Reel Time: Get the most out of spring fishing

Spring is definitely in the air. It’s one of my favorite times of the year and one of the most productive for all anglers, whether they fish with fly, artificial lures or live bait. This week and next I will share some tips on getting the most out of spring, something I like to think of as spring training. First and foremost, anglers should realize that the major factors influencing fishing in April and early May will be weather and water temperature. Having said that, here are some suggestions from my friend Capt. Rick Grassett and me that we hope will lead to you maximizing the potential of spring.

Reel Time
Rusty Chinnis caught this trout on a top water plug near Longboat Pass. – Submitted

Grassett has specialized in night snook fishing for 30 years and suggests exploring lighted docks and bridges in the ICW at night. According to Grassett, night snook fishing should be productive with small white flies, like his Grassett Snook Minnow fly. He also recommends the flats, around sand and oyster bars, on points of islands and around docks and bridges close to passes in the ICW.

I would suggest looking for the underwater lights that have been sprouting up from Longboat Key to Anna Maria. The lighted bridge fenders at the passes would also be a good option. I suggest you also look for snook in potholes near the mouth of the Manatee River and on the flats in Terra Ceia, Miguel and Tampa Bays.

Before rains cloud the water, explore the edges of the Manatee River from Tampa Bay to Bradenton. Grassett suggests trying lures like CAL jigs and a variety of plastic tails including the new 4-inch CAL Shad, DOA Baitbusters and Airheads or surface walking top water plugs. I like top water plugs and flies, including crease flies and gurglers, as well as old standbys like the Lefty’s Deceiver and the seaducer.

Tarpon are a passion of both of us, and Grassett says that, depending on the weather and water temperatures, tarpon will become more plentiful this month as resident fish make their way out of rivers and creeks and early arriving migratory fish begin to show along beaches. Water temperature in the Gulf is a key factor with 80 degrees being an optimum temperature.

But that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter a tarpon before that, so our advice is to be ready at all times. Grassett expects resident fish can be found rolling on deep grass flats, laid up on edges of shallow grass flats or along sand bars. Almost 10 years ago, Capt. Randy Fowler showed me laid up tarpon on a deep grass edge in Anna Maria Sound, and I’ve found them there on numerous occasions in April.

Reds and trout will also be more active as the water warms and baitfish become more plentiful. It might not be for everyone, but I occasionally like to target bonnethead sharks and houndfish on the fly. Both bonnethead sharks and houndfish are seasonal visitors to local waters and are best targeted on the sand bars and shoals from Egmont Key to Bean Point. Sight fish them using a small white baitfish pattern for the houndfish and a red and/or orange Clouser or seaducer for bonnet heads. Bend down your barbs (recommended for all fish) so you can remove your hook without coming into contact with either species’ sharp teeth.

Another species that provides anglers with some great action are Jack crevalle. Jacks aren’t good to eat and most anglers consider them a nuisance. Large Jacks can be a formidable adversary, and I’ve found top water plugs and flies to be the most effective. Most any species of bait from shiners to small pinfish will be attacked by foraging Jacks. I like top water whether I’m fishing spin tackle or fly. The noise and commotion attracts and is effective on most every fish that swims local waters and the visual reward of an explosion on the surface is “priceless.”

Grassett suggests looking for Spanish mackerel, blues and pompano in the local passes or on the deep grass flats of Sarasota Bay. The same applies to the approaches to Tampa Bay. False albacore (little tunny), cobia and tripletail will all be present in the coastal Gulf this month from Egmont Key to Big Pass and beyond. The bottom line is that you should get out on the water whenever possible and enjoy the opportunities the season offers. Just think of it as spring training!