After a lengthy drought of usable-sized whitebait, aka pilchards, it looks like we might be coming out of the late summer microbait season in the northern part of the county. Pelicans can be seen aggressively working the swash channel, which has been loaded with small to medium-sized pilchards when the conditions are right. Filling your bait wells with a few hundred of these little guys gives you quite a few options. Targeting nearshore structures and jetties, we’ve been able to catch flounder, mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel with good consistency. Using a quarter-inch mesh-sized cast net to minimize gilling, target the super shallows right off the beach. These baits often can be seen dimpling the surface before the sun is up, however, there are droves of micro fry in these same areas and throwing on them can really be a mess. It’s almost better to wait until there’s enough light to see into the water so you can target larger baits. Anchoring over nearshore reefs puts you in position to chum up a variety of fish. Handfuls of free baits and a fresh chum block off the side of the boat attracts schools of medium-sized mackerel and mangrove snapper. An Aberdeen-style hook is light enough to allow the bait to work naturally and has a long enough shank to guard against cutoffs. Work the bottom with a drop-shot rig and a stouter hook as you search the edges of the reef for flounder.
Tyson Wallerstein runs Inshore Fishing Charters in the Clearwater/St. Petersburg area and can be reached at (727) 692-5868 and via email at flatsmonster.com.