Fishing for Bluefish, Tips and Techniques

Fishing for Bluefish, tips and techniques for anglers to succeed

This blog post will focus on fishing for bluefish. Bluefish are an aggressive, hard fighting fish species. They are unusual in that they are the only fish in the family Pomatomidae. Bluefish widely distributed throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the world, excluding the northern Pacific Ocean. This includes the Caribbean, Coast of Gulf of Mexico, and up the eastern seaboard to the mid Atlantic. They are known by other names in Africa and Australia.

Bluefish are very powerful, using their broad bodies and large, broad tails to put up a terrific fight. They are generally found in fairly large schools, and this adds to the aggressiveness. Competition forms within the group to see who can catch and devour the prey. This makes them a fantastic game fish!

fishing Siesta Key

Fishing for bluefish, baits and techniques

One technique that we use here in Sarasota quite often is drifting the deep grass flats. We simply drift over the submerge grass with the wind and tide while casting out lures in search of game fish. Jacks will oftentimes be found in such locations, even when surface activity is not present. As with bluefish fishing everywhere, they usually school up and are quite aggressive.

The jig and grub combo is a great all round saltwater bait. It is a great choice when targeting bluefish, and really any other inshore species. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch- 4 inch shad tail trailer is a good all-around combo. Color doesn’t matter that much, though when possible it is best to match the clarity of the water. Light-colored baits work best in clear water while darker colored baits work better and water that is stained.

Drift fishing for bluefish

Drifting with either lures, live bait, and cut bait produces plenty of bluefish all over the world. In deeper water with swift currents, heavy jigs and jigging spoons work well. They mimic wounded bait fish and stay in the strike zone the entire time. As with all lure fishing, the baits should match the size of the available forage.

fishing for bluefish

Anglers drifting with chunks or strips of fresh or frozen cut bait catch many bluefish as well. Squid is a top frozen bait. Where possible, most anglers prefer to use fresh caught cut bait. Pogies, spot, sardines, and any other oily fish make great cut baits. These can be fished right on the bottom or drifted higher up in the water column.

Fishing for bluefish with artificial lures

Anglers casting plugs enjoy some terrific light tackle action on bluefish. They will draw some ferocious strikes! Top water plugs are fun and exciting, however shallow diving plugs are generally more productive. Anglers can blind cast likely looking spots such as mangrove shorelines, seawalls, docks, and other structure. Casting plugs into breaking fish is obviously great fun. Two drawbacks to using plugs are the initial cost and having to deal with a pair of treble hooks. Some manufacturers are now offering plugs with a pair of single hooks.

Florida bluefish

Spoons are very effective lures for bluefish as well. They cast the mile, can be worked back aggressively, and closely mimic most bait fish that are in the water. They are reasonably priced and anglers can easily replace the trouble hook with a single J hook.

Fly anglers will do well with any bait fish imitations. An all white or chartreuse over white Clouser Minnow on a number one hook is a great all round choice. One of the few times that blues can be fussy is when they are feeding on tiny glass minnows. This is a circumstance where the fly fisherman can shine, as it is easier to match the hats with a small fly than it is with a heavy artificial lure.

Surface feeding bluefish

Most anglers agree that the most enjoyable bluefish fishing is had when they are feeding on the surface. This is termed “breaking fish” or “busting fish”. However, whatever you call it, it is great fun! Bluefish will herd bait fish to the top, trapping then against the surface of the water. The bluefish will chase the helpless bait out of the water! This can be sen from quite a distance away on a calm day. Diving birds are a great indication of feeding fish.

Florida bluefish

This type of fishing is relatively straightforward. Fish are seen on the surface, and the boat is placed in front of them. Anglers cast lures out in front of the fish, and a strike almost always occurs as they are in an aggressive mood. This can happen close to shore for anglers surf fishing as well. Spoons, plugs, and jigs will all produce fish when they are breaking on the surface.

Trolling for bluefish

Trolling is an excellent technique that many anglers use to locate bluefish, especially when they are not found feeding on the surface. This technique allows anglers to cover a lot of water in a short time. Also, lures can be presented at several different depths to cover the water column as well. Spoons and plugs are the top trolling lures, though jigs will work, too, especially at slower speeds.

Tackle requirements can get complicated for anglers that troll. In most cases, heavier conventional tackle works best. Also, anglers will often use wire line, planers, heavy weights, and downriggers to get the baits down in deeper water. However, in shallow water, it can be as simple as trolling a lipped plug or two out behind the boat.

Tackle for bluefish fishing

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

fishing for bluefish

The tackle an angler uses when targeting bluefish depends on the size of the jacks that may be encountered. After all, the world record is almost 32 pounds! In Sarasota where I fish, most bluefish are in the to to 3 pound range with the occasional fish reaching 6 pounds. For this fishing, the same light to medium spinning tackle that is used for other inshore species works fine.

In Florida and other places where the water is clear, many anglers use flourocarbon leaders. A 30 pound to 40 pound piece of fluorocarbon leader is used between the running line and the lure to help reduce cutoffs. You notice I said “reduce”! Anglers using flourocarbon leaders will lose some tackle. Wires leaders will eliminate cutoffs and many anglers use them, especially in water that has some color or when bluefish are feeding aggressively.

Anglers who fish on the East Coast may need to beef the tackle up a bit. Schools of large bluefish are notorious for tearing up tackle from North Carolina to Maine. Light conventional tackle may be a better choice, especially when drift fishing or trolling.

Surf fishing for bluefish

Surf fishing for bluefish is very popular all along the east coast. Hatteras is a world renowned surf fishing destination. There are also many spots in New England as well as almost all of the mid-Atlantic beaches.  Surf fishing does require more patience as anglers are limited as to where they can fish. They will chase fish up and down the beach should a “bluefish blitz” occur.

surf fishing

Anglers can use both artificial lures and cut bait. Many take a two pronged approach. They will put out a chunk or strip of cut bait on a fairly heavy rod using a “fish finder” rig. This allows for the bait to float around naturally. While waiting for a fish to find the bait, anglers can cast lures out in search of a feeding fish. This works well and keeps the angler busy!

Fly fishing for bluefish

The same decision holds true for fly anglers. While an eight weight outfit is perfect for the Sarasota area, anglers on the East Coast or in the Caribbean might be better off with a 10 weight outfit. With either selection an intermediate sink tip line is the best all round choice. An 8 foot to 10 foot paper leader with a 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the rig.

Florida bluefish

As a fishing guide in Sarasota, I’m on the water around 200 days a year. Rarely do I actually target bluefish. In most instances they are a happy interruption as we target other species on the flats and in the passes. I treat them as a target of opportunity, never turning down a chance when I see a school of bluefish foraging on the surface.

Live bait chumming, Tips to succeed!

Live bait chumming is a very effective fishing technique for many species, including bluefish. It does require some specialized equipment. Extra effort is also needed. But it pays off, big time!

Chumming is a technique anglers have been using ever since they’ve been fishing. This is simply the act of dispersing some type of food in the water to attract fish. Most anglers chum with oily bait fish that have been ground up and frozen. This does work well. Live bait chumming takes us to a whole another level.

fishing for bluefish

It is easy to see why this technique is so productive. Imagining sitting on your favorite lounge chair and then someone walks by with a plate full of warm brownies fresh out of the oven. You’re going to eat one, whether you’re hungry or not! Chumming will get fish excited and bring them up behind the boat where they can be caught fairly easily.

The technique is fairly simple, but does require some specialized equipment. The first point of order is a cast net. Live bait chumming requires a lot of bait. Catching them with a hook and line is just not practical. However, an angler can put several hundred frisky live baits in the well in short order.

Live bait chumming, cast nets

Cast nets come in different sizes and also mesh sizes. An 8 foot cast net is 8 feet long, which is the radius. That equates to a circumference of around 50 feet. That will catch a lot of bait. Obviously, a larger net will catch more bait. However, it is more difficult to cast and to unload.

inshore saltwater fishing

At this point, it just becomes a matter of angler preference. I personally prefer to throw a smaller net such as the 8 foot net four or five times as opposed to a 12 foot net twice. Again, it is just a matter of personal preference, there is no wrong choice. I would consider a 6 foot net to be the smallest that will practically catch enough bait required for this technique.

Mesh size is crucial! The mesh size needs to be geared to both the size of the bait being targeted and the depth of the water being fished. A net with a small mesh will catch smaller bait fish. It will also sinks lower due to the resistance of the net.

Small mesh cast nets work well in shallow water

Here in Florida where I fish, I find a 1/4 inch mesh to be perfect. It will catch both small and large bait fish. And, since I rarely catch bait in water deeper than 3 feet, a slowly sinking that does not hinder my efforts. Anglers who cast a net with a large mass over bait that is a little too small will “gill”the baits.

This means that they will get caught in the middle of the mesh. This will kill the baits and the angler will spend a lot of time removing these fish that are stuck in the net. This is another reason to go with a smaller mesh. Anglers who are forced to catch bait in deeper water will have no choice but to use a larger diameter net with a larger mesh.

Other live bait chumming factors

The final factor in a cast net are the weights on the circumference of the net. Obviously, more weight per foot will cause the net to sink faster. Generally speaking, that’s are designed with the proper amount of weight. Manufacturers realize that a smaller diameter net with small mesh will be used in shallow water. This will not require as much weight. Conversely, a large diameter net with larger mesh will have heavier weights.

chumming with live bait

Once the net is procured, the angler will need to learn to cast. There are many good resources for this, so I will not go into it in depth here. There are several different methods in which to cast a net. I prefer putting the net in my teeth, but not everyone does. This is a good one on YouTube.

Live bait chumming requires a large bait well

The other specialized piece of equipment required for live bait chumming is a large recirculating live well with rounded corners. Putting a lot of bait fish in a confined area requires that freshwater be added constantly. A high-volume pump pushes the water in and a spray nozzle aerator. A drain then allows the old water to be removed. This constant changing of the water and adding oxygen will keep the bait alive and active.

Bait wells need to have rounded corners. Otherwise, the bait fish will swim nose first into a corner and die. The bait fish need to be constantly moving. Most boats these days have these type of wells built in. This is especially true on saltwater fishing boats. These types of systems are easily purchased for anglers fishing on boats that do not have these types of wells already installed.

Live bait chumming, catching bait

Now, let’s go catch some bait! It seems like the bait is either very easy to catch or very difficult to catch. Here in Florida, bait fish are fairly abundant in the summer time. I normally start catching bait in late spring and quit around Thanksgiving. Live bait chumming is the most effective in the summer time when the water is warm.

The best spot to catch live bait for chumming is on the shallow grass flats and bars. Spots such as this close to the passes are particularly effective. The bait fish tend to migrate in from the passes and inlets, especially on an incoming tide. Bridges and markers are also good places to cast net for bait.

The bait fish can often times be seen “dimpling”on the surface. This makes catching them easier. The angler can either drift up on the school of bait or use the trolling motor to get in position. The net is then cast over the bait, allowed to sink, and the net with bait pulled in and emptied into the well. If the sun is up, the bait can often times be seen flashing along the bottom. When conditions are calm, bait can be thick right on the beaches. Anglers just need to use caution in the shallow water.

Chum for the chum

There are times when the angler will need to chum. Yes, we need to chum for the chum! Every angler has his or her “secret”chum mixture. My personal favorite is a mixture of canned mackerel and wheat bread. I use about one third of a loaf of wheat bread for a 16 ounce can of mackerel. This is cheap and very effective. Anglers also use dry commercial fish food successfully. It is easier to store and not as messy.

bluefish on a jig

The approach when chumming for bait fish is to anchor up tied of the area to be finished. Small amounts of chum are then tossed over the stern. If the bait fish are around, it won’t take them long to start eating the chum. Once that happens, a larger piece of chum, about the size of a golf ball, is tossed out. Give it a few seconds, then cast the net over the bait.

As mentioned earlier, this technique requires special equipment and some extra effort. The good news is that catching the bait is the hard part. Once a well full of frisky baits is acquired, fishing is usually pretty easy.

Live bait chumming techniques

Live bait chumming is effective on a wide variety of species in addition to jack crevalle. In the summer time it is used on the deeper grass flats here in Sarasota. Anglers on a fishing charter will also catch speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, sharks, jacks, gag grouper, and tons of ladyfish using this technique.

This method is simple and will allow anglers with very little experience to catch a lot of fish. The boat is anchored upwind and up tied of a likely flat with a grassy bottom in 6 to 8 feet of water. Bait fish are tossed out behind the boat, about a dozen at a time. I will often times squeeze the bait, injuring it. Crippled bait fish swimming helplessly on the surface will attract the game fish in short order.

Once the jack crevalle and other species are seen feeding on the “freebies”, hooked baits are tossed out into the mix. It usually does not take long before a fish is hooked. Chumming gets the fish in an aggressive and active mood and catching them is relatively easy. Anglers can find all Florida fishing regulations at the FWC website.

18 awesome bluefish fishing tips

Bluefish put up a great fight on light tackle! Bluefish are aggressive, leap often when hooked, and pull incredibly hard. I also think they are underrated eating when properly handled. Here are 18 awesome bluefish fishing tips.

fishing for bluefish

Bluefish are well known to anglers all along the East Coast of the United States. They are a staple in the New England area. Our bluefish down here in Florida do not grow quite as large. However, when targeted using light tackle, they are great fun. Bluefish are available year-round but are more plentiful in the cooler months.

Most Florida bluefish are probably caught by anglers targeting other species. Here in Sarasota where I fish, we often encounter them on the deep grass flats. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters drift submerge grass beds and 6 to 10 feet of water. Jigs, plugs, and other lures along with live bait are used.

Bluefish Tips

1)  Jigs catch most of the bluefish for my anglers. Jigs are very effective when the water is a bit cooler, under 70°. This is the time that we normally run into bluefish on the deep flats. Often times, the bluefish will be out an 8 to 10 feet of water. Jigs are more effective as a can get down in the water column where the bluefish are feeding. Jigs are also easy to cast and have a great action.

2)  While bucktail jigs and synthetic care jigs can be used, the jig and grub combo is a better choice. There are several reasons for this. The primary reason is a practical one; bluefish will destroy an expensive buck tail jig after a fish or two. However, with the jig and grub combo, the body is relatively inexpensive and is easily replaced.

best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

3)  1/4 ounce jig heads are the best choice for fishing water of this depth. Anglers fishing deeper water or waters with stronger current may need to bump it up to 1/2 ounce or even a 1 ounce jig head. I don’t find that jig head color makes much of a difference. I often use unpainted jig heads with good success.

4)  In my opinion the shad tail grub is the most effective for Florida bluefish and other species. These tales have a great built in action that mimics bait fish. Paddle tails also work well, though they are more reliant on the angler to impart the action. I have found twister tale baits to be too fragile for saltwater fishing. They draw strikes, but the tales just do not remain intact for very long. Small bait fish can easily remove them.

Fishing for bluefish with plugs and spoons

5)  Plugs are another effective artificial lure for catching bluefish. This is especially true when the fish are working on the surface. We call these “breaking”fish. Shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap Slashbait work very well. Often times the trouble hooks will become damaged after a few fish. I do just as well by removing both trouble hooks and adding a single “J” hook on the rear. The bait remains effective and handling and releasing fish is easier and safer.

6)  Spoons also catch a lot of bluefish. A spoon is a very simple lure. It is basically a piece of shiny metal formed in the shape of a teardrop. A half ounce silver spoon is the perfect size here in Sarasota. These lures cast a long way. This can be important on days when the fish are breaking and moving around a lot.

7)  All three of these lures are worked in a similar fashion. Bluefish for the most part are very aggressive. The jig and spoon are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds. Most plugs float on the surface at rest. Then, the lures are retrieved back in using an aggressive twitch. The slack is then reeled up and the lure twitched again. Often times the bite will occur during that pause.

8)  When bluefish are very active, a fast steady retrieve will often produce. When fish are busting and they are in a feeding frenzy, it rarely matters what you cast at them. As long as the lure remotely resembles the size and shape of the bait fish that they are feeding on, they will generally strike it.

Catching bluefish on live bait

9)  While artificial lures catch many Florida bluefish, live bait produces as well. The number one live bait on the West Coast of Florida is the shrimp. Shrimp are available year-round at all local bait shops. The best approach when using live shrimp is to free line the bait out behind the boat and let it drift with the tide. A small split shot can be used to get the bait down on breezy days or if the current is strong.

10)  Live bait fish can be used successfully as well when targeting bluefish. The number one Florida live bait is the scaled sardine, also known as a pilchard. These bait fish are usually around from June until November. Anglers cast net them on the shallow grass flats. Anglers on the East Coast do well with pogies and finger mullet. Using a long shank hook will help anglers reduce cutoffs when using live bait.

Bluefish leaders

11)  The water is clear and Florida most of the time. While wire leader’s can be used, strikes will be significantly reduced. Most anglers choose to use a ”shock leader”. This is a 30 inch piece of heavier monofilament. 30 pound test to 40 pound test works well. Hooks and lures will still be lost to the sharp teeth of bluefish. However anglers will get more strikes, so it is a trade-off.Northern anglers fishing in stained water for larger fish often opt for wire leaders.

12)  The same rig is used with both live bait and artificial bait. I double the last 3 feet of my running line, whether it is monofilament or braided line. Then, I attach a 30 inch piece of 30 pound test to 40 pound test fluorocarbon leader using a Double Uni Knot. I then attach the lure or hook to the tag end of the leader.

Bluefish locations

13)  Bluefish are found in the bays, passes and inlets, in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. They are seldom encountered very far offshore. As mentioned earlier, grass flats and 5 feet of water to 10 feet of water are prime spots. Anglers drift over the flats casting lures or live baits until the fish are located. Anglers can also choose to “run and gun”in search of breaking fish.

14)  Passes and inlets are great spots to catch bluefish. These are fish highways that connect the inshore bays to the open Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic ocean. Many of these passes and inlets offer access to anglers without a boat. Rocky jetties and peers that line these inlets and passes can be terrific spots. Anglers can drift the passes both casting lures and drifting live baits. Often times the fish will be right out in the middle. Casting to shoreline structure can also be effective. Anglers need to be careful of swift currents and boat traffic when fishing passes and inlets.

Surf fishing for bluefish

15)  Many bluefish are caught by anglers fishing right off the beach as well. This is more of an East Coast technique. While anglers on the West Coast of Florida to catch bluefish off the beach, it is less frequent than on the Atlantic Ocean side.

16)  Anglers surf fishing off the Atlantic Ocean beaches use specialized tackle. Long rods are used, between 10 and 13 feet long. They are matched with large reels and high-capacity spools. These long rods are used to achieve both casting distance and to keep the line up above the crashing waves.

17)  Most angler surf fishing for bluefish use cut bait. Artificial lures can certainly be used, especially on calm days when fish are seen breaking on the surface. Just about any freshly caught legal fish will work. Fresh mullet is tough to beat. The bait fish is either cut into strips or chunks and fished on the bottom. Strips of squid can also be effective.

Fly fishing

18)  Fly anglers love catching Florida bluefish! A 3 pound bluefish puts up an incredible fight on a fly rod. An 8wt outfit is a good all-around choice. Intermediate sink tip or sinking lines work best as bluefish are often found in slightly deeper water. The leader is a 9 foot tapered leader with a short 30 pound bite tippet. Just about any bait fish pattern will produce, with in all white Clouser Minnow being my number one all round choice

As mentioned in the beginning, I think bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating. However, they do require a bit more care. The meat is a little darker and the fish is a bit bloody. Bleeding the fish when it’s caught really improves the quality of the meat. While the fishes alive, the gills or cut and the fish pumps all the blood out of its body. This is best done in the bait well. The bluefish send needs to be put on ice immediately and eaten that they are the next. I find small bluefish and the to pound to 3 pound range to be very good eating.

In conclusion, this article on fishing for bluefish will help anglers catch more of these hard-fighting fish!

Prowler Trolling Motor Review

 Prowler Trolling Motor Review

This post is a Bass Pro Shops Prowler trolling motor review. My name is Capt Jim Klopfer and I have been a fishing guide in Florida since 1991. I have had several of both the bow mounted and transom mounted versions. I am going to give my personal opinion and share experiences that I have had with these products that I have used on my Sarasota fishing charters.

Both versions of the Bass Pro Shops Prowler trolling motors are 12 volt. This is one of the main reasons I chose them. I use trolling motors to work shorelines and adjust my drift. Rarely do I run it long enough or hard enough to drain the battery. These motors are made for Bass Pro Shops by Motor Guide, that is fairly obvious. The primary advantage of the Prowler trolling motors is simple; they cost less.

Bass Pro Shops Prowler TSW55/36B Transom Mount Saltwater Trolling Motor Review

I have owned several of the Bass Pro Shops Prowler 55/36 trolling motor. It has 55 pounds of thrust. The shaft is 36″ long. It is a 12 volt motor. I currently use it on my 14′ Alumacraft Jon boat for my river fishing charters for snook, jacks, and bass. It works fine and the battery will last all morning or afternoon.

Prowler trolling motor review

I also had this motor mounted on the transom of my previous bay boat. It was a 20′ Key West Bay Reef. Surprisingly, it did quite well on such a heavy boat. I mainly used it to correct the boat position as I drifted with the wind or current. However, I also used it out on the beach tarpon fishing, and it moved the boat well enough. It also has a volt meter, which is a handy feature.

Things I liked about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler transom mount trolling motor

Overall, I found this motor to be a decent unit for the price. I had a Motor Guide transom mount trolling motor and prefer the Prowler to it. It was relatively durable and reliable.  I like the tilting mechanism better than the Motor Guide. The battery meter and extending handle are convenient. I give it 3.3 stars out of 5. This is just OK, however this is as good or better than the other saltwater trolling motors from Minn Kota and Motor Guide that I have used.

Things I did not like about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler transom mount trolling motor

Prowler trolling motor review

There are a few downsides to this motor. Some of the hardware and bolts with rust. It is important to rinse it well in fresh water and lubricate the bolts and hardware. This is especially true with the large mounting screws. They will rust and seize up if that is not done. Also, the collar that adjusts the depth does not slide as smoothy as it could. Also, the bushing kinda of “walk” out of the shaft bore. No big deal, just a nuisance to slide them back in.

Click on the image to purchase a Bass Pro Shops Prowler

TSW55/36B transom mount trolling motor.

Bass Pro Shops Prowler SWB55/50B Bow Mount Saltwater Trolling Motor Review

I have had several of the Bass Pro Shops 55/50 bow mounted Prowler trolling motors. I had it on two bay boats; a 20 foot Key West and my current 22′ Stott Craft. The Key West was heavier. It is a 12 volt motor with 55 pounds of thrust and a 50″ shaft. I give this trolling motor a 3.75 out of 5, mostly for the value. It is a decent unit at a very good price.

Things I liked about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler bow mount trolling motor

Prowler trolling motor review

The first thing, obviously, was the price. At less that $500, it is a bargain for a saltwater trolling motor. It was sufficient for my needs, but again, I do not use trolling motors extensively. Anglers who run it all day into wind and current will need a 24 volt of 36 volt unit. It deploys well and I found it to be reliable. I liked the volt meter and extending handle. The breakaway bracket worked very well and is adjustable. I like the “latch and door” on the front which makes taking the motor off of the boat very easy.

Things I did not like about the Bass Pro Shops Prowler transom mount trolling motor

The brackets, hardware, and shaft showed signs of corrosion sooner than I thought it should. Anglers should constantly loosen and lubricate the bolts that adjust the breakaway bracket as well as the “latch and door. Also, the shaft length is borderline on boats with some free board. Perhaps they factor in that a 55 pound thrust motor is not going to be used on a larger boat.

Click on the image to purchase a Bass Pro Shops Prowler ow mounted

SWB55/50B trolling motor.

In conclusion, this post of my Bass Pro Shops Prowler trolling motor review should help anglers decide if this is a good choice for their boat!

Top 27 Freshwater Game fish Species

Top 27 Freshwater Game fish species

The topic of this article is freshwater fishing for the top 27 freshwater game fish species. The majority of fishing done in North America is done in freshwater, as these bodies of water are much more accessible than saltwater coastal areas. There are many different freshwater game fish they can be caught by anglers.

top freshwater game fish

The fish species outlined in this list of the top 25 freshwater game fish species will be in no particular order. However, we will start off with the most plentiful, and therefore most popular, freshwater fish species. Much of the popularity is dependent on how widely fish are distributed, and is really no reflection on its attributes as a game fish.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Panfish

Panfish are probably the most targeted freshwater fish species in North America. That is why they lead off our list of the top 27 freshwater game fish species. They are widely distributed, prolific, easily caught using a wide variety of angling techniques, attractive, and most are very good to eat. Most anglers target panfish using ultralight spinning tackle. However, there are also caught by anglers fly fishing, ice fishing, and even using a simple cane pole.

1) Crappie

top freshwater species

Crappie are the largest fish in the panfish group. They are an extremely popular and widely distributed freshwater fish species. Crappie are a schooling fish, and once located, the action can be fast. Crappie tournaments are becoming more numerous as these fish continue to gain in popularity. They are beautiful fish that put up a decent tussle and are terrific eating.

There are two varieties of crappies; white crappie and black crappie. While there are subtle differences in color patterns and fish habits, for the purposes of this article they will be treated the same.

While crappie can be caught using a variety of lures and baits, the vast majority of crappie are landed by anglers either using live minnows or jigs. Both are extremely effective for crappie fishing. Crappie are generally caught in shallow water in the spring and around structure in deeper water the rest of the year. Trolling with jigs and live minnows is a very effective technique to help locate schools of crappie. Ice fishermen catch them as well.

2) Bluegill

Freshwater fish species

Bluegill are a widely distributed freshwater panfish. They average 6 inches to 8 inches, with 10 inches being a very nice fish. Bluegill are aggressive and prolific. They spawn on the full moons in summer, and this is the time of year many anglers target them. The bite often peaks  on the full moons in June, July, and August. However, they are caught all year long, including through the ice.

Bluegill will readily take artificial lures such as tiny jigs, spinners, and flies. Bluegill are predators that are aggressive for their size. Roostertail spinners, Beetlespins, and small curly tail grubs and marabou jigs are top producing lures. Live baits are also very effective, with worms and crickets being the top choices.

3) Redear sunfish

freswater fishing

Redear sunfish are another very popular member of the panfish family. “Shellcracker” is another name for readier sunfish. They generally grow larger than bluegill. While redear sunfish are native to the southeast portion of the United States, they have been introduced to other parts of the country where they flourish and thrive.

Redear sunfish can be caught using artificial lures, however the majority of them are landed by anglers using live and natural bait. They earned their nickname “shellcracker” due to their affinity to snails and other freshwater mollusks. Earthworms are an excellent choice as a live bait for readears. They often times prefer water slightly deeper than bluegill and other panfish.

4) Yellow perch

yellow perch fishing

Yellow perch are a very tasty panfish that are found in cooler water in the northern states. The Great Lakes area is pretty much the center of their inhabited area. Yellow perch average around ten inches. They school up heavily and eat minnows, crustaceans, and just about everything else. They are a favorite of anglers ice fishing. Yellow perch are one of the best eating fish the swims!

