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Seek clear water for bottom fishing as temperatures plummet



The great weather, calm seas and exceptional fishing we experienced at the end of November and beginning of December came to a screeching halt with the cold front that came through. Surface water temperatures plummeted from an unseasonable 71 degrees to 61 almost overnight, shocking both baitfish and their predators. Gulf waters near shore were the color of chocolate milk, and it was not much better 10 miles offshore. When winds and seas subside and we can venture offshore, we will try some trolling, but expectations will not be high. We will concentrate on bottom fishing in whatever depth the water begins to clear up, likely 60 feet. The grouper and assorted snapper we target will be hungry and feeding on anything available. Because of turbid water caused by settling silt, baits that have some smell will be best. Cut frozen sardines and threadfins, squid and cut bait along with heavy chumming with small pieces of the same baits being used will result in success. After cold fronts come through, there is often debris on the surface. The right thing to do is pick it up and dispose of it on land, and this often ends up with the bonus of a tripletail. When sighted under the object, a live shrimp flylined on a 1/0 circle hook will usually end in a strike. The next bait of choice is the head of a squid with its tentacles pitched in front of the fish.

Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.

Fishing will return to normal, but when?



The severity of this cold front will determine the fishing forecast for the next several days. Bait that had been abundant inshore will scatter. Nearshore gulf waters will muddy, and water temperatures. at least temporarily. will plummet. How cold, how windy and for how long will hold the answers to our questions. How far will we need to travel to find clean water? Where will bait bunch back up first? Will rapidly declining water temperatures push kingfish out of range? When conditions settle, look for shallow-water grouper firing back up where they left off. We’ve caught some big ones and lost some bigger ones fishing the edges of the shipping channel inside Tampa Bay. Mangrove snapper were chewing well coming off last week’s full moon in 45 feet, and I expect them to be waiting on us when we can get back to them. Kingfish have been our bycatch while bottom fishing. Fly-lined baits in our chum slick had provided nonstop action. Though many of the kings have been “schoolies,” there have been some good ones mixed in. There’s little doubt some will move on, seeking better conditions. Others will hang around.

Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.

FWC charges 3 in connection to shark dragging video


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office announced charges against three individuals connected to a video of a shark being dragged behind a boat at high speed. The charges resulted from a four-month long investigation into the video and other disturbing images on social media involving shocking disregard for Florida’s natural resources.

“As we’ve said since this video and other images came to light, these actions have no place in Florida, where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone,” said Commission Chairman Bo Rivard. “We appreciate the patience and support of the public as our law enforcement investigators worked with the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office to identify a number of serious violations that will be brought to the courts for adjudication. It is our hope these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated.”

“The State Attorney’s Office is committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty. We thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their work in investigating these crimes, and we stand with them, along with Florida’s fishing and hunting communities, and all those who cherish our precious natural resources, in condemning the torture of our marine wildlife,” said Andrew H. Warren, State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit.

During the course of the investigation, FWC officers confirmed numerous criminal violations, resulting in felony and misdemeanor charges. Investigators conducted exhaustive research into the suspects’ social media activity, conducted numerous interviews and spoke with a number of subject matter experts on sharks.
The public can help by reporting suspected violations to the FWC. To make a report, call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

The suspects and their charges are as follows:
Michael Wenzel (DOB 06/07/1996) of Palmetto, Florida
• Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).
• One misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take – Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).

Robert Lee Benac (DOB 04/2/1989) of Bradenton, Florida
• Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).
• One misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take – Shark (Second-degree misdemeanor).

Spencer Heintz (DOB 10/14/1994) of Palmetto, Florida
• Two felony counts of Aggravated Animal Cruelty (Third-degree felony).

