Siesta Key Fishing Charters
Capt. Jim Klopfer offers Siesta Key fishing charters to visiting anglers. Siesta Key is a barrier island near Sarasota, Florida. Siesta Key is world famous for its white sand beaches. However, it offers excellent fishing as well.
Siesta Key fishing charters offers visiting anglers a variety of fishing opportunities. Six to eight species are landed on most trips. Speckled trout, snook, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, and many other species are targeted. The deep grass flats, passes, back country bays, and inshore Gulf of Mexico all produce year-round.
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.
View my current Sarasota fishing report HERE
One of the advantages of Siesta Key fishing charters is a wide variety of available fishing opportunities. We have over two dozen species that are available at one time of year or another. On most trips, anglers catch 6 to 8 different species. Anglers of all ages and experience levels can take advantage of this.
Many of my clients over the course of the year are very casual anglers. These include families with children. Quite a few of our fish species are fairly easy to catch. This makes them great targets for these types of clients. More experienced anglers may enjoy targeting more challenging fish such as snook, redfish, or even tarpon.
I use a 22 foot bay boat on my Siesta Key fishing charters. It is very stable and roomy, with plenty of storage. I provide everything the angler needs for the day of fishing. Tackle, bait, licenses, and a cooler with ice all come with the trip. Anglers need only bring comfortable clothing, drinks and snacks, and hats and sunglasses.
Siesta Key fishing charters
I tailor my charters to the current conditions and angler expectations and experience. I always like to speak to my clients the afternoon before. This way I can get as much information as I can and have everything rigged and ready on the boat in the morning. I am very flexible as far as the time and location that we will be leaving.
There are many different species to target on Siesta Key fishing charters. There are also several different techniques to employ. I would say that the majority of the fish caught with me by clients are done so using two different methods. Fishing the passes and drifting the deep grass flats produce a lot of fish for my customers.
Florida is flat. Therefore, the geography underwater is similar to that on land. Sarasota Bay is only about 10 feet deep maximum. There are acres and acres of submerge grass beds. We call these grass flats. These grass beds that exist in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep are extremely productive for a variety of species
Fishing charters in Siesta Key
Speckled trout are caught on these deep grass flats all year long. They are plentiful, aggressive, beautiful, and not overly challenging for the novice angler. There also very good to eat for those clients who want to keep a couple fish for dinner. I drift the deep grass flats and use either live bait or artificial bait. Many other species are caught doing this as well.
Spanish mackerel, pompano, jack crevelle, gag grouper, bluefish, mangrove snapper, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, cobia, and sea bass are just some of the other species that anglers will catch will targeting speckled trout on the deep grass flats. The variety of species caught is definitely one of the high points of the charter.
Fishing Siesta Key
There are two passes in Sarasota. They are Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. These passes connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. On the West Coast of Florida they are called passes, but they are basically inlets. They are veritable fish highways. Fish use them to migrate between the Bay and the Gulf.
Big Pass lies at the north end of Siesta Key and has fish in it all year long. There are two types of fishing we do in Big Pass; bottom fishing and drifting. The entire north shore of Siesta Key is covered with structure such as submerged rocks, docks, and seawalls. These hold bottom fish such as sheepshead, mangrove snapper, Key West grunts, grouper, drum, and pompano.
Bottom fishing is as basic as it gets. Anglers take a baited hook and just drop it straight to the bottom, no casting is even required. Anglers with no experience can catch fish using this method right away. Live or frozen shrimp is the preferred bait. Sheepshead are thick in the passes December through April. Snook are plentiful in the summer. Snapper are present all year long.
Clients also catch a lot of fish drifting in the passes. This is another fairly easy fishing technique that can be learned in short order. There is usually current present in the pass. Anglers bounce jigs along the bottom or free line a shrimp out behind the boat as it drifts along with the current. This drifting covers a lot of water and helps anglers find the fish.
Ladyfish school up thick in Big Pass. These are great fish for anglers to practice on. They hit hard and almost always jump several feet up out of the water. It gives children and novice anglers a chance to fight a fish that takes drag. However, there is no pressure to land it as they are not good to eat and are usually plenty of them. Mackerel, bluefish, and pompano are also commonly caught drifting the passes.
