Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Trolling on Sarasota Fishing Charters

There are many productive methods of catching fish.  Sarasota trolling is a technique that every angler should add to his or her arsenal.  Sarasota trolling techniques will help put more fish in the boat.

Trolling is a technique that has proven to be extremely effective in saltwater fishing for a very long time.  Most anglers envision a large sportfishing boat out on the open ocean, trolling for tuna and marlin.  But trolling can also be deadly using fairly light tackle on inland waters, too.  I am a fishing guide and troll on fishing charters in Sarasota Bay, the Myakka River, and Lake Manatee.  During the cooler months, rivers, creeks, and residential canals offer anglers the chance to catch snook, jack crevelle, tarpon, and other species.  Flats and passes can be productive all year long.  Trolling produces in the Inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall.  Crappie, bream, and bass will hit trolled lures in freshwater lakes and rivers.  Trolling is a great technique to both locate and catch quality fish. 

View current fishing report HERE

Trolling in creeks and rivers

Rivers, creeks, and residential canals abound all throughout the state of Florida and provide good fishing at one time or another.  As the flats cool off, fish will migrate into these areas as they offer protection from the elements.  The best rivers and canals will provide fish the sanctuary of deep water as well as abundant structure.  The entire coastline of Florida offers these opportunities for anglers.

Snook took a big hit in the winter of 2010 as a prolonged cold snap dropped the water temperature into the upper forties.  I believe that if it wasn’t for the deep holes in the rivers where snook spend their winters, the damage would have been MUCH worse.  Numbers of smaller snook are on the increase while larger fish are regularly landed.  These are great signs and while snook were opened to a limited harvest, I still release all of them, even if a slot fish is landed in season.  Snook are magnificent gamefish, it would break my heart to kill one.  There are plenty of other good-eating fish to target, let those big girls go!

Sarasota trolling techniques

Anglers have been catching snook by trolling for many years.  Back in the 50s the Spoonplug was the hot bait, and it still produces to this day.  I enjoy trolling shallow diving plugs and Rapalas are my personal favorite.  Rapala X-Rap Slashbaits in sizes #8 and #10 in, depending on the depth of the water and the size of the available forage, and Jointed BX Minnows work very well trolled as well as cast.  Firetiger, Gold Shiner, and gold are proven colors.  These lures have a great built-in action and strong, sharp hooks.  Most fish caught trolling will be hooked in the mouth, resulting in most being released unharmed.  Another advantage with these plugs is that they float, therefore when the boat is stopped they rise to the surface instead of sinking and getting hung up on the bottom.

Tackle and rigging for trolling is pretty straightforward.  I use the same rods and rigging for trolling as I do when casting the same baits.  A 7’ spinning or baitcasting rod and reel with 40 lb braid and 30” of 40 lb fluorocarbon leader is all that is required.  Then it is simply a matter of letting back a hundred feet of line and driving up the river or canal at idle speed or a touch above.  Florida rivers tend to undulate; the depth will change quite often.  Many times the fish will lie on these breaks or edges, waiting to ambush bait; fish-holding structure is not always visible.  It is surprising how many big fish will bust a plug right out in the middle, giving the angler a good chance to land it.

I have my clients on a Sarasota fishing charter hold the rod when trolling, for several reasons.  First off and most important, it is more enjoyable as they get to feel the strike.  Also, the lures I use don’t dive very deep, so having the client keep the rod near the surface maximizes the depth that the plug will run.  These plugs “vibrate” and if a piece of debris is picked up the angler can usually feel it and then clear the bait.  And finally, it can be a bit tricky removing a rod from the holder when the boat is moving and the rod is bent double!

Trolling inshore

Trolling with light tackle also produces very well inshore.  I do a lot of drifting on my Sarasota fishing charters, both in the passes and over deep expanses of grass.  There are usually other anglers fishing, so courtesy dictates a slow idle back around to make another drift.  Since we will just be easing along, why not drag a bait behind?  My go-to lure is a #8 X-Rap in olive or glass ghost (white), it has been very productive as it matches the bait we have in our area.  Once the treble hooks get beat up, I remove them and add a single 1/0 hook on the rear.  The hook-up ratio remains good and it makes releasing fish MUCH easier.  In fact, some plugs now come with a strong single hook for just this reason.

Again, just let out about half the spool and move at idle speed or just above.  Many times clients catch more fish doing this than they do when drifting and casting.  Spanish mackerel in particular find it difficult to resist a fast moving plug, but bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, trout, and other species will also fall prey to this method.  One technique that often pays off is the twitch the rod tip sharply while trolling along.  This will often times elicit a violent strike!  Fish find the little pause where the plug drops back to be irresistible at times.

Trolling is also a good technique to employ when fish are scattered about over a large area.  The best approach is to move into the tide or wind and when a fish is hooked the boat is stopped.  Anglers can then cast jigs, plugs, or spoons as the boat drifts back over the school.  As action drops off, resume trolling again until another bunch of fish is found.  One benefit to this is that the same lures that are great trolling baits are also equally effective cast out and retrieved back in; there is no need to have separate trolling and casting outfits.

