While February and March were pretty slow months, things are looking up. No more cold fronts in the forecast, so the bait should make a strong showing soon. Some glass minnows are already hanging around structure in south St. Pete Beach. Reports have pompano at the jetty and the small beach in Pass-A-Grille, while snook are feeding and macks are starting to show. There are still a few small flounder in the shallows. Yesterday, my friend Tim nailed a beautiful slot snook at Merry Pier, and I landed a nice black drum.
OK, yeah, been a little slow in posting updates. But, fishing has been a little slow, too. The redfish, flounder and black drum from November through January disappeared, and February was… VERY slow. But, finally, we’ve strung together a nice spell of warm days, and the fishing is picking back up. Last weekend, Allen managed to wrestle an over-the-slot redfish from under Merry Pier on a jumbo live shrimp. I’m getting reports of Spanish mackerel showing up offshore, sheepshead on the bridges, and pompano in the passes. Bait remains offshore and to the south, but it won’t be long. A few highlights from the last month:
Had a great weekend – despite cooler temperatures and low tides, the fish were biting. Jumbo live shrimp tossed under the Merry Pier yielded redfish, black drum and even a flounder! The redfish were all at the top of the slot, and hits were pretty tentative – the fish would simply inhale the shrimp and slowly swim off. FYI, small black drum are excellent, so long as you trim all of the darker meat off the fillets. Dredge in butter, coat with blackening seasoning, and toss in a smoking hit pan. Turn frequently to prevent burning, and serve with drawn butter. Awesome!
Fishing, like the weather, has been hot and cold. On the rumor front, word has it that a “20+ pound” gag grouper was taken from under Merry Pier, along with a smaller 24″ fish. Since the close of grouper season, I have not targeted them, so maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Flounder seem to be winding down. There are still keepers around, but most seem to be around 12″, too small to keep. They run in waves – 4 or 5 will be caught in the space of a few minutes, then nothing for a couple hours (or more).
Redfish continue to bite. My brother Allen has been slaying them. He has caught fish over the slot, under the slot, and at the top of the slot.
Here it is, already December. The mangrove snapper have almost entirely moved on, except for the occasional one or two. Grouper season has ended, with very few in evidence (although they’ll probably be EVERYWHERE now that the season is over). Snook have sought warmer waters. Cobia are nowhere to be seen. So, what IS biting?
Flounder. Nice ones. And, when they turn on, lots of them. Soft plastics bumped slowly along the bottom are accounting for the most fish, although a big live shrimp will work too, if it can survive the puffer onslaught. Most of the fish are very solid at 16″ to 20″. I have not yet seen a true ‘doormat’ landed, but I suspect it won’t be long.
At Merry Pier is South St. Pete Beach, redfish have again moved in to the boat slips and under the pier. Most seem to be below or above the slot limits, but my brother landed a sweet 26″ red on Sunday.
Seems we’ve had two substantial cold fronts over the last two weekends. While it should serve to drive the flounder and grouper into our bays, it makes for challenging fishing conditions. It’s been a little hit and miss for me. A small snook here, a flounder there, and a few small grouper and snapper mixed in. The highlight was last Saturday, when at least 20 keeper flounder were landed at Merry Pier, along with some smaller throwbacks. There were even a few slot and oversize redfish in the mix.
Snapper are moving out – fast. We managed a dozen or so this weekend, with a single legal fish. That’s OK, though. As the water cools, the fishing is changing rapidly. I got a nice 15 pound black drum over the weekend. Great eating – just like redfish, if you remember to remove the bloodline. And my brother landed a quality 28″ gag grouper. There were plenty of short grouper too, along with a few small snook, and a couple of short flounder. Bait was abundant and large on Saturday, but had mostly moved out Sunday. that’s how quick things can change this time of year!
The big surprise came Sunday as Roger was using a Sabiki rig for pinfish. He got a few Lane snapper, then, lo and behold, a YELLOWTAIL SNAPPER! First one I’ve ever seen in Boca Ciega Bay in St. Pete Beach. You never know what fishing here will bring.
Wow = almost October. Yes, I’ve been a little lax in updates, but it has been because of my crazy schedule, and not from a lack of fishing. In fact, I’ve managed to wet a line at least a few hours every weekend since my last update. At the Merry Pier, the story has been snapper. Snapper, snapper and more snapper. Big ones, medium ones and a few little ‘uns. Most days I have managed a limit of big ones (12″ to 18″ fish) after 2-3 hours of fishing. But, over the last couple of weeks, the snapper bite has started to cool off. They’re still around, and some are really big, but they’ve slowed down and thinned out as the migration offshore has begun. I suspect there will be a few lingering for the next few weeks.
There is still a ton of bait around, mostly still small stuff. Pinfish and spotail pins are making there presence felt for anyone using shrimp.
Cobia are around, and while not reliable, I have seen at least one caught every weekend. So far, Juan scored the only keeper; most are running 25″ to 32″.
Gag grouper are picking up. I am still hunting my first keeper of the season, but I’ve landed lots of shorts. And I have seen pictures of quality fish to 30″ from the last week or two,
I am optimistic about flounder season, which is just a cold front or two away. Lots of flounder have been showing, but they’re all running very small. A good front, one that drops the water temperature by at least a couple degrees should bring the big fish inshore.
I love this time of year! Big snapper are everywhere, and they’re hungry. I catch most of mine at the Merry Pier in St. Pete Beach, Florida. Here’s how:
Tackle: I use a Star rod and Penn reel spooled with 25 lb. Spiderwire. Terminal tackle consists of a 2 foot section of 30 pound fluorocarbon leader, a #1 offset circle hook, and a swivel. Above the swivel is a sliding egg sinker – the size depends on the current at that time. Be aware that there may be other fish lurking among the mangos, including redfish, snook, grouper, flounder and black drum, so better to be prepared just in case.
Bait: Live shrimp. The bigger, the better. I have had good luck with whitebait, greenbacks and silver Jenny’s, but nothing beats a live shrimp, hooked through the horn so it can kick freely. If the water is murky, I may tail hook them.
Techniques: Snapper love moving water. Incoming or outgoing tide doesn’t seem to matter, although high tide is better than low tide. Keep in mind that the snapper will be facing into the current, so float your shrimp back to them. They may be underneath the Pier, anywhere from the seawall out to the end, and they can also be found among the rocks and structure on the northeast side of the Pier.
The Payoff: You are allowed to keep up to five mangrove snapper per person, per day. The minimum size is 10″ overall (yes, you can ‘pinch’ the tail), but I suggest throwing back anything less than a foot. There are plenty pf smaller fish, but the big ones are there too. I have limited out every weekend for the last month, with 12″ to 18″ fish. Mangrove snapper are excellent blackened, fried, and sauteed. They freeze well if you have a vacumn sealer (and you should have one).