What's hot: Spanish mackerel activity is peaking, and the action is widespread. Reports from Anna Maria, Blinds Pass and Clearwater are similar. Each suggests large schools are settled at the 20- to 24-foot range, ravaging bait schools that have been drawn inshore. Recent trips while anchored and chumming off Sand Key have produced three and four fish on at a time with some larger-than-average fish. Whitebait, 2 to 3 inches in length, work best. Gather extra for live chumming. An 18-inch length of No. 2 wire and a 2/0 hook will at least give you a chance when the occasional kingfish comes along.
Coming attraction: A few kingfish have shown up. We caught one and had a few others on by suspending shad under balloons when mackerel fishing. The recent cold front that passed through did little to drop the water temperature, but subsequent fronts inevitably will. Kingfish prefer the water temperature in the 70s.
Bait availability: Whitebait in the 2- to 3-inch range have been abundant seemingly all along the gulf beaches. We've netted them from St. Pete Beach to Clearwater, and much of them in the swash running parallel to the beach. Larger kingfish baits have been readily available also. Many can be jigged up on gold-hook rigs while anchored. I like to gather some before going into the gulf. Bridges, dock lights or edges of grass flats will often produce ladyfish, shad, mullet or enough large greenbacks to get started.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.