North Pinellas, Stewart Ames

So winter did finally decide to show up in the last few days.  This put an end to 3 -4 weeks of mild temperatures and relatively calm winds…ideal for near shore fall kingfishing. The last month was exceptional, with 3 – 6 fish being the norm on most 4 hour trips.  The real beauty of these recent trips was that, since large schools of threadfin herring were dependably just a couple miles off of the beach, securing whitebait before departing in the morning wasn’t even necessary.  Simply run to the area, sabiki up a few dozen thread fins, and begin slow trolling. On most days, seven foot spinning rods spooled with 20 lbs test were used but, once a few fish had hit the deck, inshore rods with 10 lbs test were occassionally substituted.  As long as a short trace of steel leader was used, it was simply a matter of staying with these fish on their first runs….chasing them down so they didn’t empty the spool.  Too much fun.
Interestingly, snook were fairly abundant over the last month as well as water temps held near 70 degrees on most days.  Some fish were still out on the beaches, as well as in spots that they should be inhabiting now….along intercoastal spoil islands and in the backwaters.  Although more pateince was required to put a hook in one than during summer months, fish were caught on most days when they were targeted.  Unlike over in Tampa Bay, where there is a winter fishery due to the various rivers that feed the bay, snook fishing off northern Pinellas County usually goes away, for the most part, as winter arrives.  This year was a wonderful exception. The last three nights of high forty degree temps have probably quieted things down though.
With last month’s primary targets going quiet, what’s the main focus now?  Big Winter Seatrout. These fish have begun to show up…not in the big numbers that are the norm for the area, but certainly in enough numbers to target them.  Several recent trips have produced limits…others 3 – 4 fish, but fish are 17 inches and up.  Whitbait is the preferred offering, although temperature drops tend to push it offshore so, at least in the near term, with cool temperatures forecast for the next few days, it may be time to place a select shrimp order.  Either bait, free-lined or under a bobber, should produce. If targeting only trout, tackle can be downsized significantly…light spinning rods with 2500 series reels and 10 lbs test.
Near shore reefs may still be holding some quality mangrove snapper although no reports have come in since the last cold snap.  It’s probably worth a look out there to see what is going on however.  Redfish are spotty now, but will continue to be on the target species list through winter.  Once a big limit of trout is secured, a nice redfish is always icing on the cake.  Good luck and good fishing.
Captain Stewart Ames

P.O. Box 541
Crystal Beach, Florida 34681
727 421-5291

Nature Coast, William Toney


With the latest cold front fishing is what should be expected after the Nature Coast first frost of the year. The near shore flats are holding a few red fish on the incoming high tide. Searching rocky points can help a angler locate some red fish. There are a few mullet but most of them are milling around the shoreline and not jumping, a occasional little flip will be help locate the best shoreline to hunt for red fish. I use live shrimp to sight cast for them.

 River fishing has had the best action. Rocky shoreline near the channel are the best places to fish. Live shrimp on the bottom will catch red fish, mangrove snapper, and black drum. For good snook action use a MirrOlure  MirrOdine near docks or blown down trees on the outgoing tide. Incoming tide will be in the morning this weekend.
Capt. William Toney is a full time 4th generation fishing guide from Homosassa. Experience some of Florida’s best inshore fishing and beautiful unspoiled backcountry. His boat is a custom built 23 foot Tremblay and uses G-Loomis rods with Shimano reels. Trout, redfish and shore lunch are Capt. Williams specialty’s but many other species are caught or targeted.

December; Notes; The Fishing Charter


December arrives.     Winter weather arrives.    The schedule, kind of light compared to years past.   Where is everyone who wants to catch fish?   As the owner of this web site, I keep up with things.   The site is being nominated for different awards.   No question, there is great content here.    This edition, I’m going to talk about fishing charters.    Ahead of the last front:  The best trout fishing of the year.    Per the usual, big trout for the start of winter.

The fishing charter, not always utilized by people.   The ones who do can tell you about the benefit.    I am a guide, in my 13th year doing this.    When you go with a guide you learn a great deal.   You learn about the location you go that day.    What else you learn has everything to do with what you express to your guide.     I specialize in kayak fishing.     Kayak fishing guides seem to come and go.    I’ve been around longer than anyone else.    With the way I do it there is no “live bait.”    If you want to use live bait you can.    That’s your choice.    To me, kayak fishing should be about using artificial lures.   Eliminating live bait eliminates headaches.

