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 a fish into biting, 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!
Sarasota offers visitors a unique angling opportunity; fly fishing Sarasota rivers. While the saltwater fishing gets the attention, Sarasota has some great river fly fishing.
The Manatee River and Myakka River lie 30 minutes from Sarasota beaches. Fly fishing Sarasota rivers gives anglers the chance to catch trophy snook on fly. This occurs in a very interesting and relaxing setting. Other species such as bass, redfish, jacks, gar and more are also available. This happens in the cooler months, usually from mid October to early April.
“Oooh, I like the looks of that one!” I said as Ben opened up his fly box for me to inspect. I could tell by the look on his face that he did not share my enthusiasm. It was a white and olive Clouser pattern with a lot of gold flash. Gold is always a good choice when fly fishing Sarasota rivers in the tannin-stained water.
“Let’s just give it a half hour or so, and we can change it if it is not producing”.
Ben’s opinion of the fly changed shortly as he fooled a feisty little snook in just a few casts and over the next hour landed several more to 27”. The Myakka River holds a lot of snook in the cooler months and it a fairly reliable fishery for anglers taking out a river fishing charter.
The Myakka River flows through Sarasota County 10 miles east of Sarasota and Venice, an hour south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. It eventually flows south and along with the Peace River. They create a renowned saltwater fishery; Charlotte Harbor. In the summer the water is high and fast from all of the rain, but in the cooler months it settles into a nice tidal river. As the water in the Harbor cools down, snook migrate up into the river to seek sanctuary in the warmer, deeper water. There is also a lot of food (bluegill, tilapia, mullet, fry, and crabs) for them to feed on.
Easy fly fishing, short casts
For the most part, this is fairly easy fly fishing. Short casts are the norm when fly fishing Sarasota rivers. Managing the back cast is the primary challenge. An 8wt or 9wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is a good choice for the river. The leader is simple; just attach a 6’ section of 30 lb fluorocarbon and then tie on a fly. Fly selection is also pretty basic with Clouser patters in darker colors with some gold or rootbeer, along with a “firetiger” fly work well. Tie the fly on a #1 hook using large weighted eyes to get the fly down a few feet. Broad patterns such as Puglisi flies will also fool the wily snook, but are a bit harder to cast and will hang up more often.
Floating down the river with the current and casting towards likely fish-holding structure along the shoreline is the most productive technique. Shallow draft boats such as jon boats, canoes, and kayaks perform best, the water can get very shallow in spots. Make a cast, allow a few seconds to sink, then retrieve the fly back in using one foot strips. When a take occurs, use the “strip set” method to hook the fish. Pull sharply with the stripping hand and then raise the rod tip. Jerking the tip up as you might in trout fishing will result in fewer hook-ups.
As in all fishing, vary the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges. Again, this is pretty straight-forward fishing and it is mostly a matter of covering the water until a hungry fish is located. Though snook is the primary target, largemouth bass, juvenile tarpon, gar, jack crevalle, tilapia, and other species are frequently landed as well.
Fly fishing the Myakka River
The Myakka is one of two rivers designated a “Wild and scenic river” in the state of Florida. This means limited access and development resulting in a relaxed and serene experience. The entire river is also a “No-wake” zone. Fly fishing for snook on the Myakka is a unique experience that is a half hour drive from the resort town of Sarasota, but a world away in terms of environment. Access to the Myakka River is limited, this is partly why it remains so remote feeling. Snook Haven in Venice, Fl offers the bast spot to launch boats to fish the river. It is also a cool little park with a restaurant. Visitors can enjoy lunch after a morning fishing trip. It is also a good place to rent canoes or launch a kayak. Visiting anglers should give fly fishing Sarasota rivers a try!
Fly fishing the Manatee River
The Manatee River runs forty five minutes north east of Sarasota. It begins at Lake Manatee and the river flows west from the dam. Much of the river is very shallow and suited only from kayaks and canoes. The stretch of the Manatee River from Rye Rd to Ft. Hamer is the most productive for fly fishing. Anglers can access the river from a very nice ramp and park at Ft. Hamer. Another more primitive ramp can be used at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway. Ray’s offers canoe rentals along with bait for fishing.
The Manatee River offer anglers the chance to catch the most variety of species. Snook, redfish, jack crevelle, juvenile tarpon, and ladyfish are saltwater species landed. Freshwater species include largemouth bass, catfish, bream, gar, and sunshine bass. The shorter length of the river, freshwater fish washing over the dam, and proximity to Tampa Bay all are factors for contributing to this unique fishery.
Fly fishing the Braden River
The Braden river is quite short and is a tributary of the Manatee River. It is purely saltwater and offers anglers the opportunity to catch snook, redfish, and other species. However, the highlight of the Braden River is the consistent fly fishing for large jack crevelle. Jacks put up a tremendous battle on fly tackle! They use their broad sides to pull very hard. Often times, jacks can be seen working on the surface. Snook fishing can be very good, and redfish are caught with regularity.
The Braden River is more developed than the Manatee and Myakka. It has a lot of houses and road noise can be heard. The Braden River is also shorter, which can tend to concentrate fish in the deeper areas. It is also the most convenient, being a short drive from Sarasota beaches. There is a ramp with parking and facilities on SR 64 where it crosses the river.
Shallow water flats fishing
It sounds like a contradiction, but often times the largest fish are found in the shallowest of water. While the deeper grass flats hold schools of fish and is a better option for action and numbers. Fly anglers seeking a trophy will do well focusing on shallow grass flats, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines. Redfish and jack crevelle school up in shallow water, the largest trout are loners and will set up in potholes in shallow flats, and snook will feed on bait in the skinny water as well.
This type of fishing has exploded in popularity in recent years. Flats and bay boats abound and kayak fishing is very popular. The result is that these fish receive a LOT of pressure, especially in the popular Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor areas. Fish in these shallow areas are spooky and require different tactics in order to be successful.
Tackle requirements are similar to other inshore fishing applications, a 7wt or 8wt outfit is fine. Floating lines are used as the water fished is seldom more that 3 feet deep. Longer leaders with a 20lb bite tippet will increase the chances of fooling fish. But, the biggest change in tactics is the need for patience and stealth.
Fish in water this shallow are extremely spooky and the slightest noise or shadow can send them running for cover. The most popular fly patterns are Clouser Minnow, Lefty Deceiver, and Crystal MInnow patterns in white or bait fish colors.
Fly fishing tactics in Sarasota rivers
The approach when attacking a flat or shoreline is similar to that of the deep flats in that the wind and tide are factors that need to be taken into account. Whenever possible, choosing an area where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. Obviously, a shallow draft boat will be required to access these areas. The classic situation is a flats skiff with the angler positioned on the bow and the guide or other angler poling the boat from the stern or poling platform.
Many anglers prefer the low, incoming tide when working the shallows. Fish will stage on the edges where the flat drops off, waiting for the water to come up. Fish will then get up on the flat, scatter out, and search for food. Along the same lines, fish will gang up in “potholes”. These are depressions in the flats that can range in size from a foot to to over 20 feet and larger. In both instances, the low water concentrates the fish, making them easier to locate. The more water that there is on a flat the more places the fish can be.
Tide strength and heights are crucial elements when fly fishing in the shallows. Anglers need to study the tide charts, it is much more complex than just the times of the high and low tides. The tide height and speed at which it is moving are very important to know so that anglers can understand fish movements. Wind is also a factor; a northeast wind will empty a flat of water while a south wind will flood it.
