The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 19 - March 5, 2014

reel time

A taste of the winter banquet

Reel time

rusty chinnis | submitted

Ben Ford with a tripletail he caught fishing with
Captain Rick Grassett.

One of the pleasures of living in Florida is the excellent fishing opportunities that are available during the winter months. Here on the west coast we’re blessed with a large variety of species that inhabit the Gulf and bays when most of the nation is locked in snow and ice. Some days can produce exceptional results, making a venture into our local waters a worthwhile proposition. Recently I had the pleasure of experiencing a great day of fishing on a cool but sunny day with Ben Ford and Captain Rick Grassett, of Sarasota.

We headed from our launch point on City Island to the Gulf where we planned to follow lines of crab traps in the Gulf looking for tripletail. Our plan was to run from New Pass to Longboat Pass and then to fish our way back in the bay. Tripletail are an unusual species that gravitate to the stone crab trap floats that balloon in numbers in the inshore Gulf during the winter months.

They can be located by picking a trap line and running to the side close enough that you can see them floating next to the markers. Since they are not generally spooky, it’s possible to come back to the trap and cast to them. What makes tripletail unusual is that they are an ambush species that breaks the rules of making a presentation.

Almost every species that swims our local waters will spook if live bait or an artificial lure approaches (attacks) them. Tripletail are different because they lay alongside the markers on their side impersonating drift algae that collects on trap lines. Not realizing there’s a predator nearby, their prey (small fish and crustaceans) swim up to them and make a convenient meal. In effect, they hide in plain sight.

We had run traps for about 10 minutes when Grassett spotted a fish and circled back for a cast. After giving the fish a minute to settle down he approached the trap slowly with his trolling motor. When we were within casting distance, Ford mounted the bow with an 8-pound spinning outfit rigged with a DOA Shrimp. After several casts to get his range, he made a presentation that crossed right in front of the tripletail’s nose, an enticement that proved irresistible. With a quick jab Ford set the hook and then enjoyed a brief but powerful run. Leaning into the bend of the rod, he carefully worked the fish to the boat after a spirited battle.

Heading north it didn’t take more than a few minutes before Ford spotted another tripletail. This time it took a number of casts before the fish was finally enticed to take the lure. These fish can be difficult to read, and many anglers give up on them after just a few casts. While there are times they won’t respond to lures or live bait, often it will take multiple casts to get them interested. When it did take the lure, it pounced on the artificial shrimp as if it was the first time it had seen it. This fish was about the same size as the first one and it used its 6 pounds to resist Ford’s efforts to get it to the boat. After another hard fought struggle it gave up and was netted by Grassett.

The balance of the trip down Longboat yielded two more tripletail that turned down every offering we could come up with. In both cases, we tried a number of casts with the DOA Shrimp before trying a fly. Tripletail will take a well-placed fly readily when they are in the mood, but both of these fish resisted every effort we made to entice them to both lures and flies.

Arriving at Longboat Pass, we elected to head into the bay and try for bluefish, trout and Spanish mackerel that Grassett had been finding near mid-key. We ran to a large area of deep grass off Buttonwood Harbor where Grassett came off plane and began a drift. We were using both top water plugs and DOA Cal Jigs rigged with a small piece of wire leader to prevent being cut off by the sharp teeth of the mackerel and bluefish.

Ford had the “hot hand” and was soon connected to a 3-pound Spanish mackerel that put up a spirited battle, stripping drag from the 8-pound spinning rig. Grassett netted the mackerel just as a bluefish exploded on my top water plug. The bluefish fought hard making multiple runs into the drag and entertaining us with several jumps. The action was hot for about an hour as Grassett, Ford and I connected with mackerel and bluefish before the action gradually tapered off as the tide slacked.

We fished a couple of other flats on the way back to the launch ramp and although the action had peaked for the day we landed a couple of trout and a ladyfish.

At the ramp, we commented on how lucky we were to be able to have such a good day of fishing right in the middle of the winter. The action was consistent for most of the day giving us a taste of the winter banquet that’s available in local waters this time of the year.

If you’re interested in experiencing some excellent action while never breaking a sweat call Captain Rick Grassett at 941-350-9790 or visit his website at

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