It’s summer and one thing is for sure, it’s hot. This means extremely hot temperatures on the flats as water hits the 90-degree mark. This can slow the flats fishing as most fish shift toward deeper water. If you’re going to fish the flats, you really have to match the days with high tides at first light. For all the other days there’s no need to sit on the couch. You just have to adjust to the summer heat.
Fishing in the summer months can pose some obstacles but if you educate yourself and put in a little effort and time, you’ll find one of the hidden jewels of summertime fishing in Tampa Bay – mangrove snapper. These fish invade the bay during July and August and make for some of the best action of the year. They’re some of the best fighting and eating fish around, and you can find these frisky critters on just about every dock, ledge and reef that exists in Tampa Bay.
Tackle is very similar to your typical flats rig with a few adjustments. I like to go with a Daiwa Ballistic 2500 reel matched with a St. Croix 8-foot medium action rod spooled with Fins 10-pound braided line. I like to use a little lighter leader for mangrove snapper. Twenty-pound Ohero fluorocarbon will do the trick. Match this with a No. 1 Daiichi circle hook and a couple of No. 5 split shot weights and you’re ready to venture for snapper into the bay.
Snapper are structure-oriented, so if you find some they won’t be far behind. All artificial reefs are great areas to start but they get a ton of pressure, so try and study your chart and find some of the hidden wrecks that are marked inside Tampa Bay. It doesn’t have to be a huge piece of structure. Sometimes the smaller wrecks hold the bigger fish.
Finding bait is one of the easiest tasks you’ll have this time of year as it’s on every flat. Greenbacks are the bait of choice and most are very small. But that’s the bait you want so don’t spend the entire day trying to find big bait. Bring your 10-foot, ¼-inch mesh net so you don’t get the bait stuck in the net.
Often I see people running their outboards on the flats chasing schools of bait. This doesn’t work well when fishing for reds. So why would it work while trying to catch bait? Save yourself the headache, anchor up, get some M-80 chum and bring the bait to you. You’ll be surprised how good this works.
Jason Prieto is one of three Ruskin-based fishing guides and charter captains who share this column. He can be reached at (813) 727-9890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.