Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Don't sweat fishing deeper in the heat

This is the time of year where one can sweat profusely well before daybreak and water bottles outnumber fishing lures. Thunderstorms are a delight just because the rush of cool air they bring is so nice. This is a typical summer day on the North Suncoast, but if you think you've got it tough, consider this: You can always head to your air-conditioned vehicle; the fish have to tough it out as best they can. But there's no need for pity. Instinct provides a seasonal playbook that tells fish what to do and when to do it. This time of year, one of the most popular plays is the deep route.

Grassy retreat

Nights and predawn hours offer the coolest conditions, but during long summer days, inshore fish must find ways to fill their bellies without overheating in the process.

Depths of 1-2 feet may suffice during fall's pleasant weather, but when surface temperatures reach into the 90s, it's time to head for the cooler reaches of 4 to 6 feet.

Sea grass still grows in this range, so predators have a place to hide — for safety and ambush feeding. Some will roam the edges between grass and sand holes, while others belly into the dense carpet. All will be watching for something to eat.

Dawn finds many of these fish roaming throughout the water column, so floating live shrimp and scaled sardines ("whitebait"), or casting jigs, spoons and jerk baits often tempts feeding predators before they settle in for another long, hot day.

Jump-start the action

Once the fish go deep, the game is not over. You just need a bunch of baitfish but probably not the kind you would think.

Normally, anglers wrinkle their brows, shake their heads and look elsewhere when they spot schools of juvenile threadfin herring or sardines. These "fry baits" are too small for standard inshore fishing tactics, and they turn full-size castnets into a tangled mess when hundreds of these minnows get stuck in the mesh.

A smaller net with a quarter-inch mesh, however, will gather these tiny baitfish by the thousands and provide the key ingredient for the highly-effective blanket chumming.

Most of the recently hatched baitfish will feed predators within a month of their emergence. That's exactly what makes them so valuable to the deep grass strategy.

Fry baits huddle in dense schools, so you will rarely need to chum. Just ease across a shallow grassy area, like the east side of Anclote Key, and sling the net when you see the telltale surface dimpling.

The appetizers

Storing your tiny chummers is easy — just dump them into a five-gallon bucket, and carry them to the deep grass beds.

Dead fry baits are actually preferable for this game, as they will sink slowly and remain on the fish's radar. Live chummers will quickly scatter, which decreases the enticement.

Use an ice scoop to toss chummers, and the sound of tasty nuggets hitting the water will grab the predators' attention. Once the fry sink, the sight of all those little bodies twinkling through the water column really flips the feeding switch.

The first handful will wake up those napping in the grass, but subsequent appetizers usually create an instant frenzy of white-water aggression as bluefish, trout, ladyfish, jacks and the occasional Spanish mackerel greedily gobble the sudden snacks.

What to throw

Even with free food available, the fish won't spend much time in the hot surface water. They will feed voraciously for a couple of minutes, then return to the cooler depths.

As long as you keep the freebies flying, you can draw strikes with topwater plugs. Speed- and retrieve-style don't matter: the fish will hit anything they see.

Even after the topside show wanes, the fish will swarm lower in the water as they look for more food. This is when a quarter of an ounce white or chartreuse bucktail jig can turn in a big performance.

Fly fishermen will often bend the skinny rods by tossing clouser and glass minnow patterns on 8-weight outfits with sinking line. When toothy mackerel or bluefish abound, a short piece of wire leader will minimize your losses.

However you choose to fish, consider that fast action can easily cause you to lose count of how many fish you toss in the cooler. If you are keeping fish for dinner, designate one person to keep an official count of what goes into the box.

Fishing deep grass offers fantastic summer action. but observe all size and bag limits and carefully release all other fish.

Don't sweat fishing deeper in the heat 08/01/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 9:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Durant's Cameron Myers now one of the state's elite RBs


    There will come a day when Cameron Myers is stopped, when opposing defenders gang up to prevent him from breaking off big gains.

    Durant senior Cameron Myers recently set a career high in rushing yards — tallying a whopping 393 last week vs. Plant City.
  2. Check out what this former Buc has cooking in Buffalo


    Leonard Johnson is thrilled to extend his NFL career in Buffalo this season, but whenever his playing days are over, the former Bucs cornerback is ready for life after football.

    He's actually pretty excited.

    Buffalo Bills cornerback Leonard Johnson catches a pass during an NFL football training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Saturday, July 29, 2017. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
  3. Koetter: Jameis Winston will test shoulder in practice Friday


    Will he? Won't he? It appears the Bucs' uncertainty over whether quarterback Jameis Winston can play through a shoulder injury Sunday at Buffalo will carry up until the final hours before kickoff.

    Jameis Winston didn't throw at practice Wednesday.
  4. Fennelly: Even frustrated Bucs fans hold out hope


    Many fans wrote back when I threw out an all-points the other day, asking if Bucs fans are perpetually in a state of expecting the worst.

    Bucs fans cheer during a preseason game against the Washington Redskins in August at Raymond James Stadium.
  5. Bucs snapper Garrison Sanborn looking forward to return to Bills


    Throughout his eight seasons with the Bills, whenever former players would come to Buffalo for a game, Garrison Sanborn remembers the place to take them for a reunion dinner was a popular Italian …

    Garrison Sanborn enjoyed just one winning season in eight years in Buffalo. [AP photo]