Hurricane Ike appears to have had a positive effect on our offshore fishing for both benthic (bottom) and pelagic (trolling) fish.
Once we were able to venture offshore, we were surprised by both the species and numbers of fish that we encountered. On most days we encountered voracious schools of mixed ladyfish, bluefish, and Spanish mackerel attacking schools of baitfish as soon as we passed under the John's Pass Bridge.
Deploying No. 1 spoons behind a No. 1 planer, a small gold spoon behind a trolling sinker and a small feather jig resulted in multiple hookups.
The Madeira Beach, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach artificial reefs are all home to Spanish mackerel, some schoolie-sized kingfish and barracuda waiting to pounce on a hooked mackerel being brought to the boat. These predators are actively feeding in anticipation of the upcoming winter months and provide excellent light tackle action for anglers slow-trolling live blue runners.
The South County, Rube Allyn and Indian Shores artificial reefs have been holding good numbers of keeper gag grouper. The popular theory is that the gags seek shelter from the storm by moving to large ledges and other higher profile structure. Trolling large gold plugs behind a No. 3 planer over the various structure will produce not only grouper but also some larger kingfish.
Mangrove snapper, gag grouper, triggerfish and white grunts produced almost nonstop action on every ledge we fished in the 70- to 80-foot depths.
On Sunday, kingfish became a welcome nuisance for us while bottom fishing. They were in the 25- to 30-inch range and were cutting our monofilament leaders as soon as they were dropped to the bottom. The kingfish were preying on schools of cigar minnows and Spanish sardines that were attracted to the activity created by our chum. Using a small trolling lead along with a stinger-rigged live cigar minnow put the bait near the bottom and resulted in a limit catch. Mid September is early for kingfish to be in the area in more than limited numbers and is a sign that a great fall run is on the way.
Red snapper were caught in water as shallow as 70 feet and released because of the closed season. Ninety feet of water produced great red grouper action both by drifting and anchoring. Drifting with frozen sardines, squid and butterflied squirrelfish also produced catches. Those anchoring over the "Swiss cheese" bottom did well by starting with dead baits and switching to large pinfish or small blue runners with their tails cut off once the bite was established.
The strong east winds prevented us from venturing offshore after the weekend, but it did not keep us from fishing. The mitigation reefs between Sand Key and North Redington Beach produced plenty of mackerel in the protected waters near the shore.
Many tarpon were spotted rolling and crashing into tightly packed schools of baitfish. We were not prepared for them and they ignored everything that we presented.