Anglers worried that this week’s cold front would chill the Spanish mackerel bite at the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers can rest easy… The Macks – and the baitfish schools that attract them – did not stray far from the piers! Although there were some days slower than last week, Spanish mackerel remained on a strong bite, especially during late afternoon / early evening time periods. Bluefish joined mackerel on this strong afternoon bite, and their presence granted plenty of great light tackle fights – and also took plenty of jigs & spoons from those willing to lose them with a laugh. Sheepshead are around in great numbers, but smaller fish seemed more interested in biting than plenty of the larger fish that were spotted – but unwilling. Whiting and silver trout remain a great overnight option on the North Pier, and smaller sharks are beginning to show reliably on both sides.
Several passing cold fronts were simply too weak to squelch the Spanish mackerel bite, mostly because schools of sardines of many size classes were never chased from the structure and warmth of the piers. Although the bite and limits of fish were not as consistent as last week, plenty of visitors caught Spanish mackerel to take home for a fresh fish dinner. Silver spoons and Gotcha lures took plenty of fish, but white nylon jigs in various sizes & styles continued to be the most productive option. Anglers fishing light tackle with light leaders (12 lb. class) took the most fish by far – despite losing some fish to bite-offs. When fishing 1/8 oz. – 1/4 oz. jigs on light tackle, you often must be willing to lose a few mackerel in order to get the most strikes. If there is a rule of thumb in tackle & leader size for Spring mackerel fishing at the piers, it just might be to first seek the bites – and then scale up from that point forward. You can always go to heavier fluorocarbon, monofilament or even light hard wire… But if you start too heavy & miss the bites, you just might dismiss a fishing session where lighter tackle would have taken plenty of fish.
Bluefish added to the fun of mackerel fishing this past week as these pelagic pirates pillaged baitfish schools at the Skyway Piers. Bluefish are very aggressive – often boiling the surface as they hit bait schools – and quite willing to feed after darkness falls. The same artificial lures so effective at the piers for mackerel will take plenty of blues, but perhaps even more entertaining is the tactic of fishing surface plugs and poppers. Surface walker & popper plugs are great, but a simple casting bubble float with a striper popper or streamer behind is just as effective and more economical for the bite-offs all too common with blues. Think of the popping method as a top water extension of the popular trolling weight & silver spoon tactic so effective for Spanish mackerel. Of course, the popping method takes plenty of mackerel as well and should not be thought of as just a bluefish tactic. It is just that that aggressive personality of the bluefish turn this approach a bundle of fun!
Anglers seeking great fillets in the overnight hours should not ignore the fantastic bite of whiting and silver trout at the end of the piers – especially the North Pier – because the depth is greater. The bite is already consistent enough for a family fish fry, but look for this to increase over the upcoming weeks as we approach the Spring fishing season. There might not be a simpler method for newcomers to fish at the Skyway Piers. A bag of frozen squid, several sabiki-style baitfish rigs in larger sizes (#6, #4 and 1/0) plus a few 1 oz. – 2 oz. bell sinkers make up the total rigging requirements. Cut a few 1″ strips of squid and place one on each hook so that the end flutters in the tide. Light freshwater gear is fine in this game and a simple lift-and-drop motion near the end section of each pier is deadly effective in filling a cooler with these fine eating winter species.