As the dog days of summer & start of school both arrive in the Tampa Bay region, anglers using warm-water approaches & tactics were rewarded with the greatest success at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. Spanish mackerel have been spotty for much of 2017, but some good bites have occurred over the past several weeks for folks cognizant of times & tides. Mangrove snapper remain strong at night and a few fish continue to be taken during daylight hours. Gag grouper action is good, but short fish seem to outnumber legal fish by a good margin. Some very nice catch-and-release snook have been taken in the shallow sections of both piers using a wide variety of methods. Lane snapper, porgies and Key West grunts joined the reef fishing bite to help add to visitor’s coolers. Pompano have been showing in limited numbers on both sides, but a few nice enough fish were taken to make an attempt worth the time & effort. Finally, large jack crevalle were ravaging baitfish schools in the early morning hours and many visiting anglers connected with an adversary they considered a battle for all times.
The most successful Spanish mackerel anglers this past week preferred the coolest temperatures and the strongest outgoing tides. These two options were not always coexistent this past week and plenty of fish were caught during other times & tides. The largest fish, however, were clearly relating to either a strong outgoing tide or the cooler surface water found early or late in the day at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Baitfish schools seemed to echo the mackerel report as the most baitfish activity was mostly early & late in the day – no matter the tidal cycle. Smaller mackerel were caught literally all day long and for anglers seeking action this was fine entertainment. Most of these smaller fish ranged from 10″ to 13″ and at some times fish were taken on nearly every cast. The larger fish that ranged in the 15″ to 24″ class were much more selective and were mostly taken on outgoing tides later in the day.
A wide variety of approaches were solid for Spanish mackerel this past week and would lead folks to wonder if the bites were simply turning on and off in the summer heat… Silver spoons fished with only a small split-shot sinker in front of the lure were one hot item. Trolling weights & casting bubbles in front of a spoon also took plenty of mackerel, but the covert approach of just a few small sinkers did better this past week. Gotcha lures, shad darts and white nylon jigs also shined on the lead-head front and some fish were even taken with larger sabiki-style baitfish rigs and white striper poppers bounced along the surface. Live & dead natural baits were also quite productive at times. The best way to summarize the mackerel bite this past week was that smaller fish (some legal & some short) were taken at almost all hours & using almost any approach. The larger fish were seeking stronger tides and lower light periods. The chosen baits – whether artificial or natural choices – were not nearly as critical as the fishing period.
Jack crevalle were demolishing baitfish schools at sunrise along the Skyway Piers this past week and many very large jacks were taken. Several sizes of jacks were present – as is often the case with this gregarious species of fish. Jack crevalle most often feed in either large schools or smaller packs of fish. Consider the smaller-member schools like piranhass and the packs like wolves – both are deadly – on the properly-sized prey. Smaller jacks might inhabit schools of hundreds of fish while the largest specimens might hunt in groups of only several dozen. The smaller fish might feed on the same scaled sardines & threadfin herring as the smaller mackerel while the packs might even feed on the smaller mackerel themselves. The goal of both methods is the same – to absolutely wreak havoc on whatever their chosen prey – often boiling the surface or chasing baitfish right into the air in pursuit. All jacks will take both artificial lures and live baits, but surface lures are the most fun to throw and often get the attention of the larger fish. It is unfortunate that jacks are frowned-upon as a food fish in many cultures because they can be great on the table when properly prepared. Keep smaller fish, bleed immediately and remove the red lateral line. With these simple steps, this fish species can be used in most any method of fish cookery.
Pompano made a showing once again at both piers and their approach sections. Like Spanish mackerel, pompano have not been on a predictable bite for most of 2017. However, enough fish in the 14″ – 16″ range were produced this past week to make targeting them worth at least a little devoted-time during a fishing day at the Skyway Piers. Early morning anglers jigging the pilings along the section from the tollbooth to the dumpsters this past week did best on pompano. There were enough short fish, jacks and other assorted species hitting the jigs to make the fishing entertaining. Banana-style swim jigs in the 1/2 oz. to 3/4 oz. size range combined with contrasting teaser flies (either at the jig, on dropper loops or both) were the best choice to connect. If you stick to a combination of both jigs & teasers in chartreuse, yellow, pink and white (with contrasting colors) you have almost everything covered. Using jigs & teasers with the exact same color pattern gives no advantage unless the fish are only keyed on one certain color. Switch colors often and pay attention to whether the bites occur on the teaser versus the jig to maximize your odds.