Siesta Key fishing charters using live bait
I use live bait on many of my Siesta Key fishing charters, especially with small children on board. Using live bait is easier for them and increases the odds of success. Live shrimp are the number one live bait in Sarasota. They are available all year round and catch just about everything that swims. Dead or frozen shrimp works well for many bottom species.
I also use my cast net to catch small bait fish. This is mostly done in the warmer months, especially in the heat of summer. Scaled sardines and thread fin herring along with pin fish and grunts are most commonly caught. Live bait fish can be fantastic baits and will often catch larger fish then shrimp will. They also don’t get harassed by the little bait stealers.
In the summer time I do a lot of live bait chumming. This is an incredibly productive technique! It is also another great method for children and inexperienced anglers. Once I load the bait well up with minnows, I anchor the boat. Next, I throw a few handfuls of the live bait out behind the boat. It usually doesn’t take long before these freebies attract the game fish.
When the tide is right in the bait is easy, this method is deadly. I have had many Siesta Key fishing charters that produced over 100 fish for three anglers in a morning. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, bluefish, grouper, and loads of ladyfish respond to the live chum. We also use this technique along mangrove shorelines to catch snook and redfish.
Artificial lures on Siesta Key fishing charters
I use artificial lures on a lot of my Siesta Key fishing charters. Clients are often surprised to learn that on many days, lures will actually out fish live bait. This is especially true in the cooler months when fish are more active in eight is less plentiful. In this situation, fish are more apt to chase down a lure.
The number one artificial bait on the West Coast of Florida by far is the lead head jig and grub combo. A jig is a hook with the weight at the front of it. This weight provides casting distance as well is giving the bait a specific action. The jig hops and falls as its retrieved through the water. That is how it gets its name!
The jig hook is then adorned with some type of plastic trailer. For the most part, these are made to mimic either shrimp or bait fish. The two most popular are paddle tails and shad tails. Both are very effective. I prefer lighter colors in clear water and darker colors and stained water. I also believe that presentation is much more important than color.
Fishing with jigs and plugs
This is an easy lure to use. I have converted many live bait anglers! The jig is cast out, and allowed to sink several feet. It is then retrieved in using sharp hops with a pause in between. Most strikes occur as the jig is falling. I’m sure it looks like a wounded and helpless shrimp or bait fish as it slowly blotters down.
The other artificial lure that I use quite often is a plug. This is basically a plastic imitation of a bait fish. I generally use these with more experienced anglers. Plugs come with a pair of treble hooks. That, along with and inexperienced angler, is not a great combination.
I use plugs to work shorelines for snook, jacks, and redfish. Plugs allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly and they draw some exciting strikes. Mangrove shorelines, oyster bars, and docks in the backwater areas produce for anglers casting plugs. They are also effective trolled on the deep flats and off the beaches.
I choose plugs most of the time for anglers who want to target snook and other species. These lures closely mimics the finger mullet and other bait fish that the game fish feed on. They float at rest and dive several feet down when sharply twitched. This also results in less snags then when using jigs.
Inshore Gulf of Mexico
Fishing just off the beaches and the Gulf of Mexico can be fantastic when conditions are right. In the spring and the fall huge bait fish migrations occur along the entire coast. Of course, the game fish are right on their heels. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are the primary species. However, sharks, cobia, tarpon and other species can be hooked as well on Sarasota fishing charters.
After a day or two of east wind, it will be calm along the coast. These are the conditions that we are looking for. Not only do I want my clients to be comfortable, but it needs to be calm in order to see the bait fish and feeding game fish. One of the most exciting aspects of this is that often times fish will be feeding right on the surface. We call these ”breaking fish”. It is always fun finding this situation as just about any lure or bait get instantly attacked.
Trolling is a great way to catch fish in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Once again, it is an extremely easy technique for inexperienced anglers. I simply draw the boat around while dragging a lure behind and waiting for fish to eat it. The fish takes, the rod bends, and the fish is hooked. The angler only has to reel it in, no casting required.
Experienced anglers will enjoy the fun of casting to these breaking fish. I position the boat upwind of a school of feeding fish, whether they be mackerel or false albacore. The angler then cast into the school and begins a fast, erratic retrieve. These fish are in a feeding frenzy and are very aggressive and will eat just about anything shiny that’s moving. I use jigs, plugs, and spoons effectively in this situation.
There are several artificial reefs a couple miles off the beach. These are fish magnets in the otherwise barren Gulf floor. Bottom fish such as sheepshead, grouper, snapper, and flounder will be found there most of the year. Spanish mackerel will be thick on these reefs in the spring and the fall. They provide great fishing when the seas are calm.
