For the time being, bait is still plentiful on the beaches, especially in the mornings. Watch for diving birds in very shallow water – that’s where you will find the bait. Some snook are still running the beaches, but most are beginning to flood back into the intracoastal to feed heavily and fatten up for winter. Look for them at the mouth of the Manatee River, in Terra Ceia Bay, and around Perico island. Ideally, fish in the grass flat sand holes on a rising tide and gradually moved closer to the mangrove shoreline as the tide continues to rise. Eventually, you can cast so that your bait lands directly under the mangrove branches where the snook are hiding. Live chumming with pilchards can help to excite and to locate them – listen and watch for boils and pops as they hit the chum, then throw right at the boils to increase your chances of hooking a hungry snook. Look for large schools of redfish on the flats this month too – they can be found on seagrass and mangrove shorelines in as little as 2 of water. Locations such as Palma Sola and Desoto point often hold schools of fish and using a push pole or trolling motor to quietly get within casting range is key. Red drum are very spooky and will bolt at the slightest sound. Popping corks on a 30 pound test fluorocarbon leader will allow you to keep your bait out of the grass while remaining stealthy. Try to match your hook size to the size shiner you were able to catch that day. Lots of seatrout and jack crevalle action can be also be found in September around deeper grassflats with clean, moving water in Sarasota Bay and Longboat areas. Try fishing deeper channels as the tide bottoms-out. Fish from all over the flats pour into these channels and wait for bait fish to be washed right to them.
Tarpon have usually moved on by September, but plenty of Spanish mackerel school around nearshore structures this month while baitfish are still plentiful. They can sometimes be caught every cast, especially when a chum bag and live baits are used. A wire leader will help to defend against their razor-sharp teeth and decrease cutoffs. Mangrove snapper will come to the chum too, and can be caught on the bottom with a light, weighted line and a live shrimp or greenback. Big flounder can be caught on occasion while going for snapper on the bottom and are a welcome, tasty bycatch.
Offshore, look for big mangrove snapper action to heat up around the full and new moons. Although you will need to fish over significant structure on the bottom such as a wreck or reef, start with light line and small hooks. Frequent line breaks are a part of snapper fishing – they see very well and 20# fluorocarbon should be the maximum leader weight. Pick a likely spot then do some heavy chumming to get them turned-on. Chopped shiners or sardines work well in conjunction with a frozen 5# chum block. This pairing will create a great chum slick and you should have no trouble getting the snapper into a feeding frenzy, signified by dark bands above their eyes. They will then hit shrimp, pilchards, squid, or any cut bait that resembles the chum. Red and gag grouper will often join the fray and can be caught on the bottom with squid or live pinfish on heavy conventional tackle. A “flat line” or free-lined threadfin or greenback on the surface can usually hook any curious kingfish or cobia that come to investigate.
Hiring a local fishing charter service at Keyes Marina can help to ensure a successful and enjoyable fishing trip. A charter captain can provide insight into local fishing spots, techniques, tackle, regulations, tides, weather, and gear.