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Captain Ray Markham's latest fishing report
. . . and other tall tales
Captain Ray Markham's
West Central Florida Fishing Journal
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
November 27-29, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
Holiday weekends can be crowded on the water, but this one may be different. Weather forecasts for the weekend early in the week show a moderate pattern with winds having an easterly component, making for smaller seas near shore. This could bring kings and Spanish mackerel much closer to the beaches.
Some excellent reports from offshore have come in this week and the weekend ahead looks like it could be a great one to head out for some grouper digging or some fast mangrove snapper action. Much of the bottom fishing action has started around the 80-foot mark and outward to around 150-feet.
Hogfish action has taken an upswing in the past couple of weeks where anglers are hitting these fish in depths ranging from 40-to 80-feet consistently. Live shrimp have been the most productive bait, but if you us it, be sure to bring plenty and make sure it’s fresh.
Spanish mackerel have been chewing hard lately and plenty of bait makes them frenzied feeders. Finding bait pods along the beaches in the Gulf should be easy this weekend. If we have easterly winds, the seas will lay down near shore from the beaches out a mile or more. Look for diving birds or skyrocketing fish. Either way, tossing a live shrimp, whitebait, or threadfin can get bit. For an easier way to catch mackerel, just troll spoons behind the boat at about 4-knots. Silver spoons are effective. The Clark Squid Spoon that was originally from St. Petersburg and the Barracuda Bait Co. continues to be popular, and the Drone Spoon models from LB Huntington Co. that’s over 100-years old have produced both Spanish and king mackerel even when your great grandpa fished with them. They offer a wide variety of colors in the Eco Spoon, Electric, and Original series, many that have colored reflective tape are excellent producers. These all stainless spoons are extremely durable with solid hooks. Most of the Spanish mackerel have been running in the 3-to 5-pound range.
Kingfish have been caught on many of the artificial reefs ranging from a few miles offshore to 30-miles off Pinellas. Again, look for bait schools and skyrocketing fish to locate schools. Many of these kings have been running in the 30-pound class and larger.
Redfish action is picking up again as local waters continue to clear from the high winds. Higher tides have pushed fish up on oyster bars and around mangrove islands. An assortment of jigs and plugs are working well for reds. Some favorites include Saltwater Assassin’s Sea Shads, CAL 3-inch Shads, and MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. Suspending plugs like the 27MRPIN MirrOlure MirrOdine XL have been slammed.
Trout have begun schooling in better numbers on this last front. Water temperatures continue to vary between 75 and 80-degrees in Tampa Bay and surrounding areas with slightly cooler temps to the north around Hernando Beach. Early morning topwater action with 5M MirrOlure prop baits has been terrific with many fish in the 4-to 6-pound range being caught. Look for potholes on the flats and fish the edges of them on the low incoming tides. Jigs have been effective as well and single hooks are much easier to remove.
Snook fishing remains stellar. While the majority of our area is still closed for snook, trout, and redfish from Hernando south to Gordon Pass in Collier, these fish are pretty hearty when water temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s. You’ll still find them on barrier islands, and around mangrove points, but some of the best action may be around mouths of creeks, canals, and rivers. Most crank baits and jigs will be attacked with these fish as we approach next Monday’s full moon.
Bass action continues to be good and will take another upswing as we move toward next week’s full moon. Sunset fishing can be explosive with topwater action. Frog baits that are weedless can be deadly, and many bass to 5-pounds were reported over the past couple of weeks. While dredging continues in Pinellas County’s Lake Seminole, there continues pretty good action on the south end of the lake near the overflow.
Deeper lakes, like Lake Tarpon, are showing signs of an improved crappie bite recently. While these fish really doing begin schooling until it gets cold, the clock is ticking down on Old Man Winter and it’s just another month away before the official start of the winter months. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham
4Cast - West Central Florida
November 13-15, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
The past week and perhaps into this weekend Tropical Storm Eta has and will produce more windy, rough conditions that may not make for safe boating. Heavy seas will likely create more issues for all but the largest vessels. Turbidity will make conditions difficult for fish to see and breathe. With those thoughts in mind…fish will not have fed much during these conditions and will be hungry.
