© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2002
Wet weather stole most of the thunder this week, but an improved forecast likely will kick-start activity. Permit highlighted our week's action, but inconsistency makes targeting tough.
Katie Carr's 23-pounder was the largest of five caught in 90 minutes Saturday. On Sunday we had no luck. Wrecks and reefs in excess of 50 feet have been unproductive. We were at 60.
If you go, take crabs. Shrimp works, but they often get devoured by mackerel, bonito and other reef fish before permit have a shot.
Also, be one of the first at your spot in the morning. Like most gamefish, permit feel pressure and likely will move to less congested areas. To ensure an early start, crabs may be caged overnight. Mesh cages work, but be sure they are well-sealed at the top. Crabs will crawl, and even though you feed them they'll walk out on you.
Line of 12-15 pounds with 25-pound fluorocarbon leader works well. Spinning tackle allows longer casts with a lightweight bait.
Some of the finest eating fish have made up for the lack of grouper inside 80 feet. Scamp, triggerfish an assortment of snapper and black sea bass were welcomed aboard Sunday. Though the keeper grouper were few and far between, anglers willing to work at it likely will get enough for dinner.
Large baitfish have been plentiful at the gulf pier at Fort De Soto. The projected opening of the rebuilt pier is mid September, and boaters likely will have to stay clear. Be aware that the reefs were built approximately 60 feet off the expanded areas of the structures and the end. Keep an eye on your recorder, because bait tends to gather over these underwater structures that create a hazard for cast-netters.
Snook season promises to begin with a bang. John Shelton has consistently caught and released linesiders for weeks. Armed with hard-bodied plugs and working Bunce's and John's passes with 15-pound line and spinning tackle has been most productive. Since snook have gathered in the passes before filtering into the bay, look for them in residential canals nearby. Bryan Crisp released a 20-pounder throwing white bait along the docks near Snell Isle this week. Be sure to have a valid snook stamp and wait until 12:01 a.m. Sunday if you plan to keep one.
Bottom fishing the edges of the shipping channel has remained steady. Although the keeper-to-throwback ratio of grouper is about 15-1, the mangrove snapper action makes up for it. Go with a variety of bait sizes. Grouper will whack the larger ones, but you will reduce greatly the number of snapper you catch if that's all you use.
Mackerel still are being caught in Tampa Bay, with some of the larger ones hanging out at the reefs and range markers in at least 15 feet. Anchor up-tide and have enough chum to do it right. Sometimes it takes a while to get them going. Focus your attention around the last 90 minutes of the tide.
-- Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.