Just Reel Fishing Charters: Anna Maria Island Fishing Report July 25, 2023

The importance of bait

Whether you’ve been fishing since you were a child or you’re an adult just getting into fishing, you will soon realize the importance of having the right bait. 

It is the most important step in any fishing trip and having the right bait versus the wrong can determine how successful your fishing trip will be. 

And don’t forget to have enough bait because you surely don’t want to run out of it especially if the fish are biting. 

And bait being as important as it is, can be all consuming to an angler. 

Whether it requires hiking through the mangroves to hidden sandy spots for fiddler crabs, or venturing out to your favorite spot on the beach for sand fleas, or traveling to a far destination to cast net shiners, an experienced angler is willing to go the extra mile to have the perfect bait — even if it means going an hour out of their way. It has to be done or the fishing trip would never begin. 

I am well qualified in the art of catching bait as it was instilled in me at a young age by my father, who was also quite skillful in the subject of bait. 

My first encounter in bait catching consisted of catching grasshoppers to use as bait for bluegills. The ritual occurred each weekend when my father would mow the lawn. I would find myself following behind him, carrying a half gallon milk jug that I had punch some holes in to let air flow through assertively looking to see the grasshoppers jumping away from the lawnmower as they gave up their hiding places. 

Once caught, they went into the milk jug and were saved for later that afternoon until it was time to fish. 

Another example was catching fiddler crabs. They were fast and quite skilled at escaping, so you had to be quick and not afraid of getting pinched. 

We had many fiddler spots back in the day. One of our favorites was on Palma Sola Bay. I remember my dad driving down the old part of Palma Sola Blvd., where the road barely seemed to exist. The road back then was part dirt combined with a few areas where some tar had been dumped —barely drivable above a speed of 10 mph. But it was worth it. The fiddlers were always abundant there. 

It was the same when catching sand fleas. Back in the 80s we could find sand fleas along the beaches of Anna Maria Island. This was before any of the beach renourishments that managed to bury the areas where the sand fleas lived thus wiping out a whole ecosystem. 

My father and I would walk right out on the beach, him carrying a shovel, and I carrying a homemade sand sifter consisting of a frame made of some scrap lumber with some hard wire cloth stapled to it. It might have looked strange, but it was just as good as one of those expensive sand flea rakes. 

We would be out there in the shore break, my dad shoveling sand and placing it into the shifter, as I shook it back-and-forth in the water, revealing all of the beautiful sand fleas. 

And, as I became older, it was time to learn to throw a cast net. Back then we didn’t have the monofilament nets like we have now. The old nets were made of nylon twine and were quite heavy. Even throwing a 6 foot net was hard to do especially being all of 10 years old as I was. 

But I learned. 

I had to practice in the backyard until I was capable of opening the net into a pancake. After that, I took that net with me everywhere there was going to be water. 

I was quite effective at catching pinfish and shiners in the net which were excellent bait.

Catching shiners at the old Anna Maria City Pier was my favorite place. Being high up on the pier from the water surface, made it easy to open that net perfectly over a school of bait. 

Then it was time to fish for Spanish mackerel. 

I would load a few dozen shiners into a 5-gallon bucket with an aerator and as much water as I could carry in the bucket and carry it up to the T of the pier as quickly as I could from the lead line. My dad would be waiting as I arrived net in one hand in the bucket in the other huffing and puffing from carrying the load up the pier. 

And when we ran out of bait, I gladly went and did it over again. 

So this importance of bait was in my blood. Whether it was catching golden shiners to go bass fishing or my dad teaching me how to place a net behind a crayfish and poke it in front with a stick to spook the crayfish into the net or dipping grass shrimp for crappie and shell crunchers, to my own bait catching excursions nowadays — dipping pass crabs for tarpon, setting pinfish traps for grouper bait, or just catching shiners in the cast net for snook fishing the significance of bait is engrained in me. 

It’s a skill and let’s be honest an obsession that never goes away. 

Now I find myself on a peaceful grass flat at 5 AM waiting to see the shiners dimpling in the water among the chum behind the boat as I load my 10 foot cast net in preparation of catching bait. 

This is when I realize the real importance of catching bait. It was spending time with my father as he taught me the passion of fishing to the point where it has turned into my career. 

Now my father is catching bait in the sky, as he passed away one year ago today.

I miss you dad and you can be proud — I’m still out here catching bait.

On my own Just Reel charters, my clients are keeping busy as they reel up limits of mangrove snapper. While targeting snapper they are also hooking into Key West grunts, porgies, triggerfish and plenty of juvenile red grouper. 

Spanish mackerel are present in these areas and are being caught on a free-lined shiner swimming on the surface. 

When the tide is moving, I’m seeing spotted seatrout turn on. On some times as many as 30 or 40 trout are being caught.