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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
www.b3fishing.com
Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper
Florida Mariner Newspaper

Florida Marine Times Magazine

www.TheLedger.com 

(Blogs - For Shore Fishing)

www.Anglerweb.com

www.PolkOutdoors.com

www.saltwateranglersguide.com

 

 

*** Wonder what a charter with Captain Ray Markham is really like? Todd  Smith recounts he and his daughter's  Florida fishing adventures from Orlando to Tampa Bay and a great afternoon spent with Tampa's premier fishing guide, Captain Ray Markham. Read Todd's article here at Step Outside . . .

https://stepoutside.org/article/florida-fun-fish-your-way-from-disney-world-to-tampa/

4Cast - West Central Florida

April 3-5, 2020

By Captain Ray Markham

Fishing is a sport many turn to for reflection and some time to bond with nature. I’ve always said that anglers are the quintessential optimists. While many folks don’t catch all the fish they want, or fish as big as they’d like, that mentality for just one more cast is what keeps them interested and coming back to the sport.

Fishing has been in my blood since I was born. As a baby, just a week old, my parents put me in a boat to take me down the Chassahowitzka River to our cabin on the river, where I spent weekends and time hunting and fishing. From the first time I can remember anything, it was about fishing. I can’t picture myself being any other way.

I love the solitude of the outdoors and being on the water, yet, I can be just as happy at times enjoying it with friends, family, and clients who are even experiencing it for the first time. The sport transcends age. Age is no barrier. I know folks in their 90’s and those not even of school age who love to fish. It’s not always about catching fish to take home for dinner, but about the experience of what nature has to offer and her sheer beauty. The fish dinner has always been a bonus for me.

Along that vein, see the attached photo of 13-year old Taylor Simpson, of Lakewood Ranch in Sarasota, proudly hoisting up a lunker largemouth that he caught on a Rat-L-Trap crankbait in a neighborhood pond.

When I’m not on the water, I’m always checking my equipment, especially when I’m not busy. I run a stocking through my rod’s guides to make sure all are in good shape and not cracked or chipped. I check all bearings in reels to ensure they are working properly and maybe put a drop of oil where needed and then check to make sure lines are not frayed.

Every time I get in my boat and launch it, I make sure the bilge pump is working. I check all the safety gear to make sure the fire extinguisher is good and has pressure, the lights on life jackets work, and the lights in the boat itself are working. I check trailer tires for pressure and wear and lights that might need attention or replacement. All of these things, whether they are small or large, can turn into big problems if left unattended, so when I’m not busy, and especially when I am, I make the time to check these little things to make certain they don’t become big things.

Good fishing, my friends. Be safe. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

Backwater Promotions

www.captainraymarkham.com

(941) 723-2544

ray.markham@gmail.com

4Cast - West Central Florida

March 27-29, 2020

By Captain Ray Markham

Ripping tides this week made for a good bite inshore as anglers kept lines bent with snook, redfish, trout, pompano, Spanish mackerel and more. Bottom dwellers were hoisted up from the Gulf by offshore anglers but the real treat was the sound of screaming drags from smoker kings peeling line of reels.

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

We’re only a week into spring and we’re knee-deep in kingfish and Spanish mackerel. If you missed out on tuning up your tackle for the onslaught of kingfish, now’s the time to get your reels and rods into your local tackle shops and get them serviced. Fresh line on reels and changing out drag washers as necessary along with cleaning and lubing your reels will help guarantee that that next smoker king you catch will make it to the boat. Don’t ignore the guides on your rods either. Run a nylon stocking through the guides to see if they snag on anything. If they do, chances are that the insert on your guide ring is cracked or chipped and needs replacing. These simple maintenance details might seem small or insignificant, but keeping up with it can spell the difference between a tasty batch of smoked fish spread or tall tales at your next fishing club meeting.

Slow-trolled blue runners worked their magic this week for kingfish anglers working the “Ditch”. The Ditch is a name given to the portion of the Egmont Key Ship’s Channel of the northwest tip of the island off the lighthouse. Live mullet, Spanish mackerel, and ladyfish also attract kings along with threadfin herring, a.k.a. “greenbacks”.

Capt. Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard’s Marina out of John’s Pass reported good kingfish action on some of their party boats working in the 50-to 80-foot range. Light winds and nice weather has kept seas calm for the past couple of weeks, causing water clarity to improve greatly. Clarity near the bottom were fish were hanging was not as good, causing anglers to go to larger planers to get lures and baits closer to the bottom. Hubbard says scaling down tackle was also necessary to get these fish to chew. While lighter wire leaders can yield better results with more bites than heavier wire, it can also cause for fish to break off. It’s a catch 22 of sorts. With bottom temps running in the upper 60’s we still have some time before the magical 72-degree water temps arrive, which will ultimately bring more kings our way.

