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Friday, Nov 17, 2017
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New technology shows Bay's underwater secrets

The fish don't have a chance anymore. Thanks to increasingly sophisticated views of the world below the surface, the secrets of areas like Tampa Bay are becoming an open book. The most recent edition of Bay Soundings, published in Pinellas Park by the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, (www.baysoundings.com) includes a feature on new 3-D underwater websites that give a look at the bottom of Tampa Bay in remarkable detail. While much of this information can be figured out by looking at paper charts or GPS on-screen maps, the 3-D images created by combined viewing systems make it far easier to interpret what's down there, and consequently where there ought to be the gamefish we all seek.
For example, the spoil bars on both sides of the Port Manatee channel are clearly outlined. For those seeking Spanish mackerel from early spring to late fall, these bars are a sure thing. Or, anglers seeking trout off Pinellas Point will find it extremely useful to realize that the grass flats here extend close to a mile offshore. And those looking for the big black drum that gather around the Clam Bar east of the Skyway at times can pick out the exact location of the cuts and edges through this long, curving shoal. For those after bottom species including gags and mangrove snapper, the maps are even more helpful. All bottom-fishermen are aware of the deep shipping channel cuts through Tampa Bay, marked by the large red and green buoys that guide the ships—and there are plenty of fish in "the ditch" itself. But areas that are fished less, and thus can be more productive, are found where the rock rubble from dredging the channel has been deposited, and these show up clearly on the 3-D view. From the Skyway to a mile or so north of the Port Manatee Channel, the map shows most of this rubble on the southeast side of the channel. North of that area, it's distributed on both sides of the cut. For inshore anglers seeking snook, reds and trout, the green holes south of the Bishop's Harbor channel are easily visible, and so are the holes and cuts of Miguel Bay, just beyond the Skyway. Even the tiny cuts and bars of Little Cockroach Bay are obvious when you zoom in, though resolution becomes a problem if you get too tight. The deep channel at the mouth of the Manatee River is also very obvious, as is the bar on the north side, a favorite spot for spawning snook in summer. When it comes to tarpon fishing, the 90-foot deep cut on the north side of Egmont can't be missed—and the smaller but equally productive cuts on the south end of Egmont and at Bean Point are also obvious. The white sand bars along the beaches — great spots for flyrodders to sight fish — are clearly evident. In short, there's a ton of useful information on these charts, and when you go to the website you can make use of interactive tools to find the latitude/longitude coordinates of any given spot, so that you can relocate them on GPS once you get out on the water. The site is http://topotools.cr.usgs.gov/topobathy_viewer/viewer.php. * * * * * Anglers at Lake Okeechobee report that dropping water levels there are forcing bass off the grass lines and into the Rim Ditch, as well as offshore to rockpiles. For those with a GPS and a sharp eye, fishing the offshore rocks can be highly productive because large schools of bass sometimes gather around these freshwater reefs. Shad-imitation lures on top do the job at dawn and dusk, while Texas-rigged worms are a better bet in the sunny hours. There are many unmarked rocks throughout Okeechobee, some miles from the nearest shoreline, so careful navigation is a must. There are lots of spawning bluegills in the remaining grasslines at depths of 2 to 4 feet, as well as along the edges of the Rim Ditch. Live worms or crickets are the can't-miss bait, but anglers tossing sponge spiders with 5-weight flyrods are also catching plenty of panfish. Action should continue at least through the full moon in June.
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