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Reboot the Fishing Calendar–Capt. Ray Markham, April 22, 2016

by on Apr.23, 2016, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Most years I’d be looking at the calendar on my computer about now and I’d be thinking that we should be getting toward the tail end of kingfish season. This year has been different. It seems we have had a blast of fish running up from the south just this week. Sure kings will be around most of the year, but when the spring run is on, usually fish come from the Key’s northward in waves as waters warm. But this past winter was quite warm, so I might have expected an early run with an earlier ending to the bulk of the fish migrating north.

Usually about mid-March I start seeing tarpon moving out of the Manatee River and backcountry waters. These are mostly resident fish that spend winters as well as the rest of the year here. But I had not really seen that many fish. The real onslaught of poons traditionally shows up on the beaches in May. With only a week or so away from May, I’ve finally seen a decent showing of tarpon. Much of last week and the weekend had been difficult fishing due to high winds, but once the winds laid down, we started to see some tarpon roll. This early showing could have something to do with the fact that the full moon falls on Thursday, April 21st. Migrations of fish as well as spawning rituals are known to occur around full moons and new moons. So, if I was glancing at the fish calendar trying to see what should be going on, things might be a bit out of whack.

A look at the calendar on April 30, the last day of the month, will reveal that it’s the last day of snook season. Snook on the West Coast close for the summer. But with the full moon on the 21st, that out of whack calendar may see some snook spawning in the passes. That would be nearly a month early, but as a rule, snook begin spawning from around the full moon in May and run through September. However, with as many big snook as I’ve seen near the passes and on barrier islands over the past couple of weeks, I wouldn’t doubt it if these linesiders just might be lining up to begin an early spawn.

One change on the calendar for May 1 in the northwest region of the state is that the redfish bag limit will drop back to one fish per angler from two fish, with an 8 fish boat limit. The region south of Fred Howard Park, called the south region, remains as one fish per person but with an 8 fish boat limit as well.

Prime time for mangrove snapper is generally around June or July, but how about all the big mangos doing the tango in Tampa Bay right now? Just a short hop off the beaches and now you’re into 5-pound mangos in April!

Yes, it’s April, and yes, the fishing calendar seems a bit messed up. But the next time you pull up an old boot while fishing, throw it back, because it’s time for a re-boot.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Florida Sportsman West Central Florida Fishing 4Cast–Capt. Ray Markham

by on Mar.03, 2016, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Moderate weather has been the norm of late. Even with mild fronts making it down to the Suncoast, it’s not been cold out. Water temps are back on the rise and there is the first push of pelagic fish at hand. Go fishing!


For anglers looking to put some meat in the box, Spanish mackerel are beginning to show up on the beaches and near most passes from John’s Pass south. Keep your eyes peeled and your ear to the ground; because now that we’ve seen some Spanish come over the gunnels you can just about expect kingfish to start to show on offshore wrecks. We have a mild front that should come in some time on Friday bring some wind that will kick up seas and dirty the water, that will put a king in the mackerel action but once it clears and the water cleans up, look for some kings and Spanish to show. If you head out of Tampa Bay and follow the Egmont Key Ship’s Channel all the way out to the Whistler, somewhere along the way you’ll find a good show of bait. That’s where you’ll want to look for kings. Time’s Square is another good location for early arrivals of kingfish.

It’s almost tournament time again and the 25th Annual Suncoast Kingfish Classic is just about a month away. The long-running tournament promises to bring out some of the best kingfish anglers in the southeast. Slated to run April 7 through 9 at John’s Pass Marina, the tournament is a favorite local event that draws some of the top kingfish anglers in the country to vie for the $20,000 first place prize. A discounted early entry fee for those who get in before the April 1 early entry deadline may be incentive enough for those who are already checking their rod guides, changing line, and twisting up some leaders to prepare for kingfish season. If you’re around April 28-30, the Old Salts will be cranking up their mack daddy event, the 2016 Old Salt Spring King of the Beach Tournament where anglers will be fishing for some big jack…no not crevalle, but $50,000 for the top angler in the Madeira Beach event. This big buck tourney has been known to draw big crowds to enjoy the festivities and witness some big kings being weighed in.