Anglers working the beaches and nearshore artificial reefs are catching plenty of Spanish mackerel while trolling silver Clark Spoon Squids with a trace of wire leader. Going with a 40-50pound mono leader will get more bites than with wire leaders but ultimately lose a little more tackle due to the razor sharp teeth mackerel have.

Hogfish action has slowed somewhat, but I’m sure it’s due to cleaner water. Hogfish are a wary bunch to start with, but dropping hook size to 1/0 or 2/0 and line size down to about 25-pound test could mean the difference in getting bit or not. Good numbers of lane and mangrove snapper were caught this week in depths of water 60-to 100-feet according to Capt. Dylan Hubbard. Fewer numbers of mangrove snapper have been caught than in recent past though. Vermilion snappers have been more readily available from 70-to 100-feet. An increasing number of red grouper have also been caught at this depth range.

INSHORE

Fishing in Tampa Bay and surrounding areas to the north and south has exploded with action. Good numbers of snook are being caught as they come out of their backcountry haunts, rivers, and creeks on to the flats. Many of these exiting fish are big breeders that will move out on the beaches and in passes to spawn in a couple of months.

Redfish action continues to be pretty good in a number of areas on the Suncoast. Some of the best action has been taking place in Cockroach Bay, with bit reds being caught on whitebait and some on CAL Jigs with Shad tails or gold Johnson Silver Minnow ¼ ounce spoons.

Pompano have been the real buzz on the docks. Many of the passes and sand bars along the coast have been holding these saucer-shaped fish and have been seen skipping in boat wakes. By far, the Doc’s Goofy Jig has been the most productive lure for catching pompano. From ¼-ounce to 1-ounce, these lead jigs cast a mile and sink quickly. Bouncing them off the bottom so they kick up a puff of sand or mud is the secret of getting these fish to eat. Small ‘teaser’ flies attached to the jig gets hit many times before the jig does. Yellow or pink have been two hot colors with chartreuse and white also producing good catches of pomps and other fish.

Trout continue to increase in numbers and size along the Suncoast. Sarasota Bay, which was greatly impacted by red tide just over a year ago, has seen some increases, but still lags behind the remainder of the West Central area in numbers and size of specks. Clearwater and Dunedin anglers fishing St. Joseph’s Sound are finding some nice trout in the upper end of the slow for catch and release fishing. Topwater 5M MirrOlures and MirrOdine Marsh Minnow Jr.’s have been very effective here.

Spanish mackerel have been actively feeding on bait schools from Sarasota to Tarpon Springs. Good numbers of macks ranging from 15-to 24-inches are being caught on fast-moving jigs and spoons. Anglers using long-shanked hooks rigged with a live shrimp under a popping cork are also having good success catching mackerel. Their speed and hard pull taking drag make Spanish mackerel a blast to catch on light 10-pound test gear.

FRESHWATER

The big bass bite continues on many lakes, with some of the best action in Hillsborough and Polk Counties. Lake Tarpon has been giving up some big bass on live shiners. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits are bringing some bass to the boat but anglers flipping or pitching creature baits like lizards and craw baits around bedding fish are getting some of the largest bass.

Crappie fishing is slowing but long cane poles rigged with 4-to 6-pound test mono, a tiny split shot, and a #10 hook and either a cricket or red wiggler are catching some fat bluegills, shellcrackers, and stumpknockers. These panfish are delicious and worth the effort to head up your next fish fry. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

 

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 723-2655

ray.markham@gmail.com

Backwater Promotions

www.captainraymarkham.com

4Cast - West Central Florida

March 20-22, 2020

By Captain Ray Markham

On this last day of winter and the first day of spring, I bet you can hardly wait until summer. With air temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80’s, water temperatures are climbing as well. Light winds throughout the past week have produced clearer water and good fishing for most anglers. The weekend will see stronger tides as we get closer to next Tuesday’s new moon.

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

Offshore, anglers have had good action with hogfish, grunts, red grouper, and lane, vermilion, and mangrove snapper. Spanish mackerel and kingfish are starting to show up in better numbers after a report from Capt. Van Hubbard of Englewood last week that a wave of Spanish mackerel was passing down there and moving northward.

Divers reported top-to-bottom visibility in 40-to 50-feet of water off Pinellas. They are seeing good numbers of hogfish, but say mangrove snapper are fewer in numbers than last month. Bill Hardman of Aquatic Obsessions Scuba in St. Petersburg reported that plenty of sheepshead remain from the 30-foot mark and shallower. Keeper red grouper were plentiful from 90-feet and deeper.

