Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips

Spanish Mackerel and False Albacore Fishing Tips

This blog post will provide Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips. Spanish mackerel are a terrific and in my opinion underrated game fish. They are widely distributed along the East Coast of the United States as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are very fast fish, feed aggressively, and are excellent table fare when eaten fresh. False albacore are my favorite fish to target on fly. They fight incredibly hard for their size. Both are similar in habits, but with enough differences to be covered separately.

inshore saltwater fishing

Spanish mackerel and false albacore are both pelagic species. This means that they spend most of their time in the middle of the water column. They do not relate to bottom structure, other than the fact that that same structure attracts bait. Spanish mackerel and false albacore also make a seasonal migration up the coast in the spring, then back down in the fall. They spend their winters in the tropical moderate climates. Both species feed primarily on bait fish. They are taken by anglers using live bait and artificial lures such as spoons, jigs, and plugs.

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 and reports can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.

Here in Sarasota, Florida where I run fishing charters, our prime times for Spanish mackerel and false albacore are spring and fall. However, if we experience a very moderate winter or a cooler than average summer they can be caught all year long. Spanish mackerel are a fish that pleases every angler, whether they fish from shore, in the bays, or out in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. False albacore can be a bit more difficult, but are well worth the effort!

Fishing for Spanish mackerel

Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips

Where are Spanish mackerel found?

Areas that have distinct inshore waters offer anglers the advantage of catching mackerel both inshore and in the open Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. The variety of both techniques and locations that will produce Spanish mackerel are factors in their popularity.

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

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

Spanish mackerel fishing with artificial lures

The lead head jig plastic grub combination produces a lot of fish in Florida and beyond. These lures are very versatile, cast well, are cost-effective, most importantly catch a lot of fish! They are really quite simple, consisting of a hook with the weight near the eye. This is called the jig or jig head. These can come dressed with hair of some sort either natural or synthetic. Or, anglers can slide some type of plastic body onto the hook.

Sarasota fishing report

Spanish mackerel most often respond to a fast retrieve. Therefore, jigs with a shad tail body work best when targeting them. The shad tail grub has a terrific motion when retrieved through the water either slowly or more quickly. Anglers cast the lure out, allow it to sink, then retrieve it back in at a fairly brisk pace with sharp hops.

Spanish mackerel love spoons and plugs

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

fishing with plugs

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

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

Spanish mackerel fishing using live bait

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

Sarasota fishing excursions

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

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

Using live bait fish to catch Spanish mackerel

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

chumming with live bait

Chumming with live bait fish is one of the most productive fishing methods and saltwater. Anglers will need quite a bit of live bait for this. Once the well is loaded up with frisky live baits, the boat is anchored in a likely position. This can be over in open grass flat, along an edge or drop off, near a bridge or other structure, or over a piece of hard bottom or artificial reef.

Once positioned, the technique is very simple. A handful of live baits is tossed out behind the boat. Anglers may choose to squeeze the baits, crippling them. The action of these baits swimming around helpless on the top of the water will draw game fish to the back of the boat in short order. It is then just a matter of tossing out a hooked bait fish into the fray.

Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips

Tackle and rigging used when fishing for Spanish mackerel

The tackle and rigging used for both live bait fishing and casting artificial lures is the same. A 6 1/2 to 7 foot medium action rod with a 3000 series spinning reel is a great all around the combination. I actually prefer monofilament line when targeting Spanish mackerel. I feel that the stretch can actually be beneficial. The speedy mackerel are less apt to pull a hook with monofilament line.

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

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

Anglers can attach the leader to the running line by using a small number 10 black swivel. It is important to not use a shiny swivel as this will attract mackerel, resulting in them severing the line at the swivel. The leader may be attached to the running line using a leader to leader not such as the Double Uni-knot. Finally, the hook her lure is attached to the terminal end of the leader.

Fly fisherman will do well targeting Spanish mackerel by using a7wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line. A 9 foot tapered leader with a 24 inch piece of 30 pound bite tippet completes the rig. Just about any white bait fish pattern will produce, with the Clouser Minnow and D.T. Special being the most popular choices.