Trolling will produce at the same spots inshore as other methods.  Grass flats in four feet to ten feet of water will hold speckled trout, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species.  Edges of drop offs are good spots to try as well.  Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are terrific spots to troll for Spanish mackerel and bluefish.  These open sandy areas are large and trolling is a great way to locate fish.

Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Sarasota trolling techniques

Sarasota trolling has been a staple of anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico for many years.  Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and cobia migrate along the west coast of Florida.  These game fish follow behind the huge schools of bait fish.  This is their primary forage.   A fast moving plug or spoon mimics the prey.  This is a very easy technique than any angler can employ to catch a big fish!

Plugs are a great choice when Sarasota trolling.  The larger the lip on the plug, the deeper it will dive.  Fairly stout tackle will be required when trolling a large plug.  Conventional tackle in the 30 pound class is perfect.  Heavy spinning tackle will work as well.  A plug that dives down fifteen feet or so is perfect to target a large king mackerel.  I prefer to use a 5′ piece of 80 pound flourocarbon leader instead of wire.  Wire will prevent cut-offs but will limit strikes.

Game fish will hold over hard bottom, ledges, and artificial reefs.  Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program.  Several are close to shore for anglers with a small boat.  Ledges and good bottom can only be located by spending time out on the water.  Once located, these spots will produce year after year.  Bait schools milling on the surface can be an indication of structure below.

Small plugs can also be extremely effective in the Gulf of Mexico off of Siesta Key beaches.  Often times the bait is very small.  A #8 Rapala X-Rap is a prefect match for the smaller forage.  White is a very productive color.  Surface activity will alert anglers to the presence of game fish.  Mackerel and false albacore can be seen terrorizing helpless baitfish on the surface.  The best approach is to skirt the edge of the feeding fish.  Do not drive the boat right through the action.  They will go down and may not resurface.

Trolling lures

Spoons also produce a lot of fish.  Clark Spoons and other manufacturers make special spoons designed for trolling.  Spoons can be used when trolling in a couple of different ways.  Due to boat speeds, some type of device is needed to get the spoon down in the water column.  The easiest method is to tie a trolling sinker to the end of the line.  These are torpedo shaped and come in a variety of weights.  A ten foot long leader is tied to the sinker and then a trolling spoon is tied to the tag end.  This is really quite simple and deadly on Spanish mackerel.

Planers are another device used to get spoons down deeper.  They are effective but are a bit more complicated.  The planer is tied onto the running line.  A twenty foot leader is attached to the planer, followed by the spoon on the tag end.  Planers come in several sizes, but #1 and #2 planers are the ones used in shallow Gulf of Mexico water.  A #1 planer will dive five to seven feet.  A #2 planer will dive down around fifteen feet.

The planer must be “set”.  This is done by slowly lowering the planer into the water after the spoon is let out.  With the ring up, water pressure will pull the planer down.  The planer is then let out behind the boat to the desired length.  The rod is then placed in a holder.  When a fish hits, the planer will “trip”, allowing the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer.  Plugs can be used with planers, but they must have a small lip.  Large lips will trip the planer.

Trolling in freshwater

Speckled perch (crappie, to our northern friends) are a favorite of Florida anglers and trolling for them has become a very popular.  The basics are the same, but the technique is a bit different.  As in other applications, trolling allows an angler to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time.  Jigs are most often used, but Beetlespins are also effective.  The Blakemore Roadrunner is a very productive bait that combines both a spinner and a jig in one lure.  Some anglers use spider rigs and other elaborate set-ups to get as many lines in the water as possible.  I prefer to keep it simple; once again having my client hold the road and enjoy feeling the strike.

Sarasota trolling techniques

On deeper lakes with distinct contour changes, the best approach is to very slowly troll back and forth over edges where the bottom changes depth, crappie will often hold in these locations.  Changing speeds on the turns will cause the lures to rise and fall, triggering strikes.  On shallower lakes, just drive around, skirting the edges of weedlines or over submerged vegetation until the fish are located.  On the flat, shallow Florida lakes, even the slightest depth change can make a huge difference.  Locating a trough or hole in a featureless lake will result in a reliable fishing spot.

So, the next time you are idling along on your favorite lake, river, or inland bay, try dragging a lure out behind the boat.  You never know what might eat it!

Sarasota Summer Fishing Charters

Sarasota summer fishing charters

Fishing Charters in Sarasota during the summer

Sarasota summer fishing charters are a bit complex. It is July and I have a dilemma. The water temperature is in the mid 80s and Sarasota Bay is full of bait fish. Artificial lures can be effective but live bait is tough to beat. Also, the idea of using the early morning “prime time” to catch bait is not appealing. So, what to do? Simple; take advantage of the first light bite by casting lures and mid-morning when things slow down a bit, fill the well with bait and use it to get the fish cranked back up!

