© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2002
Heavy rain with strong winds and high seas left many boats at the docks.
With the weather settled, expect a new bounty of fish at many of your favorite holes. Frustrated grouper diggers will find the weather has shuffled the population like a deck of cards. Red grouper should move in from 100-plus feet and be at depths of 80 and 90, filling the many potholes that have been empty for months. A slow drift works best when looking for new arrivals. Gag grouper also should show up on many inshore ledges.
Water clarity was an important issue for weeks when fishing bridges for snook. Smaller leaders and light line were a must to produce more bites during calm seas and crystal-clean water.
Now, with the water color coffee and cream, fish will use their nose more than their eyes to eat. Beefier tackle also can be used, allowing monstrous fish to be pulled from the pilings. Dead baits like shad, a mullet head or half a ladyfish are the most productive and will produce numerous 15- to 20-pounders. Use just enough lead to hold the baits at the bottom, adjusting to the tidal flow. The rest of this month should be the most productive catch-and-release snook fishing of the summer.
Many tarpon have moved back into Tampa Bay waters. Schools of milling fish can be spotted from the deep hole adjacent to the shipping channel, just north of Egmont Key. Other schools have slid farther up the bay and can be found rolling around the Family Pier, Sunshine Skyway bridge, Port Manatee and in the vicinity of the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Dead shad on the bottom combined with heavy chum sessions will produce outstanding action. If you can't cast-net for shad, a tackle store usually has a fresh supply ready during tarpon season.
This tactic also will work along the beaches. Look for any sign of a tarpon surfacing for air, immediately drop anchor and put out a spread of baits.
I also recommend a live bait suspended from a float for the fish that are coming up and rolling. Pinfish, grunts, threadfin herring, pumpkin seeds (Atlantic bumpers) and pilchards will work, but the surface bait that's been working for me is small blue crabs. These crustaceans become an easy meal for the mighty silver king because they are slow swimmers and can't escape as easily as a frisky live fish. Place a 5/0 hook just inside and under the point of the carapace. This will allow the blue to swim freely while the hook hides between its many legs.
Crank, not yank, when a tarpon eats your bait. Reeling until the line is taut will produce a better hook-up average then trying to set the hook.
-- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.