The Tampa Bay Bite is HOT!
It’s that time of year where things are ready to hit the boiling point in Tampa Bay! As we move through July and into August, we will face the warmest temperatures of the year both above and below the water line. Having the right plan and targeting the right species can sometimes be the difference in catching fish and not catching fish – period. With water temperatures in the 90s, the shallow flats and backcountry haunts will generally produce a slower bite this time of year. Over the past 36 years of growing up fishing Tampa Bay and now in my 10th year guiding, I have learned to concentrate my efforts to the deeper areas of the bay in the Summer. It’s a well needed break from the inshore grind and offers a huge variety of fish to target. Tarpon, Sharks, Grouper, Snapper, Cobia, Mackerel and a host of others are commonly brought over the rails on our trips.
Late Season Tarpon Fishing
Unlike most, I love late season Tarpon fishing and have spent many years figuring out the patterns of the Silver King inside our estuary. If possible, I prefer to fish inside the bay and July through August is generally prime time. As the migratory schools move along the coastal beaches, the bay is invaded by hungry post-spawn females and healthy pods of 70-100lb fish. It seems their timing is perfectly matched for the annual bait hatch that takes place late summer and normally produces large bait balls that desperately try to make their way from the depths of the bay to the shallow flats. During this transition, Tarpon along with others will gorge themselves and take advantage of an easy feast. Unlike beach fishing, there won’t be as many fish but they seem to be a lot “happier” – and “happy” fish eat! Depending on the situation, they will take a variety of baits. Cut-bait would be my bait of choice but having a little bit of everything will certainly increase your odds of hooking up. Threadfin Herring, Pilchards, Ladyfish, Mullet, Shad, and Pinfish are all great dead baits but I also insist on having some live fin-fish and crabs to ensure I have all my basis covered. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge and local reefs are a few places to consider looking if you want to battle a Silver King. If you don’t have a target area already, do a few slow passes or drifts across the prospect area and look for “rolling” fish on the surface. Setup on either a GPS Anchor trolling motor or pitch over the hook but please be mindful of others. If boats are setup in the area, leave plenty of room – you will need it if you hook a fish and so will the other anglers that were already fishing the area. In fact, most of the time setting up a further distance away from a crowd of boats actively Tarpon fishing will be beneficial. They don’t like to be pressured and will roam great distances around any target area. Be patient – use your baits and chum to bring the fish to you.
If you don’t already know, Tarpon get lock jaw. Well, that’s ok. We have plenty to play with. Most of the time, we go to the bottom and one of the fan favorites is Mangrove Snapper and there is no doubt that now is the time! The new and full moons in July and August provide the tides and moonlight needed for spawning activities within the depths of the bay. Over the next few weeks, countless numbers of spawning aggregations will gather and feed heavily around most of the deep-water structure within the bay. Much like the Tarpon, they too will key in on the “fry” bait and when the conditions are right can be chummed to the surface. On just about every bay trip, I make sure I have plenty of small live baits to snapper fish. Stopping by any healthy grass flat on the way out will load up the well with small pilchards (greenbacks, white bait, scaled sardines, shiners) and pinfish. If you are not up to speed with throwing a cast net – but some shrimp, they will work just fine and sometimes even better for Snapper. Remember to downsize your tackle and bait if you are specifically targeting Snapper. I like to use 15lb leader and a No. 1 size hook. If you can get away without adding weight (free-lining) that is ideal. If you are fishing stronger current, add just enough weight to get to the bottom on about an 8-10 sec drift. If you start getting busted off by bigger fish, upsize accordingly – chances are you have fired up the Grouper. It’s time to drop down a bigger cut bait or live pinfish. Most areas that are holding large aggregations of Snapper will be littered with Gag Grouper as well. As an old timer once told me – ”don’t lose too many to the rocks, son”. The concept is that once a few fish start “grunting” or struggling on the bottom, they will deter others from biting for a while in that area. Although the most common Grouper in the bay is the Gag Grouper, it is not uncommon to catch other variations. Just recently on a charter, one of my clients caught a legal sized Red Grouper in just 12ft of water, which is definitely a rarity.
Tampa Bay is known for its variety and Summer fishing is the perfect example of all the opportunity we have at our finger tips. Whether you are looking to put some food on the table or catch that bucket list fish, now is the time!
The Suzuki Repower Fishing Report is sponsored by Suzuki Repower and Mastry Engine Center.
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