River fishing charters
I also provide anglers a unique experience, one that no other guide offers in this area. I take clients on river snook fishing charters. There are several rivers that are a short drive from Siesta Key beaches. In the wintertime, snook migrate up into these rivers. Using my 14 foot John boat, anglers drift the rivers casting plugs towards the shoreline in hopes of fooling a trophy snook.
This charter is best suited for experienced anglers. It produces less in terms of numbers than the bay fishing trips usually do. However, there is always the chance to land a true trophy fish. Snook 225 inches are caught on most trips. 30 inch fish are common and 40 inch snook are landed every season.
The scenery is part of the attraction to this charter as well. It has a “freshwater”feel to it. In fact, this water is brackish and largemouth bass are commonly caught. This is “Old Florida”and has a kind of Amazon like feel to it. It is a great experience and one that is less than an hour away from Siesta Key. I run out of Snook Haven on the Myakka River.
Siesta Key fishing charters species
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are ambush predators. These fish will usually be found near structure of some sort such as bridges, docks, mangroves, and oyster bars. Snook take artificial and live baits. They grow to 40 pounds are put up a terrific battle!
Snook have a local, seasonal migration. They are found in creeks, rivers, and canals in the winter. In spring and fall they are found throughout the flats in Sarasota Bay and Robert’s Bay. They spend their summer in the passes and out on the beaches.
Speckled trout may be the most popular inshore species along the entire Gulf Coast. Trout are beautiful fish, school up in decent numbers, are fairly plentiful, and taste great. The vast majority of speckled trout in Sarasota are caught on the submerged grass beds in 5′ to 10′ of water.
Speckled trout are caught by anglers using live shrimp and small bait fish. Shrimp are available year round while bait fish work better in the warmer months. Artificial lures such as jigs and plugs work well, too.
Redfish are another very popular fish species. They are found individually or in small bunches for most of the year. They are caught under docks and on the shallow flats. In late summer, they school up into large schools. Reds are targeted this time of year on the shallow grass flats in north Sarasota Bay. Jigs, plugs, and live shrimp account for most of the redfish caught.
Spanish mackerel are a pelagic species that migrate through the area. Prime times to target Spanish mackerel are spring and fall. However, they can be found all year with the exception of cold water, below 65 degrees. Mackerel are very fast fish. Spanish mackerel love fast-moving lures. They will also take live bait. They taste great when eater fresh but do not freeze well.
Bluefish are a hard-fighting fish species that are found in Sarasota in the cooler months. Blues are most often caught by anglers casting lures for trout and other species. They prefer slightly deeper water and are found over grass flats and in the passes. They school up and are very aggressive. Bluefish are oily, but the small ones are decent to eat when fresh.
Pompano put up a great fight for their size. However, their real value is on the dinner plate. Pompano are perhaps the finest eating fish that Sarasota offers. The swim around in schools of varying size. They feed on the bottom, mostly eating crustaceans. Small jigs and shrimp fished in the passes and on the flats produce most of the pompano caught. Surf anglers catch them using jigs, shrimp, and sand fleas.
Sheepshead are a bottom dwelling saltwater panfish. They are members of the porgy family are are very good eating. Sheepshead move in to spawn around structure in winter. They are found in good numbers in Sarasota from January through April. Sheepshead are rarely caught on lures. Shrimp are the most popular bait, but sand fleas and fiddler crabs work well.
Mangrove snapper are available all year long in Sarasota. While small, they are plentiful and feisty. They are also superb eating, right there with pompano. Most snapper are caught by anglers using live shrimp and small bait fish. Snapper will take small lures as well. They are found near docks, bridges, underwater ledges, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines.
Jack crevalle are one of the hardest fighting fish that we have in Sarasota. They have broad sides and large tails. Jacks are aggressive and very powerful. Jacks also are a school fish and that feeds into their aggressiveness. While live bait works, jack crevelle are much more fun to catch on lures such as jigs and plugs. Jacks are not considered good to eat.
Ladyfish are great fun! Locals disparage them as they are not good to eat. However, they provide great action on Siesta Key fishing charters. They are numerous, school up, are aggressive, and leap high up out of the water. Ladyfish are great for novice anglers and children looking for a bent rod. They bite year round and readily take lures and live bait.
