Fall fishing fantasy begins
Predators drive bait to the surface providing a feast for seabirds
and fast action for anglers.
October is one of the best months of the year for angling local waters. A plethora of species both migratory and resident are treated to massive schools of bait fish that have begun the fall migration into the inshore and nearshore waters. Tampa Bay, local passes and the Gulf can be jammed with these voraciously feeding gamefish. Look for them as they slash though schools of bait, showering them skyward, with seagulls and terns likely to be wheeling overhead. If you don’t see action on the top, don’t assume that there are no fish around. Either chum areas with structure or use a top water plug or fly to prospect. Captain Rick Grassett and I did just that last year in October and found some big Spanish mackerel over a reef off Whitney Beach. When we arrived there was no sign of fish or bait, but they were there. We had a fabulous time throwing top water poppers to mackerel approaching six pounds. This time of the year there are also likely to be little tunny (bonito), kingfish and possibly cobia over structure and haunting baitfish schools.
When the fish are on the surface the feeding frenzy guides anglers to the heart of the action. But don’t make the mistake of the uninitiated who run their boats right through the big bait balls. Approach cautiously, calculating wind and current, positioning the boat for a drift. Cutting the engine will keep the fish and bait from sounding, and give you a much better chance at success. Trolling motors also allow a stealthy approach.
Live bait, spoons, plugs, jigs and flies are all effective. Keep it simple and fish with light tackle. For the fly rod angler a light 6-7 weight outfit and small Clouser style fly is a perfect match for mackerel. Size up to an 8-10 weight rig for kingfish, little tunny or cobia. Attach a small 6- to 8-inch trace of light wire to a 30-pound butt section of leader using an Albright special if you’re hunting kingfish or Spanish mackerel. Light spinning tackle is also effective. Try the same light wire leader with small white buck tail jigs or silver diamond jigs and top water plugs. Ultra-light tackle from 4-6 pounds adds up to some exciting action on Spanish mackerel but you will want to size up to 15- to 20-pound tackle for kings and other species.
Those anglers who don't own a boat can still find excellent action on Spanish mackerel. The bridges that span the Gulf passes provide a great vantage point to target mackerel. The areas near the main span of a bridge often tend to be the best due to the increased water depth and current flow. The same current that concentrates fish also creates some problems for the bridge angler. The smaller lures that are best are also light and hard to cast. This can be remedied by using a torpedo weight ahead of the lure and leader. Size the weight according to the strength of the current to provide the best action. The passes are also a great place to target mackerel and occasionally little tunny from a boat. An early morning outgoing tide seems to be the best, but a good incoming tide can also provide great action. The Rod & Reel Pier and the City Pier on Anna Maria are also great vantage points. No matter what your angling method always bend down the barb on your hook. It's unlikely that you’ll lose a fish if you keep a tight line. Mackerel, little tunny and kingfish are all fast swimmers and members of the mackerel family have extremely sharp teeth. You need to release them quickly if you don’t plan on eating them. You’ll also stand a better chance of keeping your fingers and a clean boat if the hook can be easily removed. Spanish mackerel must be at least 12 inches, measured from the tip of the snout to the fork of the tail. The bag limit is 15 per angler per day. Little tunny have dark bloody meat, have little nutritional value and should be quickly released. King mackerel must be a minimum of 24 inches measured to the fork of the tail and anglers are allowed two per person per day. Cobia must be 33 inches measured to the fork and anglers are allowed to possess one per day or six per day for any vessel, whichever is less.
Whatever your strategy, if you rig light and explore the Gulf waters and passes, you’re sure to Fall into some fast and furious action.