Bad backs need not apply
By JAY MASTRY
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2002
If you're heading offshore, I'd recommend packing a fighting belt. Amberjack have been relentless at springs, wrecks and reefs in 100-foot-plus depths.
On Tuesday, we wrestled with some up to 35 pounds. After keeping the few we wanted, we released a couple dozen others. Live bait is essential for a successful amberjack trip. Cigar minnows, whitebait and greenbacks will get eaten; large pinfish, blue runners and spadefish will be devoured.
Huge schools of a variety of baits settled in near the beaches along Anna Maria and Longboat Key. Twenty mph west winds on Wednesday probably scattered these schools. Until they've had a chance to regroup, look to hard-bottom areas in 40-foot depths to provide all the bait you need.
During a trip this week to the mouth of Tampa Bay, we had a little March madness of our own. A 12-pound gag grouper may have been the catch of the day, but more than three dozen mangrove snapper provided most of the entertainment. Fishing the edge of the shipping channel inside the Sunshine Skyway bridge, pieces of shrimp got them going and a favorable tide kept them there. This weekend, the window of opportunity will be tightened. Screaming tides associated with the new moon phase will limit the most productive period to the slower tides about an hour and a half before and after a tide change. In a ripping tide, too much weight may be required to effectively stay down in the strike zone.
Though the big numbers of sheepshead have made their push toward the gulf to spawn, many large stragglers aren't in a hurry. We caught more than a dozen up to 5 pounds trying to steal baits before the snapper did.
Most indicators point to our much-anticipated spring kingfish run to be on time. Bait is showing up on schedule, water clarity is good, the effects of the fall's Red Tide seem to be healing, and daytime temperatures forecasted in the 80s will raise the water temperature to the kings' comfort level.
-- Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.