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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

West Central Florida Gulf Fishing Report, Capt. Ray Markham, 3/23/18

by on Mar.22, 2018, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

The official first day of spring was this week, and for much of the Suncoast it was under stormy skies with threats of tornadoes. Tuesday, the day before, had a foggy start that cleared out early in the afternoon, giving way to sunny warming skies that turned on a good bite for the last day of winter. It’s predicted to be clear but just a bit cool on the water so you can look for some fishy action to heat up your weekend.


Action in offshore and nearshore waters can be dependent on several things, and two factors stand out this time of year. Cold fronts that bring high winds stir up water and create turbid conditions that make it more difficult for baitfish and predators to breathe. Gills that draw oxygen out of the water have issues in turbid conditions. Recent weeks with fronts passing about every 6 days or so, have created those conditions, forcing many species to seek greater depths where cleaner water exists. Pelagic species like Spanish and king mackerel follow bait schools and the bait will move deep on offshore wrecks. Blackfin tunas continue to be caught on Hubbard’s Marina’s 39-hour deep water trips along with a variety of snappers and groupers. Captain Dylan Hubbard, of Hubbard’s Marina noted a slower bite for most species they targeted on the shorter trips that fish nearshore.

Cold fronts can also drop water temperatures in the shallower nearshore waters. Fish that remain in these depths experience a noticeable slowing of metabolism, making for diminished appetites. During periods of prolonged cold, fish that are in these depths will move deeper where temperatures are more moderate and will also see an increase in metabolism, making them look for food again.

At mid-week this week, wind predictions with a northerly direction will blow up to 20-knots but will come down by the weekend. Cooler nights in the 40’s are predicted through Friday with a slow warming trend by Sunday. As we get toward that time frame you can expect better conditions for both nearshore and offshore fishing.


Fishing has been tough inshore with recent fronts dropping water temps into the mid- 60’s. Fog, at times, has created navigation issues for inshore anglers and cool, windy, foggy mornings have been uncomfortable on the water. Many anglers are reporting a very slow bite for redfish, and in some areas guides report seeing fish that just plain won’t eat. Capt. Rick Grassett, out of CB Saltwater Outfitters on Siesta Key reports this scenario from Sarasota to Boca Grande. Capt. Grassett said that they are on fish that just don’t eat. I’ve seen the same thing while fishing areas of the South Shore of Tampa Bay all the way down to Anna Maria Sound. While red tide down south may contribute to this, I’ve also seen it while fishing lower Tampa Bay on the South Shore and Fort DeSoto area where no red tide is being reported. Snook fishing, on the other hand, has been quite good. Capt. Grassett has been running night snook trips with fly anglers and having good success with some of his glass minnow patterns. Trout fishing for his anglers has also been fair in the deeper grass areas of Sarasota Bay.

Anglers aboard my boat are having good action, mostly past the noon hour when temperatures approach the afternoon peak. Snook and trout seem to turn on when water temperatures approach the 70-degree mark. I’m having good success with CAL Jigs with Shad tails and on topwater MirrOlure Top Dogs with trout up to 28-inches. These bigger fish have been tough to come by in many areas, and quite a few guides are reporting mostly small fish under the minimum 15-inch limit. I’ve also been racking up some respectable numbers of trout on some of the Tidal Surge lures as well as many of the Paul Brown lures.

Anglers fishing Pasco and Hernando waters, where there is less fishing pressure, note good action for trout with DOA Deadly Combos with the DOA Shrimp under the float in areas ranging from 3-to 5-foot depths. Areas with sparse grass and sand bottom or with potholes are seeing the best action with larger trout. But the largest trout seem to be holding in the shallows where sun heats the water. The best of these spots are sheltered from wind too. These conditions promote warmer clean water that isn’t turned over and stirred up or cooled by the wind.

In the John’s Pass area, Capt. Dylan Hubbard reported some of the anglers fishing behind the marina catching good numbers of nice sheepshead, black drum, and some big flounder around the jetties and behind their docks. Live shrimp have been the most available bait. When we get some consistent sunny days you can expect to see some fiddler crabs back in the bait shops.


Cold windy days have made it tough on anglers doing some bass fishing. But for those who tough it out, some nice fish are being caught. Rattling crank baits like the Rat-‘L-Traps or square bill crank baits are go-to lures for many anglers in the spring when bass are active around structure or hydrilla, but on warmer sunny mornings, look for bass to move up on the shorelines around lily pads and grassy areas. If water temperature nudge up around the 80-degree mark many of the soft plastic frog patterns will produce well here, and big bass hammer these baits in the spring. After fronts many times jerk baits or stick baits like several of the Strike King suspending KVD or Rapala jerkbaits excel. Working these lures with an erratic sharp twitch can trigger strikes in post-frontal conditions.

Eric Bachnik, owner of L & S Bait Company that includes the lines of MirrOlure, Paul Brown Lures, Iland Lures, and Tidal Surge lures, fishes the Bay Area Bassmaster’s series with his daughter, Shelby, who’s a very accomplished angler as well. Shelby says one of her top producing lures right now is the Phenix Pro Series spinnerbait in a 3/8-ounce blue shad with a matching grub added. Her recent observations may indicate that bass have spawned and are in a post-spawn pattern. Some of the areas Eric and Shelby fish are holding shad by hydrilla beds. Here, she may throw the spinnerbait, a square-bill crank bait or even a ½-ounce chrome/blue back Rat-‘L- Trap, while her dad prefers the MirrOlure Lil’ John XL rigged Texas style on an Owner worm hook.

There are many schools of thought on lure choices and there are dozens of effective lures, depending on the given situation. Give some of these lures a shot and see if they don’t produce for you. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 723-2655



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