Using lures early then switching to live bait later in the morning is a strategy that I use on my Sarasota fishing charters all summer long.  Bait is abundant, particularly on those flats near the passes where I often fish, that the speckled trout and other species can be difficult to fool on a lure. The exceptions to this are the low light periods of dawn and dusk when game fish are actively feeding. I also run a lot of family charters that include novice anglers and children. Live bait is the ticket to bent rods and smiling faces. In these instances, live shrimp can replace lures to take advantage of the early bite. At some point the pinfish will become a nuisance, requiring a change to bait fish.

View current fishing report HERE

Sarasota fishing charters

Artificial Lures

Plug, jigs, and spoons are three very effective and versatile lures on Sarasota summer fishing charters. High tides first thing in the morning will find my clients casting Rapala X-Raps in the (08) size over bars and edges of grass flats. Olive and white are my two top colors. White mimics the “whitebait” that is often present. It works very well in clear water. Olive looks a lot like mullet as well as greenbacks and is a great all-round finish. Baitfish being present at these spots only increases the chance of success.

Snook will also attack Rapala plugs when cast around mangrove shorelines and oyster bars at first light. These baits dive several feet below the surface and are deadly when retrieved back in using sharp twitches with a pause in between. Topwater plugs will elicit explosive strikes on fishing charters! Topwater baits will generally catch less fish, although often times larger ones. The Rapala Skitterprop is my personal choice. This bait has a tapered nose and a propeller on the rear. It make a decent amount of commotion when twitched sharply. Gold is a productive color pattern. Some of the largest trout will be landed using plugs in shallow water at dawn.

Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are great for speckled trout over the grass flats. The venerable 52 series has produced a lot of fish over the years. A recent addition is the MirroDine looks very much live a scaled sardine, which is a prime forage bait for inshore species. These baits work best in slightly deeper water. They will hang up in the grass if used on the very shallow flats.

The lead head jig/plastic tail combination is a proven bait all along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Bass Assassin jigs are very popular in our area. They are available in a wide variety of sizes and colors. My personal favorite on fishing charters is the 4” Sea Shad tail on a ¼ ounce jig head. This is a great bait to use when fishing over deeper grass flats for trout, pompano, and whatever else finds it attractive. Light colors such as gold, silver, and glow work well in clear water while rootbeer and olive are effective in darker water. Lighter jig heads can be used when fishing in shallow water.

Jigs are very versatile along with producing a lot of fish. The best technique is to cast it out ahead of a drifting boat in six feet to ten feet of water that has grass on the bottom. After allowing the bait to sink for several seconds, it is retrieved back using sharp upward twitches. Most bites occur on the fall. Flats that have bird activity or bait fish schooling on the surface are great spots to try. Pinfish can be a problem if the bait is worked too slowly. They will bite the shad tail off when present.

Sarasota fishing charters

Scented baits can make a huge difference, especially when conditions are tough. The best scented bait, by far, is the Gulp! Line of baits. I prefer the 3” Gulp! Shrimp on a ¼ ounce jig head. Color really does not matter that much, it is all about the scent. They really are like using live shrimp! New Penny, glow/chartreuse, and rootbeer/chartreuse are my top producing colors. A Gulp! Shrimp fished ender a noise popping cork is deadly on speckled trout.

Spoons have been around forever, and to this day are still productive lures. They are great for prospecting as they are easy to cast long distances, allowing anglers to cover a lot of water. Spoons basically come in two styles; either weedless with a single hook or with a treble hook. Gold and silver are the two most popular finishes. Weedless spoons are great for enticing redfish in very shallow water. The treble hook version is a good choice when fishing open water. Spanish mackerel are particularly vulnerable to a quickly retrieved silver spoon. Spoons work very well whenever fish are seen actively feeding on the surface.

Fly fishers are certainly not to be left out of the action on Sarasota summer fishing charters! A fly looks exactly like the small bait that is prevalent on the flats. A #1 white or white and chartreuse Clouser Minnow is tough to beat. A 7wt or 8wt outfit works well. Floating lines work well in shallow water while an intermediate sink tip line would be the best choice in water over four feet deep.

Catching Bait on Sarasota summertime fishing charters

Weather and tide will play a part in my strategy for the morning. Strong tides and a little breeze will usually result in lures being productive later into the morning. Conversely, a still morning with very little water movement will mandate a switch to live bait earlier than normal. Fortunately, bait is usually pretty easy to acquire this time of year. I prefer a light, eight foot net. It is easier to throw and empty. But, many anglers use nets up to twelve feet in diameter.

Bird activity will give away the location of the baitfish. Shallow flats near passes are prime spots to find scaled sardines (pilchards) and threadfins. Sloping points are great spots. Bait fish will position themselves on the up-tide side. Edges of flats can be good as well. Incoming tides are usually the best time to catch bait. Bait will vary in size. All will work, but small bait can be problematic. It will hang up in the net and is a bit more difficult to cast. Small bait-stealers can also be a nuisance. The perfect sized bait for fishing the deep grass flats is around 2”.

Once located, a good toss or two with a cast net should result in a well full of frisky bait. The ideal situation is when baitfish are dimpling up on the surface. Easing into range quietly should allow the angler to get a good cast over the bait. If bait fish are not visible on the surface, they can be chummed into range using canned mackerel or cat food. The same types of spots will produce. Chumming will also result in small pinfish and grunts being captured along with the other bait fish.

