Fishing Sarasota Florida, Tips to Succeed!
Fishing Sarasota Florida, tips to succeed!
Anglers fishing Sarasota Florida have many opportunities. Sarasota offers good fishing inshore, along the beaches, and offshore. Many different species are caught using a variety of techniques.
Where can anglers find great information on fishing Sarasota, Florida? This article will help visiting anglers get started fishing in Sarasota. Sarasota is a resort town on the West Coast of Florida. It sits between Tampa/St. Pete and Fort Myers. Siesta Key in Sarasota is famous for its beaches. While Sarasota is not an angling destination, it does offer excellent fishing. Snook, redfish, speckled trout, and other species are caught inshore. False albacore, mackerel, and giant tarpon are caught along the beaches. Grouper and snapper are prized offshore catches.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so on the PRODUCTS page. Anglers can view the Siesta Key fishing report to get current information.
Visiting anglers fishing Sarasota Florida have several choices when it comes to how they are going to fish. Fishing from the beach are sure is easy and not very complicated. It is also not very expensive. Anglers can rent a boat and ply the inshore waters on their own. This is fun and adds a sense of adventure.
Sarasota Florida fishing charters
The best option for anglers who can afford it is to go out on a Sarasota fishing charter. Capt. Jim Klopfer runs adventure charters and has been doing so since 1991. His experience fishing the Sarasota waters dramatically increase the success rate for his clients.
Spinning tackle is the equipment of choice for most visitors fishing Sarasota Florida. Many of the baits used are light and spinning tackle is the best method of casting them. Also, majority of anglers are novices, including children. Spinning tackle is certainly the easiest equipment for them to be comfortable with. Fly fisherman can also do well. Any fish that will take a jig or other lure will take a well presented fly.
Fishing Sarasota Florida options
Anglers fishing Sarasota Florida inshore have quite a few options. They can target action and variety on the deep flats and in the passes. More challenging fish such as snook in redfish are sought after on the shallow flats and along mangrove shorelines. Tasty bottom fish such as snapper and sheepshead are caught under docks and other structure throughout the area.
Most of Sarasota Bay is fairly shallow. The maximum depth is around 10 feet. It has many acres of submerge grass beds. These are called “grass flats”. Grass is the primary cover for game fish and bait fish in Sarasota Bay. There is very little hard bottom view natural ledges. Therefore, fish will do most of their feeding in the submerge grass beds.
Deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay
Deep grass flats are submerge grass beds that grow in water between 5 feet deep and 10 feet deep. Anglers fishing Sarasota Bay on these deep grass flats will experience the most in terms of action and variety. Speckled trout are one of the primary species targeted on the deep grass flats. They are beautiful fish that are aggressive and taste great.
Drifting the grass flats is a great way to locate schools of speckled trout. Anglers using live shrimp under a noisy cork do very well. Shrimp can be free lined behind the boat as well. Live bait fish are often used, particularly in the summer time. Chumming with live pilchards and threadfin herring is extremely productive. Bait fish are usually plentiful on the shallow flats near the passes. They are easily caught with a cast net. The bait is kept alive in a large well and is used both as chum to attract the fish and bait to catch them.
Artificial lures on the deep flats
Artificial lures such as a jig and grub, plug, or spoon will catch plenty of fish for those that prefer casting. The lead head jig and grub combination will catch fish anywhere on the planet. It consists of a hook with a piece of lead at the eye and a soft plastic body that imitates the crab or shrimp. One quarter ounce is the most popular size. These lures are very effective. It does not take long for even a novice angler to catch fish with them.
Many other species are caught on the deep grass flats as well. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, Pompano, jacks, ladyfish, grouper, snapper, catfish, sharks, cobia, flounder, sea bass, and other species are encountered in these areas at one time of year or another. The same lures, baits, and techniques that produce speckled trout will catch all these other species as well.
Shallow grass flats in Sarasota Bay
Anglers seeking more challenging species such as snook, redfish, and jacks will target them on the shallow flats. These are areas between 1 foot deep and 4 feet deep. They are usually a combination of grass, sand, oyster bars, and mangrove shoreline. Artificial lures that cover a lot of water such as shallow diving plugs, weedless spoons, and soft plastic baits work well. Fish can be scattered and these types of search baits help locate the fish.
