The water is beginning to warm up and the fishing is getting hot in Tampa Bay. As the water temps creep up, the bait begins to return to the bay and the surrounding flats. Spanish mackerel and kingfish will be soon to follow. Watch for the birds hitting the bait as they begin to surface due to the unseen predation of these kings and Spanish mackerel foraging from underneath. The sight is spectacular with some of the strikes will take the fish skyrocketing into the air from the momentum of the strike. Best wat to prepare kingfish and Spanish mackerel is smoked, fresh from the water as soon as possible. Do not freeze them before cooking as they will become mushy.
When cleaning these fish, try to remove the “blood line” or dark red areas from the fillet. This line will remove strong fishy flavor that many diners don’t care for. Best baits to use to catch these drag screaming fish is obviously live greenbacks but artificial baits work well also. Silver spoons are the second choice for Spanish mackerel and kings. For live bait presentation with kingfish, large threadfins or blue runners will be the bait to choose. These can be caught simply with a sabiki rig around the bridge pilings and markers. Troll these large baits with a stinger rig at vary slow speeds. For the large kings, a good sized ladyfish will work wonders for these “smokers”.
Trout, redfish and snook are still closed in our region but you can still have fun targeting these species for the ultimate inshore slam. Soft plastic jerk baits and jigs with shrimp tipped on the hook will readily bring trout to the boat. Live greenies will most definitely do the trick nicely. You can fish them with 1/0 circle hook with or without a bobber. The inshore seagrasses will begin to reproduce their foliage presence as the springtime continues to come into play. Look for the seagrass areas with some dense foliage and contour change on the bottom.
Current flow is key to these fish so be aware of your tides. If live bait is difficult to come by, don’t waste your morning bite trying to catch bait. Trout are quite readily accepting artificial baits all year long. Shallow water areas you want to use an unweighted jerkbait or a hook setup that has a small weight attached to the hook bend. This will keep the bait up in the water more and better entice a strike. If the water is a little deeper, I typically like a 1/16 ounce jig head so the bait doesn’t dive too quickly into the grass. Garnish the jig with a soft plastic swim bait that closely resembles a greenback, sardine or pinfish color.
Redfish will be readily found working the mangrove lines and oyster bars. Gold spoons work well as a broadcast bait around these areas and redfish will aggressively take the spoons with hungry vigor. Broadcast term refers to the active method of fishing with lots of casting around the mangroves and bars. The passive method is reserved to live bait where you cast and wait to ambush the reds as they forage around these areas. Live bait, by way of shrimp, pinfish or greenbacks, is a great approach to this method. Redfish are very much driven by scent so when rigging your baits, use a 1/0 circle hook and trim the tails off these baits to increase scent released in the water to draw these fish in to range.
Snook will be moving into the typical springtime haunts and moving out of the creeks and canals that aid in keeping these fish warmer in the winter cold. Look for areas with good current flow, especially around points and deep pockets. Greenies are a solid bait for these fish but snook will take artificial baits as well. Topwater lures work great during the early morning and late evening light. Mirodine mirror lures, in the suspending models, work great during the rest of the day. Soft plastics work also. Jerk baits and jigs cast up in the mangrove points and pockets will encourage a solid strike from these linesiders.