False albacore are found in the inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall. They migrate along with the bait fish that they feed on. Conditions need to be right to catch them. It needs to be calm with clear water. When it all comes together, the action can be fantastic! They are not good to eat.
Small sharks are always a crowd pleaser, especially with kids. They are caught randomly on charters. Summer and early fall are the best times to target them. Sharks will usually be found near schools of mackerel in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Blacktip and bonnethead sharks are the species most often caught.
So in closing, if you are visiting our area and enjoy fishing, I hope that you will book one of my Siesta Key fishing charters. I work hard and will do everything I can to make the trip enjoyable and productive!
Spring Siesta Key fishing charters
Siesta Key Beach is world famous and attracts many visitors in March. In fact, it just won the prestigious award for ” Best Beach”. Young ladies flock to the famous white sand beaches during Spring Break to soak up the sun. But many come to fish, too. This time of year, families make up the majority of my charters and most of these trips include at least one female angler. Sarasota offers great family-friendly fishing for a variety of species. Vast experience is not required, just basic skills and the desire to have a good time.
Deep grass flats are very productive, offering reliable spring time fishing. Speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, cobia, sea bass, and flounder are all regular catches. Both anchoring up and drifting are equally productive, depending on the tide and wind.
The most popular artificial lure in this area is the jig/grub combo. This is a lead head jig with a plastic tail which imitates a shrimp or bait fish. Bass Assassin manufactures a full line of effective products; my personal favorite is the red/gold shad tail on a ¼ ounce jig head. The lure is cast out in front of the boat as it drifts across the flat. It is allowed to sink several seconds then is retrieved back with a twitching motion. Most strikes come as the bait falls.
Live bait produces on Siesta Key fishing charters
While artificial lures catch plenty of fish during Spring Break, live bait is the most reliable producer on my Siesta Key fishing charters, especially with anglers with limited experience. Live shrimp are purchased and “whitebait” is cast-netted up on the flats. “Whitebait” is a Florida term for small white or silver bait fish, mostly pilchards and threadfin herring, that migrate into the area in the spring. A well full of either live shrimp or frisky pilchards practically guarantees success.
Marcel Hamburger lives in Houston, TX and has fished with me for several years now. He usually brings his two children Morgan and Grant. Morgan never gets out-fished. Never. She has perfected the art of drifting a live bait across the flats. She casts her bait out and lets it drift behind the boat with the rod tip held low. When a fish takes the bait, she does not jerk, which is a common mistake. Instead, she just reels up the slack while slowly raising the rod tip. Most of the time, the result is a fish in the boat.
Anchoring up on the edge of a grass flat that drops off into deeper water and fishing with live bait can be deadly. One trip from several years ago comes to mind and it is a story that I have told many times on the boat. John Brennan from Brookfield, WI visits Siesta Key regularly for Spring Break, and he usually treats his daughters Laura, Cari, and Theresa to a Sarasota fishing charter. I filled the well with twelve dozen shrimp and loaded up the Brennan clan.
After anchoring up on the edge of a flat near Bird Key, we experienced non-stop action free lining live shrimp. I believe the final tally was 119 fish landed, not counting the ones that jumped off. Spanish mackerel, speckled trout, and ladyfish, kept rods bent the entire time. It was so hectic, poor John barely got the chance to fish!
Big Sarasota Pass fishing
Big Sarasota Pass lies to the north of Siesta Key. It is a fish highway that connects Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. March is a prime month for fishing the pass. The same methods that produce on the flats will also work in the deeper water of the pass. Jigs bounced on the bottom and free lined live bait will catch pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and loads of ladyfish.
Last March the Manby family, friends of the Brennan’s who also reside in Brookfield, WI had a great morning catching large mackerel in Big Pass. Maria and Jeff along with their three girls Ashleigh, Julia, and Abigail were my guests that morning. The tide was low and had just turned to come in and we were free lining live shrimp. The bite was a little slow, just a couple of ladyfish, when Julia’s rod bent double and the drag started screaming.
I knew right away that it was a big mackerel. Julia fought the fish like an expert and it was landed and tossed on ice, destined for dinner at Clayton’s that evening. Several minutes later the same thing was repeated. Then again. What the heck? Four baits in the water, same hook, same rig, but she catches all the fish?
