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Schools thin, so strategy must change

By JAY MASTRY
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 5, 2002

Tarpon along the gulf beaches still are plentiful, but you might have to change your tactics to stay productive.

Many large schools seen rolling on the surface last month have broken up. Singles, pairs and smaller bunches are the norm. Figuring their depth is instrumental when blind fishing.

While there is no substitute for spotting rolling fish, it's not required. Kenny Kleber's 150-pounder was the largest of nine we jumped and seven we caught during a trip this week without seeing many roll.

The contour of the shoreline and makeup of the bottom vary from Clearwater to Sarasota and so does the tarpon's path. Dredging associated with the beach renourishment projects temporarily will alter tarpon's travel plans.

So while we might anchor in 15 feet off Clearwater, 9 off Pass-a-Grille or 12 at Longboat Key, fishing the edge is a good starting point. The drop-off just outside the sandbar runs parallel along the gulf beaches. Don't be bashful to anchor close, especially at night. Tarpon will seek the security of the shore on one side when cruising the beach.

When the sun rises, they might move out a bit. Wednesday, we jumped four and released three after moving out a cast and a half. Chumming can help. Pay attention to which rods get the most action. If only your inside rods are getting bites, you might have to adjust.

I prefer bottom fishing with fresh shad. But live bait suspended beneath a float also might work. An 8- or 9-foot fairly stout rod and 4/0 reel is standard. Three hundred yards of 50-pound test and a 6-foot 150-pound test mono leader often will allow you to stay anchored and keep fishing while hooked up. Don't be in a hurry to reel other lines in when a fish strikes. Karen Wotring was fighting a 128-pounder when Kleber's fish hit.

Elsewhere in the area, tarpon fishing has remained consistent. Silver kings continue to gather in the north and south pass near Egmont Key.

Drifting with live bait has been the most effective. Evening thunderstorms have hampered fishing during the prime times at the Sunshine Skyway bridge this week. Look for action to heat up as the weather permits. Tarpon will continue to filter into the bays, bayous, harbors, rivers and other backwaters, which is typical after the spawn.

Look for areas near Rocky Point, Gadsen and Mermaid points to attract fish. Inside Pass-a-Grille Pass, Port Manatee and the hard-bottom areas near Port Tampa are good bets. The Manatee River shouldn't be ignored, and neither should the mud holes in Clearwater, Terra Ceia and Palma Sola bays.

-- Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.

Fishing

Outdoors Calenda

TUESDAY: Sierra Club Turtle Walk on the Beach, St. Petersburg, (954) 452-7894

WEDNESDAY: Offshore seminar, Boater's World Marine Center, Largo, 584-8500.

Seminars

SATURDAY: Fly-casting, Bill Jackson's, 576-4169; World Class Outfitters, (813) 968-3736; Saltwater Fly Fisherman, Clearwater, 443-5000.

Boating

SATURDAY: Safe boating, Clearwater, 462-6368.

THURSDAY: Safe boating, Madeira Beach, 587-7873.

THURSDAY: Safe boating, St. Pete Beach, 867-3088.

Etc.

DAILY: Tram tour, Boyd Hill Nature Park, 893-7326.

SATURDAY: Guided hike, Brooker Creek Preserve; 943-4003.

SATURDAY: Guided walk, Weednon Island Preserve, 217-7208.

SATURDAY: Birding 101, Moccasin Lake Park, Clearwater Audubon Society, 789-4603 or 538-8688.

-- Send information to Outdoors, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. All items must be typed and arrive 10 days before the event. Include event name, address and phone number.

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