prefer the Rapala Prop R. It has a bullet nose with a propeller on the rear. It produces great action and commotion. Poppers such as the Chug Bug are very effective, as are walk the dog baits such as the Zara Spook. Shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap work very well, too.
Spinnerbaits catch a lot of bass! They are easy to use and work well through moderate amounts of vegetation. White is a very good color in the tannin stained waters. They are versatile, productive, and easy for novice anglers Sarasota bass fishing.
While I don’t use live bait very often for largemouth bass, that is just a personal preference. More large bass are landed in Florida using live shiners that all other baits combined. Heavier tackle is required as a ten inch shiner cast into heavy vegetation may fool a trophy bass. Nightcrawlers are also very effective. The best approach is to use a number one hook, and hook the worm in the front using no weight. This will let it swim seductively and naturally in the water.
River snook fishing
While snook are technically a saltwater species, they can live in true fresh water. Snook are one of the few fish species that migrate into fresh water for reasons other than to spawn. They do so to escape the temperature extremes of the saltwater flats. River water is darker, deeper, and therefore warmer. Forage is plentiful in rivers as well.
Snook are ambush predators, just like bass. They will take up residence in spots that provide cover and a break from the current. Outside bends in the river with some cover such as fallen trees are high percentage spots. Lures that trigger strikes and cover a lot of water work best. I have found shallow diving plugs to be the best all around lures for river snook fishing.
Tides are a factor in both the Myakka and Manatee Rivers. Anglers not accustomed to dealing with tides will have to learn how they affect the fishing. This is particularly true in the cooler months when the water levels are low. High, falling tides are best as they create a nice current. Anglers fishing the Myakka River can use El Jobean tides and add two hours. Manatee River anglers use Redfish Pt. and add one hour.
Catfish are another popular species targeted by anglers Sarasota freshwater fishing. Lake Manatee has an excellent population of large catfish. Both the Myakka and Manatee rivers also hold some nice catfish. They are also easier to locate in rivers. Outside bends in the rivers with deep holes and structure are almost a sure bet for catfish. Fishing on the bottom with live or cut bait is productive.
Fly fisherman are not to be left out, either. A 3wt to 4wt outfit is perfect for bluegill, while an 8wt outfit is better when targeting largemouth bass. Floating lines and short leaders make for easy fly fishing. Short casts are the norm. Small poppers, Wooly Buggers, and tiny bait fish imitations work well on bream. Largemouth bass will hit similar flies, though in larger patterns. Deceiver flies in “bluegill” pattern works quite well.
Anglers fly fishing for snook in the rivers should choose a 9 wt outfit. An intermediate sink tip line is best as the fly needs to get down in the current. Weighted flies such as the Clouser Minnow are a proven snook fly. Gold and black along with “Firetiger” are good color patterns.
In closing, there are many options for anglers going out on Sarasota fishing charters. Sarasota freshwater fishing is a great option for clients seeking a different experience.
It comes as a surprise to many visiting anglers that artificial lures can, at times, out fish live baits. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, being flexible in adapting to conditions is critical to success. I use artificial lures very often on my charters, especially in the cooler months. Here is my list of the best 6 Sarasota fishing lures.
My 6 best Sarasota fishing lures are as follows; Bass Assassin jig and grub, Rapala X-Rap, Gulp Shrimp, Johnson spoon, MirrOlure Mirrodine, and Key Largo pompano jig. These are all lures that have proven themselves over the years for my clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. These lures cover the entire water column, from the surface to the bottom. They can also be fished as shallow as a foot up to the deepest water in Big Pass.
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.
Artificial lures are effective for a number of reasons. While live bait primarily produces when fish are hungry, lures will elicit strikes under other conditions. Fish will hit lures out of anger, competitiveness, excitement, or curiosity. A lure can be used to aggravate efficient abiding that is something a live bait won’t do. This makes artificial lures effective when fish are both actively feeding and in a more challenging mood.