Drifting and sight casting
Anglers can choose to either blind cast likely looking areas or sight cast to specific fish or small bunches of fish. As the boat eases down the shoreline or across the flat, the fly is cast towards the shoreline or potholes and grass edges. The fly is allowed to sink a moment, and retrieved back in. Unlike the deep grass flats, the fish will normally be found in small areas and bunched up. It will take time, effort, and patience to eliminate unproductive water.
Blind casting will normally produce more fish, but sight casting is very exciting! This is exactly what it sounds like, an angler either readies on the bow while boat fishing or stealthily wades a flat, visually searching for fish. Once sighted, the fly is cast out, taking into account the position of the fish and direction it is moving, and hopefully a take ensues.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but there are some things that anglers should key on to help locate fish. Edges are always worth investigating, whether it is a weed bad, oyster bar, or drop off. Current edges can also be used as ambush points by predators. Mangrove shorelines are very enticing, but there are miles and miles of them and fish will only be in short sections.
Searching out spots
The key is to find something different such as cuts, oyster bars, and especially holes and deeper water, fish will definitely hold there. Also, anglers will want to see signs of life; there is nothing worse than a “dead” flat. Areas that show glass minnows and other baitfish, mullet schools, birds, are promising. The best of all flats with fish tailing, waking, or working bait are prime spots.
Anglers that are serious about mastering this technique will need to put in their time. Choosing a small area and learning it well is a good investment and will serve the angler well. It is amazing how different these types of spots are with just a little change in tide height. Learning the tides, bottom, and local fish migrations in one small area will help them catch fish in other locations.
Wading can be an extremely effective strategy when targeting fish in shallow water, especially once a productive area is located. Some experienced guides will pole an area and not even fish, just look for signs and fish. Once a likely area is identified, they get out of the boat and walk. With the pressure that fish get these days, being able to eliminate boat noises. This will allow fly casters to get much closer to their quarry and have more time to react.
Kayaks have become popular are are great tools to use to fish shallow flats. They give anglers access to waters that power boats can’t launch. Kayaks float very shallow and are virtually silent. Anglers can fish from the kayak or use it to get to productive areas where they can get out and wade. They are low-maintenance and effective platforms from which to fish.
Best Sarasota fishing charter is Adventure Charters!
The best Sarasota fishing charter is Adventure Charters with Capt. Jim Klopfer. Capt. Jim has been guiding in Sarasota full time since 1991. Diversity is what makes Capt. Jim different from all the other fine guides in Sarasota. He will employ multiple tactics using both artificial lures and live bait on a single four hour fishing charter.
Sarasota offers visiting anglers many different species to target and catch and several different techniques with which to do so. This is advantageous as it allows Capt. Jim to tailor the fishing charter to the experience skill level and expectations of the client. Depending on the season, most fishing charters produce 6 to 8 different species. Speckled trout, snook, redfish, Spanish mackerel, blue fish, jack crevelle, flounder, sea bass, grouper, snapper, sheepshead, flounder, black drum, false albacore, sharks, ladyfish, cobia, and even giant tarpon are available throughout the season.
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.
Tackle used on the best Sarasota fishing charter is very similar to what freshwater anglers are comfortable with up north. A 6 1/2 foot spinning outfit spooled with 10 pound line is used on most charters. Heavier tackle is used when targeting large fish such as snook or when fishing around docks and bridges. Capt. Jim can provide conventional tackle for those anglers who prefer that. Fly fisherman are certainly welcome, Capt. Jim provides Orvis tackle for his clients. A seven wt to 9 wt weight outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is a great all round choice.
Fishing charters in Sarasota
The majority of charters are run on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay. The Bay is blessed with large expanses of submerged vegetation and water ranging from ankle-deep to 10 foot. The best action comes on the flats that are between 5 feet and 10 feet deep. This is where the most variety of species will be encountered. Anglers will cast lures or live bait as the boat drifts across the flat.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are inlets that connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. Both can be very productive depending on the conditions. Spring and fall are prime times to fish the passes. Pompano, bluefish, mackerel, and ladyfish are commonly caught in the passes. Structure such as docks, bridges, seawalls, and rocks provide prime habitat for several different species. Sheepshead, grouper, snapper, flounder, and snook are all caught around such structure in the passes at one time of year or another.
Fishing can be fantastic in the Gulf of Mexico, just off the Sarasota beaches. Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species move in to feed on the huge schools of bait fish. A couple days of east wind will result in calm seas and clear water. This brings the bait in which in turn attracts the predator fish. Sharks, king mackerel, cobia, and even tarpon are also landed. This truly is world class fishing!
Anglers seeking a bit more challenge may opt to target snook, redfish, and jacks. These fish are seldom caught by accident. Mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, docks, and potholes in grass flats throughout the area are prime locations for these game fish. Artificial lures such as plugs, jigs, and spoons are most often used. This type of fishing won’t produce the numbers of fish that the deep grass flats will, but it will produce some real trophies!
Sarasota Florida fishing charters
Many anglers going out on Sarasota fishing charters have a specific species that they would like to target. This is especially true of the “glamour” species. Snook, redfish, and tarpon are examples. Below is a list of the most popular fish species available to anglers fishing in Sarasota.
Species caught on the best Sarasota fishing charter. Check HERE for local regulations.
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida, and are very much sought after by anglers in Sarasota. Snook can be caught in a variety of locations using multiple techniques. Snook are really a lot like largemouth bass; they are ambush predators with a large mouth that can inhale prey easily. They have a big broad powerful tale for quick movements in tight quarters. They feed on just about everything that swims and can be taken on live bait along with a wide variety of artificial lures.
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. In the winter, especially if it is cold and the water temperature in Sarasota Bay dips into the upper 50s. Snook will migrate up into creeks and residential canals as the water in these areas is darker deeper and normally significantly warmer than the exposed shallow flats.
Artificial lures are the best approach when targeting snook in these wintertime creeks and canals. Plugs and jigs with a soft plastic body allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly. It is important in this situation to eliminate unproductive water and lures give anglers the best opportunity to do that. Rapala X-Raps and Bass Assassin baits are proven lures for winter snook and jacks.
As it starts to warm up and spring, snook will move out of their winter haunts and into the backwaters of Sarasota Bay. They will take up residence in ambush spots to feed. These can be mangrove shorelines with cover and a little depth, oyster bars that drop off, holes in grass flats, along with man-made structure such as bridges and docks.
Current will position the fish where they can sit just out of the flow and ambush prey as it flows past. Generally speaking, outgoing tides are preferred, especially early and late in the day. Anglers fishing at night do well working the lighted docks and bridges with live shrimp and flies.
The most effective technique for catching snook in the warmer months is to catch a bunch of pilchards, (also known as white bait, shiners, greenbacks) and use them to chum the snook into range and into a feeding mood. This requires a cast net, the ability to toss it, in a boat with a large live well and good pump. But in most cases, it is worth the effort!
By the time we get to late May, many of the snook will be out in the passes and down the beach in large numbers. This is a time and place that snook spawn. It is a great time to catch and release a trophy snook. Live bait generally works best in the deeper waters of the passes. The rocks in Big Pass and New Pass hold a lot of fish. Anglers can also sight cast to snook a long area beaches. This is great sport and can be done with fly or light spinning tackle. By late August the pattern begins to reverse itself, and the snook begin moving back into the base.
Redfish are another popular inshore game fish in Sarasota. Redfish are caught using two distinctly different methods. They are sought after on the shallow, expansive flats, primarily in North Sarasota Bay and around docks and other structure in cooler months.
