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Watch out for minnow madness

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 19, 2002

Massive schools of newborn glass minnows, sardines and threadfin herring have blanketed all depths of the gulf.

This influx of 1-inch hatchlings is on schedule with the annual spawn and has attracted numerous gamefish.

Little tunny, commonly called bonito, are the front-runners in a race to see which fish can gobble up the most minnows.

Thousands of 7- to 15-pound bonito can be seen from miles away, ferociously attacking the helpless minnows. The frothing water caused by baitfish leaping in all directions, combined with a tug of war between bonito and seabirds, make spotting the action easy.

Expect multiple hookups when all lines are deployed. Small spoons and jigs will work, but a live scaled sardine is your best bet. A light spinner rigged with 10-pound line is the perfect setup. Pound for pound, these cousins of the tuna are one of the toughest fighters our gulf waters have to offer. But their similarities are only in appearance and strength, not flavor, so don't bother filling the cooler for dinner. The meat tastes bitter and is bloody.

Some Spanish mackerel and a few stray kingfish have been joining the mayhem in 60-plus feet. Expect more macks to follow as summer matures. Eventually, the bait schools will dwindle in size, being forced up against the beach. That's when snook, ladyfish, trout and every other inshore predator joins the ambush. Even some late-season tarpon will settle in on the bait pods, taking in huge mouthfuls until most are gone. The baitfish that make it past all the feeding frenzies grow at an amazing rate. By August, many will be 2 to 3 inches, just in time for our fall run of kings.

Keep your eyes open for dead fish. With all the disturbed weather last week, anglers have experienced a small spread of Red Tide. Hog snapper, grouper and grunts have been spotted floating at the surface from 3 to 10 miles offshore of John's Pass and Clearwater Beach. The fish kills have been minimal, and hopefully the Red Tide will break up. The last thing we need is a repeat of last year's nasty algae bloom attacking the coastline. Fishing can be ruined for weeks if it settles on us.

-- Dave Mistretta captains the Jaws Too out of Indian Rocks Beach. Call (727) 595-3276, or e-mail

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