Top 8 Sarasota fish species
I have been running Sarasota fishing charters since 1991. We are fortunate to have many different species that we catch in Sarasota Bay. I am going to list my personal top 8 Sarasota fish species. As with all lists, this one is subjective. My criteria are fighting qualities, willingness to take a lure or fly, year long availability, and food value. The first three are obvious choices; snook, trout, and redfish. The others may surprise some anglers.
The top 8 Sarasota fish species are snook, speckled trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevelle, pompano, bluefish, and mangrove snapper. These fish species all fish hard, take both live bait and artificial lures, and are available most of the year. All but jacks are very good eating as well.
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Candice is a local model that I have worked with on numerous articles and projects. Since she has caught every species on this list, I am going to use her to show off each species. As with anything, opinions vary on “best”. That applies to food value as well, we all have our own tastes.
The mighty snook is without a doubt the premier inshore game fish in Sarasota. It is #1 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Snook check all the boxes. They put up a great fight, hit lures and flies, and are available year-round. Snook also taste great, but I release them all to live another day.
Snook make a seasonal migration in Sarasota. They winter in creeks, rivers and residential canals. These areas are warmer, deeper, and have forage to feed on. As it warms up, snook move out into the bays and inshore waters to feed. As summer approaches, snook move out into the passes and out on the beaches to spawn. By late summer, they begin to reverse the process.
River snook fishing is one of my favorite Sarasota fishing charters. I use my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat in the area rivers. Anglers cast Rapala plugs in search of a trophy river snook. The Myakka River, Braden River, and Manatee River all hold snook, as well as other species.
Snook are really a saltwater version of largemouth bass. They have a large mouth to inhale prey, are structure oriented, and have a broad, powerful tail. Most of the popular snook lures started out as bass lures. Topwater plugs, diving jerk baits, spinnerbaits, and soft plastic baits all fool snook. Fly anglers score using small, white bait fish imitations.
Live bait works very well for snook. A large shrimp is deadly fished near docks and bridges. Pinfish and grunts will catch some larger specimens. Chumming with scaled sardines (AKA greenbacks, shiners, white bait ) is a deadly, proven technique.
#2 Speckled trout
I am putting speckled trout in the #2 spot on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. While trout are not the greatest battlers in the water, they make up for it in terms of numbers, availability, aggression, and table fare. They are also a beautiful fish.
Speckled trout are available all year long. They are abundant on the grass flats from very shallow up to ten feet of water in the warmer months. The majority of speckled trout caught in Sarasota are done so by anglers fishing submerged grass in five feet to ten feet of water. Jigs and live shrimp account for most of the trout caught.
In winter they will seek deeper holes, including channels and residential canals if the water temperature gets into the 50’s. Trout will hit a wide variety of artificial baits, with the jig and grub being the most popular artificial bait. Fly anglers will catch them using Clouser Minnow patterns and sink tip lines.
Live bait is also extremely effective for speckled trout. Shrimp are the top bait as they are available at local bait shops all year long. Live bait fish also work well and will produce larger fish. A small 2 inch to 3 inch grunt is a fantastic bait for large trout. Pilchards also work very well. Speckled trout are outstanding table fare! The limit is 15” with one fish over 20”. However, I release all trout over 20”. They are breeder fish, we need them in the water to sustain the fishery.
Redfish are #3 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Some anglers may be surprised to see trout ahead of redfish on my list. The primary reason is that redfish numbers have been down the last several years. For whatever reason, the fish are spawning, but the juvenile fish are not growing. But, redfish are strong, take lures and live baits, are available all year, and taste great.
In the cooler months, reds are caught under docks and around other structure, including oyster bars, bridges, and rocky shorelines. As the water warms up, the fish move out onto the shallow grass flats. Reds are caught in very shallow water. They are also quite spooky and skittish in this very skinny water. Patience, stealth, and long casts are required.
Gold weedless spoons are a top artificial bait. Soft plastic baits rigged weedless are also very productive. Live bait is difficult to fish in the very shallow water, although fishing potholes with live shrimp works quite well. Chumming with pilchards will also produce fish.
In the late summer, redfish school up into big numbers. They can be easily seen on the shallow flats when the surface is calm. This is the best time of year to target reds. They school up before moving out into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these fish are “over slot”, meaning larger than the 27” maximum size to keep. Anglers must be patient, these fish are easily spooked!
#4 Spanish mackerel
Spanish mackerel are #4 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Spanish mackerel are a very under rated game fish, in my opinion. They are extremely fast and make blistering runs. They take lures and flies with reckless abandon. Mackerel are very good when eaten the day they are caught. The only reason they are this far down is that they are around all year long. If the water is too warm or cool, their numbers decrease.