“I jiggle it”, she stated. And the now-famous “Julia Jiggle” was born. Any time I am on a charter and the bites are slow in coming, I instruct my clients to “jiggle it”. Action is sure to soon follow.
There is much more to fishing than just catching fish. The time a family spends together is priceless. I humbly feel privileged to be a part of it. Friendships have been forged and to see the kids grow up each year is exciting. Experience your own Spring Break, Sarasota style!
Summer Siesta Key fishing charters
All three rods were bent deep as I tried to keep the bedlam under control. Sweat was dripping from my forehead and it was only nine o’clock in the morning. The heat was one reason, the other was that I was scrambling to keep my client’s hooks emptied of a fish and then re-baited. It was non-stop action as nearly every pilchard that hit the water was devoured within seconds. Welcome to summertime fishing Sarasota!
Many anglers are surprised when I tell them that fishing Sarasota in the heat of summer is outstanding. Some of my best days, especially when it comes to quantity, come in July and August. The reason for this is the abundance of live bait fish that flood into the bays at first light. Pilchards and threadfin herring are thick on the shallow grass flats near the Venice Inlet. A few tosses of the cast net will usually result in a well full of bait. After that, success is practically guaranteed. A few handfuls of live chum will bring speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, jacks, and sharks right up to the boat. Bait fish are easiest to catch at first light, especially on a high tide. Grass flats near both passes are good spots to load up the well.
While fishing Sarasota can be spectacular in the heat of summer, it does require a few tactical changes. The prime low-light periods of dawn and dusk will be very productive, as will fishing at night. Getting up early is a requirement, not an option. Get out there early, catch bait or take advantage of the early morning low light conditions to cast artificial lures. On most days the bite winds down by late morning. By then it is usually just too hot to fish, anyway.
Siesta Key night fishing
Fishing Sarasota at night is another productive option in July. Evenings are pleasant, just monitor the weather; thunderstorms are an issue this time of year. Snook in particular will be caught around the lighted docks and bridges throughout the area. Speckled trout, redfish, snapper, ladyfish, and even tarpon will also be caught at night. Plugs, jigs, flies, and live bait will produce around lighted structure.
Successful anglers will quietly approach a likely spot and either anchor or use a trolling motor to work the spot. Shore bound anglers will score at the area bridges, too. The prime spot is a cast away on the up-current side just on the fringe of the lighted area. Outgoing tides are preferred, but as long as the water is moving the fish will bite.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad jigs are productive lures, as are small plugs such as the (08) size Rapala X-Rap. Live shrimp free lined in the current can also be deadly. Medium sized shrimp work best on a 1/0 short shank hook for clients fishing Sarasota. Large hand-picked shrimp don’t look natural and are usually not as effective. Spinning tackle with a 2’ piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is best for tossing lures and live bait. Glass minnows are a primary forage around lights and small white flies are effective imitations. A 7 or 8 weight rod with an intermediate sink tip line and 8 foot piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader works well.
Siesta Key Beach snook fishing
Another productive July technique when fishing Sarasota is beach fishing for snook. This is a great opportunity for anglers without a boat to experience the thrill and challenge of sight fishing. Anglers will hit the beach around 8:00 a.m., by then there is enough sunlight to spot the fish. Walking north will put the sun behind, making it easier to see the snook. Quite often, they will be right in the surf line, inches from the edge.
Live bait will work but it cumbersome to carry around. Artificial lures are more convenient and catch plenty of fish. Small light colored lures are best. A delicate presentation is required so as not to spook the fish in the shallow water. A 1/8 ounce white bucktail jig works great, as do small plugs and soft plastic baits.
This is a terrific situation to catch a snook on a fly rod. White bait fish patterns are productive. The fly lands very softly in the water and will not spook the snook. Since the fish are in open water for the most part, the chance of them breaking off is greatly diminished. A seven or eight weight outfit with a floating line and eight feet of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is the standard rig.
The large schools of tarpon will have broken up but there will still be plenty of fish out there. Although they don’t “show” as well, they eat better! Point of Rocks, Grassy Point, and the Venice Pier are good spots to try. Again, get out there at first light and either cast to rolling fish or drift a pinfish out behind the boat under a float. Fish until mid-morning, then call it a day.
There are plenty of ways to fish Sarasota and catch fish in July and still beat the summertime heat!
