The Skyway, Paul Bristow


King mackerel continued to cause some drags to sing at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers this past week.  Although this season could be described as a late run for kings in the Tampa Bay region, there are plenty of years where the bite enters the month of December, and this is appearing to be one of those years.  Spanish mackerel were more consistent this past week, with many anglers reporting full limits of fish over a few hour visit.  Gag grouper fishing remains good and anglers are eagerly anticipating targeting them throughout December, a seasonal extension that was certainly welcomed.  A few nice snook and spotted seatrout were taken along the approach sections and even on the artificial reefs by anglers fishing live shrimp, pinfish or sardines.  Small to medium-sized blacktip sharks made their presence known to kingfish anglers setting out live baits on wire rigs.  Finally, some very nice pompano have been taken along the approach sections by visitors throwing jigs.

Kingfish numbers are slowly creeping up at the piers over what has undoubtedly been a slow start to this pelagic speedster’s season at the mouth of Tampa Bay.  Almost all anglers are either free-lining or set-lining blue runners at this time, but sardines, herring and even smaller ladyfish & jack crevalle are all good live bait options.  The longer your offering (a ladyfish for example) the greater the need for the use of a stinger rig because often the kings will simply cut off the entire rear portion of the bait without getting hooked.  Smaller blue runners and sardines are short enough that they can be fished with a single hook rig.  Do not overlook the potential to take king mackerel on artificial lures at the piers.  They will often hit Gotcha lures, silver spoons and even jigs that are being fished for Spanish mackerel.  The addition of a very short hard wire leader just ahead of the lure will increase your odds of landing the king because many lures are bitten-off even before the initial long run.

Spanish mackerel were consistent this past week and many anglers who put in the time took full limits of fish.  There were both early morning and late day peak periods, but plenty of fish were taken all day long and through several tidal cycles.  Gotcha lures, silver spoons and white crappie-style jigs were the most popular artificial lure choices, while small to medium-sized scaled sardines were tops in the natural bait category.  When sardines are smaller at the piers, go to a smaller (size 1) long shank hook and perhaps 15 lb. fluorocarbon leader material.  This will help the smaller bait stay alive longer and swim more naturally due to less water resistance from the terminal tackle.  You might lose a few fish, but the long shank hook will protect against most bite-offs and the freely-swimming sardine will gather enough extra strikes to compensate for a few lost fish.

Some very nice blacktip sharks are hitting blue runners placed out for king mackerel and many anglers are learning not only how exciting these fish are to catch, but also how tasty they are as table fare.  These sharks put on blistering runs and also commonly leap from the water with spinning & flipping acrobatics.  Most of the blacktips caught at the Skyway Piers are perfect adversaries for medium spinning or conventional tackle.  Of course, there are the exceptional fish over 100 lbs. taken each year, but most of these fish are about 3 to 4 feet in length and up to about 25 lbs. in weight.  Blacktip sharks are excellent table fare and can be prepared in a wide variety of fish cookery methods.  Sharks should be bled immediately if being kept – slice the gills and emerge the head in a bucket of water before placing on ice.  When cleaning, you can fillet, chunk or steak the fish depending upon your preferred method of cooking.  Adults love shark steaks on the grill, but kids love deep-fried shark nuggets just as much!

Pompano have been reported on the approach sections of both fishing piers once again, and although numbers are not extraordinary, the size of many bagged fish has been excellent.  Fish 15″ + have been reported and even a few fish exceeding 18″ have been taken.  Jigs designed to bounce the bottom are almost always top billing for pompano at the piers, and this week saw banana-style swim jigs, nylon fiber jigs and ball & chain combos all take some fish.  The swim jig with a teaser fly in a loop knot at the eye was most popular, but do not ignore other styles.  White was a great color this week, but standards like chartreuse, pink and yellow all produced.  Many alternate species like spotted seatrout, flounder, jacks, ladyfish and bluefish were landed by jiggers as well.