It's official. Fall is here and this morning's 62 degree temperatures confirm that change is in the air. This "change" was already apparent last week as, on Tampa Fishing Charters departing from either Hurricane or Dunedin Passes, diving birds were seen within two miles of shore, chasing fast moving schools of bonito. Schools of these small tuna race through near shore waters looking for schools of bait. When found, these 5 - 10 lbs speedsters push this bait to the surface and then tear through it until the bait school is too dispersed to bother with, then they move on. Racing to these fish and casting into them is good entertainment but casts must be long and accurate to succeed as these fish disappear as quickly as they show up.
Small Spanish mackerel are around and larger fish are now beginning to show as well...some big enough to be mistaken for small kingfish....a typical progression each fall as September heads into October. The first kingfish of the year are now also just arriving. Fish over 20 lbs have been caught within the last few days within 5 miles of shore so the fall near shore bite is on. It's safe to expect that trips to near shore rocks and reefs will yield a variety of different species for the next 4 - 6 weeks anyway...maybe longer if real cold doesn't get here too fast. The standard approach used by most Tampa Fishing Guides is to go to a rocky area, anchor up, drop a chum block and start chumming live baits such as pilchards, aggressively. If there are fish in the area, fish should show in 15 to 20 minutes and action could keep building as more fish enter the slick. Action can be crazy at this time of year with 50 fish days a real possibility. The most exciting part of fishing these areas is that you can never be sure what will show up....a cobia, big great barracuda, large shark etc... Solid numbers of gag grouper will also take up residence in 25 - 30 foot depths before this month comes to a close.
The recent shot of cold should finish pushing snook towards their wintering locations. For many of the biggest fish, this means a move to offshore reefs. It was most likely these fish that rebuilt our fish stocks after the last bad freeze as they were more protected in these deeper waters. Many fish however, will move shallow, back into canals, rivers and springs...areas that generally hold warmth in the winter. Small to medium fish have already moved to these areas, as well as a few quality specimens. More should filter in as this month progresses. This snook fishing is a bit different than during the summer, when larger fish can be piled up on certain beach locations. On the negative side, most of these fish are smaller. On the plus side, fish numbers can be good as, once pockets of these fish are located, they can be caught in bigger numbers. Chumming and throwing live whitebait at these fish usually does the trick.
Redfishing has been consistent but fish size tends to remain on the lower end of the slot. A typical Tampa Fishing Charter for redfish on a day with a strong tide might include anywhere from three to six fish which just creep into the low end of the slot and then a stray 25 to 30 inch fish mixed in. On each of the last two trips targeting redfish, large schools of 18 - 21 inch fish were found so at least the population is there. Bobbered whitebait and small chunks of cut bait such as pinfish and ladyfish will generally trigger these fish to bite. As a rule, once found, these fish are rarely picky.
For those coming in from out of town, there are numerous events in town worth seeing. A local favorite for many families is the Howl-o-Scream event put on on Busch Gardens in Tampa...scary for kids and parents alike. For those looking for a calmer night, the Clearwater Jazz Festival will be going on at Coachman Park in Clearwater the weekend of October 18th. For those more interested in nature, a tour through Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs....the largest remaining piece of undisturbed land in Pinellas County...will provide an education on local wildlife.
So, once again, the great Tampa Fall Fishing Season has arrived and offers the unique opportunity to catch inshore and offshore fish on the same trip. Beyond just the fishing opportunity, the weather is much more angler friendly as shorter days and cooler daytime temps promise to bring summers oppressive heat to an end. So get out there and take advantage.. Good luck and good fishing.