Conditions could be pretty tough offshore, but as they improve, fish will begin to chew and chew with reckless abandon. It’s likely that fresh cut bait might produce better than live bait unless you slow your bait’s ability to move quickly by trimming the tail with a pair of scissors. A good scent trail from cut bait will add another dimension to a predator’s ability to find food with scent.
Kingfish will follow baitfish schools wherever they go. Usually, bait schools will move to deeper water with high relief. These areas usually offer more protection and cleaner water that fish prefer. Slow-trolling these areas with a live blue runner, ladyfish, or 12-inch Spanish mackerel can get a big smoker excited enough to eat. Spanish mackerel will also follow the bait schools. Look for the “Ditch”, a.k.a., Egmont Key Ship’s Channel, heading out of Tampa Bay and into the Gulf to produce plenty of mackerel. The drop off the edges of this channel is predominately rocky limestone cutouts that are holding both gag grouper and good numbers of mangrove snapper.
If you are heading offshore to target gag grouper, look for clean water and structure with high relief. Gags will hold on to these spots during rough weather and venture out away from them as conditions improve.
As the water clears, run the beaches and nearshore waters for tripletail. Check every piece of floating debris. Crab trap lines and floats, channel markers, and swim buoys will also hold these fish. Live shrimp and small jigs or artificial shrimp will catch these delicious fish.
Redfish may be a bit harder to find, according to several reports. With rough weather, these and many other species of fish will move, so if you were on reds prior to this bad weather, don’t expect to find them in the same spots you left them. Your best bet might be to go to areas with good protection from the wind. If there is bait there, more than likely you’ll find some redfish. Mullet schools that might still be in backwaters will be a bonus for finding hungry reds. Topwater “walk-the-dog” lures like the Top Dog Jr. from MirrOlure, Rapala Skitterwalk, Heddon Super Spook Jr., and the weedless soft plastic D.O.A. PT-7 can excite these fish into explosive strikes. Weedless spoons like the Eppinger Rex and Johnson Silver Minnow are very productive wherever there are pinfish.
Snook made some major moves on this big blow, pushing well back into backcountry areas, into creeks, and rivers. This weekend, approaching Sunday's new moon will have some good tides for snookin’. Look for linesiders to line the edges of points, bars, oyster mounds, and channels where they can ambush their prey being swept by moving water.
With this new moon ahead, you might find flounder on the sandy edges of passes and cuts around barrier islands. Jigs like the CAL Shad or MirrOlure Marsh Minnow rigged on quarter-to half-ounce jig heads will get these lures down on the bottom. The trick is to make presentations slowly enough to keep these lures on the bottom so they can kick up a small puff of mud when you twitch the rod tip.
With each passing cold front brings more invigorating conditions for bass and crappie. Bass are blasting topwaters like buzz baits, Zara Spooks, and River2Sea Whopper Ploppers. Chuggers and poppers like the Storm Chug Bug, Rebel Pop-R, and L & S 12LS popper draw some vicious strikes. Work edges of hydrilla and holes in floating vegetation. A Johnson Silver Minnow with a trailer or Eppinger Rex Weedless Spoon can crush some monster bass when worked in weedy areas.
Look for crappie action to slowly improve with falling water temperature. While the numbers of fish don’t change, these fish will begin schooling in preparation for the spring spawn. Drift fishing with small Hal Flies or other crappie jigs or with Missouri minnows will help locate these fish. Mark the area when you find them and concentrate your efforts there. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham
4Cast - West Central Florida
November 20-22, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
Weather can dictate much of fishing in that safety on the water is job one. We’ve had some breezy conditions this week that have kept some anglers at the dock, and rightfully so. Predictions for the weekend may see winds coming down that may allow for more anglers to get on the water. We have good news from Governor Ron DeSantis this week. See the Offshore report.
It appears that offshore anglers have some bonus days to fish for American red snapper this month. Dates added are November 21, 22, 27, 28, and 29. However, during this special season, private recreational anglers may harvest red snapper in Gulf state and federal waters, while state for-hire operations are limited to fishing in Gulf state waters only for red snapper. These additional days were given because of the results from the State Reef Fish Survey done by anglers. The additional data was an enhancement for management of red snapper and other reef fish.
