Every year at this time, an onslaught of bait fish schools move up the coast and into the bays and estuaries. Following closely behind are pelagic species, including king and Spanish mackerel that follow the bait fish to feed on them.
A variety of bait fish appear in early spring. Threadfin herring, scaled sardines, ballyhoo, cigar minnows, and glass minnows are among them. In the calm of early morning, glassy smooth bay waters reveals bait fish ‘raining’ on the surface. Bay anchovies, a.k.a. glass minnows or rain minnows, rise to the surface in schools giving the appearance of light rain falling on the surface. These tiny delicate bait fish are prime forage of Spanish mackerel, bluefish, tarpon, snook, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, kingfish and many others, but when you find them in the bay, it’s almost a guarantee that Spanish mackerel won’t be far behind, and right on cue, the mackerel are here. Pods of glass minnows have been in the bay for the past few weeks, and savvy anglers following them are finding good numbers of Spanish mackerel in the 2-to 5-pound class feasting on them. Fly anglers fishing Sarasota Bay can probably imitate the natural glass minnow the best by tying flies that imitate them.
Mackerel like structure, and Tampa Bay has numerous channel markers and range markers that run from the Skyway up inside the bay, as well as the numerous small artificial reefs that dot Sarasota Bay and the near shore coastline. These small structures as well as the Skyway Fishing Piers at the mouth of Tampa Bay, attract all kinds of bait fish, including glass minnows. One productive way of catching mackerel is to work your way down tide of structure and blind cast up current, working a lure back to the boat. Another way is to anchor up tide of structure and hang a frozen glass minnow chum bag off your transom, which brings the fish right to the boat. Baitmasters brand, manufactured locally by Aylesworth’s Fish & Bait, Inc. in St. Petersburg, puts out both domestic and imported glass minnow chum blocks in 2 and 5-pound sizes. The domestic variety is what I have been using.
Glass minnows are delicate and don’t stay on a hook well. But there is an assortment of small jigs and lures that will work. Of course, fly anglers for years have tied some of the best glass minnow imitations. Years ago, St. Petersburg resident, Carl Hanson came up with a mono-body glass minnow pattern that is still one of the most durable and effective imitators. Some of the best manufactured glass minnow imitators are the MirrOlure 19MR MirrOminnow, the 3-inch CAL Shad, Gotcha Plug, and Saltwater Assassin 3.5-inch Die Dapper, to name a few. Thinking out of the box here, the DOA Shrimp is also an excellent lure for Spanish. A shrimp really stands out in a crowd of bait fish and doesn’t last long in water filled with hungry mackerel, snappers, or other fish.