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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay have the opportunity to catch over 20 saltwater fish species. Multiple techniques are effective. Sarasota Bay can fished all season long.
How can anglers achieve success when fishing Sarasota Bay? This article on the Fishing Lido Key site will get them started. Sarasota Bay is on the West Coast of Florida. It runs northwest to southeast and sits south of Tampa Bay and North of Charlotte Harbor. Sarasota Bay is roughly 10 miles long and 3 miles wide and is fairly shallow. It has many acres of submerge grass beds which hold fish. Other excellent habitat includes mangrove shorelines, creeks, and passes. Sarasota Bay can offer excellent fishing all year long!
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.
This fishery actually extends another 10 miles or so south. Roberts Bay and Little Sarasota Bay are narrower. The character of these bays is a bit different as well. Grass flats are less plentiful while oyster bars are the primary habitat. Docks in both the bays and in residential canals and creeks offer fish sanctuary as well.
Sarasota Bay is home to many inshore saltwater species. Snook, redfish, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, pompano, jack crevelle, ladyfish, cobia, sharks, tarpon, red and gag grouper, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, Key West grunts, flounder, black drum, whiting, catfish, and black sea bass are some of the more popular species.
Tackle used for anglers fishing Sarasota Bay is pretty basic. A 6 1/2 foot to 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel spooled up with 20 pound braid or 10 pound monofilament line is the best all round rig. Anglers then attach a 24 inch piece of 30 pound fluorocarbon as a shock leader. The lure or hook is then attached to the end of the leader.
Sarasota Bay fishing seasons
While every year is different, seasonal patterns hold up over time. A cold winter will find fish in the deeper holes as well as in creeks and residential canals. Fish on the grass flats tend to be a bit deeper, in a to 10 feet of water. Several days of warm weather may have them up on the shallower flats.
Residential canals and creeks will hold a lot of fish in cold weather. They also offer anglers some refuge from the wind. Docks in these areas will attract and hold fish. They offer shade, structure, and forage. Anglers fishing live and frozen shrimp under docks will catch sheepshead, black drum, snapper, snook, redfish, and jack crevalle.
Anglers targeting snook in jacks will do well in the upper end of canals as well as several creeks in the area. Phillippi Creek, Hudson Bayou, Whitaker Bayou,Bowlees Creek, in the grand Canal on Siesta Key are but a few of these types of areas. The best approach is to cast a search bait such as a shallow diving plug. Trolling the same plugs can help locate fish.
As it warms up in the spring, fish will move out of these deeper sanctuary waters and scatter out over the flats. They will be active, aggressive, and in the mood to feed. All of the deeper grass flats in 4 feet of water to 10 feet of water should hold speckled trout, ladyfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, pompano, and more.
Snook, redfish, jacks, and large speckled trout will be found on the shallow grass flats, around oyster bars, and along mangrove shorelines. Artificial lures are usually the bait of choice as they allow anglers to cover a lot of water in search of these game fish. Live bait can certainly be used as well.
Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are very productive spots in spring. Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay passes will find the sheepshead schooled up heavily on structure. Mangrove snapper and gag grouper will be mixed in with them. They show up in late February and usually stay until April. Pompano, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and ladyfish will be caught in the passes themselves.
Summer offers anglers fishing Sarasota Bay outstanding action! Many visiting anglers are surprised to learn this, as many times fishing slows down in the heat of summer. The key to the summer action in Sarasota is the abundance of live bait. Small forage fish such as scaled sardines and threadfin herring are plentiful on the grass flats near the passes.
Anglers fishing and summer do need to get up early. The best bite is first light and it gets hot awfully fast. The deeper grass flats provide great action on a variety of species during the summer. Anglers can use live bait or artificial lures. Night fishing is another way to catch fish while escaping the heat of the Florida sun.
Snook will migrate into the passes and out along the beaches and summer. Anglers can sight fish snook on all of the Sarasota beaches. Structure in both passes will hold plenty of fish as well. Live bait is usually the best approach for fishing for snook in the passes.
Fall is a great time for anglers to be fishing Sarasota Bay. The kids are back in school and the tourist traffic in Sarasota is low. The weather is usually quite reliable in the fall as well. Spanish mackerel will be migrating back south. Fishing the flats will pick up is water temperatures drop.
Snook, redfish, and jacks will be found in the same places as they were in the spring time. Shallow flats, mangrove shorelines, docks, and oyster bars are good places to target these fish, particularly in Roberts Bay and Little Sarasota Bay. As fall comes to a close and it gets cold, fish will move back to their winter haunts and the pattern will repeat itself.
