The Skyway Report, 3/10/2017

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Spring Break is already here at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers and most traditional bites are available for visitors to Florida!  Spanish mackerel are the top choice and the easiest lure in the box might just be the Gotcha Lure!  Do not ignore reef species with the warm water temperatures prevalent in the bay area, because reef species like grunts, porgies and snappers are already in a warmer water / aggressive mode.  Goliath grouper and smaller sharks are the entertainment cast for Spring Break,  as many muscled visitors from the North want a true fight on their hands!  Anglers seeking both fun and the finest fish patties on the Gulf Coast cannot ignore the fantastic late night ladyfish bite on the approach sections of both fishing piers.  Snook are not only open on the Gulf Coast, but the Skyway Piers have been the top location for the first snook for countless anglers over many decades.

Spanish mackerel were somewhat difficult to pattern for die-hard anglers at the piers.  Early and late in the day tides are most productive, but the bite seems like it can change in just a single heartbeat.  Go with Gotcha Lures, silver spoons, white nylon jigs and larger sabiki-style baitfish rigs on the artificial side.  Move often and focus on the best tides that might only occur for a few hours during an incoming or outgoing tidal cycle.  Never assume the mackerel bite is not happening in the Spring – many times this season it has simply been not happening when folks decided to visit.  The most consistent mackerel anglers often fish a morning period – leave – and then fish an evening period as their Entrance Pass allows.

Perhaps one of the most ironic bites at the Skyway Piers is when the large (2 lb. – 5 lb.) ladyfish are available in the evening hours.  Ironic because some of the finest shark and tarpon anglers on the Gulf Coast arrive to fill their bait wells & coolers…  At the same time, some of the finest chefs & cooks that live in the Tampa Bay Region cherish ladyfish as one of the finest fish patty ingredients in all of the marine environment!  Ladyfish love to hit top water plugs and jigs and their large eye gives them incredible sight after darkness falls. Unless you need shark baits (of course they are great) then attempt to distinguish them from the baitfish columns.  Fillet the fish right down the side – freeze the fillet for about one hour – and then scrape the flesh off with a spoon.  Mix in some Panko bread crumbs and your favorite seasoning.  Deep fry and dip in your best sauce – you will never again view this species in the same light.

Snook are perhaps the most exciting inshore gamefish on the Gulf Coast and numbers of nice fish are gathering along the rock walls, reefs and approach sections of each fishing pier.  Free-lining live baits like select shrimp and scaled sardines is one great method.  Never ignore bouncing jigs or casting plugs to these fish – the artificial lure bite is great in this scenario.  Please remember to release all snook outside of the slot limit.  A quick picture and a photo is truly worth more than any fillets a breeding-sized fish could provide.