By Captain Travis Yaeckel
If you are looking for some meat for the summer fish fry, now is a good time. With the hotter water temps inshore, we have been spending a lot of time fishing in the bay. Mangrove snapper, Spanish mackerel, cobia, and gag grouper are abundant on the local reefs, channel edges, rock piles, and range markers. If eating sharks fits to your liking, there are also plenty of blacktip and bonnet head sharks for the grill or smoker.
Mangrove snapper spawn from late summer through September inside Tampa Bay. This time of year large numbers of fish invade the deeper areas of the bay, mainly over structure and provide fantastic fishing action and table fair. A great way to locate schools of fish is with chum. Nearly every grass flat is loaded with small bait, perfect for snapper fishing. If you are not proficient with a cast net, any store bought chum block will do. In fact, buy three or four; you will thank me. Anchor up current of the target area and create a generous chum slick. Once you get the fish eating chum, free line baits back into the action. A cut piece of bait or shrimp is best. The key to catching a pile of them is to never stop chumming.
Sometimes it can be difficult to get them to bite and they will leave you scratching your head. Keep chumming and don’t give up. Change up your rig if you have to. I normally start with 20 lb. Ohero fluorocarbon leader and sometimes get all the way down to 10 lb. to get the bite. I also recommend using a small hook. A size 1/0 Mustad circle hook normally does the trick. As far as weight goes, I prefer to not add any. If I can’t get the school to come up off the bottom, then I will start adding small split shot weights to get the bait down quicker. The good thing about this fishing technique is it also brings whatever else is lurking in the area to the back of the boat. Spanish mackerel will normally be the first to show up but don’t be surprised to hook a big cobia or gag grouper drifting baits back.
Sharks are also all over the bay. Just about any place you create a chum slick, you can guarantee they will come around. Sharpnose and bonnet head sharks seem to be the most prevalent, but certain areas are holding great numbers of blacktips. They are definitely not for everyone’s appetite, but they are a blast to catch and release. You will need to add a short piece of steel leader or use a long shank hook to land most of them and be careful handling them; they are still sharks and will still bite.