Governor DeSantis hopes that anglers and their families will get the opportunity to get on the water to fish on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Additionally, Saturday, November 28th is also a saltwater license-free fishing day, so no license will be required while fishing in saltwater on that date.
Water temperatures in the Gulf may finally drop under 80-degrees this weekend as a cool front moves through. Mid-week air temperatures fell into the 50’s in some areas of the West Central Region. That should send another push of kingfish south to our waters. Some easterly winds could settle the Gulf waters and clear them up. This should bring both baitfish schools and Spanish and king mackerel in close on their tails to feed. Trolling for these fish can be extremely effective. Most anglers prefer jigs or spoons to troll with. Spoons by L.B. Huntington called Drone Spoons have been deadly for over 100-years and used throughout the U.S. for catching tournament-winning fish. Other popular spoons are the Clark Spoon and Kingspoon. All of these can be successfully pulled behind planers in sizes #1, #2, and #3 depending on the depth you are fishing. Just add a zero to the size planer for the depth you wish to target. Always add a flat line and a spoon and even one in the prop wash of the boat. Once you find the depth in the water column that fish are holding, you can target that depth with multiple rigs working that depth.
Sometimes, for big fish, live bait is king and rules. Blue runners in this area are common big kingfish bait. Slow-trolling these baits on stinger rigs will catch short-striking fish. A trace of light wire helps prevent cutoffs from the king’s razor-sharp teeth. When it comes to trolling for Spanish mackerel, sage professionals like Capt. Dave Zalewski of Lucky Too Charters runs a 30-foot 50-pound test mono leader behind his planers. Often in the late fall, gag grouper will be caught on the beaches wherever there is some hard bottom. The Sand Key hardbottom is an area noted for catching both mackerel and gag grouper over the next couple of months. Many are the most productive depths in that area ranging from 20-to 50-feet deep. Run straight out of Clearwater Pass and just south and you’re there.
The edges of the Gulf, just off the beaches, are producing some tripletail for anglers willing to put the time in to hop from stone crab trap buoy to crab trap buoy. Hundreds, if not thousands of these traps were placed last month and are beginning to show some marine growth that attracts baitfish and tripletail. Capt. Rick Grassett, who fishes out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key and his fly anglers have been targeting them. He’s had to pick his days due to high winds, and even some of those days presented a tough challenge but they have been successful.
The incoming front this week had trout fired up. Good numbers of these fish were caught in lower Tampa Bay and along the Intracoastal Waterway from Indian Rocks to Dunedin. Excellent catches of trout are reported out of Bayport by anglers using shrimp under popping corks and CAL 5.5 Jerk baits rigged with a nose-hook.
The water inshore in many areas continues to be dirty. Turbidity caused by high winds and waves keeps the water churned up. High winds throughout the week may begin to subside by the weekend, allowing the water to begin to clear. With this dirty water, larger profile baits and lures that make some noise or flash make it easier for fish to find. Upsizing your soft plastic CAL Shad from the 3-inch to the 4-inch may make a huge difference in the fish you catch. The same goes for hard baits. I found that the original 17MR MirrOlure MirrOdine was out-fished by the next larger size, the 27MR MirrOdine. Dead-sticking stink baits like Berkley Gulp works too, but you’ll add a lot of catfish to your catch if you use it.
The breezy weather we’ve had recently is sending bass toward heavy cover. Hydrilla, lily pads, bulrushes, and other cover can hold these fish on gnarly days. Flipping or pitching techniques work well under these conditions. Look for June bug, black and purple, and green pumpkin-colored worms to work well. Add a 1-ounce bullet weight to punch through the cover if necessary. Local lakes such as Seminole in Pinellas County are loaded with bass averaging 2-to 5-pounds.
Lakes down in our south end of the region, like Lake Manatee, in addition to bass, has a very healthy population of crappie and bluegill. Small spinners like the Beetle Spin are excellent here. Anglers fishing live grass shrimp can produce limits of fish with them. Fly-rodders love these lakes as they offer enough protection to fish the long rods. Give one a try some time. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
4Cast - West Central Florida
November 6-8, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
This has been a tough week to get on the water with high winds the order of just about every day. The weekend could bring much of the same as Tropical Depression Eta brews in the Caribbean that could approach the Suncoast to feel the effects of it by Monday.