Captain Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard’s Marina at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach reported good red grouper action with fish in the 20-to 26-inch size range in 60-to 100-feet with the bite coming on squid strips, threadfins, and live pinfish.

The shallows of nearshore waters will warm more quickly than deep water, triggering the metabolisms of fish. As algae growth begins, so does the food chain. Bait is moving up into Tampa Bay and the creeks and rivers along the coast. As temps rise, pelagic fish will move northward. The first cobia to arrive will usually be on wrecks offshore, but nearshore waters will see action from Spanish mackerel and kingfish on those light air days with clean water and bait schools.

INSHORE

Action inshore has been steadily improving with the string of warm sunny days and light winds. Water temperatures in parts of the Tampa Bay area are running in the mid-to-upper 70’s later in the afternoons and lot-to mid-70’s early in the day.

Good numbers of trout were caught this week in south Pinellas on the Clam Bar off the Skyway and west of the Skyway to Fort Desoto. Clear water is bringing bait in by the Sunshine Skyway and attracting mackerel. Spanish to 26-inches were caught this week as well as a few kingfish. From Bean Point to Egmont Key, anglers were catching Spanish mackerel on live shrimp, whitebait, spoons, and jigs. Rock piles off Bradenton Beach and just inside Longboat Pass, John’s Pass and Blind Pass are holding good numbers of big late-spawning sheepshead that are chewing on live fiddler crabs and shrimp.

Snook have been pounding whitebait from the South Shore of Tampa Bay up to Old Tampa Bay. Artificial bait users are smoking big snook and redfish on the new MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. and CAL Jigs with Shad tails from DOA Lures. Redfish are cooperating for anglers fishing the Riviera Bay area. Gold Eppinger Rex ¼ and ½-ounce spoons are working very well here along with live pinfish.

Anglers fishing the ICW from John’s Pass to Indian Rocks report increasing action with live shrimp for redfish and trout fished under popping corks. The DOA Deadly Combo is attracting good numbers of trout here as well.

St. Joseph’s Sound anglers have seen good action with mackerel and trout from Honeymoon Island to Anclote Key. 27MR MirrOdines, jigs, and shrimp under popping corks are all working well. Spoil islands are holding some bigger trout from Dunedin Causeway north. Paul Brown Devils and CAL 5.5 Jerkbaits nose-hooked with a 4/0 mutu circle hooks are working well there.

Catch and release fishing for snook, trout, and redfish continues through next May from Collier County north to the Pasco/ Hernando County line near Aripeka, but for anglers working up that way north of the line, limits of upper slot trout are being taken. Snook fishing should be good this weekend with good tides as we approach the new moon next Tuesday. Pre-dawn, mid-day, and late afternoon solunar periods will get some good action along with good moving water. Higher tides should push redfish up around barrier mangrove islands and oyster bars near Bayport.

Pompano have been in the catch lately. Shell Key near Fort Desoto has been holding a few of these fish. Anglers have caught them on Doc's Goofy Jigs and the MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr.

FRESHWATER

If bass fishing is your thing, get on the water this weekend. Spawning activity is reported in many of the residential lakes and retention ponds in the West Central Region. An early morning topwater bite has been explosive, with largemouth bass in the 5-pound class blowing up on the Smithwick Devil’s Horse in some of the larger lakes. Bedding bass are being caught on the DOA Sna-Koil rigged on a worm hook. Chatterbaits and Rattletraps are catching a lot of schooling bass. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 723-2655

4Cast - West Central Florida

March 13-15, 2020

By Captain Ray Markham

Anglers have been waiting for weeks for a weather weekend like what’s anticipated for this weekend. Light winds and warm sunny days have been seen this week and should continue through the weekend and into next week. At present, the weather looks clear at least through the middle part of next week.

 

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

It’s been a while since many anglers were able to get offshore due to high winds and rough seas. Much better conditions this week with lighter winds and warmer weather have resulted in cleaner water in nearshore and offshore waters. Anglers report excellent action with hogfish, mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, kingfish, and more species.

The night bite hasn’t been that great but overall the deep water fishing in the Middle Grounds has been terrific for anglers fishing aboard the 39-hour trip out of Hubbard’s Marina in John’s Pass. Good numbers of a variety of snappers, including lanes, mangroves, and vermilions. Red and scamp grouper were caught.

With this stretch of nice weather, you might expect the nearshore fishing to explode. Cobia, Spanish, and king mackerel should all show up at any time. Deepwater wrecks, as well as nearshore artificial reefs with bait schools will see good action.

