Sarasota False Albacore

Sarasota False Albacore Fishing

Sarasota false albacore fishing is incredible! It is one of my favorite forms of angling here in Sarasota, right up there with casting plugs for big snook. Part of what makes it so exciting is that there is much more involved than just fishing. It is a bit like hunting and fishing combined. Patience is required as we tried to figure out the movements of the false albacore, waiting for a good opportunity.

False albacore are a pelagic species. That means they spend most of their time in the middle to upper part of the water column. Bottom structure and other cover is really not a factor, other than bait tends to congregate in those areas. False albacore basically roam the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and devour helpless bait fish.  They are available in Sarasota around Easter and Thanksgiving most years.

Sarasota false albacore fishing

read current Sarasota fishing report

But, it’s not as easy as just seeing where they are, driving over, and casting into them. Will actually, sometimes it is! But most of the time it is not. Most of the time the fish are quite fussy. There are days where they pop up here, pop up there, never stay in one place long enough to get a good shot. That is just part of the game. Most days though, staying patient will result in at least a few good opportunities.

false albacore fishing

There are several factors that add to making the fish finicky. Generally speaking, fishing for false albacore is best when the water is clear. Obviously, that means they can see well. Therefore, longer casts and lighter leaders are required. Also, often times the false albacore are feeding on glass minnows. Glass minnows are very small, sometimes only and inch long. A a 6 inch bait tossed into the middle of that 1 inch bait will not look natural and usually will not draw strike.

Sarasota fishing charters

Tackle for false albacore fishing is pretty basic, though it needs to be an excellent working condition. False albacore make long, fast runs and will test the drag system on the real. They are basically small tuna fish and are fast and powerful. The guides on the rod need to be free of nicks and abrasions. Finally, all not need to be well tied.

Sarasota false albacore fishing

The best all round outfit for false albacore fishing is a 7 foot spinning rod in a medium heavy action. A stiffer butt section is required to subdue a nice false albacore. But, the tip needs to be limber enough to cast a light lure a fair distance. A 3000 series spinning reel spooled up with 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line completes the outfit.

I like to double 4 feet or so of my running line when using monofilament. I do so using a spider hit, but a Bimini Twist is fine as well. Then, I attach a 30 inch section of 20 pound fluorocarbon leader to the double line using a Double Uni Knot. Going is light is 20 pound leader will increase strikes however, Spanish mackerel can be a nuisance. They will cut right through that 20 pound leader quickly. If Spanish mackerel are present, and you can get away with it, bump the leader up to 30 or even 40 pound test.

Sarasota false albacore fishing seasons

Every season is different, but generally speaking Easter and Thanksgiving are the peak times. The fall runs seem to be more reliable. This may be due to the fact that there is less angling pressure in the fall than there is in the spring. It also feels like the fronts that move through in the spring are little more severe.

inshore saltwater fishing

A strong onshore breeze will shut down the Sarasota false albacore fishing. Rough, choppy, dirty water is not to the liking of the fish. Several days of East when will have the water settled down. That is just part of the game when false albacore fishing, and really fishing in general.

Artificial lures

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.

I rarely use live bait when Sarasota false albacore fishing. Artificial lures are very productive and to me just more enjoyable to fish. My number one bait is a #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. White and olive are my two favorite colors. These lures are just the right size and have a great action. They float on the surface and dive down a couple feet when retrieved.

Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are my second choice for Sarasota false albacore fishing. Lighter colors work best. Jigs are particularly effective when the fish are a little deeper in the water column. There will be days when the albacore are up and down. Anglers cast the jig to the last known location of the fish and are allowed to sink before being retrieved back in.

Small Silver spoons are another productive lore for false albacore. Spoons come in all shapes and sizes and can be easily tailored to match the available forage. Spoons cast the mile and can be worked either near the surface or down deeper. They are great all round lower for both false albacore and Spanish mackerel.

Sarasota false albacore fishing techniques

With all artificial lures the technique is basically the same. I like to run on plane as slowly as the boat will stay up and search for signs of fish. Any bait fish dimpling on the surface or birds working will get my attention. I will then stop and patiently scan the area to see if fish are coming up. If nothing materializes, I move on.

Sometimes if I see a big flock of birds sitting there, I will give it more time. This can be an indication of a big school of bait beneath them. Birds will oftentimes sit on the surface like that waiting for the false albacore and mackerel to drive the bait fish to the surface.

 

Sarasota false albacore fishing

Once fish are found, the boat is stopped and I try to determine a pattern in their movements. Here in Sarasota, the fish mostly seem to be moving north to south. If the fish are staying on the surface and not moving the boat can be eased into casting position. I then shut the motor off and allow the boat to drift into casting range and my clients fire off a couple long cast into the fish.

Fast, erratic retrieves are productive

The best retrieve for Sarasota false albacore fishing is usually a very fast and erratic one. The plug and spoon both have this type of action built-in. A fast retrieve with short jerks of the rod tip should produces strike.

The best retrieve with the jig and grub combo is usually to allow the jig to sink a few seconds then reel it back in as fast as humanly possible. But, fishing is not the same every day. If you get into the fish and these retrieves don’t produce, switch up the retrieves and then even maybe the baits until a productive pattern is found.

Fishing Sarasota

This is the ideal situation, and does not happen all the time. More often than not the fish pop up quickly for a few seconds and are moving fast. If the speed and direction can be determined, the boat can be placed in a position to intercept them. If this sounds hit or miss, well that’s because it is! There are times where you just can’t get on them. But that’s part of the challenge and part of what makes it fun.

fishing in Sarasota

While I prefer casting lures to breaking false albacore, trolling can be an effective way to locate them. If the fish are up and down and hard to get on, trolling can be an effective way to hook one. Those Rapala X-Raps do a fine job when trolling. Spoons may be trolled as well, though anglers will need to use a swivel between the leader and the running line. Jigs tend to roll over and are not as effective when trolling.

Using live bait to catch false albacore

While I primarily fish for false albacore with artificial lures, live bait will certainly catch them. One extremely effective technique is to chum with live bait. This is a great technique for children and other inexperienced anglers. It gives them a good chance to catch a big fish without having great casting skills.

A cast net is used to obtain the bait fish. This can be done on the flats just inside the passes or out on the beach itself. Once the well is fall of several hundred frisky baits, the boat is anchored. There are three artificial reefs right off of Lido Beach and these usually hold Spanish mackerel when they are around. Otherwise, I try to find an area where I see fish or just choose a spot that has been productive for me in the past.

Once the boat is anchored a couple handfuls of chum are tossed out behind the boat. I may even take some of the bait fish and chop them up in pieces. If the mackerel and false albacore are around, it won’t be long before they find the chum. Then, it is just a matter of hooking a bait on and tossing it out behind the boat. I hookup should quickly ensue. No weight is used on the line, just a #1/0 hook.

Fly fishing for false albacore

Fly fishing for false albacore is fantastic sport! Other than tarpon, it is the hardest fighting fish that Sarasota offers to visiting fly anglers. The technique is basically the same, as I try to put the boat 30 or 40 feet away from a school of breaking fish. The fly is cast out and the angler strips back as quickly as possible. The strikes are ferocious!

A 9wt fly outfit is best, though if the albacore are run an unusually large, a 10wt will be a better choice. Floating lines are fine as the fish are almost always taken on the surface. A 10 foot tapered leader with a 20 pound bite tippet and a #4 bait fish pattern fly completes the rig. Glass minnows, Crystal Minnows, Clouser Minnows, and D.T. Specials are the top producing flies.

False albacore are generally considered not very good to eat. After catching one of these gallant game fish, angler should hoisted up for a quick photo than get it back in the water as soon as possible.  It is also important to use tackle heavy enough to subdue them in a reasonable amount of time.

The procedure for releasing a false albacore is a bit different than other species. They need water moving through their mouth and over there gills. Therefore, when a fish is being released, the angler throws it headfirst into the water as quickly as possible. This will get the water moving over it skills and it should respond and swim away.