Just prior to winds picking up, Spanish and king mackerel were slamming baits on the Suncoast. Limits of mackerel were easily doable. Whether anglers were trolling spoons or pitching live baits, it didn’t matter. Mackerel were jamming the beaches and up inside bays. But with high winds this week, the outlook for more of the same action for the weekend is not good. These pelagic fish enjoy clean water just as much as the baitfish they hunt down to eat do. Find the bait and you’ll probably find the fish. But during this blow, it’s probable that schools of baitfish that were along the beaches moved offshore to deeper and cleaner water.
The 39-hour trip that docked at Hubbard’s Marina Thursday morning stacked up a pile of red grouper, big mangrove snapper, vermilion snapper, gag grouper, scamp grouper, almaco jacks, and porgies on a less than smooth trip deep into the Gulf.
Changing weather by Sunday could mess up fishing plans for at least the beginning of the week next week and possibly through mid-week from Eta.
Fishing areas of protected water will be your best bet this weekend if you get out at all. Increasing chances of rain are on the horizon as well as TS Eta approaches Suncoast waters. These protected areas will have less turbid waters. Clean or clear water allows fish to remove oxygen from the water without fouling the gills. Backcountry areas surrounded by mangroves and residential canals will be good spots to target fish. Snook have been slowly moving toward creeks and rivers to move upstream where water temperatures will stay moderate, especially with cold fronts. Most areas of the West Central Region remain closed for snook, trout, and redfish, so before you go, check with www.MyFWC.com and note those closed areas.
Hernando County anglers will find cooler water temperatures than Sarasota anglers, but we are currently in just about prime water temperature for most fish that live in our region. Look to the mouths of creeks and rivers for some great action with snook and trout using either live shrimp or DOA Shrimp worked slowly along the bottom. Bouncing jigs like the CAL Shad or small jerk baits like the MirrOlure Lil’ John on light jig heads will produce a multitude of species. Flounder have been reported well up inside the Manatee River. These fish enjoy cooler water temperatures. Until the past few weeks, water temperatures were well into the 80’s. As you get toward the headwaters of rivers that are spring-fed, you will find that groundwater temperatures hover at about 72-degrees year-round. This might be why flounder are further up in the brackish water. Work jigs slowly on the bottom, kicking up small puffs of mud for the best action. The outside bends of rivers will have more current where these fish will hold to ambush prey.
This time of year is a favorite of mine for fishing topwater lures. Fish are more aggressive and fight much harder than they do in the heat of summer. In addition, with cooler weather ahead, fish will eat more to put on body fat that insulates them from extreme cold temperatures during the dead of winter.
Larger lures that make some splash like walking baits such as the MirrOlure Top Dog, Rapala Skitterwalk, and the Heddon Zara Spook imitate larger baitfish like finger mullet that provide more protein than the smaller versions and generally will take even smaller more aggressive fish. Slow-sinking mullet imitations like the Shallow-running DOA Baitbuster, with a single hook produce some exceptional action this time of year and are much easier to unhook and release fish with less tissue damage that lures with multiple treble hooks. Several hook manufactures are making single inline replacement hooks to replace trebles. Manufacturers like MirrOlure offer these single hook replacements for trebles specifically for different models in their line to maintain the balance and tuned action of their lures.
Fish are firing up in freshwater. Larger lakes with water depths to 15-feet or deeper will likely hold crappie. While we’re far from peak crappie season, these fish are getting more active each week. As we get toward the first of the year and into February, you can expect crappie to begin schooling in greater numbers in preparation for the spawn. Depth finders make locating these schools easy. The side-scanning technology has made a huge difference in locating fish, particularly because you don’t have to run a boat over the top of the fish and chance spooking them. Side-scanning technology can show fish as far as 300-feet away in some models, showing not only the depth of fish but also the distance from the boat. Side imaging is especially useful in shallow water.
