The first big cold front of the season has finally ushered in the Fall season and lower water temps. This has the fishing on fire. The inshore and near shore bite is in full swing. Reds, snook, trout, flounder, snapper and sheepshead are best bets inshore and snapper, grouper, mackerel and kingfish near shore and on the reefs in the Bay. It’s possible to have a shot at all of the species on one full day trip.
The low tides in the mornings are a perfect time to target the inshore bite, as the fish will be stacked up in the deeper potholes and channels surrounding the flats. Whitebait is still around and works like magic. A freelined live shrimp is a go-to bait for many. Cut bait like threadfins, pinfish and ladyfish will catch all of the inshore species except for the sheepshead. If you’re targeting sheepshead and snapper around the docks, rockpiles or bridges, live shrimp is a safe bet. Cut shrimp has its days, so always have a few dozen fresh dead on board. For the lure fisherman, it’s the peak time of year. Topwaters, jigs, spoons and subsurface will all work.
As the tide comes in and scatters the fish, it’s a good time to check the inshore and near shore rockpiles that are scattered throughout the Bay.
Grey snapper, mangroves, sheepshead and gags are stacked up on the structure, the shipping channel and around most of the towers. Live pinfish and whitebait are best bets, as is cut threadfins and live or frozen shrimp.
Cobia are a welcome addition to the party and tripletail will also be around the markers and buoys.
The mackerel, both king and Spanish, will be around the bait schools. Look for the birds and the macks will be there. For Spanish, live whitebait and shrimp are a safe bet. Small silver spoons or gotcha lures will provide steady action, too.
If targeting the kingfish, slow trolling a live blue runner, sardine or ladyfish on a stinger rig is a proven technique. A spoon or diving plug trolled on a planer is also a tried-and-true method for the hard bait crowd. The areas around the Skyway are top mackerel and kingfish grounds.