Bait the trickiest of all fish to find for now

Published May 12, 2007

Strong west winds and a lack of baitfish made flats fishing challenging this week. Even before the seas came up and stirred the water, scaled sardines had been unusually difficult to locate. Normally this time of year they can be found on the grass flats and around the larger rock piles just offshore. Lately, however, anglers have spent a lot of time chumming in different locations just to secure enough to go fishing.

Small threadfin herring have been more abundant and, though not as desirable as scaled sardines, they will work for snook, reds and the larger trout. The main drawback with threadfins is they are more delicate and do not survive as well in the bait tank. Taking extra precautions to handle them gently, such as emptying the cast net directly into the baitwell, will increase their effectiveness. Be sure to save the baits that die, as they make great cut bait for redfish.

- The snook bite has been good lately with quite a few fish over 30 inches being caught near the river mouths. Drifting live baits has been the primary technique.

When the conditions clear, keep an eye out for cobia on the flats. Most of the time they will be found following large southern stingrays. These rays periodically stop and "mine" the bottom for buried fish and crabs, lying on the sand or mud and drawing water in through the holes in the top of their heads then jetting it down into bottom below them. Any potential food items that escape from beneath the ray are quickly pounced upon by cobia.

By far the most common prey they take from the rays are small blue crabs. Toad fish, eels and cowfish are other odd things found in the stomachs of cobia.

- There were reports of decent tarpon catches by fly-fishermen out of Homosassa before the west winds increased. Hopefully they will still be there when things settle down. On calm mornings, the deeper grassflats between Chassahowitzka and Homosassa are a good place to start looking. As the sun rises, any fish in the area can often be seen rolling or "laying up" during the low light conditions. The use of push poles of trolling motors in this area is necessary to avoid spooking the fish.

- Grouper fishing has been good in depths as shallow as 10 feet. One boat landed 15 keeper-sized grouper in less than 12 feet last weekend. Anchoring away from the rocks and casting toward them is the key to success in the shallows. Unlike deep-water grouper fishing, these fish will not tolerate parking the boat directly above them and dropping lines vertically.

Live bait and very light sinkers are also helpful. The lighter the weight the fewer snags you will get. In some cases using freelining baits such as pinfish works best.

- There has been plenty of Spanish mackerel on the deeper grass flats and offshore. Anchoring and chumming will probably be the best way to catch them for a while since there is usually a lot of floating grass after heavy winds.

A little farther out, the kingfish should still be hanging around the larger reefs and wrecks. For the most part they will be found outside 30 feet but a few big ones are possible in depths as shallow as 15 feet.