Fishing charters Sarasota, Fl; Additional species

Anglers targeting false albacore do have opportunities for other species. There are days when many Spanish mackerel are seen, but not as many false albacore. The same artificial lures mentioned above will catch a lot of Spanish mackerel. The only real difference is the need to bump the leader up to 40 pound test.

fishing report for Sarasota
King Mackerel

King mackerel also sometimes come in close to shore. These fish can run in excess of 40 pounds. Is very difficult to land one on the light spinning tackle used for mackerel and false albacore. Anglers targeting king mackerel use heavier spinning tackle or medium conventional outfits. The primary technique is to slowly troll large live bait fish such as blue runners and cigar minnows.

Sharks can be plentiful in the inshore Gulf of Mexico off of Siesta Key and Lido Key this time of year as well. The best approach is to catch a small mackerel and cut it into chunks or small fillets. A slightly heavier spinning outfit is used with a 5 foot 80 pound leader and a large #6/0 hook. Anglers can also use a steel leader, the sharks are not nearly as shy as the other species.

So, if you happen to be in Sarasota and the spring or fall and you have this opportunity, give it a try. It is a very cool and unique angling experience. It is a bit like fishing, a bit like hunting, all while sitting on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico on a pretty Florida morning!

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota Fishing Forecast

Sarasota Fishing Forecast

Capt Jim Klopfer has been fishing in Sarasota, Florida since 1985.  He earned his USCG license in 1991has been running Sarasota fishing charters ever since.  In that time he has gained experience that only time can provide.  Here he shares that experience in his Sarasota fishing forecast.  Capt Jim also shares a regular Sarasota fishing report.

Every year is different, but annual fishing patterns tend to repeat themselves.  Our seasons do change, though the change is more subtle.  Slight changes in water temperature will trigger fish migrations.  The length of time the sun is out is a factor as well.  Tactics change with the seasons as well.  Water temperature, bait availability, and other factors will affect how fish feed.  My Sarasota fishing forecast does hold up over time as a guide that anglers can use to predict fish locations and tactics.

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

Most fish species make some type of migration.  Resident fish such as speckled trout, snook, jack crevalle, and redfish stay in a relatively small area, but do change locations.  A cold winter will push them into deeper water in channels and creeks and canals.  As it warms up they will move out into the bays to feed up.  In the summer they will seek the depths of cooler water while snook move out onto the beaches.

Pelagic species move through Sarasota in spring and fall

Other fish species migrate through the area, called “pelagic” species.  They include Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, tarpon, false albacore, sharks, cobia, and more.  Pelagic fish generally school up in good numbers.  They also are very much keyed in to bait.  Bait fish migrate as well and this in turn affects the pelagic species movements.  Sight casting to schools of fish that are feeding voraciously on the surface is incredibly exciting!

Any lure, bait, or fly that is cast into the melee is instantly devoured!  We also have other fish that are seasonal.  These include sheepshead, pompano, bluefish, flounder, sea bass, and more.  While these species are occasionally taken all year long, there are specific times when they are much more plentiful.  All of the fish movements, locations, and techniques will be explained in these Sarasota fishing forecasts.

Sarasota fishing forecast; winter

Weather is the overwhelming factor in winter fishing in Sarasota.  While winters are much milder than other parts of the country, we still experience them.  The water temperature will be the lowest all year, sometimes into the upper 40’s!  That is cold for our fish species.  Here is my Sarasota winter fishing forecast.

Sarasota fishing forecast

Deep flats fishing in Sarasota:

Cold water will push fish off of the flats and into deeper holes.  Speckled trout will be found in channels with deeper water, as will ladyfish and other species.  A free lined live shrimp is very effective.  After a couple of warm days, fish will move back out onto the flats.  Fish that are on the grass flats will be a bit deeper.  Flats in 8 feet to 10 feet of water will be more productive.  Bluefish, jacks, trout and pompano will take a 1/4 ounce jig with a grub tail.  Smaller baits, no longer than 4″, are generally more productive.  By the end of winter, the deep flats should be very productive with Spanish mackerel joining the party.

Fishing Sarasota passes:

When the winds ease up for a couple of days and the water clears, both passes can be very productive.  It is important for the water to be “clean”.  When it is, ladyfish wil be piled up in Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass.  Mackerel, pompano, bluefish, jacks, and other species will be caught as well.  Drifting with the tide while casting or vertically jigging is a proven technique.  Live shrimp either on a jig head or free lined will also catch a lot of fish.

Structure fishing:

Structure such as docks, bridges, seawalls, and rocky bottom will hold fish in the winter.  Any quality Sarasota fishing forecast will include bottom fishing for sheepshead and snapper.  This is very easy fishing as anglers simply find some good structure and fish live or frozen shrimp on the bottom.  Flounder, black drum, redfish, and more will also be landed.  Sheepshead are a very popular winter target for Sarasota anglers bottom fishing.  They will bite in cold, dirty water.  On windy days, docks in residential canals offer some protection.

Surf fishing:

Surf fishing will depend greatly on wind.  Wind churns the water u, making it rough and dirty.  Fishing is poor under these conditions.  However, when the water is calm and clean, silver trout, whiting, pompano and more will be caught.  I live shrimp or piece of shrimp on a #1 hook with just a bit of weight works well.  A shrimp tipped jig is a great choice as well.

Fishing creeks and rivers:

In the winter, snook and jack crevalle migrate up into area creeks and rivers.  Rivers have deep holes and darker water.  This results in significantly higher water temperatures.  Game fish seek the warmer water, as well as the forage.  Capt Jim offers anglers visiting Sarasota a unique opportunity, fishing for large snook in area rivers.  The Myakka River, Manatee River, and Braden River all hold snook, big jacks, redfish, and more.  Read more about Sarasota river fishing.  Rapala plugs and swim baits are generally used as it allows anglers to cover a lot of water.  The scenery is also very cool!  I hope you enjoyed my Sarasota winter fishing forecast!

Sarasota fishing forecast; spring

Spring is a fantastic time of year to be fishing in Sarasota.  The biggest question anglers have to answer is what to fish for!  Just about every species is available this time of year.  Sheepshead are still present early and tarpon will have shown up by late spring, with just about everything else in between.  Sarasota spring fishing can be fantastic!

Sarasota fishing forecast

Spring flats fishing:

Both the deep and shallow grass flats will come alive in spring.  Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jacks, ladyfish, and more will be caught on grass flats in 5″ to 10′ of water.  The flats near the passes will be very productive.  Anglers drift with the wind and tide and cast their baits out, searching for a school of fish.  Most fish will be found in schools or bunches.  Live shrimp and  a 1/4 ounce jig are the two most popular baits.  Shrimp can be fished undr a float or just free lined out behind the boat.

Snook, redfish, jacks, and trout will move into the shallow flats as they warm up and forage becomes available.  It seems like a contradiction, but the largest fish often inhabit very shallow water.  Artificial lures that cover a lot of water are often the best choice.  Plugs, weedless spoons, and light jigs are the top choices.  Low, incoming tides are best.  A live hand picked shrimp can work very well in water that is just a tad deeper.

Sarasota pass fishing in spring:

Both passes will be great options for anglers Sarasota spring fishing.  The rocks in Big Pass will still hold sheepshead, though their numbers will be dwindling.  Snapper will still be plentiful.  Drifting the passes while bouncing a jig will produce a LOT of ladyfish along with mackerel, blues, and pompano.

Inshore Gulf of Mexico fishing

When conditions are right, fishing the inshore Gulf can be world class.  East winds will result in calm, clear water.  Hordes of bait fish will move in, followed by the predator fish.  This is one of my favorite types of Sarasota fishing charters.  Spanish mackerel and false albacore will be seen feeding actively on the surface.  King mackerel, sharks, and even tarpon will be mixed in, especially .  Casting small spoons, jigs, plugs, and flies is great sport!  A chunk of cut mackerel on a large hook with a steel leader will catch some fun sized sharks.