Sarasota Bay fishing techniques
Deep grass flats
Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay who seek action and variety will do well to target the deep grass flats. By “deep grass flats”we are reference submerge grass beds that grow in water between 4 feet deep and 10 feet deep. These grass beds hold bait fish, shrimp, and other crustaceans that the game fish feed on. When the water is clear, these areas are easy to see.
The best approach when fishing the deep grass flats is to drift. These can be large areas without any specific structure. Therefore, fish will roam about on the flats in search of food, anglers drifting cover more water and have a better chance of locating feeding fish. Speckled trout are the primary species targeted on the deep grass flats. However, Spanish mackerel, pompano, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species are encountered regularly as well.
Both artificial lures and live bait are very productive when drifting the deep grass flats. Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay who prefer live bait will do quite well using live shrimp. Shrimp are available at bait shops all season long. A live shrimp under a popping cork has produced a lot of speckled trout over the years. The technique uses a noisy cork or float to attract the fish. Once the noise draw them in, they eat the live shrimp dangling there. On the deeper grass flats, free lining the shrimp often works better.
Live bait fish are used on the deep grass flats as well, particularly in the warmer months. A live 3 inch pin fish or grunt floated out behind the boat under a cork will catch some of the larger trout as well as perhaps a stray cobia. Live bait chumming is incredibly effective in the summer. The bait well is loaded up with live baits than they are used to attract game fish behind the boat.
The number one artificial lure for anglers fishing Sarasota Bay is without a doubt the jig and grub combo. It is a simple, cost-effective, ineffective lure. It consists of a lead head jig. This is a hook with a piece of lead near the eye. The weight provides both casting distance in action to the lure. One quarter ounce is the best all round size. White, red, and chartreuse are the most popular colors.
Some type of plastic body is then put on the jig hook. These grub bodies come in endless colors, sizes, and styles. They all imitate either a crustacean or a bait fish. Shad tail baits are very popular as a have their own built in action. Paddle tail and shrimp tail baits work as well. 3 inch to 4 inch baits are best for anglers fishing Sarasota Bay.
Jigs in Sarasota Bay
The jig and grub can be worked in a couple different ways. The best approach is usually a “jig and fall”retrieve. The lure is cast out, and allowed to sink several feet in the water column. It is then brought back in by twitching the rod tip sharply then adding some slack. This results in the jig jerking up quickly than falling helplessly back down. This action triggers a lot of strikes. Jigs can also be cast out and reel steadily back to the boat.
Plugs and spoons are also effective lures on the deep grass flats. These lures work very well when “breaking fish”are seen. These are schools of fish that are feeding on helpless bait fish on the surface. They can be seen splashing about as they feed. Bird activity is often a great indication of breaking fish. A fast, erratic retrieve usually works best.
Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay on the deep grass flats can also troll. This technique works well on days when there is little wind to provide a drift for the boat. It is also a good technique for novice anglers and children with perhaps less than ideal patience. Plugs work very well for this. The Lord is simply cast out a ways behind the boat and then the boat is idled along until a fish bites.
Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay in search of snook, redfish, jacks, and gator trout will do well to target the shallow areas. It perplexes some anglers to learn that the largest fish are often caught in the shallowest of water. For the most part, these fish are loners. While the smaller fish are not comfortable in the shallow water the larger fish are.
Tactics are different for anglers targeting fish in shallow water. These fish can be spooky and a quiet, stealthy approach is required. Anglers that lighten up their tackle will be more successful. Long, accurate casts are often times required. Most anglers choose to use artificial baits in shallow water. Lures are easier to keep out of the grass and are more effective when searching for fish.
Jigs, spoons, and plugs are all effective baits on the shallow flats. Light jig heads in the 1/16 ounce to 1/8 ounce range are best. Anglers can use buck tail jigs as well as a jig head with a soft plastic body. Longer trailer such as a six-inch jerk worm tend to work well. Jigs remain relatively weedless as a rod with the hook up.
Weedless spoons are a staple of shallow water anglers all over the country. These lures cast a long way, run shallow, and are fairly weedless. They are particularly effective for redfish. Spoons are great search baits. Gold is the preferred color in 1/2 ounce is the most popular size.
Passes connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. Pass is just another word for an inlet that they use on this coast. Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay can experience excellent action in the passes. Ladyfish are often times thick right in the pass itself. This is great fun for children and novice anglers as the action can be virtually nonstop. Pompano, mackerel, bluefish and other species can be taken in the middle of the passes.
