By Capt. Brian Lemelin, Optimus Fishing Charters

It’s an exciting time to be inshore on Tampa Bay hunting fish species such as red drum, black drum, trout and snook on the flats and in the backcountry.

From TECO’s Kitchen in Apollo Beach to the south spanning nearly 12 nautical miles and in and behind Cockroach Bay, some would proclaim these are some of the best fishing estuaries in Florida. Exploring these areas requires some tide planning, so stay in your comfort zone and have a safe day on the water.

Although moving water is ideal, many times we make our fishing plans around when we can get out on the water. Tides Near Me is a great app/resource to gain tidal information so you will have enough water depth to get into your planned spots holding fish.

A great rule of thumb is to go to the backcountry for two hours before a high tide and get out two hours after a high tide. If your convenient fishing time is surrounded by low tide, then stay out of the backcountry and fish the deeper areas along the slow speed signs and the exterior flats facing the bay.

On our recent trips, a medium rod of 12 to 20 pounds, with a four series spinning reel attached, spooled with quality 20-pound braid and 30-pound fluorocarbon leader (24-30” length) using a line-to-line knot or a double uni knot (look them up on YouTube), is our choice.

1/0 or 2/0 (pronounced ‘two ott’) circle hook with a small size of 5 or 4 split shot near the knot can help marinate a shrimp, or better yet, a quarter blue crab after removing the legs, top shell and going through a leg socket with your hook tip out, will attract red fish, black drum and to, some surprise, snook.

While fishing near the mangroves, 15-20 ft. from the shoreline, quietly lower your anchor, turn down your radio, don’t stomp or slam and let your vessel settle in so you can make an accurate sidearm throw/cast deep under a mangrove opening. Marinating your bait means leaving it there and patiently watching it get pulled teasingly lightly (sometimes over three times) until the fish gets it in its mouth, taking moderate drag.

Pro tip: Be mindful when a larger fish strikes. A great reeling strategy is to bury the tip in the water a couple of feet to lower the trajectory of your line so you can haul them out of the mangroves before they tie you up. Once in the clear, raise your tip, steadily reel and enjoy the ride.

Taking it on the flats, we use a great method that’s a ton of fun. My anglers and I determine the wind and drift (tide movement) together, so we can kill the engine in about 2 1/2 to 5 feet of water and plan to drift a few hundred yards; that either runs alongside the mangrove-covered islands or pushes us into or away from them. With similar tackle, lighten up to a 10 to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader (length should match your depth) under a torpedo-weighted cork and find some trout.

The proven casting method here must be far and high with the wind at our backs. Once the bobber lands, hand-close your bail, pull the line taunt, take a few reels to get the slack out and be active.

Pull the bobber towards you with a couple or three short, intermittent strokes of your rod to create a bit of a splash so the trout thinks it’s a wounded bait under it, reel the slack in and repeat every half-minute.

Relax and watch the bobber disappear, slightly apply pressure by drawing your rod toward your shoulder then begin cranking smoothly, not yanking your bait out of the fish’s mouth, and reel your catch in.

Pro tip: Once your boating buddies get on the bite, have onboard a marker buoy (Google it) to throw overboard to mark the hotspot so when the bite slows, you’ll easily be able to circle back to your buoy marker and start fishing again. If the bite slows, pick up your buoy and keep the drift going until the bite strikes again, then toss the marker buoy again.

Tight lines, and we’ll see you out there.

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