Redfish start to school up in mid-summer and the schools can be quite large. However, these fish can be extremely spooky in water that shallow. Also, angling pressure is high as this is a very popular way to target redfish. Low incoming tides are best as they will concentrate reds on the edges of flats. They will wait for the tide to come up scatter over the bar and feed.
Fishing in very shallow water can be tricky, especially if grass is present. Presenting a lure or live bait effectively requires lures that are either weedless, floats on the surface, or runs very shallow. Weedless spoons are great baits and can be cast a long way, seldom hang up, and cover a lot of water. Plugs can also be effective; either shallow diving plugs in deeper water or top water plugs in very shallow water.
Live bait can be used on the flats as well, particularly a large live shrimp. Reds will stage in potholes. These are depressions in the flats that are a bit deeper than the surrounding grass. Shrimp can be hooked with no weight, a small split shot, or fished under a float.
Redfish are also targeted by anglers fishing with live shrimp under docks. This is really as simple as it sounds, though there are some nuances involved, as in all fishing. Anglers should anchor upwind and up tide a decent cast away from the dock to be finished. The best docks are usually in 4 feet to 10 feet of water. Live bait fish can also be used successfully.
Spotted sea trout, known locally as speckled trout, are perhaps the most popular fish along the entire Gulf Coast. Abundant, available year-round, aggressive, and great eating, it is no wonder that they are such a desirable species! While trout are very good to eat it is very important to release the larger female fish these are breeders and crucial to the health of the fishery.
Trout school up in decent numbers on the deep grass flats throughout the area. Submerged grass beds and 4 feet to 10 feet of water will hold bait which in turn attracts the trout and other species. A time proven technique on the best Sarasota fishing charter is to use a shrimp under a popping cork while drifting the flat. This ring has accounted for many trout over the years.
Artificial lures also fool plenty of trout and are very easy to use. There is also no bait to purchase, catch, or keep alive. The most popular lure by far here in Sarasota is the jig and grub combination. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch to 4 inch plastic trailer is deadly on a variety of species but speckled trout in particular. Bass Assassin 4 inch Sea Shad baits in glow, new penny, and red, are extremely effective.
Wind and tide are the major considerations when drifting the deep grass flats for speckled trout. As the boat drifts to call across the grass, anglers cast out lures and flies seeking a school of feeding fish. These are large areas and a little breeze helps to cover the water in a reasonable amount of time. Obviously, too much wind will make it difficult to finish. Generally speaking, 6 foot to 8 foot deep is the target depth. At times, Capt. Jim will anchor the boat on the edge of a grass flat and free line a live bait out.
Spanish mackerel are a terrific and often overlooked game fish! They fight hard, make blistering runs, are aggressive, and taste great when eaten right away. They readily take live bait lures and flies. What more can an angler ask for?
Spanish mackerel show up in the spring when the water temperature hits the upper 60s in degrees. They will stay around until late fall when it gets cold. They are caught both inshore and in the Gulf of Mexico. Mackerel are often an unexpected surprise for anglers drifting the deep grass flats. Sometimes they can be seen feeding on the surface, but most of the time they will intercept the jig plug, shrimp, or bait fish intended for trout or other species.
Spanish mackerel can be targeted in the spring and the fall and both passes when they move in. Again, at times they will feed on the surface and that makes them easy to locate. Drifting with a shrimp works well, too. Trolling a #8 Rapala X-Rap in white or olive is a good way to search for schools of mackerel.
Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel will do well to fish the inshore Gulf of Mexico. In the spring and fall they will school up in huge numbers and can be seen working on the surface. Anglers can look for birds, feeding fish, and schools of bait. Casting lures and flies to feeding fish is very exciting! Trolling is another productive method in the Gulf of Mexico. It works well on days with a little chop or when the fish are not feeding on the surface.
Pompano are prized among both local and visiting anglers both for their tenacious fight and their incredible flavor on a dinner plate. They are caught in the passes, out on the beaches, and on the grass flats in Sarasota Bay. The best bet for anglers targeting pompano is to drift Big Sarasota Pass using a small pompano jig. This is a basic jig with a round head and a little dressing. Banana style jigs are also effective. Pompano have small mouth and feed on the bottom.
Pompano are caught by anglers casting jigs and live shrimp as they drift the grass flats as well. Sometimes pompano will be seen skipping on the surface as the boat idles by. This is a sure sign that there are more in the area.
Anglers fishing the surf will do well with jigs and shrimp, but the real pompano surf experts will use sand fleas. Sand fleas, also known as mole crabs, are great for pompano. Sand fleas are caught in the surf using special rakes and then hooked on a small number two or number four hook in a little bit of weight.
Mangrove snapper are another extremely popular species for both their battle and their table fare. Snapper are available all year round near structure such as docks, bridges, submerged rocks, and ledges. Live shrimp fished on the bottom with just enough weight to get down there is the best bet. Smaller hooks and light leaders are often required as snapper can be a bit spooky especially in clear water. The inshore artificial reefs off of Lido Key are great spots to bottom fish when it is calm in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mangrove snapper have been showing up on the grass flats over the last several years and good numbers with some very nice fish mixed in. July, August, and September have been the best months. Chumming with pilchards is the best technique to catch snapper on the grass. Handfuls of live or fresh dead bait is tossed out behind the boat on a deep patch of grass. This will get them excited and fired up behind the boat. Going small on the hook and light on the leader will result in more fish. Of course trout, mackerel, grouper, ladyfish, and other species will be caught as well.
Bluefish are known to many anglers visiting Sarasota as they range up the entire East Coast of the country. They do not grow as large here, 5 pounds is a very nice bluefish, but since most are caught using light tackle they are great fun to catch. They need to be handled correctly and eaten fresh, but they are underrated as table fare. Like many species here, they are caught by anglers drifting the deep grass flats as well as the passes.
Jigs work very well for bluefish and when they cut you off, which they will, your only out a dollar or so. Plugs work very well but can get expensive and they are also tricky to release with a bunch of trouble hooks. Live bait works well and a long shank hook were reduced cutoffs.
Bluefish will be caught in the passes especially in the cooler months. Jigs bounced on the bottom along with spoons and live bait will work. Sometimes bluefish will be caught by surf anglers on the beach as well.
Sheepshead invade Sarasota each year around Christmas and stay around until late spring. These tasty members of the Porgy family are structure oriented and can be found near anything the provides cover and has barnacles. Bridges and docks are prime spots as our seawalls, ledges, submerged rocks, and artificial reefs. Sheepshead are rarely caught on lures, live or frozen bait is required. Shrimp, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas, will work live fresh dead or frozen.
Sheepshead are notorious for being great bait stealers. They bite very lightly and anglers need to be patient and be still an order to catch them. Small hooks rigged up on a short leader with a sliding sinker is the best rate. The sheepshead will be able to pick up the bait and move off without feeling any weight. Sheepshead are great eating but very difficult to clean. The inshore artificial reefs off of Lido Key are great spots to target sheepshead on nice days.
Jack crevalle are a terrific game fish! Jacks are like bluegill on steroids, they turn their broadsides and just pull as hard as they can. Jacks school up and can be voracious at times, devouring anything that moves. They can also be fussy. Jacks are found throughout the area and just about every portion of Sarasota Bay.
In the cooler months jacks are found in backwaters, residential canals, creeks, and area rivers. Live shrimp will work, but fast-moving lures like plugs are more fun and elicit violence strikes. As it warms up, jacks move into the bays to feed. By summer they can be anywhere or nowhere. Anglers land them drifting the deep grass along with other species. The area south of Siesta Drive in Roberts Bay is a good area for jack crevalle. Docks seawalls, canals, and Phillippi Creek are prime spots that attract fish. Jacks will grow to 10 pounds.
Ladyfish have saved the day on many charters in Sarasota, despite the fact that they are sometimes disparaged by local anglers. While not good to eat, they are abundant aggressive, hit lures, baits, and flies, leap high out of the water, and fight very hard for their size. In the cooler months they school up in very large numbers and multiple hookups are the norm. They are caught in the passes out on the beach, and on the deep grass flats.
Ladyfish will certainly take live shrimp and pilchards, but they are much more fun to catch on lures. This is a great opportunity to teach kids to use jigs and other lures as a bites are frequent and easy to feel. A jig and grub combo is tough to be and color rarely matters. Fly anglers can have great fun with ladyfish as well. It is a great opportunity for the novice fly angler to get in some practice and build confidence. Ladyfish are excellent cut bait for sharks and other species.
Cobia are normally caught out in the Gulf of Mexico but they do move into Sarasota Bay. They are an incidental catch on the flats and passes and will hit the same lures and baits that produce all of the other inshore species. They are often seen just cruising under the surface and are mistaken for sharks. Prepare for a long battle on trout tackle. They are terrific eating but need to be 33 inches to the fork.
Flounder are a delicious bottom fish that are well known and prized by anglers everywhere. Most of the flounder in Sarasota are southern golf flounder. Though we really don’t have a population large enough to target they are caught occasionally by anglers fishing for other species. Structure such as docks and bridges along with deeper holes in the grass flats are good spots to try for flounder jigs, live bait, and cut bait all produce. Flounder do school up occasionally on the inshore artificial reefs.
Gag grouper are arguably the most popular and prized offshore species in Sarasota. Most of the grouper that are caught inshore are juveniles that will migrate out into the Gulf of Mexico, where they will grow to full maturity. Legal grouper are seldom caught in Sarasota Bay, though some anglers target them by trolling large plugs and bottom fishing with heavy tackle and large baits. Area bridges are the top spots for larger grouper. Anglers on a best Sarasota fishing charter may land grouper when Sheepshead fishing in the spring and on the deep grass flats in mid to late summer.
Small sharks are great fun to catch and always a crowd favorite, especially for the young anglers! Most are caught incidentally; they will hit jigs and live bait. In the late summer they can be targeted using cut ladyfish on the flats. They are usually plentiful in the inshore Gulf in the spring and again in the fall as they feed on schools of Spanish mackerel.
Many anglers consider tarpon to be the ultimate fishing challenge. There are few opportunities to sight cast to fish well over 100 pounds using fairly light spinning tackle. Tarpon fishing is very specialized however, and not for everyone. It is much like deer hunting, there will be a lot of time spent looking and waiting. But, when it all comes together, there is nothing like it! Tarpon show up in schools off of the Sarasota Beaches in early May and stay until mid July. Most tarpon are caught using small live crabs or hand sized bait fish, however large plugs will fool tarpon as will a well-placed fly.
False albacore make a run along the Gulf Coast in the spring and again in the fall. They are following the large schools of bait fish upon which they feed. False albacore are caught off of the Sarasota Beaches up to 12 pounds. They put up a tremendous fight and a reel with the quality drag is required to catch them. Most are caught sight fishing as they feed actively on the surface. This adds to the excitement of targeting false albacore as the action can be fast and furious. Small lures such as spoons, plugs, and jigs are most often used, as the bait they are feeding on is quite small, usually glass minnows. This is a great opportunity for a fly angler to experience world-class action!
Sarasota river fishing charters
Capt. Jim offers visiting anglers a unique experience; fishing local area rivers. Adventure charters is the only operation offering such a trip. A smaller 14 foot Alumacraft John boat is used for these charters. Launching areas can be primitive and the water can be very shallow and spots thus the need for a light, shallow draft boat. The venerable John boat is perfect for this!
The Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River, all lie a short drive from Sarasota and her beaches. All three are unique and have their pros and cons. The Braden River is the most developed, however offers very consistent fishing for large jack crevelle. Snook, redfish, and other species are caught on most charters. The Myakka River in Venice Florida, offers the best trophy snook fishing. The Myakka River is a wild and scenic river and also has a distinct feel to it. It is almost like being on a South American River! The Manatee River is a bit of a mixture of the two, with some development, but also some very nice stretches. The Manatee River also offers the most variety in terms of species.
River fishing charters are best suited for anglers with a bit more experience. They do not produce as much action as do the inshore bay fishing charters. However, for anglers seeking a bit more challenge, the reward can be a trophy snook of a lifetime! Snook to 40 inches and 20 pounds are not uncommon. It is important to cover as much water as possible, therefore we drift with the current and cast rapidly plugs and other lures to likely looking shoreline cover. Snook, largemouth bass, jack crevelle, redfish, snapper, juvenile tarpon, catfish, gar, and sunshine bass are all available depending on the conditions.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What is the cost of a Sarasota fishing charter and what does it include?
A: A four hour fishing charter for up to four anglers is $400. That cost covers all bait, tackle, licenses, the boat, and capt Jim’s service and experience. Spinning tackle is used on most charters as it is the best choice for our type of fishing. Live shrimp and live bait fish are used along with artificial lures. A cooler with ice is provided for clients to keep their drinks and snacks cold. More information can be found HERE.
Q: What do clients going out on a Sarasota fishing charter need to bring?
A: Clients should bring along whatever they want to eat and drink, hats, sunglasses, and sun screen. Guests should wear boat or tennis shoes with white soles. Everything else for the fishing charter is provided. Anglers may bring along their own tackle if desired, though quality Penn and Shimano tackle is provided. Fly anglers can use Orvis tackle provided by Capt Jim or certainly provide their own outfits if they prefer.
Q: Are clients on a Sarasota fishing charter allowed to keep fish to eat?
A: Yes. Anglers may keep a few quality fish that are good to eat, in season, and meet the legal size requirements. Capt Jim will fillet the fish and bag them up at the end of the charter. Capt Jim does promote catch and release to insure the health of the fishery. The fishing charter is about having fun and making memories, so keeping fish is a bonus and not the focus of the trip.
A: Sarasota Bay is a diverse fishery, offering anglers the opportunity to catch many different species. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, sharks, and other species are caught on the grass flats. Snook, redfish, and jack crevelle are caught by more experienced anglers along mangrove shore lines. Structure in the passes as well as docks and bridges hold sheepshead, snapper, grouper, and flounder. Current species identification and regulations can be found HERE.
Q: Where will clients meet Capt Jim and at what time?
A: The time will be determined by the weather, conditions, and tides. Most fishing charters are run in the morning as that is usually the most reliable fishing. Afternoons can be better in the winter as it warms up later in the day. Most charters will leave around 7:30 a.m. Most charters will leave from Centennial Park in downtown Sarasota, Florida. HERE is a link with a map and the address. That ramp is in a very good location for accessing the fishing grounds and eliminating the slow speed zones.
Q: What is the best time of year to go out on a Sarasota fishing charter?
A: Fishing is good all year long, depending on conditions. Summer offers very reliable action, though it is an early bite. Spring is good as long as the weather is nice, though boat traffic is the heaviest. Fall is fantastic, great weather and no crowds. Winter can be very good, but weather fronts are an issue. Anglers can check out my monthly forecasts HERE to help plan their trip.
Q: Who offers the best Sarasota fishing charter?
A: With respect to the other fine fishing guides in Sarasota, nobody works harder than Capt Jim Klopfer for his clients. He is easy-going and personable, patient with children, and fun. Capt Jim will use whatever baits and techniques needed to give clients the best chance for success. He often fishes with several different lures and baits on a single four hour charter.
