Abundant bait, moderate water temperatures and strong tides have produced great fishing for both inshore and offshore anglers recently.
Red snapper: Perhaps the best news for deep-water anglers is the opening of red snapper season in federal waters (9 miles off shore and out). For months bottom fishermen have returned to the docks complaining about red snapper eating every bait dropped and not being able to keep any. Many veteran charter skippers say they have never seen so many red snapper off west-central Florida. As of June 1, anglers may keep two red snapper per person with a 16-inch minimum size limit. Just about every substantial piece of bottom structure outside 80 feet is holding red snapper right now. Since release mortality is an issue with reds caught in deep water, anglers should vent all fish to be released and cull their catch to a minimum.
Pelagics: Reports of wahoo, sailfish, and blackfin tuna have been on the rise. Mike Scully has landed wahoo and blackfins on nearly every trip fishing offshore from Sarasota over the past few weeks while trolling surface lures. Other anglers have also landed wahoo in 180 to 250 feet of water. Sailfish have been sighted regularly in the same areas. When the seas are calm, the sails seldom come into a spread of high-speed lures. The best way to target them is by sightcasting with live bait such as blue runners or cigar minnows. Last June, Mark Lindsey and Travis Ormond from Sarasota fished a flat, calm day in 180 feet of water and hooked five sailfish while sightcasting. They also had a 300-pound marlin attack and eat a bonito that they hooked while trolling.
Mixed bag: While freediving over a wreck in 170 feet of water last week, Cameron Kirkconnell and I were surprised at the variety of fish we found. With a little chum we managed to draw cubera snapper, mutton snapper, rainbow runners, amberjack, African pompano, kingfish, yellowtail snapper, permit, and many other species toward the surface. Several other large African pompano have been caught by other fishermen recently. This delicious game fish is quite rare off west Florida but seems to be making an appearance this summer.
Tarpon: Tarpon remain the focus of many nearshore fishermen right now. Good tidal flow this week should have the fish in a heavy feeding mode as they prepare to make their runs offshore to spawn. These prespawn fish can be the biggest of the year as the females are laden with fully hydrated eggs. A 210-pounder was weighed in an all-release tournament by Marty Scott and his team in Boca Grande last Sunday.
Snook: Both small males and big female snook have now made their way to the passes. Schools of smaller fish have been stacked up along the beaches within a mile or two of the inlets. The big fish usually prefer to remain in the deeper water along channel edges with strong tidal flow. During the new- and full-moon periods, the two can be found together, and on some occasions can actually be seen spawning. The arrival of thick schools of tiny Spanish sardines around the passes has made the snook bite good. Simply toss a slightly larger live bait into the areas where you see the snook crashing through the dark pods of minnows, and freeline it. The fish are good at picking out baitfish that are different from the rest.
Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call (727) 944-3474 or e-mail [email protected]