Sarasota fishing charters

Sarasota fishing, Chumming Them Up

Once the bait is obtained, fishing begins. This is a proven tactic on Sarasota summer fishing charters. The technique is pretty simple but as with any other method, subtle nuances can make a big difference. Basically, I anchor up-current of a grass flat in four to eight feet of water. Then, I toss out a handful of bait and if fish are around it won’t take long before they start “busting” the baits on the surface.

Baits are pinned to a 1/0 hook and cast out; a hookup should promptly ensue. A small split shot may be required to get the bait down in the water column. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sharks, mangrove snapper, jack crevelle, flounder, and ladyfish are all commonly caught using this technique over the deep grass. This technique does require a decent cast net, a large live well, and a little patience. A quality cast net is a great investment. It will pay for itself in just a few trips. As with all other fishing equipment, better nets will cost a bit more money. However, the payoff can be non-stop action all morning long.

Sometimes clients choose to finish up a Sarasota fishing charters trying for a snook, redfish, or big jack. This does require that the bait be fairly large, in the 3” range. Smaller bait will not work nearly as well. Anchoring near a mangrove point and chumming will lure the fish into range. I have also landed some large mangrove snapper along with the snook and reds when using this technique. This is a great option as it produces even at mid-day.

Snook fishing

In the summer, snook will school up thick in both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Structure in the passes such as rocks, docks, and bridges will hold fish. Mangrove shorelines with a bit of depth are prime spots as well. Less chum is requires as the baits are larger. The idea is to get the fish excited, not full. Being judicious with the use of chum is a good idea.

Tackle requirements for snook fishing charters are a bit different. Stouter tackle will be required around the structure. A 7 foot rod with 20 lb braided line is a good combination. 30” of 30 lb or 40 lb flourocarbon leader and a 2/0 short shank live bait hook or #4/0 circle hook completes the basic rig. Weight will be required when fishing deep water in the passes with current. A swivel between the braid and leader with the egg sinker on the braid works well. Anglers should use just enough weight to hold the bottom.

Large jack crevelle, redfish, and other species will be taken this way as well. In the late summer, some large mangrove snapper will please anglers on Sarasota fishing charters who seek a fish to invite home for dinner. The rocks at the north end of Siesta Key in twenty feet of water is a very good spot for snapper. The New Pass Bridge is a good spot for both snapper and snook. Occasionally, a large tarpon will be hooked under the bridge!

Anglers that choose to fish on their own can catch plenty as snook right off of the beaches. Snook move out to Sarasota Beaches to spawn in the summer. When conditions are right, which means clear smooth water, snook can be seen right in the surf line. The idea is to see the fish, then determine which way it is moving. A lure, bait or fly is and cast out ahead of the fish. Hopefully a bite ensues.

This really is world-class sight fishing. It offers anglers the chance to see the fish, stalk it, cast to it, and catch it! One of the great things about this type of fishing is that light tackle can be used.  There is very little structure out on the beach for fish to break off on.

In closing, the fishing in the summer can be fantastic! Anglers just need to change tactics a bit. Versatility and the ability to adapt to conditions are the keys to success, along with understanding how the warm water affects the bait and game fish. Some of my most productive Sarasota fishing charters for both action and variety occur in the summer.  Most days we land around eight to ten different species and while I promote catch and release, most clients can take home a meal if desired.   Anglers who want to get in on this great action need to get up early, drink a lot of water, and enjoy some “Hot” summer fishing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Siesta Key snook fishing

Siesta Key snook fishing techniques and tactics

Anglers visiting Sarasota and her beaches might like to try some Siesta Key snook fishing.  Snook are caught all year long using a variety of techniques.

Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida.  They grow large, up to 40 pounds.  Snook will hit both live and artificial baits.  They can be very aggressive or frustratingly fussy.  Snook are challenging, but rewarding.  Snook are available all year long.  Many clients choose to try Siesta Key snook fishing when on one of my Sarasota fishing charters.

I have been running a bunch of family fishing charters this summer.  Most of these trips include children and novice anglers.  This limits the kind of fishing that I can do.  It is difficult to do Siesta Key snook fishing with four anglers.  However, the other day my client received a surprise!  We were chumming with bait fish for speckled trout in six feet of water in the open bay.  Mitch got a bite and the fish dumped the spool!  I fired up the engine, pulled the anchor, and chased it down.  I thought it was a shark, but turned out to be a big Sarasota snook!  They are rarely caught in open water like that.  Snook are schooled up pretty thick in the passes and out on the beach.

Sarasota snook surprise

View current fishing report HERE

Siesta Key Snook Fishing in Summer

Candice headed out on Sarasota Bay on a Sunday afternoon with her step-father to do a little tubing, a little fishing, and enjoy the afternoon on the water. The tide was running out hard and pass crabs were all over the surface. So, they netted a few up, dropped them to the bottom near some rocky structure in Big Pass, and before long she had her hands full with a large Siesta Key snook! It was a tough battle in the swift tide, but Candice subdued the fish, hoisted it up for a quick photo, and released her unharmed to go make babies. She landed several others as well.

