Cooler weather was prevalent in the Tampa Bay region this past week, but both cold & warm water species remained in play for anglers visiting the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers. Spanish mackerel continued as the primary target, with a mixture of smaller & larger macks still in the area. Sheepshead were likely the secondary target and there were still enough spawning aggregations around the piers to provide for good catches. Pompano were a solid option in the shallows for those who enjoy jigging for one of the tastiest members of the Jack Family of Fishes. Small sharks were a popular target for visitors from northern climates seeking their first marine toothy critter. Finally, a few die-hard big game anglers were able to fight massive goliath grouper in the bait shop areas of both fishing piers.
Spanish mackerel this week were taken primarily by artificial lure approaches, and this likely had a lot to do with the fact that schools have been rapidly moving along the pier structure. Mackerel reports this week varied all the way from 2 or 3 fish to some folks approaching full 15 fish limits. The end sections of both fishing piers were most productive, especially with some of the largest fish being taken on the North Pier. Some fish, however, were caught along the entire lengths at both sides of Tampa Bay. Incoming and outgoing tides both produced fish, and the first strong water movement following a tide change seemed to produce the greatest action. Early and late in the day remained the best for numbers of fish. Many anglers continue to set anchor rods with several release clips at different depths for king mackerel. Kings are certainly still around the piers, but never forget that some of these set rods deploying fish like small blue runners often take the largest Spanish mackerel bagged at the piers each season. On the artificial lure front, anglers chose Gotcha lures, spoons, jigs, and mackerel trees.
As sheepshead get deeper into their annual spawning run, many fish appear to have moved to the artificial reefs that line both fishing piers. Sheepshead are most often spotted & targeted by visitors on the pier & main bridge pilings, but the reefs hold some very large fish later in the spawn. Fiddler crabs, sand fleas, or live shrimp were the best baits. The reefs are also a good option for Key West grunts, mangrove snapper, and other porgies. Mangrove snapper were very active on freshly cut scaled sardines and freshly-frozen shrimp. Anglers did report having to sort through short mangos to reach a full limit of fish, but many were able to do so in an outing. Most of the nicer nice grunts were taken by fishing cut strips of squid or whole shrimp along the same reef lines as the sheepshead & snapper.
Pompano were active along the approach sections to each fishing pier – going up to and just past the first parking areas. Numbers of pompano were decent, but many fish were short of the required length. Visitors were able to keep enough fish that it was worthwhile to those who love both pursuing & cooking this species. Fish were taken on both incoming & outgoing tides with swim jigs ranging from 3/8 oz. to 3/4 oz. (depending on the tide) being most effective. Chartreuse, pink, white and yellow were all popular colors and many anglers used a teaser fly – either at the jig or on a dropper line above the jig. A few flounder & spotted seatrout hit pompano jigs, as did the more common by-catch species like ladyfish, jack crevalle, blue runners and mackerel.
The Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers just might have produced more first-time shark catches than any other fishing destination in the world. Many first-time marine anglers just want to land a shark of any species out of pure curiosity, and the piers are a prime location. Blacktip, bonnethead, sharpnose, and nurse sharks are the most common light tackle catches, but large bull, hammerhead, lemon, and tiger sharks are taken most seasons. Medium freshwater tackle used for largemouth bass & catfish is fine for the light tackle targets – with a simply light wire leader and freshly cut bait. The big game targets require specialized tackle, large baits, and sometimes an entire group of folks willing to help in the fight and landing of a real pier monster. Goliath grouper are yet another pier-dwelling leviathan that shock visiting anglers with their power & size. Large cownose rays & bonito are some of the most popular baits for both big sharks and grouper.