Live bait also works on the species for anglers fishing Sarasota Florida. A large live shrimp is a great bait, especially in the cooler months. They work very well fished on the flats or under docks. 3 inch pin fish and grunts are good baits as well. In the warmer months pilchards are very effective baits. Many of the small Silver fish are caught using a cast net. They are then used both as live bait chum and as baits to catch fish.
Sarasota has two passes, Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass. Both connect Sarasota Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. Pass is a term used on the Gulf Coast. It is basically an inlet. Both passes have good current flow and a lot of structure. They also have some of the deepest water around, up to 30 feet deep. These are ingredients for good fishing spots.
Anglers fishing Sarasota Florida passes do so in a couple different ways. Drifting through the middle of the pass while bouncing jigs on the bottom is very productive. Ladyfish can be loaded up in the passes times and are great fun on light tackle. Pompano are a delicious and highly prized fish that are caught using this technique as well. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks will also be taken. Live shrimp can be fished either free lined out behind the boat or near the bottom on a jig head.
Deep water structure in the passes holds quite a few different species. Mangrove snapper are available all year long. Sheepshead move in by late January and stay until April. Snook school up there in the summer time. Redfish, drum, grouper, flounder, jacks, and other species may be taken there at any time. Live bait is generally the most productive when fishing these types of spots.
Sarasota river fishing
Several rivers flow close to Sarasota that offer a unique angling experience. The Manatee River, Myakka River, and Braden River are all less than a 45 minute drive from Sarasota. Snook migrate up into these rivers in the winter. Jacks, redfish, juvenile tarpon, largemouth bass, and other species are caught as well. It is a relaxing fishing trip with excellent scenery.
The fishing technique and rivers is pretty simple. Clients cast shallow diving lures such as a Rapala towards shoreline cover as the boat drifts along with the current. Fallen trees and rocks will hold snook and other game fish. This is a Sarasota fishing charter that is best for experienced anglers. Some casting skill is required. It is also not a numbers game. The goal is a trophy snook. Capt. Jim is the only Sarasota fishing guide that offers this experience.
Sarasota inshore Gulf of Mexico
The inshore Gulf of Mexico can offer world-class fishing to anglers visiting Sarasota. When conditions are right, the waters within a mile from shore will be teeming with bait and game fish. East winds will result in clear and calm water. This is a situation that is optimum.
Pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, and false albacore will migrate up and down the coast just off the Sarasota beaches. They are following the schools of sardines and herring that they feed on. Anglers fishing Sarasota Florida can catch the species along with cobia and sharks in the spring and again in the fall.
Spanish mackerel and false albacore will often times feed on the surface. These are called “breaking fish”. This is very exciting fishing is so much of it is visual. Schools of fish will be seen foraging aggressively on the surface, feeding on the hapless bait. Just about any lure, bait, or fly that remotely resembles the forage that they are feeding on will get taken. The fish are very excited and aggressive!
Big fish close to shore
King mackerel grow much larger than Spanish mackerel. They will seldom be seen feeding on the surface. However, quite often they will be hovering just below the melee. The best approach when targeting king fish is to troll a large plug or live bait around the edges of the big bait schools. Some of the largest king mackerel are caught quite close to shore.
Giant tarpon show up off the Sarasota Beaches in mid May. Many consider them to be the ultimate angling challenge. There are very few opportunities to sight cast to fish over 100 pounds using spinning tackle. Again, this is a Sarasota fishing charter best suited to experienced anglers or hunters. That’s right, hunters. Tarpon fishing is as much fish hunting as it is fishing. Sighting the game and then stalking them is a big part of the fun and the challenge. There will be days when no fish are hooked. However, when it all comes together, it is nothing short of amazing!
Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program. There are a dozen small reefs inside Sarasota Bay. Most of the reefs are out in the Gulf of Mexico. Three of these reefs are within 2 miles of shore, just off of Lido Key. They provide excellent fishing for pelagic species when they are around. Anglers bottom fishing do well on sheepshead, flounder, grouper, snapper, grunts, and other species.