If bottom dropping is your bag, anglers working shallow to 50 or 60-foot depths are finding it slow going and have reported some red grouper, catch and release red grouper, and some tasty grunts. To elevate the lowly grunt the Old Salts have come up with the Great American Grunt Hunt slated to run down the road May 12 & 14….details to follow.


Spring is just a few weeks away and lucky us! We will be springing forward with our clocks March 13 so we will have sun setting an hour later after that date. A variety of things have been going on inshore. Snook season reopened on Tuesday with the expected lackluster start. Water temps have been slowly climbing with the recent warm weather but on opening day in the ICW near John’s Pass it was 68.5-degrees. Not really cold but just warm enough to get a few fish to eat in that area. We caught several under slot fish near there.

Redfish action has been good, with good numbers of fish bending rods in the upper Tampa Bay region and in the ICW near Dunedin. Spoil islands and mangrove shorelines in the area are producing reds in the mid-slot on live pinfish and cut baits. Tampa Bay anglers are scoring with the Eppinger Rex Spoon that is about the size of white bait that’s on the flats and around the Sunshine Skyway. Steady action in Terra Ceia with trout and reds has been the norm. A few flounder continue to mix up a day’s fishing there. Bluefish in lower Tampa Bay are keeping anglers on the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Piers busy as well as the Spanish mackerel. Gotcha Jigs, Diamond Jigs, and Clark Spoons are the top meat getters for mackerel there. Bigger trout are coming from Sarasota Bay waters just inside the passes. Capt. Rick Grassett’s anglers have been tossing an assortment of flies for ladyfish, jack crevalle, trout, and redfish in that area. Grassett’s night trips for snook have been productive with good numbers of fish being caught on fly around dock lights and bridge fenders.

For those who just love to eat fish, there’s none better than a pompano, in my opinion. For anglers targeting them, they are getting several fish per day around the Gandy Bridge, and in the Fort Desoto area near Bunces Pass. Pass-A-Grille can also be a hot spot for pomps at times. The original Doc’s Goofy Jig continues to be the top lure for pompano but anglers fishing live sand fleas and fiddler crabs find fishing productive for them as well.


Bass anglers continue to show some big bass being caught from area ponds. Bedding bass around lake perimeters are hitting an assortment of soft plastic lures. Lizard and eel type imitations and just about any of the creature baits that are available are getting the most attention. Crappie fishing continues to be good on Lake Tarpon. With the warmer weather, though, the schooling action could break up. Continue drifting for specks with Missouri minnows or crappie jigs suspended at different levels to find the schools and concentrate on those areas.

News Channel 8 Outdoor Expo & Boat Show this weekend!

Come out and join us at the WFLA News Channel 8 OUTDOOR EXPO & BOAT SHOW at the Florida State Fairgrounds March 4, 5, and 6th for some great family fun. If you want to learn some secrets for catching more fish on artificial baits, I’ll be on stage speaking Friday night at 6:30, Saturday at 5:30, and Sunday at 1 P.M. on a variety of inshore fishing topics using artificial lures. This is where you want to be this weekend if catching more fish is what you want. Some of the top guides in the area will be there to share. Come early and enjoy all the fine speakers and check out what’s new in the fishing game. The biggest names in fishing will be on hand giving seminars and answering questions all weekend long. The list of fishing celebrities includes Capt. C.A. Richardson, Mark Nichols from D.O.A. Lures, Capt. Geoff Page and Capt. Rick Murphy, Capt Scott Moore, Capt. Billy Nobles, Capt. Glenn Taylor and many more. All kinds of boat manufacturers, fishing tackle distributors, and lure manufacturers will be on hand along with many other great outdoor companies to assist you in catching more fish. Reel Animals and Bull Bay Rods Pro Staffer Miss Chasten Whitfield will also be there helping kids learn to throw the cast net and tie knots so bring the whole family out to the News Channel 8 Outdoor Expo & Boat at the Florida State Fair Grounds March 4th, 5th and 6th! Details: http://wfla.com/outdoors-expo-boat-show/
Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham

