Offshore: With the brutal daytime heat and vicious afternoon thunderstorms, fishing under the moonlight can produce excellent results. Whether you are looking for hard fighting sharks and tarpon or some delicious table fair such as mangrove snapper and grouper all parties are available under the cover of darkness. If the weather looks a little sketchy and you want to keep within safe range of the pass soaking some big chunks of mackerel or mullet (1 to 2lbs) on the outside edges of the sand bar just off the beach. Use a heavy mono leader either 100 or 125 pound test and a large circle hook. The circle hook should set in the corner of the mouth, which is away from a sharks teeth and into the tough cartilage of a tarpons jaw. The mono leader is harder to detect and will result in many more bites.
Night time fishing for grouper and snapper takes a little more preparation. First check the weather and then check the moon. If it looks like there is a clear weather window on or within a few days of a full moon you are in business. All you need to grab is a couple boxes of sardines, some squid, and a few live baits if available. For safety, check your running lights, VHF radio, EPIRB, bring a spare battery, and let somebody know your plan. Any wreck or high relief structure should be holding some schools of mangrove snapper and a few gags. For the snapper use 20lb spinning tackle and pieces of cut sardines. Spread your baits through the water column by using various different size jig heads to find out where they are feeding. Once the bite gets fired up send a sardine or live pinfish down and be ready to pull them away from the structure. I don’t suggest using chum bags because they can attract sharks that can force you to move. Instead just keep a steady trail of small cut sardines to keep the fish active and feeding.
Inshore: Snook have made a huge comeback since the cold snap in 2010 nearly wiped them out. Now they have made a huge comeback and schools of large Snook can be found swimming right in the surf along the beaches in the early morning hours. Finding these fish is easy as taking an early morning stroll along the beach and looking for their dark shadows in the surf. Once you have found them stealth is key. Keep your distance and use light spinning reels with 15 to 20lb braid to allow for a longer cast. Live pilchards are the bait of choice, however small artificial lures that imitate them will get the attention of a hungry fish. Remember that Snook are out of season in the summer months and the larger fish are the breeding females and should be handled with care. Don’t get discouraged if these fish will not bite, that usually just means that they are preoccupied with each other and you should just move on to a different school.
I hope everyone has a great summer full of fish and fun but remember to protect yourself from the blazing sun and take cover when you see lightning. Play it safe and you will have many more good fishing stories than bad.
Brian Crabtree – Madeira Beach Municipal Marina Manager