Offshore fishing in Sarasota
The waters offshore of Sarasota offer anglers quite a bit of variety as well. Bottom fishing for gag grouper and red grouper is very popular. Mangrove snapper, lane snapper, yellowtail snapper, Key West grunts, and triggerfish are also caught. Most of these fish are very good eating. Trolling produces king mackerel, blackfin tuna, and the occasional dolphin. Angling regulations change constantly. Current Florida fishing regulations can be viewed at the FWC website.
Anglers fishing Sarasota Florida for bottom fish target two types of spots. One is the previously mentioned artificial reef. These reefs are great fish holding structures. However, the numbers are published and everyone knows where there at. They get a fair amount of fishing pressure, particularly on weekends. The deeper the reef, the less pressure it receives. The deeper reefs and wrecks are the best spots to target amberjack.
The best spots for anglers bottom fishing are natural ledges. Most of the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is barren of structure. The vast majority is just flat sand. Therefore any area of hard bottom or ledge becomes a fish magnet. Coral will grow their which will in turn attract smaller fish. This will obviously attract the larger game fish. Live bait fish and cut bait such as frozen sardines works well. Florida does require that all anglers fishing offshore you circle hooks to reduce fish mortality. Fishing regulations are constantly changing, see the current rules on the FWC site.
Trolling offshore in Sarasota
Sarasota is not really known for its offshore trolling. The water simply does not get deep enough. At 30 miles from shore, the water is only about 100 feet deep. However, trolling does produce plenty of king mackerel in the spring and the fall. Most are caught between five and 15 miles from shore.
Adventuresome anglers will travel a long distance offshore in search of wahoo and Bill fish. This is a game for the serious angler and safety is a big concern. Boats need to be an excellent working condition, have large fuel capacity, and angler should never venture out there alone. The reward for all this effort and expense is a big wahoo, sailfish, or even a blue Marlin!
Fishing Sarasota Florida with red tide present
Unfortunately, red tide has moved into Sarasota. Red tide is an algae bloom that suffocates fish and other wildlife. Sarasota red tide fishing can be tough. An article on tactics and strategies for fishing under these conditions follows my weekly report.
Clients on Sarasota fishing charters had success this week, despite the emergence of red tide. The key was to find unaffected areas. The middle of Sarasota Bay from the Moorings to Long Bar was clean and held fish. Speckled trout, bluefish, ladyfish, jack crevelle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, catfish, and other species were landed. Bishop’s Pt. And Buttonwood were the top spots. Gulp Shrimp and Bass Assassin Sea Shad baits were productive, as was live shrimp.
We did have a pretty cool thing happen on Friday morning. My clients and I were drifting the flat at Bishop’s Pt. When we noticed something odd. A dark spot appeared, then the water went crazy! It turned out to be a large school of jack crevelle. We landed several before they moved on, great sport on light tackle!
Red tide is typically worse near the passes and this is the case right now. Red tide usually blooms out in the Gulf of Mexico and then gets into the bays via the passes. Unfortunately, a lot of my favorite fishing spots are near the passes. Also, I catch most of my bait on the shallow flats and bars near the passes, and the red tide has caused that bait to move.
Red Tide Tactics
The key to finding angling success when red tide is present is to locate unaffected areas. This means anglers need to fish hard and move around. One frustrating aspect is how areas can change over night. A productive area can get an influx of red tide that evening and shut down the spot completely. Another issue that can be difficult is finding bait fish and keeping them alive.
Understanding red tide
From the FWC web site,”What is red tide?”
A red tide, or harmful algae bloom, is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga (plantlike organism). In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, the species that causes most red tides is Karenia brevis, often abbreviated as K. brevis. To distinguish K. brevis blooms from red tides caused by other species of algae, researchers in Florida call the former the “Florida red tide.” More red tide questions and answers can be found HERE.
Red tide has been documented for centuries. It gets it’s name by changing the water to a red or brown color. Here in Sarasota, it looks a bit like orange juice. It can cause skin irritations and respiratory issues in humans. It can kill fish and other marine life. Many people say they can “smell” the red tide. In actuality, they are smelling the decaying fish.