Other panfish species

There are numerous other panfish species available to anglers in North America. They include but are not limited to rock bass, green sunfish, pumpkinseed, red breast sunfish, longear sunfish, war mouth, and spotted sunfish. Most of these species are caught using the same baits and techniques as other sunfish.

Top Freshwater game fish species; BASS

The term “bass” can be a bit confusing. Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass are incredibly popular species in North America. However, they are not really bass, they are sunfish. Striped bass, white bass, and yellow bass are members of the true Bass family. However, since most anglers except largemouth and smallmouth as bass, we will refer to them as such in this discussion.

5) Largemouth bass

Bass fishing

Largemouth bass need no introduction to freshwater anglers. It would be easy to make the argument that they are number one in the list of top 25 freshwater game fish. While originally from the East and Southeast, largemouth bass have been introduced all over North America, and all over the world!

Largemouth bass adapt well to a large variety of environments. This certainly has been a key to their success. They can be caught in large lakes and impoundments as well as farm ponds and small creeks and rivers. Generally speaking, they prefer a slower moving water than do some other fish species. They can also tolerate a wide range of water temperature. This is another factor that has made them so successful.

Largemouth bass average a couple pounds but grow to over 20 pounds. The world record currently is 22 lbs. 4 oz. Largemouth bass can be caught in large schools or also as solitary fish. They are ambush predators with a huge mouth and a broad tail. Largemouth bass will actively chase bait in open water. Often times, bass simply flare there gills and inhale their prey.

Bass tournament influence

Tournaments targeting largemouth bass began in the 60s, and this is a major component in their popularity. Bass fishing tournaments till this day help develop and refine techniques to catch these fish. These tournaments are also often times given credit for the beginning of the “catch and release” philosophy. Anglers quickly learn that catching and killing so many fish was detrimental to the species.

list of top freshwater species

Largemouth bass spawn in the spring. Spring is a relative term, depending on what part of the country they are in. Bass spawn in January and February and the deep South and as late as June up north. Often times, the largest fish are caught during this time of year as the big females are up shallow on the beds. However, largemouth bass of all sizes can be taken year-round.

While some anglers catch largemouth bass using live bait, the vast majority are landed by anglers casting artificial lures. Soft plastic baits, plugs, spinner baits, spoons, and just about any other lure will produce largemouth bass when presented properly. Top live baits include various live minnows and nightcrawlers.

6) Smallmouth bass

smallmouth bass fishing

Smallmouth bass are quite different in habits than their cousins the largemouth bass. “Smallies” are kind of like a mix between largemouth bass and trout. They prefer cooler, clear water and will often be found in flowing rivers and streams. They have a beautiful brown color, earning them the nickname “bronzebacks”.

Smallmouth bass are native to the Midwest, especially the areas in and around the Great Lakes. However, they have been successfully introduced to many parts of the country. They are not as widely distributed as largemouth bass. Smallmouth bass cannot tolerate the heat of southern waters, and are not very common in the western states.

smallmouth bass baits

Anglers targeting smallmouth bass do so using both artificial lures and live bait. Smallmouth bass love rocks and crayfish are one of their favorite foods. Crawfish are very high in protein and are often found around rocks and gravel. Many of the artificial lures use to catch smallmouth bass imitate crayfish.

Smallmouth bass also feed on small minnows that are available in the environments that they live. Small plugs, spinners, and spoons work well. Top live baits would include crayfish, minnows, leeches, and nightcrawlers.

7) Striped bass

freshwater species

Striped bass are a saltwater fish species that migrates up into freshwater to spawn. Stripers can’t tolerate absolute freshwater. They were introduced into larger lakes and have become a huge freshwater success story. Many of the larger lakes in the United States were created in the 60s and 70s. They offered fantastic fishing for largemouth bass at that time. However, as much of the flooded timber rotted and deteriorated, there was less cover for the largemouth bass.

Striped bass are an open water fish and were introduced into many larger lakes and river systems. Fish biologist then added forage fish, primarily shad, for the striped bass to feed on. So now, striped bass have huge lakes to swim in along with a great forage base. This has resulted an excellent striped bass fishing and many lakes and the southern half of the United States, from coast to coast.

In most of these lakes, striped bass are unable to spawn naturally. They do so in freshwater rivers, and often times dams block their access. Therefore, states continue to stock striped bass into lakes as the need arises.

Trolling for striped bass

top freshwater fish species

Trolling is a very effective technique used to catch striped bass. They are often times found in deeper water on channel edges and around other structure. Trolling is a great way to get the lures or baits down deep while covering a lot of water in search of a school of fish. Stripers school up and once fish are found the action can be hot.

Anglers can catch striped bass by casting lures as well. This is particularly true when stripers heard bait fish to the surface and feed on them aggressively. Just about any lure that remotely resembles the shad they are feeding on should produce a strike. They can also be caught in shallower water and in some rivers in the cooler months.

Top artificial lures are jigs, spoons, and plugs. Larger lures tend to catch larger fish. However, the lure should be matched to the size of the available forage. The top live baits by far our live shad and herring. Catching these baits and keeping them alive can be tricky. Anglers slow trolling them do very well.

8) White bass and striper hybrids

striped bass hybrid

White bass are smaller versions of striped bass. They are fairly aggressive fish that school up in large numbers. Hybrids average around a foot or so and feed on small baitfish, worms, and crustaceans. They are widely distributed across the United States centering on the Midwest.

Striped bass and white bass hybrids are another fish management success story. These fish grow very quickly and to a decent size, averaging 3 to 5 pounds and growing as large as 10 pounds. Hybrids are also universally known as “wipers”. Hybrids have been introduced into many of the same lakes as have been striped bass. They are very similar in habits.

Hybrids are infertile, they do not spawn. Therefore, as fish die off and are harvested, they must be replenished. One of the things that makes them such a great fish is the fact that they grow quite quickly. Hybrids are good eating and anglers can keep them with a clear conscience, as they cannot reproduce.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Catfish

There are three species of catfish that stand out above the others; blue catfish yellow or flathead catfish, and channel catfish. There are many other species of bull heads and the like, but these three catfish species are most targeted by anglers. Channel catfish are the smallest averaging 5 pounds are so, with 20 pounds being a very nice fish. Blue catfish and flathead catfish can both reach in excess of 100 pounds! Catfish are prominently listed on our top 27 freshwater game fish.

All three catfish species have a fairly wide range, with channel cats being the most abundant across North America. Catfish inhabit just about any type of water including streams, rivers, ponds, and large lakes. Flathead catfish tend to prefer slow-moving rivers. Blue catfish have become very popular and are being introduced into more and more large lakes to offer anglers the chance to catch a trophy fish.

9) Channel catfish

fishing for freshwater catfish

Channel cats can be caught just about anywhere in the country, though they are less common west of the Rockies. They are the most numerous of the three catfish species. Channel catfish are predators and actually prefer live or fresh baits. They get a bad rap as “bottom feeders”. While they are opportunistic and will eat just about anything, live or fresh cut baits work best. Channel cats occasionally hit artificial lures, but the vast majority are caught by anglers using live, cut, or commercially prepared baits.

Like most catfish, channel catfish have an extremely keen sense of smell. Therefore, they can be caught in very murky water. Channel catfish prefer moving water where possible. They spawn by laying their eggs in the crevices of rocks in rivers and streams. While considered a “warm water” fish, catfish thrive in the northern states. In fact, the Red River runs between North Dakota and Minnesota and into Canada. It is considered the best trophy catfish water in North America.

10) Blue catfish

top freshwater species

Blue catfish grow very large, reaching 150 pounds! They are apex predators that can and will dominate the waters that they inhabit. Their native range is the Mississippi River and it’s tributaries. However, they have been introduced into many other waters, especially large lakes. This offers anglers a true trophy fishery, as blue catfish average 20 pounds and grow much larger. While they prefer fresh water, blue cats can tolerate a bit of salinity. They are becoming abundant in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Virginia considers them a problem as they may displace native species.

Blue catfish eat a lot, grow large, and have few natural predators. Like most catfish, they are opportunistic and will feed on almost anything. However, they prefer large, live bait fish. Most blue cats are caught by anglers using stout tackle and fresh cut bait such as mullet, shad, herring, and suckers. Fairly heavy conventional tackle is used by anglers who target these large fish.

11) Flathead catfish

fishing for catfish

Flathead catfish are the most predatory of the three species. They definitely prefer large, live fish to eat. Flathead cats were originally found in the middle of the country, from the lower Great Lakes to Texas. However, they have been introduced to many other areas of the country. Flathead catfish are considered invasive in some areas. They are also know as “yellow catfish” and “shovelhead catfish.” They average around 20 pounds but grow over 100 pounds.

Flathead catfish prefer live prey, especially fish. Anglers targeting flathead cats use live bluegill, sucker, shad, and other fish that are local forage for these fish. They are often caught at night in very shallow water as they cruise for food. Like the blue catfish, flathead catfish require patience and stout tackle. Slow moving rivers and large lakes are the top spots to target these big catfish species.

The “pike” family

12) Walleye

walleye pike fishing

Walleye are an extremely popular game fish in the northern states and Canada. While they are fun to catch, the reason that they are so prized is for their value on a dinner plate. Walleye are fantastic eating! They do put up a decent tussle, but will not be confused with other game fish.

The Great Lakes and upper Midwest are the center of walleye native populations. They have been introduced into many lakes that are cool enough to support them. Walleye average around 15”, but grow to over ten pounds. Lake Erie in particular is a terrific walleye fishery.

Walleye feed near the bottom, and that is where most fish are hooked. One look at their eyes will tell anglers that they are also nocturnal feeders. Walleye feed on small bait fish along with crustaceans. They are caught by anglers using live baits such as nightcrawlers, minnows, and leeches. They readily take artificial lures, especially jigs and crank baits.

Trolling is a popular and very effective method for taking walleye. Anglers troll both artificial lures and live baits. Slow trolling with live bait is very effective. Anglers use nightcrawlers on harness rigs to slow troll for walleye. Plugs and spoons are used behind downriggers, planer boards, and on flat lines.

13) Sauger

top freshwater game fish species

Sauger are a close, but smaller relative of the walleye. They are similar in appearance and are also very good to eat. Many anglers consider them to be a “river fish”. Sauger are very migratory and will extend their ranges. Dams that interrupt their travels are causing issues with the species, as has over harvest.

14) Northern pike

pike fishing

Northern pike or “Northerns” as they are often called, are terrific game fish! They are found in cooler waters in the northern states and some of the top pike waters in the world are located in Canada. Pike are ambush predators that blend in with weeds and attack their prey. Pike are considered good to eat by many anglers, though they are difficult to clean.

Northern pike are found in streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes of all sizes. They prefer live prey. Larger fish will go after some big baits. Many northern pike are caught by anglers casting lures in and around weed beds in fairly shallow water. Spoons, large plugs, and inline spinners are top baits. Large live baits such as suckers and minnows also produce pike.

While a lot of pike are caught in shallow water, anglers seeking larger pike target drop-offs and other structure in slightly deeper water. Ice fishing is also very productive and popular. Pike are caught through the ice by anglers using lures such as jigs and spoons and on live minnows.

15) Musekellunge

top freshwater game fish

Muskellunge, better known as “Musky”, is considered by many anglers to be the ultimate freshwater angling challenge. Given the moniker, “The fish of ten thousand casts”, in most situations, musky are difficult to hook. They are apex predators, growing to over 60 pounds. Therefore, there are not a lot of them.

Musky are originally from the Great Lakes area, but their range has been extended. They are caught as far south as Tennessee. Most anglers recognize their value as a game fish and release them. While live baits fool some musky, most are caught by anglers using artificial lures.

Trolling and casting are the two most effective methods for catching musky. Anglers use fairly heavy tackle and wire leaders to cast large lures in search of a trophy. Spoons, plugs, and inline spinners are top baits. Weed beds, points, and back bays are prime spots. Anglers also troll lures and live baits along weed edges to catch musky. Musky are caught through the ice as well.

16) Chain pickerel

top freshwater fish list

Chain pickerel are smaller versions of northern pike. They are similar in shape with a “chain link” design on their body. Three pounds is a nice fish. They are widely distributed, being found as far south as Florida. Most are caught by accident by anglers fishing for other species.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Trout

trout fishing

There are several different trout species that are found in North America. While there are actually quite a few strains of trout, the species that are most widely distributed and targeted by anglers are rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, and lake trout.

Trout generally prefer clean, cold water. Most trout were originally caught in the northern states and Canada, but they have been successfully stocked in southern states including Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, and Arizona. This is especially true for rainbow and brown trout, as they are more tolerant of warmer water temperatures.

Trout forage

Trout have a diverse diet. As young fish, they feed heavily on insects and larva. As they grow bigger, trout switch to eating larger prey such as small fish and crayfish. Many anglers fly fish for them, in fact, that is pretty much how the sport originated. Many books have been written on the subject.

Anglers using spinning tackle certainly catch a lot of fish as well. Spinners and spoons are very effective lures in streams and lakes. Small plugs will catch fewer fish, but will catch larger ones. Trolling is very effective in deep, large lakes such as the Great Lakes.

17) Rainbow trout

fishing for rainbow trout

Rainbow trout are one of the most recognizable and popular game fish in North America and all over the world. They are a gorgeous fish, with a bright red “rainbow” on the side. Trophy rainbow trout can be caught all over the United States. Some of the best spots are pretty far south, such as Lee’s Ferry in Arizona, the White River in Arkansas, and the private streams in north Georgia.

Of course, when rainbow trout are mentioned, most anglers thing of a fast flowing stream or small river. Waters throughout the northern half of the country hold rainbow trout.

Steelhead trout are rainbow trout that leave streams for open water. They take on a silvery gray color, thus the name. On the Pacific coast, they go out into the ocean then return several years later to spawn. In the Midwest, they use the Great Lakes as “oceans”, returning to streams. Unlike salmon, they do not die. They are terrific game fish as they have grown very strong out in deeper water.

18) Brown trout

trout fishing

Brown trout are perhaps the most widely distributed trout species as they can tolerate the warmest water. They also grow the largest of the “river” trout. Brown trout were introduced to America from Germany in the late 1800s. Many anglers refer to them as “German Browns” for this reason.

While brown trout eat insects, they switch over to larger prey at a fairly early age. Anglers trolling plugs and spoons in large lakes catch some very large brown trout. They are also plentiful in lakes and rivers throughout North America. Fly anglers catch a lot of trout as well. Brown trout can be caught in live bait such as worms, minnows, and fish eggs.

19) Brook trout

trout list

Brook trout are a beautiful fish. They have a bright orange belly with a white outline on the fins. They are originally from the northeast United States, but have been successfully transplanted across the US and Canada. Brook trout are often found in the tiniest of streams, thus the name. Brookies do not grow nearly as large, with six inches being average.

While brook trout are small, many anglers enjoy the challenge of hiking up into the mountains and fooling them on very light tackle. “Native” brookies in particular are highly valued by fly anglers. Some waters in Canada do offer fishing for brook trout to five pounds.

20) Cutthroat trout

top trout species

Cutthroat trout are found in the northwest part of the United States. They are an excellent game fish that are most often caught by anglers fly fishing in streams and rivers. They are generally caught from Montana west to the coast.

21) Lake trout

lake trout fishing tips

Lake trout are a bit different than any trout species. In reality, they are in the “char” family. Lake trout are normally caught in deep, clear, cold lakes in the northern states and in Canada. However, they are caught in streams and rivers occasionally, especially in early spring when they spawn. Most lake trout are caught by anglers trolling large spoons which mimic the herring and other bait fish that lakers feed on.

Top Freshwater game fish species; Salmon

Salmon are terrific game fish! They are only this far down on the list because of their lack of availability and limited range. Chinook (also know as “King”) salmon, Coho (silver) salmon, Atlantic salmon, and pink salmon are the top salmon species targeted by anglers. Salmon are caught by anglers fly fishing, casting lures and live and cut baits, and by trolling.

22) Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon are incredible fighters and considered a top game fish in the world. However, their numbers are really down from years past. Their delicious flesh is one issue, as are habitat loss and fishing pressure.

23) Chinook salmon

top freshwater fish species

Chinook salmon, or “king” salmon are found on the west coast of the United States and Canada up to Alaska. Kings have also been successfully stocked in the Great Lakes as well. They are a fantastic game fish that grow quite large. Anglers do well in the spring and fall. They are taken by trolling and drifting with lures and egg sacks, as well as cut fish.

24) Coho salmon

salmon fishing

Coho, or silver, salmon are plentiful in the Great Lakes and are the back bone of the fishery. They are available to anglers year-round and are caught using the same methods as other salmon. They do not grow as large as chinook salmon, but they make up for it in numbers and availability.

25) Pink salmon

top almon fish species

Pink salmon, or pinks, are the smallest, but most abundant of the Pacific salmon. They range from the Sacramento River north. Like king salmon, they have been successfully introduced into the Great Lakes. They can be difficult to catch once they move into rivers to spawn.

26) Carp

fishing for carp

Carp were once considered “trash” fish and were undesirable, mostly because they are not considered good to eat. However, anglers of late have grown to appreciate them as a game fish. They grow large, are widely distributed, and put a a very good fight. Some guides actually sight fish for them using fly rods, earning them the nickname, “Midwest bonefish”. They are very challenging in shallow water. Most carp are caught by anglers using natural baits suck as worms, corn, and dough balls.

27) Sturgeon

top fish species

We saved the biggest fish for the end of the list. Sturgeon grow very large, over 12 feet in North America. There are several different sturgeon species, with the largest fish being caught in the Pacific northwest, especially the Columbia River. Sturgeon are prehistoric looking and almost all of them are caught by anglers using cut bait on the bottom.

In conclusion, this is the list of the top 27 freshwater game fish species. What is your favorite species?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fishing Charters in Sarasota

Fishing Charters in Sarasota with Capt Jim Klopfer

Many visiting anglers are interested in going fishing while in Sarasota.  There are many fishing charters in Sarasota to choose from.  Capt Jim Klopfer has been taking clients out fishing in Sarasota since 1991.

Sarasota offers anglers a wide variety of fishing opportunities to visitors.  Capt Jim Klopfer is very versatile and will cater the fishing charter to the experience and expectations of his clients.  Anglers with very little experience can achieve success, much of the fishing is not overly challenging.  There are a number of productive techniques that will produce fish.  Live bait is perhaps the easiest to use and a good choice for children.  Artificial lures are easy to use and are very productive.

Sarasota fishing calendar

View current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota fishing charter options

There are multiple angling techniques that are productive on fishing charters in Sarasota.  Drifting the deep grass flats produces great action.  Both passes hold a lot of fish.  Bottom fishing is an easy and productive technique.  Experienced anglers may choose to target snook and redfish in the back water areas.  Fishing for mackerel and false albacore can be fantastic in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.

Fishing the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay

Anglers seeking action and variety will do well fishing the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay.  Deep grass flats are patches of submerged vegetation in water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep.  This attracts forage such as shrimp, crabs, and bait fish.  This is what the game fish feed on.  Speckled trout, pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle, snapper, grouper, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, cobia, and flounder are the primary species caught fishing the deep flats.

Drifting is usually the best approach when targeting fish on the deep flats.  These are large areas.  Drifting with the wind and tide allows anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish.  Once a productive area in located, the boat can be anchored.  Both live bait and artificial lures are productive.  Flats near the passes are usually very reliable.

Jigs are the top artificial lure for fishing the deep grass flats.  They cast well and are easy to use.  Anglers cast them out ahead of the drifting boat and work it back it.  Live shrimp are either free lined out behind the boat or fished under a float.  Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique that is used in the summer time.

inshore saltwater fishing

Fishing the Sarasota passes

Passes are channels that connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico.  They are basically “inlets”, just termed differently.  The two passes in Sarasota are Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass.  Both can provide excellent fishing throughout the year.

Sarasota family fishing charters

The two techniques used in the passes are drifting with jigs or bait and bottom fishing.  Anglers drifting with the current bounce jigs off the bottom or free line live shrimp.  Both produce pompano, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and loads of hard fighting ladyfish.  This is very easy fishing as casting is really not required.  The current does all of the work!

Bottom fishing is another easy and productive technique.  A hook is baited with a shrimp and lowered to the bottom.  There is a lot of structure in the passes, particularly in Big Pass on the north side of Siesta Key.  Deep water, structure, and current flow make this a great fishing spot!  Sheepshead are prime targets in winter.  Mangrove snapper, grouper, drum, jacks, snook, and more are taken all year long.

Snook fishing in Sarasota

Snook are the top game fish in Florida.  They are quite similar to largemouth bass in habits.  Snook have large mouths, are found near structure, and ambush their prey.  In fact, most of the top snook lures are just converted bass baits.  Anglers targeting snook along mangrove shorelines, under docks, around seawalls, and along oyster bars catch jacks, redfish, and other species as well.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

Artificial lures are often used on fishing charters in Sarasota when snook are the target.  Lures allow anglers to cover quite a bit of shoreline cover.  They also will elicit strikes from fish that are not actively feeding.  This type of fishing does require some decent casting skills.  Therefore, this is best for more experienced anglers.

Live bait certainly produces a lot of snook as well.  In the cooler months, a large, live shrimp is a terrific bait.  In the warmer months, live bait chumming is used successfully.  Capt Jim will use his cast net and load the well up with live baits.  These are then used to attract and excite the fish.  Handfuls of bait are tossed out behind the boat.  If snook and other game fish are around, it won’t be long until they start popping on the free baits.  This is a great way for an inexperienced angler to catch a big fish1

Fishing off of the Sarasota beaches

The inshore Gulf of Mexico can provide fantastic action when conditions are right.  East winds will result in the water close to shore being calm and clear.  Bait fish will be plentiful.  Spanish mackerel, false albacore, king mackerel, sharks, cobia, and other species will move in to feed on the bait.  This can be very exciting fishing as much of the activity takes place on the surface.

Anglers cruise the beaches searching for signs of fish.  Birds are a great indication of feeding game fish.  Spanish mackerel will stay up on the surface for quite a while.  This makes it easy to get the boat into a good casting position.  False albacore are a bit fussier.  They will often pop up, feed ferociously, then be gone in a few seconds.

Sarasota fishing videos

Small artificial lures work very well for this type of fishing.  The fish are feeding on small bait fish, so lures that imitate them work best.  Also, sometimes a bit of casting distance is required.  For these reasons, lures work better than live bait in most instances.  Small plugs, silver spoons, and 3″ soft plastic baits on a jig head are the top lures.

Fishing charters in Sarasota, trolling for success

There will be days when the fish are not showing on the surface.  Trolling is an excellent technique under these circumstances.  This allows anglers to cover a lot of water while presenting several lures at different depths.  Again, this is a very easy way for kids and inexperienced anglers to catch some really nice fish.

There are three artificial reefs just off of Lido Key.  These hold fish during much of the year.  The reefs are prime spots to troll for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and false albacore.  Bait fish are attracted to the structure in large numbers.  They can be seen hovering on the surface over the submerged structure.  These are great spots to troll for kings, Spanish mackerel, and false albacore.

Species caught on Sarasota fishing charters

One of the great aspects of taking a fishing charter in Sarasota is the wide variety of fish species that are available.  Some fish such as snook, redfish, speckled trout, ladyfish, jack crevalle, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, and bluefish are caught all year long.  Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, false albacore, pompano, cobia, and sharks are most often encountered in the spring and fall.  Black drum and sheepshead are winter fish.  Tarpon are caught in the summer.  Anglers can find current regulations on the FWC site.

Snook

Siesta Key snook fishing

Snook are the top inshore game fish in Florida.  They are large, fight hard, leap high out of the water, and are caught on both lures and live bait.  Snook have a distinct seasonal migration pattern.  In winter, snook are found in creeks, rivers, and canals.  As it warms up, they move into Sarasota Bay and Robert’s Bay.  Snook are found out on the beaches and in the passes in the summertime.

Snook are structure oriented.  They are almost always found near some type of cover.  Docks, bridges, oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and seawalls all hold snook.  If bait is present, so much the better!  Anglers catch snook using artificial lures and live bait.  Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water.  Live bait works best when fish are located.

Speckled trout

Gator trout Sarasota

Speckled trout are an extremely popular for anglers taking out fishing charters in Sarasota.  They are a beautiful fish, aggressive, plentiful year round, and are fantastic eating.  Speckled trout school up and once located, a bunch can be caught in short order.  Most of the trout caught in Sarasota are found on the submerged grass beds in Sarasota Bay.

A live shrimp is a great bait for catching speckled trout.  Shrimp can be fished under a popping cork or free lined out behind the boat.  Live pilchards work very well in the warmer months.  Artificial lures catch plenty of speckled trout as well.  The top lure in Sarasota is the jig and grub.  This is a versatile lure that can imitate bait fish and crustaceans.  They work very well on trout and other species.

Redfish

Florida fishing charters

Redfish are another very popular inshore species.  In Sarasota, most reds are caught under docks and on shallow grass flats.  Redfish school up in large numbers in late summer.  Anglers sight fish for them as they can easily be seen “waking” across a flat.  Docks and other structure hold reds all year long.

Redfish feed primarily on crustaceans.  They are built to root on the bottom for crabs and shrimp.  They will take like bait fish as well.  A large, live shrimp is tough to beat when targeting redfish.  They work very well when fishing docks.  Lures such as jigs and weedless spoons imitate the forage and are productive as well.

Spanish mackerel

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Spanish mackerel are a terrific game fish!  Anglers who take out fishing charters in Sarasota target them often.  Mackerel are very fast, aggressive, beautiful, and taste great when prepared fresh.  Spanish mackerel are often found in large schools.  This is particularly true in the Gulf of Mexico.  Spanish mackerel feed mostly on small bait fish.  Live shrimp will certainly produce, too.

Shiny, fast moving lures are effective when targeting Spanish mackerel.  Mackerel are very fast and will track down a fast moving lure that has an erratic action.  Plugs and silver spoons are top artificial lures.  They can be cast or trolled effectively.  Anglers fishing with live scaled sardines and shrimp will catch plenty of mackerel as well.

Pompano

Florida pompano fishing

Pompano are a prized inshore game fish in Sarasota, Florida.  While they put up a great fight, the reason for their popularity is that they are fantastic eating!  Pompano have a delicious flavor and interesting texture.  They are most often found in the surf, in the passes, and on the flats close to the passes.  Pompano cruise around in small schools, feeding on the bottom.

One look at the mouth of a pompano indicated it’s feeding behavior.  Pompano feed on crustaceans on the bottom.  Crabs, sand fleas, and shrimp are the primary forage.  Small jigs bounced on the bottom are the top artificial lure.  Dedicated surf anglers catch sand fleas (mole crabs) and use them for bait.  Live shrimp worked well for pompano as well.

Bluefish

Florida bluefish

Bluefish are well-know to anglers from the northeastern states.  The bluefish we catch in Sarasota are smaller, averaging around three pounds.  Bluefish are aggressive and most often are found in schools.  They are a very aggressive species.  Blues can be found in the bays, passes, and inshore Gulf of Mexico.

Jigs are good lures for catching bluefish.  They work well on the deeper grass flats where bluefish are often found.  They move move erratically and attract the attention of the blues.  Spoons and plugs are effective as well.  Bluefish can often be seen feeding on the surface.  Live bait fish and shrimp will catch them as well.

