Fall is an exciting time to fish in West Central Florida. Inshore and Near Shore Tampa Fishing Guides know that the season to catch the widest variety of fish is here. Questions often asked in early October are "Will this be a good year for mangrove snapper?" "When will the kingfish arrive?" "Will good numbes of keeper grouper move in to near shore waters in the next few weeks? "How long will the redfishing hold up?". When will snook move into the backwaters?". "With all the choices, what species should be targeted today?"
The mangrove snapper question has already been answered. Quality fish are being caught in decent numbers anywhere from the main shore out to the 5 mile reefs. Catching respectable snapper near shore can be done on a consistent basis but be prepared to work hard to get them. Tampa Fishing Charters targeting these tasty gamefish know that the name of the game is light lines, long leaders, consistent chumming and proper bait presentation. These fish provide great sport because they challenge anglers to get all of the above right. On top of this, once the bite occurs, these fish have enough pulling power, especially on light tackle, to get back into structure...so it's not over till it's over with a 1 - 3 pound mangrove snapper.
Mixed in with these snapper right now is an abundance of medium sized spanish mackerel. Although these fish do occasionally get picky, on most days, it's generally easy to catch plenty. Using inshore tackle
provides good entertainment, especially when a larger predator shows up. In the last week, medium sized bonito have made an appearance and are well versed at taking plenty of line off the reel. Large schools of jumbo jack crevalle have also been putting on a serious "bait busting show" and hooking these on 10 lbs line will test most anglers ability to put the brakes on a fish. Ballyhoo and thread fin herring almost jump in the boat when these voracious schools pass by. Although most people have no interest in eating a jack, seeing the cinder block sized boil next to the boat as these fish inhale a free lined pilchard is exciting.
There are reports of kingfish to the south so, with a little luck, the next breath of cooler air will bring them into local waters. For near shore fisherman (those fishing inside of ten miles) there are years when the bite lasts for 6 - 8 weeks and others where it's come and gone in 2 weeks. Movement of bait, nearshore water clarity and temperature are all determining factors. Whatever the case. October usually signals the kickoff of kingfish locally. Large schools of thread fin herring are at about 3 - 5 mils now so the bait is there...a good sign.
Last year, red tide made an appearance from the panhandle all the way south almost to Clearwater
so near shore grouper fishing was pretty weak for anyone not taking a left turn (south) out of Clearwater Pass. Water temperatures still need to drop 5 degrees or so before fish will feel the urge to move in so the jury is still out on what this year holds. The state of the fishery for this fall should be fairly apparent by the end of the month however.
Late season redfishing has shown a marked improvement compared to the last few years. Many trips now are producing double digit catches of fish. Although many of the fish are low to mid slot sized fish, usually a few upper slot fish are joining the mix. Mangrove shorelines are producing the bulk of the fish although there are a few spots where the fish are holding on open flats. With few large schools of fish available, the best approach has been continued movement through the day. Although one spot may produce 5-6 fish, in most cases fish are
being caught "a few here, a few there". For a change of pace, try throwing lightly weighted medium sized pilchards if fish are not receptive to larger cut baits of pinfish.
Snook season has been open for a month and will remain so through the end of November. With quality fish being a little more difficult to find at this time of year, only limited amounts of time are spent pursuing these fish on most Tampa Fishing Charters. However, after catching a variety of fish on near shore reefs and then a few redfish, a snook is a great way to end a fishing trip. Fish are moving towards islands in the intercoastal as well as into some of their favorite backwater haunts...bayous and residential canals. Although not as concentrated as during the summer months, groups of fish can still be found. Live, free lined, larger whitebait have been the most productive offering over the last month. Although many of these fish may be smaller, there are pockets of larger fish. Plan on being patient when targeting fall snook.
While in the Tampa Area, several other activities of interest include the American Victory Ship Mariners Museum. Take a tour on a WWII ship, one of only 4 in operation in the country. If a sporting event is of greater interest, the Tampa Bay Bucaneers have home football games on the 4th and 11th of October.
Good luck and good fishing.