Time to play
By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA
Just a little bit south of the Bradenton’s Memorial Avenue Causeway, off the northern end of Sarasota Bay, is a diverse fishing habitat known as Palma Sola Bay. There, one has access to miles of productive shorelines ringed with oyster bars and mangrove points. Great schools of mullet are often seen working through the area, almost always stalked by hungry populations of redfish and snook. The deepest part of Palma Sola Bay is a channel that runs through its center, which is surrounded on either side by a series of sand bars. Between the sandbars and mangrove shoreline is a trough, which provides ideal ambush points for the resident species
Most of Palma Sola is quite skinny, so it’s a good idea to stay in the deeper channel until you decide on which shoreline you’ll be fishing. A shallow draft vessel is highly recommended so that you can get around or over those sand bars to access the trough and mangrove areas along the shores.
I fished there recently with Capt. Chad Calhoun, who knows just about every nook and cranny of this pristine bay. Calhoun considers Palma Sola Bay “an opportunity to get away from the crowds. It’s amazing what that difference makes when you’re stalking spooky reds and snook,” he said. “It’s all very shallow so you’re going to keep many folks out who don’t have trolling motors or push poles. “
Most anglers pursue the abundant redfish and snook found there, but one can also hook the occasional trout, big jacks and sheepshead at certain times of the year. Capt Chad said that “during this month of May, tarpon will also work through here. But it’s mainly going to be snook and redfish that we target.”
His biggest problem is during spring. Though he’s been catching many redfish , most are actually too big to keep – several of them well over the 27-inch limit. “We had a tournament a couple of weeks ago and that was a real problem. Most of the ones we have been catching were either very small or way over the slot.”
Calhoun said the best time to fish Palma Sola Bay is at the beginning and the end of both tides. “That’s when you catch most of your fish. On the lower water, you want to fish the potholes and on the higher water you’re going to be fishing up on the oyster bars and the mangrove points,” he said.
This time of year most mornings have incoming tides. However, Calhoun’s preference is when the tide runs out. So he generally will fish there later in the morning or early afternoon to catch the outgoing water. “Our best results have come from fishing that low water situation, targeting the many potholes along the shore,” he said.
Calhoun prefers artificials and he uses a lot of jerkbaits, rigged on an 1/8th ounce jig head. “And when the fishing’s slow, I just barely crawl a Berkley “New Penny” or “Camo Color” Gulp 5-inch jerkbait when the fish are lying in the potholes. That’s been very productive for me. And when the weather gets hotter, you can pretty much throw any kind of soft plastic.” He said that “Gulp seems to be my best producer here lately. I pretty much let it sit there– dead stick it – and the reds can’t resist it. They will grab it and run.” He advises that “when working any jig, slow is the thing because you’re talking about waters no deeper than two feet at best – and you just want to keep crawling across the bottom as quietly as possible.”
I asked Calhoun what advice he would have for someone fishing Palma Sola Bay for the first time. “Again, the main thing I would do is just try to be as quiet as possible, stick to the shorelines, look for the oyster bars and mangrove points with potholes close by and work those. And if you can get yourself higher on a polling or casting platform, you should be able to sight fish for them. That’s a good way to know that there are fish in the area. Like a lot of places. – 90-percent of the fish are going to be in 10-percent of the water.
Calhoun also likes to target Palma Sola Bay’s impressive resident snook populations. They generally range from good numbers of smaller juveniles to the larger linesiders. “You’ll see bunches of snook laying there in the potholes along with the reds– and they can be anywhere from small 10-inch snook — all the way up to some hefty 15-pounders. And if you like hooking those bigger females; it’s just a matter of getting the right ones to bite. “
When fishing for snook, Calhoun finds that throwing something with a little flash to it works best. “I like the new “MirroDine” from MirrOlure, or any of your flashier jerk baits like a “baby bass” color” He said he also will use anything that resembles a greenback or a whitebait . “But when fishing for snook, you have to work it more briskly that you do for reds. But just like the reds, you can catch the bigger snook by “dead sticking” a piece of cut bait or smelly lure like the Gulp. This is especially effective when the bite is slow. And the slower you work the bait, the more hookups you’ll get.”
Palma Sola Bay is situated between the barrier island of Anna Maria and the city of Bradenton land mass at the upper reaches of Sarasota Bay There are numerous boat launches available — but the most convenient would be the Kingfish Boat Ramp with direct access to the Intracoastal Waterway off Bradenton’s Manatee Avenue Causeway. Heading south from there, Palma Sola Bay is just a short distance with its entrance along the eastern shore. In addition, there are good ramps off Holmes Beach and Longboat Key to the south, also just a short ride to Palma Sola Bay.
For more information on fishing Palma Sola Bay, or to arrange a fishing charter there, contact Capt. Chad Calhoun at (727) 432-1390.