Jack crevalle

Sarasota fishing report

Jack crevalle are another terrific inshore game fish found in Sarasota.  They grow fairly large, being caught to 15 pounds in this area.  Jacks school up and are often seen feeding aggressively on the surface.  They are found all over the place in the warmer months.  They are easier to locate in the cooler months as they move up into creeks and canals.  Jack crevalle are not considered good to eat.

While jacks are caught on live bait, artificial lures are so much fun to use.  Jacks are very aggressive and strike lures with ferocity.  Plugs and jigs are the top artificial lures.  They need to have stout hooks as jacks are incredibly strong.

Sheepshead

Sarasota fishing calendar

Sheepshead move into the Sarasota area in December and stay around until April.  They are a staple for anglers taking out fishing charters in Sarasota in the cooler months.  They school up heavily in the passes and out on the inshore artificial reefs.  Sheepshead feed on crustaceans and are rarely taken on artificial lures.  Most sheepshead are caught by anglers bottom fishing near structure with live or frozen shrimp.  They fight hard, are fun to catch, and are excellent table fare.

Mangrove snapper

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

Mangrove snapper are found near structure similar to the spots where sheepshead are caught.  They are caught all year long.  Also, mangrove snapper are caught on the deep grass flats in the summer time.  Most mangrove snapper are caught by anglers using live bait.  However, they will hit small plugs and jigs as well.  Snapper put up a good fight and are fantastic on a dinner plate.

Gag grouper

Sarasota bottom fishing

Gag grouper are mostly caught in the offshore waters.  However, juvenile grouper and the occasional larger fish are caught in the inshore waters.  Grouper are almost always found near structure.  However, they are caught on the open grass flats for a month or so in summer when they are migrating through.  Most grouper are caught by accident by anglers bottom fishing for other species.

Tarpon

Sarasota fishing calendar

Tarpon are the largest fish that anglers can target in Sarasota.  The move through from May to August on their annual spawning run.  Tarpon are caught just off of the area beaches in the Gulf of Mexico.  Live crabs and bait fish are cast in front of the cruising fish.  This is truly big game fishing and is best for more experienced anglers.  There is a lot of waiting and stalking, so patience is required.

False albacore

Sarasota fishing calendar

False albacore, known locally as “bonita”, are a terrific game fish that are found in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  They rarely come into the bays.  False albacore are usually sight fished as they often feed on the surface.  The key is to position the boat in front of the feeding fish.  They can be fussy at times and challenging to catch.  However, that is part of the fun!  Small lures and flies that mimic the bait fish work best.

King mackerel

fishing report for Sarasota

King mackerel are often found offshore but do move in close to shore when conditions are right.  Trolling is the most effective way to catch them as it allows anglers to cover a lot of water.  The inshore reefs off of Lido Key are always a good place to start.  Easter and Thanksgiving are usually the prime times to catch king mackerel off of the Sarasota beaches.

Black drum

fishing charters in Sarasota

Black drum are often found in the same locations and time of year as are sheepshead.  Generally, cooler months are best.  Drum rarely hit artificial lures, most are caught by anglers using live or frozen shrimp.  Black drum are good eating.  They can grow quite large as well, to over 30 pounds.

Flounder

best Sarasota fishing charter

Flounder are another species that clients on fishing charters in Sarasota catch when fishing for other species.  They are not abundant, but are more of an occasional catch.  They are caught by anglers bouncing jigs on the bottom and by anglers fishing with live bait.  Surf fishing can be productive for flounder, too.

Cobia

fishing charters in Sarasota

Cobia are a large fish that are most often found in the Gulf of Mexico.  However, some fish do wander into Sarasota Bay.  Anglers fortunate enough to hook one will have their hands full on a light spinning rod!  Cobia are curious and will hit just about any lure or live bait.

Meeting spot for a Sarasota fishing charter

There are several spots that Capt Jim meets his clients at.  The meeting spot will depend on client location, current weather conditions, and fish activity.  Most anglers going out on fishing charters in Sarasota will meet at the public boat ramp at Centennial Park in downtown Sarasota.

Another convenient meet spot on Sarasota fishing charters is the North Bridge Park on Siesta Key.  This spot is often used on breezy days and by Siesta Key visitors.

The last meeting spot used by Capt Jim is the boat ramp on Ken Thompson Island.  This is convenient for anglers staying on Longboat Key or north in Bradenton.

In conclusion, this post on fishing charters in Sarasota will help anglers get an idea of the options available to them.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarasota Fishing Articles

Sarasota Fishing Articles written by Capt Jim Klopfer

This post will list my Sarasota fishing articles. Fishing Lido Key has over 45 posts and articles written to help anglers catch more fish in Sarasota and in Florida. Capt Jim Klopfer has been a fishing guide in Sarasota since 1991. The articles are all 2000 words or more and full of great fishing pictures and techniques. Click on the title to link to the full article.

View current Sarasota fishing report

Sarasota fishing articles

Fishing Charters in Sarasota

This post covers the techniques, seasons, and species that anglers will encounter on fishing charters in Sarasota.

Inshore Saltwater Fishing

This is a VERY long, comprehensive post on fishing the inshore saltwater from Texas to Maine. It covers the tackle, species, techniques, and locations that will help anglers be successful.

Sarasota snook fishing

Siesta Key snook fishing

Fishing for Snook, a Complete Guide

Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Sarasota. They are a terrific game fish that grows large and will hit lures and live baits. These articles outlines the seasonal movements of snook along with the techniques, baits, and lures used to catch these apex predators.

Sarasota jig fishing

Jigs are a simple yet extremely effective fishing lure. The lead head jig with a grub body is the most popular lure in Florida. They catch a wide variety of species and are deadly on speckled trout and other fish found on the deep grass flats. This post thoroughly covers the different types of jigs and techniques used to be successful.

Sarasota trolling techniques

Trolling is a very effective technique, especially for Spanish and king mackerel. While it is simply moving along at a slow speed while dragging lures behind, there is much more to it than that. Learn how to do it in this article.

Top 8 Sarasota fish species

This article focuses on the top 8 inshore species available to Sarasota anglers. Snook, speckled trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, jack crevalle, bluefish, and mangrove snapper are the top species. Learn the lures and baits along with seasons and techniques used when targeting these species.

35 best Sarasota fishing spots

This article is a list of Capt Jim’s top fishing spots in Sarasota. It includes maps with details on species, baits, and seasons. These are the spots that he fishes on a daily basis.

Best Sarasota fishing charter

This post outlines all of the available options to clients who are thinking about going out on a Sarasota fishing charter. It includes the species available along with the best seasons and techniques used to target them.

Sarasota river fishing

There are several rivers that are a short drive from Sarasota. The Myakka River, Manatee River, and Braden River all offer anglers the chance for trophy snook and jack crevalle, along with other species. Cooler months are the time to fish Sarasota area rivers.

Fly fishing Sarasota rivers

This article shares tips, techniques, and seasons for anglers to be successful fly fishing for snook, jacks, bass, and other species in Sarasota area rivers. Most of this action takes place in the cooler months.

Best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

Artificial lures catch a lot of fish. Lures can actually catch more fish and live bait under certain conditions. They can aggravate and excite fish into biting when they are not hungry. This article outlines the best six lures to use in Sarasota for a variety of species.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Most anglers visiting Sarasota think of saltwater fishing, and for good reason. However several small lakes and rivers in this area offer good freshwater fishing as well. Crappie, bream, bass, catfish, and other species are plentiful. This article outlines the bodies of water that are productive and the techniques used to catch freshwater fish in Sarasota.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Longboat Key is a barrier island on the north end of Sarasota. It is a bit quieter than Siesta Key and Lido Key. The nearby flats and inshore Gulf of Mexico provide excellent fishing for guests visiting Longboat Key. This post will outline the options for anglers contemplating a fishing charter.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Speckled trout are an extremely popular inshore game fish in Sarasota and the Southeast United States. They are plentiful, pretty, aggressive, easy to catch, and taste great. Speckled trout can be caught using a variety of techniques and this article outlines the methods used along with the locations to catch speckled trout.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Spanish mackerel are a terrific and underrated game fish. They are usually plentiful off the Sarasota beaches in the spring and again in the fall. They can often time be seen feeding ferociously on the surface. This article goes into detail on the baits, lures, techniques, seasons, and locations used to catch Spanish mackerel.

Sarasota mangrove snapper fishing

Mangrove snapper are a much desired fish species for anglers fishing in Sarasota. They are feisty fish that school up in large numbers. While they can be taking using artificial lures, most are caught on live bait. Snapper are usually found around structure. They are one of the finest eating fish caught anywhere.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Sheepshead are a member of the Porgy family. They show up in Sarasota waters around Christmas and stay until Easter. They are staple for charter boat captains in the winter as they are plentiful in fairly reliable. Sheepshead are a structure oriented bottom fish that feed mostly on crustaceans. They are great eating but difficult to clean. This article shares the tips and techniques required to catch sheepshead.

Florida pompano fishing

Pompano are an extremely desirable species in Sarasota and throughout all of Florida. While small, they put up a terrific fight for their size. They are caught in the bays, passes and inlets, and off the beaches. Many pompano are caught using live bait, but just as many are caught by anglers using jigs. Pompano are fantastic eating! Learn the tips and techniques used to catch them here.

Sarasota crappie fishing

Many northern anglers are very familiar with this popular freshwater panfish. Florida has excellent populations of crappie. Several local Sarasota lakes offer visiting anglers the opportunity to catch crappie. Late fall and winter are the best times. Read this article to learn the baits, techniques, seasons, and locations that will help anglers catch more crappie.

Florida bluefish

Anglers from the Northeast part of the United States are very familiar with bluefish. While the bluefish we have in Sarasota and other parts of Florida don’t get as large, they are great fun especially on the light tackle that we use. Most bluefish are caught by anglers casting jigs and other artificial lures. This post will run through the lures, baits, and techniques used to catch bluefish.

Sarasota fishing report

This post is updated every week or two by Capt. Jim. It gives honest information on the current conditions along with a recent fishing report. The Sarasota fishing report includes species caught, locations that help fish, and lures and baits that were productive.

Sarasota fishing forecast

Sarasota fishing calendar

The Sarasota fishing forecast and Sarasota fishing calendar are posts that will help visiting anglers plan their trip to Sarasota. While every year is different, seasonal patterns have emerged. Capt. Jim has been guiding since 1991 and shares his experiences over those years in these posts to help anglers get an idea of what species are available at certain times of the year.

Sarasota false albacore fishing

False albacore, also known as Bonito, are tremendous game fish! They do not come into the bays but are caught in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico off of the Sarasota beaches. Spring and fall are the best times to find them. Much of this is sight fishing as the fish feed voraciously on the surface. This article will run through the lures and techniques used to catch false albacore.

Jack crevelle fishing

Jack crevalle are a very hard fighting game fish. They are very wide with deeply Fort tales and they use these attributes to pull incredibly hard. Jacks school up and are usually very aggressive once found. They are often times seen feeding on the surface. The largest jacks of the year are found in the cooler months in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. This article covers all aspects of fishing for jack crevalle in Sarasota.

Sarasota bass fishing

Sarasota is not known for its freshwater fishing, or its bass fishing. However local area rivers, lakes, and ponds offer visiting anglers the opportunity to catch bass all year long. Sarasota does not have a trophy bass fishery, it is more about action and numbers. This article goes through the options anglers targeting largemouth bass in Sarasota have.

River snook fishing

Snook migrate up into area rivers in the winter. They do this to escape the harsh conditions on the shallow grass flats. Snook cannot tolerate water temperature below 60° for very long. Anglers casting artificial lures to shoreline cover catch some trophy fish. This type of fishing is best suited for more experienced anglers. This article covers the lures, locations, season, and techniques to catch river snook.

Sarasota chumming techniques

Chumming is the act of putting food into the water to attract fish. It is an age-old technique that is still effective to this day. Like other forms of fishing, there are nuances and techniques that will produce more fish. This article goes in-depth into these techniques.

Sarasota redfish

Redfish are an extremely popular game fish all along the coastline of the Southeast United States. Most redfish are caught on the shallow flats and around oyster bars, docks, and other structure. They will hit a variety of artificial lures and live baits. This article covers catching redfish in Sarasota and other locations.

Best 11 Sarasota fishing reefs

Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. This article covers the best 11 fishing reefs in the inshore waters of Sarasota. Included are GPS numbers for the locations as well as seasons, species available, and techniques used to catch a variety of game fish on the Sarasota artificial reefs.

Sarasota bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is as simple as it gets. Hooks are baited with shrimp or other live or frozen bait and then drop to the bottom on or around structure. However, there are tips and techniques which will help anglers be more successful. This article covers the rigs, tackle, baits, and tactics use to be successful when bottom fishing in Sarasota.

Sarasota Florida fishing charters

This comprehensive post will answer any questions a visiting angler who is contemplating a fishing charter while in Sarasota, Florida. It covers the seasons, techniques, fishing options, and much more.

Sarasota fishing videos

This post simply lists the videos that Capt. Jim has made for his YouTube channel. The short videos are informative and cover a wide range of angling opportunities in Sarasota.

Fishing Siesta Key

This very long and comprehensive post covers all of the inshore and nearshore angling opportunities for those visiting Siesta Key who might be thinking about doing some fishing. There’s a ton of great information on fish species, locations, seasons, baits and lures, and techniques used that will help anglers be successful.

Fly fishing for jack crevelle

Jacks are terrific game fish, and are a great challenge for anglers casting a fly. A large Jack will put up a great fight on fly tackle. This article covers the tackle, flies, techniques, and locations used to catch jacks on fly.

In conclusion, this list of Sarasota fishing articles has a ton of great information that will help anglers catch more fish!

Fishing Lido Key Products

Fishing Lido Key Products Page

Capt Jim Klopfer has been a full time fishing guide in Sarasota since 1991.  These are the products and equipment that he uses to catch fish every day. While he does make a small commission on each sale, he created this Fishing Lido Key products page so that anglers who are interested in purchasing the rods, reels, and lures that he uses can find everything in one location.

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon”

Rods and Reels

3000 Penn Fierce II/Shimano Convergence spinning outfit

For the majority of inshore saltwater fishing charters, Capt Jim uses a Penn Fierce II 3000 spinning reel on a 6 1/2 foot TSCS -661MH Tsunami Classic spinning rod. This is a quality combination that works well for most saltwater inshore game fish at a VERY reasonable price, selling for around $110. This outfit has landed many large fish including big snook, jack crevalle, and false albacore. It is spooled with 10 lb monofilament or braided line.

3000 Penn Fierce II Spinning Reel

Shimano Convergence 6 1/2 foot spinning rod

3000 Penn Conflict/PS66MF St Croix Premier Spinning outfit

The other spinning outfit that Capt Jim uses is a Penn Conflict 3000 spinning reel on a 6 1/2 foot St. Croix Premier spinning rod. This is a terrific rod and reel combination for anglers with a little more money in their budget. While this combo is similar to the Fierce/Convergence outfit, it is an upgrade in both quality and price. It retails for around $280. Capt Jim uses this mostly for snook fishing with plugs in rivers and the back water areas. It is also an excellent combination for largemouth bass. This rig is significantly lighter, which makes a difference when casting heavy lures all day. It is spooled with 20 lb braided line.

3000 Penn Conflict II Spinning Reels

PS66MF St Croix Premier Fishing Rod

Capt Jim uses the PS66MF St. Croix Premier spinning rod with the Conflict 3000 reel. This is a high quality rod at a very reasonable price. It has a “fast” action which means a stout butt section with a limber, sensitive tip. These are best for most inshore fishing applications. PS66MF is one piece, PS66MF2 is a 2 piece rod.

Penn Warfare 20 light conventional outfit

This Penn Warfare 20 combo is a great entry level outfit at a very affordable price. It has a level wind, is great for light tackle trolling with up to a #2 planer as well as bottom fishing. It is light enough to be fun but stout enough to handle a decent fish.

Jig and grub combo

No other artificial lure catches more fish for inshore saltwater anglers than does the venerable jig and grub combo. It is simple, yet very effective. Jig head weights and grub tails can easily to be changed to match conditions and forage. Capt Jim primarily uses a 1/4 ounce head for most of his fishing. The Bass Assassin grub head comes in 3 colors, several sizes, and has the correct hook size for speckled trout and other species found on the deep grass flats in Florida and beyond.

Gulp Shrimp

Capt Jim uses a 3″ Gulp Shrimp on a 1/4 ounce jig for most of his jig fishing. Gulp Shrimp are almost like using live bait with the advantage of covering a lot of water. Pearl white/ chartreuse and New Penny are his two favorite colors. He finds that the shrimp lasts longer; small fish will bite off the curly tails on the other Gulp products

Bass Assassin Shad Tail Grubs

There are applications where Capt Jim uses a shad tail style grub. These have excellent action and works well when fishing in clear water for aggressive fish such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel. The 4 1/2 inch bait fished on a 1/4 ounce jig head is the combo that Capt Jim uses most often. Glow/charteuse is the top color with red/gold shiner and New Penny working better in murky water.

Rapala X-Raps

Capt Jim uses the #8 Rapala X-Rap Slashbait to catch a variety of species. They are very productive when either trolled or cast. Ghost and olive are the top colors in clear water while gold works best when snook fishing in the darker river waters.

Capt Jim used a #10 gold Rapala X-Rap for river snook fishing in the darker tannin-stained water.

Mustad Hooks

Mustad Hooks have been around a long time and work well in most angling applications. Capt Jim uses the #1/0 size on 90% of his Sarasota fishing charters. He will drop it down when snapper and sheepshead are fussy.

Fishing Line

Capt Jim uses Suffix monofilament fishing line on his outfits. He uses 10 lb line most of the time.


Capt Jim uses Suffix Performance Braid line on his outfits that use braided line. He uses 20 lb line as a good all round size.

Seaguar 30 lb Leader

 

 

 

Inshore Saltwater Fishing, a Complete Guide

Inshore Saltwater Fishing, a complete Guide

This post, the Complete Guide to Inshore Saltwater Fishing, was written to help anglers become more successful when fishing the inshore salt waters of the Eastern United States. I grew up in Maryland, fishing the Chesapeake Bay and it’s tributaries. I moved to Sarasota, Florida and started running Sarasota fishing charters in 1991. Most of the information in this article should be applicable to the majority of coastal anglers on the coasts of both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

Sarasota fishing videos

Many of the pictures are of Florida. I am approaching this project with the idea that most anglers reading it have some fishing experience. I will therefore not cover the rudimentary aspects such as casting and knot tying. There are a ton of great resources for that already, so I find no need to do it again. I hope you find it informative and enjoyable!

Inshore saltwater fishing tackle

Like every hobby, equipment is required. My advice when it comes to fishing and tackle is similar to starting any other hobby. Anglers should purchase the best equipment that they can reasonably afford. Buying the cheapest equipment possible usually does not result in money saved. What normally happens is that the angler tires of the cheap equipment and spends money on the decent equipment at a later date.

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.

Inshore saltwater fishing

Inshore saltwater fishing rods and reels

Let’s start with the most important components; the rod and reel. If I had to choose one outfit to fish with in inshore salt waters, it would be a 7 foot spinning rod with a 3000 series reel. This outfit is heavy enough to fish around bridges and docks for bottom fish, while still being light enough to cast quarter ounce artificial lures. Anglers targeting larger species such as striped bass will need to go with heaver tackle.

“Fishing Lido Key is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon”

Rods come in different actions. I prefer a fast action rod. This means that the rod is stiff at the butt section and through most of the rod. However, it gets limber towards the tip. This type of rod has good backbone for setting the hook and handling a big fish. The lighter tip allows for easy casting, especially with light baits and lures. A rod with a slow action is no fun to fish with, in my opinion.

Many spinning reel manufacturers use a universal sizing system. The larger the number, the larger the real. Most 3000 series reels will be a very similar size between manufacturers. I personally like reels with large handles. Spinning reels are versatile and are the best choice for most anglers fishing and saltwater.

Conventional rods and reels for saltwater fishing

fishing report for Sarasota, Florida

Conventional outfits certainly have their place in saltwater fishing. They work well when casting heavier lures such as plugs. Light conventional outfits are also great for bottom fishing and light trolling. However, most anglers, particularly those new to the sport, will find spinning tackle the best tool for most inshore angling applications.

There are many different brands to choose from when it comes to rods and reels. Anglers will find that within a certain price range, the quality of the equipment is very similar. At this point it just becomes a matter of personal choice. Several manufacturers have a great reputation and saltwater. Penn, Shimano, and Quantum are just a few. While anglers can spend a lot of money on a rod and reel, a quality outfit can be purchased for around $120.

Inshore saltwater fishing; line choices

Now that we have the rod and reel, it’s time to fill the spools. There are two basic line choices when it comes to fishing line; monofilament line and braided line. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Monofilament is much less expensive. The disadvantages are that it will twist up and it has some stretch. It requires changing more often than monofilament. Knots are also easier to tie.

inshore saltwater fishing

Braided line is much more expensive. However, it will last a very long time. It also has zero stretch and great sensitivity. The downsides to braided line are that knots can be a little bit more difficult to tie and backlashes are extremely difficult to remove. On the 3000 series reels, I prefer 10 pound monofilament line or 20 pound braided line, depending on angler preference.

Inshore fishing in saltwater

The next order of business is the terminal end. I have a simple system that I like to use that is very efficient. A shock leader is required when fishing in saltwater. This is a short leader that is heavier than the main, or running, line. The shock leader will greatly reduce cutoffs and rub offs from fish. Most saltwater fish species will fray the line.

So, a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader is tied to the running end of the line. Fluorocarbon leader is a bit more expensive, but it is worth the cost. It is much less visible in the water than inexpensive monofilament leader is.

fishing Sarasota Florida

The strength of the shock leader will be determined by water clarity and fish species being targeted. 30 pound test is a great all round choice and is what I use 90% of the time. I will bump it up when fishing for large snook or toothy Spanish mackerel. Conversely, I will drop it down when fishing for speckled trout or mangrove snapper in very clear water. Northern anglers will need to adopt the same strategy of choosing the leader based on species and water clarity.

The leader is attached to the line in one of two ways. A small black swivel can be used, this is the easiest method. However, many anglers prefer to tie the leader directly to the line. I prefer this and use a double uni-knot to do so.

I do prefer to double the end of the running line with the spider hitch before attaching the shock leader. This is especially important with monofilament line on the reel. The double line acts as a bit of a shock absorber, helping when a large fish is boat side. It also helps reduce the weakness that is created when two monofilament lines are tied together. It eliminates the need for a swivel.

Terminal fishing tackle for inshore saltwater fishing

So, now we are ready to go fishing! We have our rod spooled up with the shock leader attached. Now, we just need to tie something with a hook on it at the end of the line, whether it is a hook or artificial lure.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

The beauty of this little rigging system is the simplicity. An angler may choose to tie on a top water plug first thing in the morning to take advantage of the dawn bite. Then, when that slows he or she can simply remove the plug and tie on a jig, spoon, or hook. This makes changing up the rig quick and easy. After several changes, the shock leader will become too short and it will need to be replaced.

Inshore saltwater fishing hooks

Hooks come in a myriad of sizes and styles. However, saltwater anglers only need a few hook sizes and styles to get started. Several packages of #2, #1, #1/0, and #2/0 live bait hooks will cover most angling situations. Again, anglers targeting larger fish using larger baits will need to increase the hook size.

Many anglers have switched to using circle hooks. Circle hooks usually result in fewer fish being hooked deep. Most fish will be hooked in the corner of the mouth. Anglers using circle hooks can NOT set the hook! The line should just be tightened up and the fish will usually hook itself.

It is also a good idea to have several packages of #1/0 long shank hooks. These work really well when anglers get into a school of fish with teeth, such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel. Some flounder anglers prefer them as well.

Inshore saltwater fishing sinkers

Sinker choice is pretty simple. The rule of thumb is to use the least amount of weight required to hold the bottom. Several bags of split shot, (these are very small pinch-on weights), along with sliding egg sinkers and bank sinkers is all that’s required. Sinker weight will depend on the water depth and current in the area that are being fished.

Egg sinkers have a hole running through the middle which allows the sinker to slide on the line. This lets the fish to pick up the bait and move off with it, without feeling the resistance of the weight. Surf anglers use a “fish finder” rig which allows for virtually the same thing. With that device, a pyramid sinker is clipped on, making it easy to change weights with current conditions.

Inshore saltwater fishing with artificial lures

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

Jigs for inshore fishing

There is evidence pointing to the jig as being the first artificial fishing lure. A jig is basically a hook with some type of weight near the eye and a plastic tail or hair dressing. The lure is retrieved using a twitch and pause. This retrieve causes the jig to hop up then fall seductively through the water column. That is how it gets its name. Jigs can imitate both bait fish and crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.

Jigs come in countless sizes, shapes, and colors. However, there are two basic styles. There is the jig and grub combo and bucktail style jigs. Both have their advantages. Jigs also come in numerous weights and lengths. Heavier jigs allow anglers to fish deeper water. As in all fishing, the jigs should match the available forage.

Fishing with the jig and grub combo

The jig and grub is very versatile. With this system, anglers purchase the jig heads and the plastic bodies separately. This allows for constant changing of colors and lengths as well as styles. This is a very productive system that works well anywhere on the planet.

blue fishing inshore

Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida where I fish, the jig and grub is the most popular artificial lure. One quarter ounce jig heads are the most often used size as the water is fairly shallow. Anglers fishing deeper water or places were current is present will need heavier jig heads. Red, white, and chartreuse are three of the more popular jig head colors. I personally don’t put a lot of emphasis on jig head color.

Soft plastic baits for inshore fishing

Soft plastic tails are used with the jig. These also come in endless styles and colors. Shad tail, curly tail, paddle tail, and jerk worm styles all produce. While there are many different varieties, they all imitate either a bait fish or a crustacean of some sort. A jig head with a shad tail body is probably the most commonly used combination.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Shad tails and curly tail grubs have a great built in action. The tails look very natural when they are moving through the water. Curly tails are more popular in fresh water while shad tails are the choice in salt. Paddle tails and jerk worms require the action to be imparted by the angler.

Hair jigs

Hair jigs are also very popular. Bucktail jigs were the original types used and were made from deer hair. They are still available and are still very effective. Freshwater anglers have used marabou hair on their jigs for decades. It has great action but does not hold up as well as buck tail does in salt water.

inshore fishing in Saltwater

Synthetic hair jigs have become very popular in the last 10 or 15 years. They work well and are more durable than some of the other dressings. A plastic “trailer” can be added to the hair jig to give it even more action.

Jigs catch just about every species on the planet. A jig can be used to mimic just about any type of forage that a fish feeds on. There are also several different techniques that anglers jig fishing use to be productive. Jigs can be cast, vertically fished, and trolled.

Jigging techniques when inshore saltwater fishing

A vertical jig presentation catches a lot of fish. This technique is very easy to master. Vertical jigging is done in deeper water. The jig is simply dropped down to the bottom and then the lure is worked vertically. This action, where it hops up and falls naturally, is an effective presentation. Anglers do not even have to be able to cast to catch fish.

jig fishing for pompano

This is often done from a drifting boat. Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of water efficiently. No time is wasted as the bait spends the entire time in the strike zone. Most fish are found on or near the bottom. Anglers can also use a trolling motor to work a drop off or other structure.

