Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Drum Run

We like to go to Amelia Island every September to take advantage of the great saltwater fishing. Florida fishing is hard to beat! Several species are actively biting along the beaches of Northeast Florida, including black drum. Most of the black drum we've caught near the shoreline in September weighed four to five pounds each, which is the perfect size for eating!

I've never understood why so many anglers turn their noses up at perfectly good puppy drum. I know the big brutes aren't good to eat, but drum five or six pounds and under are delicious! Check out some of my fish recipes to learn how I cook black drum.

As for black drum baits, we've had the most success with mole crabs, or as they're commonly called in Florida, sand fleas. The fish don't much seem to care if the sand fleas are alive or frozen. We put a sand flea on a hook and then bump it along the bottom, under or near a pier or other structure. Also, most of the September drum we've caught were hanging in about three feet of water.

From my experience, the best time to catch black drum near the beach is just before and just after high tide. And the action can get pretty intense! At numerous times, we've landed one puppy drum after the other.

Florida Fishing: Anna Maria Island

Florida fishing is awesome – especially saltwater fishing. We had a nice family vacation this summer on Anna Maria Island, and the entire family got in on the angling action. Everyone caught fish, from the little kids to the more experienced adults. This wasn’t our first time fishing Anna Maria Island, however, so I'll share a few fishing tips with you.

Anna Maria Island is in the Gulf of Mexico, just south of Tampa. It’s connected to the mainland by two bridges, and it’s connected to Long Boat Key via another bridge. Anna Maria has three fishing piers, canals, bay frontage, inlets, and beautiful beaches. Fish can be caught at all these places.

Anna Maria City Pier and Rod and Reel Pier

Both these piers are located near the northern tip of the island, and both have bait shops and restaurants. There’s no shade on either pier, and if you’re fishing with little kids, you might want to avoid these fishing venues. Neither has any guard rails. Otherwise, they’re great places to fish for sheepshead, snapper, grouper, jacks, flounder, snook, blackdrum, Spanish mackerel, trout, and very large sharks.

Bridge Street Pier

This pier provides for some comfortable saltwater fishing. Sections of it are shaded, and there are benches for sitting. The pier has sturdy railings, so it’s a good place to take kids. At the land end, there’s a small bait shop and a restaurant. Around the pilings and rocks, you can often see scores of trout and sheepshead, along with a large snook or two. Getting these fish to bite is another story, however.

Long Boat Key Bridge – Longboat Pass

You can fish from the bank or the beach on the Anna Maria side of the bridge, but be careful of the current if you’re wade fishing. Some big fish are frequently landed here, including sharks, tarpon, cobia, snook, permit, and redfish.

Bimini Bay

Bimini Bay is located on the east side of the island, in the Holmes Beach area. When the tide goes out, you can spot sandbars in the bay. If you have a small boat or kayak, fish around the sandbars for speckled trout, silver trout, flounder, reds, snook, and sharks.

Sarasota Bay

Sarasota Bay has several places where fish are likely to be lurking: oyster beds, mangroves, sandbars, artificial reefs, and grass flats. You’ll have the chance to catch snook, reds, trout, snapper, pompano, flounder, tripletail, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel, sharks, jacks, blues, cobia, and small grouper.

Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay is wide open when it comes to saltwater fishing! It has just about every type of fishing environment there is, including beaches, flats, deep grass beds, channels, river mouths, and bottom structure like rocks and rubble. Many anglers have great success around the pilings of the Skyway Bridge and on the Sunshine Skyway piers. In Tampa Bay, you’ll have a world of chances for snook, tarpon, mangrove snapper, red snapper, hog snapper, permit, amberjack, gag grouper, red grouper, scamp, huge goliath grouper, sea bass, king macks, Spanish mackerel, cobia, false albacore, pompano, sheepshead, blackdrum, and a variety of sharks – some of them pretty monstrous in size.


Most of the canals on the island are lined with oyster beds, which attract fish. In the canals, we’ve caught trout, mangrove snapper, croaker, whiting, sheepshead, and some very large redfish. If you want to load up on live bait, pinfish are everywhere in the canals!


Along the beaches, you can expect to catch just about anything, depending on the season. This might include tarpon, cobia, ladyfish, flounder, sheepshead, trout, snook, whiting, jacks, blues, pompano, and more.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stone Crabs: Catch Your Own!

I’ve always enjoyed eating Florida stone crabs – well, the claws, at least. If you’ve ever priced stone crab claws, you know they don’t come cheap. The solution? Catch your own stone crabs and harvest your own stone crab claws! When we’re in Florida during stone crab season – October 15 through May 15, we like to set out a trap for stone crabs, and we always catch blue crabs in the trap, too.

Stone crabs, Menippe mercenaria, can be found in the Atlantic from Connecticut southward, including much of the Caribbean. The stone crab is brownish-gray with grey spots, and most specimens have black claw tips. From my experience with crabbing, stone crabs are more prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico. We’ve caught stone crabs on the Atlantic coasts of Florida and Georgia, but never as many as we’ve caught in the Gulf.

