The Summer Solstice came & went on June 21st this year at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers.  This is the day in the calendar year where the poles of the earth are most tilted in the direction of the sun – it can vary by a day or so in any given year.  There was no doubt that the heat was in full effect this past week, but anglers are finding some hot bites as well.   Gag grouper picked-up their pace, as more keepers are joining the huge numbers of short fish being released each week.  Lane & mangrove snapper were quite active this past week, with many anglers reporting a mixed bag of snappers.  Spanish mackerel action was spotty & somewhat unpredictable, but late afternoon bites seemed to be the top choice.  Sharks, tarpon and goliath grouper were all active for anglers looking for big game battles.  Pompano have showed up again along the approach sections of both fishing piers.

Gag grouper size improved over the past week, with more legal fish reported than have been since the opener.  Short fish are still around for plenty of action, but those putting in the time over a fishing session or two are often getting one for the cooler.  Diving plugs are taking lots of fish, but it seems that live baits (like pinfish & pigfish) are taking more legal fish at this time.  The plugs will always attract the most aggressive grouper, and perhaps the larger gags are simply not as aggressive at this point in the summer as their smaller brethren.  The gag bite on artificial versus natural baits runs in continuous cycles, but cooler waters seem to get better plug bites for large fish.  A combination approach is likely always the best at the piers.  If plugs are simply a search bait to find good grouper-holding structure, then use them in that manner.  Send a lively pinfish out free-lined & hooked near the anal fin to the same area and tie your shoes on tight.

Beautiful lane snapper joined their mangrove cousins in producing a strong snapper bite on the artificial reefs this past week.  Lane snapper are one of the prettier fish caught with regularity at the piers, with a mixture of pink, red, yellow and light blue all in one fish.  Lane snapper will gather in some of the same places as mangroves, but have different size & bag limits under Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Regulations.  Anglers should check the latest FWC guidance online or in printed materials.  Lane snapper sometimes prefer live or freshly frozen shrimp or squid over the cut baits like sardines & herring so popular for mangos.  Lanes do not grow near the size of mangrove snapper, but plenty of visitors this week reported a mixed bag of lane & mangrove snapper – a perfect pan fish combination for a family fish fry.  If you scale down your circle or octopus style black nickel hooks to Size #1 versus 1/0 or 2/0, you will be more likely to hook a mixed bag of lanes & mangos due to the lane’s smaller mouth.

Some pompano action returned to the approach sections of the piers this past week, as this tasty member of the Jack Family of Fishes made a decent showing on some mornings.  There were more fish just under the legal size limit, but some nice keepers (and even a nice permit) were witnessed by your author.  Smaller jack crevalle & blue runners also joined this bite, which was almost exclusively on banana-style swim jigs with one or two fly teasers.  One teaser is almost always at the jig – attached with a loop knot or split-ring – and sometimes another teaser or two is higher up the leader, either floating freely or on a dropper/chicken rig loop.  Jig weight was mostly 1/2 oz.  to 3/4 oz. sizes and colors were usually white, pink, yellow, or chartreuse.  Going down to 3/8 oz. or even 1/4 oz. at slack tides, or going up to 1 oz. during hill tides, can often catch an extra fish or two if pompano remain in the area.

Spanish mackerel action was present, but spotty this past week.  The mackerel continue to be favoring the later afternoon hours and anglers ready at these feeding windows were able to catch several nice fish in a short amount of time.  Mackerel seemed to be in roaming packs, and anglers ready to throw lures when the fish arrived did fairly well.  Many times mackerel will bust a baitfish school or chase a shrimp or strip of squid being retrieved from the artificial reef.  A rod already rigged with a silver spoon or Gotcha lure might rapidly take this fish and even several companions.  Fishing cut strip baits (like the belly portion of a scaled sardine or threadfin herring) on a long shank hook with several split-shot sinkers for depth control took many nice mackerel this past week.  This presentation can also take snapper, grunts, or porgies at the piers.  Anglers working silver spoons with a 4 oz. trolling weight reported good action when their retrieve resembled a jigging motion – rather than a simple flat & high speed retrieve.

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