Early Spring Brings Early Tarpon and Mixed Bag of Sea Treats

For April, the water temperatures are certainly warm. On hot, sunny days, temperatures are topping out at 80-degrees, but hey, they were also doing that  back in March. Fish in the Gulf of Mexico/Tampa Bay area are definitely loving the weather we’re having right now. Tarpon have been around now for three months or so, and usually they don’t show up until the end of April. Spanish mackerel appeared with the baitfish schools a couple of months ago. Bluefish were hot on the tails of the Spanish mackerel and kingfish were here well over a month ago. Some might think it’s already too hot, but if you’re a fisherman, you gotta love it.
What we’re catching now…

Snook

Snook, one of our true game fish, have been under a closed season since the winter of 2010. They are, however, showing a slow increase in population due to the closure. After only a year and a half of spawning cycles, the numbers of snook around 20-to 22-inches is on the increase. Fish in this size range are close to two years of age. These primarily male fish are rabid eaters and devour baitfish, shrimp, and crustaceans as they hit their growth cycle. But for these fish to continue growing until the time they will grow out of the slot size maximum of 33-inches it could be another five years or more. Unless snook remain closed, there is a good chance that these new stock of fish will be removed from the resource and harvested before they could do much in the way of adding to the repopulation of the species. If closure is continued, it could help save these fish for the future. Snook is one of the most prized and valuable fish in our fishery.

Spotted Seatrout

Spotted Seatrout are not only one of Florida’s favorite fish to catch, but they are also mighty tasty on the table. One our most prolific spawners, speckled trout are plentiful and can be caught without much finesse or special tackle. However, big trout, and I’m talking true ‘gator trout’ in excess of 28-inches are one of the most difficult of the species to catch, due to their paper thin mouths. Hooks tend to tear out easily when too much pressure is put on the fish. Light rods can add some shock absorbency to the shock of the hook set and the fight, increasing your chances of landing one of these prized fish.
Topwater lures that walk the dog and prop baits with spinners are favorites of anglers looking for an action packed surface slam when a trout rises to the top to blast a lure. DOA Shrimp are definitely on the must have list for trout. Specks just love live shrimp and their fake bait counterparts work as well. No tackle box would be complete without a handful of jigs. Love’s Lures Tandem rigged jigs and the new CAL Deadly Tandem are real numbers baits for these fish, and if it‘s a fish fry you‘re looking for, tie on one of these speck rigs and hit the water with your cooler ready with ice.

Flounder

Flounder remain one of the top fish in terms of table fare. Baked, broiled, or fried, ‘flatties’ are not only delicious but they are also very unique fighters on the business end of a rod and reel. Comments from clients like, “I think I’ve got grass”, or “It feels like I have the bottom”, are common from these fish. They hit lures and baits with a thump and lay there. Sure, putting pressure on them will make them move, but over all, due to their flat profile in the way that they swim, it makes it feel like you’re pulling up a moving bottom when you hook one. The average size range seems to be on the small side of 12-to 15-inches, but it’s not abnormal to find 18 or 20-inch flounder inside Sarasota, Tampa, Terra Ceia, and Miguel Bays. Head offshore to the nearshore artificial reefs and you may even find some larger flounder. Jigs are a prime candidate for catching flounder, and lures like the CAL Shad from DOA Lures and the LiL’ John jerk bait from MirrOlure seem to out-pace most other brands here in the catch department.

Redfish

Redfish over the past 10 years have risen in popularity to possibly over-take snook on the hit list when it comes to targeting fish. Redfish have no closures here, and the limited slot and bag limit of one fish per person per day between 18 and 27-inches has produced a healthy stock of fish that is a renewable resource. The rise in the popularity of this fish is largely due to redfish tournaments that became highly popular in fishing ranks. But due to falling economic times, tournaments have slowed dramatically as sponsorship monies dwindled.
The tenacity of the redfish is the “never say die” attitude in this fish. Scorching runs and bull dogged fighting ability make this a top-targeted fish anywhere on the coastal Gulf states. Lures like the Eppinger Rex spoons in gold or copper are very popular. Eppinger, one of America’s oldest family owned fishing lure manufacturers has produced one fine weedless, fish-catching machine that seems to be tuned in to the redfish’s diet. Redfish, being bottom feeders and grubbers, look to feed mostly on the bottom. While crabs and shrimp are the mainstay of their diet, small baitfish are also high on their hit list of foods.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel may not be a glamour species, but fresh Spanish mackerel make one fine entrée smoked, baked, broiled, and even fried. The real trick in making this fish one to really seek out at the fish markets is freshness. The oily flesh of mackerel spoil easily in the sun, and it’s mandatory to bleed these fish and put them immediately on ice for maximum palatability. Cleaning these fish should require cutting the blood line out of the fish. This dark colored meat can be strong tasting and fishy if not removed. Some people like the taste, but most prefer a milder tasting fish.

King Mackerel

King Mackerel have what appears to be something akin to a cult following when it comes to fishing for these fish in a tournament. Year after year, anglers from all over the southeastern US head to Florida with boats in tow for both the spring and fall kingfish runs. This year is no different, other than the fact that kings arrived earlier than normal. They follow the bait migrations that too were an early showing fish.

Cobia

Cobia are one of the few overlooked fish that migrate into our area in the spring. Cruising the flats on the backs of big stingrays, these fast growing fish are very good eating. They are in the dolphin (Mahi Mahi) family, and grow quickly and fight very hard. Landing one before they are fought out and tired could prove to be a very costly mistake. These fish seem to be on steroids if landed ‘green’ with a lot of fight left in them. They should be subdued before they do damage to the boat or harm to a bystander if they get loose in the cockpit. Cobia love a small blue crab, jumbo shrimp, live pinfish, and an assortment of jigs, jerk worms, and eel imitation baits.

Tarpon

I saved the best for last! Tarpon should be on the surgeon general’s list of habit-forming drugs, or at least a list for AA members…(Angler’s Anonymous). Just as these fish can be boring when the bite cools, they can be addictive once the adrenalin rush kicks in from seeing a 200-pound mirror-clad fish skyrocket a dozen or so feet into the air. Live blue crabs or calico crabs are favorites around new and full moon periods, but on the quarter moons, look for threadfin herring to be the dominant bait hit. These fish are some of the hardest fighting fish we wet a line for. They are not considered good eating but they rank tops on the charts when it comes to providing satisfaction of the hunger in the thrill and adrenalin rush of a monster fish at the end of your line.
So, if it’s pure entertainment you are looking for, head out on the water for some big game fishing, and hook up with one the area guides for the thrill of a lifetime in tarpon fishing. But if you just want a good fresh fish dinner, nothing beats getting a Trout or Redfish and bringing it home for dinner.