Sarasota fly fishing charters

Fishing techniques for Spanish mackerel

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

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

Spanish mackerel fishing tips

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

Beach, Pier, and Jetty fishing for Spanish mackerel

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

Siesta Key snook fishing

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

Trolling for Spanish mackerel is very productive

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

fishing report for Sarasota, Florida

Spoons and plugs are the two best lures to employee when trolling. The jig will tend to roll and spin at those higher speeds while the plug and spoon will track naturally with a great wobbling action. Once a productive area is located, anglers can troll back and forth through that area maximizing the action. Spanish mackerel are terrific eating, but do not freeze well.  Limits are liberal, but please just keep a couple for dinner.  HERE are the current Florida regulations.

False albacore fishing tips and techniques

This article will share some great false albacore fishing tips. False albacore are found along the entire coast line from Texas to New England. They are a terrific sport fish and not considered good eating by most anglers.

false albacore fishing tips

False albacore are a pelagic species. That means they spend most of their time in the middle to upper part of the water column. Unlike most fish species, false albacore habits are basically the same everywhere they are found. To put it simply, they swim around the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico terrorizing helpless forage. While that might sound simple, there are nuances to catching these fish.

False albacore are almost always found in schools. These schools can be located very close to the beach or many miles offshore. In most instances, anglers prefer to target them by sight fishing. Anglers scan the horizon searching for signs of feeding fish. Bird activity is always a great indicator. False albacore are also called “little tunny”. They are very similar in habits to other members of the tuna family.

False albacore fishing tackle

Just as in every other fishing situation, proper tackle is required. Spinning tackle is best when sight fishing for false albacore. These fish feed on small bait fish at times, particularly glass minnows. Therefore, small lures are often required to fool the fish. Light tackle is required to cast these small lures to the fish.

Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips

A 7 foot medium action spinning rod with a 3000 series reel is a good all-around outfit. Anglers can spools the real with 20 pound braided line or 10 pound monofilament line. Rated line will allow anglers to cast a bit further. I still prefer monofilament line for this type of fishing. I feel that the stretch and the line is actually a benefit when targeting these fast, hard fighting fish.

A shock leader is required for most saltwater fishing, and this is true for our ladies false albacore fishing as well. Under normal conditions, when the water is clear, 20 pound test fluorocarbon leaders are a good choice. False albacore don’t generally bite through the leader.

However, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and other toothy predators are often mixed in with the false albacore. This may require bumping up the leader to something a bit stronger. False albacore can be fussy, though. Anglers will have to weigh the pros and cons of getting cut off more often versus getting more bites.

Top false albacore fishing lures

fishing in Sarasota

My favorite lure when targeting false albacore is the #8 Rapala X-Rap slash bait in white and olive. These lures very closely imitate the small bait fish that the fish feed on. It has a great tight wiggling action that the fish love. They also will fool other species such as striped bass, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and more. They are very productive when trolled as well.

Jigs and spoons are also very effective lures for our ladies false albacore fishing. These lures work particularly well when the fish surface quickly and then dive back down into the water column. Jigs and spoons both sink rapidly, getting down to where the fish are. A 1/2 ounce silver spoon and one quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch to 4 inch Shad tail body and silver, Pearl, or gold are both great baits.

False albacore fishing techniques

While having the proper tackle is important, the number one requirement when sight fishing for false albacore is patience. False albacore are very fast and often times move around a lot. There are days when the fish will come up in a huge bunch and stay on top. This is the optimum situation as it gives anglers plenty of time to get on the fish. However, this is the exception more than the rule.

Most days the fish will only surface for short period of time, sometimes only a few seconds. It is easy to get excited and run all over the place chasing fish. However, this rarely works and will often times only succeed in spooking the false albacore. The best approach is to try to determine the speed and direction that they are moving and get in front of them. Weekend fishing pressure can be high.  Anglers need to be patient and courteous of others when the bite is on.