Artificial baits allow anglers to cover a lot more water than live baits. This is crucial to success when fish are scattered over a large area. Many of the best deep grass flats are large areas. Lures are usually the best option to eliminate unproductive water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Artificial lures are also a lot of fun to fish. They are a bit more interactive and many anglers get more satisfaction out of fooling a fish on “fake” baits.
4″ Bass Assassin Sea Shad on a 1/4 ounce jig head
The most popular and effective artificial lure on the West Coast of Florida, and really the entire Gulf Coast, is the jig and grub combo. Jigs are inexpensive, easy to use, and effective on a wide variety of species. They can be set up to mimic bait fish or crustaceans. The single hook on a jig also allows for a less invasive release of the fish.
My personal favorite soft plastic bait is the Bass Assassin line of baits. They offer jig heads in several different styles with long shank hooks, wide gap hooks, and different head sizes and colors. The 4 inch Sea Shad tail works very well for me here in Sarasota. Colors are endless, with my favorites being Red Gold Shiner, New Penny, and glow chartreuse.
Jig sizes and designs
Jig heads come in a wide variety of sizes styles and colors. Despite that, they are all basically the same. A jig head is basically a hook with a lead weight at the front near the eye. This design allows for some weight to be cast out easily. It also gives the jig a seductive, erratic motion in the water. The most widely used jig size here in Sarasota is a 1/4 ounce. Anglers fishing shallow water will need to go down to a 1/8 or even a 1/16 ounce jig head. Conversely, anglers fishing deeper water or in heavier current may need to bump up the jig weight to 3/8 ounce or even a 1/2 ounce in extreme conditions.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits are very easy to use. They can be cast out and retrieved at a steady pace. But, the more effective retrieve is a jig and fall retrieve. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink several seconds, then the rod tip twitched sharply. The jig is then allowed to fall, seemingly helpless. This is the action that triggers most strikes, therefore most strikes occur on the fall. They are effective in almost every angling application. The deep grass flats, passes, backwaters for snook and redfish, and inshore Gulf of Mexico when fish are breaking are all situations in which the Bass assassin 4 inch see Shad is an effective bait.
#8 Rapala X-Rap Slash bait
Plugs have been around freshwater and saltwater fishing for a long time. In freshwater, they are used to mimic a variety of different types of prey. Here in Florida, the primary use is to imitate a wounded bait fish. They do that very effectively! Plugs can be cast a long way and are great to cover a lot of water in a reasonable amount of time. They also elicit some very exciting strikes. One negative of fishing with plugs is the treble hooks. However, several manufacturers, including Rapala, are offering plugs with a single wide gap hook.
My favorite plug is the Rapala X-Rap Slash bait in the number eight size. This slender bait is several inches long and mimics the size, shape, and color of the bait fish that are prevalent in the area. Olive is a very good producer in water that has a little color to it. Ghost is a fantastic color in very clear water and out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Rapala X-Raps work very well trolled out in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in Sarasota Bay.
These small plugs have produced many nice catches for clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are fairly easy to use, with a great built in action. They float on the surface, then dive down a couple feet when retrieved. X-Raps have a great erratic action that triggers some vicious strikes.
Rapala plugs are quite versatile
Rapala plugs are effective in a wide range of angling applications. I use them a lot when targeting snook, redfish, and jacks around oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks. They work very well when trolled in rivers, creeks, and residential canals in the winter. Rapala X-Raps are great fun whenever fish are breaking on the surface. This definitely includes inshore Gulf of Mexico action for Spanish mackerel and false albacore. They are also extremely effective when cast over shallow grass flats that have bait working on them.
The best retrieve when using these plugs is a twitch and pause. The lure is cast out, retrieve quickly for a few feet, then allowed to pause. Short twitches of the rod tip will impart a darting action. Often times, the strike occurs as the bait sits there motionless. Care does need to be taken when using plugs, especially with multiple anglers on the boat. Treble hooks can be dangerous both when casting and releasing fish.
3″ Gulp Shrimp
There are times when the bite can be slow, and this is when I switch to scented grubs. The best one by far, in my opinion, is the Gulp line of baits. Gulp Shrimp in the 3 inch size work very well, in some cases better than a live shrimp. These baits can be extremely productive, especially for speckled trout when conditions are a bit tough.
