The Skyway Report by Paul Bristow

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Anglers fishing around the storms, the best tides and peak time frames had the most success at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers this past week.  Small Spanish mackerel, jacks and pompano were all had in the early morning hours, but some much nicer-sized fish of these species were taken during late afternoon & early evening time frames.  Mangrove snapper continued on a great night bite, but some anglers were able to take some nice mangos even during the heat of the day.  Snook were common catches along the approach sections and open to harvest in the Tampa Bay region on September 1st.  Tarpon have once again become common and predictable targets for anglers fishing the shadow lines after dark.  Nice blacktip sharks continue to provide both action and steaks for the grill for anglers who seek these toothy-critters.  The Skyway Piers are a great place to spend quality family time over a holiday weekend like Labor Day!

Many mornings this past week saw small Spanish mackerel taking artificial lures right around sunrise.  A few schools of jack crevalle also joined this early morning bite.  Anglers targeting Spanish mackerel later in the day had success with larger specimens and some even reported taking a limit of fish.  As always, some fish were taken on artificial lures like silver spoons & Gotcha plugs.  Smaller mackerel also often attacked sabiki-style rigs of anglers seeking baitfish.  However, the greatest degree of success on larger fish in the 18″ – 20″ size class were mostly taken by free-lining cut strip baits on long shank hooks.

Using cut strips is not only one of the simplest methods to catch mackerel at the piers, but also one of the most effective.  Scaled sardines or threadfin herring can be purchased, netted or caught with sabiki-style baitfish rigs.  Baitfish need not be kept alive, but should be kept fresh on ice.  Use a scissor to cut the belly portion (resembling a white canoe) or the back portion into a long and slender chunk.  Use a 1/0 or 2/0 long shank hook and 25 lb. or 30 lb. monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.  Free-line this simplistic bait out with the tide and simply let it flutter in place.  A split-shot sinker can be used for depth or a float for surface feeding.  Rods can even be placed in rod holders on a medium-light drag and many mackerel will hook themselves.

Mangrove snapper remained the best nighttime alternative for anglers seeking some of the finest eating fish in Tampa Bay.  Mangos this past week were fat and plentiful, with some anglers reporting a limit of 12″ – 14″ fish over a few hours of fishing.  Live or freshly frozen shrimp, sardines or herring were top baits and a few fish in the 18″ size range were reported by anglers free-lining small pinfish.  Anglers are fishing the artificial reefs on the outgoing tide and pier or main bridge pilings on the incoming tide.  Some daytime fish were caught underneath the pier itself.

Snook are a great option along the approach sections and many anglers reported catching plenty of linesiders – mostly in the overnight & early morning hours.  Free-lining scaled sardines was the most productive method this past week.  Anglers led their baits along pier and main bridge pilings and also along the rock rubble retaining walls.  While sardines will likely catch the most snook, a live ladyfish deployed in these same areas might give the best shot for a trophy.  Casting jigs & plugs for snook at the piers can also be a very effective method.