Freshwater invades Tampa Bay, fish on the move

With the vast amounts of rainfall we are receiving, fishing around Anna Maria Island has become slightly challenging.  

Large quantities of freshwater flushing out of the Manatee River is causing inshore species to move from their usual spots to find higher salinity levels. 

But, don’t be discouraged. Species such as catch-and-release snook and redfish have a fairly high tolerance of the high levels of freshwater mixing into Tampa Bay. In fact, you may find that the flow of freshwater is moving some species out of the river — especially the redfish.

Juvenile tarpon are making a showing in Tampa Bay due to this effect. Another species you may encounter is the Florida gar, a freshwater species that can be found in Tampa Bay during extreme flashes of freshwater, like we are experiencing.

If you’re searching for fish to eat, you may find fishing a bit challenging if you remain in the inshore waters. Species such as the mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel tend to dislike this freshwater mix and will move out toward the Gulf in search of saltier water. So, you might want to try fishing in the Gulf around structure and hard bottom to locate these species. Traveling well offshore is the best bet, especially if you desire to put dinner in the cooler. An assortment of species — groupers, snappers, permit and amberjack — are being caught in depths of 60-100 feet of water.

On my own Southernaire charters, I’m targeting catch-and-release snook and catch-and-release redfish. Both species are requiring patience but catching some quality fish on a four-hour morning charter. I’m also hooking into juvenile tarpon, which are always a welcome sight. The smaller tarpon, 30-40 inches, are exceptionally entertaining for sport anglers on light spinning tackle. 

I’m also finding a decent catch-and-release trout bite along the edges of grass flats in 5-6 feet of water. Mixed in are numerous ladyfish. As for the mangrove snapper, I’m finding random fish around docks and even on the open flats while free-lining shiners.