The formula that was created for the gulp shrimp is very effective. It is more than just a soft plastic immersed in a scent. The scent is actually built into the bait itself. In all honesty, color matters very little, in my opinion. It is all about the scent! As with other baits, they come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. The 3 inch shrimp is the most effective size here in Sarasota. Glow, root beer, and new penny are the top colors.
Gulp Shrimp can be used just like any other soft plastic, rigged on a quarter ounce jig head. Anglers will usually have a bit more success with the Gulp Shrimp working them a bit slower. As stated, the sent is the primary attraction, so the bait should be work just above the grass or bottom in a subtle hopping motion. They can even be brought back in using a steady retrieve, just above the grass.
Another popular way to use a Gulp Shrimp is under a noisy cork. This is very popular in Louisiana and Texas. Noisy floats such as the Cajun Thunder have a concave face which gives off a distinct popping sound when twitched. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is tied to the bottom of the cork, followed by a 1/8 ounce jig head. The gulp shrimp is then added to the jig head hook. The rig is cast out, allowed the settle, and worked back in a series of aggressive twitches. In most cases, the more noise the better! This is just like using a live shrimp under a popping cork, and can be just as effective.
1/2 ounce gold Johnson weedless spoon
Johnson spoons have been around a long time, originating as a freshwater bass lure. The spoon was designed to work through lily pads and other freshwater vegetation without hanging up.
The 1/2 ounce gold weedless Johnson spoon is a mainstay of redfish anglers all over the country. They can be cast a very long way and worked through shallow grass without snagging the bottom. They have a single hook which rides upper right allowing for good hook sets without catching on the grass.
There are two attributes of the Johnson weedless spoon that make it so effective. They have the ability to run very shallow while still given off a wobbling, seductive action and the ability to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. Redfish and snook will scatter over the shallow grass flats and stage in potholes and other areas. The Johnson spoon cast very far and this allows anglers to eliminate unproductive water efficiently. They do come in silver as well, but gold is a more effective color in the slightly stained waters where redfish and snook generally live.
17MR-808 MirrOlure Mirrodine
the 17 MR 808 MirrOlure Mirrodine is an absolutely perfect replica of one of our top baits; the scaled sardine. Also known as shiners, white bait, pilchard, and greenback, it is a primary forage of many game fish in Sarasota and throughout the entire Southeast United States. The number 18 color, green back with a white belly, is a very popular color pattern. As with all manufacturers, MirrOlure offers many different sizes and colors, but this particular pattern works extremely well here in Sarasota.
The MirrOlure Mirrodine is a suspending twitch bait. It does not have a bill as do many plugs. It has a more subtle action which at times is extremely effective. The lure sinks very slowly and is retrieved back using short twitches with a pause in between. The bait suspends, hanging there motionless, an action which drives fish crazy. This bait is most effective and water 5 feet deep or less. It is deadly when fished over bars on a high tide.
1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig
Pompano jigs are very plain looking. This belies the fact that they are very effective artificial baits. Pompano jigs have a round fairly heavy head with a short, smallish hook and some dressing. This dressing is usually nylon and extends just beyond the bend of the hook. The 1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig works very well, and is quite economical. Chartreuse and white are the two most popular colors.
Pompano jigs are simple and easy to use. They are extremely effective in the passes where they are fished vertically. The angler simply drops the jig down to the bottom and is hopped as the boat drifts along. These baits imitate small crabs and shrimp that live near the bottom. Each time the jig is lifted and falls it kicks up a little puff of sand. This is very natural and will fool pompano, ladyfish, and other species in the passes.
The Key Largo pompano jig can also be used effectively on the deep grass flats. There will be some days where the fish actually prefer the smaller profile especially in the cooler weather. It is especially effective over flats that have a mottled bottom with areas of sand interspersed with the grass. These jigs generally will not catch as many speckled trout as the jig and grub combo well, however it catches everything else and will catch more Pompano.
Pompano jigs work very well for anglers fishing off of the beach. Anglers can “tip the jig” by adding a small piece of shrimp to the hook. This is an effective method used to catch whiting, silver trout, and other species out of the surf, especially in the cooler months.