False albacore fishing tips; patience is a virtue

Chasing false albacore on the surface is a bit like hunting. There definitely is stalking involved in strategy that must be employed. And, like hunting, one good shot is better than 10 poor ones. There will be days when it just doesn’t happen. That is part of the challenge and also part of the fun. But, on most days, patient anglers will achieve success.

inshore saltwater fishing

One issue that I run into as a guide when false albacore fishing is that things happen very fast. Anglers need to be quick; cast need to be fired out quickly and accurately. False albacore change directions constantly. Successful anglers will cast out ahead of the fish and begin their retrieve immediately. As with all fishing, vary the retrieve and the lures until a productive pattern emerges. In most instances, the fish like a very fast and erratic presentation.

Fly fishing for false albacore

This is a situation that is tailor-made for fly anglers! False albacore are tremendous sport and a hooked fish will dump the real, putting a fly angler into the backing in short order. The technique is basically the same as when spin fishing, the boat is placed 40 feet or so upwind of feeding fish. A nine weight outfit with a floating or intermediate sink tip line, 9 foot leader, and small white minnow imitation will get the job done.

Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips

False albacore can certainly be caught on days when they are not showing on the surface. Ideally, I enjoy casting to breaking fish. However, I enjoy catching fish more and will do what needs to be done to get a hook up. While false albacore don’t necessarily relate to structure, bait fish will. This results in false albacore being caught over artificial reefs, wrecks, and natural ledges. Anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico off of Venice, Louisiana catch plenty of false albacore on the oil rigs.

When targeting false albacore in these situations, I like to have some type of chum. Live bait fish such as pilchards can be used to chum the fish up and this is a deadly technique. In cooler weather when live bait is not available, frozen sardines, glass minnows, and commercially prepared chum will bring the fish up behind the boat. Free lining a chunk of bait with no weight so that it appears to be naturally sinking is usually the best approach.

Trolling for false albacore

Anglers targeting false albacore also catch fish trolling. The same general trolling techniques that produce king mackerel and Spanish mackerel will also catch false albacore. Light conventional tackle is best for this application. Anglers usually choose to troll a combination of planers and diving plugs.

Sarasota fishing videos

My personal trolling spread would go as follows. An outfit with a number one planer, 20 feet of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader and a small spoon would go out first. I counted back 20 seconds. Next, and outfit with a number two planer, 20 feet of 50 pound fluorocarbon leader and a medium-size trolling spoon would be deployed. I count that line back out 15 seconds.

A pair of diving plugs finishes out the spread, one very far back in one right in the prop wash. These lures are used with a 6 foot long 50 pound fluorocarbon leader. The plug on the long line should be back further than the number one planer. This bread will allow anglers to cover the water column thoroughly while still making turns. It will also catch king mackerel, tuna, stripers, bluefish, mackerel, and other species.

Gumping

When all else fails, find a shrimp boat! I fished out of Harkers Island, North Carolina one fall. The locals call this “Gumping”, in reference to Forrest Gump, the movie. As shrimpers clean out their nets, they dump the by catch over the side. This results in a chum slick that attracts false albacore, sharks, tuna, and other species. In fact, many anglers targeting blackfin and yellowfin tuna actually get annoyed by the “pesky”false albacore.

Very few anglers that I know keep false albacore to eat. Most are released to please other anglers. The procedure for releasing these fish is a bit different than other species. Time spent out of the water should be reduced to an absolute minimum. When releasing the fish, it should be shoved briskly headfirst into the water. This will get the water moving through it’s gills and hopefully it swims away.

In conclusion, I hope this article on Spanish mackerel and false albacore fishing tips will get you excited to give this a try. I bet you find it as much fun and as exciting as I do!

Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Trolling on Sarasota Fishing Charters

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

Sarasota fishing videos

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

View current fishing report HERE

Trolling in creeks and rivers

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

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

Sarasota trolling techniques

Top Sarasota trolling lures

Anglers have been catching snook by trolling for many years.  Back in the 50s the Spoonplug was the hot bait, and it still produces to this day.  I enjoy trolling shallow diving plugs and Rapalas are my personal favorite.  Rapala X-Rap Slashbaits in sizes #8 and #10 in, depending on the depth of the water and the size of the available forage, and Jointed BX Minnows work very well trolled as well as cast.  Firetiger, Gold Shiner, and gold are proven colors.

These lures have a great built-in action and strong, sharp hooks.  Most fish caught trolling will be hooked in the mouth, resulting in most being released unharmed.  Another advantage with these plugs is that they float, therefore when the boat is stopped they rise to the surface instead of sinking and getting hung up on the bottom.

Siesta Key fishing charters

Sarasota trolling tackle

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

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

Sarasota Spanish mackerel

Trolling inshore

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

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

Trolling helps locate fish

Sarasota jig fishing

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

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

Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Sarasota trolling techniques

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

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

Hard bottom holds fish

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

fishing report for Sarasota

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

Trolling lures

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

trolling with planers

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

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

Trolling in freshwater

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

Sarasota trolling techniques

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

Sarasota inshore Gulf of Mexico fishing

Sarasota has some truly word class fishing off of the area beaches in the spring and fall.  Several different species migrate through, following hordes of bait fish.  Some of my most exciting fishing has been taking clients on Sarasota fishing charters, doing some Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing.

Why do anglers enjoy fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico off of the Sarasota beaches? When conditions are right, Sarasota beaches offer world class angling.  The inshore Gulf of Mexico offers visitors the opportunity to cast lures and flies into schools of breaking fish.  This is some very exciting fishing!  False albacore and Spanish mackerel will be terrorizing helpless bait fish.  It is a feeding frenzy and the action can be spectacular!

Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing

We were greeted on a sunny fall morning with a sight that would make any angler’s blood boil.  Every few hundred yards or so, the flat calm surface of the Gulf of Mexico was disturbed by breaking fish and diving birds.  I eased the boat quietly into casting range of the nearest school of working fish and cut the engine.

“As soon as the fish show, cast your plugs out to the edge of the fish”, I instructed my two anglers.  Several tense moments passed before the water exploded thirty feet in front of us.  Two Rapala X Raps were sent out into the fray, twitched once, and instantly devoured.  A double-header on the first cast!  My initial thought was that we had tied into a couple of Spanish mackerel, but the long runs that threatened to “spool” our ten pound spinning outfits contradicted that.  Ten minutes later we had our answer as a pair of false albacore reluctantly gave up their valiant struggle.  After a quick photo, they were released to thrill other anglers with their speed and power.

Sarasota fishing charters

In the spring time and again in the fall, Sarasota is blessed with fantastic light tackle Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing off our beaches.  This truly is world class fishing.  Huge schools of bait fish will move through on their annual migrations.  Game fish will be hot on their trail.  While the primary species are king and Spanish mackerel, along with false albacore, other pelagic species such as cobia, tarpon, and sharks will also be encountered.

fishing report for Sarasota

Every season is different, but action generally peaks on Easter and again on Thanksgiving.  Optimum conditions are water temperature between 65 and 75 degrees, along with easterly breezes and clear water.  This offers anglers with small boats an opportunity to catch large fish quite close to shore.

Point of Rocks on Siesta Key is a great spot to do some inshore Gulf fishing.  The bars at the mouths of both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are great spots as well.  However, the fish can be anywhere along the beach.  Three artificial reefs were placed within two miles of shore off Lido Key between the two passes.  These are fish magnets on the otherwise barren Gulf of Mexico floor and provide a great contingency plan.  Action of some kind is practically guaranteed at one, if not all three, of the reefs.

Sarasota Fishing Techniques

Several techniques are used in pursuit of these nomadic speedsters on a Sarasota fishing charter.  The most exciting, when conditions dictate, is sight casting to “breaking” fish.  A spinning rod with ten to twelve pound line is ideal and a reel with a smooth drag is essential.  Casting rods can be used, although the light lures and baits make spinning outfits a better choice for most anglers.  Small plugs such as a Rapala X-Rap are extremely effective baits that result in a high hook-up rate.

