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It's good to be able to

By JAY MASTRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 24, 2001


There is no place like home. Returning after a week of gathering lobster and denting the dolphin population in the Florida Keys, we were welcomed Tuesday by more than three dozen mackerel that weren't so happy to see us. And while it is quite an experience on a clear day to be able to make out the shoreline while fishing in 600 feet, or be able to see bottom in 30 feet, more days than not you have to trailer seven hours to get there.

There is no place like home. Returning after a week of gathering lobster and denting the dolphin population in the Florida Keys, we were welcomed Tuesday by more than three dozen mackerel that weren't so happy to see us. And while it is quite an experience on a clear day to be able to make out the shoreline while fishing in 600 feet, or be able to see bottom in 30 feet, more days than not you have to trailer seven hours to get there.

At home, take your pick. Now that at least some of the juvenile sardines, greenbacks and whitebait have grown enough to be offered as bait, options are many. Mangrove snapper activity has increased in the bay. A, B and C cuts have been among the most productive along the edges of the ships channel. Artificial reefs in Tampa Bay shouldn't be overlooked either. Refer to fish/dive charts for their location and keep in mind the structure has remained at many of the older sites, though the buoys that marked them have long since disappeared.

Mackerel continue to be among the best bets for near-shore action. Small silver spoons are most practical for trollers. Trolling fast to stay in the schools of these toothy critters while on the move can be too exhausting for live bait, making them ineffective. Anchoring and chumming them to you is the alternative. Though it took us nearly an hour to get them going, once they found their way up our chum line, three and four on at a time was common.

Chumming live and dead bait kept them frenzied. Monofiloment leader made a noticeable difference. Anchored in 26 feet near structure southwest of Pass-a-Grille was our battle ground and long shanked No. 1 hooks prevented some of the inevitable cutoffs.

Two weeks ago, I'd guarantee jumping a tarpon or two during a tide change. I wouldn't make that bet now. While some will stay as long as the water temperature resembles bath water, after three months of wearing us out, the masses have moved on. For those who have not had their fill, areas near Gadsden and Mermaid points as well as the rocky areas near Port Tampa are among the most productive spots for late season, back-breaking, reel-screaming action.

Favorable weather conditions have allowed those willing and able to get offshore. Amberjack are bringing anglers to their knees at springs and wrecks in excess of 100 feet. And though it's not automatic, folks making the trip to the Florida Middle Grounds have been rewarded with the typically good catches of grouper, and recently exceptional numbers of large snapper.

As always, and especially this time of year, keep an eye on the weather forecast and plan your trips accordingly.

-- Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.

Fishing

(All phone numbers begin with 727 unless noted)

UPCOMING: Eighth annual Bill Currie Jr. Fall Ladies Classic, Sept. 7-8, Tierra Verde Resort, Tierra Verde, benefits All Children Hospital, (813) 554-5342.

UPCOMING: Thirteenth annual Alafia River Catfish Tournament, Sept. 8, Williams Park, Tampa, (813) 671-6144.

UPCOMING: Monthlong snook tournament, September, Hurricane Pass Anglers Club, Ozona, 785-3018.

Seminars

TODAY: Fly-tying, Bill Jackson's; 576-4169.

SATURDAY: Fly-casting, Bill Jackson's, 576-4169.

SATURDAY: Fly-casting, World Class Outfitters, (813) 968-3736.

SATURDAY: Fly-casting, Saltwater Fly Fisherman, Clearwater, 443-5000.

Boating

TONIGHT: USF Sail Club meeting, Bayboro Campus, 821-4840.

TONIGHT: Evening race, Clearwater, 447-6000.

TONIGHT: Twilight race, St. Petersburg, 822-3873.

SATURDAY: Safe-boating course, Clearwater, 462-6368.

SATURDAY: Free kayak demo, Sweetwaters Kayaks, Tierra Verde, 906-0708.

SATURDAY: Discover sailing, Clearwater Community Center, Clearwater, 462-6368.

SATURDAY: Bay race, Tampa, (813) 645-8377.

-- See Sunday's Outdoors for a list of next week's events. Send information to Outdoors, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. All items must be typed and arrive 10 days before the event. Include event name, time, address and phone number.

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