Vertical jigging while drifting the passes works very well. It is also quite simple to do. The angler simply drops the jig down to the bottom, engages reel, then gives the jig little 1 foot hops as the boat drifts along. Most of the fish in the passes will be feeding on crustaceans on the bottom. This jigging action mimics a fleeing crab or shrimp and is very productive. A jig head with a live shrimp can be used as well.
Structure in both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass hold fish all year long. In the winter and early spring, sheepshead will school up thick in the passes. A live or frozen shrimp fished on the bottom will catch them, as well as other species such as grouper and snapper. In the summer, snook will school up in the same rocks.
Docks and bridges in Sarasota Bay
Docks and bridges are basically inshore artificial reefs. Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay target them for a variety of species all year long. Most anglers use live or frozen bait when fishing docks and bridges. However, artificial lures can be used as well.
The most productive approach when fishing a dock or a bridge is to anchor up current from the structure about a cast or so away. The bait is then cast out towards the pilings and allowed to sit. Live shrimp, frozen shrimp, cut squid, cut bait, and live bait fish can all be used. Sheepshead, snapper, drum, grouper, flounder, snook, redfish, and other species will be taken.
Anglers using artificial lures to fish docks have success using both plugs and jigs. Plugs allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly. A lower that dives down 3 to 4 feet is perfect. 3 inch to 4 inch baits in olive and white match the local forage. Shad tail baits on a 1/4 ounce jig head will produce as well, though they cannot be worked quite as fast.
Fly Fishing Sarasota Bay
Anglers fly fishing Sarasota Bay have several different options. They can fish the deep grass flats for both action and variety. Targeting snook and redfish is more challenging. This will appeal to more experienced fly fishers.
Sarasota offers visiting anglers some exciting fly fishing opportunities. Clients fly fishing Sarasota Bay catch speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, pompano, and ladyfish on the deep grass flats. Oyster bars, flats, and mangrove shorelines hold snook, jacks, and redfish. Anglers fishing the creeks in winter catch some nice snook and jack crevelle. Spanish mackerel and false albacore are available spring and fall in the inshore Gulf of Mexico.
Action and variety fly fishing Sarasota Bay
We were fly fishing Sarasota Bay and Candice was distracted by several bottlenose dolphin that were playing a hundred feet off to the right.
“You need to start stripping or your line is going to hang up in the grass”, I instructed her.
She gave me a sheepish grin and began to retrieve the fly back in. On the fifth strip the line got tight and shot off to the side. The fish did not leap as of the water as the several previous ladyfish had, making me wonder if perhaps she had hooked a different species. My hunch was confirmed as several moments later a two pound pompano came to the net; an unexpected but most welcome surprise! Ironically, the dolphins were responsible for the catch, their distraction enabled the fly to sink all the way down to the bottom where they typically feed.
Candice is an East Sarasota country girl who loves horses, mudding, shooting guns, but most of all fishing. Although fairly experienced with spin fishing, she was intrigued by the idea of fly fishing Sarasota Bay, yet had no idea where to start. After an hour of casting practice and another hour of fishing, she hooked and landed a half-dozen ladyfish and that nice pompano! This article is aimed towards other anglers that are interested in trying fly fishing but are overwhelmed by the prospect.
Sarasota Bay fly fishing tackle
The primary difference between spin fishing and fly fishing is that in spin fishing the lure or bait provides the weight and the line is the connection between the hook and the reel. In the fly fishing the line is cast as the fly weighs next to nothing. Keeping that in mind, the tackle is similar but with some significant differences.
Matching fly tackle is very easy as rods, reels and lines are designated by “weight”. That number appears on rods and lines as the abbreviation “Wt”. It is always best to match the line, rod, and reel with the same weight line. For most inshore saltwater applications, an 8 weight (8wt) outfit is ideal. Fly rods also come in different actions, a “mid-flex” is the most forgiving and is the best choice for a novice angler. Most of my equipment is Orvis fly tackle.
Best fly fishing reels for Sarasota Bay
The reel in fly fishing is not used all that much; it basically just stores the line, unless a larger fish is hooked and the fish starts taking drag. The fly line is manipulated by hand for the most part. The best choice would be a large arbor saltwater reel with a good drag system. Fly reels are “single action”, which means that there is no gear multiplication as with a spinning reel. Also, the reel will spin backwards when a fish runs, so keep your knuckles clear!
Fly lines are an extremely important part of the system and a quality line is well worth the cost. Lines come in weights as rods and reels do, but there are also a variety of types of lines. Basically, they are either floating, intermediate sink tip, or full sinking. Intermediate sink tip lines are the most versatile for fishing the relatively shallow depths on inshore Florida waters. One mistake that visiting freshwater fly anglers make is trying to use full floating lines. They are easier to cast but will not allow the fly to sink down far enough into the water column. Two hundred yards of 20 lb test “backing” is spooled up behind the fly line.