Sarasota fishing calendar

Spoons, Diamond jigs, Gotchas, and Bass Assassin jigs with bait tails will also catch plenty of fish.  White and silver are the preferred colors.  Be careful not to use lures that are too big, the forage is usually quite small, better to “match the hatch”.  A 24” piece of fluorocarbon shock leader is needed, start out with 20 lb in clear water and go up to 40 lb if cut-offs from mackerel become an issue.

A patient angler will prevail when Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing.  Charging around from school to school will only result in putting the fish down.  Instead, sit and wait for a good opportunity.  There will be days when it can be frustrating.  However, at some point you will be in the right spot and get your opportunity.  A trolling motor is a great asset, allowing the angler to fine tune the boat’s position.  As with all fishing, vary baits and retrieves until a productive pattern is identified.  The fish are usually quite aggressive and a fast, erratic retrieve will result in bone-jarring strikes.  Most of the time, the reel handle can’t be turned too fast!

Sarasota Gulf fly fishing

Florida bluefish

This is a terrific situation to catch a nice fish on a fly rod.  Long casts are not normally required and the fish are hungry and cooperative.  An average sized little tunny will get deep into the backing on its initial run.  As with spin fishing, try different retrieves and flies.  Allowing the fly to settle a moment, then retrieving it back in with short, hard strips is often productive, while at other times just letting the fly sink through the bait, seemingly helpless, will trigger a strike.  A 7 weight rod is fine for Spanish mackerel while a 9 weight is a better choice for false albacore.  Floating lines with a nine foot leader work well.  20 pound tippet is good for the false albacore.  They can be a bit leader shy.  A 40 pound bite tippet will help reduce cut-offs from the mackerel.

Fly selection is pretty basic.  #1 white D.T Special flies, #1 white Clouser Minnow flies, and #1 white glass minnow flies are the top producing flies.  When fish are seen breaking on the surface, the angler should approach up-wind of the fish.  The engine should be cut and the boat allowed to drift down on the fish.  Spanish mackerel tend to stay on the surface in one spot longer than false albacore.  A cast into the middle of the fish should produce a take.  False albacore move a lot faster and do not stay up on the surface.  Anglers need to determine the direction that they are moving and “lead” the fish when fly fishing.

Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing

Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Trolling is an extremely effective technique that will usually put more fish in the boat than sight casting when Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing.  This can be particularly true on mornings when there is a chop on the surface, when the fish are not showing, or when targeting king mackerel.  Plugs and spoons are the two most productive lures.  Both lures can be trolled using a light trolling sinker or behind a planer, but a plug with a large lip will “trip” the planer.  Shallow and deeper running plugs are effective on all species.  Spinning and conventional rods are both fine for trolling plugs.  Simply tie the lure to a 6’ piece of 80 lb fluorocarbon.  Rapala X-Raps, Yozuri 3 D Minnows, and gold Bombers are all effective plugs.

The key to trolling several lures without tangling them is to vary the depth and distance that the lure is let out behind the boat.  I use a “count back” method when inshore Gulf fishing.  The shallowest running bait is let out first with the engine idling in gear.  This is usually a plug but can also be a spoon/trolling sinker combo.  Count out to twenty five and then put the rod in an outside rod holder.  Next shallowest would be the #1 planer.  Count out to twenty while letting the line out.  Put that rod on the other side of the boat.

Last, and deepest, is the #2 planer or deep diving plug.  Count out to fifteen and set the rod in a holder as close to center as possible.  Now there are three baits at different depths and distances, allowing the boat to be turned without the lines fouling.  Increase speed to four to five knots and troll while looking for birds, bait, and surface activity.  Keeping the boat moving after a strike can result in multiple hook-ups.