Fall Siesta Key fishing charters
Contrary to popular belief, autumn does arrive in Florida, although the changes can be fairly subtle. While still fairly warm, evening temperatures are a tad lower and the days are a little shorter. Fish are very much in tune with these changes and it affects their behavior. In Sarasota where I fish, on the west coast, the arrival of Spanish mackerel and false albacore just off the beaches in the inshore Gulf of Mexico officially signals the fall fishing season. This is great sport and it does not require a large boat or fancy gear to take advantage of this bonanza.
The reason for this fantastic fall fishing on Siesta Key is simple; bait, and LOTS of it! As the water and land temperatures drop, the weather pattern changes. The sea breezes will be gone and high pressure systems will bring northeast winds both during the day and in the evening. The result will be clear, calm water along the beaches, attracting huge schools of baitfish which in turn attracts the gamefish. Saltwater fishing can be pretty basic, “Find the groceries; find the fish”. Other species will also be encountered when fishing “Out on the beach”. Jack crevelle, bluefish, ladyfish, king mackerel, cobia, sharks, and even tarpon will follow the forage to take advantage of the abundance of forage.
As a full-time fishing guide, I rely on live bait a majority of the time to provide action for my clients who book a Siesta Key fishing charter. In this application, artificial lures are not only extremely productive but are a lot of fun to fish! Quite often schools of “breaking” fish will be seen terrorizing the helpless baitfish on the surface. Opportunistic gulls and terns will be picking at the scraps as well. This is a sight that will stir any angler’s soul and is the perfect situation to use an artificial lure. The strikes will be immediate and savage! Of course, a frisky live baitfish or shrimp will very seldom go unmolested when fall fishing Siesta Key.
Artificial lures catch fish on Siesta Key fishing charters
My “go to” lure for fishing the inshore Gulf is #8 Rapala X-Rap slashbait. It perfectly mimics the small pilchards, glass minnows, and threadfin herring that the gamefish are feeding on. Olive is my favorite color with white being a close second. The lure is simply cast out into the bait and retrieved back with sharp twitches and a pause in between. X-Raps can also be trolled along when there is not any surface activity; they are a great “locator” bait. The venerable jig and grub combo also works well, with the 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad being my personal favorite.
Silver spoons will also produce plenty of fish for anglers fall fishing Siesta Key. The same tackle that is used for speckled trout and redfish will work fine in this application. My preferred rig is a 10 lb spinning outfit with monofilament line, the last 5’ doubled with a Spider Hitch, then 30” of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader is added using a double Uni-knot, then the lure or hook completes the rig.
Fly anglers can certainly take advantage of this situation as well. An 8wt outfit with a weight forward floating line is a good choice. The leader should be 8’ of 30 lb fluorocarbon and any small white fly will produce well, with D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow patterns being the most popular. Fly anglers do well fall fishing Siesta Key!
Once rigged up and ready, it is time to go fishing! Often times the fish will be schooled up just outside the passes, particularly on an outgoing tide. Any bird or surface activity should be investigated. Sometimes just a couple of terns diving will clue an angler into the location of a school. If nothing is happening at the pass, simply cruise down the beach on plane but at as slow a speed as possible in order to completely scan the area.
Spanish mackerel and false albacore off of Siesta Key
Once a school of actively feeding fish is located, determine whether they are mackerel or albacore. Spanish will generally stay up in the same spot for a longer period of time. False albacore can be much more difficult to get on, they move fast and change directions constantly. But, there is no greater sport than catching a big albie on light tackle or fly!
In either case, patience will pay off! Charging into the school on plane will usually shut down the bite. Instead, cut the motor up-wind of the fish and drift down on them until in casting range or use the electric trolling motor if so equipped. Trolling the edges will also work well but avoid driving through the middle of the school. Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program with 3 nice reefs within 2 miles of shore just off Lido Key. These are a great back-up plan (as is any reef or hard bottom area) in the event that surface activity is absent as they almost always hold bait and fish.
Later in the morning as the sun comes up, particularly if the water is clear, anglers will do well to look for bait balls. These appear as large dark spots in the water. NEVER pass up a nice, big ball of bait as there will usually be predator fish on the edges. Anglers seeking larger game will score consistently on sharks by putting out a chunk of mackerel under a cork on a larger rig with a steel leader. Free-lining a large live threadfin herring at the edges will also produce some larger fish. Do not be surprised if a cobia, king mackerel, or even a tarpon are hooked as well fall fishing Siesta Key.