Here is a list of my 35 best Sarasota fishing spots. These are places that I fish almost every day on my Sarasota fishing charters, depending on the season and conditions. In order to limit redundancy, I will use the following terms when describing these spots.
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.
“Deep grass flats” are from 4’ to 10’ in depth and will hold speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jacks, grouper, snapper, sharks, flounder, and ladyfish. Jigs and live shrimp, either free lined or under a cork work well.
“Shallow grass flats” are 3’ or less and hold snook, redfish, larger trout, and jacks. Topwater plugs, soft plastic baits on a light jig head or weedless hook, and weedless gold spoons are the best baits. A large live shrimp work very well, too.
“Docks” will attract sheepshead, snook, redfish, drum, flounder, and snapper. Live bait works best, with a live shrimp being the best all round choice. Baitfish will produce as well.
“Bars” are shallow bands of sand, usually with grass and/or oysters that drop off on one side into slightly deeper water. They attract snook, trout, reds, sheepshead, jacks, and more. All baits can be effective, depending on the depth and species targeted.
Most of these are large areas, not one specific spot. Click HERE for current Florida regulations.
Fishing spots #1 through #4
1) Long Bar; a very long, shallow bar that nearly crosses the entire bay. Deep grass flats are found on the west end as well. Best on a low, incoming tide. A great spot to fish! Redfish will school up on the south side of the bar on the low, incoming tide. Reds will also be seen tailing on the north side along the shore. Speckled trout are on the deeper grass where the bar drops off.
2) Buttonwood Harbor; a very large area of deep grass with a shoal (shallow flat) on the east end and then deep grass to the south. A white “Shoal” marker makes it easy to find. Lush shallows abound near Longboat Key and are good for snook and redfish on the high tide. Helicopter Shoal is a long, narrow bar several hundred yards to the south. This is a great speckled trout area. A deeper channel runs into the basin of Buttonwood Harbor and is a good winter spot. Another VERY good year-round spot.
3) Bowlees Creek; deep grass surround the mouth of Bowlees Creek and spoil islands and bars line the channel itself. The east side of the bay in both directions has shallow grass flats that drop off and will hold fish at times. Grass flats out in front hold trout, pompano, and ladyfish. The creek itself is good for snook and jacks in the cooler months.
4) Bishop’s Point; easily distinguished by four large condominiums, Bishop’s Point is a classic point that starts shallow and slowly tapers off into deeper water. Excellent deep grass flats exist on both sides while an excellent shallow flat lies between the bar and the shoreline. Snook and reds will be shallow while the deep flats hold trout and other species. A canal runs inside the point and is a good winter spot.
Fishing spots #5 through #13
5) Stephen’s Point/Ringling flats; this is a great spot, particularly for speckled trout. An underwater “hump” exists a few hundred yards from shore with a lot of grass that holds bait and fish. The south end is a bit shallower than the north side. Breaking fish are often found here, including bluefish and mackerel. Bars along the shoreline from the Ringling Mansion north are good for snook and reds.
6) The east side of Sarasota Bay can be good, especially on a hard east wind. Shallow bars with grass and docks drop off into deeper water. Look for bait and birds. Residential canals along here will hold snook and jacks and are good spots on windy days.
7) Hart Reef; 27.22.015/82.34.574 concrete rubble placed in deeper water that holds grouper, snapper, tarpon and more. Reef is in ten feet of water. Anchoring up and bottom fishing with live shrimp or pinfish works best. Gear up for some larger grouper.
8) Country Club Shores/Moorings; a large bar runs parallel to shore here, starting very shallow then dropping off into deeper water with grass growing to 10’. This area will hold a wide variety of species. This is a very reliable “action” spot as so many different species are caught here. An artificial reef lies at the north end of CC Shores and holds bottom fish.
9) Middlegrounds; a fantastic fishing spot! I have spent entire four hour charters without ever leaving this area. The Middlegrounds is a large area of both deep and shallow grass close to the Gulf of Mexico that attracts just about every fish that swims. Trout, bluefish, pompano, mackerel, jacks, ladyfish, sharks, snapper, and even cobia will move into this area to feed. Artificial lures such as jigs will help anglers find the fish. It is a large area to be covered. Free lined live shrimp and chumming with live bait will also certainly produce. The Middlegrounds is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.
10) New Pass; connects the Gulf and Sarasota Bay and can hold a lot of fish, particularly in spring and fall. Pompano, mackerel, ladyfish, blues and more will be caught in the pass. Structure such as docks and the bridge are good for sheepshead, snapper, and more. Snook school up in the pass in the summer time. Docks on Ken Thompson Island and another park on the north side of the bridge are great places for anglers without a boat to fish.
11) Zwicks Channel; a deeper cut going north, it holds trout in the winter and docks are good year-round. Docks near the restaurant and marina hold sheepshead in late winter and spring. Also a great place to catch white bait.
12) Radio Tower; a large area of submerged grass extending from the anchored sailboats south to the Ringling Causeway, this is another large area that is very productive for a variety of species. This is a good winter spot, for whatever reason. West of the flats is a protected area that is good on a north west wind. It has deep dredge holes along with shallow grass. Pop Janzen Reef lies at the south end.
13) There is a deep channel that cuts through a shallow flat here and can be very good for trout and redfish. Docks along here also hold snook, reds, drum, and sheepshead. A good spot in winter and on a strong northwest wind.
Fishing spots #14 through #24
14) Bridges; the Ringling Bridge, “Twin Bridges”, and Siesta Drive Bridge are all good spots to catch fish both day and night. Snook ae caught at night under the lights. Sheepshead, mangrove snapper, and gag grouper will take live shrimp. Jacks can be seen working on the surface. Bay Island Park lies on the west side of the Siesta Drive Bridge and is a handy spot for anglers without a boat.
15) Marina Jacks; an area of submerged grass with a shallower crown just off of the anchored boats. This is another good “action” flat that produces just about every species. Shallow flats to the south off of Selby Gardens are good for snook and reds, as is Hudson Bayou.
16) Marker #5; another good grass flat in 5’ to 7’ of water that holds a lot of fish at times. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, ladyfish, and more will hit jigs and live bait. The bar to the south is a good place to catch bait in the summer time. This is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.
17) Bird Key docks; Bird Key is man-made and the dredging required to do so results in deeper water surrounding the key. Docks line Bird Key and many will hold sheepshead, snapper, flounder, and other structure oriented species. A good, protected spot on north west winds.
18) Otter Key; a deeper dredge area cuts through the keys here. This is a very good winter area. Structure and holes abound and holds many species. Docks and deeper water attract snook, reds, sheepshead, snapper, and more. The Yacht Club Channel can also be good when windy.
19) Big Pass; a veritable fish highway, Big Pass is a fantastic spot to fish! Pompano, mackerel, blues, and ladyfish will be found in the middle and hit jigs bounced off the bottom. Structure such as rocks, sea walls and docks lines the north side of Siesta Key all the way out to the mouth. This deep structure holds snook, sheepshead, snapper, reds, grouper, and drum for bottom fishing anglers. Big Pass is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.
20) South Lido Park; a great spot for shore-bound anglers, offering access to the Gulf and Big Sarasota Pass. A nice grass flat lies to the southeast and is a great place to wade for trout. The Mercury hole lies to the north. It is a deep dredge hole in a very shallow flat. Be wary of strong tides; do NOT wade out near the point or in the channel!
