GO FISHING is a look at the area fishing scene through the eyes of the local charter boat captains and fishing guides.
Tarpon have been hard to find since the Big Flush as most probably followed their instincts to head offshore and spawn — but they'll be back any day and moved well up inside the "black water" areas of Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor. Cut shad fished on bottom will find them, as will a DOA Baitbuster mullet. There will be "baby tarpon" from 5-10 pounds in the lower reaches of the Little Manatee and Manatee rivers from now through fall — live shrimp cast right on top of rolling fish is the best bet.
Snook will prowl the beaches near the major passes through the end of summer — fish for them at dawn and dusk right next to the beach. Topwaters such as the 7M Mirrolure and the Zara Spook are good, as is the DOA shrimp and an assortment of jigs and Tsunami swimbaits. You can also catch and release, because the season remains closed, big snook within all the major passes, from Redfish Pass at Sanibel to Clearwater Pass. Cast a big swimbait uptide on outgoing current and hop the bait just off bottom, or do likewise with a live pinfish or sardine with enough weight to keep it deep. This is heavy tackle duty — the fish may run 15-20 pounds.
The mangrove snapper are stacked on channel edges near the Skyway, and will take live shrimp or sardines fished on bottom, according to captain Rick Gross. Watch your depth finder to locate rocky outcrops and cuts, then drop the baits down with 2-4 ounces of lead until just off bottom.
Keep an eye on flats near the main channel for the first big reds of summer to show up. Once it starts, this run continues through October.
Scalloping remains good north of the Pasco/Hernando line, with particularly strong reports north of Homosassa in the Crystal River area from captain Red Ed Brennan. Start looking over eel grass in 4-8 feet and watch for the dive fleet.
Freshwater is in the predictable summer pattern on the Kissimmee Chain: a good topwater bite at dawn on weed edges, then most of the action moves out to hydrilla edges in 8-foot depths and more, or deep into the shade of the weeds where flippin' is the only tactic that works.