Learning lures:   You get to be more skilled.    More skilled you will end up catching more fish.    I give those lessons.     A big lesson is:  I have now taught you how to do it.  When you go on your own can you be as successful as the day you went with me?      That has everything to do with going to the right locations.    When you are with me you are going to be in the right locations.   I know them.    It is automatic.      When you go you have 1000 choices for every location you go.    Are you getting to the right spots for success.   That too, I teach.    What to look for.    The right terrain.

Express your desires.   What do you want to do out there?     A charter is an investment.   If you choose the right thing, your future in fishing should be much better because of what you do on the day of a fishing charter.    What I teach has great value.    What you take from it IS the value.   My niche is Kayak Fishing.    If you want to learn and be best at kayak fishing, I am a good one to hire.     Not bragging, that’s just the way it is.

The action has been good but likely to explode with this change in weather.   Water temperatures will reach an ideal level.     The bump up in action for big trout was significant ahead of the last front.

Off the water:   Books.     The first two of three will publish early in 2018.     The first, “Kayak Fishing” will be the most complete book on the sport ever published.     The second will be an amusing one.   Funny fishing stories and other tidbits.   I want them to be right.   These have been major editing projects.    I have gone cross-eyed looking at these files.

Getting my life back, I am house hunting again.    A stint in Lakeland, I am ready to be back on the coast permanently.    Once done, I may even get a dog.   My hope:  This is my final move.

Still out there:  Pompano teasers.   I actually ran out of hooks but I have over 12,000 of these.     I need more buyers.     With 5000 more hooks coming, people need to be buying these.     It is actually kind of funny:  Companies that should be buying them are getting them from China at a price that I can’t match.   But apples to oranges, they would be better off buying a quality product from me.     The holiday season, these could be bought as a gift.     $1 each, you get 20 of these for someone they would be set for six months.    Pompano are a huge target with these.    But they catch almost everything.

Another gift idea, the gift of a kayak fishing charter.     I’ve had people coming to me for these on their own.     I am a teacher.    Someone goes on a trip with me they are a better fisherman the rest of their lives.

Strike Three Kayak Fishing needs an overhaul.    You wouldn’t believe the obstacles I’ve hit trying to move this site.     These companies don’t speak on peoples’ level.     I am a major web site owner and I can’t figure out what they are talking about most of the time.    Be assured, that site will move and it will be restored to how it is supposed to be.

Capmel.com has been upgraded.     If you haven’t visited the site in a while, take a look.  I am very proud of the site.     The upgrade makes it work like it did years ago.   With growth, the site slowed.    In the future:  New contributors.

Kayak fishing Skool resumes in January.   The 8th Avenue Pub in Safety Harbor has been well taken and we will continue to hold it there.

In development, the resurrection of the Kayak Fishing Academy.     The new host location will be Osprey Bay Outdoors in Clearwater.   A $30 seminar, three and a half hours long, this is the most complete seminar I do.   We have talked about having this quarterly.   With promotion in the store, that is feasible.

Strike Three Kayak fishing will continue the same into 2018.     Things should actually get even more interesting.

Neil Taylor

Owner, capmel.com;  owner and guide Strike Three Kayak Fishing

The Meatheads of the Week








During muzzle loading gun season, Lieutenant Allen and Officer Forehand received a complaint from a landowner who stated that earlier in the morning a hunter came to his residence to ask for permission to track a wounded deer that he had shot on the adjacent property and run onto the landowner’s property. The landowner denied the request and told the officers that he heard the shot and that it did not sound like a muzzleloader. The officers located the hunter at his residence and conducted an interview. The hunter admitted to shooting the deer with a .270 rifle. He produced the rifle and the officers located a spent .270 shell casing. The officers also located fresh deer blood where the hunter shot the deer. The hunter was charged with taking deer by an illegal method.