21) Spoil Islands; spoil islands are the result of dredging the Intracoastal and can be great spots to fish. Snook, snapper, trout, reds, and more will hold here, especially when baitfish are abundant. It is a good spot to catch bait as well. Be careful of shallow water!
22) Skiers Island; grass flats in 4’ to 6’ of water surround the island, as well as nice oyster bars to the north. The Grand Canal is a good place to fish docks and to troll.
23) Bars and shallow grass good for trout, snook, and redfish. High tides are best. Docks along the shoreline hold snook, reds, snapper, and more.
24) Beaches; area beaches are probably the best bet for anglers fishing from shore. Whiting, silver trout, flounder, and sheepshead will take shrimp or a small jig in the winter. Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, jacks, and more will be found in spring and fall. Sight fishing for snook can be fantastic in the summertime. Anglers in boats will catch mackerel, kings, false albacore, sharks, tarpon, and other species. Surface action for mackerel and false albacore can be fantastic in the spring and fall. The beaches are one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.
Fishing spots #25 through #35
25) Field Club flat; an area of scattered grass in 4’ to 6’ of water, getting very shallow at the south end. This is a good area on a strong north east wind and incoming tide. Docks will hold fish as well.
26) Phillippi Creek; a VERY good place to fish in the cooler months. Jacks, snook, snapper, sheepshead, drum, and more will inhabit the creek. Live shrimp works well as does shallow diving plugs. Snook and jacks will migrate a long way up the creek if it gets cold. It does get shallow in spots so caution is required. High, afternoon tides are best in winter. Phillippi Creek is one of my favorite 35 best Sarasota fishing spots.
27) This stretch of the Intracoastal has a lot of rocky ledges that are good for snapper and sheepshead. It is another good, protected winter spot.
28) Stickney Point; a park just south of the bridge offers access to shore-bound anglers. Fishing from the bridge itself is also permitted. Snook, ladyfish, jacks, and bottom fish are the main targets. Very good at night for snook and snapper.
29) A nice little flat lies southeast of Stickney Point and will hold snook, redfish, and trout. Incoming tides are best. The small creek is good as well, but is quite shallow.
30) Point of Rocks; the best beach spot in the area, offering great fishing when conditions are right. It does require a little walking as access is limited, but it is worth it. Tarpon anglers congregate there in May and June. Spanish mackerel and other species school heavily in spring and fall.
31) Nice bar and grass flat east of Marker # 51, good for trout. Bars will hold snook and redfish.
32) Bars on both sides of the bat at Marker #50 are very good. Fish shallow for snook and reds and the deeper edges for speckled trout.
33) Vamo; nice shallow bars and grass with access to North Creek just to the south. There is a park that is a good place to wade or launch kayaks and canoes.
34) Neville Preserve; good grass with sharp drop-offs, fish will school up in the channel. It is another good winter spot, fish will concentrate in the channel.
35) Flats and bars south of Spanish Point on both sides are good for a variety of species, mostly ladyfish and speckled trout. Shallow bars hold snook, reds, sheepshead, and jacks. Best on the higher tide stages.
I have been running Sarasota fishing charters since 1991. We are fortunate to have many different species that we catch in Sarasota Bay. I am going to list my personal top 8 Sarasota fish species. As with all lists, this one is subjective. My criteria are fighting qualities, willingness to take a lure or fly, year long availability, and food value. The first three are obvious choices; snook, trout, and redfish. The others may surprise some anglers.
What are the top Sarasota fish species? The top 8 Sarasota fish species are snook, speckled trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, pompano, bluefish, and mangrove snapper. These fish species all fight hard, take both live bait and artificial lures, and are available most of the year. All but jacks are very good eating as well.
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.
This is just a fun list of the top 8 Sarasota fish species. As with anything, opinions vary on “best”. That applies to food value as well, we all have our own tastes.
The mighty snook is without a doubt the premier inshore game fish in Sarasota. It is #1 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Snook check all the boxes. They put up a great fight, hit lures and flies, and are available year-round. Snook also taste great, but I release them all to live another day.
Snook make a seasonal migration in Sarasota. They winter in creeks, rivers and residential canals. These areas are warmer, deeper, and have forage to feed on. As it warms up, snook move out into the bays and inshore waters to feed. As summer approaches, snook move out into the passes and out on the beaches to spawn. By late summer, they begin to reverse the process.
Sarasota river snook fishing
River snook fishing is one of my favorite Sarasota fishing charters. I use my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat in the area rivers. Anglers cast Rapala plugs in search of a trophy river snook. The Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River all hold snook, as well as other species.
Snook are really a saltwater version of largemouth bass. They have a large mouth to inhale prey, are structure oriented, and have a broad, powerful tail. Most of the popular snook lures started out as bass lures. Topwater plugs, diving jerk baits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic baits all fool snook. Fly anglers score using small, white bait fish imitations.
Live bait works very well for snook. A large shrimp is deadly fished near docks and bridges. Pinfish and grunts will catch some larger specimens. Chumming with scaled sardines (AKA greenbacks, shiners, white bait ) is a deadly, proven technique that guides and recreational anglers use in the warmer months. Anglers can read a comprehensive article on Fishing for Snook to get more information.
#2 Speckled trout
I am putting speckled trout in the #2 spot on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. While trout are not the greatest battlers in the water, they make up for it in terms of numbers, availability, aggression, and table fare. They are also a beautiful fish.
Speckled trout are available all year long. They are abundant on the grass flats from very shallow up to ten feet of water in the warmer months. The majority of speckled trout caught in Sarasota are done so by anglers fishing submerged grass in five feet to ten feet of water. Jigs and live shrimp account for most of the trout caught.
Winter speckled trout fishing tips
In winter they will seek deeper holes, including channels and residential canals if the water temperature gets into the 50’s. Trout will hit a wide variety of artificial baits, with the jig and grub being the most popular artificial bait. Fly anglers will catch them using Clouser Minnow patterns and sink tip lines.
Live bait is also extremely effective for speckled trout. Shrimp are the top bait as they are available at local bait shops all year long. Live bait fish also work well and will produce larger fish. A small 2 inch to 3 inch grunt is a fantastic bait for large trout. Pilchards also work very well. Speckled trout are outstanding table fare! The limit is 15” with one fish over 20”. However, I release all trout over 20”. They are breeder fish, we need them in the water to sustain the fishery.
Speckled trout is really a nickname, the correct term is “spotted sea trout”. They are found along the entire Gulf Coast and up the East Coast as far as the mid Atlantic. Anglers can read more about Spotted Sea Trout Fishing in this article.
Redfish are #3 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Some anglers may be surprised to see trout ahead of redfish on my list. The primary reason is that redfish numbers have been down the last several years. For whatever reason, the fish are spawning, but the juvenile fish are not growing. But, redfish are strong, take lures and live baits, are available all year, and taste great.
In the cooler months, reds are caught under docks and around other structure, including oyster bars, bridges, and rocky shorelines. As the water warms up, the fish move out onto the shallow grass flats. Reds are caught in very shallow water. They are also quite spooky and skittish in this very skinny water. Patience, stealth, and long casts are required.
Top artificial lures for fishing for redfish
Gold weedless spoons are a top artificial bait. Soft plastic baits rigged weedless are also very productive. Live bait is difficult to fish in the very shallow water, although fishing potholes with live shrimp works quite well. Chumming with pilchards will also produce fish.
In the late summer, redfish school up into big numbers. They can be easily seen on the shallow flats when the surface is calm. This is the best time of year to target reds. They school up before moving out into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these fish are “over slot”, meaning larger than the 27” maximum size to keep. Anglers must be patient, these fish are easily spooked!