Fly fishing leaders and flies for Sarasota Bay
Fly selection can also be overwhelming and confusing to a beginning fly angler. Much like spin fishing, there are a myriad of choices in color, size, and style. Most flies mimic either a baitfish or crustacean. One of the most popular and effective fly patterns is the Clouser Deep Minnow. It consists of a hook, small weighted lead eyes, and some bucktail or synthetic dressing. Sound familiar? It should, it is basically a bucktail jig, a lure that has proven itself over time. It is a good idea to have unweighted flies as well, and Lefty’s Deceiver is a great choice. White is a good color to start with but using a fly that matches the colors that are locally productive should produce.
A leader is used between the end of the fly line and the fly. In freshwater fishing the leader is very important, tapering down which allows the small fly to “turn over” and land softly. Tapered leaders really are not required in saltwater fly fishing. Most saltwater flies have a little weight and will extend the leader out. In most cases, a 6 piece of 30 lb fluorocarbon will be sufficient.
In summary, heading to a local fly shop and purchasing an 8wt rod in a mid-flax action, matching reel spooled with 200 yards of backing, intermediate sink-tip line, a spool of 30 lb fluorocarbon leader, and a small selection of Clouser Minnows and Deceivers (the shop can help with locally productive patterns) will prepare a novice fly angler with the equipment needed to get started.
Sarasota Bay fly fishing techniques
Once the proper equipment is acquired it is time to go fishing. Well, not quite! Before heading out to the water some casting practice will be required. It is best to become a bit comfortable and proficient in casting and managing the line BEFORE heading out to fish. There are many good resources out there but one of the best options is to take a class given by a local shop, guide, or outfitter.
Now that the tackle is in hand and the angler has the ability to cast forty feet, it is time to go fishing! As previously mentioned, the fly is manipulated by hand rather than with the rod and reel. The fly is cast out, allowed to sink to the desired depth and then retrieved back using short “strips” with the rod tip low and pointed at the fly. When a fish takes the fly, the line is pulled taut with the stripping hand and once tension is felt, the rod tip is raised up high.
This is called a “strip set”. Resisting the urge to set the hook or jerk the tip up will result in more hooked fish. Smaller fish can be brought in using smooth strips, coiling the line below the reel. With larger fish, use the stripping hand to feed line back out while manually applying some tension. Once all of the slack line is taken up, the fish is “on the reel” and can be fought using the rod and reel. If no bite occurs, the line is picked up and cast out again.
Best approach for novice anglers fly fishing Sarasota Bay
The best approach when starting off is to target species that will provide action and variety, it is better to “practice” on the less challenging species. This will give the novice angler both experience and confidence. The good news is that local knowledge that is already possessed will produce for fly anglers.
Any fish that will hit an artificial lure can be taken on fly. Here in Sarasota that means drifting the deeper grass flats in search of speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species. As with spin fishing, casting in front of a drifting boat can be very productive. It will take some time to learn to manage the line while casting, fishing, and catching, especially when it is a bit breezy. Anglers will also be successful wading and fishing from shore.
Thinking about giving fly fishing Sarasota Bay a try? If so, give it a chance, but be prepared to be “hooked” for life!
More on Sarasota fly fishing tackle
The intention of this chapter is to simplify the tackle and techniques used in fly fishing to encourage anglers to give the “long rod” a chance. Fly fishing can be confusing and overwhelming, but it does not have to be. In spin fishing the lure or bait provides the weight for casting and the line just follows behind. With fly fishing, the line provides the weight, fishing flies weigh practically nothing and would be difficult to cast any distance by themselves. This is the fundamental difference. Of course, this means that the tackle is different, too.
Fly rods are designated by “weight”. The smaller the number the lighter the rod. This delineation is located on the rod near the handle and written as such: “7wt” for example. Fly rods also come in different lengths and actions. The best choice for a novice fly angler fishing the inshore salt waters would be a 9 foot 8wt outfit.
Fly lines also come in “weights” and need to be matched to the rod. Lines come in different varieties; floating, sink tip, and full sinking. The best all-round line is an intermediate sink tip line. This will get the fly down on the deeper grass flats but can still be worked quickly, keeping the fly near the surface. One mistake many freshwater anglers make is using a floating fly line for all applications. Floating lines are easier to pick up and cast, but the fly will not get deep enough when fishing in deeper water.