Freshwater anglers have been employing this technique for decades. Bass, walleye, striped bass, trout, and really any species that holds on deeper structure can be caught using this approach. However, it is not practical in shallow water as the boat will spook the fish.

Casting jigs when inshore saltwater fishing

Most fish caught on jigs are done so by anglers casting. This is the most effective technique when fishing water ten feet deep or less or when fish are breaking on the surface. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink, and then worked back to the boat. The most productive retrieve is usually one where the jig is worked near the bottom.

Sarasota anglers

However, as with all lure fishing, the retrieve should be varied until a productive pattern emerges. At times, a steady “swimming” retrieve will produce well. When fish are working on the surface, a fast, erratic retrieve will usually work the best.

The jig and grub combo is by far the most popular lure along the southeast coastal United States. Anglers from Maryland to Texas use these baits to fool a variety of species. The low cost and versatility of the jig and grub combo makes them an easy choice.

Fishing jigs with live bait

Jigs can also be used in conjunction with live bait. This is a long proven technique in both fresh and salt water. In Florida where I guide, we often add a piece of shrimp to the lure. We call this “tipping the jig”. It can really make the difference when the water is cold or dirty. The extra scent helps the fish find the bait.

The jig and minnow has been producing fish for anglers for a long time. A buck tail jig with a small minnow hooked through the lips is a terrific combination. It is especially effective when drifting for flounder. The lure bait combo is deadly when slowly bounced along bottom structure. It can be cast out or vertically fished.

Inshore saltwater trolling with jigs

Jigs can also be trolled effectively. I grew up in fishing the Chesapeake Bay. Anglers trolling white buck tail jigs for striped bass use them to achieve success. Bluefish and other species will take a trolled jig. The primary issue when trolling jigs is to make sure the lure does not spin, which will cause line twist.

trolling for striped bass

There are many lure manufacturers out there. They are will produce fish when presented properly. My personal favorite line of baits in from Bass Assassin. They make a wide variety of baits and colors that cover every angling application, from pan fish to salt water.

Scented soft plastic baits have become very popular, and with good reason. These baits produce for anglers jig fishing. The Gulp! line of baits is the industry leader, in my opinion. The Gulp! Shrimp has produced many fish for me and my clients over the years. They do cost a little bit more money, but on days when the bite is tough, they can make all of the difference.

Plugs are effective saltwater fishing lures

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

I love fishing, but I really love plug fishing! The reason? Plugs are very productive on a wide variety of species and are a blast to use. Casting is half the fun; making accurate casts under trees or near docks is very satisfying and challenging. Bites range from subtle takes to downright ferocious strikes. Anglers need to take care, however. Anytime a lure with multiple treble hooks in involved, extra caution is required. Plugs come in many colors, shapes, and sizes, but can be broken down into two categories: surface or top water plugs and sub-surface baits.

Inshore saltwater fishing with topwater plugs

Top water plugs come in two basic styles; poppers and walk the dog baits. Poppers are very easy to fish and are quite effective. The Rapala Skitter Pop, Rebel Pop R, and Chug Bug are three popular examples. These are floating baits that have a concave face. The technique is simple; cast it out, let it settle for a moment, then twitch the rod tip sharply causing the face of the plug to dig into the water and make a loud “pop”.

guide to inshore saltwater fishing

The famous Zara Spook is the best-known example of a walk-the-dog bait. The Rapala Skitterwalk is another effective bait. The retrieve is a bit more difficult to master. After being cast out, the rod tip is held down near the water and a rhythmic twitching retrieve causes the lure to dance back and forth on the surface.

A slow retrieve works best with topwater plugs

One common mistake anglers make plug fishing is working top water baits too quickly and aggressively. This is particularly true on a very calm day. Slow, subtle action will generally draw more strikes. Another mistake often made is striking too soon. The sight of a large predator blowing up on the top water plug is very exciting, often resulting in a reflex strike that pulls the lure out of the fishes mouth. Instead, waiting until the weight of the fish is felt and then setting the hook in a smooth, sideways manner will result in more hook-ups. This is much safer as well.

Fishing with sub-surface plugs

fishing with plugs

While a top water strike can be spectacular, more fish are caught on subsurface baits. Most of these lures float on the surface and dive down when retrieved. Primarily, the lip on the lure determines the depth the plug will run. However, line size and retrieval speed are also factors. Lure manufacturers will have the pertinent information on the box. Rapala X-Raps are my personal favorites.

Plugs are available in a wide variety of colors and sizes. Lures should be used that are designed to dive down to the desired depth. Anglers should match the size of the plug to the available forage. Olive is my favorite all-around color, but gold and black and chartreuse work great in stained water, and pearl and silver are very effective in clear water.

Suspending plugs can be deadly. They sink slowly and are worked back with a twitch and pause retrieve. That pause, where the bait just suspends, seemingly helpless, really triggers the strikes. Lipless crank baits, such as the Rattletrap are very easy to use. Just cast it out and reel it back in; they have a great built in action. Chrome with a blue back is the favorite color almost everywhere.

Trolling with plugs is effective when inshore saltwater fishing

best 6 Sarasota fishing lures

Trolling plugs is a great technique to locate fish when scattered about in a large area. This also works well with children and novice anglers; if they can hold rod they can catch a fish. This applies to the inshore bays, passes, and near shore open water. Simply let out half the line, close the bail, and drive the boat around just above idle speed. Sometimes working the rod tip will elicit more strikes.

One trick that served me well on charters when plug fishing is to troll the passes. The traditional method is to drift with the current and cast jigs plugs or spoons. Once the drift is complete the boat idles back up and drift is repeated. As you idle back to the start, why not drag plug behind? Many mornings I catch more Spanish mackerel this way, as they prefer a fast-moving bait.

Fishing with plugs in open water

fishing with plugs

Casting and trolling plugs in the inshore open bays, near shore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean is an extremely effective technique in the spring through the fall when pelagic species move through. Anglers should look for birds and bait schools on the surface and troll around the edges of the bait, not right through the middle.

Sight casting to breaking fish is terrific sport! Spanish mackerel, bluefish, striped bass, false albacore, and other species will often be seen tearing up schools of helpless bait fish on the surface. Spanish will stay on top longer and not move as much as the albies. False albacore can also be very fussy; you may need to scale down the offering and go lighter on the leader. With all species, ease the boat into position and cast into the fish or troll around the edge of them and be prepared to hear your drag scream!

Inshore saltwater fishing with spoons

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King Mackerel

Spoons are another simple, but effective fishing lure. Spoons are basically a piece of metal bent into the shape of a spoon with a hook in it. They wobble and flash and imitate wounded bait fish. Spoons come in metal finishes such as silver, gold, and copper and there are also painted spoons.

Fishing spoons come in two different varieties; casting spoons and trolling spoons. Both are extremely effective for certain game fish when presented properly. Casting spoons are usually wider and heavier. Trolling spoons are light and slender with a very tight “wiggle”. Both require the use of a swivel, otherwise line twist will become an issue.

Saltwater fishing with casting spoons

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Casting spoons come in a variety of weights, with ½ ounce to 2 ounce spoons being the most popular. They wobble enticingly when retrieved. These lures are very easy to use. The angler simply casts it out and allow it to sink to the desired depth. The spoon is then reeled in using an erratic retrieve. These lures are great when fish are breaking on the surface. A very fast steady retrieve often works in this application.

Spoons are a great “search” bait. They cast a mile and a lot of water can be covered quickly. This helps anglers eliminate unproductive water in short order. Gold weedless spoons are very effective in shallow water. They also cover a lot of area while riding just above the submerged vegetation. Anglers targeting redfish have been using them for decades.

Saltwater fishing with trolling spoons

Trolling spoons are more slender. They are designed to be trolled and are fairly light. Trolling spoons are almost always used in conjunction with some device designed to get down in the water column, sinkers and planers are most commonly used.

Trolling spoons come in various sizes and colors. The lure used should match the size of the available forage. Fish can be surprisingly fussy when it comes to bait size. The same is true when it comes to speed. Mackerel prefer speeds of up to seven knots while other species prefer a slower moving bait.

Inshore saltwater fishing tips

Bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is a very simple, yet effective, angling technique. Many fish live and feed on or near the bottom. Bottom structure holds bait and game fish.

bottom fishing techniques

 

Bottom fishing is an easy and effective technique that any anglers can use successfully. It places natural bait on the bottom in hopes of attracting a fish. Live, fresh dead, and frozen bait can be used. Baits vary by location, depending on the forage available locally. Bottom fishing is effective in just about every fishing location for a wide variety of species.

While bottom fishing is basically dropping a bait to the bottom using a lead weight, there are nuances that will make a difference in terms of success. Leader strength and length, hook sizes, weights, and rigs are all factors that the successful bottom fishing angler will take into account.

Effective inshore saltwater bottom fishing rigs

There are several rigs that anglers use when bottom fishing. Sliding sinker rigs and spreader rigs are two of the most popular rigs for bottom fishing. Both have multiple variations and both are effective. Sliding sinker rigs allow fish to pick up a bait off the bottom and move off without feeling any resistance. Spreader rigs suspend multiple baits at various depths just off the bottom.

bottom fishing rigs

Sliding sinker fishing rigs

A sliding sinker rig consists of a leader and a sinker with a hole in it. Egg sinkers work well in this application. Egg sinkers come in many different sizes. They also roll on the bottom and do not hang up easily. Surf anglers use a device called a “fish finder”. This is a small plastic tube with a clip on it. The line passes through the tube and a clip is used to attach the weight. Pyramid sinkers are most often used by surf casters.

With either rig, most anglers use the same approach. The running line is passed through the sinker or fish finder. A swivel is then attached to the end of the line. The swivel stops the sinker from sliding down. The leader is then tied on to the other end of the swivel. Leader lengths vary, but most anglers use 2′ to 3′ of leader. A hook finishes off the rig.

More bottom fishing rigs

inshore fishing for sheepshead

One variation of this is called the “knocker rig”. It is just like the sliding sinker rig above, except the sinker is placed on the leader between the swivel and the hook. This results in the sinker sitting right on the eye of the hook. The knocker rig has two advantages. It keeps the bait right on the bottom where the fish feed. Also, if the hook hangs up, the sinker will often “knock” it free, thus the name. I use this rig a lot when sheepshead and snapper fishing. It is very effective.

Spreader rigs separate the hooks both horizontally and vertically. Wire arms are often used. Snelled hooks are attached to the arms. The hooks then go off to the side and away from the main line. Rigs can be hand-tied without the hardware. When the fish are biting, double headers are common. This rig works well fished vertically from a boat, bridge, or pier. Surf casters employ them as well.

Bottom fishing hooks and weights for inshore saltwater fishing

There are many different styles of hooks that anglers use when bottom fishing. Short shank live bait hooks are the most often used as they are easier to hide in the bait. Some anglers prefer a long shank hook. This is particularly true of flounder fishermen. Circle hooks are popular now as well. Circle hooks more often result in the fish being hooked in the mouth. This reduces the mortality rate among released fish. Circle hooks are mandatory in the Gulf of Mexico.

inshore saltwater fishing

The rule of thumb when choosing a hook is to match it to the size of the bait being used, not the size of the fish being targeted. A small hook in a large bait will usually not result in a hook up. Using a hook too large may hinder a natural presentation. Many large fish have been landed by anglers using small hooks, anglers should resist the urge to use a hook that is too big. Hook strength is also an issue. Fine wire hooks are good for small fish or those with a tender mouth. Larger fish and fish that need to be horsed out of heavy cover require a hook that is stout.

Sinkers for inshore saltwater fishing

Sinkers also come in various styles. Egg, bank, and pyramid sinkers are the most commonly used in salt waters by inshore anglers. Egg sinkers work well with sliding rigs while bank sinkers are best for spreader rigs. Pyramid sinkers are primarily used by surf anglers. The amount of weight used is determined by the depth and current that the anglers is dealing with. The goal is for the weight to be just enough to hold bottom when anchored or bounce along the bottom when drifting.

Top bottom fishing baits

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Bait choice runs the gamut and is generally determined by the local forage available. Just about any fresh fish caught can be cut into strips or chunks and used as bait. Check local laws for current regulations. Squid is a universal frozen bait that produces fish everywhere. Local bait shops will have other frozen baits available and will give anglers the best advice as to the bait of choice.

Shrimp is king in Florida where I fish and really along the entire Gulf Coast and up the east coast to the mid-Atlantic. Shrimp are a terrific bait live as well as fresh dead or frozen. They are the “nightcrawler of saltwater”, just about every inshore species love them. Live shrimp are hooked in the horn while dead ones are threaded on the hook.

Live bait fish can certainly be used by anglers bottom fishing. Flounder fishermen use live minnows with great success. Florida bottom fishermen use live pin fish for grouper and snapper. As with any fish, live or dead, check local regulations before fishing.

Saltwater bottom fishing techniques

Anglers fishing from boats need to make a choice; whether to anchor or drift. Both methods produce and have their advantages and disadvantages. Drifting is generally preferred when anglers are seeking a school of fish in open water. Drifting allows anglers to cover a lot of water, eliminating unproductive areas quickly. Both the spreader rig and slider rig will produce for anglers when drifting.

Flounder fishermen use a sliding sinker rig often. Flounder lie right on the bottom and this is an effective rig. Anglers targeting bottom fish that school up such as croaker, spot, weakfish, whiting, and sheepshead will do well with the spreader rig while drifting.

Note sinker at the eye of the hook, this is the “knocker rig”

bottom fishing

Many bottom species such as grouper in the south and blackfish further north relate to structure. This structure includes ledges, hard bottom, wrecks, and artificial reefs. Anglers targeting these species usually choose to anchor and present their baits. This is especially true on smaller pieces of bottom.

Boat positioning is crucial when bottom fishing

Anchoring properly is critical to success when working a piece of structure. The preferred technique it to anchor so that the boat ends up just a bit up-current and up wind of the structure. Baits presented right on the edge of the structure will hopefully draw the fish out away from their protection. Anchoring is a skill that only time and experience will perfect. GPS trolling motors have helped greatly with this!

Anglers bottom fishing from bridges and piers usually choose a spreader rig. It is effective in this application. Sliding sinker rigs can certainly be used, especially when cast out away from the pier or bridge. Often times the best approach is to fish as close to the pier and bridge pilings as possible. A knocker rig works well when doing this. Sheepshead and other species feed on barnacles attached to the pilings.

Surf fisherman do a lot of bottom fishing. Most fish caught off of the beaches are done so by anglers soaking a piece of bait on the bottom. This is true from Texas to Maine. Cut squid, cut bait fish, shrimp, and crabs are all great baits that produce a wide variety of species.

Inshore saltwater fishing on the flats

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The term “flat” is a broad one. For the purposes of this discussion, it will be defined as follows; “a flat is a large area of similar depth surrounded by deeper water”. Flats are very productive fishing areas. The reason is simple; food. Much of the forage that fish feed on lives in fairly shallow water. For the most part, we are talking about water between 1 foot deep and 10 feet deep.

Grass can only grow in water as deep as the sunlight will penetrate. Water clarity, current, and bottom composition are all factors that determine whether submerge grass will grow. But, where grass beds do exist, bait fish and crustaceans will thrive. This in turn will attract game fish.

Flats do not need to have submerge grass beds to be productive. Sand flats will also have crabs and other crustaceans. Some flats will have hard bottom areas and submerged rocks. These flats will most likely hold bait and game fish at one time of the year or another.

Flats fishing techniques in saltwater

There are quite a few different techniques that will produce for anglers fishing the flats. Anglers can drift the flats, anchor and chum or bottom fish, and troll. All three methods will produce fish when done correctly. Obviously, game fish need to be present as well.

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Drifting is a very effective technique when fishing the flats. This is especially true for large flats. Drifting allows anglers to cover a fairly large amount of area relatively efficiently. This will help locate fish while at the same time eliminating unproductive water.

Live baits and artificial lures are effective when drifting the flats

Anglers drifting the flats can choose to either cast artificial lures or drift with live or cut baits. The choice mostly depends on the area being fished and the species being sought after. Here in Florida where I fish, we cast jigs, spoons, and plugs in front of the drifting boat in search of speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species. This works well further north for species such as bluefish and striped bass.

Drifting the flats with live or cut bait can also be extremely effective. Flounder and other species caught on or near the bottom are particularly prone to a live or cut bait drifted in a natural manner. Squid cut into strips is a very effective bait. In reality, any type of cut bait or live bait will produce when bounced along the bottom.

Inshore drift fishing techniques

Free lining a live bait is a deadly technique when drifting the flats. As the name implies, it involves hooking a live shrimp or bait fish and floating it out behind the boat. The result is that the bait is slowly pulled behind in a very natural manner. If the current is strong or if wind is present, a split shot or two may be required to get the bait down in the water column.

flounder fishing

The best technique when fishing a flat is to approach it upwind and up tide of the area to be fished. In a perfect world, choosing a flat where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same or similar direction is preferred. Anglers then cast lures ahead of the drifting boat while anglers using live or natural bait present their offerings under the boat or just behind it.

Anglers can drift fish or anchor

Once fish are located, anglers can choose to continue the drift or anchor. If continuing to drift is chosen, angler simply keep fishing until the bite slows, then they idle back around and re-drift the area. Anglers choosing to anchor drop the hook, fish the area thoroughly, then move on when the action dies down.

Anglers choosing to anchor a flat will do so in a similar manner. The boat is anchored up current and hopefully upwind of the spot to be fished. Generally, anglers choosing to anchor on a flat have a specific spot in mind. This could be a piece of structure, a ledge, a bridge piling, or an area of hard bottom. Chumming can work well in this application, as it will hopefully draw game fish from all over the flat up behind the boat.

Inshore saltwater fishing in inlets and passes

Inlets and passes are terrific spots to fish! These are basically “fish highways”that game fish use to migrate between the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and the inshore bays. The term “pass” is used on the Gulf Coast of the United States. Pass is just a different word for an inlet, it is essentially the same thing.

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Sheepshead

Many inlets and passes have rock jetties running alongside. These jetties offer shore bound anglers a great spot to fish. Inlets and passes will naturally have good current flow as these are areas where the water bottlenecks down. In certain locations, anglers will need to plan their fishing trips around the slack tides. In many inlets and passes, the tides run very swift, making it difficult to fish during times of peak current flow.

Bait fish and crustaceans will seek refuge in the rocks of these jetties. Anglers casting artificial lures and live and cut baits will be successful. Often times, there is a hole on the backside of the jetty in the ocean or Gulf. This hole was created by an eddy in the current flow. This can be a great spot as fish will use the spot to stage.

Drift fishing inlets and passes

Fishing can be good in the inlet or pass itself. Again, anglers must choose the best times to fish. In Florida where I fish, tides are not quite as strong as they are in the North East. We often drift right down the middle of the pass while bouncing jigs in search of pompano and other species. Snook will stage in the passes and inlets in the summer time. Sheepshead and snapper will be caught in the structure itself.

Sarasota chumming techniques

Anglers fishing along the East Coast must be careful when fishing the inlets. Strong tides and high winds can create a very dangerous situation. Also, anglers must take boat traffic into account as well and never impede the flow of boats. Anchoring in a swift current can be quite dangerous as well. No fish is worth sinking the boat or getting hurt!

Chumming is very effective when inshore saltwater fishing

Chumming has been around for as long as humans have been fishing. Anglers use chum to catch a wide variety of species. Fish will respond to chum of all kinds in a variety of applications. These tactics not only work anywhere that anglers fish.

Chumming is basically the act of using food to attract fish to the angler. It can be done from shore, bridges, and piers. However, most associate chumming with boats. Chum can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. All are effective when used properly. Chumming is a deadly technique that should be part of every angler’s arsenal.

Fishing with frozen chum

Frozen chum blocks are very effective. These are basically chunks of ground up oily fish. Oily fish such as menhaden, sardines, mackerel, and mullet make the best frozen chum. The oils that are emitted from the chum block help to attract the fish. Chum blocks often come in a mesh bag. This makes using them very easy. They are simply tied to a cleat at the start of the boat. As the chum thaws, it is dispersed behind the boat. Chum blocks are available at just about every saltwater bait shop.

Fresh dead chum can also be extremely effective. This can be as simple as cutting up a few pieces of shrimp and tossing them in the water. This can work very well in the cooler months for fish species such as sheepshead and snapper. Anglers bottom fishing offshore will often cut up a fish they have caught, using it as chum.

Fishing with live chum

One of the most effective chumming techniques is the use of live bait fish as chum. This is a bit of a specialized method. It does require a lot of bait fish. Anglers catch small bait fish using a cast net. The baits are then put in a large, recirculating live well. Keeping a lot of baits alive and frisky is very important. The live bait is then tossed out behind the boat in hopes of attracting game fish.

The technique when using chum, no matter what kind, is basically the same. The angler is usually stationary, but it can be done from a drifting boat as well. Drifting is primarily done offshore in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. Whether from an anchored boat or a dock, bridge, or pier, the chum is dispersed into the water. The current will take the chum away from the boat or structure and draw in the game fish.

Strategy does come into play when chumming. Tide is the most important factor. Anglers will want to anchor the boat up tide of the area that is to be fished. This is true whether anglers are chumming inshore or offshore. The stronger the current, and the deeper the water, the further up current the angler will need to position the boat.

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Fishing with chum offshore

Chumming has been a mainstay of offshore anglers for decades. Those fishing wrecks, artificial reefs, and areas of hard bottom use chum to excite the resident fish. Chum can be dispersed both on the surface and on the bottom surface. Chum will attract a wide variety of species. Bottom fish such as grouper, snapper, grunts, and other species will respond to chum on the bottom.

Chum deployed on the surface can attract bottom fish as well. This is true if the angler is fishing and water that isn’t that deep or if the current isn’t very strong. Surface chum can also be used to pull fish up off the bottom. It is very cool when a school of fish rises up off the bottom and starts feeding on chum right at the surface!

offshore chumming

Anglers will oftentimes use both methods of chumming. A frozen chum block can be lowered to the bottom while another is tied off the stern. Sometimes the surface chum will attract bait fish, which in turn will attract the game fish. Anglers can use tiny hooks to catch some lively ballyhoo and other bait. Once the fish are in the chum “slick”, it is time to go fishing!

Best rigs for offshore chumming

Every angler has his or her favorite rig for offshore fishing. It is basically a running line, a leader, a hook, and if required, some weight. If fish are seen right at the surface in the chum, free lining bait back to them can be extremely productive. A piece of bait with no weight floating back looks very natural. In fact, the desired effect is to have it looked exactly like the other chum floating back.

Anglers bottom fishing will obviously need to add some weight. I prefer the “knocker rig”where the egg sinker lies right on the eye of the hook. Many anglers prefer to put the sinker on the running line then a swivel and a leader and hook. Both work fine, it’s just a matter of preference. With both bottom fishing and surface fishing, water clarity will be a determining factor in leader size.

Just a quick note; in the Gulf of Mexico, anglers are required to use circle hooks when fishing offshore. Florida fishing regulations have become a bit strict. There are closed seasons on grouper and snapper. The consensus is that circle hooks reduce the mortality rate of released fish.

inshore fishing in saltwater

Chumming is an effective saltwater fishing technique whether drifting or anchoring

Chumming can be effective from a drifting boat as well. This is something that is done more often in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. The chum is just dispersed over the side of the boat as it drifts with the current and wind. As in all forms of chumming, the hope is that it will draw game fish to the angler.

While many anglers think of chumming as in offshore technique, it is used quite often when fishing inshore as well. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, I use every trick that I know to help my clients catch fish. I use chumming as a technique on a regular basis to achieve this goal.

On those days when the water is chilly, chumming with small pieces of shrimp can be the difference between success and failure. Sheepshead and snapper are a bit lethargic in this cold water. A couple shrimp diced up into tiny bits and tossed back into the current will oftentimes stimulate the fish.

Chumming with live bait fish

Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique! This is something I do all summer long and into the fall until the water temperature hits around 70°. When bait fish are plentiful, it is a simple matter to cast net up a bunch of pilchards (scaled sardines) or threadies (threadfin herring) to use. Local anglers call this “white bait”or “shiners”.

chumming with live bait

Using live bait is one of the chumming techniques that I use all summer long. I mostly do this on the deep grass flats. These are submerge grass beds in between 6 feet of water and 10 feet of water. This deeper water is cooler than the shallower water is. Anglers seeking action and variety target the deep grass flats in the summer time.

I anchor the boat up current and upwind of the flat that I want to chum. Then, I simply toss out a few handfuls of live bait as chum. If the game fish are around, it won’t take them long to find the chum. Often times fish will be seen “popping”the bait behind the boat. Hooked baits are then tossed out and hookups are soon to follow.

Chumming with live bait produces many different species

Many different species are caught on the flats using this technique. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, and other species will all be attracted to the chum. This is a great time of year for novice anglers and children to experience some terrific action!

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Using the proper amount of chum is extremely important. This is something that an angler will only learn by experience. Also, every day is different. This is especially true with live bait chumming. Some days just several baits every five minutes will be plenty. On other days, it will take a lot of chum to keep them behind the boat and excited.

Using the right amount of chum when inshore saltwater fishing

The goal when chumming is to attract the fish, and get them excited, but without filling them up. If too much chum is used, the fish will remain back in the slick, but will become difficult to catch. The best bet is to use chum sparingly in the beginning then step it up if the bite is a bit slow. It is always better to start slow like this than to chum too much in the beginning.

Anglers will sometimes find that fish are hitting the chum bait but will not take a baited hook. This tends to occur more often when the water is very clear. The solution is to go lighter with the leader and use a smaller hook. Also, wherever possible use little or no weight.

Trolling for success inshore

Trolling with light tackle 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? 

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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 a great way to locate fish

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 has been a staple of anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean for many years. Pelagic species such as Striped bass, bluefish, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and cobia migrate along the coastline. 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!

Top trolling lures when saltwater fishing

Plugs are a great choice when 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 for this application. 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.

Small plugs can also be extremely effective in open water. 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, striped bass, and false albacore can be seen terrorizing helpless bait fish 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 for bluefish

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.

Trolling techniques to get lures down deep

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, bluefish, false albacore, and more. Fish will have to be hand-lined in once the trolling sinker reaches the rod tip.

trolling with planers

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 water. A #1 planer will dive five to seven feet. A #2 planer will dive down around fifteen feet.

Proper techniques when trolling with planers

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. Advanced anglers use wire line and umbrella rigs to catch striped bass and bluefish in deeper water. Downriggers are also used by some anglers. These are complex techniques that requires special, expensive equipment.

inshore saltwater fishing

Inshore saltwater fishing, surf fishing

Surf fishing is a very popular form of angling, especially along the eastern seaboard. Gulf Coast anglers practice it as well, though to a lesser degree. Much of the shoreline from Florida to Texas does not have sand beaches. Surf fishing is basically standing on the sand and casting out into the ocean. But, as in all forms of fishing, it is much more complex than that.