#4 Spanish mackerel
Spanish mackerel are #4 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Spanish mackerel are a very under rated game fish, in my opinion. They are extremely fast and make blistering runs. They take lures and flies with reckless abandon. Mackerel are very good when eaten the day they are caught. The only reason they are this far down is that they are around all year long. If the water is too warm or cool, their numbers decrease.
Spanish mackerel can be caught in a variety of ways. Trolling with spoons and plugs in Sarasota Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico produces a lot of fish. Anglers also do well in the passes and over the flats casting jigs, plugs and spoons. Fly fishers score using white D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow flies. No matter what the lure or fly, a fast retrieve usually works best.
Live bait is very effective as well. Free lined live shrimp do well on the flats and in the passes. Also, while Spanish mackerel can be difficult to locate and catch in the summer, chumming with live bait will get them fired up. It is the only reliable technique for catching them in the warmer months.
Mackerel school up in large numbers in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They can be seen feeding on bait fish right on the surface. Working “breaking fish” in the Gulf is great fun! Mackerel will instantly take any lure or fly that resembles a small bait fish.
Spanish mackerel are plentiful and great eating when prepared fresh. This makes them an excellent species to pursue when a meal is desired. Fish should be put on ice immediately and eater that night or the next. They are excellent grilled, broiled, baked, or smoked! Anglers can read more about Spanish mackerel fishing in this blog post.
#5 Jack crevalle
Jack crevalle are #5 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Jacks are the bull dogs of the bay. They rarely leap, instead using their broad sides and forked tail to pull relentlessly. Jacks take artificial baits and flies viciously. Most of the time jacks are encountered in schools. They are quite aggressive when schooled up and are very competitive. Jacks do not have food value. If they were good to eat, they might be #1 on my list!
Like snook, jack crevalle will congregate in Sarasota canals and creeks in the cooler months. Phillippi Creek, Hudson Bayou, and Whittaker Bayou are good spots, as is the Grand Canal on Siesta Key. Trolling small plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap in the 08 size is a good way to locate fish. I usually catch my largest fish in the winter. The same rivers that hold winter snook also will attract jack crevalle.
Sarasota jack crevalle migrations
As it warms up, jack crevalle move into the bays. They move around a lot and are found around oyster bars, seawalls, bridges, and open flats. They are caught blind casting, but it is much more fun to cast to schools of fish breaking on the surface. Area bridges will also hold some big jack crevalle.
Most of the jacks that are caught by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters hit artificial lures. Rapala plugs fool them in the rivers and creeks. Plenty of jacks, though normally smaller, take jigs while drifting the open flats. Chumming mangrove shorelines with pilchards will attract jacks while snook fishing.
The visual aspects of catching jacks makes it very exciting. Schools of jack crevalle are often times seen feeding ferociously on the surface. Just about any lure that remotely resembles the forage will draw a vicious strike! Anglers can read more about Jack Crevalle Fishing in this post.
Pompano are #6 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Most pompano are caught by anglers using jigs and live shrimp. Pompano pull incredibly hard for their size. Also, they are some of the finest eating there is. Pompano are definitely my favorite fish to eat. Their only failing is that they are not around all year long. Then tend to move through in “runs”.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are good spots to target pompano. A small jig with a heavy head will get down quickly in a strong current. The jig is then bounced up in short motions. This vertical jigging is very efficient as the bait stays in the strike zone as the boat drifts. It is a great way to cover a lot of water and locate fish.
Pompano are also encountered on the deep grass flats. Anglers casting jigs catch them while trout fishing. The same jigs that produce trout, mackerel, and other species will fool pompano. Also, anglers specifically targeting pompano can use the same jigs that work well in the passes.
Bluefish are #7 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. North east anglers are very well acquainted with bluefish as they are popular all along the Atlantic coast up to Maine. Our bluefish are smaller, five pounds is a nice one. Blues fight very hard, assault lures and flies, but are only available at certain times of the year. Also, they are only considered fair on the table, though if cared for properly, they are pretty good. Bluefish should be bled out and iced right away, this will make the flesh less dark and strong.
Bluefish can be anywhere or nowhere. They are found both in the passes and on the grass flats. Jigs, plugs, spoons, and flies will all elicit strikes from aggressive bluefish. Live shrimp will also fool them, as will any small bait fish. I catch them in the summer chumming the deep flats as well. Anglers can read more about Fishing for Bluefish in this detailed article.
#8 Mangrove snapper
Mangrove snapper round out my “great eight” list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Snapper are fantastic eating, pull hard, and are available year round. While clients catch snapper using lures, the majority of fish are taken using live bait. Small Rapala X-Raps and jigs with a Gulp Shrimp catch the majority of snapper that fall for lures.
Mangrove snapper are caught along the mangrove shorelines. However, for the most part, anglers targeting snapper fish man made structure. Bridges, docks, sea walls, and rocky structure all hold snapper. A live shrimp lowered down near and of the above structure can result in a feisty snapper being hooked.
In the summer, we catch some very nice snapper chumming the deep grass flats. This really started several years ago. I have no idea why, but they are certainly most welcome! At times the mangrove snapper actually prefer dead bait and chum. Some bait almost always dies and sinks to the bottom of the well. I use this as both chum and bait to attract and catch snapper. At times a switch to smaller hooks and lighter leaders is required.
I hope you enjoyed my list of top 8 inshore species, along with the tips and locations. I have fished 200 days a year for over twenty years now. These are the fish that my clients and I enjoy catching in the inshore waters of Sarasota. Any angler who would like to experience a Sarasota fishing charter can e-mail or call me!
Clients on Sarasota fishing charters did well this week once again on the deep grass flats. Many species were landed Sarasota jig fishing and chumming with live bait fish. Snook were also caught in New Pass.
Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, jack crevelle, whiting, ladyfish, catfish, and more were landed by anglers on Sarasota fishing charters this week. The Radio Tower, Middlegrounds, and Bishop’s Pt were the top spots. Casting jigs at first light then switching to live bait mid-morning was the most productive pattern. I fished docks in New Pass one morning in search of snook. We landed one and had another hit a topwater plug. The wind and rain showed up, so we headed in early.
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.
Family fishing is a big part of my business this time of year. My Sarasota fishing report usually includes children catching fish and having fun. As a fishing guide I need to adjust my techniques and tactics to my clients experience and skill level. Live bait is a great equalizer. Once fish are chummed up behind the boat, they are easy to catch. Anglers only need to cast fifteen or twenty feet behind the boat to catch fish.
Jigs have been performing very well for me, especially early in the morning. While it might seem more difficult, Sarasota jig fishing is actually quite easy. I can usually work with a client for fifteen minutes, even young anglers, and get them catching fish. Gulp Shrimp are almost like using live shrimp, they are that effective. In some ways they are even better. Pinfish destroy live shrimp in short order, the Gulp Shrimp last longer.
Jigs are the most effective all-round fishing lure in Sarasota and all along the Gulf Coast. A jig is simply a hook with some lead weight at the front and a tail made of hair or plastic. It is simple but extremely effective. The jig dances seductively in the water. It is jerked up sharply then falls helplessly, triggering strikes. Weights and tails are matched to the conditions fished and targeted species. Jigs will catch virtually every species on my Sarasota fishing charters.
There is evidence pointing to the jig as the first artificial bait used by man. And after all these years, it still catches fish! Like many other lures, they come in a myriad of styles and colors, but they can really be broken down into two types; hair and plastic tailed jigs. A painted lead head jig with a plastic body is the most popular of the two here on the Gulf Coast. They are inexpensive, easy to use, versatile, and productive.
