The water temperature has reached a point where all types of baitfish, such as Spanish sardines, threadfins and hardtails, are comfortable in our area and should stay for the summer.
All of the inshore predators, including trout, snook, and redfish, are feeding after a winter that was relatively devoid of bait. Offshore, the baitfish arrived on their spring migration. Depth finders reveal large concentrations of baitfish on every wreck, artificial reef and marker. Spanish mackerel, kingfish, cobia, and barracuda wait near these schools of bait to pick off the weak or unwary.
Inshore: Now is the time to attempt the "Inshore Slam," catching a trout, snook, and redfish in the same day. All are in a transitional period and can be found on the grass flats. The redfish are in large schools on the flats near oyster bars. Any school of mullet will also have redfish mixed in. Trout sit in the channels abutting the flats to ambush small baitfish or shrimp that the tide washes away from the grass. Snook are moving from the upper reaches of the bays to their summer residence near the gulf passes and shorelines. They gather near any mangrove island and, for a short time, they can be found cruising the flats. Cobia will be a bonus for anglers checking out the buoys and channel markers in the bay and gulf. Because of a cobia's size and strength, it pays to keep handy a 40-pound-class rod rigged with a large curly tailed jig.
Offshore: Kingfish, Spanish mackerel, bonita and barracuda fishing are available to those trolling hardware and live bait. Kingfish ranging from under the limit (24-inch fork length) to fish more than 40 pounds have invaded our area and should remain for the next few weeks. All of the channel markers in the Egmont shipping channel from the Whistler into Nos. 9 and 10 are sheltering large schools of bait, which can be caught with Sabiki rigs.
Even though we caught Spanish sardines, hardtails and blue runners one day, the fish were finicky and would only strike when a Spanish sardine was deployed on a stinger rig. Nos. 2 and 3 planers, which take the lures down about 20 and 30 feet, respectively, produced the most fish last week. Every day is different, so it pays to experiment until the right combination is found.
The red grouper have begun to establish themselves on the flat, hard "swiss-cheese" bottom in 90 feet of water. There have been a lot of undersized (less than 20 inches) fish caught and released, but on most days the limit of one per person per day can be reached. Gag grouper are active in the 60-foot depths, and now that the water has warmed live bait is producing many of the larger fish. Mangrove snapper have concentrated on the natural gas pipeline. Anglers using 20-pound-test spinning tackle with light sinkers, long leaders and double 1 or 2/0 hooks have had impressive catches.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.