Snook up to the 40-inch class are snapping up live baits on flats and in passes and inlets on both sides of the state.
1. At Big Pier 60 in Clearwater, big snook starting up late at night on live baits under the pier. A 36-inch keeper cobia caught Wednesday, along with daily Spanish mackerel and flounder. Water temperature 76 degrees at 1 p.m. Thursday, same as last week.
2. At Madeira Beach, kingfish 40-50 pounds will probably be caught in 24th annual Old Salt Spring King of the Beach tournament out of Madeira Beach Saturday with $50,000 to win. This week’s cool front dropped the Gulf temperature to 71 for a couple days, perhaps prolonging the action off beaches and inside Skyway for a week, but they’ll be moving north with 90-degree days upon us. Red grouper and hogfish primary catches on reefs. Red snapper season opens May 6-7 in state waters, but federal season not set yet and will be brief.
3. At John’s Pass, numbers of over-slot snook increasing in the pass as they congregate for the spawn, with best action before sun-up and at night on large whitebait on rising tide. A few snook in troughs on beach at daybreak.
4. At Fort DeSoto Park, good action for snook, redfish and trout around spoil islands and oyster bars on greenbacks. Snook now showing at Pass-a-Grille and Bunces Pass, where you can hook up on greenbacks when tide is right. A few residential tarpon have been spotted from around the Skyway bridge out the channel to Egmont the past couple weeks, and outgoing new moon tides could produce a few on crabs although main migration hasn’t arrived from the south yet.
5. Around the Sunshine Skyway and lower Tampa Bay, Capt. Shawn Crawford of Lakeland (941-705-3160) catching boat limits of trout 18-20 inches and releasing several 20-27 inches on flats with greenbacks on charter trips. Snook consistently good this week, mostly 24-27 ½ inches with slot fish 28-33 inches hard to come by this late in the season. Redfish hit or miss.
6. At Anna Maria, good-sized snook are readily nailing free-lined greenbacks on flats in Sarasota Bay after chumming to get the rally going. Have to know where they are and right tidal flow. Charter captains having no trouble getting limits of quality trout up to mid-20-inch class.
7. At St. Petersburg, good week for snook, oversized redfish and plenty of keeper trout on flats along west shore with greenbacks, reports Capt. Chuck Rogers of Tampa (813-918-8356). Ryan Callahan of the Tampa Bay Lightning released a 31-inch redfish with Rogers Monday. Rogers said reds not podded up, but he gets 6-8 per trip 28-33 inches. Snook over and under slot, and occasionally 35-37 inches, as season draws to close (ends on April 30). School of jacks went through Rogers’ flats spread and three rods doubled over, but one was 15-inch mangrove snapper. Rogers said greenbacks 3-6 inches long everywhere for cast-netting in deeper channels and up on flats.
8. In the north end of Tampa Bay, a few small trout but action much better south of Howard Frankland with shallow flats in upper end heating up quickly.
• At Boca Grande, 9-year-old Ben Bayhan of Lakeland released a monster 43-inch snook Thursday with Capt. Greg Penix of Lakeland (941-697-1815). Penix said it was his biggest snook of the spring. Ben and his father, David Bayhan, also caught a bunch of under-slot snook on the higher tide and a few trout in the back bays with greenbacks. Penix released snook measuring 38, 32, and 30 inches on Wednesday. Penix will start tarpon fishing on Tuesday – they’ve been in the pass, on the hill and a little bit on the beaches.
• At Fort Pierce, really good snook action from beaches to inlet to turning basin, reports Clint Walker at the Fishing Center of St. Lucie (772-465-7637). Fisherman released a 24-pound snook in turning basin on live pilchard during day. In the inlet, live bait best during day, and live shrimp off south jetty for snook. On beaches, snook hitting YoZuri 3D Inshore Series Pencil twitch-bait (HGSH all-clear color) or live bait with several in slot. Sheepshead slowing after great winter-spring, but mangroves improving. Pompano in river to south. Offshore, anglers anticipating opening of grouper season May 1 in state and federal waters – they’re already catching mutton and mangrove snapper and triggerfish bottom-fishing when it’s calm enough. Scattered dolphin trolling in 90-120 feet.
• On the Space Coast, early morning trout bite going strong in north end of Indian River, working the eastern shore north of State Road 405 bridge south of Titusville, reports Captain Keith Mixon of Lakeland (firstname.lastname@example.org). Mixon catching trout up to 18 inches at first light casting small surface lures that imitate wounded baitfish, making long casts and working lures slowly. Mangrove snapper up to 14 inches at Port Canaveral along jetties, fishing live shrimp off bottom on outgoing tides when light is low.
• On Atlantic coast, grouper season reopens Monday in state and federal waters, including gag, black, red, scamp and other species, and continues through Dec. 31.