Sarasota snook surprise

An over-slot snook caught at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon? Yep. There is no doubt among anglers along the west coast of Florida that snook have made a rousing comeback since the big cold-water fish kill in 2010. Some anglers credit several mild winters for the increase in snook numbers while others feel the strict management of the species is responsible for the great action. Whatever the reason, snook are pleasing fisherman throughout the region.

As a guide in Sarasota, I am out on the water around 250 days a year. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters caught more snook this spring than they had in years, and in places that would not normally be associated with snook, especially open grass flats. Many of the snook are “schoolies” in the 16” to 24” range, but there are plenty of big fish around as well.

Siesta Key snook local movements

Local snook migrations are pretty basic. They move into creeks, rivers, and residential canals in the winter to escape the extreme temperature fluctuations of the flats. As it warms up they migrate out into the inshore areas to feed up, then by early summer most fish are in the passes and out on the beaches in preparation of spawning. The pattern the reverses itself as the fish move back into the bays and eventually back into the creeks if it gets cold enough.

Passes all along Florida’s west coast are full of snook of all sizes right now. Outgoing tides early or late in the day and at night are prime times to tame a line-sider. Live bait will usually produce the most fish. Large pilchards are a prime bait, but hand-picked shrimp, 3” pinsfish and grunts, and as Candice proved, even crabs will entice a hungry snook. Stout tackle is required when fishing in heavy current and around structure. Diving plugs and soft plastics bumped along the bottom will fool wily snook as well.

Siesta Key Beach snook fishing

Sight casting for snook on the beach is great fun and lighter tackle can be used. Snook will cruise the surf line within a few feet of shore in search of a meal. These fish will spook, so a delicate presentation is required. Small white bucktail jigs are very effective, as are shrimp imitations and small plugs. Fly anglers score with white minnow patters such as the D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow.

Sarasota snook surprise

Most fly anglers find the idea of spotting a 28” fish in foot deep gin-clear water, quietly stalking it, presenting a fly and watching the take to be the pinnacle of fishing. Does it really get any better than that? That opportunity does exist from Tampa Bay all the way south to Marco Island. Best of all, very little gear or travel is required and a boat is actually a hindrance!

Sight fishing for snook along area beaches is not a secret among local anglers, but it is not widespread knowledge throughout the country. But, that fact is that anyone with a little stamina to walk, a fly rod, the ability to cast 40 feet and a bit of patience can enjoy this experience. As in all fishing, there are nuances that will help fly caster be more successful.

Snook begin migrating out of the back bays and onto the beaches in April, especially in the southern region, and are usually thick by June. They are out there to spawn, but will certainly take a well presented fly. In fact, fly fishing is probably the most effective approach as these fly lands so softly and the fish are in quite shallow water.

The general weather pattern in the summer is for the wind to lay down around midnight, and blow lightly out of the ease or southeast in the morning. The beach should be calm with relatively little surf. Too much chop will stir the water up, making it very difficult to spot snook. By noon the sea breeze will kick up and it will continue to pick up throughout the afternoon.

Beach snook fishing techniques

The technique is relatively simple. Get out on the beach around 7:30, no need to get there too early as it will be too dark to see any fish. Choose a section of beach that has few swimmers, though that usually isn’t an issue that early. The best fishing will be walking north, with the wind and sun at the anglers back. Armed with a 7wt to 9wt outfit, a long leader with a 25lb-30lb tippet and a #2 white D.T. Special, Crystal Minnow, or any small pattern, the angler heads out, walking 15 feet or so away from the water, with 40 feet or so of line coiled in his hand, ready to make a quick cast. This will give a good vantage point to spot fish.

Most snook will be seen right in the surf line, withing a few feet of shore. There is very little structure on most beaches, therefore any rocks, pilings, or other structure can be very good spots. The same goes for beaches near passes, they can be fantastic places to fish.  Otherwise, look for schools of bait fish or just seeing snook in the water.

Snook will range from loners to quite large schools, but mostly commonly will be seen in groups of several fish. The angler needs to determine which way they are heading. If they are coming towards the angler, he needs only stop, wait for the fish, and present the fly ahead of them. Subtle strips work best. If the fish is heading away, most of the time they are moving slow enough that the angler can walk around and get ahead of them, then present the fly. As in all fly fishing, there will be refusals, but plenty of takes as well. Many of the fish are “schoolies” but there will be some trophy snook fish as well! Anglers may occasionally encounter redfish, jacks, msackerel, and other species as well.

Siesta Key Snook Fishing produces other species

While the equipment requirements are minimal, there are a few things required to be comfortable and achieve success. A had, good polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are a few essentials. Comfortable shoes that are still comfortable when wet are important as well. A fanny pack is practical for toting water, sunscreen, leader material, and some flies. Some anglers fin a stripping basket to be an invaluable tool, keeping fly line out of the surf and not under foot. While the walk back may be into the sun and wind, keep a sharp eye out. It is amazing how fish will suddenly appear!