Surf fishing in Sarasota in the spring

Surf anglers Sarasota spring fishing should do well when the water is clear.  Trout, whiting, pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, flounder, and ladyfiish will be caught using both live shrimp and lures.  High tides are best.

Sarasota fishing forecast; summer

Many of the clients that go out on a Sarasota fishing charter are surprised to learn that fishing can be outstanding in the summer.  The key is the abundance of bait through the inshore bays and passes and out on the beach.  Catching bait and using it as chum is extremely effective.  It is very hot, however, and fishing needs to be done early or late.  Heat indexes are very high mid day and the fish normally don’t bite as well.  Get out there early and do some Sarasota summer fishing!

Sarasota fishing forecast

Sarasota summer flats fishing:

Fishing on the deep grass flats from 6′ to 10′ is outstanding in summer.  What I like to do is start out at first light casting jigs.  That bite will last an hour or two, depending on the breeze and overcast.  Once that slows, I move in and load up on bait.  Using my cast net, I fill the well with small live minnows.  I then anchor up-tide and up-wind of a good flat.  Live minnows are tossed out behind the boat, attracting gamefish up behind.  Speckled trout, mackerel, snapper, grouper, bluefish, ladyfish, and more will readily take a live bait in this situation.  Action on the shallow flats will depend on water temperature.  If it gets too warm, fish will move off deeper.  But, as long as the water temperature hangs arounf 85 degrees and bait is present, anglers should succeed.

Sarasota summer snook fishing:

Snook fishing is very good in summer as well.  Just keep in mind that they are out of season and must be released immediately.  Anglers Sarasota summer fishing for snook will find them in the passes and out on the beaches.  Live bait works well when fishing the passes.  The water is deep in spots and the current can be swift.  Large pilchards and thread fin herring along with shrimp, pinfish, and grunts all work well.  Heavier jigs with a large swim bait tail can also produce vertically jigged while drifting.  Out of the beach, it is a completely different situation.  While anglers can use bait, artificial lures and flies work well, and are a better option for shore fishermen.  Any small, white jig, plug, or fly will fool them.  Snook can be seen right i the surf line, cruising the beach.  Sight casting to snook is great sport!

Tarpon fishing off of Sarasota beaches:

Sarasota sees a strong tarpon migration each year in late May and summer.  These fish average 75 pounds and grow over 200 pounds.  Tarpon are the ultimate game fish and the opportunity to cast to them with relatively light tackle is a unique one.  This is not for every angler.  There will be days that no fish are hooked. Tarpon fishing is “big game” fishing and the success rate is lower than that with smaller fish.

Sarasota fishing forecast; fall

Fall is an awesome time to go out on Sarasota fishing charters!  The weather is usually fantastic with cooler temperatures and the crowds are non-existent.  Angling opportunities abound as fishing is good both inshore and in the coastal Gulf of Mexico.  Fall is generally the best time to target Spanish mackerel and false albacore in the Gulf.

Sarasota fishing forecast

Inshore, flats, and passes in the fall:

Just about every inshore species will be available this time of year for anglers Sarasota fall fishing.  Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, pompano, snapper, and ladyfish will be caught on the deep flats.  Jigs, plugs, and live shrimp will all produce.  Chumming with bait fish will be effective until the bait leaves, which is normally around Thanksgiving, but every year is different.  Snook will move back into the bays and scatter out and feed as winter approaches.  Topwater plugs, jigs, and live bait will produce around oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks throughout the area.

Redfish will be schooled up in large numbers on the shallow flats, especially up north near Long Bar.  Weedless spoons and light soft plastic baits work well, but these fish can be spooky!  Passes should be thick with ladyfish, with pompano, Spanish mackerel, and bluefish mixed in. Anglers can find the current Florida fishing regulations at the FWC site.

Fall fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico:

I fish the beaches just off of Sarasota and Siesta Key whenever I get the chance in fall.  The opportunity to sight cast to breaking schools of ten pound false albacore using light tackle is great sport!  On my Sarasota fishing charters, I like to sit out on the beach or slowly idle around in Search of fish.  The three artificial reefs off of Lido Key in Sarasota and off Point of Rocks on Siesta Key.  Rapala plugs and Bass Assassin jigs are cast out into schools of breaking fish and worked quickly.  A hook up is almost assured, especially with mackerel.  Sharks are still fairly plentiful and will hit a piece of cut bait such as mackerel.

In conclusion, this Sarasota fishing forecast will help anglers understand the species, locations, and patterns that will help them catch more fish.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Florida bluefish

Florida Bluefish

Quite a few of my clients are surprised to find out that we have Florida bluefish. Experienced anglers from the Northeast and mid Atlantic are quite familiar with this saltwater brawler. However, Florida has a good population of them as well.

Bluefish are the sole member of the family “Pomatomidae”. They are a pelagic species, meaning they spend their time in the middle of the water column. They are widely distributed throughout the world. Anglers from Maine to the Carolina’s target them from boats, jetties and peers, and the surf. Pound for pound, bluefish are one of the strongest fighting game fish in the sea.  Florida has them in good numbers most of the year.

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

Florida bluefish

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Most of the bluefish that we see in Florida are smaller than their northern brethren. Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide, bluefish average 2 pounds and a 5 pound are is a nice fish. However, though they are smaller, they are just as much fun. This is due mostly to the fact that we fish for them with very light tackle on my Sarasota fishing charters.

Florida bluefish locations

Florida bluefish are caught in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and along the beaches. They prefer clean, clear water and water temperatures in the low to mid 70s. Bluefish school up in large numbers and are very aggressive. Often times bluefish will be seen feeding voraciously on the surface. This is a great opportunity as just about any lure or bait cast into the mix will draw strike.

Florida inshore bays for the most part are fairly shallow. Grass flats abound. Florida bluefish seem to prefer areas that are a mixture of sand and grass in depths of between six and 12 feet deep. Flats and bays near inlets and passes are generally the most productive. Bluefish require a high level of salinity, they cannot tolerate brackish water.

Florida bluefish

Florida bluefish follow baitfish

At one point or another every mile of the Florida coast will experience some type of bait fish run. Predators will usually not be very far behind. This includes Florida bluefish as well. East Coast anglers experience the famous mullet run while on the West Coast it is more thread fin herring and Spanish sardines.

No matter what the bait fish being pursued, there are few angling circumstances that can compete with breaking fish when it comes to pure excitement! The sight of a school of game fish terrorizing hapless bait fish on the surface is exhilarating. Also, anglers know that just about any bait or lower tossed into the mix will draw a strike.

While many anglers target Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and other species, bluefish can be often found in these feeding frenzies. This is one instance whether anglers can bump up the leader to steel and not see a market decrease in strikes. These fish are usually so fired up and aggressive that they will hit a spoon, plug, or jig with reckless abandon.  This is a fun and exciting Sarasota fishing charter!

Florida bluefish

Many bluefish are landed by anglers seeking other species. A very popular technique in Florida is to drift the grass flats while casting a lower or live bait in search of fish. Anglers will encounter schools of Florida bluefish while doing this. When one fish is caught, expect more to follow. Bluefish will sometimes be seen feeding on the surface, but quite often there will be no indication of their presence until one is hooked.

Florida bluefish lures

Florida bluefish are very aggressive and a fast-moving lure will get their attention. Jigs, spoons, and plugs are the most popular artificial lures. If I was targeting bluefish or was fishing in an area where I knew they could be present, I would choose a jig and grub as my preferred lure.

Jigs are my preference when fishing for Florida bluefish for several reasons. Most importantly, they are effective and catch fish. But there are other reasons as well. Bluefish have very sharp teeth and cutoffs will occur. In clear Florida waters, a fluorocarbon leader will produce many more strikes than a steel leader will. For this reason, lures and hooks will be cut off by bluefish. Jigs are relatively inexpensive. They also have one large single hook, making handling and releasing bluefish easier.

