By Mike Murphy
Spring is upon us now and the water temps are up. The seagrasses in the areas are flushing out after their dormancy for the winter. This will bring back the baitfish and all the grass flats fish we like to target, such as snapper, Spanish mackerel and trout.
The scaled sardine, or as we like to call them, greenies, will set up on the grass flats throughout the area. This makes them a lot more feasible to catch rather than on the towers. Chum in about 3 to 4 ft. of water and you will see them begin to amass for you to net in short fashion. These work better than shrimp because they are heartier and you won’t have to bait up as often, not to mention the target species love to chomp on these little protein morsels. A 1/4 in. mesh net will be best and will keep you from gilling them badly in the net as some smaller baits will arrive with the mature baits.
I like to use a 1/0 circle hook for the greenies with 20-25 lb. test leader. As the water warms more, we will see the algal bloom back some, making the water a little cloudier. That’s when I shift to 25 lb. leader. Hook the greenie in the nose or under the pectoral fin (think armpit). This will keep the bait alive longer and allow it to swim more naturally. Some use bobbers, but I prefer freeline. Place the bobber about 3 ft. above the hook.
Artificial baits like the soft plastic swim baits work great for the trout, and they don’t get gut hooked most of the time. Trout have a significantly reduced survival from catching because unlike most other target species, they ingest the bait immediately. Artificial baits have a much better success rate when catch and release is desired. They are also better for scouting for them since it is more of an active method rather than passive (meaning taking the bait to the fish rather than waiting on the fish to find the bait).
For trout, scout the grass flats with artificial baits until you find a few bites. These fish tend to school very well and once they are located, catching 10 fish in 10 casts is not uncommon. Be wary of the transient cobia cruising the flats and reefs this time of year as they start migrating around the bay with the warming water.
Spanish mackerel will be chasing the schools of threadfins and glass minnows as they move back into the bay. Watch the bait getting worked and cast into the bait ball. You may want a small segment of light steel leader or 40 lb. leader to prevent some inevitable cutoffs.