Mangrove snapper fishing continues to be outstanding and producing some of the largest fish in years. It's a spectacular show to see 5- to 8-pound mangos on the surface chasing pilchards around in 100 feet of water. Chumming is the key to getting these bottom fish to rise from the depths. Anchor up-current if the tide is running or right over it if the tide is slack. The second key is (and this might hurt a bit) not fishing the spot right away. Start a slow chunk of tiny pieces of sardines at a rate of one chunk every 15-30 seconds to create a "ladder" of food from the bottom to the surface. After the mangos are in sight keep the chumming rate the same but deploy fewer baits. Rig with 20- to 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders and small hooks in the 2/0-3/0 range with no lead or swivel. Hide the hook in a similar size bait and try to mimic the same rate of fall as the rest of the chum pieces. When the line jumps, close your bail and get tight. If you have a well full of pilchards this is the time to let a few free swimmers go. A few late-season cold fronts have kept the main body of king mackerel to the south but with a warm week ahead we could see an influx by the end of the week. Look for smaller fish in the 6- to 12-pound class in areas such as the shipping channel and the "anchorage." Live baits such as Spanish sardines and cigar minnows can be caught on the buoys in the channel and are the bait of choice for these fish. Small stinger rigs slow-trolled at 1-2 knots around these same markers will get bites. Blackfin tuna are on the way and can be caught around larger structures offshore in the 120- to 150-foot depths. Although it will never be a guarantee finding them offshore a few things can increase your odds. First, be aware of water temperatures in the areas you are fishing. I typically check a few online sources that give water temps offshore, then pick wrecks and springs in those areas. Second, get up early and secure a overflowing well of pilchards which will assist in chumming these fish to the boat. When you chum with dead baits they fall to the bottom, but when you "live chum" your footprint could grow to a half mile in every direction when the pilchards swim away from the boat. You will catch bonita at first but if you stay you should be rewarded with tuna.
Steve Papen charters out of Indian Shores and can be reached at (727) 642-3411 and fintasticinc.com.