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Captain Ray Markham's latest fishing report

           . . . and other tall tales  

Captain Ray Markham's

West Central Florida Fishing Journal



Captain Ray Markham in the News

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Various publications with which Captain Ray is affiliated:

Florida Sportsman Magazine 
Tampa Tribune Newspaper
Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper
Florida Mariner Newspaper

Florida Marine Times Magazine 

(Blogs - For Shore Fishing)



4Cast - West Central Florida

May 20-22, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

The chamber of commerce couldn’t have made the weather much better for the past week or so. Hopefully, more of the same will continue through the coming weekend, however, there could be some thunderstorms looming off on the horizon, so be sure and monitor the weather channel on your VHF radios while on the water. A Saharan dust storm is headed our way and is predicted to be here by the weekend. The results could be interesting. While some feel that the dust particles could contribute to fueling red tide, others predict that it could have a positive effect on softening the hurricane season ahead.


With some “go to Mexico” kind of weather, anglers were able to head west just about as far as their boats could take them. Beyond 120-feet, some big fish are being caught. On the big fish hit list, some monster amberjacks, loads of big red grouper, blackfin tunas, wahoo, sailfish, swordfish, and others were landed this week. The full moon Monday night turned on the mangrove snapper bite just about everywhere. The deepwater areas are producing mangos up to 10-pounds.

Nearshore waters have been producing mangrove snapper in the 1-to 3-pound size class. Most have been caught either on live shrimp or smaller pilchards. Most rock piles, ledges, or artificial reefs are holding them.

Anglers getting an early start will likely find Spanish mackerel along the beaches as the sun rises. The bite might last an hour or longer, but usually fizzles out by about 9 a.m. Most of the macks have been caught inside of about 30-feet of water. Trolling spoons on a flatline, behind a #1, and a #2 planer will be your best bet to find these fish, but spotting bait pods and diving birds will get you into fish as fast as anything. Bring a pair of binoculars to spot birds at a distance. The run-and-gun method can put you on fish quickly, especially when they surface to feed momentarily and then go back down. By having spoons covering multiple depths in the water column you have the best chance at connecting with fish. You might have one larger spoon like a Drone Spoon back on a shotgun well behind the others to attract a kingfish that might be tracking the school of Spanish to chew.

Keep a rod rigged and ready with a live crab while approaching wrecks and artificial reefs. This versatile bait can possibly allow you to connect with permit or cobia that can be found feeding in these areas. A pinfish or an eel-type lure will also work for cobia. Berkley Power Eels and most of the large jerk baits in dark colors can fool cobia.


This has been a week of exploration for me. I’ve spent the bulk of my time searching the south Pinellas area from Fort Desoto east to Pinellas Point and north to the St. Pete. Pier on the western side of the bay in search of fish, and most particularly, speckled trout. For the past year, it’s been just about a zero score on catching much of anything. But this week I’m happy to say we caught quite a few very small trout ranging from 8-to 12-inches in length. All were caught on CAL Jigs with Shad tails and DOA Shrimp, with the shrimp outpacing all other lures we tried. In addition to the spotted seatrout, we found silver trout. This is a fish that has been somewhat absent for the past few years. Lizardfish, ladyfish, bluefish, pinfish, and a fair number of small schools of pilchards were found in Boca Ciega Bay.

Of great concern is that the amount of seagrass in Tampa Bay is in decline and a concern for the estuary. The health of the bay overall since the massive red tide kills over the past few years has become a real issue in many areas of the bay. If seagrass is dying off, the habitat will continue to decline. Scientists are studying this to determine the best route to help restore the bay.


Early morning topwater fishing with poppers, chuggers, prop baits, and fly poppers has been on tap for the days I chose to hit some lakes. Light winds and sunny skies early in the day can produce some excellent results if you’re on the water by the time the sun peeks up over the eastern horizon. Lakes Tarpon, Seminole (in Pinellas), and Lake Manatee down in Bradenton are productive lakes to fish for bass and bream. Taking a kid fishing with a simple cane pole, some earthworms, crickets, or a crappie jig can provide hours of entertainment. For a full list of who is required to have a freshwater license, go to the following website.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 228-3474 for charter information

Capt. Ray Markham with a first-time catc

4Cast - West Central Florida

May 13-15, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

A breezy start to the week will improve coming into the weekend if the weather forecasters are correct. Monday, May 16 is our new moon this month and around it, tides will be cranking up.