Shore bound anglers can get in on the action as well. While false albacore seldom venture in close enough to be caught from land, Spanish mackerel, jacks, bluefish, ladyfish, and more will often cruise within casting range while feasting upon the abundance of forage. The same lures, baits, flies, and techniques that produce for anglers in boats will also allow surf casters to achieve success.
Winter Siesta Key fishing charters
The key to angling success is the ability to adapt to ever-changing conditions. February tactics are unique. Severe fronts move through on a weekly basis, drastically changing the water temperature and clarity. Wind will prevent anglers from fishing the open waters in north Sarasota Bay. Extreme low winter tides will chase fish off the flats. So, let’s go through a typical winter weather cycle that would be experienced on a fishing charter in the winter.
A severe front has just moved through. The water temperature has dropped several degrees and there is a blue-bird sky with bright sun and a northeast wind. The northeast wind will fight the tide, making it even lower than normal. And it can be downright chilly. Flats near the passes will be flooded with dirty water from the churned up Gulf of Mexico. Finding clean, protected water will be a priority when employing February tactics.
The area south of Siesta Drive down to Blackburn Pt. usually stats clearer and offers protection from the north wind. Oyster bars, canals, and docks will be good places to soak a shrimp for sheepshead, drum, and other species. On low tide the trout, pompano, and ladyfish will concentrate in deeper water. This can be the Intracoastal channel or any deep water. As the tide floods the flats and the day warms up the fish will move out of the holes and onto the nearby flats. Casting jigs and live shrimp while drifting the flats is the preferred technique.
After a couple of days the wind will shift to the southeast and it will be warm and sunny. The water in the passes will be clearer and fishing will be good throughout the area. Both passes will hold pompanp, bluefish, and ladyfish. Jigs, spoons, and live shrimp will all produce. Taking advantage of these favorable conditions is an aspect of February tactics.
Surf fishing off of Siesta Key beaches
This is the best time to surf fish for whiting, silver trout, pompano, flounder, and more. The water will be clean and calm with an east wind. A live shrimp or piece of frozen shrimp fished on the bottom works best.
Any Structure in or near the passes should be thick with sheepshead. Bottom fishing with live or frozen shrimp will produce the best. Anchoring a cast away up-current and allowing the bait to drift back to the structure in a natural manner is the best presentation. A #1 live bait hook on a 2’ piece of 30 lb leader and a bit of weight is the best rig. Use just enough weight to barely hold the bottom.
Grass flats in four to seven feet of water will be good for speckled trout, silver trout, pompano, bluefish, sea bass, flounder, and ladyfish. Again, drifting and casting jigs and live shrimp works best. The flats near the passes are always a goiod place to start but any flat can produce. The key is to keep moving until fish are located; don’t spend too much time in an unproductive spot. Gold, rootbeer/gold, olive, and glow are popular colors. Scented baits such as Gulp! Can make the difference on a tough day.
Hot bite before a weather change
After a couple of days of nice weather, another front will approach. As this occurs the wind will turn south, then southwest and start to blow fifteen to twenty knots. Often times the fish will bite like crazy as they sense the weather change coming. The south wind will flood the bays with water, tides will be higher than normal. This is a good time to target snook and redfish in shallow water. Casting gold spoons or jigs will fool them.
Trout will be actively feeding on the deep flats. The wind will require anglers to find a little protection. The west side of Sarasota Bay north of New Pass has excellent flats and is protected on a south wind. Structure in Big Pass on the north end of Siesta is also protected and is a great spot for sheepshead.
Snook move up into the creeks and canals in winter and the high afternoon tides are a good time to target them. Plugs and jigs cast are to structure and worked back in an erratic manner. Big jack crevelle will also seek refuge in these areas in the cooler months.As the front moves through the wind will turn northwest and blow hard. This pretty much shuts down fishing for a day or two. The wind will shift northeast and the whole process will repeat itself.
Be aware of the effects of local weather patterns and you can be very successful fishing in February.
There are many fine resorts for anglers to stay at when visiting Siesta Key. Fisherman’s Cove on the South end of Siesta Key is the top spot for tourists who place a priority on fishing. Further south in Englewood, Pearl Beach Inn is a great spot for visiting anglers to stay.
In conclusion, this post on Siesta Key fishing charters will help anglers decide if this trip is right for them!
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236