Fly lines also are not straight, they taper with the forward section being heavier. These are designated “weight forward” or “saltwater taper” and greatly assist the fly angler when casting heavy or bulky flies. Fly lines are generally around 100 feet long. 200 yards of “backing” is spooled under the fly line. This adds diameter and is crucial when fishing for larger fish that make long runs. Fly lines usually have a loop at the casting end to facilitate leader connections.
A quality saltwater fly reel will have a smooth drag and corrosion resistant parts. They are “single action” which means that there is no multiplication when reeling; one turn of the crank equates to one revolution on the spool. Also, the handle is fixed which means when a fish makes a run against the drag the handle will spin backwards. Keep the knuckles out of the way!
Fly line is thick and easily seen, therefore a leader is used between the end of the fly line and the fly. Leaders are “tapered” meaning the butt section (the end of the leader that attaches to the fly line) is thicker than the fly end. This helps the leader extend out, also known as “turning over” and is helpful when using unweighted flies. A “bite tippet” is required in most saltwater applications. This is a 20” piece of florocarbon, usually 20lb to 30lb test. Leaders can be purchased or made individually in sections. Most commercially made leaders have a loop at the butt end, which makes it very easy to attach to the fly line.
Flies come in a wide variety of styles, colors, and sizes. Most flies are tied to imitate either baitfish or crustaceans, which is the primary forage of gamefish. As with all fishing, fly patterns should resemble the available prey. The Clouser Deep Minnow is a very popular and effective fly pattern that will mimic shrimp, crabs, and baitfish. It is a simple fly with weighted dumbbell eyes and some dressing of natural or synthetic hair. Weighted flies sink and dance seductively when stripped in.
Another versatile weighted fly is the Crystal Minnow. Tied Primarily to entice snook, these patterns will produce in a variety of angling situations. The D.T. Special is a terrific unweighted fly. It works great casting to breaking fish as well as in the surf. The venerable Lefty’s Deceiver is a great unweighted fly as well and has been producing fish for both freshwater and saltwater anglers for decades.
This may sound like heresy, but the fly pattern is often over-emphasized by anglers. Fly selection does matter, but it is not nearly as important as location and especially presentation. Along those same lines, anglers that tie their own flies often use too much material and “over tie” the flies. “Less is more” can be a good approach.
A 9 foot 8wt medium action fly rod, matching reel with backing, an intermediate sink tip line, several saltwater leaders, and a couple dozen flies ( a mix of #1 Clousers, #1 D.T Specials, and #4 Crystal Minnows in white, chartreuse, and pink ) along with a fly box will provide a novice saltwater with the basic outfit to get out and catch some fish. Local fly shops are the best resource as they will usually spend the extra time with customers and even let them cast a rod or two before the purchase. As in all fishing, purchasing the best equipment that one can afford will make for a more enjoyable experience.
In conclusion, I hope this article on fishing Sarasota Bay helps anglers experience success. Please contact me if you are interested in a Sarasota fishing charter! Anglers can find Florida fishing regulations on the FWC site.
It comes as a surprise to many visiting anglers that artificial lures can, at times, out fish live baits. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, being flexible in adapting to conditions is critical to success. I use artificial lures very often on my charters, especially in the cooler months. Here is my list of the best 6 Sarasota fishing lures.
My 6 best Sarasota fishing lures are as follows; Bass Assassin jig and grub, Rapala X-Rap, Gulp Shrimp, Johnson spoon, MirrOlure Mirrodine, and Key Largo pompano jig. These are all lures that have proven themselves over the years for my clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. These lures cover the entire water column, from the surface to the bottom. They can also be fished as shallow as a foot up to the deepest water in Big Pass.
Artificial lures are effective for a number of reasons. While live bait primarily produces when fish are hungry, lures will elicit strikes under other conditions. Fish will hit lures out of anger, competitiveness, excitement, or curiosity. A lure can be used to aggravate efficient abiding that is something a live bait won’t do. This makes artificial lures effective when fish are both actively feeding and in a more challenging mood.
Artificial baits allow anglers to cover a lot more water than live baits. This is crucial to success when fish are scattered over a large area. Many of the best deep grass flats are large areas. Lures are usually the best option to eliminate unproductive water as quickly and efficiently as possible. Artificial lures are also a lot of fun to fish. They are a bit more interactive and many anglers get more satisfaction out of fooling a fish on “fake” baits.