Plug fishing article
Jessica made a perfect cast placing her plug right next to the dock piling on the up current side. A sharp twitch of her rod to caused the Rapala to dive a couple of feet below the surface and dart seductively. On the third pause, the lure just stopped and a nice redfish boiled on the surface, furious at the hook stuck in its lower jaw. Several minutes and a half dozen head-shaking runs later, the slot size red came alongside, posed for a quick picture, and was released back into the water to contemplate its recent adventure. Two hours of afternoon plug casting resulted in this red small snook, several Jack crevelle and ladyfish.
I love fishing, but I really love plug fishing! The reason? Plugs are very productive on a wide variety of species and are a blast to use. Casting is half the fun, making accurate casts under mangrove trees or near docks is very satisfying and challenging. Bites range from subtle takes to downright ferocious strikes. Anglers need to take care, however. Anytime a lure with multiple treble hooks in involved, extra caution is required. Plugs come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, but can be broken down into two categories: surface or top water plugs and sub-surface baits.
Top water plugs
Top water plugs come in two styles; poppers and walk the dog baits. Poppers are very easy to fish and are quite effective. The Rapala Skitter Pop, Rebel Pop R, and Chug Bug are three popular examples. These are floating baits that have a concave face. The technique is simple; cast it out, let it settle for a moment, then twitch the rod tip sharply causing the face of the plug to dig into the water and make a loud “pop”. The famous Zara Spook is the best-known example of a walk the dog. The Rapala Skitterwalk and MirrOlure Top Dogs are also local favorites. The retrieve is a bit more difficult to master. After being cast out, the rod tip is held down near the water and a rhythmic twitching retrieve causes the lure to dance back and forth on the surface.
One common mistake anglers make plug fishing Sarasota is working top water baits to quickly and aggressively. This is particularly true on a very calm day. Slow, subtle action will generally draw more strikes. Another mistake often made is striking too soon. The sight of a large predator blowing up on the top water plug is very exciting, often resulting in a reflex strike that pulls the lure out of the fishes mouth. Instead, wait until the weight of the fish is felt and set the hook in a smooth, sideways manner. This is safer as well.
While a top water strike can be spectacular, more fish are caught on subsurface baits. Most of these lures float on the surface and dive down when retrieved Primarily, the lip on the lure determines the depth the plug will run. However, line size and speed are also factors. Lure manufacturers will have the pertinent information on the box. Rapala X-Raps are my personal favorites.
Plugs are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Generally speaking lures that dive down to to 5 feet are the most effective in our local waters. Match the size of the plug to the available forage. Olive is my favorite all-around color, but gold and black and chartreuse work great in stained water, and pearl and silver are very effective in clear water.
Suspending plug such as the venerable MirrOlure can be deadly, particularly on speckled trout. They sink slowly and are worked back with a twitch and pause retrieve. That pause, where the bait just suspends, seemingly helpless, really triggers the strikes. Lipless crank baits, such as the Rattletrap are very easy to use. Just cast it out and reel it back in; they have a great built in action. Chrome with a blue back is the favorite color when plug fishing Sarasota.
I use the same basic rod and reel combos for most of my inshore fishing. Spinning reels matched to 6 1/2 to 7 foot rods with either 10 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided work well. I like the monofilament in open water in the braided line when fishing around structure. A 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader is attached to the end of the running line. 30 pounds is a good starting test for leader, though you may need to bump it up when fishing for big snook or toothy mackerel.
Plugs are versatile; just about every game fish that inhabits the Suncoast will devour them. In addition to casting to structure for snook, redfish, jacks, and other species, plugs are deadly when fished over the grass flats. On a recent charter I had a pair of 11-year-old boys score on a bunch of Spanish mackerel using a number eight Olive X Rap. The boys cast into thick bait schools near Big Pass and burned the baits back as fast as they could turn the real handle. Needless to say, the strikes were explosive!
Plugs catch big fish!