Florida bluefish

Spoons are another effective lure when targeting Florida bluefish. A 1/2 ounce spoon is very aerodynamic and will cast a long way on light spinning tackle. Silver is the preferred color in clear water. Most casting spoons come with a trouble hook which can be easily replaced with a single hook if desired. A snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and running line will reduce line twist.

Plugs are very productive when chasing Florida bluefish. It is very exciting to see bluefish blowup on a top water plug! However, there are a couple drawbacks to casting plugs. Plugs are expensive with the average cost being around $10. Several anglers casting into a school of bluefish can lose a fair amount of money quickly! Also, most plugs come equipped with trouble hooks. These can be dangerous when trying to unhook an angry bluefish.

Florida bluefish on a fly rod

Anglers who enjoy catching their fish on a fly rod will find bluefish to be great fun! Since most of the Florida bluefish run between two and 5 pounds, and eight weight outfit is perfect. The best line choice would be an intermediate sink tip line. This will allow the fly to get down in the water column and still be stripped back quickly. As the spin fishing, bluefish respond best to a fast retrieve.

Florida bluefish

A 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch section of 40 pound bite tippet is a good all-around choice. When bluefish are feeding aggressively, the fly choice really isn’t that important. If I had to choose one fly, it would be in all white Clouse Minnow with 3/16 ounce eyes tied on a number one hook. However, just about any bait fish imitations will produce. One trick we use here in Sarasota is to tie are flies on a long shank#1/0 hook. The longer shank acts like a steel leader and reduces cutoffs without reducing the number of strikes.

Florida bluefish on live bait

While casting artificial lures and flies is great fun, many bluefish are caught using live and cut bait as well. Live shrimp and live bait fish are the top live baits. Mullet, squid, and sardines are the top cut baits. In reality, any fish that is legal to keep can be cut up and used effectively as bait.

Sarasota fishing report

Anglers choosing to surf fish almost always opt for cut bait. It really just is a practical decision and is effective. The East Coast beaches tend to have higher waves and rougher surf. Cut bait stays on the hook better during a long cast and with the stronger current and wave action. Bait can be cut into long narrow strips or into chunks. Pier anglers often times use cut bait as well.

The best rig when using cut bait to surf fish for Florida bluefish is the fish finder rig. This consists of a narrow tube with a big clip on. The running line passes through the tube and then is tied onto a swivel. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is attached to the other end of the swivel and then a large hook is attached to the other end of the leader. A pyramid sinker of appropriate weight given the wind and tide is attached using the clip.

Live bait for surf bluefish

Anglers can certainly use live bait when surf fishing as well. This is particularly true on the West Coast of Florida where the wave and tide action is generally more gentle. When using live bait, the best approach is to use the least amount of weight possible. Anglers will find bluefish on the West Coast quite close to shore, often in the first trough.

jig fishing for bluefish

Anglers drifting over the grass flats and in the passes will catch Florida bluefish on live bait. One technique that works really well is to free line the bait. This means that the shrimp is hooked on to the hook with no weight being added to the line. The shrimp or bait fish then swims naturally in the water. Since bluefish are often high in the water column, this is a very effective technique. To reduce cutoffs, a long shank hook is preferred.

Passes and inlets are virtual fish highways that game fish and bait fish use to migrate between the inshore bays and the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. These are natural spots to find bluefish. Currents can be strong in these areas, so artificial lures are usually a better choice. Anglers can cast to rocks and rip rap or bounce a jig vertically along as they drift. Once again, keeping an eye out for surface activity will increase the chances of success.

Bluefish fishing

There are several spots here in Sarasota that consistently produce bluefish. Probably the most reliable area is called the middle grounds. It is a large area with a sandy bottom and grass growing out to 10 feet deep. It lies just north of New Pass on the west side of Sarasota Bay. This spot is adjacent to new pass, which gives it excellent current flow. It is a large area and drifting is usually the best approach.

inshore saltwater fishing

Jigs are the best lure to use when fishing for bluefish at that spot. The fish can be out into the water is deep is 12 feet, and jigs will get down deep enough to cover the water column effectively. Spoons and plugs can be used when fish are seen actively breaking on the surface.

Deep grass flats and passes are productive for bluefish

There are several other flats that produce bluefish in Sarasota. The area between Bird Key and Siesta Key is just east of Big Pass and is another spot that produces bluefish regularly. Further North and Sarasota Bay, Bishop’s Pt., Stephen’s Pt., and Buttonwood are good deep grass flats that produce bluefish.

Both passes can be good spots for bluefish, especially in the cooler months. Fish use these passes to migrate between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Bluefish will often be seen foraging on the surface. Sometimes Spanish mackerel will be mixed in as well as ladyfish. When surface activity is not seen, drifting with jigs will help anglers locate fish.

Point of Rocks off of Siesta Key is a spot along the beach that will concentrate bluefish. There is not a lot of structure along the beach, with the exception of the spot. That is why it attracts so many fish. It is a large area with rocks that protrude out into the water. Bluefish and many other game fish can be caught at the spot.

Bluefish for dinner

In my opinion, bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating quality. The smaller bluefish and the 2 to 3 pound range are delicious! However they do require a bit more care. I bleed any bluefish that I plan to keep. I do this by cutting the gills and putting the fish in the bait well. This will result in the fish pumping all the blood out of its body, making the flesh not quite as dark.

Then, I get the fish on ice as quickly as possible. Bluefish are oily and do not freeze well. Keep only what you need for a meal that evening. There is an area of darker meat on the backside of the fillet. On larger fish, this area can be cut out for cooking. On smaller fillets, it is best to cook it and work around the dark strip if desired. This darker meat is perfectly safe to eat, some people just find it a bit unappealing.

My favorite recipe when preparing bluefish is very simple. I preheat an oven to 400° then cover both sides of the bluefish filet and a tire breadcrumbs. Tire breadcrumbs have plenty of seasoning which makes things nice and easy along with making a nice c crust. Thin lemon slices are placed over top of the fillets in the fishes baked for 8 to 10 minutes. I can then be served with a lemon dill sauce or any other sauce that is preferred. Bluefish are also good grilled, smoked, and used in chowder.

Florida fishing regulations

Florida bluefish regulations can be found HERE.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota crappie fishing

Sarasota Crappie Fishing

Anglers who like freshwater fishing will enjoy Sarasota crappie fishing. Most visitors naturally associate Sarasota was saltwater fishing. However the Sarasota Bradenton area does have some good and really overlooked fishing. Several area watersheds offer good fishing for bream (that is southern for bluegill and other panfish), crappie, catfish, and bass.

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota crappie fishing

Sarasota crappie fishing lakes

The three dominant river systems in Sarasota County and Manatee County are the Manatee River, Braden River, and Myakka River watersheds. All three are similar in that they are freshwater streams which have dams that created reservoirs. The water upstream from the dams is totally fresh, while the portion downstream from the dams is tidally influenced. This creates a really interesting fishery, where bass and panfish mix it up with snook and other saltwater species.

Lake Manatee differs from the other two and that the water release can be controlled at the dam. Lake Evers on the Braden River and Lower Myakka Lake are very simple weir dams. The water level in lake Manatee varies quite a bit depending on the release of water. The water level in Upper Myakka Lake inside of Myakka River State Park fluctuates greatly and is entirely based on rainfall. Lake Evers is quite deep and is a bit more stable due to that factor.

Sarasota crappie fishing

All three lakes have paved boat ramps for voters to access the lakes. Lake Evers and upper Myakka Lake are idle speed only lakes. Lake Manatee has no speed restrictions but does have a 20 hp limit. This results in all three lakes having very little recreational boat traffic and wakes from other boaters.

Sarasota crappie fishing techniques

The same techniques produce crappie in all three lakes. Some anglers use live bait with the Missouri minnow being the most popular. These minnows are commercially grown and are very hardy. They will live all morning in a small bucket of water. They are fished on a #4 hook either under a float or with a light weight to take it to the bottom.

