While the heat of summer continues to produce some sweltering days that cause sweat to soak your shirt, we’ve barely begun to get into this season. Spring came and went with the bat of an eye, and summer-like weather moved in a good month ahead of schedule, driving water temperatures up into the 80s and fish to greater depths. Spanish and King Mackerel arrived early and left ahead of schedule. Snook began pouring out on the beaches and into passes in late April and early May—also ahead of schedule. Tarpon season blew up and is on fire, and will continue through the summer.
Bay temperatures are now nudging the 90-degree mark. How do we fish during these conditions? Well, for the most part, I’m looking at the beginning of this July as if I was fishing in early August—the hottest month of the year. Fishing is tough around that time frame and fish have limited options available to them to get to some place that they find comfortable. In our own habitat we turn on the air conditioner and chill. Finding cooler spots will likely be the key to good fishing right now. Backcountry waters seem to be producing during only the coolest parts of the day—in the evening and early morning hours. On days with high afternoon tides, which are particularly around new and full moon weeks, fish will venture up inside bays and seek the shelter of shady mangrove islands, shorelines, and docks. Docks in deep water residential canals can hold fish, but only if there is moving water. Stagnant water has significantly less dissolved oxygen, and fish, other than Tarpon, rarely tolerate it.
Mangrove Snapper are in their prime right now and will be very active over the next couple of months around the full moon weeks. The bite turns on under moonlit nights when water temperatures are reduced, but these fish thrive at the upper end of the temperature tolerance scale. Like many fish, Mangroves spawn around full moon periods in the summer, and the Snapper you find in Tampa Bay will be fat. A typical Mangrove Snapper will run around a pound in the bay but will reach 3 to 5 pounds in some areas like the Egmont Key Ship’s Channel in depths ranging from 20 to 45 feet. Our go-to Snapper lure is the DOA Shrimp but we’ve also had good results with the MirrOlure Lil’ John and CAL Shad. These fish love structure, and the patches of hard bottom and rock piles found in lower Tampa Bay are holding schools of Snapper. A Baitmasters’ frozen chum block will definitely lure these fish in droves away from structure and get them feeding right at the boat. Fresh live shrimp work well for these fish, and may also be used to tip a jig or other artificial bait to enhance the bite.
Trout fishing has been slow; shallow water areas have not been very productive for anything other than small fish. Several years ago I found Trout by accident while fishing for Mackerel on some hard bottom in lower Tampa Bay in depths ranging from 18 to 22 feet of water. Dropping jigs to the bottom would catch these Trout, but my traditional 1/4-ounce jig head was not enough to get the jig down before bluefish and ladyfish would hit the lure. Stepping up to a 3/8-ounce jig head caused the lure to sink more quickly, getting through most of the ladies and blues, improving Trout hook-ups for Specks in the 20-inch range that were on the bottom.
Redfish can be caught when tides peak around sunrise during the quarter moon periods. Floating grass on the flats has been a problem we’ve had to deal with so lures that are weedless have been the way to go. The 5.5 CAL Jerk Bait rigged on a 5/0 Trokar non-weighted hook has been a productive lure. The weedless Rex Spoon from Eppinger Mfg. Co. has been very effective as well, and the DOA Shrimp is always effective, particularly when fish are easily spooked. Just hit the water a little before sunrise and fish the oyster bars and mangrove-lined shorelines for best results.
Summer fishing is certainly a sweaty proposition, but fishing where the fish are during the cooler parts of the day will always produce the best results, and these results will be worth your sweat.