What's hot: Mangrove snapper continues to be among the best bets, and that's inside and outside Tampa Bay and a bit offshore. Recently we found them ganged up on several of the rockier areas along the edge of the ships channel inside the Sunshine Skyway bridge. Whitebait offered on 20-pound tackle, 2-ounce egg sinker, 1/0 hook and 11/2 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader worked best. On some trips we've raised mangos to the top in our chum line while bottom fishing in 45 feet. Two dozen of the largest we've caught were tricked into chewing fly-lined baits, whole and chunks drifted naturally with the tide in our chum.
Tips: Though a quality chum block (and they aren't all created equal) works great, enhancing our chum line with cut slivers of fresh bait often will raise the mangos quicker. Once they are on top and there are no structures for lines to get cut off on, mangos respond better to a lighter line and smaller hooks. Test of 12-16 pounds and a No. 4 hook work well when chunking.
Awesome encounter: While gathering bait at first light on the morning of the new moon, we came upon what appeared to be an acre of full-grown tarpon at the gulf pier on Fort De Soto. They were there for breakfast. As we idled through the middle of them, many slowly rolled beside our boat. Others came halfway out of the water, surrounding us as they exploded on balled-up whitebait and glass minnows, and spraying whitewater everywhere.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.