Many anglers, myself included, prefer to use artificial lures when targeting crappie. By far the most popular and effective lure is the jig. Tiny spinner baits can also be effective. A unique and very effective bait is the Blakemore Roadrunner. It is sort of a hybrid between the two, with a jig body and a spinner blade coming off of the eye of the hook.

Sarasota crappie fishing

Florida waters are generally speaking very dark. They are tannin stained and the color of root beer or coffee. Therefore, brightly colored jigs are generally the most productive. Pink, chartreuse, and white are the most effective colors. Often times, a combination of colors works best. For example, a white jig head with a chartreuse curly tail grub body is one of the most effective combinations. A good approach is to use several different colors and see if one pattern emerges as being more effective.

Anglers who get up early will be rewarded when crappie fishing in Sarasota. For the most part, the first light bite is best. This is not always the case but is a good rule of thumb. The two basic techniques when targeting crappie are to cast lures or bait out or troll. Both can be effective, depending on conditions.

Sarasota crappie fishing seasons

Sarasota crappie fishing

We start crappie fishing here in Sarasota in early October. Fish can be taken all year long, but October through March are the prime months. The first cool front or two will have the crappie schooling up. Both lake Manatee and Lake Evers are fairly deep. Crappie will generally school up on the edges of the channels and and deep water over structure. Myakka Lake is quite shallow with the constant depth being 3 to 5 feet depending on lake level.

Trolling is fairly simple and deadly effective. On shallow Myakka Lake the bait is cast out 30 feet or so behind the boat. The boat is then idled along using the gas or trolling motor at a slow speed until fish are located. In the deeper Lake Manatee and Lake Evers, trolling is a bit more nuanced.

Crappie will relate to the channel edges. Therefore, zigzagging over the channel edge is the best approach. Vary lure selection and speed until a productive pattern emerges. Often times the fish will hit on turns. Slack line will cause the lure to fall, then jerk up as the slack is removed. This often times triggers a bite.

By late December or early January depending on the weather, the crappie will have moved up to the bank. Trolling the banks can still be effective. However, many anglers choose to cast to the bank. They can do so using the same artificial lures or live minnows under a small float.

Successful anglers actually use both techniques. They will troll was shoreline until a school of fish is found, then use the live minnows to catch the fish I have located. This is a common technique used and saltwater fishing that works quite well and freshwater also. Shore bound anglers usually opt for live minnows, using several rods out in a spread. Florida does not limit the number of rods that can be used in freshwater.

Sarasota crappie fishing lures

The top artificial lures are jigs, small spinner baits, tiny plugs, and Roadrunners. A 1/16 ounce marabou jig or jig head with a twister tail or shad tail body is preferred. Chartreuse is a great color and has proven to be a great lure for crappie along with bluegill and small bass. White works well, too.

Sarasota crappie fishing

My personal favorite spinner bait is the 1/16 ounce black Beetlespin. This lure has caught many fish for me and clients over the years. The grub body is very simple, but is effective. A tiny spinnerbait with a chartreuse twister tail grub is a good choice as well.

Tiny plugs work well for anglers Sarasota crappie fishing, too. They are very effective for trolling in shallow water as they only dive a couple of feet down. Plugs also tend to catch larger fish. They also work well on small bass and big bluegill. Anglers do have to deal with treble hooks.

Roadrunners are another bait that is both a jig and a spinner. It has a jig head, with 1/8 ounce and 3/16 ounce are the best sizes. A grub body slides on the jig. A spinner blade comes off of the head hear the eye of the hook. This results in a compact bait that casts well, gets down deep, and has a lot of color and flash.

Fly anglers can certainly enjoy crappie fishing along with the spin fishermen. A 3wt or 4wt outfit is perfect. Anglers can use a floating line, but an intermediate sink tip line works better. Small bait fish patterns in white, gold, and chartreuse tied on #6 hooks are a great choice. Fly fishing for crappie is best when the fish move shallow to the banks.

Sarasota crappie fishing; where to fish

Lake Manatee: This lake is several miles long and sits 10 miles east of the interstate. There is a very nice boat ramp located in Lake Manatee State Park There is also a primitive ramp near the fish camp just off of the State Road 64 bridge. The Manatee River below the dam offers very good crappie fishing. However, access is difficult that time of year as the water level is low.

Evers Lake: Also known as Ward Lake, this lake is conveniently located in Bradenton just off of State Road 70 and west of the interstate. There is an excellent ramp at Jiggs Landing, which has bait, tackle, and facilities.

Upper Myakka Lake: This lake sits 10 miles east of Sarasota off of State Road 72. It is shallow with a decent ramp, suitable for boast bass boats as long as the water is up a bit. Anglers should call the park to make sure the ramp is open. The river inside the Myakka River State Park has some deeper holes which are great for kayak and canoe anglers to target crappie.

Benderson Lake: This lake was renovated to create a world class facility for rowing competitions. It is a reclaimed strip pit with a good population of larger crappie. It is electric motor or paddle only. There is a good ramp at the south end of the lake.

Next time you are looking for a different Sarasota angling experience, think about giving crappie fishing a try. Expect some fun, cool scenery, and some good eating! Give me a call if you want to go on a crappie fishing charter.

Florida pompano fishing

Florida Pompano Fishing

Visiting anglers very much enjoy Florida Pompano fishing. Pompano are very beautiful fish that fight incredibly hard for their size and taste great. What more can an angler ask for!

Pompano are found along the entire coast of Florida. Statewide, most pompano are caught by anglers surf fishing. Here in Sarasota, we catch them both off of the beaches and in the inshore waters of Sarasota Bay.  Pompano may be encountered at any time of year. Cooler months are generally the most productive times of year to catch pompano.

Florida pompano fishing

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Pompano look very similar to juvenile permit. They also tend to live in the same environments. Permit have longer fins with a bit of black on the tips. If anglers have any doubt, it is best to err on the side of caution and release the fish.

Florida pompano fishing with jigs

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 produce most of the Pompano landed by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. A close look at a Pompano will reveal a small, inferior mouth. The term inferior mouth refers to the fact that the opening of the mouth is on the underside of the head. This will indicate the method by which a Pompano feeds. It swims with its head down and tail up scatter in the bottom for crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.

This explains why jigs are so productive when targeting Pompano. A jig that is bounced off the bottom kicks up a tiny puff of sand. This very closely mimics the action of a fleeing crab or shrimp. Jigs produce on the beach, in the passes, and in the bays. Bright colors such as red, chartreuse, and white are the most productive patterns.  I use them often on my Sarasota fishing charters.

Florida pompano fishing

Many anglers land Pompano while casting 3 inch to 4 inch jigs while drifting over the deep grass flats. The same Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits that work so well for speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species will also fool pompano. The same jig and fall retrieve is productive. The deeper flats in Sarasota Bay, those between 8 feet and 10 feet deep, produce more pompano. However, they can be encountered over sandbars in as little as 2 feet of water.

While the larger jigs will catch the occasional pompano, when specifically targeting pompano, smaller jigs are often used. Not surprisingly, these are called “pompano jigs”. As noted earlier, pompano have a quite small mouth, so a smaller bite-size jig works well. These jigs are very plain looking. There simply a round jig head with a little bit of dressing, usually synthetic care. Combinations of white, yellow, chartreuse, and red have proven to be effective colors.

There is another type of lure specifically designed to for anglers Florida pompano fishing. They are called “banana jigs”. They are long and slender, and shaped like a banana, thus the name. When jerked up sharply, they fall in a very erratic manner. Pompano find this action irresistible. Some also have a little fly near the hook. Often times pompano will be hooked under the chin with the second little teaser hook.

Florida pompano fishing techniques

Florida pompano fishing

Anglers drifting the deep grass flats simply cast the jig out ahead of the drifting boat, allow it to sink, and work it back in using short hops. The same technique works for those fishing for pompano off the beaches. When the bite is tough or when the water is a bit off-color, tipping the jig with a small piece of shrimp can really make a difference.

