SPRING IS IN THE AIR
Happy spring, let the good times reel! This is a very exciting time for all of us interested in Florida saltwater fishing — Tampa Bay game fish, in particular. There’s so much information to cover on spring fishing that our discussion will continue in the next issue.
Now that we have arrived, let’s talk bait. Shrimp is still very effective, and we have been using it all winter. It also would be conducive to set your sights on attaining live bait fish. This would include sardines, which are popular and widespread. Pinfish, small mullet and creek chubs will do the trick as well. You can catch these baits yourself or purchase them at your local beach shop. Alternatively, here’s a captain’s hint. Boat ramps all over Tampa Bay usually have anglers coming in between noon and 1 p.m. These folks are very generous when it comes to giving away their leftover bait if you ask politely.
If you choose to get your own bait, you need just a cast net and chum. I would recommend at least an 8 foot, ¼-inch mesh cast net, and chum can be made with a simple mixture of a couple cans of jack mackerel and a loaf of bread. Anglers who want to take their chum process to the next level would want to purchase a bag of Purina chum, which can be found at feed stores and Ace Hardware.
Where is the bait? If you are flats fishing and have a boat that can get onto one of the many flats surrounding Tampa Bay, scout around a little bit until you see some bait. Then, drop anchor and start chumming. If you have a deep water boat and would prefer to stick to the deeper water, almost every range marker in Tampa Bay is holding sardines. Do not be discouraged by the size of the bait. The old saying, “big bait, big fish” is just not true. It’s more like, “Elephants eat peanuts.” We use small baits when we get small baits. This usually occurs when the hatch happens during a full moon — hence one of the most important bait analogies, “Match the hatch.”
Onto species! Winter species will still be around as we move through spring, including sheepshead and bonnetheads. Both make for excellent eating with legal bag limits. Arriving and thriving are the three game fish that every Tampa Bay angler seeks: snook, redfish and trout. If you were to catch all three of these in one day, you can proudly say you achieved the Tampa Bay Slam. Other species to be on the lookout for include Spanish mackerel, bluefish, cobia, tripletail, blacktip and bull sharks. All of these species will be crashing baits all over Tampa Bay. Keep your eye out for flocks of white birds diving at the water’s surface; this is usually an indication there are game fish pushing the bait up for an easy meal for the birds.
One last very important tip: Carry a pre-rigged standard medium-size set-up rod and reel with a gold spoon, attached to a short piece of wire leader, that’s then attached to your regular 20- to 25-pound leader. These fast fish are on the move, pushing bait to the surface, and they cannot resist a gold spoon! Again, hook time is the name of the game. Stop wishing and go fishing! I hope you have the very best results. Stay tuned for session two in our next issue.
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