Progressing through fall, migratory species invade local waters

As we move through fall, it’s time to start fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for migratory species.
Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, bonito and a variety of sharks can be found within a couple miles from shore.
Be on the lookout for bait schools, shorebirds diving, and some large disturbances on the surface of the water to locate the bite. Good places to start looking are around the artificial reefs or other structure in the gulf.
Live bait fishing is proving to be the most effective, although artificials — jigs and silver spoons — are working, too. Most fishers are anchoring and chumming with live shiners to attract these migratory fish to the hook. Once the chummers are in the water, you’ll know the predators are there by the sudden violent explosions on the surface caused by these feeding fish.
For tackle, longshank hooks tied to some 30- to 40-pound fluorocarbon for a leader is most effective. If you find you’re getting cut off, you can add a small piece of wire to the rig.
Sometimes this works to keep the fish on the hook. You just have to be careful that the fish aren’t seeing the wire. Sometimes it’s enough to spook the fish which ends up in no bites. So play it by ear. If you can get away with not having to use the wire you’re probably better off.
As for the sharks, you’ll need a wire leader. For bait, fresh-cut chunks of legal-size mackerel are working great. A nice slab of bonito is also a prized bait. And be ready to hook all shapes and sizes of shark.
Hammerhead, spinner and blacktip sharks are the most frequent. They are ranging in size from 4 to 8 feet, so heavy tackle is your best option.
Moving to the flats of Tampa Bay, catch-and-release spotted seatrout are dominating the bite. Casting live shiners over deep grass flats can yield catches of 20 or more trout in a morning. And typically it’s more than that, provided you’re fishing on a good tide where clean, clear water exists.
Catch-and-release snook fishing is also quite good, especially along the mangrove shorelines. And if you’re lucky, you might encounter some catch-and-release redfish mixed in with the linesiders.
On my Southernaire charters, I am targeting migratory fish along the beaches. Not only is this that action spectacular, but it’s nice to get out of the back country into a different style of fishing. With an ample supply of live shiners in the bait well, I’m anchoring in depths of 20 to 30 feet of water and chumming heavily with live shiners. The chumming results in a variety of species coming to the boat, including Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, bonito, blue runners, jack crevalle and sharks.
For rigging, a 2/0 extra-long shank Eagle Claw hook combined with 4 to 5 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader is getting the job done.
We are experiencing some cut-offs every now and again, but when you’re getting a bite on every bait, cut-offs are bound to happen.
The bonito and king mackerel are putting up the biggest fight compared to the Spanish mackerel, jacks and blue runners.
And don’t forget about the sharks. They’re at the top of the food chain for a reason. We’ve had numerous benito and mackerel that have fallen victim to the sharks as we are reeling them in. It’s a bloody affair but quite exciting to witness.
One second the fish is fighting tirelessly at the end of your line. The next huge, a huge explosion on the surface of the water, and the result is your reeking in half of the fish — or just the head. Or maybe nothing at all.
After everyone on the boat is worn out on fighting all of these high-activity fish, we are retiring to the backwaters of Tampa Bay for a little catch-and-release spotted seatrout action.
Don’t doubt for a minute that this bite won’t keep you busy. In some areas, the trout are so abundant that we’re getting bit on just about every cast.