If I had to pick one spot to fish for pompano, it would be Big Sarasota Pass. “Big Pass” as we call it has everything a pompano needs. There is an expansive bar at the mouth which will hold schools of pompano at times. Miles of rocky structure on the north end of Siesta Key hold the crustaceans that pompano feed on. Large areas of sand flats in 10 to 12 feet of water have good current flow and also attract pompano.

Jigging for Florida pompano in passes

Jigs work extremely well in the passes. Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass can be very productive spots. For those who don’t know, a pass is basically an inlet. “Pass” is the term used on the Gulf Coast. As the current flows in and out of the passes, pompano will cruise the bottom in search of food. Pompano tend to school up in the passes. Once a productive area is located, that area should be drifted several times. Anglers can catch quite a few in a short period of time.

New Pass can also be a very productive spot to catch pompano. This pass is a bit different.  It is shorter and narrow with deeper water.  Most of the fishing is done west of the bridge.  Pompano can be found in the channel in the deep water.  Bouncing a jig as the boat drifts along is the best approach on a Sarasota fishing charter.

Most of the pompano landed in New Pass are caught on the shallow bars at the mouth of the pass. This is a unique area that is really more like a large saltwater flat.  Yet, it has excellent current flow.  Anglers need to be careful as the water can go from ten feet deep to very shallow quickly.  The best area is from the markers to the south.  The outside bars may produce a few fish as well.

Florida pompano fishing

Florida pompano fishing with live bait

Many pompano are caught using live bait as well. Live shrimp are the most popular bait. They are readily available at every Florida bait shop. While live shrimp or fresh dead shrimp are best, pompano will certainly take a frozen shrimp as well.

There is another bait that’s very effective when targeting pompano, though using it can be a bit more involved. These are called mole crabs, better known as sand fleas. Very few shops keep these, though some do have frozen sand fleas available. Live sand fleas are much preferred to frozen baits. Anglers can purchase a special rake which they use in the surf line to catch the sand fleas. Obtaining sand fleas requires more effort, but many anglers swear by them.

Surf fishing for Florida pompano

One great thing about Florida pompano fishing is that anglers without a boat catch more than their fair share. Surf fishing for pompano is very popular throughout the state. Pompano Beach is even named after this special fish! Surf fishing tactics very a bit on each coast, so I will go into the difference and techniques.

The surf along the Gulf Coast of Florida is generally a bit more gentle than out of the ocean. Starting from the beach and moving out to sea, beaches will have several troughs and bars. Many times the pompano will be in the first trough 10 to 15 feet from shore. This means that long casts are not required.

The best approach for targeting pompano on the West Coast of Florida beaches is to use fairly light spinning tackle, in the 10 pound class. Anglers can then choose to use a quarter ounce jig and cast and retrieve, or to fish with live bait. As stated above, putting a piece of fresh shrimp on a jig head can be the best of both worlds. As an added benefit, other species such as whiting, sheepshead, flounder, ladyfish, and more will take a shrimp-tipped jig.

Anglers choosing to fish with live bait will do well by keeping it simple. A small #4 hook and a split shot or two will get the job done. By using as little weight as possible, anglers will achieve a very natural presentation. It is best if the shrimp is slowly moving along the bottom with the current.

Florida pompano fishing, East Coast

The surf on the East Coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean tends to be a bit rougher. Also, tide differences are more extreme. Lastly, anglers are often have to cast into a stiff breeze. For these reasons, angler surf fishing for pompano on the East Coast use the more traditional style.

Surf rods are spinning rods that are 10 to 13 feet or even longer. They have large spinning reels with high-capacity spools. These long rods allow anglers to make a very long cast and keep the line up out of the crashing waves. After the cast rods are placed into sand spikes. These are simply pieces of PCV tubing that hold the rod upright.

Florida pompano surf fishing rigs

There are several rigs that can be used for this type of surf fishing. The most common when targeting pompano is the “high low” rig. This is simply two different hooks where one is close to the bottom and the other about a foot or so above. A heavy pyramid style weight is at the very bottom. It is not uncommon to catch two fish at a time with this rig.

The other commonly used rig off of the surf is the fish finder rig. This is a device that has a clip to hold on the pyramid sinker with a hollow tube allowing the line to run freely through it. The biggest advantage of this rig is that fish can pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling the weight of the sinker. However, because the bait lies on the bottom it tends to attract more sharks and other undesirable species.

Shrimp and sand fleas are two most popular baits for surf anglers targeting pompano.  Shrimp have an advantage in that they will catch many other species.  Hard core pompano anglers do not want these other species and will opt for sand fleas.  They are a bit more of a specialized bait.  In some areas, clams and mussels are also used.

The fishing technique with both rigs is basically the same and quite simple. The hooks are baited up, and the rig is cast out as far as possible. Once the bait settles, the rod is placed in the sense bite with the line taught. Once the rod tip indicates that a fish is biting the rod is removed from the spike in the hook is set. Click HERE for current Florida pompano regulations.

Pompano recipes

While Pompano are great fun to catch, anglers prize them for their incredible table fare. I am a proponent of catch and release, however I don’t mind if clients keep a fish or two for dinner, and these are really a treat.  Pompano are one fish that I usually cook with the skin on.  It peels right off after cooking.

Pompano are delicious with a very delicate white flesh. The meat has a kind of “buttery” flavor with a unique texture. They are a tad bit oily but in a good way. This means that they are best baked, broiled, or grilled. Pompano do not freeze all that well.  Keep a couple for dinner and release the rest to please other anglers!

Baked Pompano; this is a very simple way to prepare Pompano. The oven is heated to 400°. The fillets are laid on a greased sheet pan and covered with a tire breadcrumbs. They are then bake for 8 to 10 minutes and can be served with a sauce such as lemon dill or teriyaki. This is very simple and the fish are delicious!

Broiled Pompano; broiling is another simple and easy way to enjoy Pompano. I like to prepare a marinade that consists of olive oil, light soy sauce, ginger, and honey or sugar. This gives it that Oriental sweet and sour flavor. The fillet should be marinated for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The fillets are then put on a sheet pan and broiled under high heat 5 inches away from the heat for 6 to 8 minutes.

Grilled Pompano; Pompano are fantastic when grilled as well. I do like to keep the skin on when grilling Pompano. The fillets are seasoned to taste with a homemade or prepared grilling seasoning. Some olive oil or melted butter can be drizzled over top. The fillet is then put on a grill pan and grilled for eight minutes or so. As with the baked Pompano, a sauce can be served on the side.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota Sheepshead fishing

Sarasota Sheepshead Fishing

Sarasota sheepshead fishing is fun for all anglers.  They are a great fish for anglers of all ages and experience levels. They are widely distributed along the Gulf Coast and up the East Coast to New York. Sheepshead put up a great battle and are fine table fair.

Sheepshead are a member of the porgy family.  They arrive in the Sarasota area around Christmas and stay until early April.  The sheepshead run peaks in February and March.  Sheepshead are bottom feeders and are taken almost exclusively by anglers using live, fresh dead, or frozen bait.  Live shrimp are the most popular bait.  They spawn around structure such as submerged rocks, docks, bridges, and oyster bars.

sheepshead fishing

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Many of my northern clients confuse our Sheepshead with their “sheephead”. It is an entirely different species. The northern sheephead is considered a trash fish with no real food value. Our Sheepshead, while difficult to clean, is fantastic eating. Sheepshead also put up a great fight, using their wide bodies to pull hard against the bent rod. Imagine a bluegill on steroids and you have a sheepshead.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing tackle and baits

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

Most anglers targeting sheepshead using spinning tackle. Conventional tackle can be used, especially when fishing vertically. Many anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico prefer conventional tackle. Spinning tackle is certainly more popular for inshore anglers. It allows them to present baits both vertically and also to cast the bait towards some likely structure.