Surf fishing is quite condition dependent. If the conditions aren’t good, fishing is usually pretty tough. Persistent anglers can always scratch out a fish or two, but if it all possible, it is best to maximize the conditions when going surf fishing. Wave height, water quality, winds, tides, weeds, and season are just a few of the factors. Many books have been written on the subject of surf fishing. I will try to cover the basics here.

surf fishing

Surf fishing tackle

Surf fishing tackle is similar to spinning tackle with the exception of the rod length. The smallest surf rods usually start at around 10 feet and go up to 14 feet or more. The longer rods are required for both casting distance and to keep the line up out of the breaking waves. Many anglers choose to fish with two different outfits. They will use a 10 foot rod for smaller fish and a heavier 12 to 14 foot rod for larger fish.

Many anglers prefer surf fishing on the high tide stage. Generally speaking, the two hours before the high tide and after the high tide are the prime times. Couple that with having those times at dusk or dawn, and the chances of success increase. Surf casting can be excellent at night as well, particularly in the warmer months. Serious surf anglers will often use the extremely low tides to scout out the best spots. Cuts and offshore bars can often be seen at this time. Fish will use these cuts to move through the bars and onto the beach.

Surf fishing baits

While many fish are certainly caught by surf anglers using artificial lures, the vast majority of anglers choose to surf fish with natural bait. This bait can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. Of the three, fresh cut bait is the best all round choice. The optimum bait will change with location and season. Local bait shops are a great resource to get information on what’s hitting in the surf and the best bait to use.

striper fishing

Shrimp are very popular bait from the mid-Atlantic south to Florida and around to Texas. Fresh shrimp works best but frozen shrimp are fine. Live shrimp are available in some locations. Shrimp catch just about everything in the water and are great choice for anglers searching a “mixed bag”.

Anglers using will do well with a two hook spreader rig, a pair of #4 or #2 hooks, each baited with a small piece of shrimp. This is a great all round rig and will catch smaller species such as whiting, sheepshead, pompano and more while still given the angler a chance to catch a larger drum or other species.

More surf fishing baits

Squid is another universal bait that will work everywhere. It is relatively inexpensive and available at just about every tackle shop. Anglers can cut the squid into small pieces and use it in the same manner that frozen shrimp is used. Squid can also be cut into strips and used on a fish finder rig. This is the preferred method for flounder and for other larger fish species.

Just about any fresh fish can be cut up and used for bait, as long as it is legal to do so. Anglers should check local fishing regulations. However, some fish are better than others. Generally speaking, the oilier the fish the better it will be for bait. Mullet, menhaden, small bluefish, and spot are all popular baits.

Crabs can also be used by surf fisherman as bait. They are particularly effective when fishing for red and black drum. Weakfish find them irresistible as well. Crabs can tend to be a bit more expensive and do not stay on the hook as well as other baits. Sand fleas ( AKA mole crabs ) are a popular bait for pompano and other species.

Surf fishing techniques

Many surf anglers use a two-pronged approach. They will use a lighter 10 foot rod with a two hook spreader rig to catch the smaller species. Once a legal fish is caught, they will cut it into large strips and use that on a longer 12 foot or 13 foot surf rod with a fish finder rig and a heavy sinker. This is a great approach as it allows anglers to experience action on the smaller outfit with smaller fish while still having the chance to catch a very nice fish on the larger outfit.

surf fishing

As mentioned above, artificial lures can certainly be used when surf fishing. Anglers targeting striped bass in the northern part of the country do well with large poppers. These are cast out and worked aggressively on the surface. The loud ‘pop” attracts the striped bass and bluefish to the bait. This works very well when fish are actively feeding on the surface.

Spoons and jigs can be cast out into the surface well. Anglers can wait until they see breaking fish or other activity such as bait fish on the surface, or just blind cast in hopes of a strike. it can get tiresome throwing a heavy lower on a big heavy surf outfit. As in all fishing, bird activity is a great sign that fish are feeding nearby.

Tides for inshore saltwater fishing

Tides are one of the most important aspects of saltwater fishing. They often confuse novice saltwater anglers. Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon. Tides are strongest around the full moon and then strong again on the new moon. Conversely, tides are not as strong on the quarter moons.

Every angler has his or her preferred tide. There is no one answer to the question,”what is the best tide?” Tides don’t determine when to fish, they determine where where to fish. Anglers fishing the flats often prefer a high tide. The same goes for surf anglers. Anglers fishing tidal rivers, inlets, and passes often prefer the outgoing tide.

Tides will position fish when saltwater fishing

The best approach is to look at the tide and imagine how it will affect the fishes movements. Low tides will move fish off of shallow areas and into deeper areas where the they will feel safe. As the tide rises, the fish will move out of these deeper areas and up onto the flats to feed. Falling tides will cost fish to stage at ambush points.

Only experience and time on the water will tell an angler what they need to know to be successful in the water that they are fishing. Logs can be helpful to some anglers. Noting tide stage on successful days will help anglers determine the ideal tides in their area.

Top inshore saltwater fishing species

Speckled trout; aka spotted sea trout

fishing Sarasota Bay
Speckled trout

Speckled trout are one of the most popular inshore game fish. They are arguably the most popular inshore species from along the entire Gulf Coast. Speckled trout are available to anglers from Chesapeake Bay down to Texas.

Most anglers target speckled trout on the flats, though fish are caught in deeper water and off the beach as well. Trout are an aggressive, beautiful fish that hit hard, put up a bit of a tussle, and taste great. That explains why they are so desired by anglers, especially down south.

Speckled trout average around 16 inches. Anything over 20 inches is a nice fish and a speckled trout over 24 inches is a trophy. Anglers seeking numbers of trout will do best to target flats in 4 feet to 8 feet of water. This is where the majority of average sized fish will be found. These fish are generally found in fairly large schools. The larger fish are loners and can often be found in very shallow water.

Both live and artificial baits are effective for speckled trout

Both live bait and artificial lures produce a lot of speckled trout. It really is just a matter of the time of year and angler preference. The number one live bait is the shrimp. Live shrimp are available year-round and produce speckled trout along with just about every other inshore fish species. Shrimp are especially effective in the cooler months when pin fish and other small nuisance fish are less of an issue.

Live shrimp are often fished over the grass flats under a noisy float in southern waters. These floats are called “popping corks”. This is a very effective fishing technique. These floats are placed 3 feet above the hook. A live shrimp is then impaled on the hook. A # 1/0 live bait hook is a good all-around choice when targeting speckled trout.

The rig is cast out and allowed to settle. A sharp twitch of the rod produces a noisy “pop”. This simulates feeding fish and will attract trout and other species to the shrimp. Live bait fish can be used under the cork as well.

Fishing with live shrimp using no weight

Live shrimp can also be “free lined” out behind the boat. This means the shrimp is baited on a hook with no other weight. The shrimp can then be allowed to swim naturally. This works well in deeper water, over six feet deep.

charter fishing Siesta Key

Live bait fish are extremely effective for speckled trout as well. 2 inch to 3 inch pin fish, croakers, and grunts work well either free line or fished under a float. The float will keep the bait from getting down into the grass and suspend the bait at the proper depth in the water column.

Speckled trout respond well to live bait chumming

Chumming with live bait is an extremely effective technique anglers use in the warmer months. This is a staple for captains running fishing charters in Florida. A large cast net is used to procure several hundred scaled sardines or threadfin herring. The boat is then anchored in a likely spot and these live baits are used as chum to attract speckled trout up behind the boat.

Artificial lures fool many speckled trout. The number one artificial lure for anglers targeting speckled trout is the jig and grub combination. It is a simple yet very effective lure. This combo consists of a jig head and a soft plastic body. It is a very versatile lure as the tail sizes, shapes, and colors can be easily changed.

The jig/grub combo is the top trout fishing lure

The jig head is a hook with a piece of lead molded and near the eye. This lead adds casting weight and also is what imparts action to the jig. Jig heads come in many different sizes, weights, and colors. One quarter ounce jig heads are the best all round choice for fishing water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Red, white, and chartreuse are the best colors. Jigs have one single hook which helps when releasing fish.

Plugs are also extremely effective lures for speckled trout. They tend to catch larger fish. Plugs are meant to imitate bait fish. Anglers should choose a plug that imitates the forage that the speckled trout are feeding on. Plugs that stay up on the surface are called “topwater” plugs. They produce explosive strikes and are very effective when worked in shallow water.

Sarasota fishing calendar

Diving plugs are effective when saltwater fishing the inshore waters for trout

Shallow diving plugs float on the surface but dive down several feet when retrieved. These plugs work well in water deeper than two feet. Suspending plugs slowly sink and suspend in the water column. They are deadly on speckled trout. Plugs do have a couple of drawbacks. They are expensive and sport a dangerous pair of treble hooks.

Most anglers targeting speckled trout choose to drift. Most flats cover a fairly large area. Drifting is the most efficient way to locate fish. Anglers using both live bait and artificial lures cast out ahead of the drifting boat and work the baits back. Once a productive area is found, anglers can anchor and cover the area thoroughly or re-drift the area.

Big trout are often found in shallow water

Larger speckled trout are often found in shallow water. These fish tend to be “loners” and not in schools. Potholes (small depressions in shallow flats) will hold some trophy speckled trout! The edges of oyster bars and mangrove shorelines will also produce.

These fish can be finicky in shallow water and they spook easily. Anglers need to be patient and stealthy. Long casts are required. Artificial lures work well as it can be difficult to use live bait in the shallow grass. Topwater plugs and soft plastic baits on 1/16 ounce jig heads work well.

guide to inshore fishing

Fishing for saltwater trout at night

Night fishing can be an extremely effective technique for speckled trout. Lighted docks and bridges attract shrimp and small bait fish. This in turn attracts the trout. Outgoing tides are generally preferred. Live and artificial shrimp work well free lined in the current.

Speckled trout are fantastic eating and prized wherever they are caught. Here in Florida, we have a slot limit on them, with one large fish over 20” being legal to keep. I personally strongly encourage anglers to release all large trout. These are breeder females and are crucial to the success of the species. With the angling pressure that trout receive in the more populated areas, it is very important to release these big girls unharmed to breed.

Striped bass

Striped bass are the most popular inshore saltwater game fish in the Northeast. They range from Maine down to South Carolina. They have also been transplanted successfully in many large freshwater lakes. There is also a population of striped bass in San Francisco Bay. Striped bass are often found in schools. They grow quite large with the world record being a touch over 80 pounds. Stripers can be caught using every inshore fishing technique.

Striped bass fishing

Striped bass spawn in the brackish tributary rivers. Chesapeake Bay is responsible for about 80% of the striped bass spawning activity. The Hudson River in New York is second in that regard. Juvenile striped bass spend the first couple years in the freshwater and brackish rivers before migrating out to the open water. Striped bass can live up to 30 years old.

Striped bass can be caught using a wide variety of angling techniques. They are caught drift fishing, trolling, sight fishing, chumming, and surf fishing.

Drift fishing for striped bass

Drifting over productive areas with either live bait or artificial lures produces many striped bass for anglers. Channel edges, depth changes, areas of hard bottom composition, artificial reefs, bridges, creek and river mouths, and inlets are all prime spots.

Anglers choosing to drift with natural bait will have success use in both live and cut bait. A free lined pogy or menhaden is a deadly bait for a trophy striped bass. Small live eels are used as well, especially in Chesapeake Bay around the bridges. Cut bait such as strips or chunks of fresh fish and squid will also produce. Anglers choosing to drift while using artificial lures will do well with jigs and heavy vertical jigging spoons.

inshore fishing for stripers

Some anglers choose to anchor and chum a spot, rather than drifting it. This can be an extremely productive technique. The boat is anchored up on a drop off, piece of hard bottom, or other likely spot. Menhaden oil or other chum is dispersed with the tide from the stern. Several rods are rigged and hooked up with chunks of fresh baits such as pogy or menhaden. Any oily fish will work; bluefish and mackerel are fine baits. It is important to use circle hooks in this application to reduce the number of fish that are gut hooked. Many states require this by law.

Surface action when striped bass fishing

There is nothing more exciting than casting to schools of “breaking” striped bass! Stripers will herd schools of bait fish up in the water column and trap them against the surface. Once they do this, the feeding frenzy is on. Fish can be seen splashing and feeding on the surface from quite a distance away on a call morning. Often times, bluefish and even false albacore are mixed in with the stripers.

Artificial lures are great fun in this situation. Anglers casting surface poppers, shallow diving plugs, spoons, and jigs will all experience fast action as long as the lure resembles the bait fish in size and color. Some days it does not matter, the stripers will hit just about anything in the water that is moving. This action normally occurs in the fall in the inshore bays and in the Atlantic Ocean close to shore.

fishing for striped bass

Trolling for striped bass is very effective inshore

Trolling produces many striped bass, and normally the largest specimens. However, trolling can be cumbersome with all the gear that is required, but it is the most efficient way to get a lure down deep or many of the largest striped bass live and feed. Experienced anglers use wire line and specially designed to reels to get their umbrella rigs and other trolling gear down deep. Many of the charter boats in Chesapeake Bay are using this fishing method.

Anglers using lighter tackle can have success troll and as well. Anglers can use 20 pound conventional tackle and trolling sinkers or planers to get their lures down to the fish. Plugs with large lips will dive down without any other gear. For the most part, this type of trolling is best done in water 20 feet deep or shallower.

Inlets are great spots for inshore striped bass fishing

Inlets are excellent spots to target striped bass. This is especially true for anglers without a boat, as most inlets have jetties which allow anglers access. The best time to fish inlets is generally on the turn of the tide, when the current flow is reduced. It is difficult to fish when the current is running hard through the inlet.

inshore saltwater fishing

Anglers fishing the inlets can choose to use both natural and artificial baits. Those casting poppers and other plugs along with spoons and jigs do quite well when working parallel to the rocks. They will also make opportunistic cast whenever breaking fish pop up. Anglers bottom fishing need to constantly adjust the weight in order to minimize snags. Often times, the best spot to bottom fish is on the backside of the jetty where there is a sandy bottom and a current eddy.

Striped bass are targeted by surf anglers as well. These fish are prized by surf casters from the main beaches down to Cape Cod and as far south as Hatteras in North Carolina. Experienced surf fisherman usually have several rigs ready to go. They will often bottom fish with a large piece of bait on a fish finder rig, letting it set in the holder. While waiting for a bite, anglers can cast poppers and other artificial lures and are also ready if a “blitz” should happen to occur.

Red drum, aka redfish

Redfish are one of the most popular inshore species, right up there with speckled trout and striped bass. Redfish inhabit the entire Southeast part of the United States, from Texas around to Florida and up as far as the mid Atlantic. They are an extremely popular game fish in all these areas.

Sarasota fishing charters

Redfish are known by several different names depending on the geography. Red drum, channel bass, and puppy drum are several of the more popular ones. Here in Florida we simply call them redfish, or “reds” for short. They are found on the shallow grass flats where they school up. Redfish are often caught under docks and near other structure as well.

Fishing in shallow water presents some challenges. Fish are quite spooky when there’s barely enough water to cover their backs! This means that anglers must be stealthy when approaching them. Many shallow draft skiffs are specially designed to be extra quiet on the flats. Wading is also a great way to sneak up on skittish redfish.

Tides are important when fishing for red drum

Tides are critical when targeting redfish. Most anglers prefer a low, incoming tide. This tends to congregate the schools of redfish on the edges of bars and flats. They will also stage in what we call “potholes”. These are slight depressions in the shallow grass flats. The difference can be minimal, but enough to hold fish. A 3 foot depression on a flat that has 10 inches of water can hold an entire school of fish.

As the tide rises, reds will move up onto the flats and scatter out. They are feeding but are also scattered out. This can make them difficult to locate. On the highest stage, or flood tide, the fish will move way up under the mangroves. So, while it is easier to get the boat up on the flats on the higher stages of the tide, the fish are also much more difficult to locate.

fishing for redfish

Both lures and live baits are effective for redfish

Anglers targeting redfish in shallow water can be effective with both artificial lures and live bait. Artificial lures are generally best when prospecting for fish. The reason is simple; lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water much more quickly than they can do with live bait. Live bait can work very well once fish are located in a certain area.

One of the most effective lures for locating redfish on a flat is the weedless spoon. The venerable Johnson Silver Minnow in the half ounce, gold color has fooled many redfish over the years. It is a simple bait that can be cast a long way, is extremely weedless, and has a great fish attracting action. It has a large single hook which rides up in a weed guard covering the tip. There are many other manufacturers who produce quality weedless spoons as well. Local tackle shops will have a good selection of the most productive baits. A small black swivel is required when using spoons to help eliminate line twist.

Fishing for redfish with soft plastic baits

Soft plastic baits can also be very effective when searching for redfish. They don’t cover quite as much water as spoons do as the bait is moved a bit more slowly. Soft plastic baits are more effective when the angler has a general idea of where the fish may be. Bass assassin makes a terrific line of soft plastic baits in a myriad of sizes and colors. A 4” to 5” bait is about the right size with both paddle tales and jerk worms style baits being effective.

Anglers have a choice in how they rig their soft plastic baits. The most simple technique is to rig the bait on a 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce jig head. The hook will ride up in the bait will generally be snag free, though it will pick up grass on the head. Jig heads designed to fish in shallow water have a slightly different shape. The head curves up so that it skims over the grass. Jig heads can also be purchased with a weed guard, further reducing the chance of hanging up in the grass.

Sarasota fishing calendar

Other options when inshore saltwater fishing with soft plastic lures

Another option is a swim bait hook. These can be used to rigged the bait either Texas rigged while some have a weed guard. Both result in a fairly weedless presentation. These hooks also have a weight in the middle of the hook, resulting in the bait having a natural horizontal look.

Plugs can also be effective for redfish on the flats. If the water is very shallow, a foot or two deep, anglers will have to use top water plugs. Redfish have an inferior mouth, that means it is behind the nose pointing down. However, they will take a bait on the surface. Rapala Skitterwalk and Heddon Zara Spook baits are both very effective lures. Anglers working slightly deeper water or mangrove shorelines can score with a shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap slashbait.

Live bait produces redfish

There are situations where live bait can be more effective when fishing the shallow flats. As mentioned earlier, redfish will stage up in potholes and in channels on the lower tide stages. A large live shrimp fished in these holes can be deadly. Many anglers remove the tail and insert the hook in that area. This results in the shrimps natural juices dispersing into the pothole. A # 1/0 live bait hook and a light split shot is all that is required. A float can be used to add casting weight and indicate bites.

It can be a bit overwhelming searching for reds on the shallow flats. There are just so many places that the fish can be! Many anglers believe that finding schools of mullet on the flats is a key to success. The thought is that the mullet stir up the bottom while swimming along, dislodging crabs and other forage from the weeds. This is a natural chum line that will attract redfish. Birds, bait fish, and other game fish are also signs of a lively redfish flat. Otherwise, it is just a matter of patience and experience.

fishing for bull redfish

Many redfish are caught by anglers fishing docks and other structure. Docks provide both cover and forage for redfish. I have found in my experience that the most productive redfish docks are in between four and 8 feet of water.

Dock fishing for red drum

Anglers who prefer casting artificial lures can use the trolling motor and slowly work a line of docks. A quarter ounce jig with a soft plastic body work well for this type of fishing. One days when the bite is tough, switching to a scented baits such as the Gulp shrimp can make the difference.

It is tough to beat a live bait when fishing docks for redfish and other species. It gives anglers the opportunity to thoroughly work a good dock. A large live shrimp is a great year-round bait. They are easily acquired at local bait shops. A #1/0 live bait hook in a split shot or two is a simple and effective rig. An added bonus to this technique is that many other species will be caught as well. Snook, mangrove snapper, flounder, black drum, and other species will intercept a shrimp meant for a red.

fishing report for Sarasota, Florida

Live bait fish can also be used effectively when targeting redfish under docks. The same live bait chumming method is deadly on redfish and snook when implemented around the dock. A 3 inch pin fish or grunt can also be deadly and will usually catch larger fish. The downside to using live bait fish is that anglers in most instances will have to catch their own.

Seasonal redfish patterns

Redfish in the south follow a seasonal pattern. In the winter most reds are caught in canals, creeks, and under docks in the backwater areas. In spring they scatter out onto the flats. Most fish will be in very small pods. By late summer they are schooled up into larger numbers on the flats before moving out into the Gulf. In the fall, reds can be anywhere, flats, Gulf, Atlantic Ocean, and backwater spots.

Large schools of big redfish are often encountered in the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. These schools are easy to spot. In clear water, the water will actually turn red. Fish are also seen milling and busting baits on the surface. These fish are tackle-busters. Anglers need to gear up for these fish!

Sarasota redfish

Redfish are caught by surf anglers as well. These fish can be very large. Runs of “channel bass” as they are known in the mid-Atlantic, are legendary. Crab fished on the bottom is the top bait. Clams, shrimp, and cut bait will also produce redfish.

Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel are a terrific, and in my opinion, underrated game fish. They are widely distributed along the East Coast of the United States as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are very fast fish, feed aggressively, and are excellent table fare when eaten fresh.

fishing charter Siesta Key

Spanish mackerel are a pelagic species. This means that they spend most of their time in the middle of the water column. They do not relate to bottom structure, other than the fact that that same structure attracts bait. Spanish mackerel also make a seasonal migration up the coastlines in the spring, then back down in the fall. They spend their winters in the tropical moderate climates.

Here in Sarasota, Florida where I guide, our prime times for Spanish mackerel are spring and fall. However, if we experience a very moderate winter or a cooler than average summer they can be caught all year long. Spanish mackerel are a fish that pleases every angler, whether they fish from shore, in the bays, or out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

Spanish mackerel fishing techniques

Mackerel can be taken using a variety of baits and techniques. I personally enjoy catching them using artificial lures and fly fishing. Mackerel hit so hard and make such long runs that it is really quite exciting to catch them while casting artificial lures on light tackle.

The most productive artificial lures are spoons, jigs, and plugs. Live shrimp and bait fish catch plenty of fish as well. Anglers can fish from the surf, jetty, or pier. They can also fish bays, passes and inlets, in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean from a boat.

The lead head jig plastic grub combination produces a lot of fish in Florida and beyond. These lures are very versatile, cast well, are cost-effective, most importantly catch a lot of fish! Spanish mackerel most often respond to a fast retrieve. Therefore, jigs with a Shad tail body work best when targeting them. The Shad tail grub has a terrific motion when retrieved through the water either slowly or more quickly. Anglers cast the lure out, allow it to sink, then retrieve it back in at a fairly brisk pace with sharp hops.

Spoons and plugs are productive baits for Spanish mackerel fishing

Silver spoons are another very effective lure when targeting Spanish mackerel. Their main advantage is that they cast a long way. A 1/2 ounce silver spoon is a very good all-around size when targeting Spanish mackerel. The lure can be cast out and retrieved back steadily or by using an erratic motion. It is important to use either a snap swivel at the lure or a swivel between the leader and the running line to prevent line twist.

fishing for Sanish mackerel

Plugs are another very effective lure for catching Spanish mackerel. However, they do have a couple disadvantages. They are bit more costly, which can be an issue when the toothy Spanish mackerel start cutting lures off with their teeth. Also, dealing with trouble hooks and a thrashing Spanish mackerel can be dangerous. Careful anglers will find them worth the trouble, especially when trolling.

Spanish mackerel habits

Spanish mackerel prefer clear water. They mostly feed by sight. Anglers should therefore target Spanish mackerel in clear water using light colored lures. Lighter colors tend to be more effective in light clear water. White, silver, and olive have all been productive patterns for clients on my fishing charters.

Live bait certainly accounts for many Spanish mackerel landed by anglers. Live shrimp are the most effective and widely used live bait for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. Just about every bait shop along the Gulf Coast and eastern seaboard up to the mid Atlantic carry live shrimp.

Sarasota fishing excursion

Inshore saltwater fishing for Spanish mackerel

Shrimp are very easy to use. Anglers simply hook the shrimp under the horn just above the brain and cast it out into the water. Anglers fishing from the surf or jetties as well as piers may need to add a sinker for casting weight. A hook with a long shank will help reduce cutoffs from mackerel. A #1/0 is a good all-around hook size.

Whenever possible, the best approach is just allow the shrimp to be hooked on with little or no weight. This is called free lining and it works very well. Sometimes a small split shot will be required. This is the best approach when fishing with live shrimp from a drifting boat or when anchored over and artificial reefs.

Live bait fish are extremely effective for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. However, catching in using them is a bit more involved. Most anglers using live bait fish will catch them themselves. A cast net, the ability to throw it, in a large bait well with a good recirculating pump are required.

Spanish mackerel respond to chumming

Chumming is one of the most productive fishing methods in saltwater. It is a very effective technique as mackerel respond well to chum. Anglers can chum with frozen blocks or with live bait fish. It works very well over structure such as artificial reefs.

Anglers will need a leader of some sort when targeting Spanish mackerel. While some choose to use a wire leader, I stick with a heavier fluorocarbon leader. I feel that the risk of getting cut off versus the extra number of bites is worth using the fluorocarbon leader.

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Anglers can attach the leader to the running line by using a small number 10 black swivel. It is important to not use a shiny swivel as this will attract mackerel, resulting in them severing the line at the swivel.

The leader may also be attached to the running line using a leader to leader not such as the Double Uni-knot. Finally, the hook or lure is attached to the terminal end.

Spanish mackerel fishing techniques

As mentioned above, there are multiple techniques which will produce Spanish mackerel. Casting, drifting, trolling, and fly fishing will all put Spanish mackerel in the boat. As with all fishing, current conditions will dictate the best place to fish in the technique to employ.

Drifting open water while either casting artificial lures or flies or free lining a live bait out behind the boat is simple and very effective. On the West Coast of Florida and along the entire Gulf Coast this method works well both on the deeper grass flats and 4 foot to 10 feet of water as well as the open Gulf of Mexico. Anglers will do well to keep their eyes peeled for signs of fish such as birds working and fish feeding on the surface.

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Drift fishing passes and inlets is effective

Drifting can work very well in the passes and inlets also. Anglers simply set up a drift allowing the boat to cover a productive area. Both lures and live bait work well. Anglers on the East Coast will have to choose times when the title flow is moderate. It is just too difficult to fish this way when the tide is very swift.

Anglers without a boat most certainly catch their share of Spanish mackerel. Piers, jetties, bridges, and beaches can all be productive areas, especially in the spring and fall. The keys to fishing these areas are clear water and the abundance of bait fish. Anglers encountering these conditions when the water temperature is in the low to mid 70s have an excellent chance of successfully targeting Spanish mackerel.

Shore fishing for Spanish mackerel

The same methods that work while fishing from a boat are productive for shore bound anglers. Lures can be cast out and retrieved while live bait can be allowed to naturally attract mackerel. It is important to try to make the presentation as natural as possible and use as little weight as is required. As with boat fishing, keeping a sharp eye out for signs of activity will lead to a productive outing.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Trolling is an incredibly productive technique for Spanish mackerel. It is also quite simple. Anglers tie on a lure such as a spoon or plug, and let it out behind the boat a good distance. Then, the boat is simply driven around a bit above idle speed. When a Spanish mackerel takes the lure, there is little doubt. This is a very easy and relaxing way to fish and is productive both inshore, in the passes and inlets as well as out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

Spoons and plugs are the two best lures to employ when trolling. The jig will tend to roll and spin at those higher speeds while the plug and spoon will track naturally with a great wobbling action. Once a productive area is located, anglers can troll back and forth through that area maximizing the action.