While sight casting to snook is the most glamorous opportunity, fly anglers do have options during other times of year, particularly in the spring and fall. A couple days of east wind will result in calm, clear water along the beach and this will bring in the bait and of course the gamefish. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species will come within range of a decent caster. Clouser Minnow and D.T. Special patterns are solid producers.

Sarasota snook surprise

Spin anglers are not to be left out when trying to catch snook off the area beaches.  Point of Rocks on Siesta Key and the mouths of both New Pass and Big Sarasota Pass on Lido Key are prime spots.  As in fly fishing, a subtle presentation is important.  Small white lures such as bucktail jigs, soft plastic baits, and plugs all work well.  Anglers who prefer live bait will do well on Sarasota snook using large shrimp, pilchards, and pinfish.  Keeping bait alive in the summer can be challenging.

Seasonal Snook Migrations

Most anglers are aware of the fact that many species of fish migrate along the Gulf Coast and are generally caught at certain times of the year. Spanish and king mackerel along with false albacore and cobia move through in the spring and again in the fall. Tarpon make their big push in the warmer months, starting in early May. Sheepshead are thick in late winter and spring. But, resident fish also make local migrations and none more distinctly that perhaps the most popular inshore gamefish in Florida; snook. So, let’s go through the annual snook migration pattern.

The cycle begins in the winter, when snook have migrated up into creeks, rivers, and residential canals to escape the harsh conditions on the shallow flats. The more severe the winter, the more pronounced this movement will be. The water in these areas will normally be significantly warmer than the open bays, due to deeper holes, protection from the wind, and darker “tannin” stained water. I prefer casting shallow diving plugs for snook in this situation, they allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly and elicit exciting strikes!

As the water warms up in the spring, snook will move out of the creeks, rivers, and canals and scatter out over the inshore bays. They will set up in their typical ambush spots that offer cover, current, and opportunities to feed. Mangrove shorelines with a depth change, grass flats with potholes, sloping oyster bars, docks, and bridges will all hold snook. At this stage snook can be taken using a variety of techniques; live shrimp and baitfish, plugs, soft plastics, and weedless spoons are all effective baits. Outgoing tides early and late in the day and at night are prime times.

Sarasota snook fishing

Spring and Summer Siesta Key snook Fishing

By early May, Sarasota snook will be staging heavily in the passes and at some point will move out onto the beaches to spawn. This is one of the easiest times of the year to catch snook, especially a trophy! Live pilchards are extremely effective, especially if a few freebies are tossed into the structure to get the fish excited. Live pinfish and large shrimp are also deadly. Artificial lures can be used successfully as well, though live bait really shines in this situation.

By mid summer the beaches should be thick with snook. Areas with some type of cover such as rocks or pilings will be hold good numbers of fish. This is a fantastic opportunity to sight cast for snook using light spinning or fly tackle. Small baits that can be presented more delicately will draw the most strikes, white bucktail jigs and flies are a great choice. Live bait works very well, too.

As it starts to cool, the pattern reverses itself as snook move back into the inshore waters and then eventually back into the rivers, creeks, and canals once it gets cold enough. Anglers who take the time to learn and understand local fish movements will enjoy success on a more consistent basis.  Anglers can check the ever-changing snook regulations on the FWC site.

Siesta Key snook fishing in winter

Siesta Key snook fishing

Winter is a great time to catch snook in Sarasota!  Snook migrate up into creeks and residential canals when the water cools off.  They do this to escape the open bays.  Water in creeks, rivers, and canals are often significantly warmer.  Forage migrates into these areas as well.  Best of all, it concentrates snook into smaller areas.  This makes them easier to locate.

I like casting plugs when Siesta Key snook fishing in the cooler months.  Plugs allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly.  They also do not snag the bottom.  Finally, the hook-up ratio is good with the pair of treble hooks.  Speaking of which, care needs to be taken!  Some plug manufacturers use single hooks on their plugs as well.  My favorite plugs are the #10 Rapala BX Minnow and the Jointed BX Minnow in gold and Firetiger.

Phillippi Creek is a reliable snook spot in the winter.  The grand Canal on Siesta Key also offers anglers miles of docks, seawalls, and other structure.  Snook will be found here all winter.  Large jack crevelle will be taken there as well.  Trolling plugs is a great technique to use.  It will both locate and catch fish.

Nearby rivers

There are several rivers that are close to Sarasota and Siesta Key.  The Manatee River, Braden River, and Myakka river offer anglers a unique experience.  The scenery is awesome as is the fishing.  Clients have the chance to catch a trophy snook in a cool setting.  This is a relaxing charter with a “freshwater” feel to it.  I use my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat for this fishing.  A river snook fishing charter is a good option for experienced anglers.

These rivers are a 30 minute to 45 minute drive from the area beaches.  But, it will seem like a world away!  The Myakka River is especially remote-feeling.  It is one of the two designated “Wild and scenic” rivers in Florida.