4″ Bass Assassin Sea Shad on a 1/4 ounce jig head
The most popular and effective artificial lure on the West Coast of Florida, and really the entire Gulf Coast, is the jig and grub combo. Jigs are inexpensive, easy to use, and effective on a wide variety of species. They can be set up to mimic bait fish or crustaceans. The single hook on a jig also allows for a less invasive release of the fish.
My personal favorite soft plastic bait is the Bass Assassin line of baits. They offer jig heads in several different styles with long shank hooks, wide gap hooks, and different head sizes and colors. The 4 inch Sea Shad tail works very well for me here in Sarasota. Colors are endless, with my favorites being Red Gold Shiner, New Penny, and glow chartreuse.
Jig sizes and designs
Jig heads come in a wide variety of sizes styles and colors. Despite that, they are all basically the same. A jig head is basically a hook with a lead weight at the front near the eye. This design allows for some weight to be cast out easily. It also gives the jig a seductive, erratic motion in the water. The most widely used jig size here in Sarasota is a 1/4 ounce. Anglers fishing shallow water will need to go down to a 1/8 or even a 1/16 ounce jig head. Conversely, anglers fishing deeper water or in heavier current may need to bump up the jig weight to 3/8 ounce or even a 1/2 ounce in extreme conditions.
Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits are very easy to use. They can be cast out and retrieved at a steady pace. But, the more effective retrieve is a jig and fall retrieve. The jig is cast out, allowed to sink several seconds, then the rod tip twitched sharply. The jig is then allowed to fall, seemingly helpless. This is the action that triggers most strikes, therefore most strikes occur on the fall. They are effective in almost every angling application. The deep grass flats, passes, backwaters for snook and redfish, and inshore Gulf of Mexico when fish are breaking are all situations in which the Bass assassin 4 inch see Shad is an effective bait.
#8 Rapala X-Rap Slash bait
Plugs have been around freshwater and saltwater fishing for a long time. In freshwater, they are used to mimic a variety of different types of prey. Here in Florida, the primary use is to imitate a wounded bait fish. They do that very effectively! Plugs can be cast a long way and are great to cover a lot of water in a reasonable amount of time. They also elicit some very exciting strikes. One negative of fishing with plugs is the treble hooks. However, several manufacturers, including Rapala, are offering plugs with a single wide gap hook.
My favorite plug is the Rapala X-Rap Slash bait in the number eight size. This slender bait is several inches long and mimics the size, shape, and color of the bait fish that are prevalent in the area. Olive is a very good producer in water that has a little color to it. Ghost is a fantastic color in very clear water and out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. Rapala X-Raps work very well trolled out in the Gulf of Mexico as well as in Sarasota Bay.
These small plugs have produced many nice catches for clients on my Sarasota fishing charters. They are fairly easy to use, with a great built in action. They float on the surface, then dive down a couple feet when retrieved. X-Raps have a great erratic action that triggers some vicious strikes.
Rapala plugs are quite versatile
Rapala plugs are effective in a wide range of angling applications. I use them a lot when targeting snook, redfish, and jacks around oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks. They work very well when trolled in rivers, creeks, and residential canals in the winter. Rapala X-Raps are great fun whenever fish are breaking on the surface. This definitely includes inshore Gulf of Mexico action for Spanish mackerel and false albacore. They are also extremely effective when cast over shallow grass flats that have bait working on them.
The best retrieve when using these plugs is a twitch and pause. The lure is cast out, retrieve quickly for a few feet, then allowed to pause. Short twitches of the rod tip will impart a darting action. Often times, the strike occurs as the bait sits there motionless. Care does need to be taken when using plugs, especially with multiple anglers on the boat. Treble hooks can be dangerous both when casting and releasing fish.
3″ Gulp Shrimp
There are times when the bite can be slow, and this is when I switch to scented grubs. The best one by far, in my opinion, is the Gulp line of baits. Gulp Shrimp in the 3 inch size work very well, in some cases better than a live shrimp. These baits can be extremely productive, especially for speckled trout when conditions are a bit tough.
The formula that was created for the gulp shrimp is very effective. It is more than just a soft plastic immersed in a scent. The scent is actually built into the bait itself. In all honesty, color matters very little, in my opinion. It is all about the scent! As with other baits, they come in many different sizes, shapes, and colors. The 3 inch shrimp is the most effective size here in Sarasota. Glow, root beer, and new penny are the top colors.
Gulp Shrimp can be used just like any other soft plastic, rigged on a quarter ounce jig head. Anglers will usually have a bit more success with the Gulp Shrimp working them a bit slower. As stated, the sent is the primary attraction, so the bait should be work just above the grass or bottom in a subtle hopping motion. They can even be brought back in using a steady retrieve, just above the grass.