Bluefish

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 south and around to Texas target them from boats, jetties and piers, and the surf. Pound for pound, bluefish are one of the strongest fighting game fish in the sea.

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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 blue 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. Bluefish grow much larger in the northeast. The world record is almost 32 pounds!

Bluefish are caught in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, along the beaches, and offshore in open water. They prefer clean, clear water. 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.

Bluefish will feed on the surface

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 marked decrease in strikes. These fish are usually so fired up and aggressive that they will hit a spoon, plug, or jig with reckless abandon.

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Bluefish will be caught when fishing for other saltwater species

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.

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 a productive lure for bluefish

Jigs are my preference when fishing for 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 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.

inshore saltwater fishing

Fishing for blues with spoons and plugs

Spoons are another effective lure when targeting 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 treble 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 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 treble hooks. These can be dangerous when trying to unhook an angry bluefish.

Fishing for bluefish using live and cut 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, mackerel, porgy, 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.

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Anglers choosing to surf fish almost always opt for cut bait. It really just is a practical decision that is also 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 bluefish is the fish finder rig.

Anglers can certainly use live bait when surf fishing as well. This is particularly true on the Gulf Coast 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.

Drift fishing for bluefish

Anglers drifting over the flats and in the passes and inlets will catch 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.

jig fishing for bluefish

Bluefish are good eating when prepared correctly

In my opinion, bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating quality. I find the smaller bluefish and the 2 to 3 pound range to be 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.

Flounder and fluke

Flounder and fluke are without doubt one of the favorite species of inshore saltwater anglers. They fight hard and are fun to catch, but their popularity rises from their value on a dinner plate. They are fantastic eating!

The term “flounder” is a bit confusing. Down south, we have southern Gulf flounder. Up north, anglers have fluke and winter flounder. The fluke is more like a southern flounder, having a very large mouth. Both are voracious predators. The winter flounder has a very small mouth. For the purposes of this discussion, we will term both fluke and southern flounder as “flounder”.

Flounder and fluke habits

Flounder are a unique fish. They begin their lives like most fish. At some point, they start swimming on their side and the eye migrates so that both are on the same side. The fish then spends the rest of its life swimming on its side and “looking up”.

Flounder are perfectly designed to live and feed in inshore saltwater bays. They bury themselves in the sand, completely camouflaged. They lie there in wait, ambushing prey as the tide brings bait past. Flounder will relate to structure of some sort when available. Bridges with good current flow are prime spots, as are docks and inlets. Flounder are also taken in the surf and in the open Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

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Flounder fishing techniques

Fuke and flounder are predators and target live bait fish and crustaceans. Live minnows are a top flounder bait. They can be purchased at some bait shops. Many flounder anglers use a minnow trap to catch their own bait. Shrimp are a great bait in southern waters. Strips of squid and other cut bait work quite well and are a good choice when fishing in areas with a lot of crabs.

Artificial lures catch plenty of flounder as well. The most effective flounder lure is without a doubt ta jig. Jigs can be fishing right on the bottom, where the flounder feed. Both buck tail and plastic grub jigs produce fish. Many anglers combine both the jig and bait by adding a minnow, strip of squid, or piece of shrimp to the jig. This approach works very well!

Drift fishing works very well for flounder

Many anglers choose to drift fish when targeting flounder. This is an effective technique when fish are scattered out over a large area. A sliding sinker rig will keep the bait right on the bottom. Spreader rigs work well, too. Often times the bite will feel like a snag. This is due to the flounder being buried in the sand. But, don’t be surprised when the “snag” comes alive!

Anglers targeting structure usually anchor, though a piece of structure can be drifted as well. Flounder will often position themselves in the sand just off the edge of the structure. Also, flounder will usually be on the up-current side of the structure. This applies to bridges as well.

Flounder and fluke fishing

Bridges are great flounder fishing spots

Bridges are flounder magnets. Often times, bridges are constructed in a spot where the bay narrows down. This means that current flow is usually stronger under bridges. This makes them excellent ambush spots for flounder and other inshore species.

The channel edge under the bridge can be the best spot. Fish like edges and depth changes. That, in conjunction with the structure of the bridge makes this a prime fishing spot. Anglers can anchor or drift, depending on current and laws. Some bridges prohibit anchoring underneath them.

Pompano

Pompano are found along the entire Gulf of Mexico coast and up the Atlantic coast to the mid-Atlantic. Most pompano are caught by anglers surf fishing. Pompano may be encountered at any time of the year, with spring and fall being the prime times.

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.

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Many pompano are caught by anglers fishing with jigs

Jigs produce most of the pompano landed by anglers fishing the inshore bays. 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 forage on 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 beaches, in the passes and inlets, and in the bays. Bright colors such as red, chartreuse, and white are the most productive patterns, but as with all fishing, keep changing it up until a favorite emerges.

Small jigs work best for pompano fishing in inshore waters

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 trout, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species will also fool pompano. The same jig and fall retrieve is productive. The deeper flats, 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.

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Pompano fishing with bananna jigs

There is another type of lure specifically designed to for pompano. 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.

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.

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.

Sand fleas are a top bait when pompano fishing

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. Dedicated surf anglers use 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.

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One great thing about pompano 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.

Surf fishing for pompano

The surf along the Gulf Coast is generally a bit more gentle than that of the Atlantic 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 Gulf 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.

pompano fishing

Small hooks and baits work best when surf fishing for pompano

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.

The surf on 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.

Atlantic coast surf fishing

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.

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 once with this rig.

Ocean surf fishing techniques

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.

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 sand spike 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.

Sheepshead

Sheepshead are a member of the Porgy family. They feed primarily on crustaceans and are rarely taken using artificial lures. Live shrimp and fiddler crabs are the top baits. Sheepshead fishing is best in February and March in the south, later in the season up north. Fish are schooled up thick around structure as this is when they spawn. Sheepshead are very good eating, but are difficult to clean.

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Sheepshead will almost always relate to some type of structure. Docks, bridges, seawalls, piers, rocky ledges, and oyster bar are all structures which will attract sheepshead. They are caught on ledges and artificial reefs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean as well.

Most sheepshead are caught on or near the bottom. The basic rig consists of a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader. 30 pound test is a good all-around strength. Some weight will be required to get the bait down to the bottom. In fairly shallow water with little current, a split shot or two will be plenty. In deeper water or with current present, a 1/2 to 1 ounce sliding egg sinker should be fine. Tie on a #1 or #1/0 live bait hook.

Bottom fishing rigs for sheepshead

There are a couple different ways to use this sliding egg sinker. Both allow the sheepshead to move off with the bait without feeling any resistance. The first method is to slide the egg sinker on the running line. A #10 black swivel is tied between the running line and the leader. The swivel stops the sinker from sliding down while still allowing the line to slide freely through the sinker.

The second method is called a “knocker rig”and is the technique that I usually employ on my fishing charters. With the leader attached, the end of the leader slides through the sinker and then the hook is tied on. The sinker will lie right against the eye of the hook. This rig results in the bait being right on the bottom. It tends to hang up less. The sinker being on the hook does not discourage bites.

Shrimp are by far the number one bait for anglers sheepshead fishing. Shrimp are available at nearly every bait and tackle shop. Live shrimp are generally preferred, however fresh dead and frozen shrimp catch plenty of sheepshead as well. Some serious sheepshead anglers prefer fiddler crabs. These are fine baits, however anglers will usually have to catch their own. The same goes for oyster crabs. Sand fleas will also produce sheepshead. A few bait shops keep these in stock.

Best technique for hooking sheepshead

Sheepshead are notorious for being expert bait-stealers. Often times anglers will only feel a slight “tap” or two and then the bait is gone. One mistake many novice sheepshead anglers make is to try to set the hook when they feel a bite. This will usually result in the fish getting away with the bait unscathed.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

This is the best technique to use when sheepshead fishing regarding hooking these sneaky fish. Cast the bait out and let it settle. Tighten up the line and then keep it as still as possible. The first indication of a sheepshead being interested is a subtle “tap”. It is very important to not move the rod tip at all! The angler needs to wait until a steady pull is felt. Often times, there will be multiple “taps” before this happens.

Once a steady pull or a little weight is felt on the line, the line should be reeled up quickly than the rod tip slowly raised. Reeling quickly will remove any slack and get the hook started into the sheepshead mouth. That mouth is full of hard teeth and often times the hook will not penetrate. Reeling quickly and slowly lifting the rod tip offers the best chance for success. But one thing is for certain when sheepshead fishing, more fish will be missed that will be hooked!

Jack crevalle

Jack crevalle are very powerful, using their broad bodies and large forked tails to put up a terrific fight. They are generally found in fairly large schools, and this adds to the aggressiveness. Competition forms within the group to see who can catch and devour the prey. This makes them a fantastic game fish!

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Jack crevalle are perfectly suited to anglers who prefer casting lures and flies. While they can certainly be caught on live bait, and many are, they are so aggressive that using lures is a natural choice. Just about any artificial lure will catch jacks. Jigs, spoons, plugs, and flies are all effective. Jacks prefer warmer water but are caught up to the mid Atlantic.

Inshore saltwater fishing for jacks

Here in Florida, jacks do have a seasonal migration pattern. They are generally found in creeks and residential canals in the cooler months. Jacks are a subtropical species and cannot tolerate water temperatures in the mid-50s for very long. The water in these residential canals in creeks can be up to 10° warmer than the exposed open flats. This results in jacks being congregated in a small area, making them much easier to locate.

As it warms up jacks will move out of the creeks and canals and onto the nearby flats. The warming water temperatures will have them in a mood to feed. Often times they will give away their location by feeding aggressively on the surface. Anglers can scan the water surface for feeding fish along with bird activity. At this point it is just a matter of getting a bait in front of them. Any lure that even mildly resembles the forage will draw a strike.


Jacks will seek out cooler water in the summer time. This can be deeper flats and 10 feet of water, deeper canals, the passes, in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Summer is the one time when live bait can be more effective for jacks. The water temperature being warm has them a little less aggressive. Chumming with live bait fish will fire them up and get them in a mood to feed.

Jack crevalle fishing strategies

One technique that we use here in Sarasota quite often is drifting the deep grass flats. We simply drift over the submerge grass with the wind and tide while casting out lures in search of game fish. Jacks will often times be found in such locations, even when surface activity is not present. As with jack fishing everywhere, they usually school up and are quite aggressive.

The jig and grub combo is a great all round saltwater bait. It is a great choice when targeting jack crevelle, and really any other inshore species. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch shad tail trailer is a good all-around combo. Color doesn’t matter that much, though when possible it is best to match the clarity of the water. Light-colored baits work best in clear water while darker colored baits work better and water that is stained.

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Anglers casting plugs enjoy some terrific light tackle action on jack crevelle. They will draw some ferocious strikes! Top water plugs are fun and exciting, however shallow diving plugs are generally more productive. Anglers can blind cast likely looking spots such as mangrove shorelines, seawalls, docks, and other structure. Casting plugs into breaking fish is obviously great fun. Two drawbacks to using plugs are the initial cost and having to deal with a pair of treble hooks. Some manufacturers are now offering plugs with a pair of single hooks.

Tackle used when jack crevalle fishing

Spoons are very effective lures for jack crevelle as well. They cast the mile, can be worked back aggressively, and closely mimic most bait fish that are in the water. They are reasonably priced and anglers can easily replace the trouble hook with a single J hook.

Fly anglers will do well with any bait fish imitations. In all white or chartreuse over white clouds or minnow on a number one hook is a great all round choice. One of the few times that jacks can be fussy is when they are feeding on tiny glass minnows. This is a circumstance where the fly fisherman can shine, as it is easier to match the hatch with a small fly than it is with a heavy artificial lure.

The tackle an angler uses when targeting jack crevelle depends on the size of the jacks that may be encountered. After all, the world record is 66 pounds! In Sarasota where I fish, most jacks are in the to to 5 pound range with the occasional fish reaching 10 pounds. For this fishing, the same light to medium spinning tackle that is used for snook and redfish and other species works fine. A 30 pound to 40 pound piece of fluorocarbon leader is used between the running line and the lure.

inshore saltwater fishing

Jack crevalle fishing can require stout tackle

Anglers who fish on the East Coast of Florida may need to beef the tackle up a bit. The inlets and residential canals there as well as the open bays hold some very large jack crevelle. Light conventional tackle may be a better choice, especially when fishing around docks, bridges, and other structure.

The same decision holds true for fly anglers. While an eight weight outfit is perfect for the Sarasota area, anglers on the East Coast or in the Caribbean might be better off with a 10 weight outfit. With either selection an intermediate sink tip line is the best all round choice. An 8 foot to 10 foot paper leader with a 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the rig.

Jack crevalle are targets of opportunity

As a fishing guide in Sarasota, I’m on the water around 200 days a year. Rarely do I actually target jacks. In most instances they are a happy interruption to our snook fishing attempts. I treat them as a target of opportunity, never turning down a chance when I see a school of jacks foraging on the surface.

The one time I do target jacks is in the creeks and rivers in the wintertime. Starting around late October depending on the year, jacks will begin their migration up into the creeks, rivers, and canals. For whatever reason, they tend to do less feeding on the surface in these areas. Blind casting with plugs such as the #8 Rapala X-Rap will allow anglers to cover a lot of water quickly and find the jacks of their in the area. In most instances, finding jacks is equal to catching them.

Sarasota jack crevelle

Fly fishing for jacks

This is a great opportunity for novice anglers to catch a large fish on fly. Short easy casts are the norm in jacks are generally not fussy about presentation. A 5 pound Jack puts up a terrific fight on a seven weight or eight weight fly rod.

It disappoints me to hear jack crevelle called trash fish or an undesirable species. Pound for pound, very few game fish strike as violently or pull as hard as do jacks. There is no need to disparage them just because they aren’t as desirable table fare

as some other species. Instead, appreciate them for what they are, one of the hardest fighting fish in the sea!

Snook

Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are very similar inhabits to largemouth bass. However, they can grow to 50 pounds! Snook can be caught all year long using a variety of techniques and baits. They do have a limited range and are generally found in the southern half of Florida and in south Texas.

Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. They spawn out onto the beaches and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean from May through September. Many snook will stay in the passes and inlets as well. They find the deep water, good current flow, and abundant structure quite attractive.

Sarasota fishing forecast

Late spring and early summer are great times to catch a trophy snook in the passes and inlets. They are bunched up and in relatively large schools in a pretty small area. While artificial lures will produce, live bait works best in this situation. Live shrimp, pin fish, grunts, croakers, and large scaled sardines are the top baits. Most anglers anchor and cast the baits out near docks and rocky shorelines.

Fishing for snook on the beaches

Snook are sight fished off of the beaches. This is great sport, especially on a fly rod. Snook can be seen cruising right in the surf line just inches from shore. They are bit spooky, in a quiet presentation is required. This is part of what makes fly fishing so effective. Small white buck tail jigs, small plugs, and small white flies are the top baits. Anglers can go fairly light on the tackle as there is usually very little structure for the fish to break off on.

After the spawn as fall arrives and water temperatures begin to cool, snook will move out of the passes and off the beaches. They will spread out into the inshore waters to feed. Fall is an excellent time to target snook. Flats and structure inshore will hold good numbers of snook.

Snook fishing with artificial lures

Anglers who enjoy bass fishing and casting lures will find snook fishing appealing. Top water and shallow diving plugs, soft plastic baits, and weedless spoons are the top lures. Mangrove shorelines, docks, and oyster bars are prime spots. Anglers can cover a lot of water and a lot of likely looking spots using artificial lures. It can also produce some very exciting strikes!

Sarasota snook fishing

One deadly technique this time of year is to chum using live bait. This is a bit of a specialized technique. It requires a large bait well, good pump, and a large cast net and the ability to throw it. Once the angler has several hundred to inch to 3 inch baits in the well, the boat is anchored up in a likely spot. A few of the live baits are tossed out unhooked to attract snook up behind the boat. Once they are attracted and excited, they are usually fairly easy to catch using hooked live baits. This is a great opportunity for an angler who is less skilled and experienced to catch snook.

Tactics for winter snook fishing

Every winter is different here in Florida. If the winter is mild, snook will remain on the flats all year long. However, a severe cold snapper or two will push them up into residential canals and creeks. Snook are a tropical species and cannot tolerate water temperature below 58° for very long. These canals and creeks are warmer and offer snook a refuge from the exposed open bays.

Miles of residential canals along with creeks and rivers provide sanctuary for snook in the winter. Casting or trolling artificial lures allows anglers to cover a lot of water quickly. Shallow diving plugs work very well. A 5 inch or 6 inch soft plastic swim bait on a light jig is another effective bait. Large live shrimp can be deadly once a productive area is located.

Sarasota fishing charters

Snook habits

As it starts to warm up and spring, snook will move out of their winter hunts and spread back out onto the flats and inshore waters. This fishing is a lot like the fall fishing. Both artificial lures and live baits will be effective. There is one difference however, normally the large scaled sardines have not arrived yet. Once they do, live bait chumming again becomes a very effective technique.

While snook do not have teeth, they do have very sharp gill plates. For this reason anglers use a shock leader. A shock leader is a 24 inch to 30 inch piece of leader tied onto the end of the running line. Most anglers prefer a line to line knot such as the double Uni knot when attaching the leader. This eliminates the use of a swivel which can detract from the action of the lure.

Snook fishing at night

Snook are also nocturnal. This obviously means that they feed at night. Many snook have been caught from lighted docks and bridges at night. These lights attract shrimp and other bait fish, which in turn attracts the snook. Outgoing tides are preferred. The basic technique is to anchor a cast away from the light on either the dock or the bridge fender, cast the bait up current, and let it work back naturally towards the light with the tide.

The best live baits for snook are shrimp and live bait fish. Live shrimp can be purchased at all local area bait shops. The larger hand picked shrimp are preferred when fishing docks and other structure. When they are not available, normal-size shrimp works fine. Small to medium-size shrimp are actually preferred when fishing at night as they match the size of the shrimp that are naturally in the water.

False albacore

False albacore fishing is incredible! It is one of my favorite forms of angling where I fish in Sarasota, Florida, 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. They range from Texas to New England. Bottom structure and other cover is really not a factor, other than bait tends to congregate in those areas. False albacore basically tear around the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and devour helpless bait fish.

Sarasota fly fishing charters

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.

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.

False albacore fishing tackle

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 reel. 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 knots need to be well tied.

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 hitch, 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 as light as 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.

A strong onshore breeze will shut down the false albacore fishing. Rough, choppy, dirty water is not to the liking of the fish. Several days of land-based wind will have the water settled down. That is just part of the game when false albacore fishing, and really fishing in general. Seasons vary, but spring and fall are generally the best times to fish.

Artificial lures and flies work best for false albacore fishing

I rarely use live bait when 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 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.

Sarasota fishing charters

Small spoons work well when saltwater fishing

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

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.

Fishing strategies for false albacore

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 often times sit on the surface like that waiting for the false albacore and mackerel to drive the bait fish to the surface.

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.

inshore false albacore fishing

The best retrieve for 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.

A fast retrieve works best when false albacore fishing

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.

Ideally, fish will surface and stay up and in one spot. But, that 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.

Trolling produces false albacore

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.

inshare saltwater fishing

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.

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 or frozen chum. 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.

Once the boat is anchored a couple handfuls of live chum is tossed out or a bag of frozen chum is tied to the stern. 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. A 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 fishing

False albacore release techniques

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.

The procedure for releasing a false albacore is a bit different than other species. They need water moving through their mouth and over their 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.

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. Northern anglers may encounter bluefish and striped bass.

Cobia

Cobia are a species that are caught along both the Atlantic coast up to Chesapeake Bay and along the entire Gulf of Mexico coast. They are found inshore in the bays, along the beaches, and offshore. Cobia grow very large, over 150 pounds. They are generally found alone or in very small pods.

Cobia Sarasota Bay

Cobia often times relate to structure. Anglers targeting cobia will run the navigation markers in search of fish. They will hover near the surface on the down current side of the marker. Most of the time, they are easy to catch once spotted. Small baitfish, shrimp, eels, and artificial lures will produce cobia.

Artificial reefs hold cobia, as do natural ledges. Often times the fish will come up right behind the boat. Anglers also slowly cruise the beach in search of cobia milling right on the surface. Anglers catch cobia in the inshore waters as well. They are normally an accidental catch. Even a small cobia will put of a great fight on tackle designed for smaller fish!

King mackerel

king mackerel fishing

King mackerel are ordinarily found offshore in deeper water. However, they do come in close to the beach at times.Trolling is a very productive technique. Anglers troll with lures such as plugs and spoons as well as with live bait fish. Reefs, ledges, and bait schools are all prime spots for inshore fishing for king mackerel.

Bottom fish

Bottom fish are highly sought after by inshore saltwater anglers. In an effort to not be repetitive, I am going to include them all in one section. For the most part, locations and techniques are quite similar. These species include snapper, grouper, tautog (blackfish), grunts, croaker, spot, perch, black sea bass, whiting, and winter flounder,

Most bottom fish are caught on some type of “natural” bait, whether it is live, freshly dead, or frozen. Top northern baits include bloodworms, squid, crabs, clams, minnows, and cut fish. Southern anglers use shrimp, small bait fish, squid, and cut bait. Spreader rigs and sliding sinker rigs are equally effective.

Most bottom fish relate to structure. This is especially true for grouper, snapper, and blackfish. They are often found very tight to the cover. Other species such as perch and spot will school up in open water. Drifting is often the best way to locate these fish. Snagging is usually not much of an issue in open water with sandy bottom.

Grouper

best Sarasota fishing charter

Grouper are a highly desired bottom fish in southern waters. They taste great and are almost always caught close to structure using natural bait. There are many species of grouper throughout the Gulf and southern Atlantic Ocean. Gag grouper pic posted.

Snapper

Sarasota fishing calendar

Snapper are another family of very desirable and tasty fish. They school up in large numbers and relate to structure of some sort. They are plentiful in the shallow inshore southern waters. Most snapper are caught on bait. This is a mangrove snapper.

Black sea bass

bottom fishing

Black sea bass are a very popular bottom fish along the entire east coast and into the Gulf of Mexico. They relate to structure and school up in large numbers. They are a staple of head boats from the Carolinas to New England. Sea bass are great eating!

Black drum

fishing for black drum

Black drum range from Texas to the mid Atlantic. They are very popular throughout the Gulf states and are targeted in shallow water. They grow large and put up a good fight. Most anglers consider the smaller specimens to be much better to eat.

Key West grunt

Sarasota bottom fishing

Grunts are a staple of charter and head boats along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts up to Virginia. They are easy to catch and taste great. They school up over ledges and structure.

Tautog (blackfish)

inshore saltwater fishing

Tautog (blackfish) are a very popular bottom fish that are targeted around structure in the New England area. They prefer small crabs and other crustaceans. Tautog are famous for being very light biters. They are terrific table fare.

Inshore Saltwater fishing Conclusion

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you found it informative and worth the time and cost. I tried to include as much of the basic information that I thought would be useful, without it being overwhelming.

Any angler who would like some clarification or has a question on something that I did not cover, especially if it is Florida related, can e-mail me at captklopfer@comcast.net

I will try my best to help you out, if I can.

Also, the same goes for anglers visiting the Sarasota, Florida area who might like to give our inshore fishing a try! Sarasota offers anglers quite a few fishing options all year long. Sarasota is also a destination that has something for the entire family. World class beaches, shopping, and restaurants will keep all of the members of the family busy and happy.

In conclusion, I hope you found this article, the Complete Guide to Inshore Saltwater Fishing useful!

 

 

Fly Fishing for Jack Crevelle

Fly Fishing for jack crevelle

The subject of this article will be fly fishing for jack crevelle. Jacks are found throughout the world and put up a terrific fight on fly tackle.

Why do anglers go fly fishing for jack crevalle? Jack crevalle are the bulldogs of the inshore saltwater. They use their broad sides and deeply forked tail to pull incredibly hard when hooked. Jacks often times school up in large numbers. This fosters a sense of competition, resulting in them being very aggressive. Jacks also forage on the surface. Casting flies into breaking jacks is great sport!

fly fishing for jack crevelle

View current Sarasota fishing report

I am a fishing guide in Sarasota Florida. I run around 200 fishing charters a year. Very seldom do I specifically jacks. More often than not, they are incidental catches or targets of opportunity. Jack are often encountered in the same spots as snook. While not the target species, jacks are a most welcome interloper.

Such was the case on a recent charter with Greg Cudnik from southern New Jersey. Greg is a good fly angler who owns Fisherman’s Headquarters in Ship Bottom, New Jersey. He also does some charter fishing for striped bass, bluefish, and fluke. Greg specializes in light tackle fishing and fly fishing for the species.

Fly fishing for jack crevelle

It was a foggy Sunday morning during Christmas week. That means that the traffic was going to be heavy as it was a beautiful day that hit 80°. We spent the first half hour hitting a likely shoreline in a creek with an outgoing tide, but with no luck. I was headed to another spot when all of a sudden a small bunch of fish started working on the surface.

Greg’s cousin Mike grabbed the spinning outfit with the Bass Assassin Sea Shad jig and grub combo while Greg scrambled for the seven weight fly outfit that was rigged and ready. Mike got is bait in the water first and was instantly hooked up to a fish. By the time Greg got his line stripped out and was ready to go the fish had moved past us.

fly fishing for jack crevelle

Mike fought the fish well, letting the scrappy 3 pound Jack in several minutes. We held it up for a quick photo, then released it unharmed. Now that we were all set up, I tried to find the fish again. However, after idling in the direction that they were swimming and looking around for several minutes, we did not find them and moved on.

After a short “no wake zone”, I jumped the boat up on plane and had not gone for more than half a mile when we saw several more bunches of fish. A couple were in the deeper channel, in 10 foot of water while others were on the shallow flats in a couple feet of water. Since we were fly fishing, we decided to target the shallow fish.

Jack crevelle fishing techniques

After several attempts to get the boat in position, a school of jacks popped up 15 feet away from the boat and downwind. Greg was on the bow with the wind over his casting shoulder and the school of forging fish and easy cast away. He lay the fly out perfectly stripped it several times and a large jack crevelle charge the fly, half of its back sticking out of the water. It was an epic take!

fly fishing for jack crevelle

Mike was on the stern and had also hooked up, this time using a shallow diving Rapala since we were in only a couple feet of water. Fortunately, the fish went in different directions and it was easy to fight the two fish to the boat. Mike released another 3 pound fish while Greg landed a nicer Jack of around 7 pounds. The action continued for another couple hours with the fellas landing a half dozen fish each.

Eventually, the Sunday morning boat traffic put the fish down. However, this is a perfect example of “opportunity fishing”. The plan was to target snook along mangrove shorelines as neither Mike or Greg had ever caught one. The big jacks were a most welcome distraction and an excellent example of why it is important to be rigged and ready and also being flexible on your fishing strategy.

fly fishing for jack crevelle

While jack crevelle are available year-round, the most consistent fishing for them here in Sarasota and in most of Florida is in the cooler months. Our fish average 3 to 5 pounds while fish on the East Coast can be significantly larger. It is not uncommon to run into jacks that are pushing 20 pounds in the inshore waters.

