Timing: It appears we can expect an early Spanish mackerel and kingfish season. Both Sunshine Skyway fishing piers are reporting daily catches of Spanish mackerel. Schools of baitfish of all sizes are showing up at bridges and offshore. The best indicator is water temperature, which is hovering around 65. St. Patrick's Day is when we traditionally see trolling season hit high gear, targeting cobia, kingfish, mackerel and bonita.
Tip: Now is the time to inspect trolling tackle. Repair shops are not that busy. Check rod guides for burrs and cracks that might not be readily visible by running a piece of nylon stocking through them. The stocking will hang up on the smallest imperfection. Check drags for smoothness by tying the line to a fixed object and pulling against it.
What's hot: Bottom fishing has been exceptional in 40- to 60-foot depths. Grouper season (red and gag) is closed and we have been targeting white grunts, mangrove snapper, triggerfish and sea bass on light tackle. These fish inhabit the same limestone bottom structure as grouper. Use a live or frozen sardine on a flatline on every bottom stop. One or two kingfish have been striking on most days.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.