Captain’s Corner for February 13 Dave Zalewski 397-8815 It appears that we can expect an early Spanish mackerel and kingfish season this year. Both of the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers are reporting daily catches of Spanish mackerel. Schools of baitfish of all sizes are beginning to show up both at bridges and offshore. The best indicator is the water temperature which this year has never dipped into the 50’s and now is currently hovering around the 65 degree mark. St Patrick’s Day (March 17) is when we traditionally see trolling season kick into high gear targeting cobia, kingfish, mackerel and bonita. Tip: Now is the time to carefully inspect trolling tackle. Tackle repair shops are not that busy and can give prompt attention to repairs. Rod guides should be checked for burrs and cracks that may not be readily visible by running a piece of nylon stocking through them. The stocking will hang up on the smallest of imperfection. Drags can be checked for smoothness by tying the line to a fixed object and pulling against it. Bottom fishing has been exceptional in the 40 to 60 foot depths. Grouper season (both red and gag) is closed and we have been targeting white grunts, mangrove snapper, trigger fish and sea bass on light tackle. These fish inhabit the same limestone bottom structure as grouper. When the grouper strike on the tackle used for the smaller reef fish it is definitely a challenge to the angler to land the fish for a photo and release moment. Tip: Deploy a live or frozen sardine on a flatline on every bottom stop. One or two kingfish have been striking on most days.
Captain’s Corner for Jan 13 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
Catch and release trolling for large gag grouper is as good as it can get right now in almost any area in the 30 to 40 foot depths that contains ledges and limestone outcroppings. We have been devoting a portion of our trips to this method and have had very positive response from our clients, especially those that have brought children or grandchildren. Trolling large lipped plugs or plugs behind a #3 planer brings the fish away from the structure and makes it possible for a younger person to experience the joy of catching a large grouper that would have been almost impossible to pull away from the bottom structure if conventional bottom fishing methods were employed.
Although there are a few mackerel and kingfish around water temperatures have dropped to the point where it does not pay to spend a lot of time fishing for them. We have been concentrating on anchoring and bottom fishing for white grunts, grouper, triggerfish, sea bass and mangrove snapper. On our family trips we have been equipping the youngsters with lighter tackle and 2 hook snapper rigs with the sinker below the hooks baited with squid strips. The activity often is non stop because of the smaller hooks and it is not unusual for the adults to ask that their rods be rigged the same way when they see how much fun this light tackle bottom fishing can be.
Tip: Use 2/0 or 3/0 2x hooks because the larger fish will be brought into the area because of the activity and can easily straighten a small wire hook.
Captain’s Corner for June 13 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
Our six hour trips have given families with children to experience all of the world class fishing that our area has to offer. On a typical day we will leave the dock with Frozen sardines and squid in the bait cooler and stop about 1 1/2 miles out into the gulf over a patch of limestone bottom to fish for pinfish, squirrelfish, Spanish sardines and threadfins with #6 or #8 sabiki rigs weighted with a 3 ounce sinker. The heavier weight is used to help prevent tangling the line when multiple baits are hooked. Using a small piece of squid tentacle on the 2 lower hooks will help to insure the bite from the bottom dwellers and the other hooks will produce the other free swimming baits. On most days it is difficult to get the kids to stop catching bait as they get so excited by the bait themselves and feeling the wiggle on the end of the rod.
Trolling the near shore and mid water artificial reefs has consistently yielded Spanish mackerel, some kingfish, barracuda and bonita. Using #1 planers and small spoons with at least 20 feet of 40 # leader has been the key to success. Using the smaller terminal tackle allows us to downsize rod and reel to 20 or 30 pound class which is much easier and comfortable for our younger anglers.
Bottom fishing has been outstanding in 60 feet of water for both our younger clients and their parents with virtually non-stop action from white grunts, red grouper, triggerfish, and catch and release gag grouper. A 2/0 double hook rig will keep the young ones busy while the parents and grandparents can employ conventional tackle for the larger fish.
Captain’s Corner for September 13 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
For years we have proudly called ourselves the “trashmen” of the Gulf of Mexico because we have stopped to pick up, return to shore and properly dispose of floating debris found offshore. Some of our finds have been lengths of line ranging in size from crab trap line to large pieces of hawser discarded by a tug or freighter, plastic swimming floats, skim boards, bags of trash, fuel tanks and mylar balloons. Probably the most deadly of these to the environment is the balloons. The printing wears off and soon the balloon resembles a jellyfish floating in the water. Endangered sea turtles dine on jellyfish and are not able to distinguish a balloon from a jellyfish. Ingestion of a balloon can result in death to the turtle by interrupting the digestive process.