Fly fishing for jack crevalle, tackle

Anglers targeting jack crevalle on fly need to adjust their tackle to the fish that are generally found in the area. Greg enjoyed the action using a seven weight outfit. That was borderline for a couple of the larger fish. Anglers fishing on the East Coast of Florida and in other tropical destinations where jacks grow large may have to bump the tackle up as high as a 10wt outfit.

I prefer to use an intermediate sink tip line for the vast majority of the fly fishing we do in Sarasota. Seldom do we actually target fish on flats in water between one and 2 feet deep. Therefore, an intermediate sink tip line is more versatile. Anglers can begin stripping as soon as it lands and still keep the fly up high in the water column. But, they can also allow it to sink and work the 4 to 8 foot depths where speckled trout, mackerel, and other species are found.

fly fishing for jack crevelle

Many fly anglers over complicate the leader, in my opinion. I prefer to keep the leader simple. That morning when Greg was catching those jacks, the leader consisted of 4 feet of 40 pound fluorocarbon with another 3 feet of 30 pound fluorocarbon. That, combined with a weighted fly, in this case a Clouser Minnow, resulted in the fly turning over easily.

Fly selection is pretty easy when it comes to targeting jacks. Any small bait fish pattern that remotely resembles the forage that are being devoured should elicit a take. In this case, Greg was tossing a green over white Clouser with fairly heavy eyes. Clouser Minnows are by far the most popular fly in this area. A large arbor reel with a smooth drag finishes off the rig.

Jack crevalle fishing strategies

One of the most important requirements when working schools of breaking jacks, or any other kind of breaking fish, is patience. It can get very exciting and sometimes intense as schools of fish erupt on the surface. Jack crevelle tend to move fairly quickly. I have experienced four hour charters where I have followed the same school of fish for several miles in that time span.

Other boats working the fish can complicate the situation as well. Successful anglers will resist the urge to go charging into the fish. It is much better to try to determine the direction and speed the fish are heading and then intercept them. One good, quality opportunity is much better than 10 shots that are less than ideal.

As mentioned above, the ideal situation is to have the fish blowup a nice easy cast away downwind. When this occurs, the best approach is to cast the fly right to the edge of the school. While the fish are very aggressive, it is possible to spook them by “lining” the fish. This means having the fly line land right on top of them. Also, by plucking a fish off the edge of the school it allows two anglers to work to same school. Finally, doing this will reduce the chance of the leader being caught on the backs of one of the other fish that are in the school.

fly fishing for jack crevelle

Once the fly lands, a fast, aggressive stripped will usually draw a strike. If the fish are working on the surface, the angler does not need to let the fly sink very far. With the rod tip low, near the surface of the water, the line is stripped sharply with a pause in between. When the take occurs, the line is pulled tight with the stripping hand and then the rod tip slowly raised. This is called a “strip set” and is used with most streamer fishing in both fresh and saltwater.

Fly casting to jack crevalle

Just because the fish are not feeding on the surface, do not assume that they have gone. Greg hooked a couple of his fish by casting into the area where the jacks had been recently seen. In this case, it is best to let the fly sink for several seconds before beginning the retrieve.

Once a Jack is hooked, if it is of any decent size, the angler will soon be “on the reel”. This means that all the loose fly line will be gone from his or her feet and the fish can be fought using the rod and reel. As the fight nears the end, it is important not to “high stick” the fish. This means raising the fly up high putting it in a severe arch. Many a fly rod has been broken by a large fish close to the boat, particularly in deep water.

The best technique is short pumps of the rod while taking up the slack with the reel. Anglers should try to keep the fly rod below the horizon. This not only gives the angler more power, but it will drastically reduce the chance of breaking your favorite fly rod!

Jack crevelle in rivers and creeks

There is one situation where I do target jacks and that is in creeks, rivers, and canals in the winter. Jacks are a subtropical species and do not tolerate water temperature much below 60° for very long. Severe cold fronts will drop the water on the shallow flats as much is 10° in a couple days. However, the water and residential canals, creeks, and rivers is often significantly warmer. This will result in jacks as well as snook migrating into these areas, particularly if were having a cool winter.

One advantage to this type of fishing as that the fish become concentrated. These are relatively small areas, all things considered, especially if the tide is low. Winter is the dry season as well here in Florida. That means that most rivers will be fairly low. Jacks and other game fish will be concentrated in the holes and deeper sections of the rivers and creeks.

While jacks will occasionally forage on the surface in these areas, the vast majority are caught by anglers blind casting. For whatever reason, jacks in these backwater creeks and rivers just tend to not feed on the surface as much. However they do feed and remain aggressive. Also, once a productive area is located, multiple fish can usually be caught.

Sarasota rivers produce jack crevalle

The Braden River in particular is a terrific spot to target jack crevalle from December through March. It is a small river and is a tributary of the Manatee River, which can also be very productive. The Braden River is quite close to Tampa Bay. Jacks that spend their summer on the open flats of Tampa Bay move into both rivers in the winter to seek the warmer water and available forage. As an added bonus, snook, redfish, juvenile tarpon, and other species are available as well.

In conclusion, anglers who enjoy the long rod should give fly fishing for jack crevelle a try. Just as Greg did, I bet you will gain a newfound respect for these awesome game fish!

Fishing Siesta Key, Pro Tips

Fishing Siesta Key, Siesta Key Fishing Charters

Anglers fishing Siesta Key have many different species that they can target. Siesta Key offers inshore light tackle sport fishing all year long. Multiple techniques and spots will produce some great catches!

Read my current fishing report

fishing Siesta Key

Siesta Key fishing charters

How should visiting anglers start fishing Siesta Key? The best way to experience the diverse fishing options that Siesta Key offers visiting anglers is to go out on a Siesta Key fishing charter. Capt Jim Klopfer has been guiding clients since 1991 and knows the area and seasonal fish migrations well. He supplies everything needed and will cater the fishing charter to his clients expectations.

Sarasota fishing excursion

Most hobbies require specialized equipment, and fishing is no exception. Fishing equipment basically consists of rods and reels, line, the terminal tackle, and some tools and accessories.

The best choice for the majority of anglers fishing Siesta Key is spinning tackle. Spinning tackle is easy to used and a decent outfit can be purchased for around $100 many anglers grew up freshwater fishing using spend cast tackle. This just does not hold up and saltwater.

Conventional or bait casting tackle certainly has applications and saltwater fishing. These outfits are primarily used by anglers casting heavier lures or when trolling or bottom fishing offshore.

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.

The best choice for anglers fishing Siesta Key in the inshore waters is a 7 foot medium action spinning rod. This rod should be mated with a 3000 series spinning reel. There are many different manufacturers who make quality equipment. A local bait and tackle shop will give a better recommendation than will one of the bigger box stores. Penn, Shimano, and Diawa are all popular brands.

fishing Siesta Key

There are many different fishing lines to choose from. The primary lines are braided line and monofilament line. Like most things in life, both have advantages and disadvantages. Monofilament line is easier for beginners to use. It is less expensive and knots are easier to tie. However, monofilament line stretches and will twist.

Braided line cost more and knots are more difficult to tie. However braided line has no stretch and will last a very long time. Braided line has a smaller diameter and generally speaking cast further than monofilament line. Anglers using braided line must have good line control skills. Braided line will loop and not up. Once that not is drawn tight, it is very difficult to remove.

Terminal tackle and rigging when fishing Siesta Key

Terminal tackle consists of any hooks, lures, leaders, swivels, weights, or floats that are attached to the end of the line. We will cover each of these individually.

Hooks come in a myriad of sizes and shapes. Once again, to the novice angler this can seem overwhelming. However, it is really fairly simple. A selection of live bait hooks in sizes #2, #1, and #1/0 will cover most angling situations. #1/0 long shank hooks work well when toothy species such as Spanish mackerel and blue fish are around. The long shank will help reduce cutoffs.

fishing Siesta Key

Once in a while, a larger hook such as a #4/0 will be required when using a large live bait or large piece of cut bait. Circle hooks are required for anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. This basic selection of hooks is all that is required for anglers fishing Siesta Key.

Shock leaders are required when fishing and saltwater. Many fish have teeth and most have some type of raspy jaws. That requires a leader that is a bit heavier than the running line to help prevent fish from cutting off. 30 lb test is a good all-around leader strength. 24 inches is a good leader length as anything longer than that can make it difficult to cast. Leaders can be attached to the mainline with a line to line not such as a double Uni Knot or by using a small black swivel.

Sinkers and floats

Sinkers are used to get the bait down to the bottom. Once again, sinkers come in many different sizes and shapes. Anglers fishing Siesta Key only need two types of sinkers; egg sinkers and split shot. Egg sinkers are around and shaped like an egg with a whole running through the center. The running line is slid through this hole before the leader or hook is tied on. A selection of egg sinkers between 1/4 ounce 21 ounce is all that is required. Split shot are small sinkers that way very little and are pinched on the line.

fishing Siesta Key

Floats are often used by anglers fishing Siesta Key. They’re often times referred to as corks. Floats and saltwater fishing accomplish two things. They suspend the bait up off the bottom while giving a visual reference to when a fish takes the bait. Corks also are used to attract the fish. Noisy corks are used to simulate fish feeding on the surface. This will draw game fish to the bait suspended below.

Fishing Siesta Key with artificial lures

Artificial lures can be very confusing to the novice angler. While it can be daunting staring at a rack full of lures, they fall into several categories. The three types of lures used most often by Siesta Key anglers are jigs, plugs, and spoons. Artificial lures will often times out fish live bait. The key is confidence and choosing the proper lore and presentation.

A jig is a simple lure that is very effective. It is probably the oldest artificial lore used by man. A jig is basically a hook with a lead weight molded and near the eye. This provides casting weight along with giving the lure it’s action. The lure will hop and fall in the water column thus the name “jig”. The hook is adorned with some type of dressing such as bucktail or synthetic care or a plastic grub body that mimics a shrimp or bait fish.

fishing Siesta Key

Spoons and plugs

A spoon is a curved piece of metal with a hook at the end. Most spoons used by saltwater anglers have a metallic finish, either silver or gold. Spoons can be cast a long way and have a terrific action. They wobble and flash in the water, mimics an injured baitfish, thus attracting game fish. Most spoons have a trouble hook and are used in open water. However, other spoons are designed with a single hook that are relatively weedless and are used in shallow water.

Plugs are plastic lures that imitate small bait fish. Plugs are very effective but have a couple of drawbacks. They are fairly expensive, averaging around $10 apiece. Also, most plugs have treble hooks. That makes them more dangerous when casting and when unhooking a fish. However, when used with caution they are extremely effective lures. They can be cast or troll to catch fish.

Fishing Siesta Key with live bait

Live bait is the best choice in most instances for anglers just getting started fishing Siesta Key. Shrimp and bait fish are the two predominant baits in this area. Shrimp are the most versatile as every fish and saltwater eats them. They can be purchased at all local bait shops. Shrimp are fairly easy to keep alive in a bait bucket with and aerator. Fresh dead shrimp can be very effective for bottom fish as well.

fishing Siesta Key

Live bait fish are bit more complicated. While they can occasionally be purchased at bait shops, in most instances anglers will have to catch their own. Bait fish come into separate categories. Pin fish and grunts are a bait fish that is similar to freshwater bluegill. The other type of live bait fish are one of the family of small shiny fish such as scaled sardines or threadfin herring.

The rig for using live bait is simple. Anglers tie on a number 10 black swivel to the mainline. A 24 inch piece of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader is tied onto the other end of the swivel. A live bait hook finishes off the rig. #1/0 is a good all-around size when fishing for most game fish. Anglers targeting smaller bottom fish off the beaches are around structure will use a #2 hook.

Hooking live shrimp

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Live shrimp are hooked either under the horn near the head or through the tail. The hooking location really depends on the species being targeted. Game fish such as trout, snook, mackerel, and others prefer a shrimp hooked in the horn. This allows the shrimp to swim naturally in the water. Bottom fish are less particular. Often times, threading the shrimp on the hook is the best approach. Live bait fish are hooked under the dorsal fin or through the nose.

Live baits can be either free lined, fished under a float, or fished on the bottom. The technique used depends in most cases on the species being targeted. Anglers fishing the shallow flats will use a court to keep the shrimp suspended up off the bottom. In deeper water, over 6 feet or so, free lining the shrimp works better. At times a small split shot may be required to keep the bait down. Anglers bottom fishing slide and egg sinker onto the running line ahead of the swivel.

Siesta Key live bait fishing techniques

The popping cork rig is an extremely effective technique for anglers fishing Siesta Key. It is likely that more speckled trout have been landed using a popping cork in a shrimp then with all the other fishing methods combined. The cork is placed 3 feet above the hook. The rig is cast out and allowed to settle. The rod tip is then sharply twitched. This causes the court to make noise which will attract speckled trout and other game fish to the helpless shrimp.

fishing Siesta Key

Free lining a shrimp works very well. This method is employed when fishing water deeper than 6 feet or so. The shrimp looks very natural swimming in the water with little or no weight. Anglers can free line a shrimp out behind a drifting boat. They can also anchor and cast the shrimp to an edge or drop off. Anglers fishing from the surf will add a split shot or two and allow the shrimp to swim naturally in the surf.

Siesta Key bottom fishing

Bottom fishing is a very simple and effective technique for anglers fishing Siesta Key. Many fish live on the bottom and relate to structure such as rocks, bridges, docks, ledges, and oyster bars. Since fish live and feed on the bottom, presenting a bait there is going to be productive. Bottom species such as sheepshead, snapper, grouper, drum, flounder, and more are all taken by Siesta Key anglers.

The key to bottom fishing is getting the bait down to the bottom while still having a natural presentation. Anglers should use just the amount of weight to region hold bottom. Depth and current flow are the primary factors in determining this. If the sinker is constantly bouncing on the bottom, eventually it will snag.

Using artificial lures when fishing Siesta Key

The main obstacle beginning anglers will have to overcome when using artificial lures is confidence. Once an angler start catching fish on lures, they will gain confidence and resist the urge to want to switch back to live bait many times, artificial lures catch more fish than live bait. The main advantage of artificial lures over bait is that lures cover a lot more water. Anglers are constantly casting and retrieving them. Lures will trigger strikes from fish that are not hungry but will strike out of reflex. Finally, lures are more convenient as there is no bait to keep alive along with less mess.

Most popular lure for anglers fishing Siesta Key is without a doubt the jig and grub combo. These lures are very versatile, effective, and relatively inexpensive. Jig heads come in many colors and sizes. Red and white are the most popular colors and one quarter ounce is the best all round weight. 1/8 ounce jigs are used in shallow water.

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A plastic grub of some type is then hooked on to the jig. Grubs are designed to imitate either bait fish or shrimp and other crustaceans. Again, anglers have many different sizes and colors to choose from. However a selection of 3 inch to 4 inch shad tail and shrimp tail baits in gold, white, root beer, and chartreuse will get the job done.

Jigs are effective when fishing Siesta Key

Jigs can also be purchased that come with a synthetic fiber or buck tail dressing. Buck tail jigs have been catching fish for a long time, with white being the best color. Pompano jigs work well and usually come with synthetic care. They generally have a much shorter dressing as pompano have a small mouth. The main disadvantage of hair jigs is their lack of durability when catching saltwater fish.

Passes and inlets can be great spots to use jigs. Most passes have shallow bars and deep channels which will hold fish. Vertically jigging works very well in the deeper water. The angler simply drops the jig down to the bottom and bounces it up in short 1 foot hops as the boat drifts along. Pompano jigs work very well in this application. Each time the jig hits bottom, it kicks up a puff of sand, imitating a crab. Jigs are cast out and retrieved on the shallower parts of the pass.

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Jigs are extremely productive on the deeper grass flats. These are submerge grass beds in water between 6 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Speckled trout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, Pompano, flounder, and other species will take a jig. The jig is cast out and retrieved back to the boat, using a sharp twitch of the rod tip. Most strikes will occur as the bait is falling helplessly through the water column.

Fishing with spoons on Siesta Key

Spoons are another lure that are effective on a variety of species. Spoons are very easy for the novice angler to use. They cast a long way and have a great built in action. Anglers can retrieve steadily or use a “twitch and pause” retrieve. A swivel must be used when using spoons otherwise line twist will be an issue. Spoons are especially effective when fish can be seen feeding on the surface.

Spoons also work very well for anglers who troll. This is another very simple technique. The spoon is simply cast out behind the boat, then the boat is idled along in search of fish. This is a great way to locate fish over a large area. Anglers targeting king mackerel in Spanish mackerel use a special trolling spoon which is designed to be pulled at a fairly brisk pace.

Plug fishing Siesta Key

Plugs catch a big fish. Plugs are more expensive, the trouble hooks require caution, and they generally produce fewer strikes. However, they seem to catch bigger fish. Plugs come in two basic styles; floating and subsurface. Floating plugs, or top water plugs, stay on the surface while being retrieved. Subsurface plugs float on the surface then dive down when retrieved. The size and shape of the lip on the plug determines the depth and action.

Top water plugs come in two basic styles; walk the dog baits and poppers. Poppers are the easier of the two to fish and are very effective. These are floating baits have a concave face. The lure is cast out allowed to settle, then the rod tip twitched sharply. This causes the face of the Lord to dig into the water, making a loud pop.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel

Walk the dog baits are a bit more difficult. The venerable zero spook is an example of this type of bait. The rod tip is held near the surface and a rhythmic twitching results in the lure dancing back and forth seductively on the surface.

A common mistake many anglers make when using top water plugs is working them to quickly. This is especially true on a calm sea. Generally speaking, a slow subtle action will draw more strikes. Striking too soon is another mistake that is easy to make. The sight of a large fish blasting a top water plug is thrilling! However, it is necessary to feel the weight of the fish for setting the hook. Also, a smooth sideways sweep of the rod tip is not only more effective, it is much safer. No angler once a plug with multiple treble hooks flying back into the boat!

Diving plugs produce in Sarasota

While top water fishing is exciting, more fish are caught on diving plugs. These lures float on the surface and dive down several feet when the retrieve is begun. The plastic lip on the front of the plug determines the depth and action of the plug. However, speed and line size will affect the depth as well. The best plugs for anglers fishing Siesta Key dive down 3 to 5 feet in the water column.

Suspending plugs work well over the deeper grass flats. The MirrOlure is the most popular local example of that. These lures sink slowly when cast out, roughly a foot per second. They are retrieved back using a sharp twitch. The lore will jerk forward then hover there seemingly helpless. This is an especially effective bait for speckled trout.

Trolling with plugs in Sarasota

Trolling plugs is a great way to locate fish in a large area. It is also a great tactic with novice anglers and children. As long as they can hold rod, they can catch a fish! Trolling works well in the inshore bays, passes, and in the Gulf of Mexico. A #8 Rapala X-Rap in white or olive is a good lower to troll.

The technique is very simple. The plug is dropped alongside the boat with the bail open. As the boat idles forward, the angler counts out to 15 or so. The bail is angler’s and the boat simply idled around at a slow speed. When a fish hits, there is no mistaking. This is extremely effective for Spanish mackerel is a like a fast-moving lure.

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Trolling and casting plugs works very well in the inshore Gulf of Mexico as well. Plugs are cast to fish that are seen breaking on the surface. These are fish that have trapped smaller bait fish up against the surface and are feeding on them aggressively. A plug that is cast into this melee and retrieved back quickly will almost always draw strike. On days when fish are not seen feeding on the surface, trolling can help locate them.

Siesta Key flats fishing techniques

Several different approaches can be used successfully on the deep grass flats. Large expanses of grass are most efficiently fished by drifting. Smaller patches can be worked from an anchored boat. This is especially true of a flat that drops off quickly into deeper water.

Anglers fishing Siesta Key do well drifting the deep flats while casting artificial lures. This is extremely popular and very effective. The major benefit of this technique is that it allows anglers to cover a lot of water. This is important on the larger flats is anglers can eliminate unproductive water in a short amount of time. The lead head jig and grub combo is a very effective lure for doing this.

Anglers can certainly cast plugs and spoons as well. Both cast a long way and have a great built in fish catching action. The MirroLure MirroDine is an excellent suspending plug. A 1/2 ounce silver or gold spoon with a single trouble hook is the best all round choice for drifting the deep grass flats.

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Live bait is also extremely effective while drifting the deep grass flats. A live shrimp under a popping cork is tough to beat in water between 4 feet deep and 6 feet deep. The idea is to have the cork 3 to 4 feet above the shrimp. This allows the shrimp to hover just over the top of the submerge grass. It can get a little cumbersome fishing a popping cork in water deeper than 6 feet.

Siesta Key live bait fishing

Free lining a shrimp works very well in water deeper than 6 feet. The shrimp is hooked through the horn then cast out behind the drifting boat. As the boat moves along, it brings the shrimp along as well at a natural pace. Breezy days may require a split shot or two to keep the shrimp down in the water column.

Live bait fish can be used on the deep grass flats as well. Pin fish and grunts will require a float, otherwise they will get down in the grass. Smaller bait fish such as pilchards and herring can be free lined behind the boat just as a shrimp is.

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In the summer time, anglers use a very effective technique called “live bait chumming”. This is a bit of a specialized technique. Anglers use a cast net to catch several hundred small shiny bait fish such as scaled sardines or threadfin herring. The boat is then anchored in a likely spot and handfuls of the live bait fish are tossed out behind the boat. This will attract game fish in short order. Hooked baits are then tossed in with the chum and the action begins!

Fishing Siesta Key shallow flats

Many anglers are surprised to learn that the largest fished oftentimes live in the shallowest of water. These larger fish are generally loners where as the fish on the deeper flats are schooled up. However, a big fish in shallow water is very difficult to catch. Anglers need to be patient and stealthy. Artificial lures are most often used as a can be difficult to fish live bait in very shallow water. However, a large shrimp or live bait can be used under a float or fished in a hole.

Jigs, plugs, and spoons are all effective for fishing the shallow grass flats. A 1/2 ounce gold weedless spoon has been used successfully for decades. It can be cast a long way, is relatively weedless, and is especially deadly on redfish. Jigs can be used effectively, though anglers need to go down in size. 1/8 ounce and 1/16 ounce jig heads with a soft plastic body work best. The the jig will ride with the hookup, reducing snags. Anglers casting plugs will have to use surface plugs in most instances.

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Fish may be located anywhere on the shallow flat, however certain areas will consistently hold fish. Oyster bars, potholes, (these are small depressions in a flat), and mangrove shorelines are all good spots. Deeper water around the bars and shorelines will make them more attractive to game fish. Waiting can be very effective as it allows anglers to make less noise than a boat.

Siesta Key structure fishing

It is an undeniable a fact that fish love structure. Structure provides cover and attracts forage such as crustaceans and bait fish. Just about all inshore species will relate to structure at one point or another. Anglers fishing Siesta Key will target sheepshead, snapper, flounder, gag grouper, redfish, snuck, Jack Gravelle, black drum, and more.

Sheepshead are very reliable in the winter and early spring and are the staple of bottom fishing anglers and Siesta Key. Structure in the passes as well as docks and bridges near the passes will hold these tasty saltwater pan fish. Sheepshead often bite when the water is cold or dirty and other fish are shut down.

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In most instances, a vertical presentation works best when bottom fishing and water deeper than 10 feet. A sliding sinker rig works well in this application. Anglers should use just enough weight to get and hold the bottom, which is generally 1/2 ounce 21 ounce. A 2 foot long leader of 30 pound test line and a #1/0 live bait hook finishes off the rig

Fishing Siesta Key docks

Siesta Key has countless docks along at shoreline and in its residential canals. Bridge pilings and dock pilings and 4 feet of water to 12 feet of water are the most productive. The best approach when fishing docks and bridge pilings and the shallower water is to anchor up current a cast away. Then, the bait can be cast towards the dock or bridge pilings.

Oyster bars are not to be overlooked a structure. Any oyster bar that drops off into four or 5 feet of water can hold fish. Snook, redfish, sheepshead, jacks, and other species will stage in the spots. The boat is quietly anchored a long cast away from the bar to avoid spooking fish. Free lining a live shrimp or pilchard is most productive technique. Higher tide stages are usually best.

Fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Anglers fishing Siesta Key beaches can experience world-class action and the spring and again in the fall. Huge schools of bait fish will move through on their annual migrations. Larger pelagic game fish will be hot on their trail. The primary species are king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, along with false albacore. However, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon will also be encountered.

Ideal conditions for fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico are calm seas in clear water. Easterly breezes will result in these conditions. This is especially true in the fall when we get many days in a row of high-pressure which equates to Northeast winds. This type of fish and gives anglers the chance to catch a very large fish quite close to shore.

There are several techniques that anglers use in pursuit of these game fish. The most exciting technique, when the situation arises, is to cast to breaking fish. These are fish that are feeding aggressively on the surface. They have rounded up schools of forage and have them trapped up against the surface of the water. Fish can be seen feeding birds can be seen diving.

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Light to medium action spinning rods are perfect for this type of fishing. Small plugs, spoons, and jigs will all produce. Basically, anything that closely resembles the baitfish that they are feeding on will draw a strike. False albacore can be a tad bit fussy, though. When they are feeding on tiny glass minnows, a small offering is required often times. Also, anglers may need to drop the leader down to 20 pound test in clear water.

Fishing Siesta Key, sight fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

Patience is required for this type of fishing. Instead of charging around from school to school, anglers will do better to set and wait for a good opportunity. Charging into schools of breaking fish usually just puts them down. It is better to sit back and try to get an idea which way the fish are moving, then position the boat to intercept them.

Fly anglers are certainly not left out of the action! Long casts are normally not required, especially when targeting Spanish mackerel. These fish are hungry and aggressive. Spanish mackerel between 2 pounds and 4 pounds put up a great fight on an 8wt outfit. Anglers targeting false albacore will do better to bump up to a 9wt. Small, white baitfish patterns such as Clouser Minnows and Glass Minnows work well.

Sarasota false albacore fishing

Trolling is an extremely effective technique that can put a lot of fish in the boat quickly. It is very efficient when a school of fish is located. Often times, fish will not be seen working on the surface. Trolling is an excellent way to locate them. Plugs worked well when trolled back behind the boat, as do spoons.

Trolling with planers

Serious anglers use planers and trolling spoons when targeting king mackerel Spanish mackerel, and false albacore. This type of fishing is a bit more involved. Planers are devices that dive down into the water when the boat is moved forward. Different size planers are used along with different sizes to achieve varying depths. When a fish hits, the planer trips. This results in the angler fighting the fish without the drag of the planer.

Live bait can certainly be used successfully as well. One very effective method is to slowly troll a large live bait for king mackerel. A stinger rig is used. This is a wire rig about 3 feet long with two treble hooks. The bait is hooked through the nose with the top hook in the second hook swings free. This is often the hook that catches the fish. Anglers can also free line smaller shrimp and bait fish for Spanish mackerel and false albacore.

There are three artificial reefs between Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Anglers fishing Siesta Key catch many different species all year long on these reefs. Pelagic species are available in the spring and the fall. Large spawning sheepshead are caught in February and March. Snapper and grouper are present all year long. These three reefs are within 2 miles of the beach and are great spots to fish when the seas are calm.