Officer Crane got a complaint of people hunting “monkey squirrels.” Officer Crane located two subjects who were hunting and had killed a fox squirrel. The subject was cited appropriately.


Officer Cheshire inspected a vessel for boating safety violations and attempted to issue a boating citation when the subject became combative and had to be taken to the ground. The subject was taken to jail for refusal to sign the citation and resisting arrest without violence.


Officers Creel and Wells were on water patrol when they received a complaint of a subject on a vessel using a net to catch mullet. The officers located the vessel and two seine nets that were tied together. The subjects were charged with several felonies and the net and fish were seized.




Officer Sweat observed a suspicious vehicle on Crawford Road and watched as the vehicle drove down the dirt road a couple hundred feet, stop and then move on a few more feet. The emergency flashers would also come on for few seconds and then turn off. When asked if he needed assistance, the operator advised that he was looking for his deer dogs that had run onto other hunt club property. The passenger stated he was just riding along and was not hunting. After checking the driver’s hunting license, an inspection of his cooler produced several cans of beer. Both young men were under twenty-one years of age. The two subjects were issued warnings for possession of alcoholic beverages underage. The passenger was issued a citation for litter less than fifteen pounds and the driver was issued a notice to appear for not being in possession of deer dog registration papers.









Officer Bertolami inspected a subject in the Holly Hill area and discovered that the man had been using a cast net to harvest and possess tarpon, snook and mangrove snapper. Snook and tarpon may never be harvested with a cast net, and the snook were not within the required slot size limit. The fish were seized and the man was issued a criminal notice to appear for the violations.


Officer North was on night patrol when he observed a truck stopped in the middle of the road in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Officer North maintained visual contact and followed the truck through the refuge into Brevard County. The driver and passenger were both observed shining a spotlight out of the vehicle into the woods. The truck stopped as the driver held the light out of his window and the passenger fired a rifle out of the driver’s window at a wild hog. Officer North stopped the vehicle and secured both the passenger and driver. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed two .22 caliber rifles, drug paraphernalia and a small amount of cannabis. Both subjects were charged with taking wildlife with a gun and light, taking wildlife from a state maintained roadway, possession of cannabis and possession of paraphernalia, as well as federal violations by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


Officer Thornton was on patrol off Highbanks Road in Debary when he observed a vehicle on Duke Energy Property. He conducted a traffic stop for trespassing. From initial contact, the driver of the vehicle was suspected of driving under the influence (DUI). The passenger also appeared to be impaired. During the DUI investigation, the passenger became non-compliant and interfered with Officer Thornton’s investigation. The driver of the vehicle was arrested for DUI, open container, and issued a trespass warning. The passenger was arrested for interfering with the investigation and charged with open container. A trespass warning was also issued to the passenger.









Officer Balfour located a suspicious vehicle parked alongside Croom Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Further investigation revealed hunting equipment in the vehicle. During surveillance, Officer Balfour contacted two individuals wearing hunter orange. An inspection was conducted which revealed several violations. Officer Pulaski and Officer Sehl arrived to assist. Several citations were issued for violations including hunting out of season. The hunting equipment was seized as evidence.




Officer Price observed men fishing near a secluded area at night and stopped to see what was happening. After a brief time, he observed one man catch a snook. A few moments later, the man left the area and came back with a bag of ice. He grabbed the snook and placed it against the ice and began walking to a nearby neighborhood. Officer Price followed the man and stopped him around the corner. The fish was measured and found to be 24 inches long. The man was issued a misdemeanor for possession of snook out of season. He was also issued warnings for the undersized snook and for not possessing a valid fishing license.


Officers Furbay and Stapleton responded to assist Officer Price at Bunche Beach. Officer Price noticed several resource violations while fishing with individuals on the beach. Officers Furbay and Stapleton made contact when the fishermen were leaving at sunset. The resource inspection revealed seven undersized sheepshead, two undersized mangrove snapper, multiple oysters taken from unclassified waters and fishing without a saltwater license. Appropriate citations were issued.




