What's hot: Mangrove snapper fishing has been smoking and not just in the gulf. On a trip early last week, we caught more than three dozen, many 3-4 pounds. Working the edge of the ships channel nearly 5 miles inside the Sunshine Skyway bridge, we found them ganged up; others reported similar action. But conditions changed. Heavy winds and rough seas broke seaweed loose, and huge clumps tangled lines. Runoff from heavy rains has given the bay a coffee-colored tint. The fish haven't gone anywhere, though, and will return to normal behavioral patterns as soon as the weather settles.
Key to success: Few details are more important to "mango" fishing in the bay than gathering bait. Though my first choice would be a live juvenile Spanish sardine, they are not always readily available, so a 3-inch frisky whitebait is a close second. We've been gathering ours on the flats of the outer clam bar just south of Pinellas Point.
Tips: Especially on the flats in only 2 to 4 feet, a quarter-inch mesh castnet is ideal. It will prevent gilling a lot of the bait this time of year but still sink plenty fast enough to catch pinfish to be offered to the grouper while others are working the mangos.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 321-2142.