One day it’s up and then we go down the next. Welcome to fishing.
Our Boca Grande tarpon fishery is in great shape. Look at the results for Kids Classic tournament — 81 fish in three hours for kids under 15 is awesome action. Even better news: One of the captains said that means another 100 fish at least jumped! That’s hot tarpon action.
This tournament is all live bait traditional drift fishing. Yes, it can get crowded; no, this is not for the inexperienced boat operators. Novice or timid captains do not belong in this mix. The fish are usually there, except when aggressive clowns chase them away. Some folks just don’t respect the natural flow of life.
I joined some friends to dip crabs on a hill tide last Monday. It was fun to reminisce about old memories. I spent a couple decades fishing there and we enjoyed some awesome tarpon action. We all enjoyed visiting with many old — excuse me, longtime — friends. The Pass has lost some special folks recently but still hosts many familiar faces. The close quarters allow you to casually chat with other boaters while crabbing or fishing. It’s close digs, but it’s fun when we all work together. The Pass always has been a social fishing atmosphere.
That’s exactly the deal with traditional tarpon fishing. This is gentleman’s fishing, nothing like chasing all around aggressively. It’s a coordinated effort to allow your presentation to naturally flow and entice a giant tarpon. Matching your drift’s speed to the current flow is the trick. It’s that simple, really. Don’t pull or drag your offerings — just slow down and match the flow. If you have trouble figuring it out, just let your rig do what’s natural and stay out of others’ way you’re learning. Use good lively baits and enjoy the party.
Spanish mackerel action still provides us dinner, but requires more time spent trolling. Many of the fish are smaller but some are among the largest we’ve seen this season; somehow it balances. Fish seem to stay more consistently near the beaches, but if we find them deeper there are bigger schools. I’m still hearing of some king mackerel, but not as many. They are catching some larger 30-pounders to entice our attention. Like I said starting out, it’s up and down.
Our water temps have heated up to almost 90 degrees. That’s hot, and baitfish can be challenging to maintain. My canal is too hot to keep bait now. Don’t crowd minnows in your livewells now, unless you want a bunch of weak or dead bait. The water won’t hold enough oxygen to black wells out until fall.
The slimy gumbo of algae is a nightmare frequently. It’s moving out with the stronger tides and making even Gulf fishing harder. Check your lines and baits frequently to remove the gunk. It’s even a problem bottom fishing in 50 feet! When we passed our smaller outflows of Gasparilla and Stump passes returning from Boca Grande Pass, there were huge mats of nasty-smelling black algae everywhere. Check your sea strainers and livewell pickups frequently too. Hopefully this will soon pass.
Inside fishing is challenging. The hot water pushes everything off the shallow backcountry flats. Explore deeper edges and look for healthy grassy patches. Good luck finding any from Cape Haze west! You might start looking for snapper or scattered larger Spanish mackerel. We always have a few tripletail and cobia around now. I don’t expect much here with so many fishing boats chasing everything, but be ready if you encounter one. Schools of jacks can add excitement and bend your poles.
Offshore is the hot ticket now, if your rig is safe to explore the wild blue yonder. Red snapper and gags are open for recreational anglers now. The best action is beyond the safe range for smaller boats. Most pros targeting red snapper are fishing 50 to 60-plus miles out, and many run north or south extra distances. Please be safe — don’t risk your life for a few fillets.
The for-hire charter boats have a longer window of opportunity. The cost of a trip may seem expensive, but if you don’t have good spots to go straight to, it can be less costly to hire a professional. Remember, you don’t have to get bait, rig gear, clean fish, or pay the fuel bill! The pros who successfully do this for living produce quality fish on most of their trips. It’s way cheaper than buying a rig to fish offshore when seasons are open.
While I do enjoy a red snapper trip occasionally, mangrove and lane snapper satisfy me just fine. It’s a shorter run with lighter gear and offers a lot more action. Our trips are supposed to be fun adventures. Deep-water expeditions involve a lot of preparation and hard work besides the significant expenses. I’m not trying to talk you out of it — just consider all the factors before you rush out and try it yourselves.
It’s summertime and school’s out. Take the kids fishing and share the outdoor world with them. If they don’t start young, they usually don’t start at all, so let’s go fishin’ now.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.