The Florida Wildlife Commission has a very informative and detailed web site. Anglers can get information on red tide and can sign up for e-mail updates on red tide and policy and law changes. HERE is their map of the current red tide status.
As previously stated, the key to achieving angling success when red tide is present is finding “clean” water. Water affected by red tide will have a brown hue. Unaffected water will have that nice “green” color. The presence of dead fish floating can be tricky. Some of the dead fish could be from many miles away. Still, it is not very pleasing to fish near dead, stinking fish.
Live bait or artificial lures?
Fishing with live bait can be frustrating during red tide blooms. Anglers can spend an hour loading up the well, only to drive through a little patch and have it all die. This can be true during times where the red tide is present but not strong. Bait will be bunched up and easy to catch, but as soon as it is concentrated in the well, it struggles. This is obvious as the bait “spins”, tries to jump out, or sinks down to the bottom to die.
Shrimp are much less affected by the red tide. Shrimp are purchased at local bait shops and are usually easy to keep alive. This makes them a better choice under these conditions in many instances.
Artificial lures are a good option when red tide is present. There are several reasons for this. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water. This meant that unproductive water can be eliminated in a reasonable amount of time. My personal favorite lure in the lead head jig and grub combination. A ¼ ounce jig head with a 4” Bass Assassin Sea Shad tail or a 3” Gulp Shrimp work very well. Silver spoons cast a long way and can be a good “search” bait as well. Suspending and diving plugs can be cast or trolled to locate fish.
Fish behavior during red tide
One thing that red tide can do is concentrate fish. If half on the area is affected by red tide and half is not, obviously the fish will move into the areas with better water quality. Again, don’t stay in one spot too long if it does not produce. There will not always be obvious signs that the algae bloom is present.
Another result of a red tide outbreak is that some species will be found in unusual places. Fish species such as bluefish and Spanish mackerel might be located in backwater creeks. Inshore Gulf of Mexico species may move inshore. They are simply trying to escape the death that will come if they stay in the poor quality water.
I remember one charter a few years ago. I was able to catch a few pilchards and keep them alive. We were anchored up on a mangrove shoreline that had been producing a few snook. My clients hook a fish which made a hard run. It turned out to be a spade fish, a species I had never caught in Sarasota Bay! On another trip we were casting Rapala plugs in Phillippi Creek. This is a fairly brackish area. We found a school of big bluefish in there. Again, I have never caught one in there before or since.
Sarasota red tide fishing
Fishing with live bait fish can be frustrating when red tide is present in the water. On several occasions I have had a well full of great baits die after driving through a patch of the deadly bloom. I have had other trips where as soon as I anchored up to chum, the bait began to act oddly. Bait affected by red tide with “spin up”, swimming around in circles and trying to leap out of the well.
When this happens, I pull the anchor and crank up the motor as quickly as possible. As long as some of the bait lives, all is not lost. The dead baits can be used effectively as chum at another spot. But, clean water needs to be located before this can happen. Once a spot that the bait will stay alive in is found, the dead bait can be used as chum and the live ones used to catch the game fish.
Effects of red tide offshore
While I focus primarily on fishing inshore, offshore anglers are not immune from red tide issues. Patches of red tide can exist from the beach out many miles. The same strategy of finding clean water applies there as well. Also, keeping bait alive is a problem as well. One little area of affected water can kill dozens of great baits in short order.
Clients often ask me if fish are safe to eat during outbreaks of red tide. The answer is “yes”! Fish are safe to eat as long as they are healthy when caught and put on ice. However, all fish should be filleted! This will eliminate any chance for ingesting toxins that might be in the entrails. Shellfish should NOT be eaten during red tide conditions! Commercially caught shellfish are regulated and are safe to eat. While it is also usually safe to swim when red tide is present, it can cause eye and skin irritations, so maybe best to stay out of the water until it clears up.
In conclusion, anglers fishing Sarasota Florida have the chance to catch many different species while enjoying a beautiful day in the Florida sunshine.
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236