(941) 723-2655

Email: ray.markham@gmail.com

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Season opener bite for snook could be hot with warm weather- By Ray Markham

by on Feb.26, 2016, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

The calendar still says winter but this past week might make you think that spring has sprung. Changing weather conditions will dictate what you need to do to stay on feeding fish. I marked water temperatures in a variety of shallow water venues from Old Tampa Bay to Mullet Key that pushed the mercury up over 75-degrees. That’s the kind of water temperature you might see in late March, and what I saw this week could be previews of coming attractions to the Bay Area. Warm shallows turned snook on and pushed Spanish mackerel in on the edges of the Gulf and just inside passes from Charlotte Harbor all the way up to John’s Pass. Next week’s warming trend could make Tuesday’s season opener for snook productive and also trigger a run of both king and Spanish mackerel.

The front that moved in at mid-week is moving quickly and will clear the state in short order, but not without a quick drop in temperature. With air temperatures nudging the 80-degree mark on Tuesday, and the prediction for Wednesday and Thursday to take a steep dip perhaps into the 40’s in the Tampa Bay area, fish will undoubtedly head for deeper water. The shallows of the flats will likely look like a ghost town until water temperatures move back up with next week’s warm up.

Capt. Rick Grassett, of Sarasota, and his anglers have been fishing the Venice area at night with fly rods working dock lights and bridge fenders catching and releasing as many as 20-snook a night. Water temperatures have been in the upper 60’s. Most affected by this quick drop in air and water temperature will be snook, effectively putting a halt to the bite temporarily.

The sheepshead bite has been outrageous this week, coupled with the spawning full moon and the incoming cold front. The bite turned on and fired up sheepies that were reported up to 10-pounds. These monster striped convict fish are cooperative even in cold and inclement weather.

If fresh water is your preference, take a page out of Shelby Bachnik’s book and head for Lake Tarpon. Bachnik has been working the lake in about 10-feet of water with crappie jigs and small minnows, catching good numbers of slab crappie. These freshwater panfish are prized for their tasty white fillets and can be found in lakes like Tarpon that offer some protection from the elements. Bachnik says look for the north end of the lake to be productive.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Chilling thoughts for winter fishing–By Capt. Ray Markham


Fish have to deal with the cold every day during winter. But being cold-blooded, cold weather doesn’t have the same effect as it does on humans. Living in sunny Florida, most of us don’t give much thought to the possibility of developing hypothermia. But with winter weather finally upon us, dressing appropriately for being on the water can be a matter of life and death, particularly if you fall into the water. The body loses heat 25-times faster in water than it does with exposure to the air. This is all the more reason to wear a personal flotation device in the event you do fall overboard.

Cold fronts that have been hitting us at about a weekly basis or more often have been driving the water temperature downward for the past couple of weeks. Sitting in the mid-sixties now, and with wind on the water, the wind chill factor drops the ‘feels like’ temperature even more. It’s important to dress in layers of clothing. Shivering is probably the first sign of the onset of hypothermia as the body core temperature drops. It’s better to have more clothing than you need, since you can always remove some as the days warm up.

Find areas out of the wind. Those spots will be more comfortable for both you and the fish. Warmer areas will also mean that fish appetites will be on the rise. Unlike cold-blooded creatures, we still need to eat on a regular basis. Fish eat when they feel hungry or the opportunity presents itself. Sheepshead are working the pilings around bridges, docks, piers and around most any structure. Most recently flounder are appearing in holes on the flats on these negative tide days. Dragging CAL Curly tailed jigs across the holes slowly will catch flatties. With the falling water temperature, snook are moving up inside the rivers. All of the Tampa Bay’s rivers are holding snook. Look for the power plants in the area to produce a plume of warm water around the outflows. Apollo Beach and Anclote Key both produce warm water on the coldest days. The most recent weather prediction is for the coldest days yet this winter to be the first part of next week. Cobia, snook, trout, pompano, sharks, ladyfish, jacks and more will be found around these plants. Warmer water will move up to a half-mile away from the power plant on still days.

Fish extra slow during cold weather and remember to dress for the occasion to stay comfortable and keep warm. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Making the most of winter fishing days — By Ray Markham


Fishing during the winter has both its good points and drawbacks. But over-all, if you work with what you have, you’ll find that your disadvantages can also work for you.

