© St. Petersburg Times, published August 23, 2002
High tide best time on flats
Afternoon storms have helped lower the water temperature on the flats. This will help draw gamefish back to the mangrove islands and oyster bars. The best time to fish these areas is high tide.
The redfish are starting to school near the 4- to 5-foot drop-offs that line the flats. They will move onto the flats to feed during the higher tides, then return to deeper water as the tide falls. Weedless spoons, white bait and small pinfish work on the grass flats. Chum with live white bait when fishing the drop-off. If the live chum fails to produce a surface strike, move up-currant and chum again. White bait and small pinfish under a cork work better than shrimp. Schools of pinfish usually will eat the shrimp before a redfish can find it.
Trout, bluefish, jacks and ladyfish are working the baitfish spawn that line the edges of the flats. During the outgoing tide look for the spawn to move over the deeper grass piles in 4 to 5 feet of water. This is when the action gets hot. Small strawberry jigs dragged around the bait schools can draw strikes on every cast. Trips this week produced more than 100 trout in a three-hour period. Squeezing down the barb on the hook will make the releasing of undersized or unwanted fish easy. Tarpon, sharks and cobia have appeared some days. Have a rod ready.
Tampa Bay has schools of large threadfins off the St. Petersburg municipal pier and around the shipping channel. These schools are holding mackerel up to 6 pounds and small sharks. Anchoring with a chum block off the side of the boat will get the action going. North of Port Manatee around the towers we found large schools of spawn that were being hammered by mackerel and jacks. The best action was during the slack tide. Drive up to the feeding frenzy and cast a small spoon into the surface strikes before the action stops. Retrieve the spoon at a fast pace just under the surface. When the action dies, watch the birds to find the next eruption. They will flock over the surface as the mackerel start striking. Your rod tip should be pointed down to keep line in the water during the retrieve. This will keep the birds from flying into the line. Put a live mackerel on a stinger rig if you want to have a chance at catching a big kingfish. A few 40- to 50-pounders were seen skyrocketing out of the mackerel schools.
Grouper fishing should start at 90 feet. The best action has been in 150 feet. This is about 50 miles out and should not be attempted by boats that are not up to the task. It's best to go with two boats in case one breaks down. Big pinfish or grunts on heavy tackle should be used.
-- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.