Bass are more easily located with side imaging scanners, allowing anglers to cast at a distance shown on the recorder and work the water column in the depth range of a fishes’ strike zone. Suspending lures can hold in a strike zone longer and entice wary fish to eat. Think about one of these models for your next bass boat or consider an upgrade from your old unit. ‘Til then… I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham
4Cast - West Central Florida
October 30- November 1, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
With Hurricane Zeta approaching the Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida Panhandle shores, much of the Gulf coast down to the West Central area might still feel some effects from the hurricane’s winds and waves into the weekend. Keep an eye on the weather and an ear on the radio for updates, and as always, file a float plan if you’re headed out on the water.
Easterly winds much of the week have allowed anglers to get out on the water safely in nearshore waters out to about 10-miles with some smaller vessels. Beyond that, seas begin to get pretty lumpy that might require bigger boats. But for those making it out, the fishing has been terrific! While grey triggerfish closed earlier this week, anglers turned their attention to other species. The influx of large Spanish and king mackerel has provided non-stop action for those working some of the big schools of fish. Following the bait schools is the key to catching numbers of big kings and Spanish. Birds can help you locate those schools just by observing diving bird’s locations as well as skyrocketing kings and macks. These fish respond to chumming favorably when anchored and pitching live baits, jigs, or spoons, but trolling hardware or live baits will take the table to the fish.
There is a variety of spoons on the market that excel in catching Spanish and king mackerel. Most flashy jigs and spoons will catch fish. Some of the more popular spoon brands locally include some legendary brands in the Clarkspoon, originally of St. Petersburg, Florida, then manufactured by Barracuda Tackle Co. under the umbrella of the Florida Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Co. Inc., and the Drone Spoon by L.B. Huntington Co. Inc., which was recently acquired by the L & S Bait Company of Largo, Florida, manufacturers of the world-famous MirrOlure and several other iconic brands. These spoons are available in a variety of lengths and colors to match the size of available bait as well as water clarity and color conditions. These brands are well-known for their durability as well as their ability to catch a lot of fish.
Some top areas to target kings and Spanish right now include “The Ditch”, a.k.a. Egmont Key Ship’s Channel, the Blind Pass Drop, around 14-to 20-feet of water outside Blind Pass, and the Clearwater Sand Key hard bottom.
Folks targeting gag grouper continue to pull in limits of fish from 80-feet and deeper. Culling smaller fish, anglers can still find some legal sized gags shallower with more effort. Moving north to the Nature Coast, large rock piles and lots of limestone ledges will hold big gags as shallow as 10-feet, but the distance traveled to get to 10-feet will be about a foot per mile, vs. running 20-to 30-miles to get to 80-feet. I would expect the exceptionally warm days lately will keep water temperatures above normal levels, preventing gags from moving in as shallow as they normally do. Watching water temperature will give you a clue where to look. Thermoclines that are cooler will allow these fish to migrate to areas where bait is most plentiful. Think water temps in the lower 70’s for the best action in shallower water.
Increasing numbers of tripletail are being caught, due to anglers focusing on targeting these fish around structure. That structure consists of many things but most importantly the stone crab trap buoys and the lines that lead to the traps on the bottom. Live shrimp have been top producers of these tasty fish, but small jigs such as the CAL Shad or MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. and artificial shrimp like the DOA 2.75 or 3-inch Shrimp will work exceptionally well. Fly anglers can also produce good catches using flies that resemble shrimp or small baitfish. Take along a heavy spinning rod if you’re targeting trips, because some cobia running in the 30-to 40-pound class have been caught recently around the same structure.
Some great fishing has folks fired up this week while snook continue to hammer just about everything in their paths. Linesiders have been caught from the passes to well into backcountry areas and up rivers and creeks. This crazy warm weather has fish really spread out but finding concentrations of them centers on one thing—finding bait. Scaled sardine schools continue on the flats as well as the beaches, keeping the attention of these and other fish at these locations. With little hint of any major cold fronts, the only thing making these fish move to where they should be is the decreasing number of hours of daylight.
Redfish schools have been found offshore and in nearshore waters along with areas on the flats. Some of the largest fish being caught are in schools off the beaches. Areas like Fort Desoto, Weedon Island, the Bulkhead at the mouth of the Manatee River and Tampa Bay’s South Shore are all holding some sizable redfish. Barrier islands from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs are also holding these fish, particularly where there are concentrations of oyster bars and spoil islands.