Another popular way to use a Gulp Shrimp is under a noisy cork. This is very popular in Louisiana and Texas. Noisy floats such as the Cajun Thunder have a concave face which gives off a distinct popping sound when twitched. A 2 foot to 3 foot leader is tied to the bottom of the cork, followed by a 1/8 ounce jig head. The gulp shrimp is then added to the jig head hook. The rig is cast out, allowed the settle, and worked back in a series of aggressive twitches. In most cases, the more noise the better! This is just like using a live shrimp under a popping cork, and can be just as effective.
1/2 ounce gold Johnson weedless spoon
Johnson spoons have been around a long time, originating as a freshwater bass lure. The spoon was designed to work through lily pads and other freshwater vegetation without hanging up.
The 1/2 ounce gold weedless Johnson spoon is a mainstay of redfish anglers all over the country. They can be cast a very long way and worked through shallow grass without snagging the bottom. They have a single hook which rides upper right allowing for good hook sets without catching on the grass.
There are two attributes of the Johnson weedless spoon that make it so effective. They have the ability to run very shallow while still given off a wobbling, seductive action and the ability to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. Redfish and snook will scatter over the shallow grass flats and stage in potholes and other areas. The Johnson spoon cast very far and this allows anglers to eliminate unproductive water efficiently. They do come in silver as well, but gold is a more effective color in the slightly stained waters where redfish and snook generally live.
17MR-808 MirrOlure Mirrodine
the 17 MR 808 MirrOlure Mirrodine is an absolutely perfect replica of one of our top baits; the scaled sardine. Also known as shiners, white bait, pilchard, and greenback, it is a primary forage of many game fish in Sarasota and throughout the entire Southeast United States. The number 18 color, green back with a white belly, is a very popular color pattern. As with all manufacturers, MirrOlure offers many different sizes and colors, but this particular pattern works extremely well here in Sarasota.
The MirrOlure Mirrodine is a suspending twitch bait. It does not have a bill as do many plugs. It has a more subtle action which at times is extremely effective. The lure sinks very slowly and is retrieved back using short twitches with a pause in between. The bait suspends, hanging there motionless, an action which drives fish crazy. This bait is most effective and water 5 feet deep or less. It is deadly when fished over bars on a high tide.
1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig
Pompano jigs are very plain looking. This belies the fact that they are very effective artificial baits. Pompano jigs have a round fairly heavy head with a short, smallish hook and some dressing. This dressing is usually nylon and extends just beyond the bend of the hook. The 1/4 ounce Key Largo pompano jig works very well, and is quite economical. Chartreuse and white are the two most popular colors.
Pompano jigs are simple and easy to use. They are extremely effective in the passes where they are fished vertically. The angler simply drops the jig down to the bottom and is hopped as the boat drifts along. These baits imitate small crabs and shrimp that live near the bottom. Each time the jig is lifted and falls it kicks up a little puff of sand. This is very natural and will fool pompano, ladyfish, and other species in the passes.
The Key Largo pompano jig can also be used effectively on the deep grass flats. There will be some days where the fish actually prefer the smaller profile especially in the cooler weather. It is especially effective over flats that have a mottled bottom with areas of sand interspersed with the grass. These jigs generally will not catch as many speckled trout as the jig and grub combo well, however it catches everything else and will catch more Pompano.
Pompano jigs work very well for anglers fishing off of the beach. Anglers can “tip the jig” by adding a small piece of shrimp to the hook. This is an effective method used to catch whiting, silver trout, and other species out of the surf, especially in the cooler months.
Plug fishing article
Jessica made a perfect cast placing her plug right next to the dock piling on the up current side. A sharp twitch of her rod to caused the Rapala to dive a couple of feet below the surface and dart seductively. On the third pause, the lure just stopped and a nice redfish boiled on the surface, furious at the hook stuck in its lower jaw. Several minutes and a half dozen head-shaking runs later, the slot size red came alongside, posed for a quick picture, and was released back into the water to contemplate its recent adventure. Two hours of afternoon plug casting resulted in this red small snook, several Jack crevelle and ladyfish.
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 mangrove 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.
Top water plugs
Top water plugs come in two 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”. The famous Zara Spook is the best-known example of a walk the dog. The Rapala Skitterwalk and MirrOlure Top Dogs are also local favorites. 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.
One common mistake anglers make plug fishing Sarasota is working top water baits to 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, wait until the weight of the fish is felt and set the hook in a smooth, sideways manner. This is safer as well.
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 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. Generally speaking lures that dive down to to 5 feet are the most effective in our local waters. 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 plug such as the venerable MirrOlure can be deadly, particularly on speckled trout. 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 when plug fishing Sarasota.