Weekly cold fronts can stir up water, make seas and bays rough, and drop water temperature putting a virtual if not real lock jaw on fish. Even on the worst of days you can probably catch fish, as long as you deal with your conditions.

The most obvious change in winter will be water temperature. During the spring, summer, and fall, water temperatures will be up, making the metabolic rates soar. But during the hottest days of summer, the heat can be a drawback, forcing you to find areas with temperatures within the comfort range of fish. Offshore, you’ll need to find the depth where there is enough insulation between the surface and the bottom where fish will hold. In shallow water, you’ll still need to find some deeper areas for fish to comfortably hold, but that’s not all. Fish may hold in vast areas of small bays, but only feed in one area because of a difference in water temperature and water clarity. Temperatures can vary as much as 10-degrees in areas just blocks away because of the type of structure, bottom, or protection from the elements. Dead end residential canals protected from the wind that run north and south and with dark muddy bottoms and good depth will generally hold fish that will feed. The west side of that canal receives sun first as the sun rises and heats that side first making fish on that side of the canal more active. The east side benefits by the day-long heat produced by exposure to the sun and by afternoon will probably be the most productive.

Cold water kills off algae that grow during warm months improving water clarity. Sight-fishing is at its peak, but fish can also see you the best, making long accurate casts imperative to catching fish. On windy days, you can increase the distance of your casts by casting downwind, making the stealth approach to fish with your bait or lure easier.

High, cold winds stir up water and drop the temperature even more. Find areas with wind breaks or out of the wind and you’ll minimize that effect. Live shrimp are the most predominant inshore food source during winter and the slow movements they make are in tune with metabolic rates for fish. The DOA Shrimp that I throw is my go-to winter lure because it is the best imitation of what fish eat.

Dealing with the wind, cold, and water clarity issues can turn even slow problem days into productive days when you understand how to deal with them.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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2015 Reflections and New Year’s Fishing Resolutions– By Capt. Ray Markham


Every year I hear the same old resolutions from folks. Some they keep, but mostly they don’t. They want to lose weight. They want to strive to stay on a budget. They want to be on time. They will get more organized…and on and on. Well for this New Year I’d love to hear a few new resolutions.

Here are a few I’d like to hear. “I’m not out to keep my limit of fish. I’d just like to take enough fish home for dinner tonight.” “Hey, I know that one trout is 27-inches and legal to take, but why don’t we release him to spawn again.” “Let’s not get too close to those other anglers fishing. They need their space as much as we want ours.” “Hey, I’m just going to pull my boat and trailer over to the side and get it loaded up before I get on the ramp. I don’t want to hold anyone up.” “Yes, I remembered to put the drain plug in.”

While 2015 is now in the history book, the year ahead may be an interesting one indeed. During 2015 we saw record-breaking heat during the summer, fall, and into winter. It seems summer never ended and winter has yet to begin. A slow start to the year with snook saw a strong finish with good number of big fish being caught in the last quarter of the year in some areas, yet others seem to still lag behind. If we have a mild winter, those fish that spawned and the small fish that came from them should have a good start for this coming year.

If you’d like to make a difference and have input regarding snook, the 2016 Snook Symposium regarding snook research and management will be held January 13th at the Caribe Royale, 8101 World Center Drive in Orlando. This day-long discussion is open to the public and includes the results of the soon-to-be released 2015 stock assessment, population recovery following the 2010 cold kill, and will discuss opportunities for improving snook management. To register online and learn more, go to MyFWC.com/Snook2016. You can also email Marine@MyFWC.com or call 1(850) 487-0554 for questions.

The month of January will see at least 21 days where we will have negative low tides. These will be prime opportunities to do some scouting of new areas, to find holes and check out the exposed bay bottom for structure. It’s also a good time to wade fish, so get your waders ready and let’s go fishing.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Tips For Crowded Holiday Fishing in Tampa Bay–Capt. Ray Markham

by on Dec.25, 2015, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Every year I try to leave time around the holidays open for some things I want to do, and to get caught up on the others I never seem to have time for, but inevitably, there are folks who come in town on vacation, see how nice the weather is, and suddenly think….”let’s go fishing!” Well, the onslaught of calls is underway, and at times I take some unplanned trips, but the truth is, it can get mighty crowded on the water during the holidays. With the weather at record high temperatures on these beautiful days, the desire to go bend a rod is even stronger.

