The Skyway Report, Paul Bristow

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As what is most likely this Spring’s last serious cold front pushed out of the Tampa Bay Region, many pelagic & resident species continued to push into the Skyway Fishing Piers.  Even the high winds at the arrival of the frontal system did not dissuade anglers or fish – as many Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle & blue runners were caught right in the midst of the blow.  Visitors to the piers in a non-fishing role over their Spring Break travels got one heck of a dolphin tale to tell back home as many (including your author) watched these intelligent aquatic mammals bat jacks into the air like beach balls!  The sheepshead bite remained fairly strong and some other porgies and snappers joined in the mix.  Snook were becoming more aggressive as they cruised the shallow rock walls along the approach sections.  Finally, cobia (singles and schools) are being reported and hooked by visitors, with several very large fish being hooked & lost to break offs…

The Spanish mackerel bite remained fairly strong – even during the worst waves & wind of the passing frontal system.  With the end of the high winds and the return of warmer temperatures, look for the mackerel bite to kick into high gear due to massive baitfish schools and clearer waters.  Gotcha lures, spoons and jigs all took fish this past week, but natural cut baits stole the show with both numbers of fish and some real sea monsters.  Many mackerel in excess of 22″ were reported this past week, and even a few fish in the 25″ to 27″ range were taken.  Yes, this is almost like a small king mackerel at this point, and indeed some anglers did report early kingfish sightings.  The cut bait method is amongst the simplest fishing methods to use at the Skyway Piers…

Gather some 1/0 – 2/0 long shank hooks, 25 lb. – 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader, split-shot sinkers and some bubble or weighted casting floats.  Procure scaled sardines or threadfin herring with a cast net or a baitfish rig.  Keep the bait on ice in a zipper bag in a nearby cooler and use a kitchen shears to cut the white belly section (it will look like a canoe) out of the baits.  Hook this offering at one end and send it out with the tide.  Use split-shot sinkers, bubble floats or casting floats to adjust the depth to where you believe the most mackerel are feeding.  Let your cut bait flutter & dart in the tide on a medium-light drag setting and most fish will simply hook themselves – whether the rod is in your hand or in a rod holder.

Plenty of nice snook are now being spotted & caught near the entrance sections to both fishing piers.  The rock walls that align each pier approach section are ideal for spring snook in transition from backwaters & rivers into gulf & beach spawning locations.  The rock walls provide both warmth (through radiation) and high levels of baitfish concentration.  Free-lining scaled sardines or shrimp in this area with 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader material and a 2/0 or 3/0 black nickel octopus-style or circle hook is one tried-and-true method.  Casting jigs and plugs is another great option – especially after dark when these fish seem to get more aggressive in their hunting patterns.

Cobia were both spotted & hooked by many visitors over the past week.  Schools of 4 to 6 fish were common – with the traditional breakdown of one much larger fish and several smaller members swimming on the outside.  Cobia sightings and landings will occur often enough at the piers over the next few months that it is worthwhile for visiting anglers to keep one outfit ready to play this game.  Rig a medium spinning or casting rod with 20 lb. – 30 lb. main line and 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader material.  Consider either a white 1/2 oz. to 1 oz. buck tail jig or octopus-style 7/0 black nickel hook for your terminal connection.  You can add a traditional Florida freshwater bass fishing worm in purple or black to the jig or leave it empty for a pinfish to be attached.  The plain hook can take any legal live bait option you happen to procure during your fishing session – just keep it alive in a bucket nearby the rod.  Make your throw about 6 to 8 feet ahead of the brown clown and bring it into their sight.  More often than not you should get ready for an instant battle with one of the Gulf’s finest eating & fighting fish!