Officer Gonzales was on land patrol around Coquina Boat Ramp on Anna Maria Island and performed a fisheries inspection on a subject fishing from a jetty that extends off the beach into the Gulf. Upon completion of his inspection, he found that the subject was in possession of one undersized snook out of season. The subject was given two criminal citations for possession of undersized snook and possession of snook out of season. The subject will have to appear in court for his violations.




While on land patrol near the Walshingham Bridge, Officer Martinez observed a man fishing from a vessel underneath the bridge. Officer Martinez approached the water’s edge and asked the man if he had any fish. The subject advised the officer he only had sheepshead. Officer Martinez asked the subject if he could check the fish, and again the subject insisted all he had was sheepshead. After being told where to find the sheepshead on the vessel, Officer Martinez found numerous undersized fish and no sheepshead. In the subject’s live well there were three gag grouper all under 12 inches, two undersized black drum and one undersized mangrove snapper. The subject was cited for numerous violations to include undersized gag grouper, possession of over the daily bag limit of gag grouper and warned on numerous other violations.


Officer Bibler was at the Maximo Boat Ramp when he observed a vessel that had just returned from fishing. Officer Bibler discovered it was a paid charter and that the customers let the captain of the charter keep the fish. He found the captain at the fish fillet table and witnessed him starting to fillet a snook. Before the snook could be completely filleted, Officer Bibler measured the snook which was under the minimum size of 28 inches. Officer Bibler cited the captain for possession of undersized snook and educated him on charter crews keeping bag limits of snook.


While on patrol near the Dick Meisner Bridge, Officer Martinez observed two men fishing and approached so he could perform a resource inspection. After talking to the men and inspecting their catch, it was discovered both men had each caught an undersized gag grouper. Both gag groupers were approximately 12 inches, well under the 24-inch minimum. Both men were cited accordingly for their violations.




Officer Davidson was on land patrol in Myakka State Park and received a call from the park rangers that there was an individual harassing the patrons. When Officer Davidson arrived on scene, he located the subject driving around inside the park. After speaking with the man, it became quite clear that the subject was intoxicated. After performing an investigation into possible DUI, the subject was arrested and taken to the county jail.


Lieutenant Hinds IV was on land patrol around Bayfront Park on Longboat Key and performed a fisheries inspection on a kayaker that had just returned from fishing. During the inspection, Lieutenant Hinds found that the man had caught and kept two spotted seatrout over 20 inches. The fish measured 26 inches and 22 inches. The subject was cited criminally for possession of more than one spotted seatrout over 20 inches and will have to appear in court.






Officers Maldonado and Collazo performed an outreach event in Lovers Key State Park. The name of the event was Great Outdoor Adventure Day. Approximately 150 people attended the event. Officer Collazo brought one 10-inch hatchling alligator for the presentation. Officer Maldonado brought fishing and hunting regulation pamphlets, as well as coloring books. The officers spoke about the importance of not feeding alligators and discussed fishing and hunting opportunities.









Officers Brevik and Carroll were conducting land patrol at night around Allapattah Flats Wildlife Environmental Area (WEA) and observed a suspicious vehicle parked along the fence line of the WEA. Moments later, officers observed two subjects illegally exiting the WEA. After investigation, Officer Brevik charged both subjects with misdemeanors for illegally entering/exiting a WEA.


Officers Carroll, Rogers and Brevik were conducting land patrol in the Dupuis WEA, approached two subjects and, through investigation, discovered a bag of corn placed in the woods next to the vehicle. The officers interviewed the subjects and discovered that they had placed the corn to bait hogs. The subjects were cited accordingly for the violations.




Officer Brodbeck was conducting boating safety and resource inspections along the Kissimmee River due to the substantial number of fish that were being caught. While conducting surveillance at the Scott Driver Boat Ramp, the officer observed a vessel with three occupants and fishing equipment consistent with fishing for black crappie approaching the dock. Officer Brodbeck identified himself and asked the captain of the vessel for consent to inspect their catch. The captain agreed and, upon inspection, multiple black crappie were located that were well short of the 10-inch size limit. Officer Brodbeck also observed a measuring device used specifically for back crappie in plain view aboard the vessel. Each occupant was issued a citation for the violations and a total of 12 black crappie were seized as evidence.






