The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 10 No. 1 - September 30, 2009

reel time

Fast fall action is here

From the September 30, 2009 Issue
Reel time

Captain Rick Grassett holds a little tunny
that took a top water popper in Tampa Bay.

Anglers get a glimpse of the changing season when schools of predatory fish begin to gather around the local passes as fall approaches. The weather might be saying summer, but fall is definitely in the air and out on the local waters. Last week, I had the pleasure of experiencing some fast and furious action with my friend and Sarasota guide Captain Rick Grassett.

We launched Grassett’s 18 foot Action Craft flats boat at the Kingfish Ramp on Manatee Avenue about 10 in the morning and headed north in the general direction of the Tampa Bay ship channel. The tide was just starting to come in when we first surveyed the waters. At first we saw little action except for a few terns apparently expecting something to happen as the tide picked up steam. Experienced anglers know they can count on these savvy seabirds, and about a half hour later we began to see the birds gather over baitfish that were being driven to the surface by schools of ravenous little tunny (bonito) and Spanish mackerel. Schools of bait and feeding fish would blow up on the surface, like some giant egg beater held too close to the surface of a bowl of whipped cream. The challenge was to get close enough to the school to fire a top water popper into the melee before they sounded and moved another 100 yards away. At the height of the action, we counted over a dozen schools feeding on the surface. Unfortunately, none of them were within casting distance.

There are two ways to approach this problem. Either you can get in the vicinity of birds scanning the water and just wait, or run at top speed (cowboying) to the feeding action, hoping the engine doesn’t cause the fish to sound. After trying the former for a few minutes with no luck, we charged the closest schools, cutting the engine so that we could coast close without spooking the fish. It took a few tries, but soon we were able to throw top water poppers into the middle of the action and watch as numerous fish vied to inhale the fly.

While many offshore anglers shun bonito, fly anglers crave their smashing strikes and mind boggling first and second runs. It’s not uncommon for a little tunny to run close to 100 yards into the backing of an eight-weight outfit. That’s just what happened to Grassett and me during the next three hours as we chased and connected with little tunny and Spanish mackerel. At the end of the day we counted 8 to 10 little tunas and close to a dozen mackerel, which had been brought to the boat and released. We had at least twice that number of strikes and pulled hooks before we decided to head back to the ramp with the fish still biting.

During the next three months, I predict we’ll see some of the best Spanish mackerel and little tunny fishing we’ve had in a long time. I think that will be the same for kingfish and cobia as well. Now is the time to get rigged and ready when the opportunity shows up on your gunnels.

Rig light, whether you are fishing with standard or fly tackle. Start with monofilament leader and long shank hooks before switching to wire, and definitely use top water plugs and flies. You’ll be impressed and hooked once you’ve experienced the fast fall action on little tunny and Spanish mackerel.

Contact Captain Rick Grassett at 941-350-9790 or

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