Fishing has been outstanding, and the full moon that pops up tonight on this Christmas night will create some strong tides that will undoubtedly make fish eat. Water temperature is very warm for this time of year and there is still plenty of baitfish in the bay. Red tide is spotty and is only affecting certain areas of the lower bay. Snook season is closed but run up any of the rivers, like the Alafia, Little Manatee, Manatee, Anclote, or most any of the deeper creeks and you’ll find a load of snook that are in the process of moving toward their winter haunts. Live shrimp or artificial shrimp like the DOA work exceptionally well. Whitebait, greenies, and pinfish for the natural bait users will get the job done as well. While it’s only catch and release for these fish right now, they will give you a lot of action and can be released with little or low mortality when handled minimally and released correctly.

Redfish have been blowing up topwater MirrOlures in the upper bay area. Portions of the flats around Rocky Creek and Double Branch all the way to Safety Harbor have been holding schools of upper-slot redfish. We’ve been nailing them on CAL Jigs with the 3-inch Shad tail in all colors that contain night glow. The Eppinger Rex weedless spoon has also been deadly on these reds and is especially good when there is a presence of small pinfish on a flat.

Flounder action around the mouth of Tampa Bay seems to have picked back up as the red tide moves away from the area. Good action with some nice sized flatties is to be had for anglers working the nearshore artificial reefs just off the coast of Pinellas.

Kingfish and Spanish mackerel are still out around Egmont Key Shipping Channel for anglers looking to troll up some fish for the smoker.

Regardless of what you want to target, look for some company on the water and remember to keep your distance from other anglers and respect their space, and they will respect yours. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Tampa Bay Fishing Report, 12/11/15, Capt. Ray Markham–“Fishing away from red tide is outstanding!”

by on Dec.12, 2015, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Anyone who knows me or has heard me talk about fishing over the past few weeks probably heard me mention red tide. Make no mistake about it, red tide is affecting our fishing where the bloom is present and on the periphery of where it is located. The key to catching fish is to move away from the red tide bloom and the outskirts of it. Healthy fish continue to eat and put on a normal rod-bending show.

Flashing back about ten years, red tide nearly decimated our fishery. In the lower Tampa Bay area, spotted seatrout never fully regained the population of big fish or numbers of fish we had back then, but it was still acceptable to people outside of the fishing capital of the world. While snook populations took it on the chin along with numerous other species, most did survive the ordeal only to be hit by a series of days with hard freezees about five years ago. Nature’s damage can be devastating, but add unethical anglers who kill fish by improper handling or keeping illegal sizes or numbers of fish are other issues.

Recognizing the signs of red tide are the first steps toward finding healthy areas that support active fish. Start with the internet and check out information from the FWC at http://myfwc.com/REDTIDESTATUS. This will give you general areas that are affected. Observation is the next step. Signs of red tide can affect your eyes and breathing along with producing dead fish, but not always. Wind blowing from the direction of the red tide can push dead fish to the perimeter of an affected area or areas that are free of the toxin. If you see or smell it, move. Fish in perimeter areas can be affected but still alive, and act as you might if you are sick and not eat.

Good fishable areas show signs of life and active feeding. The areas that I have fished recently that were good have bait in the area as well as mullet schools. Mullet are late moving out to spawn, but areas around John’s Pass and the ICW up to Indian Rocks produced trout, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, flounder, redfish, snook, and Spanish mackerel. Middle to upper Tampa Bay north of Piney Point to Apollo Beach had exceptional action with snook, trout, redfish, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and even cobia. The rest of Tampa Bay north to Double Branch was normal with no signs of red tide.