Anglers looking for some fish to smoke might find a virtual gold mine right off the beaches each morning. The sunrise timeframe has been producing some light easterly winds that will lay seas down near shore. This makes for the perfect opportunity to either slow-troll live baits for kingfish or smaller spoons on flatlines and planers for Spanish mackerel. The kingfish migration is continuing, although the bulk of the schools moving toward the Panhandle has passed our area. You’ll still find some migrating fish on deepwater wrecks and over patches of hard bottom wherever bait schools are holding.

Hogfish continue to be an option ranging from 50-to 120-foot depths. Warmer waters have slowed the action for them. Triggerfish are still available. Catch reports from anglers catching them have put them in the 100-to 150-foot range.

Good numbers of red grouper are being caught in 120-to 160-feet of water. These are some of the largest being reported. There are smaller red grouper being caught in 80-to 120-feet. Gag grouper remained closed through the end of May.

Tripletail numbers may seem to have diminished, and that may be because stone crab traps should be removed from the water by now, reducing the small mini-structures that these fish could typically be found around. However, the swim buoys just off the beaches will begin holding more of these fish are well as any kind of floating object seen in the Gulf. Approach all structures quietly with a live shrimp or jig and cast up current or wind, allowing the bait or lure to sink down toward the fish or structure. Most fish will either be found just around the structure or in the event of a moored object such as a swim buoy, anywhere the marker is and the line that attaches it to the bottom.

Hitting any kind of hard bottom with structure from the shore out to deep water will give anglers an opportunity to catch mangrove snapper. The fish in shallower water will be smaller, ranging from 10-to 14-inches on average but offshore you’ll find mangos up to about 10-pounds. On the upcoming full moon, you’ll see a terrific night bite for them both nearshore and offshore. Offshore depths beyond 100-feet are producing lane, vermilion, and mangrove snapper. As a reminder—all anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida who intend to fish for or harvest certain reef fish from a private vessel are required to obtain a State Reef Fish Angler designation. Also of importance, anyone on a commercial, for-hire, or private recreational vessel is required to have a venting tool or descending device rigged and ready to use when fishing for reef fish in Gulf of Mexico federal water. The federal water limit starts at 9NM from shore.


Tarpon are moving up and down the coast and will be very active on next Monday’s full moon and the days surrounding it. Late afternoons should be the best bite on the stronger outgoing tides. Look for tide rips with weedlines carrying blue crabs and calico crabs with it. Some anglers refer to these as pass crabs, typically because on these stronger tides these crabs can be found being carried out of passes with the current. This timeframe will likely produce the best bite of the day. Early mornings just at sunrise will be another great opportunity for catching tarpon. Top baits will include jumbo live shrimp, crabs, big scaled sardines, threadfin herring, and pinfish.

Spanish mackerel are moving up inside Tampa Bay in greater numbers. You’ll find them around any bait pods. Many times the bait will hold around any of the channel markers or range markers in the bait and leading out toward Egmont Key. While looking around these markers for mackerel, keep your eyes peeled for cobia and tripletail. Both can be found here. If you’re working the edges of sand bars, look for big rays cruising those edges. You might also find cobia trailing close behind looking to scarf up a crab, shrimp, or other prey. Keep a pitch rod ready and rigged with a live pinfish or crab. For artificial users, I’ve had tremendous success using 37MR49 MirrOlure MirrOdines, DOA 4-inch glow Shrimp, DOA Trolling Model Baitbusters, and black or purple DOA Sna-Koils, all producing some big cobia. The current minimum sized cobia is 33-inches measured to the fork. As of July 1st, the minimum size will increase to 36-inches in State Waters.