I use the same basic rod and reel combos for most of my inshore fishing. Spinning reels matched to 6 1/2 to 7 foot rods with either 10 pound monofilament or 20 pound braided work well. I like the monofilament in open water in the braided line when fishing around structure. A 24 inch to 30 inch piece of fluorocarbon leader is attached to the end of the running line. 30 pounds is a good starting test for leader, though you may need to bump it up when fishing for big snook or toothy mackerel.
Plugs are versatile; just about every game fish that inhabits the Suncoast will devour them. In addition to casting to structure for snook, redfish, jacks, and other species, plugs are deadly when fished over the grass flats. On a recent charter I had a pair of 11-year-old boys score on a bunch of Spanish mackerel using a number eight Olive X Rap. The boys cast into thick bait schools near Big Pass and burned the baits back as fast as they could turn the real handle. Needless to say, the strikes were explosive!
Plugs catch big fish!
Plugs also catch a lot of speckled trout, oftentimes fooling larger than average sized fish. Top water baits are an excellent choice for fishing very shallow water early and then late in the day. In the summer, shallow bars on the edge of grass flats load up with bait, which in turn attracts game fish. Add in a high tide at first light and the result is an excellent situation to catch a nice fish on top water.
Suspending plugs such as the MirrOlure are deadly on speckled trout when fished over the deeper grass, in 4 to 8 feet of water. They also fool mackerel, bluefish, jacks, and other species. These baits do not have a lip, therefore they do not dive. Instead they are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds, then twitched sharply. The lure just hangs there motionless, helpless, inducing a fish to strike it.
Trolling with plugs
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 Gulf of Mexico. That number eight Olive saltwater X rap is my go to lure for trolling. 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 Sarasota 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.
Casting and trolling plugs in the inshore Gulf of Mexico is an extremely effective technique in the spring and again in the fall when pelagic species move through. A large Yozuri 3-D will produce some very nice king mackerel and large Spanish mackerel. Look for birds and bait schools on the surface and troll around the edges of the bait, not right through the middle. The inshore reefs off of Lido Key hold a lot of fish and are very reliable producers.
Sight casting to breaking fish is terrific sport! Spanish mackerel and false albacore will often be seen tearing up schools of helpless baitfish on the surface. Spanish will stay on top longer and not move as much is the false albacore. The Albies can also be very fussy; you need to scale down the offering and go lighter on the leader. With either 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! Anglers can also employ the same tactics from the beach to catch Spanish mackerel.
In the cooler months snook migrate into creeks canals and rivers. The Phillippi Creek, Bowley’s Creek, Hudson Bayou, and area residential canals on Siesta Key all hold fish. The Manatee, Braden, and Myakka Rivers are all productive winter spots. The fish are scattered and plugs allow an angler to cover a lot of water effectively and thoroughly. Black and gold is an excellent color combination in the tannin stained water, as are bright patterns such as fire tiger. If you venture far enough upstream, don’t be surprised if a nice largemouth bass intercepts your offering meant for a snook.
River fishing is a charter that is best for more experienced anglers. This is more of a “quality over quantity” trip. Some trips come up empty, though not very often. But, there is a chance to land a trophy snook on every river fishing charter. Along with the large snook, average sized fish in the 18″ to 24′ range are commonly caught. Largemouth bass, jack crevelle, are also available and are a fun by-catch!
Top river spots when plug fishing Sarasota
Outside bends in the river are prime spots to hold snook. The deeper holes in the rivers will be found on the bends. The current carves out a deep hole in these spots. If cover such as fallen trees exists, that even improves the chances of catching a nice snook! Tides are crucial as well. Outgoing tides are preferred. If these tides occur early or late in the day, better yet. The ideal river fishing conditions would be as flows. A high, outgoing tide first thing in the morning with cloud cover and even some light rain falling.
While saltwater fishing gets the majority of the attention in Sarasota, there are freshwater opportunities as well. Myakka River State Park has upper Myakka Lake in the river flowing through it. Both offer opportunities to catch bass Bram crop he and other species using plugs very small number for Apple is working very well cast towards lily pads and other shoreline vegetation.
Lake Manatee is another local productive freshwater lake. It is quite a bit larger and deeper and offers excellent trolling for crappy in the fall and early winter. The Manatee River flows from the dam towards Tampa Bay it has a good population of largemouth bass sunshine bass a local hybrid and snook as well.
I hope the list of my best 6 Sarasota fishing lures was informative and helps anglers catch more fish!