If you’re looking for some tripletail action, you better get out and hit some of the stone crap trap floats this weekend as the stone crab season closes at midnight on the 15th and traps will be pulled from the water. Some of the swim buoys along the coast have also been holding tripletail if you’re the first to the buoys each day. Live shrimp and small jigs are catching these fish.

INSHORE

Small schools of redfish around Tampa Bay are blowing up both live and artificial baits. An assortment of lures have been effective, including CAL Jigs with Shad tails, Jerk baits, DOA Softshell Crab, DOA Shrimp, MirrOlure Lil’ John, MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. MirrOlure Pro Dog, and Rapala Twitchin’ Mullet. Live pinfish at times, along with Live whitebait, and live shrimp are working well most of the time but cut bait like cut ladyfish, mullet, and pinfish seem to be working best during periods of moving water.

There are quite a few areas holding redfish, according to reports. If you can take the crowds at Weedon Island, there have been a few reports of some action up that way. Near the mouth of Cockroach Bay, anglers reported catching good numbers of reds as well as to the south in Joe and Terra Ceia Bays. Capt. Rick Grassett of Sarasota, fishing out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key reported good action with redfish on CAL Jigs with grub and shad tails as well as flies. His anglers have also been hitting some nice snook at night in the ICW near Venice on flies. Trout action has been picking up in Sarasota Bay too in deep grassy areas.

On the north Suncoast, from Clearwater to Tarpon Springs, good action has been reported with spotted seatrout on Paul Brown Devil soft lures. Upper Tampa Bay reports have scattered seatrout as well as some silver trout east of the Bayou Grande area. Pinellas Point has seen an increase of speckled trout. Boca Ciega Bay action has been picking up with better numbers of trout on CAL Jigs with Shad tails and live shrimp under popping corks.

FRESHWATER

Bass are blowing up lures on the beds right now. Good action with this string of good weather days has been reported in the region. Most area ponds and lakes are producing catches of bass worthy of a quick picture. The Z-Man ChatterBait has been making some noise in the bass circles for anglers fishing edges of weed lines. The Z-Man Chatterbait Jack Hammer has been producing some big fish in the green pumpkin color. A tip to help you get more hook-ups on the bait is to use a side sweeping hook set vs. setting the hook with a straight up hook set.

Crappie fishing remains steady but has slowed somewhat with the warmer weather.

Capt. Angie Douthit of Okeechobee has been putting her clients on some big bass lately. She says the bite has been excellent and if you are looking for big fish, booking a trip for big bass in the Big O, she can put you on fish. For information go to www.southfloridabassfishing.com.

Get out and fish this weekend. The weather is perfect! ‘Til then, I’ll catch ya later.

 

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 723-2655

ray.markham@gmail.com

Backwater Promotions

www.captainraymarkham.com

4Cast - West Central Florida

May 15-17, 2020

By Captain Ray Markham

The weather over the past week has seen some ups and downs in winds and temperatures, but this is normal with seasonal changes. Both the inshore and offshore venues have seen some action that’s been heating up along with the temperatures. Look for some great fishing ahead! But keep an eye on the weather reports for some changes by the weekend with some potential tropical weather.

 

OFFSHORE/ NEARSHORE

Pick your days if you’re heading offshore. Windy days have been off and on lately, causing churned up conditions at times. But when that weather window opens, anglers are finding good action on top and on the bottom. Over the last 50-years, 11% of the days in May have had an East wind, and that wind is typically in the morning. About 9.3% of the days in May have West winds, which usually form as a sea breeze in the afternoons. The average overall wind speed is 7.4 knots, but East winds average 7.6 knots, and West winds average 9.6 knots. Why does this matter? Light East winds coming off the beach will flatten seas and allow water to become clearer, bringing baitfish and the kings that follow them. Winds shifting to the west and increasing in velocity will produce more waves and create more turbulence that makes for more turbid water conditions. So, if clean water attracts kingfish and Spanish mackerel, your best bet might be to fish closer to shore in the morning, and in deeper water later in the afternoon if winds shift to the West.

Trolling spoons and jigs on planers or downriggers are producing some nice king and Spanish mackerel lately. Clean water with plenty of baitfish are the ultimate conditions for most species, and particularly for Spanish and king mackerel, or most any pelagic species that are continuously on the move to feed. On the calmer days when the water cleans up, typically with East winds, you’re probably going to find schools of bait up near the beaches or within a mile or so of them. Depths along our coast a mile or so from shore range from 14-to 20-feet or so. Number 1 planers or flat lines are both good options in this range. Check out bait sizes you’re seeing and match the spoon or jig to the average size baitfish you’re seeing. Mackerel love glass minnows, so a #00 or #0 spoon works well. Some choose silver and some prefer gold spoons, but regardless of which you choose, flash is what seems to turn these fish on. The larger king mackerel prefer larger baitfish ranging from a 4-inch threadfin herring to a 12-inch blue runner and everything in between. When trolling close to passes, many times you’ll find mullet or ladyfish in the area. Both baits can be slow-trolled on stinger rigs for kings.