Anglers fishing the eastern side of Tampa Bay and the lower portion around Fort Desoto are slowly seeing a recovery of the trout population following nearly 3- years of red tide that decimated the population of fish and moved others. While it may be legal to take trout right now, be aware of the new size, boat, and bag limits in place and the areas of delineation where these changes take place. See for details of those changes.

Beach fishing for snook on a fly rod in the summer has long been a pastime of many fly anglers. The beaches south of Siesta Key have been very good for this type of fishing as they are less populated. Some of the best conditions are after the sun has gotten a little higher in the sky, in or about the 9-to 10 a.m. time frame. Patterns that work well here are Clouser Minnows, Glass Minnows, and sand fleas. A 6 or 8-wt. fly rod is all you need with a weight-forward floating fly line. Most of the snook will be in the surf where the water meets the sand. There is typically a trough where small baitfish and sand fleas will be. That’s where you’ll find snook. Just be mindful of beachgoers.

You might find a few pompano in the surf if you’re looking for snook. But you can also find them in many of the passes and bars coming out of the passes along the coast. Doc’s Goofy Jigs in yellow, pink, or chartreuse will work on these fish. Another favorite is the DOA TerrorEyz with a 1/8 oz. TerrorEyz head.

On the flats, snook will be found around mangrove islands, oyster bars, and points staging up to ambush prey as it sweeps by in the tide. Drifting a free-lined live shrimp will be amazingly productive here and will avoid most hang-ups. An artificial shrimp will work equally well here.

Backcountry areas with grass that’s holding pinfish will probably hold some redfish right now. Reds are feeding on both live pinfish and live shrimp. Artificial lures that imitate these natural baits excel. The gold weedless Eppinger Rex spoon, MirrOlure 17MRPIN MirrOdine, and DOA Shrimp all mimic these prey.


Sunrise on a lake or river seems to be made for fishing topwater lures and flies. I like working a Zara Spook, 12LS18 popper by MirrOlure, a Rebel Pop-R, or a popper on a fly rod. We might be nearing the end of the spawning period for bass and bream, but these fish will continue to put on a savage display on the surface and bend your rods when attacking your fly or lure. Give them a try. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

TRIBUTE to Steve Gibson of Sarasota

Long-time friend, outdoor writer, photographer, and kayak guide, Steve Gibson, of Sarasota passed away last week at the age of 72. He fished with many guides in Manatee, Sarasota, and Charlotte Counties. His passion was kayaking and fly fishing for just about anything, but in recent years, he loved fly fishing for some exotic species down in the Everglades. He was a member of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers and of CCA and was active in conservation and habitat issues. Steve, you will be missed by many.

Memorial contributions may be directed to Nate’s Honor Animal Rescue ( 4951 Lorraine Rd, Bradenton, FL 34211 or Tidewell Hospice ( 5955 Rand Blvd, Sarasota, FL 34238.

4Cast - West Central Florida

May 6-8, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

I trust most of you survived the Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the margaritas, tacos, and the like. So, now it’s time to get back to serious business—fishing!

The last week or so of weather has been very similar to a summer pattern with light early morning easterly winds followed by a wind shift toward a westerly component bringing an afternoon thunderstorm to portions of the West Central Region. Most storms have been moving quickly. Rapidly fluctuating barometric pressure, which can be common with these fast-moving storms, can turn on a bite, but also put you in peril with high winds and lightning. Monitor the weather band while on the water and be sure to always file a float plan.

This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. Don’t forget to honor mothers everywhere. Buy her a new rod and reel and take her fishing! I’ll never forget the time my dad bought my mom a rod and reel for her birthday. The look on her face ranked right up there with the vacuum cleaner she got for Christmas one year. ;-)


Flat hard bottom butting up to sand or shell, small ledges, and potholes from about 100-feet and deeper off Pinellas and 80-feet and deeper off Manatee/ Sarasota coasts are producing some red grouper. It’s been more of a challenge finding keeper-sized fish with gags still closed through the end of this month. Once gags reopen, many anglers will shift efforts to them.