Sarasota fishing calendar

Live bait fishing in the inshore Gulf of Mexico

While I prefer the excitement of tossing artificial lures and flies, drifting and slow trolling live bait will often out fish all other methods, and will usually catch the largest fish.  Live shrimp and small bait fish that can be cast-netted up are best free lined on light tackle using a 2/0 long shank hook on a 24” piece of 30 lb leader.  This works great for catching Spanish mackerel and false albacore.  Larger species such as king mackerel, cobia, tarpon, and sharks prefer a large threadfin or blue runner.

Cast out a Sabiki rig into the bait pods and use a slight jigging motion to attract the bait.  Once procured, use a heavy spinning rod (tarpon tackle is perfect for this) with a 5’ piece of 80 lb fluorocarbon leader and a 6/0 live bait hook.  Drift the bait out behind the boat, a cork may be required if the wind and tide are slack.

Sarasota Spanish mackerel

Catching bait

Live bait fish can also be slow trolled.  This is an extremely effective tactic for large king fish.  A “stinger” rig is preferred.  This consists of a long wire leader with two hooks about 6” apart.  The bait is attached by the nose to the first hook, the second hook swings free.  The bait is let out 100 feet behind the boat and slowly trolled around the edges of bait schools and over structure.  The boat should be in idle and moving as slowly as possible.  Drags are set lightly allowing the fish to run after a strike.  In most instances, the fish will be hooked in the side of the face with the stinger hook, necessitating the light drag pressure.

A couple of seasons back, I was out on the beach on a charter the day before Thanksgiving.  It was a little choppy and the fish were not showing, so I had my clients drifting live baits out behind the boat.  We had landed a small king and several nice Spanish mackerel when a rod baited with a big threadfin doubled over.  Line peeled off the reel as my client scrambled to get the rod out of the holder.  His face lit up as a hundred pounds of silver fury leapt several feet out.

of the water.  Yes, a tarpon at the end of November!  You never know what you might hook into off of the Suncoast beaches.  Come and experience Sarasota inshore Gulf fishing for yourself!

Sarasota Fishing Tips for the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Tip #1

Planers are deadly, but require the use of heavier tackle.  A #1 planer on a 15-20 lb conventional outfit and 20 feet of 50 lb leader and will dive down six to eight feet at five knots.  A #2 planer on a 30-40 lb conventional rod and 20’ of 80 lb leader will work the 12’-15’ depths.  Match the spoon to the size of the planer.  A 2”-3” Clark spoon works best on a #1 planer while a large King spoon works better on the #2 planer.  Quality swivels on both ends of the leader will minimize line twist.

Tip # 2

Watch the teeth!  Spanish mackerel and king mackerel have VERY sharp teeth.  It can be easy to become careless when in the middle of a fishing frenzy.  A release tool is a great aid.  Fish that are going to be kept should be released right into the cooler.  Fished to be released should just be unhooked over the side.

Tip # 3

False albacore will fight to the death, literally.  It is important to use tackle heavy enough to subdue them in a reasonable amount of time.  Also, when releasing an albacore, point it head fist towards the water and briskly shove it into the water.  This will get the water moving across it’s gills.

Tip # 4

Anglers may be tempted to use wire after getting several cut-offs from toothy mackerel.  This is understandable.  However, the number of strikes will be decreased, especially if the water is clear.  Several manufacturers make wire that is limp and can be tied in knots.  This is a good compromise.  Tip # 5  Birds are your friend!  As the game fish feed on minnows, they will drive them to the surface.  Birds will see this and dive in on the helpless prey.  It is much much easier for anglers to see birds working from a long distance than the actual fish feeding.  Small white terns are a sure indication of feeding mackerel or false albacore.

In conclusion, this article on Sarasota trolling techniques will help anglers catch more fish in both freshwater and saltwater. So, the next time you are idling along on your favorite lake, river, or inland bay, try dragging a lure out behind the boat.  You never know what might eat it!

Capt Jim Klopfer

(941) 371-1390

captklopfer@comcast.net

1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236