Trout fishing seems to have taken a back seat by most anglers since much of the West Central area continues to have a closure through May of next year. The closure also includes snook and redfish, but because the snook and reds put up a greater fight, most anglers target them. Flounder fishing continues to be flat, with a report here and there of a few fish caught. Pompano seem to have flurries of catches being reported, typically around the mouth of Tampa bay and up around the Gandy Bridge. Anglers reporting catches of these fish have been while using Doc’s Goofy Jigs in yellow, pink, or chartreuse.
The full moon this weekend on Halloween will produce some good tides and water movement that will have ambush predators feeding heavily during the periods of good moving water. The morning bottoming out tides should produce good results for anglers throwing topwater lures like the MirrOlure Top Dog or Rapala Skitterwalk very early into potholes and jigs such as the CAL Shad or MirrOlure Lil’ John after the sun comes up.
Exceptionally warm days and infrequent thunderstorms and showers have not allowed thermometers to move down much recently allowing local lakes, residential retention ponds, and rivers to maintain higher than normal temperatures. We really do need some cooler weather to make bass, crappie, bluegill, and other fish get more active. When water temperatures hit the 70’s it’ll be game on for most of these fish. ‘Til then… I’ll catch ya later!
FLY FISHING SCHOOL
CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, 1249 Stickney Point Rd, Sarasota, FL will hold Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing school on Sat, Nov 21, 2020. The course, designed for beginning and intermediate fly casters, will focus on basic fly casting principles, improving casting skills, and correcting faults. Instructor Capt. Rick Grassett, will also cover saltwater fly fishing techniques, leader construction, and fly selection. The cost for the class, which will run from 8:30 AM to 2 PM, is $195 per person and includes the use of Orvis fly tackle, workbook, and lunch. Optional instructional guided fly fishing trips are also available for an additional fee. Contact CB’s Saltwater Outfitters at (941) 349-4400 or email@example.com to make reservations.
Capt. Ray Markham
4Cast - West Central Florida
October 23-25, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
Mild temperatures and overcast skies with brief periods of rain over the past week have added to the cooling of water temperatures. Passing cold fronts will continue a change from summer to fall and fall to winter with each passing day with shorter periods of daylight. The pelagic push is on with king and Spanish mackerel moving south from the Panhandle. Look for increasing numbers of these fish to show on the Suncoast.
Breezy weather for a few days from a passing front this week stirred things up in the Gulf a bit. Bait schools that were hugging the beaches moved offshore where clean water breathing easier. Sediment stirred up on the bottom fouls the gills on fish making it tougher to breathe, particularly small baitfish. Spanish mackerel will follow these bait schools out to the clean water line to feed on them. Deepwater wrecks that aren’t affected as much are beginning to show some larger kingfish in the 30-pound class and larger. These fish will be in the sights of tournament anglers over the next month or so. Between blows, several kings were caught out of “the Ditch”, a.k.a. Egmont Key Ship’s Channel. With rough weather, these fish may follow the channel out to the Whistler buoy.
This time of year it pays to check the stone crab trap floats and lines in the Gulf. Increasing numbers of tripletail will hang on this temporary structure. Live Shrimp have been a top natural bait, but artificial lures like the DOA Shrimp, DOA TerrorEyz, or a light bucktail jig like those from Pumpkin Jigs, are great for fooling these fish. In addition, keep a heavier rig at the ready in the chance a cobia pops up will ensure a shot at these bronze bombers. Good numbers of these fish are on a slow migration south and several reports over the past two weeks of these fish being caught were noted. Eel imitations, larger jerk baits like the MirrOlure Provoker, live blue crabs, and live pinfish all produce some action with cobia.