Next Monday’s full moon should make for some excellent snapper fishing. Mangrove snapper have been aggressive and very active lately in most depths ranging from the bays out to the Middle Grounds. Threadfin herring, cut squid, live shrimp, cut sardines, and pilchards have been the most productive natural baits. Once you get into the shallow nearshore depths inside 40-feet, whitebait, pilchards, also called scaled sardines, and live shrimp seem to be most productive. Targeting them on slower tides will be most productive often since you can get baits down with minimal weight. If the bite is slow, downsize leaders using a minimum 6-foot leader and longer.

Grunts, hogfish, and porgies have been caught off Pinellas and Manatee in 50-to 80-feet of water over hard bottom areas.

Spanish mackerel have been active early in the day from dawn to about 9 or 10 a.m. along the beaches from Anna Maria to Clearwater Beach. Look for pods of bait showering to find fish. Trolling small Clark Spoon Squids and small Huntington Drone spoons will get bit. A flat line combined with either downriggers or planers to get lures at a variety of depths will not only put lures in the strike zone but help locate fish more quickly.

Kingfish action continues. Last weekend’s Old Salt Annual Spring King of the Beach Kingfish Tournament was won by Team Laggerhead with Capt. Steve Papen, who weighed in the winning kingfish at just under 39-pounds.

If you’re fishing beyond 100-feet and want a workout, you might want to look for greater amberjack. May 1-May 31 greater amberjacks are open.

You might have missed the boat if you didn't head out with Capt. Mark Fewox of Markin' Fish Charters and Mike Mahoney of T.A. Mahoney Co. in Tampa. A loaded box full of a variety of snappers, red grouper, blackfin tuna, and a few others made the day. 



What most anglers love is catching big fish on light tackle. Fish that can make a drag scream are often the best. But when it’s not one that anglers want to take home to eat, sometimes it tarnishes the catch. But that’s certainly not how all anglers think. Scorching runs by big bull reds or hefty jack crevalle will test your tackle and your ability. Toothy fish like mackerel can cut you off in a heartbeat, and the rough mouth of a big ladyfish or lanky linesiders can saw through mono and fluorocarbon leaders in short order. But the real test is landing these fish. Tampa guide, Capt. Bucky Goldman of Bag ‘Em Fishing Charters regularly catches those big drag-screaming redfish, snook, and on special occasions, those monster jacks. Nothing will test your light tackle like a 20-pound jack crevalle. But tarpon are also on that list of line stretchers and rod benders too.

Look in numerous areas for redfish. Good numbers are around Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands. Inside Tampa Bay, areas from Weedon Island north to Rocky Creek are holding reds and snook. From Apollo Beach to Joe Island you’ll find scattered schools of reds and some nice snook with trout mixed in. Sarasota Bay continues to hold a few small schools of reds and trout, but it’s still on the mend from the previous year's red tide bouts.

Tarpon season is kicking off. Several reports of some action around the region are happening. Much of it was around this past new moon. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge is holding fish. Several small schools of fish have been reported moving along the beach and some juvenile tarpon have been caught in Old Tampa Bay that likely came out of the creeks up there.

Dock lights in and around Tampa Bay have mostly shown snook and more recently small tarpon.

July 1, anglers fishing state waters will see a change in the minimum size of cobia to possess one. The current minimum size of 33-inches to the fork will increase to 36-inches to the fork to keep a cobia.

Stone crab season is coming to a close. For tripletail anglers, this means that much of what you might have previously been finding trips on, crab trap floats and lines will disappear from the water. These fish will still be around but look for them around channel markers, swim buoys along the beaches, and inside bays where blue crab traps might remain. Any kind of floating debris in the water will hold them.


