Inshore action stays hot
By ED WALKER
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
Recent rains have stained most inshore and near-shore waters dark brown. While this sometimes puts a damper on fishing, most reports indicate inshore fishing is as good or better than it was a few weeks ago.
Big schools of redfish have shown up in many places in Tampa Bay and on the flats north of Clearwater. Schools of a hundred or more have been seen pushing wakes across shallow banks and bars early in the morning. If you are fortunate enough to come across one of these schools, the action can be nonstop. Catches of 15 or more big reds in an afternoon have been common. The best way to keep the redfish bite going once it starts is to chum with live sardines while you are hooked up.
For shallow-water fishermen, school reds usually range from 5 to 12 pounds, with an occasional exception. Every once in a while, a monster red will hang around with the others. During the past week, a handful of 15- and even 20-pound redfish have been caught from schools in 3 feet of water or less.
A bonus fishery right now is the amazing concentration of tarpon along the beaches. These fish are completely different from the ones you find earlier in the season when spawning is the most important thing on their minds. The tarpon here now are finished mating and are gorging themselves on the abundant food along the beaches. In fact, I recently witnessed an odd reason for tarpon to gather to feed: Red Tide. Small patches of Red Tide have appeared in some areas along the beach, and in these small sections, dying fish such as grunts, pinfish and sardines come spinning to the surface where the tarpon and birds gulp them one after another.
A few hundred yards away, pods of threadfins and other baitfish swim unaffected. The tarpon have discovered that in these Red Tide zones, the baitfish become dazed. They circle them and pick off the semi-stunned fish as they come spinning out. I witnessed this over and over Tuesday and Wednesday. More than once, we saw a big tarpon explode on a sick baitfish just as a pelican tried to grab it.
There are hundreds of these late-season tarpon just offshore. To find them, look for the birds and shut off the motor. If you are in the right place, it won't be long before you hear the telltale slurp of a rolling tarpon. Drifting live threadfins in these areas produced 15 hookups for us in a day and a half, and we felt no adverse respiratory effects or odors due to the seemingly small amounts of Red Tide.
Grouper action has been slow, but that should change soon. While few gags have been brought in lately, divers report there are good numbers showing up in shallower water. These fish are feeding on small glass minnows and are difficult to catch on rod and reel. As the water begins to cool later this month, the gags should become more common.
-- Ed Walker charters out of Palm Harbor. Call (727) 944-3474 or e-mail TarponEd@aol.com.