Fishing over the past month was not normal. Large snook are typically the target of choice inshore on most Tampa Fishing Charters as July usually provides fast fishing for larger specimens. This proved to be true for the first part of the month. As July's full moon arrived however, fishing seemed to slow and has not really gained momentum since. Discussions with other local captains as well as the Snook Foundation provided no immediate answers. Bait has continued to be tough, but manageable, so all Tampa Fishing Charters typically began with enough large pilchards and grass grunts to get the job done. Nevertheless, hours of effort over the last few weeks have yielded just a fish or two per trip. This being the case, other species have been targeted.
Redfish are the usual plan B when snook are uncooperative. Strong tides in July usually provide good opportunities to catch this popular game fish. Unlike the last few months where most of the fish caught were actually over slot, the most abundant fish now appear to be at the lower end of the slot...18 - 22 inches with an occasional 25 - 27 inch fish making an appearance. The two techniques that have worked best on recent Tampa Fishing Charters are bobbering small pinfish up on oyster bars on the higher phases of the tide or split shotting cut baits up under residential docks. When the heat is on, docks become a good spot to try as they provide redfish with many of the things they are looking for...shade to stay out of the sun, small crabs that live around oyster covered dock poles and cover from passing predators such as dolphin. Tampa Fishing for redfish usually strengthens as fall approaches so hopefully there will be a strong push of fish within the next few months.
With inshore fishing being unspectacular, Tampa Fishing Guides realize that other options need to be explored as catching decent numbers of fish is the name of the game. Many Tampa Fishing Charters over the last few weeks have abandoned inshore waters...instead probing near shore reefs and ledges for keeper grouper. Although July is not thought of as "prime time" for shallow water grouper, the closure of gag grouper until July 1st of this year has left a catchable population of fish within reach of the near shore, smaller boat angler. Most trips to these areas have yielded several keepers, plus a multitude of action from Key West Grunts, medium sized spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper as well as undersized red and gag grouper. Another benefit of heading outside is that there is always the chance to hook something much larger. In the last week, shark and cobia have been encountered as well as a goliath grouper and a stray barracuda who made a quick meal out of a 20 inch grouper.
The real beauty of living in West Central Florida is that, even in months when fishing tends to slow, there is still a great variety of fish to catch and, although it's hot on the water, it's cooler than on land. Good luck and good fishing.