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Sheepshead advice is on the money

Nobody thought Mike Esposito could be coaxed to abandon his offshore fishing passion. Yet, it was a Times Captain's Corner by Capt. Doug Hemmer on sheepshead fishing that motivated his first back-bay venture.

Setting up on a series of pilings in the Bay Pines area, Esposito dutifully scraped off barnacles in hopes of chumming up a few sheepshead. Then, following Hemmer's guidance, he used those same barnacles as bait.

"I couldn't believe the fish we caught," Esposito said. "We got a big load of hefty sheepshead, black drum _ even a nice redfish! We actually boated as much fish as any offshore trip I've ever been on," he said, "and it cost a heck of a lot less!"

Following the summer fishing dictum, early out/early in, a couple of friends joined me at dawn to fish one of our can't-miss Tierra Verde redfish holes. We just knew they'd bite like crazy for an hour or so, then shut down as soon as it got light. Unfortunately, we didn't count on some very tough competition.

As we approached the strike zone, about five porpoises were gorging on redfish that would have been illegal for us to keep. Admittedly, the massive bursts of dolphin energy were quite a spectacular sight _ the huge splashes and crashes, the big reds hurled in the air like so many rag dolls. It was as though the sea mammals were putting on a private redfish-tossing Olympics just for us.

Interestingly, when we finally did get into a few unmolested reds, they seemed more interested in our gold spoons than live whitebait. We rigged Big Fish Tackle's Grub-Tail spoons with Love Lure's Sluggertails, which proved to be irresistible to the foraging redfish.

Stopping at O'Neal's Skyway Boat Basin, a woman was enthusiastically talking about how good tarpon fishing still is off Pinellas beaches. Nancy Lima, wife of tarpon/kingfish wizard Capt. Carlos Lima, says he still is racking up impressive late-season silver king numbers on virtually every trip.

And last week, St. Petersburg outdoor writer Bill Aucoin was astonished at the size and quantity of gags Capt. Bob Fazioli was able to troll on an unusually productive mid-summer grouper trip right inside the Sunshine Skyway bridge.

BIG CATCH FOR TNN: The big outdoor media buzz at the recent American Sportfishing Association's International Sportfishing Expo was that Mark Sosin, long a fixture on ESPN, has jumped ship for a new association with the burgeoning TNN cable network. Sosin told me he was delighted with the change, and his new mentors at TNN seemed ecstatic with their coup. Yet many ESPN insiders with whom I spoke thought that, in the long run, it might not turn out to be an astute career decision for Sosin.

_ Mel Berman hosts the Captain Mel Show 6-9 a.m. Saturday on WFLA-AM 970. If you have a big day fishing or a line on a story, call the Fish Fone at (813) 893-8124.

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