Officer Brodbeck was dispatched to a complaint regarding an aggressive alligator located at the Fisheating Creek Campground. Upon the officer’s arrival, several alligators were observed, but none matched the description provided. Officer Brodbeck informed the campers that he would wait to see if the alligator would return. Approximately an hour later, while one of the campers was fishing, a large alligator appeared near the shoreline. Officer Brodbeck estimated the alligator at over 8 feet, and it did not display any fear of humans. A licensed nuisance alligator trapper was called and agreed that the alligator needed to be removed. With the assistance of Officer Brodbeck, the trapper captured the alligator, which measured 10 feet in length. Many of the occupants of nearby campsites came over and expressed thanks to the trapper and for responding and removing a potentially dangerous animal.









Captive Wildlife Investigator Corteguera concluded an investigation in response to complaints of an escaped silver fox that had been seen roaming a residential neighborhood. He identified the owner, who confirmed it was his fox and that it had escaped. Further investigation revealed the fox had been kept in an improper enclosure, which led to three escapes within a week. The caging has been brought into compliance. Two criminal citations were issued for the escape and for the improper enclosure. Three warnings were also issued for related violations. The fox was returned to his owner. Officer Banks assisted on this incident.




Officer Arbogast was on water patrol with an Everglades National Park Ranger in a park service vessel. The officers were pulling away from the dock when they observed a 14’ jon boat idling towards the boat ramp with several fishing rods hanging out the sides. During a resource inspection, several indicators of impairment were observed. When asked how much he had to drink. He replied “a few, 3 to 4.” The operator consented to Seated Field Sobriety Tests which he performed poorly. Officer Arbogast placed the operator under arrest for BUI. The operator refused to provide a breath sample and was booked into the county jail.




Two officers were on water patrol together, concentrating their efforts inside of Key Biscayne Special Management Zone. The officers stopped one commercial vessel that had the captain, first mate and five paying customers onboard. After completing safety and fisheries inspections, the captain was cited for possession of undersized yellowtail snapper, operating a vessel for commercial purposes that was not registered for commercial use and two other equipment safety violations.


Officers on water patrol encountered and stopped an inbound vessel in Biscayne Channel. A fisheries inspection was conducted and three oversized barracuda were found amongst the catch. The captain of the vessel was cited for the violation.






Officers Oldsen, Amuso, Araujo and Kleis responded to Marine Emergency Response Team (MERT) call regarding two missing boaters in a remote part of the Ten Thousand Islands. The local Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit and a National Park Service Vessel also responded to the call. The missing boaters were found by Officers Kleis and Amuso, and aside from being scared and lost, they were unharmed. The officers escorted them back to the boat ramp.

Sarasota, Rick Grassett

Capt. Rick Grassett’s Sarasota, FL Fishing Report for 12/9/2017
Anglers fishing with me, out of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key, had good action catching and releasing false albacore (little tunny) and tripletail in the coastal gulf on flies and trout and pompano in Sarasota Bay on CAL jigs with shad tails during the past week.
Michael Robb, from Buffalo, fished the coastal gulf with me on Monday and had good action catching and releasing several albies on a fly. In addition he also caught and released his first tripletail on a fly. Michael’s dad, Larry, joined him on Wednesday but despite a stable weather pattern, the action with albies in the coastal gulf ended as baitfish moved on.
Walter Poxon, from MN, and Bill Poxon, from Sarasota, celebrated Bill’s birthday with their annual fishing trip with me on Tuesday in Sarasota Bay. They had steady action catching and releasing numerous trout and a nice pompano on the west side of the bay on CAL jigs with shad tails.
With the passing of this weekend’s front, water temperatures will plummet and fish will move. Migratory species could reappear following the front depending on conditions. After the weather stabilizes, there should also be good action with trout, blues and more on deep grass flats of Sarasota Bay. Shallow water action for snook, trout and reds is improving due to cooler water. Fishing lighted docks and bridges in the ICW for catch and release snook with flies and DOA Lures should also be a good option.
Tight Lines,
Capt. Rick Grassett
FFI Certified Fly Casting Instructor
Orvis-Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters
Orvis Outfitter of the Year-2011
Snook Fin-Addict Guide Service, Inc.
(941) 923-7799