In conclusion, the next time you are visiting the west coast of Florida, give Siesta Key snook fishing a try.  You might just hook the fish of a lifetime!

 

 

 

Sarasota fishing

Sarasota fishing strategies for success

Anglers doing some Sarasota fishing can expect action and variety on the deep grass flats.  Summer is a great time of year to fish here on the west coast of Florida.

Many different species are landed by anglers Sarasota fishing, especially in the warmer months.  Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, jack crevelle, bluefish, pompano, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, cobia, ladyfish, and sharks are taken on the deep flats.  Snook and redfish are available in the passes and nearby flats.  Summer is a great time to do some fishing in Sarasota!

SSarasota speckled trout fishing

View current fishing report HERE

Sarasota Fishing Charters

The morning dawned clear with a light southeast wind.  Perfect conditions for summertime fishing!  I met my clients at the ramp at Centennial Park in downtown Sarasota.  Pilchards are abundant and easy to net first thing in the morning.  In short order the livewell was full of frisky bait.  After another short run, I anchored up on the edge of a shallow grass flat near Big Pass.  For the next three hours we experienced non-stop action on speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, a cobia, bluefish, ladyfish, sail cats, and small sharks.

The west coast of Florida is famous for great fishing.  Glamour species such as snook, redfish, and the mighty tarpon get a lot of attention from anglers, and for good reason.  However, many of my charters include novice anglers who really just want to bend the rod and catch a bunch of fish.  The deep grass flats in Sarasota are a great place to do just that. 

Sarasota fishing charters

I find the flats adjacent to the passes to be the most consistent summertime spots.  Bird Key, which is across the channel from Lido Key, produces a lot of fish on my charters.  It is an area that has seen a lot of dredging resulting in flats that drop off sharply into deep water.  The combination of depth change, current, and abundant bait attracts and holds game fish. The Radio Tower and Middlegrounds flats are close to new Pass and are also excellent spots to fish.  Early morning is usually the best time to fish, especially on a high tide.   

Rigging is very basic on my Sarasota fishing charters.  Use a spider hitch to double 3’ of the running line and use a double uni-knot to attach 24” of 30 lb leader.  If this seems a bit much, simply tie a small black swivel to your running line then tie on the 30 lb leader to the swivel.  Attach a hook or artificial bait onto the end of the leader and you are ready to fish! 

Sarasota fishing charters

Sarasota Fishing With Live Bait

Live bait is tough to beat for both action and variety.  A live shrimp fished under a popping cork in four to six feet of water over a grassy bottom is a tried and true method to catch a bunch of speckled trout, along with just about every other species in Sarasota Bay.  Tie a 1/0 live bait hook onto the leader then attach a “popping cork” on the line three feet above the hook.  When drifting in water deeper than six feet, I prefer to just free line a bait out behind the boat.  Shrimp are the most popular live bait.  They are available at most local bait shops, are easy to keep alive, and everything eats them!

Live bait fish are extremely effective in the summertime for anglers on fishing charters.  Pinfish, grunts, and whitebait, (pilchards and threadfins) are the predominant baitfish in our area.  A cast net is required for the whitebait.  Cast over visible schools of bait or anchor and use chum consisting of jack mackerel and wheat bread to lure the bait within range.  Pinfish and grunts can be caught with either a hook and line or a cast net.  Catching and keeping baitfish alive is more time consuming, but can pay off big time.  One very popular technique is “live bait chumming”.  This requires a LOT of whitebait, but practically guarantees success.  Simply anchor up tide of a likely flat and toss out handfuls of bait at five minute intervals.  I usually squeeze the bait before throwing them in, this causes the bait to swim erratically on the surface.  Game fish will be drawn in and the action will be non-stop!

Sarasota fishing charter

Fishing With Artificial Lures

A jig/grub combo is by far the most popular artificial lure on the west coast of Florida.  A ¼ ounce jig head with a plastic grub is a deadly bait when fished over the grass flats.  I prefer Bass Assassin baits; gold in clear water and rootbeer or olive in darker water.  Don’t let the myriad of colors and styles confuse you, they all either imitate shrimp or baitfish and are for the most part fished in the same manner.  Cast the jig out, allow a few seconds for the it to sink and twitch the rod tip sharply.  Let the lure fall on a tight line, most strikes occur as the bait is falling, the helpless look triggers the bite.  Keeping the rod tip at ten o’clock and allowing the jig to fall on a tight line will allow anglers to feel more bites.  Grubs with a shad tail or curly tail that mimic baitfish can be worked with a steady retrieve.  Scented soft plastics such as Gulp! baits are more expensive but can make a difference on days when the fish are a little fussy.

Plugs are another great choice for anglers who prefer to cast artificial lures.  Rapala X-Raps in the (08) size are my personal favorite.  They cast well and have great action.  Cast the lure our and retrieve it back to the boat with sharp twitches followed by a short pause.  As in all lure fishing, vary the retrieve until one is found that produces strikes when Sarasota summer fishing!

Sarasota fishing

I was unhooking and releasing a small trout for Jesse when I saw Lily bowed up and heard the drag squeal in protest as a decent fish made a couple of short runs.