Gag grouper continue a slow journey to shallow hard bottom areas in depths ranging from 20-to 60-feet from Sarasota to Pasco beaches. Clearwater Sand Key hard bottom is a terrific spot to look for these fish as well as kingfish. Both prefer the natural marine growth that grows and holds food on this limestone habitat. A thick dark red band on your color bottom machine at the bottom on the screen is indicative of this hard bottom. Much of it exists in patches not more than 10 or 20-feet in diameter. Some of the best early winter spots through December might be found by slow trolling big lipped lures like the MirrOlure 113, Rapala X-Rap, or Mann’s Stretch Series. Watch the bottom machine and mark areas that are productive.
Hogfish continue to please anglers working depths just off the beaches. Ranging from 30-to 80-feet, these fish will be found were sand and rock meet. They are timid feeders so patience is a virtue when fishing for them. Many times, aggressive mangrove snapper, gag and red grouper, or grunts will feed heavily while hogs sit back and wait. When the frenzy slacks off they move in to feed.
This might be my favorite time of year to don the waders hop overboard for some wade fishing. North winds blowing can reduce water levels greater than the predictions, forcing tide levels lower, exposing deep holes surrounded by shallows. Big snook that are feeding on the grass flats will drop into these holes and off channel edges. The attached photo of a nice snook that I caught while wade fishing was taken by Bill AuCoin while working the flats with me around Tierra Verde. Prime conditions with dropping water just before sunset will produce some big hungry snook. This fish ate an Arkansas Glow colored CAL Shad rigged on a 1/4-ounce chartreuse CAL jig head. Weedless Eppinger Rex Spoons and gold Johnson Silver Minnow spoons in the ½-ounce size imitate fleeing baitfish. The MirrOlure 17MR PIN and the larger 27MR PIN suspending lures are excellent imitators of small pinfish that are on the flats right now and will get hammered. Shad style swimbaits like the CAL Shad and Bass Assassin’s Sea Shad imitate killifish or mud minnows that move out of backwaters. These are prime forage for snook, trout, redfish, and flounder.
Flounder numbers have been down over the past couple of years. It could be that water temperatures have been higher than the norm. These fish require cooler water to spawn so the elevated water temperature could have been affecting the spawn. Future rule changes will go into effect reducing the bag limit from 10- to 5 fish per person per day and increasing the minimum size from 12-to 14-inches in an effort to increase the numbers of these fish.
Redfish continue to invade areas of the flats along the South Shore of Tampa Bay, Weedon Island, and Fort Desoto. Capt. Rick Grassett who fishes out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key reports increasing numbers of redfish on both the east and west sides of Sarasota Bay. His anglers have caught them on flies and lures.
This is an exciting time of year for freshwater anglers. Cooler water temperatures in rivers and lakes mean elevated levels of oxygen in the water. This energizes bass, making them fight harder and become more aggressive. Topwater lures are my favorites this time of year. Those overcast days make for some of the best for these lures. Edges of hydrilla and holes in thick cover make excellent ambush spots for big bass. While casting lures to these spots might be difficult, fly anglers can cast a popper to these holes with ease, then pick up and recast to the same spot without fouling the fly. For those anglers who want to get up close and personal, flipping or pitching soft plastic worms like a Senko, or a snake imitation like the DOA Sna-Koil are extremely productive for big bass.
Lakes with good depth, over 8 or 10-feet, can hold crappie. Productive areas in our region include Lake Tarpon in Pinellas, and Lake Manatee down in Bradenton. While there are others, these are some of the most productive. These fish prefer cooler water dropping to the 70’s and 60’s. Crappie will school in cold weather in preparation for their spawning rituals. Finding the right depth is as easy as drift fishing with multiple rigs in rod holders with Missouri minnows suspended by floats set at different depths. The rod depth that goes off the most will dictate the depth the rest of the rods should be set to. Drop a marker when fish are caught and when fish stop chewing. The range between the marks can be drifted again to repeat the action where the schooling fish are. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham
4Cast - West Central Florida October 16-18, 2020
By Captain Ray Markham
Great conditions for some good fishing should be on tap for anglers over the next week for both inshore and offshore anglers. Slow changes of seasons bring better fishing action.