A 7 foot spinning rod with either 12 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line is ideal. A 30 inch piece of 30 pounds fluorocarbon leader is tied onto the running line. Anglers can attach the leader using a line to line not such as the double Uni-knot or a number 10 black swivel. A #1 live bait hook or #3/0 circle hook completes the rig.  Anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico are required by law to use circle hooks.  The reason for this is than invariably other reef fish such as grouper and snapper will be caught.  Circle hooks allow for a healthy release.

sheepshead fishing

Sliding egg sinkers are used to keep the bait on the bottom. The general rule of thumb is to use the lightest sinker possible to get down and hold the bottom. The sinker can be slid onto the running line ahead of a swivel.  Then the leader is attached to the other end of the swivel. The leader can be attached without a swivel.  The sinker is then allowed to ride on the eye of the hook. This is what we term a “knocker rig”. Both allow the sheepshead to pick the bait up and move off without feeling the resistance of the weight.

Dedicated, experienced sheepshead anglers have their favorite secret bait. Sand fleas, oyster crabs, fiddler crabs, and others are well kept secrets. Many anglers consider fiddler crabs in particular the top sheepshead bait. They are an effective bait and are relatively easy to collect. But the reality is that shrimp catch plenty of sheepshead. I use live or frozen shrimp whenever I target sheepshead on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are easily obtained and are very effective

Sarasota sheepshead fishing structure

sheepshead fishing

Sheepshead will almost always be found near some type of structure. Here in Sarasota, we began our sheepshead hunt near the passes. Both big Sarasota pass and New Pass have deep water, good current flow, and plenty of structure. This makes for ideal sheepshead habitat for anglers Sarasota bottom fishing.

The best time to fish the passes is during times of slower moderate current flow. It is just too difficult to fish when the tide is running hard. Anchoring is difficult and a lot of weight is required to keep the shrimp on the bottom. During these times of high current flow, docks and 6 to 10 feet of water that are near the passes can be very productive spots.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing techniques

Anglers fishing the passes can choose to either anchor or drift. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Drifting is a great approach when tides are slack. It allows anglers to cover some water without drifting to quickly over the fish. Snags are more of an issue from a drifting boat on a Sarasota fishing charter.

sheepshead fishing

I anchor most of the time when sheepshead fishing. The boat stays exactly where I wanted to, and once the bite gets going the fishing can be fast and furious. Structure in 8 to 20 feet of water hold most of the sheepshead. Other species such as gag grouper, mangrove snapper, gray snapper, pompano, and flounder will also be taken.

Sheepshead are notorious for their ability to take bait off a hook without being caught. They are world class bait thieves! One mistake many anglers make when sheepshead fishing is trying to “set the hook” when a bite is felt. This really applies to all fishing with live or cut bait.

Here is the technique that I teach my clients when sheepshead fishing on my charters. When sheepshead take a bait, anglers will usually feel a “tap” or series of “taps”. It is crucial that the bait be kept perfectly still while this occurs. Eventually, the angler will feel a steady pull while the rod tip bends. The angler should reel quickly, taking up the slack, then slowly raise the rod tip. This will result in a much higher hook-up ratio. If the fish is missed (which will happen many times) the hook is re-baited and cast back out.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing docks and canals

Sarasota is fairly developed. This means a myriad of residential canals, all of which have plenty of docks. Docks are great places to target sheepshead from December through March. As previously mentioned, docks in 6 to 10 feet of water with a little current flow are perfect. The best technique is to anchor a cast away up current of the dock. Anglers then pitched baited hooks towards the pilings.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Often times we are faced with windy conditions during this time of year. Docks and canals along Siesta Key and Lido Key offer protection from the wind, giving anglers on Sarasota fishing charters the chance to enjoy a productive day when they may perhaps be forced to stay home otherwise. Black drum, redfish, flounder, snook, and other species will take a shrimp meant for sheepshead.

Oyster bars can be an overlooked sheepshead hot spot. The best bars are those that are just covered up on high tide and drop off into four or 5 feet of water. Sheepshead will cruise the edges of the bars in search of oyster crabs and other crustaceans. A hook with just a light split shot will get the job done.

Sheepshead fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

There are several artificial reefs just off the Lido Key beaches. These reefs consist of concrete rubble and the remains of bridges and other structure. They lie in 30 feet of water to miles offshore. When the seas are calm, they can be terrific spots to target sheepshead. I will often times catch my largest fish of the year in these locations. All three inshore reefs hold fish, but all are different. 

The Roehr Reef is the smallest and the closest to shore. It holds sheepshead as well as other bottom fish.  Only three or four boat can fish it at once.  The Fisher Reef has some very good structure and is a bit further out, right off of New Pass.  Several boats can fish there at once.  The Silvertooth Reef has a ton of structure scattered out over a large area.  It is very good for sheepshead along with bottom fish and mackerel.

Natural ledges in the same areas will also hold sheepshead along with mangrove snapper and gag grouper. These ledges are small and difficult to locate, but once found can be highly productive. Most anglers don’t take the time to find a spots, so they get less fishing pressure than do the artificial reefs.The best way to locate these ledges is to key a sharp eye on the bottom machine while trolling. Most anglers do some trolling for king mackerel or Spanish mackerel at one time or another.  This is a great way to find good bottom fishing spots.

Sheepshead fishing top spots in Sarasota

The Rocky structure at the north end of Siesta Key is a fantastic Sheepshead spot in the winter and early spring. Deep water, plenty of structure, and good current flow attract and hold the fish.

Docks along bird key in the northeast part of Siesta Key are proven Sheepshead spots. They are a great option when title flow and the passes is too strong. Also, no matter how stiff the breeze, there is usually a protected side to fish.

Docks and rocks and New Pass are productive as well. New Pass is also a bit more protected from the weather. The new pass bridge is a fish magnet, holding sheepshead and just about every other bottom fish species. Bait is easily obtained at the New Pass bait shop near the bridge.

The Ringling Bridge pilings hold plenty of sheepshead as well. The bridges and 10 to 12 feet of water and has plenty of structure for sheepshead and snapper. Drifting near the pilings with the bait as close as possible is a great technique. The New Pass Bridge, Siesta Drive Bridge, and Stickney Point Bridge all hold fish as well.

Docks in Roberts Bay south of the Siesta Drive bridge hold plenty of sheepshead and black drum. They are great spots to fish when it is blowing hard, offering protection from the open Bay.

The channel edges in the no wake zone in the Intracoastal Waterway between the mouth of Phillippi Creek and the Stickney Point Bridge are another good spots of fish on breezy days.

Artificial reefs off of the Lido Key beaches are easy accessed on a nice day and hold a lot of sheepshead in the cooler months. Anglers can get a list of the reefs and coordinates HERE.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota Mangrove Snapper Fishing

Sarasota Mangrove Snapper Fishing

Anglers Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing experience action, tough battles on light tackle, and terrific eating! Mangrove snapper please anglers of all ages and skill levels on the inshore waters of Florida and beyond.

Mangrove snapper are abundant and widely distributed throughout the southern United States and the Caribbean. Snappers school up in large numbers and usually associate with structure of some sort. Many anglers bottom fish for mangrove snapper offshore. However, they are plentiful inshore as well, and are often the target of anglers seeking a meal. Anglers who would like to discuss a fishing charter can contact me at (941) 371-1390 or captklopfer@comcast.net

Sarasaota mangrove snapper fishing

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing: Tackle and baits

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

As a full time fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida, it is my job to meet my clients expectations. Sarasota is a tourist destination and I get a lot of casual anglers. Mangrove snapper are the perfect fish for these anglers. They are quite aggressive at times, school up in good numbers, pull hard, and taste great. They are basically “saltwater panfish” with white, tasty flesh.

Light spinning tackle is the best choice for anglers targeting mangrove snapper in shallow, inshore waters. A 7 foot rod with ten pound monofilament or 20 pound braided line works well. Snapper can be fussy and bite very lightly at times. Light tackle increases sensitivity, resulting in more hook-ups. If large grouper or snook are also an option, slightly heavier tackle may be in order.