Plugs also catch a lot of speckled trout, oftentimes fooling larger than average sized fish. Top water baits are an excellent choice for fishing very shallow water early and then late in the day. In the summer, shallow bars on the edge of grass flats load up with bait, which in turn attracts game fish. Add in a high tide at first light and the result is an excellent situation to catch a nice fish on top water.
Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are deadly on speckled trout when fished over the deeper grass, in 4 to 8 feet of water. They also fool mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and other species. These baits do not have a lip, therefore they do not dive. Instead they are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds, then twitched sharply. The lure just hangs there motionless, helpless, inducing a fish to strike it.
Trolling with plugs
Trolling plugs is a great technique to locate fish when scattered about in a large area. This also works well with children and novice anglers; if they can hold rod they can catch a fish. This applies to the inshore bays, passes, and Gulf of Mexico. That number eight Olive saltwater X rap is my go to lure for trolling. Simply let out half the line, close the bail, and drive the boat around just above idle speed. Sometimes working the rod tip will elicit more strikes.
One trick that served me well on charters when plug fishing Sarasota is to troll the passes. The traditional method is to drift with the current and cast jigs plugs or spoons. Once the drift is complete the boat idles back up and drift is repeated. As you idle back to the start, why not drag plug behind? Many mornings I catch more Spanish mackerel this way, as they prefer a fast-moving bait.
Casting and trolling plugs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico is an extremely effective technique in the spring and again in the fall when pelagic species move through. A large Yozuri 3-D will produce some very nice king mackerel and large Spanish mackerel. Look for birds and bait schools on the surface and troll around the edges of the bait, not right through the middle. The inshore reefs off of Lido Key hold a lot of fish and are very reliable producers.
Sight casting to breaking fish is terrific sport! Spanish mackerel and false albacore will often be seen tearing up schools of helpless baitfish on the surface. Spanish will stay on top longer and not move as much is the false albacore. The Albies can also be very fussy; you need to scale down the offering and go lighter on the leader. With either species, ease the boat into position and cast into the fish or troll around the edge of them and be prepared to hear your drag scream! Anglers can also employ the same tactics from the beach to catch Spanish mackerel.
In the cooler months snook migrate into creeks canals and rivers. The Phillippi Creek, Bowley’s Creek, Hudson Bayou, and area residential canals on Siesta Key all hold fish. The Manatee, Braden, and Myakka Rivers are all productive winter spots. The fish are scattered and plugs allow an angler to cover a lot of water effectively and thoroughly. Black and gold is an excellent color combination in the tannin stained water, as are bright patterns such as fire tiger. If you venture far enough upstream, don’t be surprised if a nice largemouth bass intercepts your offering meant for a snook.
River fishing is a charter that is best for more experienced anglers. This is more of a “quality over quantity” trip. Some trips come up empty, though not very often. But, there is a chance to land a trophy snook on every river fishing charter. Along with the large snook, average sized fish in the 18″ to 24′ range are commonly caught. Largemouth bass, jack crevelle, are also available and are a fun by-catch!
Top river spots when plug fishing Sarasota
Outside bends in the river are prime spots to hold snook. The deeper holes in the rivers will be found on the bends. The current carves out a deep hole in these spots. If cover such as fallen trees exists, that even improves the chances of catching a nice snook! Tides are crucial as well. Outgoing tides are preferred. If these tides occur early or late in the day, better yet. The ideal river fishing conditions would be as flows. A high, outgoing tide first thing in the morning with cloud cover and even some light rain falling.
While saltwater fishing gets the majority of the attention in Sarasota, there are freshwater opportunities as well. Myakka River State Park has upper Myakka Lake in the river flowing through it. Both offer opportunities to catch bass Bram crop he and other species using plugs very small number for Apple is working very well cast towards lily pads and other shoreline vegetation.
Lake Manatee is another local productive freshwater lake. It is quite a bit larger and deeper and offers excellent trolling for crappy in the fall and early winter. The Manatee River flows from the dam towards Tampa Bay it has a good population of largemouth bass sunshine bass a local hybrid and snook as well.
I hope the list of my best 6 Sarasota fishing lures was informative and helps anglers catch more fish!