The action seems to be heating up as the weather begins cooling off. That’s about the norm for this time of year, even though our temperatures continue to be higher than the norm most days. One indicator of the changes is the increasing number of Spanish mackerel being caught in our area. These fish are migratory and move south from the Panhandle each year in the fall, showing up in big schools. Some stay around much of the year but there is definitely a migratory school that moves with the changing water temperature while following bait schools. Another indicator is gag grouper, which also begin moving shallower to feed on bait that moves in on hard bottom areas in shallower depths than are found during the summer. This summer, the bulk of legal sized gags seem to have come in depths ranging from 120-to 160-feet off the Suncoast shores. Fair numbers are now being caught inside of 100-feet. For Tampa Bay anglers, there seem to always be some resident legal gags that stay inside Tampa Bay in the Ship’s Channel running inside Tampa Bay at about 45-feet deep. Those numbers appear to be increasing.
Nearshore waters from 50-to 80-feet have seen more action with hogfish in recent weeks. It hasn’t been hot action but for the few anglers who have been targeting these fish with shrimp, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas, they are catching some decent fish.
Kingfish action isn’t far off. Deep water wrecks beyond 100-feet are beginning to produce some catches of smoker kings over 30-pounds. Most hard bottom areas in deeper water will also hold these fish whenever there are bait schools on them. The Old Salt Fishing Foundation has just announced the 27th Annual Fall King of the Beach Kingfish Tournament, to be held November 7th at 200 Rex Place in Madeira Beach. This year’s event will be somewhat different in the number of days of events surrounding the tournament, beginning on Tuesday, as well as when the actual awards will be given, which will be on Friday. For registration and information, as well as a special early registration prize, go to the Old Salt website, oldsaltfishing.org
If you’re running the edges of the Gulf, you’ll probably notice a lot more marker floats in the water. Stone crab season reopens this Thursday, the 15th of October and these floats mark the traps. These traps are located on rock outcroppings and hard bottom where stone crabs live, as well as where grouper, snapper, hogfish, and others like to congregate. The nearshore waters from 50-to 80-feet have seen more action with hogfish in recent weeks. It hasn’t been hot action but for the few anglers who have been targeting these fish with shrimp, fiddler crabs, and sand fleas, they are catching some decent fish. In addition to great habitat for these fish, the baited traps, floats, and attached lines will attract marine growth that in turn attracts tripletail.
Most anglers will agree that they are finding good numbers of redfish in most areas that include the closure from the Pasco/ Hernando county line south to Collier County. Snook, trout, and redfish have been closed and will continue thru May of next year. Catch and release fishing for redfish in many areas has been excellent. Some of these areas include St. Joseph’s Sound, Fort Desoto, Weedon Island, Cockroach Bay, the South Shore of Tampa Bay, and Terra Ceia Bay.
While snook are being caught in good numbers, there may be certain year classes in some areas that seem to be missing.
The same goes for trout. Where snook, redfish, and trout were hurt most, from Sarasota Bay to Boca Grande, the recovery has been slower. In my estimation, trout have never fully recovered to the point that they were in 2009-2010 before a big bout of freezes and red tide. However, most anglers still report catching these fish, but not in the same numbers or sizes as before the most recent red tide that prompted the closure.
Regardless of whatever area you fish, it’s always prudent to take care of the resource. Release all fish that are out-of-season or in closure alive, and keep only enough legal fish for a meal or two. The stark reality of living here in Florida is that most people think of it as paradise and a good place to live and to retire. In fact, last year nearly 1000 new people a day moved here to call Florida home. This year that number has increased to 1100 new residents moving here per day. With this kind of pressure on the resource, it’s especially important to preserve what we have to ensure a sustainable fishery and pay special attention to regulations.
Cooling waters means one thing…ACTION! Bass, bream, crappie, catfish, and most all other species that live in our lakes and rivers thrive when water temperatures drop below 80 and stay above 68-degrees. The next few months are golden for freshwater fishing as cold fronts move south. The cooler water becomes more oxygenated making all of these fish fight harder. Those hot summer days of soaking a live shiner for big bass give way to more aggressive fish that hammer artificial lures. Topwater walking baits like the Zara Spook or chugger/ poppers like the 12LS MirrOlure or Rebel Pop-R, and even prop baits like the Devil’s Horse will create some explosive topwater strikes. This is one of my favorite times of the year to fish, and it’s just ahead. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!
Capt. Ray Markham