The best word to describe fall fishing off of West Central Florida is variety. Yes, Tampa Fishing Charters targeting inshore species such as redfish, snook and trout will predictably catch these fish but once entering the gulf, the number of potential species that can be caught escalates rapidly. This year has been strong for mangrove snapper and this bite continues. Although these "mangos" will get upwards of 5 lbs on deeper structure off shore, the fish on the near shore reefs, in most years, seem to max out to 15 - 16inches. This year, many fish exceeding this range have been landed. It hasn't been a question of whether or not these fish would be there, but more if they would eat on a given day. Excessive chumming and a variety of techniques are usually required to catch them. Of course, Spanish mackerel will always add to the catch counts when outside as these speedy, colorful fish are abundant and bite aggressively. On a slow day. many Tampa Fishing Guides have relied on these fish to bend some rods. That, however, is just the beginning.
Near shore fishing inside of 35 feet has produced the following species in the last month: kingfish, bonita, barracuda, snapper, grouper, large jack crevalle, cobia, tripletail, flounder and, believe it or not, mahi mahi. Patience is really the key here. Initially, anchor over rocky bottom where snapper and grouper may be present and where bait fish gather as these will draw other predators living in the upper part of the water column. Chum aggressively. Usually, within 15 minutes or so, the first fish will begin to show...typically Spanish mackerel. Also, if located over the right bottom, mangrove snapper may make an appearance as well. Although catching larger fish is obviously the hope, mackerel and snapper will provide good entertainment and there are few fish that taste better than mangrove snapper pan friend in butter. One of the most exciting parts of all of
this is that this is all done with light tackle and free lined live bait (excepting grouper) so an angler will be standing, rod in hand, and feel the blistering strike of a kingfish or other larger gamefish. Fishing in October and November is just plain fun.
Back inshore, on the stronger tide phases, redfish are still cooperating reasonably well and are averaging 19 - 23 inches...not as big as most Tampa fishing guides would prefer...but they are around in decent numbers. The best approach to catching these fish has been to fish the mangrove edges, pitching baits tight and waiting. Generally, when fish have been found, they have been in small groups.
Snook do still represent a possible target but are more scattered and a bit less aggressive at this time of year on the gulf side of northern Pinellas County. Unlike some other areas, there do not seem to be an abundance of smaller fish, so at least the fish being hooked are of decent quality. Small groups of snook have entered the backwaters and can be enticed to eat by using larger pilchards..generally after being subjected to some initial chumming to wake them up. Make sure to "tackle up" a little bit as snook are masters at finding obstructions and there are plenty of dock poles and mangroves in their current locations.
With the summer temperatures behind us, there are several other outdoor activities that may be of interest. For those enjoying
big amusement park rides, Busch Gardens in hard to beat. The the non boat owning family looking for a casual beach day, jump aboard the Caledesi Ferry and spend time on the beach at beautiful Caledesi State Park. The ferries run very regularly on weekends so coming and going is an easy proposition. Good luck and good fishing.