I’ve experimented with several crab baits with which to load my trap, including fresh fish, smelly fish, lean fish, oily fish, cooked chicken, and raw chicken. This could be entirely coincidental, but it seems to me that the stone crabs are pickier about what they eat than the blue crabs are. We’ve caught tons of blue crabs on just about everything imaginable. Believe it or not, we once made a big haul of blue crabs with an empty cigarette pack that was knocked out of the boat by an angry shark.

The last time we went crabbing in Florida, we racked up on blue crabs, using dead pinfish as bait. We didn’t catch a single stone crab, however, until we switched to chicken necks. I thought this was just a coincidence, so I repeated the experiment several times. I always got the same results: the blue crabs would be attracted to any type of flesh we put in the trap, but the stone crabs would enter the trap only for the chicken necks. Maybe we were just in a community of finicky stone crabs! Of course, I gave them what they wanted.

The bodies of stone crabs have little meat on them, but the claws can get big and meaty. Stone crabs grow two claws: a larger one and a smaller one. The large claw is called the “crusher,” while the smaller claw is called the “pincher” or the “pincer.” The legal size is 2 ¾ inches, measured from the tip of the claw half that doesn’t move to the first joint of the claw arm. In Florida, both claws can be harvested as long as they’re of legal size, but I don’t think this is a good practice. When you remove both claws and return the live stone crab to the water, it doesn’t have any way to defend itself. We prefer removing the largest claw and return the crabs to the water. These one-armed crabs will have almost a 75% chance of surviving. If both claws are removed, the stone crab will have about a 50% chance of surviving.

Catching stone crabs isn’t difficult if you use a wire mesh trap loaded with chicken necks. Slow moving water is best. Stone crabs love oysters, so if you can place the trap near oyster beds, you’ll most likely have good luck. Stone crabs also like rocks, manmade structures, and grass beds. Find a likely area and drop the baited trap in the water, letting it sink to the bottom. Tie off the rope, and wait. We usually check our traps ever couple of hours, except when we leave them out overnight. Handle the stone crabs carefully! Their claws are powerful and can inflict some real damage. To see how to properly remove stone crab claws, watch the accompanying video.

Florida Fishing: Canals

We just returned home from a Florida fishing trip/vacation. The house we were staying in was right on a small canal on Anna Maria Island, which is typical of southwest Florida. In all honesty, I hadn’t done much saltwater fishing in canals prior to this trip, and we hadn’t really planned on doing much on this trip. Our original plans were to spend our time fishing Tampa Bay. As it turned out, however, the canal fishing was perfect for the kids, and it also held a few surprises for the adult anglers.

Most of the canals are lined with concrete sea walls, and oysters and barnacles are thick on the rough surface. Also, small docks line the canals, and their support posts are also encrusted in bivalves. The structure underneath the docks provides great cover for baitfish, and larger fish enjoy dining on the baitfish, the oysters, and the barnacles. I figured sheepshead would be frequent visitors, but what surprised me were the other large fish that patrolled the canals.

The mangrove snapper and pinfish were so numerous that fishing with shrimp was next to impossible. You couldn’t toss out a shrimp without it immediately being taken by a pinfish, snapper, croaker, or whiting. This was perfect for keeping the kids entertained, but we were hoping for something bigger, and we got it.

Redfish. Red drum. Reds. At night and in the early morning, big reds were swimming our canal in search of prey. We discovered this sort of by accident. We used a couple of live pinfish on two rods and tossed them into the center of the canal. We left the lines out overnight. The next morning, there was a big red on one, and the other line had been stripped. We had similar experiences for several days in a row. We forgot all about fishing the bay on this fishing trip!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Spanish at Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay provides great Florida fishing year round, but for some species, the action can get especially hot in the summer months. If you’re observant – and lucky – you might just rack up on Spanish mackerel. Spanish macks migrate, and the warmer months often find them lurking along the beaches and even in deeper areas of Tampa Bay. A clue to their location is the seagulls. Spanish mackerel are notorious for herding schools of baitfish. The bait often rises to the surface in an effort to escape, and the mackerel ensue in a feeding frenzy. The injured baitfish ring the dinner bell for hungry birds, so if you see gulls or other birds hovering and hunting over an area, there’s a good chance that Spanish mackerel or other predatory fish are nearby – perhaps directly underneath the excited birds.

Another way to find Spanish mackerel is to create your own feeding frenzy with chum. Distribute the chum over grass beds or rocky bottoms. Once the macks arrive, toss them a live bait like finger mullet, a spoon, or a metal jig. A fast retrieve will result in the most hits. If you’re into flyfishing, use a sinking line and flies that mimic glass minnows.

Spanish mackerel prefer clear water, so keep this in mind. Also, you’ll probably have better luck early and late in the day, when it’s a little cooler.

Need a good Spanish mackerel recipe? Just click!