The Skyway, Paul Bristow


As the strongest cold front in many months arrived in the Tampa Bay region, anglers fishing the best methods & most appropriate species for weather conditions continued to have good success at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers.  King mackerel angling at the piers remains a hot topic as yet another monster king was taken this week and kings will often be triggered to feed aggressively during passing cold fronts.  Gag grouper were on the chew with the front approaching and gags are yet another species that can be energized by cooler water temperatures.  Spanish mackerel went nuts on Friday as the front approached and many anglers reported easy limits of fish within only a short time frame.  Jack crevalle were prevalent this past week and many folks visiting for just sightseeing were amazed at the raw aggression of this species.  Finally, lots of anglers reported spotting cobia surfing the waves as winds began to pick-up, a common occurrence at the mouth of Tampa Bay during passing cold fronts.


A new week saw yet another monstrous king mackerel hitting the pavement at the South Pier.  Many nearby anglers reported the fish to be almost 5 feet in length with a healthy girth, likely placing it near (or even exceeding) the 50 lb. size class.  The presence of these huge solitary kingfish entering the bay somewhat late in a typical run is not uncommon, and a later run (like this season) could see some big kings around all month long.  Your author would never claim to be a kingfish expert, but instead simply has the advantage of collecting data through reports of catches & conditions over a long period of time.  Almost every fall, the largest kings are taken as singles and very near the end of the time when folks are still targeting these fish.  The same data holds true late in the spring run, but the largest fish at the piers each season seem to be fall fish.  Kingfish will feed on nearly any larger baitfish, so do not assume you need a blue runner or large herring to be in the game.  Pinfish have taken plenty of large kings at the piers and were the baits reportedly used on the last few very big fish taken.  As these late fall monsters are almost always cruising alone, position baits at various parts of the water column using a trolley-rod system to increase the odds of one of these rogues coming into contact with your bait.


Gag grouper were also feeding with reckless abandon and many keeper gags have been taken over the past several weeks.  Pier staffer and avid grouper angler Tony Silapheth was using multiple methods to target gags this past week.  Silapheth does not tie himself to one tactic and uses everything from diving plugs to anchored live baits.  The multi-tiered approach makes plenty of sense because both fish aggression levels and their location on a piece of structure can be varied not only day-to-day, but even hour-to-hour with changing tidal & water conditions.  Perhaps a plug will take the most aggressive fish, a free-lined bait trigger a neutral fish and an anchored bait entice a fish in a negative feeding mode.  The fact remains that a change-up can often mean producing a keeper gag versus only catching several shorts.  The nice thing this season is that Skyway Pier anglers have the entire month of December to target gags at one of the finest land-based grouper fisheries in America.

Spanish mackerel caught fire just ahead of the passing cold front and many anglers took limits of fish by casting Gotcha lures, spoons and jigs to these aggressively feeding fish.  The wind and waves of the approaching front were already creating some areas where stained water met clear water, and anglers finding the clearest water had the most success.  Clear versus stained water lines can occur on many sections of the piers because tidal flushes from various parts of the bay can vary greatly in the sediments they might carry.  Mackerel do not prefer highly stained water, but they certainly will hunt the lines that these situations often create.  Another tip to keep in mind when pursuing Spanish mackerel during frontal and post-frontal conditions is that baitfish will sometimes be driven to deeper water and hold near the bottom for several days.  The mackerel are often right there with them, but slower methods of jigging or slow-rolling other artificial lures will far out produce the more traditional speedy retrieves.