As the days get shorter more and more anglers are beginning their run offshore before the sun gets up. This makes it difficult to see a line floating on or just below the surface. Entangling a line in a propeller at best will result in a loss of fishing time while the line is removed or at worst the destruction of a lower unit or bending of a shaft or strut which will result in the costly loss of another day.
One of the benefits of stopping to pick up trash is that one never knows what bonus may be lurking near the debris. Recently we have been rewarded with tripletail (found on a piece of plastic chair), cobia (near a skim board) and small mahi-mahi (near a plastic gas tank that we had watched several boats run past).
Tip: It pays to throw out a small handful of cut pieces of sardine when stopping to pick up trash especially if the water is 80 feet or deeper. The small dolphin are sometimes spooked by the boat and will not be visible, but will come running to the chum.
Captain’s Corner for 12-29-12 Dave Zalewski
Santa Claus came early last week and left some great gifts offshore. The South County artificial reef, nearby “Betty Rose” wreck, and the ledges and hard bottom areas produced banner catches of Spanish mackerel, kingfish, catch, photo, and release gag grouper along with enough keeper red grouper and white grunts for fresh fish dinners with some left over for the freezer. The ledges in this area have been providing some exciting trolling for gag grouper in the 30 inch range. We have tried many combinations trolling for gags, but have settled on two combinations. A #3 planer on a 50# class outfit using a 30 foot length of 60# leader with either a gold broken backed hard bodied lure or a large jig head with either a shad or curly tailed soft plastic tail have produced consistent catches. Drags must be set at the point where there is just enough pressure to prevent slippage when trolling at 5 to 5 ½ knots because if set tighter the brute force of the strike will result in snapped lines.
It was not rocket science to realize that not all of our kingfish had left our area for warmer water and switch one of our rigs to a #2 planer, large spoon combination after we caught several kingfish on the grouper tackle. Mixed in with the kings were large Spanish mackerel. This last cold front may have forced the migratory fish out of our area , but it will not hurt to spend some time trolling to see if there are any of these pelagic fish left in our area.
Captain’s Corner for July 11 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
On several recent trips we have returned with colorful boxes of fish which included dolphin (mahi-mahi), yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, and red grouper. All of these species have been caught in the 80 to 90 foot depth range either while targeting red grouper or on the way. The dolphin have been attracted to the boat because of the protection it affords and mostly because while bottom fishing copious amounts of chum are released by the loss of baits and the expelling of stomach contents caused by the pressure change when fish are reeled to the surface. Whenever they are seen either chasing a bait or a hooked fish being prepared is the key to success. These fish are 2 to 3 pounds and have correspondingly small mouths, so small 1/0 or 2/0 long shanked gold hooks should be used tied directly to an 8 to 10 pound class spinning outfit. A pair of scissors for cutting a frozen sardine into thin slices should be at hand when the fish are spotted. These small slices will serve to tease the fish, remain near the surface and not fill them up. Using chunks of chum will often fill them up or the chum will sink rapidly drawing the dolphin into the depths and out of the strike zone. The use of the above mentioned hooks serves two purposes, the first is that the long shank helps to prevent swallowing of the hook. The second is that many times the aggressive strike of the fish will strip the bait from the hook. When these fish are feeding we have observed many times their willingness to strike the flash of the gold hook as it is being reeled in to rebait .Most of our yellowtails have been caught by use of a 2/0 circle hook rigged “knocker style” with a small sliding sinker and a chunk of frozen Spanish sardine just large enough to cover the hook.
Captain’s Corner for June 10 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
It appears that we may have a great summertime fishery for Kingfish just like we had in 2008. Looking back at some trip records from that period revealed that we had a population of kingfish that stayed in our area for the entire summer instead of continuing their migration to the Panhandle. Here it is June and we have been able to target kingfish in several areas instead of them being an incidental catch while bottom fishing. The 10 Fathom curve (60 feet of water) with its numerous ledges, jumbled rock areas and wrecks is holding the majority of the bait and kings.
Many of the fish that we are catching have been below the surface, halfway to the bottom or deeper picking off stragglers from the huge bait piles of Spanish sardines, hardtails and blue runners. Catching the bait with sabiki rigs using a 3 or 4 ounce sinker to prevent these larger baits from tangling the rig has been relatively easy. Presenting the baits is a little more complex. Downriggers can be used with a clip near the weight to present a bait near the bottom. A 2 to 4 ounce trolling weight can be used to present a bait in the mid range and a nose hooked bait can be deployed on the surface. A stinger rig should be used no matter what depth one is fishing. Initial light drag settings should be employed to prevent break offs on the strike.
