Tampa Bay Fishing Report By: Wade Osborne

Tampa Bay fishing heats up in May!

Last month’s cold fronts had the water temperature seesawing all over the place which, in turn, made the fishing unpredictable. One day, you might have a lot of action, the next day, not so much. Fortunately, the latest cold fronts haven’t been as severe, and the water temperature is warming up.

By now, baitfish have inhabited most of the grass flats making the morning chore of catching bait much easier. Finally, it’s time to rinse off your heavy deep-water cast net and put it away until next Winter.

For any snook fillet lovers out there, you have until the first of May to enjoy a delicious snook dinner, then the season closes. Snook spawn from May through August and are protected from harvest during the mating process. Although you can still practice catch and release, I chose to pursue other species, unless my current client has never caught a snook.

Should you decide to still go after some of the large breading females, please make sure you handle them properly when you take pictures. Never hold a large snook vertically for a photo. Always wet your hands and put your thumb in its mouth, grip firmly, and support the weight of the fish with your other hand by placing it under its stomach.  Holding a large snook or any other game fish vertically for that matter is a death sentence. To learn more about the effects of mishandling fish, google “Cryptic Mortality.”

The redfish action really starts to pick up as the water temperatures rise, so I prefer to target them instead of snook. One reason is that they are still in season and the other, pound for pound, they are harder fighters than snook.

Redfish can be found throughout Tampa Bay, but some of the hot spots are around oyster beds and grassy areas adjacent to mangroves.

If you see a few redfish as you’re moving about on the grass flats, Power Pole down and start chumming with live baitfish. If they’re swimming with a school, they may very well start circling your boat and feed for an extended period of time. Do the same if you encounter a school of mullet. Remember, redfish like to travel with mullet, so don’t assume it’s only a school of mullet.

The bonnethead and blacktip shark action has been insane. On a recent morning charter with three teenage spring breakers and their dad, we caught 13 bonnetheads. On the same day, while fishing in the same spot during a different afternoon charter, we continued to catch numerous bonnetheads and some beefy blacktip sharks. One blacktip probably weighed close to 45 pounds.

The cool thing about catching these sharks is that I wasn’t just fishing for sharks. I was using light tackle that you would use on any grass flat, and also catching Spanish mackerel, seatrout and sliver trout. Whenever I’m fishing for small sharks and Spanish mackerel, I use 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a size 1 or 2 long shank hook.

I find the best areas to catch the aforementioned variety of fish is in about five to seven feet of water. The bottom is usually a mix of hard shell, sand and grass. To accelerate the action, I always start chumming with fresh cut bait. As for bait on the hook, scaled sardines or shrimp work just fine. As a matter of fact, the morning we caught the 13 bonnetheads, shrimp was the bait of choice. Never underestimate the allure of shrimp!

As we get further into May, look for the mangrove snapper fishing begin to pick up significantly. Mangrove snapper start staging up as we approach mid-to- late May, just ahead of June through August spawning season. A good place to look for these tasty specimens is around bridge pilings and any of the numerous artificial reefs scattered throughout Tampa Bay.

Tarpon continue to filter into the Tampa Bay and, by the first of May, they will be everywhere. The huge number of tarpon that move about between the Skyway Bridge and the passes of either side of Egmont Key is mind blowing! During May and June, the tarpon fishing rivals that of Boca Grande. The best part is that you don’t have to deal with the crowds or that dreadful drive.

Afishionado, “Always an Adventure.”

Tampa Bay fishing guide Wade Osborne of “Afishionado Guide Services” has been plying the waters of Tampa Bay as a professional full-time captain, since 1997. Osborne has been featured on numerous TV and radio shows and writes for multiple publications. Osborne offers inshore fishing charters on light tackle spin, fly or plug. He also offers eco-tours with an emphasis on photography. For more info visit Afishionado.com or find Afishionado Guide Services on Facebook and Instagram. Email: wade@afishionado.com Call/Text 813-286-3474