Sarasota Offshore Fishing Tips
The waters offshore in the Gulf of Mexico offer anglers a wide variety of angling opportunities. Both bottom fishing and trolling produce a wide variety of species. This article on Sarasota offshore fishing will help anglers catch more fish! Many thanks to Marissa for the great pictures and tips!
The Gulf of Mexico on the west coast of Florida near Sarasota slowly and gradually deepens as anglers head west. At ten miles, the water is 60 feet deep, at 30 miles it is 100 feet deep. The bottom is relatively flat, sandy, and featureless. This means that any ledge, coral, hard bottom, wreck, or reef is very likely to be an oasis in the otherwise barren landscape. Just about every species caught in the Gulf of Mexico will relate to some type of structure. Mangrove, red, lane, and yellowtail snapper are caught at these locations. Red, gag, scamp, and black grouper along with huge goliath grouper are found there as well. Triggerfish, porgy, grunts, amberjack, flounder, sea bass, and other species will be caught on these structures.
Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, tuna, and even wahoo will be found over structure, particularly larger reefs. The reefs will attract bait fish, which in turn brings in the game fish. Ledges and other hard bottom will also hold kings and other species. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. Anglers can find the GPS numbers HERE.
Near shore fishing in Sarasota
Anglers can experience some outstanding fishing quite close to shore in Sarasota when conditions are right. East winds will have the Gulf water smooth and clear. This will attract bait fish, which in turn brings in the game fish. King and Spanish mackerel, false albacore, bluefish, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon are found in the inshore waters off of the Sarasota beaches.
The techniques used in shallow water are basically the same as those used by anglers fishing many miles offshore. The tackle is similar, though generally a bit lighter as the fish are smaller. Several artificial reefs are located withing two miles in thirty feet of water. These are fish magnets! Ledges are small, rare, and difficult to locate in the shallow water. However, anglers who do find some good bottom close to shore will experience some excellent bottom fishing!
Offshore fishing in Sarasota; trolling
Trolling is a great way to locate productive bottom fishing spots, particularly on a calm day. Experienced anglers like to start trolling 5 to 10 miles before reaching the bottom spot that she is heading to. Then, with the lines put out, anglers keep their eyes on the bottom machine. Any bottom irregularity is saved on the GPS. These spots can the be explored later that day or on another trip.
The trolling spread consists of planers, plugs, and flat lines. On a large vessel, six lines can easily be put out. A planer is a device that digs down into the water, taking the lure down into the water column while allowing the boat to be driven fairly fast. Planers have a sliding ring where the planer “trips” when a fish hits. This allows the angler to fight the fish without the resistance of the planer.
Spoons are very productive offshore fishing lures
Spoons are most often used behind planers. They work well when trolled at higher speeds. Plugs can be used, however if they are too large, they will trip the planer. Trolling at 5-7 knots is effective for most Gulf of Mexico species. Several sizes and colors should be used until a productive pattern emerges.
Planers come in sizes, the smaller the number, the smaller the planer. A #1 planer dives 5-7 feet and is used with a 20′ piece of 30 lb flourocarbon leader and a small spoon. A #2 planer dives 12-15 feet and is used with 20′ of 50 ln leader and a medium spoon. A #3 planer will get down to 30 feet. It is used with 20′ of 80 lb leader and a large spoon. Conventional tackle is used as the planer puts a strain on the rod as it is trolled. A #3 planer requires a stout outfit!
Trolling with plugs
Plugs are also very effective when trolled. Plugs come in many different sizes and colors. The lip on the front of the plug determines the depth that it will dive down to. Most manufacturers have a chart that gives anglers an idea of how deep the plug will run. Rapala and Bomber both make excellent lures for offshore trolling.
Trolling in shallow water with plugs is a very effective technique for anglers targeting gag grouper in the cooler months.
Trolling with skirted lures
Skirted lures are also effective lures for offshore trolling. These are often combined with a ballyhoo or other natural bait. The skirt adds action and color while the bait adds scent and texture. These lures are often fished right on the surface or just below it by our ladies offshore fishing.
The general rule when putting out a trolling spread is that the shallower running baits are put out the farthest behind the boat and are put out first. Marissa likes to put out a skirted ballyhoo on a flat line, way back and right down the middle. Then, she will put out a shallow diving plug, not quite as far back. The 3 planer outfits are then deployed, the #1, first, followed by the #2 and #3, each a little closer to the boat. Finally, a diving plug is put out 20 feet behind the stern, right in the prop wash.
Once the lines are put out, it is time to sit back and enjoy the day. Again, keeping an eye on the bottom machine will help locate other spots, along with bait and fish. Many anglers like to put a fairly small spoon on the #1 planer outfit. This will often result in blue runners and small mackerel being caught, which are excellent baits.
Offshore fishing in Sarasota; bottom fishing
Bottom fishing is extremely popular in the Gulf of Mexico. The primary reasons for this are simple; grouper and snapper! These much-desired bottom species are plentiful on the ledges and reefs offshore of Sarasota. Many other species are landed as well, including amberjack, triggerfish, grunts, porgies, sheepshead, flounder, and more.
Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. This is a boon to anglers. While they are productive, the most successful anglers find their own “private” fishing spots. An isolated ledge or piece of hard bottom that nobody else fishes is an angling gold mine! Once an angler finds a handful of these spots in various depths, there will be very few fish-less days.
It does take time to find these hidden gems. Many of these ledges or “breaks”, as they are termed locally, are small. A two foot rocky ledge in an otherwise barren, sandy area will hold a lot of fish. Trolling on a calm day is an excellent way to locate these spots. Also, there are usually multiple ledges that protrude from the bottom in an area. So, once a piece of bottom is found, that area should be explored to see if other ledges can be located.
Sarasota offshore fishing tips; anchoring
Anchoring properly is crucial to success when bottom fishing offshore. The deeper the water, the more difficult it is. Anglers must take the wind and current into account, then position the boat just up-wind and up-tide of the structure. Many anglers toss out a buoy of some sort to make the spot, providing a visual reference. Experience is the best teacher when it comes to anchoring. Dragging the anchor through a spot and ruining it is a terrible feeling!
The best approach is to mark the spot with a buoy. Then, anglers idle around back to the buoy, going straight into the wind. After traveling a short distance (which is determined by the wind and depth), the anchor is lowered and the boat eased back to the spot. Ideally, the boat will rest a short distance up-wind and up-tide of the spot.
Pro tip: once the boat comes to rest, take note of the compass heading. Unless the wind or current changes, this heading should work on the next spot or two if moving is necessary.
Smaller bay boats are now using GPS trolling motors to hold their position, especially on calm days. These powerful electric motors have revolutionized bottom fishing. The motor will hold the boat precisely over a spot. The angler can easily move 10-15 feet and fish another piece of the same structure. Obviously, it needs to be relatively calm to use a bow mounted trolling motor.
Bottom fishing techniques
Once properly positioned, it is time to fish. The first order of business is to put out some chum. Most anglers tie a bag of frozen chum, to the stern. As it thaws, the chum will disperse into the water. This will often times bring fish, especially snapper, up off the bottom. A handful or two of fresh chopped bait will slowly sink down and stimulate the fish.
Most anglers opt for basic bottom rigs. A sliding egg sinker is placed on the running line. A swivel it tied on the end of the line. A leader is tied on the other end of the swivel, followed by the hook. Leader lengths vary by preference and depth. A three foot leader is fine in shallow water while a ten foot leader might be better in over a hundred feet. Anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico are required to use circle hooks. Florida fishing regulations can be found at the FWC site.
Another very simple rig is the “knocker rig”. The angler slides the sinker on the running line, followed by the hook. Not only is this simple and re-rigging very fast, it is very effective as well. The bait will rest right on the bottom, near the sinker. The line will freely move through the sinker without feeling any resistance. Finally, snags are easy to free up as the sinker knocks against the hook. Thus the name, “knocker rig”.
Offshore fishing tackle for Sarasota anglers
Conventional tackle and spinning tackle can be used offshore. Spinning tackle in the 20 lb class works well for snapper, which can be line shy at times. A 7′ to 8′ spinning rod, matching reel, and 20 lb monofilament or braided line is a good outfit. Anglers using braid will need a long flourocarbon leader. The lightest sinker that will reach the bottom is used. A slowly sinking bait will produce on the snapper.
Mangrove snapper will often “rise up” into the surface chum. This is fantastic! The fish can be caught using fairly light tackle as they are so far from the protection of the structure. A hook baited with a piece of bait floated back naturally will get the job done.
Serious grouper diggers use heavy conventional tackle. This is required to winch and angry grouper up and out of it’s hole. The same is true if amberjack are present. These hard-pulling fish are not called “reef donkeys” for no reason, their nick name is well-earned.
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Sarasota offshore fishing baits
Every offshore anglers has a favorite bait. Marissa has found that as an all-round multi species bait that catches everything, it is hard to beat frozen Spanish sardines. They are available at every tackle shop. Sardines, and other frozen bait, need to be thawed out. It is best to use salt water to thaw out bait. Using fresh water will make the bait mushy. Anglers should thaw out a little at a time, keeping it firm.
Other frozen baits such as squid and mullet work well, too. Any fresh caught legal fish can be cut up and used as bait. Fresh cut bait works very well for grouper and red snapper, along with just about every other species.
Live baits are effective offshore
Live baits are a little more trouble, as in most instances they must be caught, but many anglers find them worth the effort. Pinfish are a terrific bait for grouper, snapper, and amberjack when bottom fishing offshore. Many anglers feel that a large, live shrimp is the best bait for mangrove snapper.
The technique for fishing both live and cut bait is the same. Anglers drop the bait to the bottom, then reel up the slack. They stand ready, with the rot tip down near the surface. When a fish bites, the angler waits until until a steady pull is felt. Then, he or she reefs fast and hard, pulling the fish up away from the structure.
Once the angler gains a few feet, a steady lifting of the rod tip, then reeling down to pick up the slack, will usually result in a landed fish. Setting the hook does NOT work with circle hooks anywhere, especially in deep water.
In conclusion, this article on Sarasota offshore fishing tips should help anglers achieve success out in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico.