Skyway Report, Paul Bristow 4/22/2016

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Yet another week of ‘tourism board’ weather at the mouth of Tampa Bay made for several noteworthy bites at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers.  Snook have become aggressive along the shallow approach sections of the piers.  Spotted seatrout are being taken on both the approach sections and in the bait shop areas of both piers.  Spanish mackerel were once again spotty at some times and feeding better at other times.  Snapper remain on a fantastic night bite and big fish are being taken on a nightly basis.  Sharks of many sizes and varieties continue to cruise the pier spans in search of an easy meal, and tarpon numbers continue to increase towards fish being present on almost every group of lighted pilings.

As snook transition from springtime to summer in the Tampa Bay region, plenty of linesiders often show up at the Skyway Piers.  The fantastic tidal flow and mixture of sand & rock bottom near both tollbooths make for great habitat for snook of all sizes.  Free-lining a scaled sardine, threadfin herring or pigfish is great for most of the fish, but the real monsters seem to prefer a large live ladyfish.  It is easy to procure all the bait you will need for a night of snookin’ before sundown and then move to the shallows when the pier lights illuminate the area.  Anglers that prefer the artificial lure game should not be dissuaded – snook will actively strike jigs fished in this same area.  White bucktails & soft plastic combinations in the 1/4 oz. to 3/4 oz. range are ideal.  Use the smallest weight the tidal cycle will allow and probe the bottom with quick bounces to trigger strikes.  Do not be surprised if a flounder, trout or tarpon gets in on the action.

Spotted seatrout were on a reliable bite all week long, with many groups of anglers taking a limit of these great eating fish at the piers.  Although trout are typically thought of as a grass flats native, the Skyway Piers seem to attract some trout on a year-round basis.  While most fish are taken along the shallower approaches to each pier, there are many trout taken around the bait shop and end sections as well.  Trout seem quite comfortable relating to both the artificial reefs that line the piers and also to the pier pilings themselves.  Most trout taken here well exceed the minimum legal size limit, and a true trophy fish is always possible.  Free-lining or bottom bouncing a small pinfish was one great method this past week.  Dragging a jig with your favorite soft plastic tail along the bottom is another good way to connect.

Spanish mackerel were spotty this past week, and seemed to prefer live or freshly cut baits over artificial lures.  The pier method for live or strip baits is simple and deadly effective.  A size 1/0 or 2/0 long shank hook is matched with an 18″ – 24″ fluorocarbon or monofilament leader in the 15 lb. – 25 lb. range.  Split-shot sinkers are used for depth control and a float is used if fish are near the surface.  Baits need to be let out with the tide – whether incoming or outgoing – in order to be fished most effectively.  On outgoing tides, the entire pier span is fishable.  On incoming tides, anglers must focus on the sections where the closed (bay side) span have been removed.  Lively fluttering baits attract mackerel, but so does a strip (belly) portion allowed to flutter in the tide.  Keep baits lively with a bucket & aerator system and transfer your dead baits to a cooler with ice for use as cut bait.

Tarpon numbers are excellent at the piers right now, and visiting anglers have a great shot at hooking multiple fish in one visit.  Plenty of tarpon can be hooked during the day by free-lining large pinfish, sardines or herring.  At night, many anglers switch to white or glow bucktail jigs in the 1 oz. to 2 oz. range.  The jigs are ripped along the shadow line, and fish will often charge out from the cover of the pier to strike.  Heavy spinning tackle is best for jig fishing and conventional tackle is more appropriate for live bait presentations.  Many fish are lost on the first series of jumps, but that does not dampen the excitement!