Jig heads and bodies
Jig heads come in many colors, but white and red are the two most popular. ¼ ounce is the most popular and versatile weight for jig heads. A heavier jig head is required occasionally, such as when fishing deeper water or in strong current. Jigging the passes would be an example of this. 1/8 ounce and even 1/16 ounce jig heads will be used in very shallow water.
Tails also come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Shad and curly tail baits imitate fish while paddle tail and shrimp bodies mimic crustaceans. Both catch plenty of fish. I like Bass Assassin products, but they are by no means the only choices. A basic color selection of white, gold, olive, root beer, and chartreuse in both bait and grub style will cover most situations and angler will face.
One advantage of these types of jigs is the ease with which tails can be replaced and colors changed. They are also very economical. This versatility along with the low cost certainly adds to the popularity of Sarasota jig fishing. I use shad tail jigs most of the time. The Bass Assassin 4” Sea Shad is my favorite soft plastic jig trailer. The main reason I prefer shad tail baits is that they have great built in action. Shad tails have a very realistic swimming motion. This makes it a great choice for novice anglers.
Shad tail jigs are very versatile. They produce for anglers using multiple retrieves. A steady retrieve will mimic a bait fish. The shad tail produces a lot of action. However, the most productive retrieve is the “twitch and fall” technique. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink, then retrieved back using a sharp one to two foot movement. Most strikes occur as the jig falls.
Paddle tail and shrimp tails work well, too. One benefit to these baits is that pinfish and other small fish won’t bite off the end of the tail. These baits work best when the water is cooler and there are more shrimp and less bait fish in the water. Cooler water will also result in fish being more active and aggressive. They will be more active and will readily take a jig.
Scented soft plastic baits such as Gulp are a bit more expensive, but on slow days they can make a big difference. I have had many charters where the Gulp and jig combo out-fished live bait. Color seldom matters, it is all about the scent. The 3” Gulp Shrimp is a perfect size for Sarasota Bay species.
Jigs can also be purchased that are manufactured with nylon or natural fibers. Bucktail jigs have been around a long time. White is the best color. Spro jigs are a quality bucktail jig that is an excellent lure. Pompano jigs are usually made with artificial fibers. Typically, they have a heavy head and a short tail. While very productive, hair jigs are not as durable or cost effective as the jig and grub combo is and therefore not as popular. They are a great choice for pompano and speckled trout, but not for bluefish and mackerel.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be great spots to do some jig fishing, as long as the water is clean. Both passes have shallow bars and deep channels and fish can be in either of those spots. In the deeper water, vertically jigging while drifting with the tide is a time-proven technique for pompano and other species. Anglers simply drop a jig to the bottom and drift along while sharply raising the rod tip every couple of seconds, then allow the bait to flutter back to the bottom. Heavier pompano style jigs work very well in this application. Each time the bait hits the bottom it will kick up a puff of sand, imitating a crab or other crustacean. A small piece of fresh or frozen shrimp can be added. This is called “tipping the jig”.
On the shallow bars, casting jigs out and retrieving them back to the boat is the preferred method. Each time the jig hits the bottom, it kicks up a bit of sand. This looks exactly like a crab or shrimp trying to hide. Both pompano jigs and the jig and grub can be used effectively in this application when Sarasota jig fishing.
Jigs on the Sarasota deep grass flats
Jigs are very productive on the deep grass flats. Speckled trout in particular are suckers for a jig and grub combo, but bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, cobia, flounder, sea bass, grouper, jacks, and ladyfish will all readily take a jig. The lure is cast out and retrieved back using a sharp “twitch”, generally from the 10:00 to 12:00 position. Most bites occur as the jig is falling, seemingly helpless.
Anglers who keep the line tight as the jig falls will detect more strikes. A good rule of thumb regarding color is to use light colors in clear water and dark colors in darker water. Glow, white, gold, and silver are good colors when the water is clear. Olive, rootbeer, copper, and other dark colors work great in darker water.
Another popular technique is to fish a jig two feet under a noisy cork. The rig is cast out, allowed to settle, then the rod tip is sharply twitched. This causes the cork to make a loud noise, attracting fish. It also causes the jig to jerk up and then slowly settle back down. The cork not only keeps the lure from hanging in the grass, strikes are easily seen as it disappears. A Gulp Shrimp works great with this technique.
There are times when fish will respond to a steady retrieve while jig fishing. A slow, steady retrieve will produce when the water temperature is down a bit. When Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish are actively feeding on the surface, a very fast retrieve will fool them. Anglers literally can not reel fast enough to get a bait away from a hungry mackerel.
Jigs produce in cooler weather
As the weather cools, the water temperature drops, and the hordes of bait fish that inhabited the bay in the summer migrate to warmer waters, artificial lures become more productive. While lures certainly catch fish all year long, they are even more effective this time of year. And no bait is as versatile or effective on a variety of species as is the lead head jig.
Scented soft plastic baits on a 1/8 ounce jig head are deadly on redfish and snook when fished in shallow water around oyster bars and in pot holes. Root beer is a great color in darker water. The area from Stickney Pt. south to Blackburn Point is a great area to fish in cooler weather There are many oyster bars here and it is more protected on windy days. High tides in the afternoon are the best times to fish.
Potholes in north Sarasota Bay near Long Bar and Whale Key will hold snook and reds when the water is clear. Shallow grass flats on both sides of Sarasota Bay exist from New Pass north. A shallow draft is required for this method of fishing. Shallow water jig fishing is challenging, but rewarding. A 4” or 5” swim bait on a 1/16 ounce jig head is a good choice.
Depending on weather conditions, fishing can be very good in the inshore Gulf of Mexico for both surf fisherman and anglers in boats. Good conditions would be clean, clear water in the mid 60s. Jigs cast from shore will catch pompano, whiting, jacks, mackerel, and ladyfish. Tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can help a lot in the surf. This is particularly true in the winter when the water temperature is lower.
Fishing with jigs in the Gulf of Mexico
Anglers fishing from boats in the inshore Gulf of Mexico will find jigs productive as well. Anglers will target surface activity from breaking false albacore and Spanish mackerel. This is fairly easy fishing when the fish are this active. Just about any lure that is close to the forage in size and color will be devoured quickly. A very fast, steady retrieve will normally produce best.
The jig and grub will produce some very nice snook in area rivers in the winter. Snook migrate up creeks, rivers, and residential canals to survive cold winters. I prefer a slightly larger bait as trophy snook are the target. My favorite is the Bass Assassin 5” Die Dapper swim bait. Dark colors are good with Golden Bream being my go to pattern. There are a lot of downed trees and other submerged cover in the rivers. Jigs with exposed hooks will hang up a bit more often than other lures. Using a soft plastic baits on a special hook that keeps the hook buried will help reduce snags.
A jig with a wide gap, stout hook is required when jig fishing for snook. A 1/8 ounce is a good weight. The jig should fall slowly then reeled back in using a slow, steady retrieve. Snook can become a bit lethargic in the cooler water. However, they need to feed and bluegill, tilapia, and mullet are larger bait fish that the snook feed on. Larger baits tend to produce in this situation.
Small jigs are deadly on panfish when Sarasota jig fishing in area freshwater lakes, ponds, and rivers. Jigs have been used successfully all over the country for decades now. 1/8 ounce and 1/16 ounce jig heads with tiny twister tail and shad tail grubs will produce a lot of fish. Bluegill, crappie, and small bass will take these lures which mimic tiny bait fish that are found in these waters.