Look for the birds to find the fish
With large amounts of bait fish gathering in Tampa Bay and along the Gulf beaches, Anna Maria Island fishers are seeing an influx of migratory species being caught.
Ladyfish and jack crevalle are becoming more prevalent as they follow the bait schools, gorging themselves in preparation for fall. Spanish mackerel and bonito can be found, especially around the artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. Again, these fish are following the bait in hopes of filling their bellies on a daily basis, as they move south down the coast.
Finding these fish can be accomplished by watching for the birds. Shore birds, such as seagulls and terns, are a dead giveaway to find bait schools. Large numbers of birds hovering and diving into the water are easy to spot on the horizon, and during September, are always worth investigating. As you get closer, you may discover numerous splashes as hungry predatory fish slash through the dense bait schools gathered on the surface.
Casting live baits or lures such as spoons and jigs can quickly result in a hook up from whatever is on the feed in that area. Typically, once discovered the schools of bait will be holding many feeding fish, which can result in some quick action as well as many hook ups.
Although most of these migratory fish — ladyfish, bonito and jack crevalle — have a little food value to the angler, they sure make up for it in entertainment, as all three species are considered to be quite strong when hooked on medium spinning gear.
As for the Spanish mackerel, some anglers consider them quite good table fare as long as they are filleted and eaten the day they are caught. If targeted as a catch-and-release species, they are still capable of being quite an adversary on light spinning gear.
With all of the commotion going on, you can bet that a few sharks will be attracted to the area. The most common encounters include blacktip and spinner sharks as well as some sandbar sharks. If prevalent in the area, the sharks can easily be caught by casting a fresh-cut chunk of mackerel or bonito into the water. Be ready for a battle as the sharks can range anywhere from 3-7 feet in length. Stout gear with a wire leader is in your best interest.
So, if you’re looking for some fast action on the water, get out there and find the birds. They’ll lead you to the bait, which will result in you finding the fish.