Always slow troll around the bait piles with the lines far enough out so that they will pass through the bait instead of the boat which will tend to separate the bait into smaller schools.. These bait piles may not be visible from the surface, so place close attention to your depth finder to locate sub surface schools.
Captain’s Corner for March 31 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
The big decision that had to be made at the beginning of each trip offshore before the cold fronts blew through was what species to target. Spanish mackerel were abundant near every inlet emptying into the gulf, and were eager to feed on both live and artificial baits. On most days all it took was the presence of one or two diving terns to indicate that a school of mackerel was under the surface. Until last weekend baitfish were very small and the use of a 00 or 0 spoon was mandated. Large baitfish arrived in numbers over the weekend and trying different sizes of spoons became necessary to “match the hatch”
Kingfish arrived in scattered schools and some were caught in all the usual spots such as the mid-water artificial reefs , wrecks and the markers at the western end of the shipping channel. Cobia were spotted at many of these same locations but were hesitant to take anything offered to them. The clear water allowed us to see barracuda in the water over several high profile structures. Historically they show up about a week or two before the concentrations of kingfish arrive and will not strike anything until then.
Bottom fishing continues to be outstanding in the 40 to 60 foot depths for all species. Because of the grouper closure we have been directing efforts towards light tackle white grunt, triggerfish , sea bass, porgy and triggerfish activity. Catch photo and release grouper have been a welcome addition to the activity and beginning April 1 some of these will end up in the fish box. Red grouper will be open in both State and Federal waters and gag grouper will be open only in State waters. State waters extend up to 9 miles offshore.
Captain’s Corner for March 27 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
Even though red grouper season will open on April 1, it will be hard to stop fishing for Spanish mackerel and kingfish. We are experiencing one of the best spring kingfish runs in recent years. Frank Bellamy could not have picked a better day to invite some friends from Georgia to experience our spring time fishing. We started trolling at the Treasure Island artificial reef with a spread of 31 and 2 planers followed by both large and small spoons along with a locally manufactured hard bodied bait normally used for inshore fishing on a flat line on the surface. Because of the extremely clean water planer leaders were downsized to 40 pound test and lengthened to 25 feet. Action was fast and furious as soon as lines were deployed with bait and fish hanging close to the high profile structures scattered throughout the reef.
Many of the kingfish were just under the 24 inch minimum fork length limit, so the next stop was the South County reef hoping for larger fish. Kingfish and large Spanish mackerel were caught on almost every pass over the 3 barges and the tug “Orange” that were sunk to provide the high profile structure that proves so attractive to baitfish and their predators.
The last stop for the day was offshore in 70 feet of water to give the party some catch, photo and release grouper action along with light tackle white grunt fishing. The stinger rigged flatline with a dead sardine produced several of the largest kingfish of the day. After the kingfish were attracted to the area by the commotion caused by the bottom fishing several were caught by casting that same hard bodied bait and retrieving it with a twitch bait action to simulate a wounded baitfish.
The day was summed up when one of the guests stated “ How are we going to go back home and wait for the bobber to twitch after this”
Captain’s Corner for March 16 Dave Zalewski 397-8815
St. Patrick’s Day (March 17) and Columbus Day (October 10) are the two holidays that signify the usual start of the Spring and Fall kingfish runs. The 2011 Fall kingfish run was disappointing for Tamps Bay anglers. This Spring season is a little ahead of schedule because of the mild winter and almost perfect water temperatures in our area and is promising to be one of the best in recent years. Kingfish, Spanish mackerel and bonita can be found in schools of various sizes from within 100 yards of shore near any of the passes entering into the gulf out to the 10 Fathom depths. .
On most recent trips we have mackerel fished using #1 planers and #1 spoons in the area just outside the swim buoys between John’s Pass and Pass-a- Grille.
There are many juvenile kingfish mixed in with the Spanish mackerel. Spanish Mackerel have to be 12 inches fork length. King mackerel have to be 24 inches fork length. Fork length is measured from the tip of the nose to the fork in the tail. King mackerel have a lateral line that starts high and drops sharply below the second dorsal fin. Spanish mackerel have a lateral line that curves gently to the base of the tail.
The forty and 60 foot depths have both proved productive for our kingfish attempts, with both trolling #1 and #2 planers with larger spoons or slow trolling with live sardines or hardtails.
On a recent trip the kingfish almost became a nuisance while bottom fishing. A stinger rigged flat line with a dead sardine cast out and retrieved with an inshore “walk the dog” action resulted in multiple hookups.