The Old Salt Fishing Foundation has rescheduled the 2020 Spring King of the Beach Tournament for May 28, 29, 30. Details, further changes, and updates will be posted on their website at oldsaltfishing.org

Lots of anglers are looking forward to June 1 when both gag grouper and red snapper seasons will reopen. Many anglers have been working offshore to see what areas might be holding these fish so when the season opens there won’t be a lot of unproductive areas fished. Dylan Hubbard, of Hubbard’s Marina, says they have reopened for business and are booking trips on the Gulf. Recent trips are catching some monster mangrove snapper and grouper. A big variety of other species are also being caught. For information and booking go to www.hubbardsmarina.com.

Reports continue to come in from anglers catching some big cobia. Bluewater anglers working from 250-to 450-feet of water have caught wahoo, dolphin, blackfin tuna, and African pompano along with some other species.

INSHORE

Boat traffic has been insane lately. With folks being allowed to go fishing or just go boating, finding a boat ramp with an empty parking space has been a real chore. Furthermore, if your plan is to fish, your best bet might be to try and find an area without Jet Skiers and heavy traffic. For anglers who can accomplish this, snook have really been chewing. While the snook fishery catch-and-release only, handle these fish minimally and keep them in the water, if possible while unhooking them. Next Friday’s new moon should produce some banner catches of big fish. Some big linesiders were caught this week from Anclote Key to Sarasota. Many of the largest fish have been caught on whitebait, threadfins, or on cut ladyfish or mullet heads fished on the bottom. Eleven-year-old Richie Kemner of Tampa landed a fat linesider while fishing with Griffin Deans of Slot Machine Charters in lower Tampa Bay.

Tarpon fishing has been hit-and-miss for some, but Capt. Rick Grassett, fishing out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key led fly angler, Vince Sharp, of Sarasota to his first tarpon on fly last week. Windy days usually will put tarpon down and push them offshore, making it very difficult to target them. Next Friday's new moon should produce good conditions for tarpon around the new moon on the 22nd. 

Trout fishing has been improving. We are nearing the time of year when the largest spotted seatrout have come in from the Gulf and will begin moving back offshore. However, continue looking for these big yellowmouth trout in the shallows early in the morning and under low light conditions. Big mullet imitations like the MirrOlure 94MR18 Top Dog have consistently produced some of the biggest trout in the West Central Region. As the sun moves up toward mid-day, look for trout on deeper grass flats around the yellow sand holes. Work the edges of these holes with a DOA Shrimp or CAL Jigs with a Shad tail or the new MirrOlure Marsh Minnow Jr. rigged on a quarter ounce jig head. Anglers tossing plugs have produced some exceptional catches of big trout in the channels. We’ve been crushing big trout on the classic MirrOlure TTR26 as well as the new jointed C-Eye Pro Series C31MR Mullet Brokenback Swimbait from MirrOlure. Crimping barbs on these hooks will aid in an easy release with these lures.

Numbers of flounder being reported slowed over the last week, but there are still some places within our region that anglers are catching excellent numbers of big fish. Most of the productive areas are near passes with some sandy bottom with patches of grass, shell, or hard bottom.

FRESHWATER

Captain Angie Douthit of www.southfloridabassfishing.com reports that between now and the end of June some terrific fishing exists for bluegill, shellcracker, and bass down on Lake Okeechobee. She cautions that the lake level is very low, sitting at 11-feet. This makes navigation very difficult and potentially dangerous for those who don’t fish it often. A guide is an invaluable investment for a productive and safe trip. She recommends fishing on the Kissimmee River where it runs into the lake near the north end. Fish the grass lines, lily pads, and water hyacinths with ultra-light rods with 6-to 8-pound test mono and a small cork for panfish. Red worms and crickets will take them. Bass fishing with live shiners will produce some trophy bass right now too.

There are plenty of opportunities for fishing and safe-distancing, so don’t let it stop you from getting on the water. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later.

Capt. Ray Markham

Backwater Promotions

(941) 723-2655

ray.markham@gmail.com

www.captainraymarkham.com

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Captain Ray Markham

    

    Owner/Operator: Backwater Promotions

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