Bass fishing prime times are getting to be early and late in the day time frames for some good action. Low light periods combined with major and minor solunar periods can be some of the most productive periods to fish for bass. If you like fishing topwater lures, this is a great time to hit the water with something on top. Many of these lures made their names with a walk-the-dog style action. Weedless frog baits are also some of the most effective springtime lure patterns for big bass. There are dozens of brands out there but weedless is the way to go with this lure in these conditions. Most of the bass you’ll encounter this time of year will be in the shallows and hidden under vegetation. Hydrilla, lily pads, water hyacinths, and other vegetation will hold these fish. A lure that combines the best of a weedless lure and one that walks the dog is the DOA PT-7. It’s a short lure with an extremely attractive tight walk. It can be pulled through almost any kind of structure without a hang-up. Give one a try and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

4Cast - West Central Florida

April 29- May 1, 2022

By Captain Ray Markham

Much improved conditions with winds coming down made for much better fishing offshore. Many more anglers were able to get on the water, and with these conditions starting during the week, I’d bet more than a few played hooky from work or school to participate.


Red grouper have been cooperative for anglers fishing aboard the party boats out of Hubbard’s Marina at Madeira Beach, however, until last Sunday, high winds were keeping many anglers at the docks or fishing closer to shore. Warming waters have slowed the bite somewhat for hogfish in depths closer than 60-feet. Look for them to move deeper as our summer approaches.

With the rising water temperature mangrove snapper have really turned on. In addition, increasing numbers of mangos are moving into shallower waters. Cut or live sardines, herring, whitebait, and live shrimp are all working well for these fish just about at all depths. Good numbers of mangrove snappers are being reported all the way from the Skyway Bridge out to Egmont Key on the edges of the Ship’s Channel.

A few cobia were caught by anglers heading out past Egmont Key around the channel markers and buoys. Tripletails were also caught. Live pinfish worked for the cobia and live shrimp for tripletail.

Spanish mackerel have been working the beaches early in the day and moving offshore as the days warm up. Look for them in 20-to 50-feet of water. Bring a pair of binoculars along to spot bird activity as they dive on bait schools and for skyrocketing mackerel and kingfish.

This weekend is IT! It’s time for the Old Salt Spring King of the Beach Tournament. The Thursday captain’s meeting at 200 Rex Place will also be the place for the Friday kids slam fishing tournament. Saturday’s kingfish tournament will be followed by a weigh-in that begins at 3 pm with the last fish in line by 5.

Greater amberjack reopens May 1 in Gulf state and federal waters. Much of the action for these fish has been taking place in about 150-to 180-feet of water west-southwest of John’s Pass. Look for big breaks and high relief as well as wrecks to hold these fish as well as some blackfin tuna and possibly a wahoo.


As we approach this Saturday’s new moon, look for faster moving water to improve fishing conditions for snook, trout, and redfish. Snook season closes May 1, so if you’re looking to take one home, Saturday is your last opportunity by midnight. Most passes and beaches will hold these fish right now, but a reminder that they are getting ready to spawn should have you think twice about keeping them right now. They remain closed south of SR 64 in Manatee County.

Some fast action has been taking place around the bay for some oversized redfish. Weedon Island has held some quality fish if you enjoy fishing in a crowd. Cockroach Bay has also been very good. With its vast mangrove holes that wind around the area, the habit is excellent for holding both snook and redfish. Plenty of deep holes are mixed with grass patches, and sandy bars that are holding these fish. A mix of pinfish and whitebait can be caught all the way to the Bulkhead just outside of the Manatee River.

One of the top trout spots has been in the ICW from Dunedin to Anclote Key. The areas surrounding the spoil islands in the ICW, Caladesi Island, Honeymoon Island, and Three Rooker Bar have all been producing good catches of trout, snook, and redfish on MirrOlure MirrOdines and the DOA Deadly Combo.


Bass fishing has been pretty good despite the windy conditions that anglers have had to endure. With this weekend’s new moon and better weather, look for the major and minor solunar periods to produce some quality bass in area ponds as well as some of the more popular lakes from Tarpon to Manatee and in toward Polk County.  ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 228-3474

The topwater  MirrOlure 94MR21 Top Dog c
Tampa Bay redfish have been crushing the

Captain Ray Markham


    Owner/Operator: Backwater Promotions