The Skyway Report: Paul Bristow

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Some hot & steamy days intermingled with passing showers to dictate patterns at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers, but anglers willing to adjust their timing & tactics found plenty of good bites.  Spanish mackerel remain a somewhat surprising mid-day staple, and many anglers approached limits of fish much more common in spring & fall rather than mid-summer.  Mangrove snapper continued on a fine night bite, but some anglers employing the proper presentations also took some very nice mangos during the day.  Snook have been hanging along the rock walls at the approach sections for anglers seeking a catch-and-release trophy.  Gag grouper are one of the stronger daytime bites and plenty of goliath grouper are available for big game anglers as well.  Tarpon are on a great bite under the lights after sundown.

The Spanish mackerel bite has been surprising this season in that many strong daytime bites have emerged at any given time & tide.  Obviously the Tampa Bay Estuary has some Spanish mackerel present on nearly a year-round basis, but often the daytime summer heat can make mackerel fishing a bit slower at the piers.  This season has smashed that trend with plenty of days where anglers either catch or exceed their limit of macks – even in the hottest peak of a sunny day.  Fishing slower & deeper has been a pattern for the most successful anglers this year.

The mackerel bite has been deeper this year than in all others that your author has written about in the past, and it is very likely due to the fact that baitfish schools have been holding deeper.  Some schools are notably beginning to rise, but they seem more rare & scattered than in past seasons.  Anglers fishing a silver spoon behind a trolling weight have done well with both larger weights and more lift & drop actions.  Natural cut baits, however, have been the critical link to mackerel limits lately.  Use a scissor to create a cut belly portion that looks just like a canoe and hook it at the very tip of one end for great success.  Of course other bits of the baitfish can work great as well, just cut & hook them so that they flutter in the tide.

Mangrove snapper limits were common in the overnight hours, and some nice fish were also taken during the heat of the day over the past week.  Many snappers were in the 12″ – 13″ size range, but a few really large fish over 16″ were also taken.  Lane snapper have been mixed in with the mangos over the past several days and some very nice-sized fish were reported.  Use incoming tides to fish the old pier structure and main bridge pilings.  Use outgoing tides for the reefs.  Any tide can offer savvy anglers an opportunity to bounce their baits underneath the pier structure itself – literally right underneath where they are standing.  The best terminal gear for the “bouncing” method involves as light a weight at possible – most often rigged ‘knocker’ style – right against the hook.  Lift & drop & repeat until the bait moves into the shadow of the pier.  Cut scaled sardines and threadfin herring are best in chunks because they catch the tide and help the pull.

Some very large breeder snook have been hanging along the approach sections of the piers in recent weeks.  There are also plenty of the smaller males courting these fish, but trophy anglers want the monsters.  Free-lining live scaled sardines or select shrimp is productive along the approach sections, and nice fish can also be taken on jigs and diving plugs.  One underutilized method is to free-line a small to medium-sized ladyfish where the snook are passing.  They eventually cannot resist the temptation of such a meal and some monsters will succumb despite the fact they are focused on spawning.  Snook remain closed in the Tampa Bay region for the next several months, so enjoy the spectacular fight and get a great photo before safely releasing them.

The tarpon bite has been excellent at both fishing piers over the past week.  Silver kings have been staging by pier and main bridge pilings, especially where these breaks also met the shadow lines created by either the piers or overhead lights after sundown.  Free-lining large live scaled sardines, threadfin herring, or large shrimp was the favored method.  Pitch your bait up-tide and let it slowly float back to the staging tarpon.  Casting buck tail jigs along the shadow line is another good way to spend a summer evening putting lots of fish in the air.  If seeking a picture with your catch, walk down to the rock retaining walls that allow the angler to get in the water for a quick shot with their prize prior to release.