Spanish mackerel can be caught in a variety of ways. Trolling with spoons and plugs in Sarasota Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico produces a lot of fish. Anglers also do well in the passes and over the flats casting jigs, plugs and spoons. Fly fishers score using white D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow flies. No matter what the lure or fly, a fast retrieve usually works best.
Live bait is very effective as well. Free lined live shrimp do well on the flats and in the passes. Also, while Spanish mackerel can be difficult to locate and catch in the summer, chumming with live bait will get them fired up. It is the only reliable technique for catching them in the warmer months.
Mackerel school up in large numbers in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They can be seen feeding on bait fish right on the surface. Working “breaking fish” in the Gulf is great fun! Mackerel will instantly take any lure or fly that resembles a small bait fish.
#5 Jack crevelle
Jack crevelle are #5 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Jacks are the bull dogs of the bay. They rarely leap, instead using their broad sides and forked tail to pull relentlessly. Jacks take artificial baits and flies viciously. Most of the time jacks are encountered in schools. They are quite aggressive when schooled up and are very competetive. Jacks do not have food value. If they were good to eat, they might be #1 on my list!
Like snook, jack crevelle will congregate in Sarasota canals and creeks in the cooler months. Phillippi Creek, Hudson Bayou, and Whittaker Bayou are good spots, as is the Grand Canal on Siesta Key. Trolling small plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap in the 08 size is a good way to locate fish. I usually catch my largest fish in the winter. The same rivers that hold winter snook also will attract jack crevelle.
As it warms up, jack crevelle move into the bays. They move around a lot and are found around oyster bars, seawalls, bridges, and open flats. They are caught blind casting, but it is much more fun to cast to schools of fish breaking on the surface. Area bridges will also hold some big jack crevelle.
Most of the jacks that are caught by clients on my Sarasota fishing charters hit artificial lures. Rapala plugs fool them in the rivers and creeks. Plenty of jacks, though normally smaller, take jigs while drifting the open flats. Chumming mangrove shorelines with pilchards will attract jacks while snook fishing.
Pompano are #6 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Most pompano are caught by anglers using jigs and live shrimp. Pompano pull incredibly hard for their size. Also, they are some of the finest eating there is. Pompano are definitely my favorite fish to eat. Their only failing is that they are not around all year long. Then tend to move through in “runs”.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are good spots to target pompano. A small jig with a heavy head will get down quickly in a strong current. The jig is then bounced up in short motions. This vertical jigging is very efficient as the bait stays in the strike zone as the boat drifts. It is a great way to cover a lot of water and locate fish.
Pompano are also encountered on the deep grass flats. Anglers casting jigs catch them while trout fishing. The same jigs that produce trout, mackerel, and other species will fool pompano. Also specifically targeting pompano can use the same jigs that work well in the passes.
Bluefish are #7 on my list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. North east anglers are very well acquainted with bluefish as they are popular all along the Atlantic coast up to Maine. Our bluefish are smaller, five pounds is a nice one. Blues fight very hard, assault lures and flies, but are only available at certain times of the year. Also, they are only considered fair on the table, though if cared for properly, they are pretty good. Bluefish should be bled out and iced right away, this will make the flesh less dark and strong.
Bluefish can be anywhere or nowhere. They are found both in the passes and on the grass flats. Jigs, plugs, spoons, and flies will all elicit strikes from aggressive bluefish. Live shrimp will also fool them, as will any small bait fish. I catch them in the summer chumming the deep flats as well.
#8 Mangrove snapper
Mangrove snapper round out my “great eight” list of top 8 Sarasota fish species. Snapper are fantastic eating, pull hard, and are available year round. While clients catch snapper using lures, the majority of fish are taken using live bait. Small Rapala X-Raps and jigs with a Gulp Shrimp catch the majority of snapper that fall for lures.
Mangrove snapper are caught along the mangrove shorelines. However, for the most part, anglers targeting snapper fish man made structure. Bridges, docks, sea walls, and rocky structure all hold snapper. A live shrimp lowered down near and of the above structure can result in a feisty snapper being hooked.
In the summer, we catch some very nice snapper chumming the deep grass flats. This really started several years ago. I have no idea why, but they are certainly most welcome! At times the mangrove snapper actually prefer dead bait and chum. Some bait almost always dies and sinks to the bottom of the well. I use this as both chum and bait to attract and catch snapper. At times a switch to smaller hooks and lighter leaders is required.
I hope you enjoyed my list of top 8 inshore species, along with the tips and locations. I have fished 200 days a year for over twenty years now. These are the fish that my clients and I enjoy catching in the inshore waters of Sarasota. Any angler who would like to experience a Sarasota fishing charter can e-mail or call me!