Red tide will move fish and push them to unaffected areas if they escape. By noting the signs and differences of both good and bad areas, you will catch fish.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Fronts ease the Suncoast into winter–By Ray Markham

by on Dec.05, 2015, under Siesta Key to Boca Grande, St. Pete Beaches, Tampa Bay, East and South Shore, Tampa Bay, West Shore and St. Petersburg

With less than three weeks remaining in the fall season, reflecting back will reveal that this has been one of the mildest on record. Warm air and easterly winds for nearly a week have made fishing for kingfish and Spanish mackerel just off the beaches a doable task. Plenty of big Spanish were caught but kings have been scattered. Captains Ryan Farner and Chris Turner of St. Petersburg will host a final kingfish tournament called the Bitch of the Ditch that will run Saturday out of Billy’s Stone Crab on Tierra Verde. The interesting twist is that this event has boundaries from Egmont Key to up inside Tampa Bay. The weekend will have a mild cold front easing into the area shifting winds and fish, but this front should push more kings southward to the area. Predicted winds won’t be as high as last week’s front, but changing wind direction will also change tide levels that will affect where you’ll find fish on the flats and in the bay. The Saturday weigh-in at Billy’s Stone Crab should provide interesting results.

Coming off the quarter moon this week, we won’t see the big swings in tides that we saw during last week’s full moon. Looking at the comfort zone chart for fish, the majority of fish that swim in our waters prefer water temperatures in the mid-seventies, right where Tampa Bay is presently situated. Tides won’t be moving that fast, so positioning yourself where wind blows between islands or at the mouths of small bays where there are narrow openings can speed up the water at that point, making an ambush location for snook, trout, flounder and more.

Some of the largest snook of the year have been caught this past week coming off the full moon. Most fish were caught in brackish water, meaning these fish were moving up rivers or creeks to the headwaters for the winter. Snook season closed this week along with gag grouper, making both species off limits for take-home. However, catch-and-release action for snook will bend some rods and make some smiles. Flounder continue to give anglers something extra to target. Look for sandy areas with good water flow. Reports from John’s Pass and the Pass-A-Grille area have been consistent productive areas.

If you’re fishing inside Tampa Bay and adjacent waters, look around all the channel markers and range markers in the bay for cobia, Spanish mackerel, and tripletail. All three species have been caught here this week.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in fly and light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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Capt. Ray Markham’s Tampa Bay Fishing Forecast, 9/4/15

by on Sep.04, 2015, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

There is hardly an inshore fish that garners as much excitement and attention certain times of the year than the snook. This past Tuesday’s season opener that runs through November is typical. A late night drive by most bridges or piers near passes or barrier islands revealed numerous anglers standing under the stars with a full moon shining brightly. There were anglers at most locations and in some spots they were standing elbow-to-elbow, all vying for the linesiders that were staging up in the lights by the bridge fenders to feed.

One top snook spot was at the John’s Pass Bridge. The tide was rising until the wee hours of the morning when it turned to head back out. Somewhere near sunrise, the water movement was rushing out of the pass, taking with it crabs, mullet, scaled sardines, shrimp, and a load of other assorted baitfish. While some anglers opted for a live pinfish or cut bait anchored on the bottom, others dropped heavy buck tail jigs or a DOA TerrorEyz to the bottom around the pilings in hopes that a snook would slam the bait. By morning’s end, most anglers connected with fish.

The beginning of the season is traditionally the easiest time to catch big snook. Many of the larger female fish are thin by comparison to their pre-spawn size, and are ravenously hungry. With the spawning period behind most, these fish will now be on a mission to pack on the pounds, and over the next two weeks, right through the new moon phase, they will feed with reckless abandon. Less wary than perhaps at any other time, they are prime targets for catching. Dropping their guard and normal defensive instincts, these fish will chew. But with snook stocks still at questionable levels in some areas, many anglers are continuing to release all snook, regardless of their size. It’s a personal choice, but overall, snook scientists say that the stock is healthy and harvesting snook is ok.

Many fish will begin moving in from the beaches and back into the bays were they will stage up on points and around oyster bars to set up areas to ambush their prey. Wherever there is good water flow, you’ll find snook. Some of my top producing artificial lures right now are the new MirrOlure Cracked Glass Series MirrOdine, the CAL Shad, DOA Shrimp, Sebile Stick Shad, and Zara Spook. Each will work different portions of the water column, and imitate whatever forage the snook are feeding on at the time.

Capt. Ray Markham specializes in light tackle fishing with artificial lures, charters out of the Tampa Bay area, and may be reached via his website at www.CaptainRayMarkham.com, email at ray.markham@gmail.com, or at (941) 723-2655 for charter.

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