April is a month of decisions for inshore and near shore fishermen on the West Central Coast of Florida. Fishing can be excellent inshore for big seatrout, redfish, and even local snook are starting to warm up enough to eat. As if this didn't present enough options, just a few miles off the beach, mangrove snapper and grouper are willing to take a bait and, depending how quickly local waters warm, Spanish mackerel, bonita, kingfish, cobia and several other species may represent viable targets.
On days with strong, mid-day high tides, "outside / inside" trips are a possibility for those booking six to eight hour Tampa Fishing Charters. These trips may produce catches that include many of the fish mentioned above. By making a short run out into the Gulf of Mexico...maybe five to six miles...to rock piles and reefs, many near shore species can be caught. Once at the desired location, drop anchor, hang a chum bag and and begin fishing with live, un-weighted whitebait. Long shank hooks or short traces of steel leader above the hook are recommended as most species likely to hit this bait have sharp teeth. Mackerel should appear within 10 - 15 minutes if they are in the vicinity. As time passes, it's anyone's guess as to what else will show up. Several anglers on the boat can drop to the bottom with either cut baits, live pinfish or live pilchards to probe the rocks for tasty mangrove snapper and grouper. Although most of the grouper caught within five miles of shore will be gag grouper, a species closed until June 1st, these powerful fish will put un an incredible fight on light tackle. With inexperienced anglers, grouper of legal size or bigger often find their way back home to the rock pile, leaving the angler with a frayed leader and no hook. Snapper in the 2 - 3 lb. class will also put fishermen to the test. Using heavy spinning rods, spooled with twenty lbs line and thirty pound leader, it would seem to be easy to pull these fish clear of structure...but sleep for a second or fail to lift a fish away from the rocks quickly after the bite and these snapper will be lost as well.
After several hours on the outside, many Tampa Fishing Guides return inshore as the tide approaches it's higher stages. Redfish, who can be mysteriously difficult to locate on the low and medium tides, consistently appear at their high tide feeding stations, ready to inhale any piece of protein in their paths. Oyster bars, mangrove shorelines and grass flats active with mullet all represent great locations to catch these fish. Although small pinfish, whitebait, and large shrimp are excellent bait choices for redfish, almost any type of cut fish with draw a strike on most days. The value of cut bait is that it's difficult to get off the hook so smaller fish can pick at these baits, but cannot remove them, which allows redfish time to find them. On some occasions, the commotion created by these smaller fish can actually draw a redfish to the bait. Additionally, when fishing shallow flats and keeping a good distance from the fish is important, using cut baits allows for very long casts.
As the tide moves through it's highest stages and then begins to fall, snook may turn on. As these gamefish prefer temperatures of 75 degrees and up, fishing for them later in the day when waters are warmer makes sense. Couple this with the moving outgoing tide, which also triggers feeding activity, and chances of hooking an early season fish are greatly enhanced. Creek and canal mouthes as well as south facing shorelines are likely snook locations at this time of year. Large, live pilchards are the bait of choice. By the end of the month, many of these fish will have made a move towards the beach, either posting up on local spoil islands, or traveling all the way out to the sand. Tampa Fishing will only get better on into May and June.
The larger winter seatrout, having departed from local spoil islands, are also in transition this month. Many will move outside to beach locations before disappearing for good until next November. Pockets of fish will be found while fishing for snook around the mouthes of passes leading to the gulf. As these trout tend to school, these fish can be caught in decent numbers. The largest trout of the year are often caught right now. Interestingly however, many of these bruisers are caught on Tampa Fishing Charters targeting redfish. The absolute biggest seatrout seem to be loaners and usually represent a pleasant surprise when encountered.
Long story short, fishing is outstanding now and will just get better for the next month. Get the tackle dusted off and the boat in good working order. It's time to go fish. Other local activities of interest this month would include Caledesi Island State Park. Kayaks are available in the park to explore local waters. Also, there are great nature trails that criss-cross this undeveloped island. If a sporting event is on the agenda, the regular season has just begun for the Tampa Bay Rays. No need to worry about the rain or getting too much sun in this fully enclosed stadium.
Good luck and good fishing.