The Nature Coast Fishin’ Report: Anglers finding success in deeper waters offshore

Mark Marcoux, left, and Bryan Winchell show off a couple of 40-inch cobia caught back-to-back while fishing with Capt. Dustin of FishNcrazy Charters, who has been working the 100- to 125-foot depths for red snapper, gags, mahi, blackfin tuna and even kingfish and doing well.

Guide bites

Capt. Mike Senker (352-584-6297): Right now the best bet offshore is to start fishing in 40 feet of water and work your way out, says Capt. Mike. Word is there are some resident gag grouper in shallower water, but unless you are diving and spearing them, don’t count on getting them to take a bait in the warm Gulf water, which tends to sap their appetites. Inside 40 feet, there are plenty of grunts around rocky bottom. Running offshore Monday, Capt. Mike reported the water was fairly clean and clear despite weekend rains. He thinks boats now may end up in 60 feet before anglers reliably hook up with keeper gags, and perhaps a red grouper or two.

Capt. Mike Manning (727-243-8918): Capt. Mike is back on the water after a great season tarpon fishing in Boca Grande. He reports it was one of the best seasons in years, and everyone was glad to see the great numbers and large average size of silver kings. For those looking for a great time offshore, it may be time to book a trip to the Middle Grounds. He was fishing 110 miles out and the boat scored a mix of big gags to 30 pounds, jumbo red snapper, a few scamp and mangrove snapper. The cooler, deeper water is just a better bet right now. For those who can’t get out that far, it’s wise to start serious bottom fishing at around 50 feet.

Hernando tackle shop roundup

Bait & Tackle of Hernando Beach (352-610-4315): Sven reports he got some welcome news of keeper-sized trout in relatively shallow water about halfway out of the Hernando Beach channel. The fish have been a lot deeper over grass bottom, but it appears some have moved in a bit, perhaps due to cooling rains bringing Gulf temperatures down. Redfish have been fairly reliable for anglers working rocky points, oyster bars and flooded mangroves. A few snook are mixed in with them, most being smaller males. The big snook are around structure, sometimes in shallow water. Jenkins Creek at night and sunrise is a good place to connect with a large snook. A few black drum are in backwater pockets, along with some sheepshead. Lots of small barracuda have been in area backwaters. Offshore, word is there still are some keeper-sized gag grouper in as little as 12 feet of water, though they are not taking baits. Those slow-trolling large plugs have been taking some undersized fish in those depths. For bottom fishing, try 50 feet and deeper for gags, as the cooler depths keep them a little more active and willing to take baits. Still, they don’t have a lot of energy, and Sven said a jumbo live shrimp is a secret weapon for them right now, as they don’t want to chase a live pinfish or other agile bait.

Dixie Lee Bait (352-596-5151): Mark reports redfish action has been pretty good along the Hernando coastal rock points, mangroves and bars. Live shrimp or fresh cut bait will take them. Trout fishing has been very hit-or-miss and lots of shorts can be expected. The shallow offshore rocks are producing some nice catches of mangrove snapper. Some of the same rocks are holding cobia. Put out a chum bag for the cobia and eventually they will find you. Problem is lots of sharks will be there, too. Gag grouper fishing has been poor. Don’t expect to find willing fish of keeper size unless going deep, with 60 feet or more likely the minimum for success.

Pasco & North Pinellas tackle shop roundup

The Rusty Bucket (727-645-6598): Bill says the weekend was crowded, with lots of boats scalloping on the final weekend of the mini-season, making it tough for anglers to find spots away from all the traffic. Those who got in close to shore on the higher tides and fishing dead baits did very well on redfish, also picking up a few snook. He advises scaling tackle up to handle the snook, as right now there’s a good chance a big one will pick up a fresh cut-bait while going for reds. A good opportunity for some fun fishing for families is fishing for mangrove snapper around the pilings of the stilt houses off the Cotee River. Shrimp will get them and quick limits of fish have been easy work. A few other species will be part of the catch, perhaps even a snook for those fishing early enough in the day. Offshore, Capt. Dustin of FishNcrazy Charters has been putting his anglers on some great action in 100 to 125 feet of water. Bottom fishing for snapper, grouper and hogfish has been solid, and putting out a flat line with a live or cut bait can produce a number of species, including mahi, tripletail, blackfin tuna and even kingfish. Cobia are another good bet.

J&J Bait and Tackle II (727-940-7928): James reports most everyone was taking advantage of the last weekend of scalloping around the Anclote area, and reports were that many did well. It was crowded, but anglers who got away from the scallopers worked mangroves, rocks and oysters along the shorelines north and south of the Anclote River for redfish, doing reasonably well. The trout are scattered over the open grass flats. Fish a little deeper than typical for the best action.

Tarpon Trading Company (727-937-1488): Larry reports anglers fishing off the Fred Howard Park causeway have been taking a mix of reds, trout and snook. A regular at the shop reported spotting a half-dozen snook come out from under the first bridge on the causeway, with one of them the largest he’s seen in his years of fishing the area. The fish were not interested in taking a bait, but he reported it was good to see they are there. Word was that many scalloping around Anclote and knew where to find them did well on the last weekend of the annual harvest. There were so many scallopers, fishing anywhere near Anclote Key was next to impossible. Offshore anglers getting out to the first hard bottom have been taking lots of grunts, but one regular at the shop has been fishing in 50 feet of water off Hudson and taking gag grouper and red snapper. That’s considerably shallower than many have been fishing in the hot Gulf water, but it illustrates how not testing the action on the way offshore can be a mistake.

Cooper's Bait & Tackle (727-868-8736): Bill says Hudson anglers have been taking some trout on the deeper grass flats. Jigs and live shrimp work. There were a few reds taken in canals, but most of the canal catches have been mangrove snapper and sheepshead, which will take live and frozen shrimp on the bottom. An angler fishing a canal just north of the bait shop landed a 39-inch goliath grouper. The species is protected, and promptly released.