Visitors to the Skyway Piers got a great glimpse of the food chain in operation as jack crevalle boiled the waters at the mouth of Tampa Bay.  Jacks in the 3 lb. to 8 lb. range ripped through schools of baitfish and even handed anglers some broken lines & tackle.  Fish were most prevalent along the approach sections of the piers, but some were reported along the entire span.  Anglers used a variety of methods, ranging all the way from rapid jigging to slowly pulling live baits through the water column.  Live bait was unnecessary when the most ravenous schools came through, but it did seem to provide anglers with a few extra fish from time to time that might have gotten separated from their schooling brethren.  Jacks have a darker flesh and a pronounced lateral line, but are just fine for many methods of fish cookery, especially if bled upon catching and pending the removal of the lateral line.  Indeed, many folks prefer these fish for soups & chowders that involve a wide variety of very flavorful seasonings and ingredients.

Mosquito Lagoon, Tom Van Horn


Fall Fishing Bonanza, December 8, 2017


Let me begin this fishing report with a brief announcement:  As of December 4th, 2017 Captain Tom Van Horn is now a full-time fishing guide.  Many of you know me as a fishing captain, but few know I also served as a professional fire fighter for a total combined 43-years including a hitch as a fire fighter in the USAF.  Well on December 4th, I placed my fire helmet on the mantel and retired from the FD.  Now in the next chapter in my life, I will be focusing my full attention on my fishing charter business and other related kids fishing organizations and events.  Life has been good to me, and now it will be even better.

This report covers a span of almost two weeks and began with a two-day paddle fishing adventure with father and son team Mike and Mike Hammes.  Since it was a paddle fishing fly charter, Captain John Kumiski served as the second boat commander and our first day was to the No-Motor Zone.  As usual with fly anglers, the wind did not corporate averaging 15 MPH for both days, so very little fly fishing was done.  In the NMZ I typically look for fish up on the sandy shoals, but due to high & dirty water conditions and a brisk wind, we could not even find the shoals and sight fishing was out of the question.  We than regressed and began blind casting jigs on spinning rods and managed a good number of sea trout and one very respectable snook.  On our second day we fish the backwaters our of River Breeze in the north Mosquito Lagoon, and only managed one slot redfish and a few sea trout.  Lucky for us, Mike and Mike traveled across America for the adventure of fishing the back waters of east Florida, and on both days combined we had the water to ourselves for the most part.  We also added an elevated level of adventure when we got caught up in a sever thunderstorm that pushed up from the south for which we unsuccessfully alluded.

On November 29th I again fished with a father and son team named Mike and Mike and our target was sea trout on the Mosquito Lagoon, and again high and dirty water made sight fishing challenging.  I polled Three Quarter Time for at least five miles, and we managed to catch a few very respectable sea trout blind casting 4” night glow DOA Shad Tails.

From there it was off to the Cataloochee Ranch near Maggie Valley North Carolina with my bride Sandi for a very enjoyable three-day bluegrass event called the Balsam Range Art of Music Festival. The Cataloochee Ranch was amazing and next year I’m bringing the fly rod.

November 4th was my last fire department shift, and I started my FD retirement with a very memorable two-day charter with another father and son team, Tom and Max Anater from Lancaster Pennsylvania.  On both days the weather was excellent on the Mosquito Lagoon, and I managed locate some very nice schools of black drum in deeper water. On our first day, Max and his dad managed 14 black drum in the 20 to 40-pound range and Tom caught a 42-inch redfish as a bonus.  I assured them it was one of those exceptional fishing adventures, and not the norm and both anglers could hardly raise the arms at the end of the day.  On our second day we were joined by Tom’s nephew Louie and we only managed three black drum again in the 20 to 40 pound range.  All fish were caught on live jumbo shrimp, white Gulp Shrimp and Cheetos.

All in all, it’s been a great two weeks for me, and I’m kind of liking this retirement gig.

As always, if you need more information or have any questions, please contact me.

Good luck and good fishing,

Captain Tom Van Horn