By Captain Brian Lemelin
As July nears a close, the whitebait has hatched and the flats are loaded with great bait. An increasing number of threadfins and glass minnows are also all over the main channels.
Follow the birds, they always know where the bait is. Chumming for bait is pretty much required. My standard mix is tropical fish food with 45 percent Menhaden oil. I purchase this at the local Ace Hardware store. Mix a bit of chum with saltwater in a small bucket and you’re ready to go.
Use a flats net, which has a ¼” sq. mesh and an 8-10’ radius. Start chumming and give it a few minutes. You will see the bait start showing up. A bonus this time of year is the perfect size pinfish that will be in the mix.
We are well into the mangrove snapper season. Mangrove snapper is exceptional table fare and provides a great battle. This season has been exceptional with both the numbers and size of the mangroves. An average day is around 10 keepers, with an average size around 15”.
Mangroves have great eyesight, so a fairly light leader and small hook are required. I like to use a 10 to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader with a size 1 circle hook. Add just enough weight to get the bait down to the bottom.
Mangroves really require chumming to get them into a feeding frenzy. I simply use the whitebait as chum. Squeeze the air out of them so they don’t swim away. Set a strong, tight drag as these fish will want to take you directly into a structure.
This month’s bonus while fishing for mangroves has been flounder. We usually catch a couple a day while targeting the mangroves.
The one downfall of chumming and using a light leader is the number of break-offs you’ll have from the Spanish mackerel. Macks are all over the bay and are a blast to catch and also make great table fare.
When they respond to your chum, set up a couple of rods with 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and long shank hooks. Set a loose drag and let the macks have their run. Just keep the rod bent, line tight and keep on reeling.
Next month’s report will be about rodeo fishing. Running and gunning for crevalle jack and Spanish mackerel, with surprise catches of breeder redfish mixed in.
Until then enjoy our great Tampa Bay waters and all that it offers.