Siesta Key winter fishing

Winter fishing on Siesta Key is for the most part determined by the weather. Severe fronts move through every week or so. The day of the front is usually not fishable due to high winds. Water will be turned up for the couple days afterwards. However, the water will settle in warm up and action on the flats will improve. As another front approaches, the when will turn south, sometimes blowing hard.

The key to success for anglers fishing Siesta Key in the winter is understanding how this cycle affects the fishing. Sheepshead are plentiful and winter around docks, rocks, seawalls, bridges, and other structure. Anglers fishing with shrimp on the bottom will catch these tasty fish along with black drum and other species. Sheepshead fishing is less affected by the weather than are other types of fishing. The only real consideration anglers have is to find some shelter from the wind, if it is blowing.

Strong winds will turn up the water in the Gulf of Mexico. This will result in the water in the passes and on the flats being dirty. Anglers targeting speckled trout, ladyfish, and other species on the flats will do best getting away from the passes and trying to find cleaner water. The flats along the east side of Siesta Key in Roberts Bay and little Sarasota Bay are often good spots.

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After couple days, the water will begin to clear up and settle down. Both passes should be productive. The deep grass flats near the passes will also resume decent action. Most of the fish on the flats are in deeper water this time of year. Submerge grass beds between 7 feet deep and 10 feet deep are prime spots. Speckled trout and ladyfish can often be found in channels, especially if the water dips into the upper 50s.

Snook migrate up into rivers, creeks, and canals in the winter. Anglers fishing Siesta Key target them using both live bait and artificial lures. A large live shrimp is the best live bait. Deeper holes, docks, and other structure are good spots to try. Artificial lures such as plugs allow anglers to cover a lot more water in a short amount of time.

Siesta Key spring fishing

Spring is a great time to be fishing in Florida! Just about every species is available at one time or another. Sheepshea will still be present in the passes. Action on the flats will heat up with speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, and other species. Snook and jack crevelle will have migrated out of the creeks and canals and onto the backcountry flats. Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, and false albacore should be out on the Siesta Key beaches.

Both passes offer excellent fishing in the spring. Structure on the north end of Siesta Key will hold sheepshead, grouper, and snapper for anglers bottom fishing with live shrimp. Drifting the middle of the pass while bouncing a small jig on the bottom will produce pompano, mackerel, bluefish, and loads of ladyfish.

The deep grass flats throughout the area, live in spring. Just about every species that can be caught on the deep grass flats will be in the spring. Speckled trout are normally the most abundant species, being caught on just about every grass flat between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, Pompano, ladyfish, snapper, grouper, cobia, sharks, flounder, jacks, and more may also be taken.

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As the shallow flats warm-up, snook, redfish, and jacks will be caught along mangrove shorelines and oyster bars. This is a great time to cast shallow diving plugs along these edges. Weedless spoons and jigs will also be productive. This type of fishing does not produce in terms of numbers, but anglers will generally catch larger fish.

Action out on the beaches should be excellent as well. Spanish mackerel and king mackerel along with false albacore will be anywhere from right on the beach to several miles out. They will be foraging on the abundant bait fish. Sharks, cobia, and even and early tarpon may be hooked as well.

Siesta Key summer fishing

Fishing is usually excellent in the summer time. Action on the deep grass flats is usually outstanding. The key to this fishing is the abundance of live bait fish that are present on the flats in the summer time. It is usually very easy to load up the live well with live bait then use them to chum the fish into a frenzy. Speckled trout, mackerel, ladyfish, grouper, snapper, sharks, bluefish, cobia and other species will be taken.

It is hot in the summer however. The best bite is the early-morning one. Anglers get out there at first light, catch their bait, get their fishing in, and are home by 11 o’clock. With the abundance of bait fish, game fish are less apt to take and artificial lure. However, one strategy that does work well is to cast artificial lures first thing in the morning for an hour or so. Then, when that bite dies, switching over to live bait and chumming will get them going again.

Siesta Key snook fishing

Snook fishing is good in the summer time as well. They are schooled up in the passes in are out on the beaches. Snook spawn in the summer and that’s what they are doing out in the Gulf of Mexico. Anglers site fish for snook as a cruise just a few feet off of the beaches. Small white plugs and jigs work well as does live bait. Fly anglers score using white bait fish patterns.

Siesta Key snook fishing

Snook are stacked up in the passes in the summer time. Anglers fishing Siesta Key and targeting snook do well using live bait around the deeper structure in the passes. Rocks at the northwest tip of Siesta Key are an especially productive spot. Live pilchards can be used to chum the snook up. They will also take a nice live shrimp.

Anglers can also beat the heat of the day by fishing at night. Lighted bridges and docks throughout the area attract shrimp and small minnows. This in turn attracts game fish such as speckled trout, snook, jacks, and other species. Live bait works well as does any artificial lure or fly that mimics the shrimp and small bait fish.

Tarpon show up off the Siesta Key beaches in mid May. Many anglers consider tarpon the ultimate fishing challenge. These fish average 75 pounds and grow well over 150 pounds. Anglers cast to schools of fish using live crabs, live bait fish and even fly fisherman get in on the bite. This is as much hunting as fishing, and is best for more experienced anglers. It takes time in patients, but when it all comes together the result is the fish of a lifetime!

Siesta Key fall fishing

Anglers fishing Siesta Key in the fall have a lot of room to themselves. With the kids back in school and many outdoorsmen hunting, fishing pressure is light. By mid October the tropical storms are done, the water is cooling off, and the bite is on. Snook are moving out of the passes and into the backcountry. Action on the deep grass flats picks up as the water cools off. False albacore and Spanish mackerel should be options in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.

As the water cools into the mid 60s, the bait fish that were abundant in summer time leave. This results in jigs and other artificial lures once again been very productive on the deep grass flats. The cooler water temperature also makes the fish more active and aggressive. Speckled trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and other species should be plentiful on flats between 6 feet of water and 10 feet of water. Live shrimp will certainly produce plenty of fish as well.

Fall local fish migrations

Snook will be found in the same spots as they were and spring. Mangrove shorelines and oyster bars in the back water areas of Roberts Bay in North Sarasota Bay will be productive. Live bait fish will be caught most years until early November. Anglers can use them to chum snook and jacks up in the same spots.

Action and the inshore Gulf of Mexico can be nothing short of spectacular in the fall when conditions are right! The weather in the fall as more stable than it is in the spring, with fewer fronts. High-pressure system seem to stall right off of the Florida Georgia line 4 days at a time. This results in East and Northeast winds which keeps the Gulf of Mexico clear and calm. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are most often targeted as they forage on bait fish. Kings, cobia, and sharks are available as well.

Siesta Key river snook fishing

It was nearing dusk as I eased my Jon boat around a sharp bend in the river. A dead oak tree was lying in the water; a very likely fish-holding spot. Erinn cast out her plug, twitched it twice, and a huge boil appeared where the lure used to be. The drag screamed as the snook headed back to the sanctuary of the fallen timber. 

I put the electric trolling motor on high and tried to drag the fish into open water. Fortunately, we had a little room to maneuver. Erinn played the fish like a pro, patiently letting it make several short runs before I slid the net under it and held it up for a quick photo before releasing it back to please another angler in the future.  Another successful Sarasota river snook fishing charter!

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We are blessed in Siesta Key, Sarasota, Florida with a wide variety of angling options, but river fishing for snook is my personal favorite. The solitude, scenery, and wildlife are worth the trip alone, and the chance to land trophy fish casting artificial lures on fairly light tackle is just icing on the cake. Best of all, this method is pretty simple and straight-forward for anglers willing to put in a little time and effort.  The Manatee River, Braden River, and Myakka River are the top spots.These are all a short drive from the Siesta Key beaches.

The west coast of Florida from mid-state south has a myriad of rivers, creeks, and canals that hold snook. These can be productive all year, but I focus on them in the cooler months. Snook will migrate into these areas in the winter to escape the harsh conditions on the flats. Most rivers have deep holes, warmer water, and plenty of forage. As an added bonus, largemouth bass are fairly numerous and will be caught using the same lures and techniques. Juvenile tarpon, jack crevelle, catfish, and gar are also common catches.

Advantages to river fishing

There are several advantages to fishing rivers. Unlike vast open waters of bays and lakes, the fish are relatively confined into a smaller space. They will migrate up and down river, and only time on the water will give anglers the experience that is required to score on a consistent basis. Another advantage, and one that I have used as a fishing guide, is that rivers offer protection from high winds that frequently occur in the winter. In fact, these are often the most productive days to fish. Lastly, fishing pressure is usually very light.

Sarasota snook fishing

I choose to fish with shallow diving plugs in rivers, they cover a lot of water, hang up infrequently, and the hook-up ratio is good. In the tannin waters, I have found gold/black and Firetiger to be the most consistent producers. Often times the fish will hit on the pause as the bait just hangs there motionless, seemingly helpless. I like a 7’ Medium action rod, a quality spinning reel with a good drag spooled with 40 lb braided line with a 24” piece of 40 lb fluorocarbon leader.

The best spots in most rivers will be the outside bends. Choose a stretch of river that has twists and bends; that will generally be better than those with long straight sections. Current flow will gouge a deep hole and concentrate fish. Add in some cover such as fallen trees and the result is perfect structure to hold a trophy fish. Depth is critical in river fishing. Most Florida rivers will “undulate”. Two stretches of bank may look the same, but if one has 18” of water and the other has 6’, the latter will produce much more consistently. This depth change will usually not be apparent from the surface, so a bottom machine will help in locating the more productive stretches.

Siesta Key snook

Siesta Key snook fishing

Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are a subtropical species and cannot tolerate water temperature cooler than 60° for very long. They are found roughly from Orlando south on both coasts. Snook grow quite large, with the state record approaching 50 pounds.

Snook are very similar inhabits to freshwater largemouth bass. They can be caught all year long, and creeks and rivers in the winter, the flats in the spring and fall, and out on the beaches and in the passes in the summer. They can be caught using live bait but will readily hit artificial lures and flies.

Redfish

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Redfish are perhaps the most challenging species for anglers fishing Siesta Key. There a highly sought after fish all along the Gulf Coast. They are caught all year long using two primary techniques. Redfish are caught on the shallow grass flats by anglers casting weedless spoons and soft plastic baits. Late Summer is the best time to find the large schools of redfish.

Many reds are caught by accident by anglers fishing docks with live shrimp. Like most game fish, reds like the shade and structure that docks provide. A nice lively live shrimp free lined up under the dock is hard for them to resist. Anglers use live pin fish as well.

Spotted sea trout

Sarasota Florida fishing charters

Spotted sea trout, better known locally as speckled trout are arguably the most popular inshore game fish throughout the south. While redfish are popular, trout are plentiful, cooperative, beautiful, and fantastic eating. Trout are fairly aggressive and are found in large schools. When trout are located, the action is usually fast.

Most speckled trout in the Siesta Key and Sarasota area are found on the deep grass flats. This is especially true for the numbers of school trout. Larger gator trout are found often times alone in the shallower water in potholes and along oyster bars. Trout are taken on a wide variety of artificial and natural baits.

Tarpon

Sarasota fishing calendar

Tarpon earned the nickname the Silver King. It is a unique opportunity for an angler to be able to cite cast using spinning tackle to fish of over 100 pounds that are rolling 30 feet away. This is not easy fishing and requires patience and time on the water. There will be days when no fish are hooked. However, anglers fortunate enough to hook and land a tarpon will never forget it. The best time of year to catch Siesta Key tarpon is from mid-May to late July.

Spanish mackerel

fishing Sarasota Florida

Spanish mackerel are a terrific, and sometimes underrated game fish. Mackerel are very fast and when hooked make a long blistering run. They are very aggressive and will hit just about any artificial lure, bait, or fly when well presented. Mackerel school up in very large numbers at times off of the Siesta Key in Sarasota beaches. They are also found on the deeper flats inside Sarasota Bay, particularly just inside the passes. Spanish mackerel are terrific eating when enjoyed that evening.

Pompano

Sarasota fishing calendar

Pompano are one of the finest eating fish that swims. Even local anglers get excited when the pompano start to run. Though they average 2 to 3 pounds, they put up a fight that many anglers would credit fish three times their size. They are smaller versions of a permit. They are most often caught using shrimp and small jigs in the passes, on the deep grass flats, and out on the beaches. Fall is the best time to catch them, with spring being a close second.

Mangrove snapper

Sarasota fishing calendar

Mangrove snapper are a very desirable species for anglers fishing Siesta Key. These saltwater pan fish are aggressive and put up a nice little battle on light tackle. However, the reason they are so prized is for their value on the dinner plats. Mangrove snapper are fantastic eating!

Snapper are structure oriented fish. They are found in the rocks and seawalls on the north end of Siesta Key in Big Pass. They are also found under docks and bridges throughout the area. Oyster bars and holes in creeks will hold them as well. Snapper also school up on the deep flats in July and August.

Bluefish

Florida bluefish

Bluefish are well-known to northern anglers. However, anglers fishing Siesta Key catch them all year long, with the cooler months producing more fish. Blues are very aggressive and are usually found in schools. Once located, the bite can be fast and furious! Most bluefish are caught on lures by anglers drifting the deep grass flats. They are found in the passes as well. Smaller bluefish are decent eating when iced immediately and eaten right away.

Jack crevalle

Sarasota jack crevelle

Jack crevalle, or “jacks” for short, are one of the hardest-fighting game fish in salt water. They are a bit like over-sized bluegill. They have broad sides and pull very hard. Jacks school up in large numbers and feed aggressively as competition kicks in. They are often seen feeding on the surface. Lures work very well, but jacks can be caught on live bait as well. Jacks can be found anywhere, but larger ones are taken in creeks, canals, and rivers in the winter.

False albacore

Sarasota false albacore fishing

False albacore are a terrific game fish! They are basically small tune fish. They are very fast and will empty the spool in short order. Anglers fishing Siesta Key target them off of the beaches. Point of Rocks is a top spot. Most anglers sight cast to breaking fish as they forage on the surface. Plugs,, jigs, spoons, and flies that mimic bait fish will fool them.

Sheepshead

Siesta Key fishing charters

Sheepshead are a staple of Siesta Key anglers in the winter. They have saved the day on many a Siesta Key fishing charter. They school up near structure such as docks and submerged rocks. Sheepshead pull hard, grow to 5 pounds regularly, bite when cold dirty water shuts down other species. And, they taste great! Sheepshead are seldom caught using lures. Live or dead shrimp is the top bait.

Gag grouper

Sarasota bottom fishing

Gag grouper are mostly caught by anglers fishing offshore. They are highly prized and are caught bottom fishing with live and frozen bait. Grouper are very structure oriented and are normally found near docks, bridges, and other structure. They are caught inshore as well. In the late summer, small gag grouper are caught on the open flats as they migrate out to the Gulf of Mexico to mature. They are fantastic eating!

Cobia

Cobia Sarasota Bay

Cobia are another species that are caught primarily in the Gulf of Mexico. They are found over the inshore artificial reefs off of Lido Key. However, they do wander into Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay. They are caught occasionally by anglers targeting other species. Cobia will hit lures and love a live pinfish. They are great eating, but most cobia caught inshore are a bit short of the legal minimum limit of 33”.

Black drum

Black drum are often mistaken for sheepshead. They look similar, sporting black vertical bars. However, they are a bit more tapered and have barbels on their chin. Black drum are caught in the same spots as sheepshead, particularly under and around docks. They are rarely caught on lures, with shrimp and crab being the top baits. Smaller drum are very good to eat, larger fish can be wormy.

Ladyfish

best Sarasota fishing charter

Ladyfish are great sport on light tackle! Some anglers disparage them since they are not good to eat. Ladyfish are aggressive and will take artificial lures and flies. Many are caught on live bait as well. They are a great fish to teach young and inexperienced anglers how to use lures and fight a fish that makes runs and jumps. Ladyfish have saved many Siesta Key fishing charters!

Angler fishing Siesta Key can find all Florida fishing regulations at the FWC site.

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236

 

Sarasota Fishing Videos

Sarasota Fishing Videos

This page will list my Sarasota fishing videos. Sarasota offers visiting anglers many different species to catch in several different techniques with which to catch them. These videos will give you an idea of what our fishing is all about.

Sarasota is a resort city on the West Coast of Florida. It lies about an hour south of Tampa. It is famous for its world class beaches, shopping, and restaurants. However, Sarasota also offers visitors some excellent fishing opportunities. Anglers can target speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, Pompano, and other species on the deep grass flats. Snook and redfish are caught by more experienced anglers along mangrove shorelines. The inshore Gulf of Mexico can have fantastic action on pelagic species and the spring and the fall. Giant tarpon provide the ultimate angling challenge!

Sarasota fishing videos

View Sarasota fishing report

My list of Sarasota fishing videos will give perspective clients an idea of what they can expect on their visit. There are so many different species to catch here, and multiple ways to catch them. Sarasota fishing charters are tailored to the skill level and expectation of the clients. Please enjoy these Sarasota fishing videos!

How to Catch Sheepshead

Sheepshead invade the Sarasota area in the cooler months. Late winter and early spring arethe prime times to target these hard fighting and great eating bottom fish.

Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Trolling is a very effective technique for a variety of game fish. King and Spanish mackerel are particularly prone to hit a lure that is being trolled quickly.

Lido Beach Spanish Mackerel Fishing

Spanish mackerel are a terrific and underrated game fish! They fight hard, are beautiful, and taste great. Mackerel often times are found schooled up and feeding on the surface in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sarasota Fishing Charters, Jig Fishing

Jigs are extremely effective artificial lures. They catch a variety of species in Sarasota Bay and beyond.

Sarasota Fishing Charter Action 2019

Some great action from fishing trips in 2019

Jack Crevalle Fishing

This video shows some awesome action on one of the hardest fighting saltwater fish; jack crevalle. Jacks are aggressive and are found throughout the bays, rivers, creeks, passes, and out on the beaches. They are nomads, roaming around in search of their next meal.

Sarasota family fishing charters

Sarasota family fishing charters is a video that shows that anglers do not need a lot of experience to catch fish. Young anglers are most welcome on Sarasota fishing charters! Capt. Jim enjoys taking children and other novice anglers out for a day of fun. Live bait is often used on these charters as it increases the chances of success.

When taking children and inexperienced anglers out on a Sarasota fishing charter, Capt. Jim generally targets the deep grass flats. Many different species are caught over submerge grass beds in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, pompano, ladyfish, bluefish, and more are taken in the spots. Anglers fishing docks catch bottom fish such as snapper along with snook, redfish, and other species.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing

Sarasota Spanish mackerel fishing shows how incredible the action in the inshore Gulf of Mexico can be when conditions are right. Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, false albacore, cobia, and sharks migrate up and down the coast in the spring and the fall. They are following the huge schools of bait fish that they feed on.

This is very exciting fishing is so much of it is visual. Quite often, large schools of macro and false albacore are seen feeding ferociously on the surface. They have herded up the glass minnows and other bait fish and have them trapped against the surface of the water. Just about any lure, bait, or fly that remotely resembles the forage they are feeding on will get devoured. Sharks will hover around the edge of the feeding fish, picking up the scraps.

Siesta Key snook fishing

Siesta Key snook fishing is a video that shows how fast the action can be when snook are schooled up in one spot. Chumming with live bait is a deadly technique that Capt. Jim uses in the warmer months. Live bait fish are caught and used both as chum and as bait to catch the fish. Handfuls of live, unhooked fish attract the snook and get them in a feeding frenzy.

This technique is extremely effective. It also allows anglers who are not very experienced to have the chance to catch a really nice fish. Since the game fish are excited, they lose a bit of their caution. Along with the snook, redfish, jacks, large trout, and other species will be caught while targeting snook.

Best Sarasota fishing charter

Best Sarasota fishing charter is a video that shows visiting anglers some great action out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Spanish mackerel were thick just off the beaches that day. These two boys had a great time catch and those along with some small sharks. This type of action is not uncommon in the fall, especially the few weeks coming up on Thanksgiving.

River snook fishing

River snook fishing is a video that shows Capt. Jim catching a nice snook in the Myakka River. In the cooler months, these apex predator game fish move up into area creeks, rivers, and residential canals. They do this to escape the extreme weather changes that can happen on the shallow flats. Water can drop as much is 10° in a couple days on the exposed open flats. The water temperature and rivers and canals is significantly warmer.

This Sarasota fishing charter has a freshwater feel to it. Anglers drift with the current down the river and a 14 foot Alumacraft Jon boat. They cast artificial lures towards likely looking shoreline cover and structure. Most often, shallow diving plugs are used, but soft plastic baits catch plenty of fish as well. This is a trip best suited to more experienced anglers as it is more about a couple quality fish versus numbers of fish.

Siesta Key fishing charters

Siesta Key fishing charters is a video that shows some great action on snook and jack crevelle by anglers using live bait in the fall. These fish are most active in the spring and again in the fall. The east side of Siesta Key in both Roberts Bay and little Sarasota Bay has some great fish holding structure. Oyster bars, docks, creeks, and flats will all produce great catches at one time of the year or another.

Sarasota speckled trout fishing

Sarasota speckled trout fishing shows a couple of anglers as a cast lures and live bait while drifting the deep grass flats. This is a technique that produces a lot of fish for Capt. Jim on Sarasota fishing charters throughout the year. It is also easy for anglers to learn to do quickly.

Most speckled trout in Sarasota are caught over the deep grass flats. These are large areas of submerged grass or vegetation and water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Bait fish and crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs find refuge in the grass. This in turn attracts speckled trout and other game fish.

Sarasota summer fishing charters

Sarasota summer fishing charters is a short little video that shows what happens when you come across schools of “breaking” fish. These are fish that have rounded up a bunch of bait fish and push them to the surface. They are helpless as a are trapped against the top of the water. Ladyfish, jacks, mackerel, bluefish, and other species will be seen doing this throughout the year, but especially in the late summer when bait is plentiful.

Sarasota freshwater fishing

Sarasota freshwater fishing is a video that shows visitors that there are freshwater fishing opportunities in this area. Saltwater fishing gets the vast majority of the coverage and attention in Sarasota. Therefore, the freshwater fishing gets overlooked. Several small lakes along with rivers offer anglers the chance to catch bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, and other species.

The top lakes in the Sarasota area for freshwater fishing are upper Myakka Lake, Lake Manatee, Benderson Lake, and Lake Evers. Each Lake is a bit different and has its good and bad points. Some have horsepower and access limitations. Rivers flowing in and out of the lakes also offer good fishing for freshwater species as well as title species in the river downstream from the dam.

Sarasota false albacore fishing

Sarasota false albacore fishing shows my buddy Tommy Hyser as we work a school of false albacore on the surface. This is a time. Just before Christmas. We are fishing over the submerged artificial reefs that are a couple miles off of Lido Key. These are great spots to find false albacore and other pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel and king mackerel. False albacore can be found anywhere on the beach foraging on the surface.

Sarasota chumming techniques

Sarasota chumming techniques is a video that goes into detail on the tactic of live bait chumming. This is an extremely effective technique when bait fish are plentiful and easy to catch. Using a cast net, Capt. Jim loads up the live well with frisky live baits that are around 2 inches long. He then anchors on a good spot and begins to throw handfuls of the bait fish out behind the boat.

If snook and other game fish are around, it won’t take them long to start feeding on the bait fish. Once the fish are excited and into a feeding mood, hooked baits are tossed back to mixed in with the chum. This is a great opportunity for anglers without a lot of experience to catch a nice snook, redfish, jack, or other species.

Sarasota tarpon fishing

Sarasota tarpon fishing gives anglers a look at what it is like to hook and land a giant tarpon. The video is only a few minutes long, it does not show the hours of patience that it often takes to hook and land one of these behemoths. For the most part, this is a site fishing situation. Anglers sit on the beach a couple hundred yards of shore and look for schools of fish to cast to. This is definitely a Sarasota fishing charter best suited for experienced anglers.

Sarasota snook fishing

Sarasota snook fishing shows a couple of experienced anglers casting artificial lures at first light. Rapala plugs and soft plastic baits on a jig head are cast around docs and the mouse of creeks. Snook were feeding on the outgoing tide, which is the preferred time to fish. This type of fishing is great fun and something that experienced bass anglers would certainly enjoy.

Sarasota sheepshead fishing

Sarasota sheepshead fishing shows anglers what it is like to target and catch these tasty saltwater pan fish. Sheepshead are members of the Porgy family. They feed around structure and mostly on crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs. Very seldom are they caught by anglers using artificial lures. A fresh shrimp fished around pilings such as in this video, along with bridges, rocks, seawalls, and other structure will produce sheepshead from December through April.

Sarasota snook and jack fishing with Erin

Sarasota snook and jack with Erin is a video showing how a relatively inexperienced angler with rudimentary skills can have a good day of fishing. The key to this is the live bait that we use as both bait and chum. It evens the playing field quite a bit, and gives anglers a great chance to have success.

Plug fishing Sarasota

Plug fishing Sarasota is a video about Capt. Jim and a buddy taking a day off of work to cast plugs on the Myakka River. This is a very relaxing and enjoyable fishing trip. Shallow diving plugs cast towards submerged trees and other structure will produce snook, largemouth bass, jacks, and other species. This type of Sarasota fishing charter is best for anglers with a fair amount of experience.

Sarasota crappie fishing

Sarasota crappie fishing is another video highlighting the excellent freshwater fishing opportunities available to anglers in Sarasota. Crappie have become a very popular fish throughout the United States. The same techniques that produce fish all over work well in Sarasota, too. Trolling with brightly colored jigs and fishing with live minnows produces best.

Sarasota jack crevelle

Sarasota jack crevelle shows how easy and exciting it is to catch a nice Jack on a fly rod and area rivers. Just like to snook, jacks migrate up into these rivers in the cooler months. They can often be seen foraging on the surface as in this video. Jacks are very aggressive and in a mood to feed in this situation. They will hit just about any lore or fly with reckless abandon. This is great fun is so much of the action is visual.

Mixed bag on the Myakka

Mixed bag on the Myakka is a video showing how many different species can be caught by anglers simply fishing a worm on the bottom. This is a technique that is been used for centuries and is still effective to this day. It is an easy and relaxing way to fish and produces both action and variety on the Myakka River and everywhere.

Sarasota river fishing

Sarasota River fishing gives perspective clients an idea of what to expect on a River snook fishing charter. Anglers cast plugs and other lures towards the shoreline is a meander down the stream in a small boat. This is a very relaxing Sarasota fishing charter with great scenery in the chance to catch a really large fish.

Sarasota bass fishing

Sarasota bass fishing is a video that shows Capt. Jim and Capt. Jack taking a day off work to catch a few bass on Upper Myakka Lake. The to cast artificial lures such as spinner baits, plugs, and soft plastics to catch a few chunky bass on light tackle.

Longboat Key fishing charters

Longboat Key fishing charters is a video to show visitors to Longboat Key the angling options that are available to them. This video focuses on family fishing with children and less experienced clients. Capt. Jim will tailor the trip around the clients skill level and expectations to give them the best chance of success. Live bait is generally the most productive method.

In closing, I hope this post showing Sarasota fishing videos gets you excited to go on a Sarasota fishing charter!