The Skyway, Paul Bristow

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Mack Is Back! A phrase that many pier anglers love to hear, knowing that means the annual spring run of Spanish mackerel has begun in earnest at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. Mackerel limits were commonplace this week, and nearly everyone in pursuit of these fish caught at least a few during their visit. Sheepshead continued on a good bite this past week as well, and larger spawning schools of 50 – 100 fish have been seen at times moving around the pier structure. Squid have begun to appear in catchable numbers, and many anglers were surprised to find these aggressive visitors attached to their bait or artificial lure! Cobia and triple tail have entered the game this past week as well, with many fish sighted and some nice fish landed. Finally, smaller shark action has picked-up dramatically, making these toothy-critters a common catch for most people who were seeking this kind of action.

Spanish mackerel showed in excellent numbers at the piers this past week. Most limits of fish were taken along the shallow approach sections to the piers – essentially from the dumpster areas on back towards the tollbooth. Limits of fish were less common further out, but notably larger fish were caught by anglers further along the pier span. Gotcha lures and white or chartreuse nylon jigs were the top producers, but anglers were also starting to take mackerel by both silver & colored spoons. Anglers fishing lighter tackle and leaders seemed to outpace those fishing heavier tackle, but everyone was able to get in on the action when fish were feeding. There were times this past week when I noted 4 or 5 fish coming over the rail at the same time.

The incoming tide seemed to have a distinct edge on the outgoing tide for mackerel this past week. In addition, the late afternoon bites were much more productive than those earlier in the day. Fish were seen chasing lures two or three at a time during the best of the incoming tide, and anglers often just bounced their lure at the end of the retrieve to hook-up with one of the followers. Folks were even able to catch mackerel on some totally slack tidal periods this past week by switching to small 1/8 oz. freshwater crappie jigs worked fairly slowly near the bottom. Blue runners added to the fun for artificial lure anglers this past week and their presence is almost surely a sign that much larger Spanish and even King mackerel could show up at nearly any time.

Squid were a popular bycatch this past week, and were even targeted by visitors who cherish these aggressive cephalopods for both eating & bait. Squid most often gather at night along the edge of the line made by overhead lights, but they can also be taken during the day. When it is dark, they will shoot into the light to attack nearly anything in sight – often lures just as large as themselves! There are a wide variety of ways to take squid at the Skyway Piers, ranging all the way from jigging lures to throwing cast nets. Squid jigs are one popular method, and these are a simply a molded piece of plastic with several rows of wire entanglers (not hooks) that catch the tentacles of the squid. Squid jigs are simply jigged vertically where squid are spotted or in the shadow line after sundown. Squid also commonly hit pompano jigs with teaser flies and Gotcha lures – especially then these baits are presented vertically like the squid jigs. Some squid aficionados like to dangle an LED light, lantern, or florescent light stick near their fishing spot. Finally, when big schools are spotted at the surface, a cast net can often take dozens of squid in one throw.

Some surface cruisers made for exciting action over the past week at the piers. Cobia and tripletail were both spotted and landed by savvy anglers who watched passing rays and weed clumps. Both of these species cruise the surface, with the tripletail perhaps floating along more like a large brown leaf versus actually swimming. There have been plenty of large clumps of sea grass crossing through the piers lately – perhaps stirred up by some of the heavy winds and surf of the past several weeks. Cobia and tripletail are both as excellent on the table as they are exciting on the end of a hook. The best way to be ready for both species at the piers is to have a rod rigged and ready to cast sitting nearby your fishing spot. Cobia absolutely love a live pinfish and tripletail a live shrimp, but both fish can be taken on a wide variety of baits and artificial lures.