August typically represents one of the tougher fishing months along the West Central Florida Coast. Water temps are at all time highs for the year...generally high eighties...and many fish tend to get lethargic. Another complication has been the approaching red tide...which showed up within 5 miles of the Pinellas County Shoreline a few weeks ago. Often, a strategy employed by many Tampa Fishing Guides in August is to head off shore where short and legal grouper, snapper and other miscellaneous near shore fish can be caught. Red tide took this out of the equation.
Red Tide is actually a misnomer, in that it is not a tide driven event, but simply an algal bloom. In Florida, the organism responsible for these outbreaks in Karenia Brevis. This phytoplankton is always around in smaller concentrations, but large blooms occasionally occur. These blooms actually release a toxin that attacks the central nervous systems of fish, which shuts down their ability to breath...killing them. Healthy looking fish caught in ride tide areas are OK to eat if filleted as the organism is usually found in the guts of fish. Obviously, fish that are weakened or sick should not be eaten, as there's no telling what's wrong with a dying fish. This toxin will also concentrate in shellfish and therefore shellfish should not be harvested and eaten in red tide areas. Shellfish are closely monitored by government agencies though so any shellfish available in local restaurants are safe. Most blooms start 10 - 40 miles off shore and appear unrelated to human activities such as water pollution or use of fertilizers as these blooms date far back in history. Blooms may benefit from areas with fertilizer run off once initiated however.
The good news is that this red tide seems to be subsiding. Also, it did not reach local beaches or any of the inshore waters so redfishing has been unaffected. Redfish are one of the few fish that are extremely heat tolerant so most trips during late summer target them. Over the last few weeks, Tampa Fishing Charters have generally yielded a half dozen fish or so with one or two over slot specimens mixed with a bunch of "just legal" fish in the 20 inch range. Fishing potholes with cut bait on the incoming tides has generally produced the larger fish. On the higher tides, Tampa Fishing Guides have been pitching bobbered whitebait on top of flooded oyster bars to catch the low slot keepers. Also, a couple of schools of over slot fish are in residence but stealth and patience is required to get within range. Bobbered pinfish are an excellent choice to entice the bruisers to eat.
With waters promising to cool in the coming weeks and with red tide on the retreat, Tampa Fishing opportunities for many species will arise. First, schools of small to medium Spanish mackerel should appear. Next, if last year's activity repeats itself, roving schools of 5 - 10 pound bonito should roll in to destroy increasingly abundant bait schools. A favorite tactic of Tampa Fishing Guides is to throw small silver spoons at these speedy little tunas. Their power and speed can empty an inshore reel in the angler isn't careful. This activity draws he attention of larger predators...with black tip shark and the occasional barracuda showing up. Cooling waters will also signal local gag grouper populations to move towards shore to fatten up for winter. Hopefully, mangrove snapper will return to the shallow reefs, where they were positioned in August. Lastly, and likely around the beginning of October, the biggest local near shore mackerel, the kingfish, will return and join the mix.
Cooling temperatures and building bait schools will turn our near shore waters into a feeding frenzy before long, creating one of the most enjoyable fishing opportunities of the year. Good luck and good fishing.