With snapper fishing, “less is more”. The lighter the rig, the more success anglers will have. Mangrove snapper have keen eyesight and can be finicky. A small hook will draw more strikes. In most instances, a #1 live bait hook or a #3/0 circle hook is perfect. Circle hooks are required when fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers should use the minimum weight required to get the bait down. A light leader should be used as well. A 24” piece of flourocarbon leader is a good choice.

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

I live to use a “knocker rig”. This lets the sinker ride right up against the eye of the hook. This allows a snapper to pick the bait up without feeling any weight while keeping the bait right on the bottom. The sliding sinker with “knock” the hook off of most snaps, thus the name. ¼ ounce sinkers work fine in most circumstances. Strong currents may require more weight.

Most anglers go mangrove snapper fishing inshore using live or frozen bait. While snapper will take artificial lures, live bait is best in most applications. The number one bait in Florida is shrimp. Live shrimp is preferred, but plenty of snapper have fallen prey to frozen shrimp. Shrimp is available at every bait shop in Florida and the south east United States.

Live baitfish can be a very effective bait as well, particularly for anglers seeking larger fish. A 2” live pinfish or grunt will not get as many bites, but the fish will be larger. Small bait fish such as pilchards (scaled sardines), threadfin herring, and Spanish sardines are also very good baits. The same bait fish will produce presented as cut bait. Mullet and squid are both good frozen baits that can be cut into chunks or strips and fished effectively on the bottom.

Sarasota fishing charters

In most instances, anglers will have success mangrove snapper fishing inshore by targeting some type of structure. Bridges, docks, and seawalls are all prime examples of man made structure. Oyster bars, natural ledges, and grass flat edges are all examples of natural structure. All will hold mangrove snapper at times. Bait fish presence and tidal flow are factors as well.

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

Passes and inlets are prime snapper fishing spots. The water is usually deeper than the flats. Also, current flow is usually present. Structure such as docks and rip rap in passes and inlets will hold snapper and other species all year long. Current can actually be too strong at times. This is particularly true on the east coast where tides are stronger. Slack tides can be the best option.

Bridges are mangrove snapper magnets! Bridges are generally in water around ten feet deep, which is perfect. They are also normally in narrow spots, which results in good tidal flow. Some bridges are also in “No Wake Zones”, resulting in less waking by passing vessels. Bridges also offer access for anglers without a boat to fish for mangrove snapper.

Oyster bars are terrific spots to locate and catch mangrove snapper. Prime bars have a steep drop off into water that is several feet deep or more. High tide just starting to fall is the best time to fish oyster bars.

Grass flats that drop off sharply are rime snapper spots as well. Here in Sarasota where I fish, there are areas that have been dredged to make fill. This resulted in shallow flats that drop off into 15 feet of water. Mangrove snapper will congregate on these edges. In the Florida Keys, there are “banks” that hold a lot of mangrove snapper. These are basically “humps” with grass that pop up in the open bays.

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing techniques

Anglers fishing for mangrove snapper with live or frozen bait will almost always anchor either up-current of the spot to be fished or directly over the top of it. In water ten feet deep or shallower, it is usually best to anchor a cast away from the structure. In water deeper than ten feet, vertically fishing can be the most effective presentation.

Sarasota fishing calendar

Anchoring is a skill in itself. Wind and tide must be taken into consideration when anchoring. The worst thing an angler can do it to drag the anchor through the fishing spot. This will certainly ruin the spot. Only practice and experience will give anglers the skill they need to anchor up on a spot properly.

Once the boat is anchored, it is time to fish. Live shrimp can be hooked in several ways. The shrimp can be hooked under the horn. This allows for a natural presentation, but also makes it easier for the snapper to take the shrimp off of the hook. Shrimp can be threaded on the hook as well. This works well, even though it kills the shrimp. The fresh juices will permeate the water and attract snapper to the bait.

Frozen shrimp and cut bait are fished in exactly the same manner. Frozen shrimp should be threaded onto the hook. Live baitfish work best when hooked through the lips, especially if current is present. Fish can be cut into small chunks or strips. Both methods are effective. Squid work best when cut into long strips.

Hooking snapper

One mistake many anglers make when mangrove snapper fishing inshore is trying to “set the hook”. Once the bait settles on the bottom, anglers will initially feel a “tap”. There may be several “taps”. It is crucial that the angler remain still and not move the bait at all. At some point the snapper will take the bait. The angler will see the rod tip bend steadily. The angler should simply reel quickly, removing the slack while the rod tip is raised up. If the snapper steals the bait, re-bait and try again!

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

 

Here in Sarasota, we have experienced a very productive summer snapper bite. For whatever reason, schools of snapper showed up on the deep grass flats once the bait fish showed up on the flats. Chumming over grass flats in 6 feet to 10 feet of water brought schools of snapper up behind the boat and in an aggressive mood.

Chumming is widely practiced when fishing for snapper offshore. Inshore it can be used, but it must be done judiciously. Chumming in strong tides will have the opposite effect, it will disperse the snapper instead of attracting them to the boat. One technique that is deadly is to use live bait to chum on the deep grass flats. Currents are not as strong on the open flats. This requires a lot of bait, but bait fish are usually abundant in the summer and easily caught.

Inshore Gulf of Mexico

Sarasota has an extensive artificial reef program. Several of these reefs are within a couple miles of the beach. They hold mangrove snapper and other bottom fish. These reefs consist of concrete rubble, bridge remains, and other fish-holding structure. The three nearshore reefs are in thirty feet of water. The best approach is to anchor and fish vertically. However, when the wind and current are both light, anglers can drift the reef. Snags will become more prevalent. The reef coordinates can be found HERE.

Most of the inshore Gulf of Mexico bottom consists of sand. There are some ledges and rocky outcroppings. These are fish magnets! Small ledges that get little fishing pressure can produce for many years if fished judiciously. Once a good ledge is found, anglers should search nearby, there are usually more spots in the neighborhood.

Mangrove snapper fishing with lures

While live bait works best, mangrove snapper will hit artificial lures. Most of the snapper that my clients catch on lures are done so while targeting other species. I use a #8 Rapala X-Rap when fishing for snook and other species. Since snapper share the same spots, they will be caught as well. The small plug closely resembles the small finger mullet and other bait fish that inhabit the inshore bays.

Jigs will also fool mangrove snapper, especially on the deep grass flats. Scented soft plastic baits can be particularly effective. My personal favorite is the 3” Gulp! Shrimp and the color really does not matter.

Mangrove snapper recipes

While I very much promote catch and release, I do not mind if clients keep a few tasty snapper for a meal. This is especially true with our resident species. These snapper are migrating out of the bays and into the open Gulf of Mexico. Snapper are delicious and can be prepared many ways. Here are a few of my favorites. They are all simple and very easy.  Florida snapper regulations are found here.

BLACKENED SNAPPER

A skillet is warmed up to a pretty good temperature. Snapper fillets are dipped in melted butter or olive oil and seasoned to taste with blackening seasoning. The fillets are then cooked for 3 minutes or so on each side.

FRIED SNAPPER

Fish have been fried for a long time! Fillets are covered in a commercial or home made coating and then fried in 350 degree oil.

BAKED SNAPPER

Snapper are placed on a baking sheet and covered with Italian bread crumbs and placed into a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Sarasota Spanish Mackerel Fishing

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.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Read current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing: Tackle

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.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

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.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

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.

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.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

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.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

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 equipment

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.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

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

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Sarasota speckled trout fishing, Sarasota fishing report

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.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

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.

Effective baits

Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

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

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

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.

Trout tackle

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.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

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!

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

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.

Scented baits

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.

Trout tactics

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

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

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 four trout between 15″ and 20″ with one over 20″.  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.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Longboat Key fishing charters

Longboat Key fishing charters

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.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Read current Sarasota fishing report

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.

Longboat Key fishing charters

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.

Longboat Key fishing charters

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.

Longboat Key fishing charters

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.

Inshore Gulf of Mexico fishing

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  Do guests on Longboat Key fishing charters need a license?

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.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236