The recent baitfish spawn, along with an abundance of surface grass and hot temperatures, can make fishing unpredictable and a test of patience. Don't expect a great bite even when the area you are targeting is holding large numbers of fish. Try to have more than one backup plan.
The flats in lower Tampa Bay seem to turn on when the tide is strong. Early mornings produce good top-water action in areas that have moving water and small amounts of surface grass.
Trout and redfish are striking surface plugs worked over the drop-off of the flats. When the tide is high, head to the oyster bars that line the mangrove islands. As the sun rises, switch to dragging jigs in the grass patches that grow in 4 to 6 feet of water. Once fish are located, anchor up-current of the grass and chum the area with live bait. Most of the action will consist of trout, bluefish, mackerel and small sharks.
The middle of Tampa Bay has large schools of threadfins that have been hanging close to the shipping channel. Recent trips have produced big mackerel and cobia. They were caught while drifting near the bait schools with a frozen chum block hanging off the boat. White bait on a mono leader and a long shank hook produced mackerel in the 2- to 4-pound class. The cobia were caught by sight-casting near the markers. A sardine rigged to 20-pound test landed a few in the 30-pound range. When the tide is slow, you'll want to switch to a light-wire rig to minimize the cutoffs by mackerel.
Tarpon have been feeding during the afternoon outgoing tide. Area bridges are stocked with schools in the 50- to 100-pound range. When the bridge action starts to slow this week, look for tarpon to be rolling in the morning around the back-bay holes and canals. A fresh shad or free-lined pinfish will draw strikes if the bite is on, but some days all you'll get will be rolling fish.
Grouper fishing has been slow inside 90 feet. Frozen sardines are outproducing pinfish most days. Schools of sharks may move into the spot you are fishing. If this happens, the grouper bite will turn off like a light switch.
Blackfin tuna can be found around the shrimp boats. The early morning bite is strong, and you can chum up some action later in the day using live bait.
Bonita are thick in areas that have large pods of baitfish spawn. The easiest way to get some action is to troll spoons where you see the bonita striking the surface.
Permit are on a few of the reefs. The 45-foot mark has been holding the most fish. Small, free-lined blue crabs are producing permit in the 8- to 15-pound class. The key to catching good fish offshore is to head out as far as your boat will safely take you.
_ Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.