Sarasota fishing forecast

“I thought it was a tiddler”, she said, (I learned just that morning that “tiddler” was British slang for something small), “but then it got a lot bigger!”

The mystery was solved shortly as a huge speckled trout came into view. Riding on the line was a hand-sized pinfish. Obviously, the pinny hit the pilchard and the big trout ate it. Lily fought the fish gently and with patience and I slid the net under it, hoisted it up for a quick photo, then released it to live and breed, those big trout are the future of the fishery.

I get asked a lot of questions while performing my duties as a fishing guide, and none more often than,

“What is the best time of year to come to fish in Sarasota?”

For anglers seeking fast action and variety, the answer is easy, and to some a bit surprising; summertime! I have fished with the Derry family from the UK several times, and like many of my clients this time of year, they do not fish a lot at home. I need to be able to put them on a bite that is both productive and easy for novice anglers. Chumming the deep grass flats meets both of those goals when Sarasota summer fishing.

In many fishing situations, the heat of summer can be a tough time to go at it, but not so here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide.  Despite water temperatures in the upper eighties, action on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay is usually fast and furious. The reason for this bonanza is simple; bait, and lots of it! Speckled trout are probably the most commonly caught species in Sarasota Bay, but Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, jack crevelle, juvenile gag grouper, flounder, sea bass, ladyfish, sharks, and more will respond to this technique.

Lido Key fishing charters

Each year is different, but generally speaking, by the first part of June the baitfish show up in big numbers. They are small at first, but grow quite rapidly. Large baits are not needed, or even preferred, for this type of fishing. As long as they are large enough to cast, the gamefish will readily devour them. Smaller baits also make good chum as the fish won’t get filled up as quickly. Just about every shallow grass flat and bar near either Big Pass or New Pass will have schools of bait. Scaled sardines, AKA “pilchards” are the preferred bait, being a bit hardier, but threadfin herring can also be abundant as well and are extremely productive on Lido Key fishing charters.

Chumming for success

The technique of chumming with live bait over the deep grass flats is relatively simple and straight-forward and will work just about any place where large quantities of baitfish can be easily acquired and kept alive. The most important requirements are a large livewell with a good pump and the ability to throw a cast net. There are a lot of videos available online that can teach the art of casting a net, so I won’t get into it here. Once the well is full of frisky baits, angling success is virtually guaranteed for clients!

The best time to catch bait is in the morning on an incoming tide. The current tends to position the bait on the up-tide edge of a flat or bar. Often times they can be seen dimpling on the surface. When this occurs, the boat is eased up to them and then the net is cast over them. On cloudy or breezy days, the bait can be more difficult to locate. A chum mixture of cat food, canned mackerel and bread, or even tropical fish food can be used to lure the bait into range and get them knotted up in a bunch.

Bait will be thick on the beach at times, but boat handling can make catching them a tricky proposition, so be careful when taking that approach. I prefer an 8’ net with ¼” mesh. The mesh size is very important since our baitfish are fairly small. Using a larger mesh will result in a lot of bait getting “gilled”; in other words stuck in the net. Be careful not to over load the well, particularly when the water temperature is high.

Once the well is loaded, or “blacked out” as we say here, it is time to go fishing. Tackle requirements are very basic. A 6 ½’ or 7’ spinning rod with 10 lb line is an ideal outfit. I prefer monofilament line when using live bait; I believe that the stretch in the line is actually beneficial. A 24” piece of 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader is attached to the running line using either a #10 black swivel or using a double uni-knot. A #1 or #1/0 short shank live bait hook finishes off the rig. Anglers may choose a small circle hook as well. A long shank hook will help prevent cut-offs in the event that Spanish mackerel or bluefish show up in the chum.

Sarasota fishing locations

The next decision an angler must make is where to fish. Choosing a flat where the wind and tide are moving in the same direction will generally be the most effective situation. Find such a flat that has good signs such as birds working, fish breaking, or schools of bait on the surface and chances of success will be very high. If no visual signs of fish are found, simply choose a flat that has been productive in the past. In my area in the summer, I look for clear water and lush grass in 6’ to 8’ of water.  Anglers can see a map with great fishing spots.

There are some nuances to chumming; it is not as simple as shoveling bait out behind the boat. The idea is to attract fish and get them excited, not to fill them up. Start with just a dozen or so baits and see how the fish respond. Squeezing the baits slightly will injure the bait, making them even more attractive. The less chum that can be used to keep them behind the boat, the better. Strong currents will require more chum, slack tides less chum. Some days they just “want” a lot to keep them wound up. Some species such as mackerel and ladyfish like more aggressive chumming than trout do. Don’t overlook the baits that die in the well, mangrove snapper often times respond well to it.

Casting topwater plugs for snook and tossing crabs at rolling tarpon is challenging and very exciting. But, there are times when the goal is just to go out and catch a bunch of fish. Chumming with live bait is a deadly technique that is guaranteed to put smiles on the faces of anglers!  Get out there and enjoy dome great Sarasota summer fishing!