Kingfish? There are a lot of anglers mumbling that single-word question. Most of the answers have been, “not quite yet.”
Joe at One Stop Bait and tackle had the best news, with a couple of boats working the Pasco artificial reefs and the hard bottom west of them finding some fish to 20 pounds. Others have been having no luck at all.
Don at Tarpon Fishing Outfitters says a boat working 20 feet of water off Anclote couldn't find a king, and couldn't keep the grouper from coming off the bottom to take the baits off their stinger rigs.
Brown at Angler's Depot says the guys fishing off Clearwater Beach have been connecting with some kings, though the bite hasn't been great. The consensus is that when the water temps come up a couple more degrees and we are solidly in the low 70s, it will happen.
Angler's Depot, (727) 938-5364(727) 938-5364: Brown says anglers have been finding reds in the mangroves with the high tide, and there are plenty of jacks around to break the boredom. Snook are working their way out, but many remain in the backwaters and canals, as if they are not quite sure it's OK to poke their heads out into the open-water points and spoils. There have not been many reports about trout at the shop, but fishing in 4 to 6 feet of water over grass bottom is where you want to be.
Tarpon Fishing Outfitters, (727) 942-8944(727) 942-8944: Don says bait schools have been hard to find inshore, and though it can be chummed and netted, it's going to take a while. He and partners spent 90 minutes loading the live well on their last outing. They were disappointed to find that the action on the open water flats and outside points and channels has not fired up yet. On that trip and others, they ended up finding fish in the canals and backwaters, working docks, taking small reds, a couple of snook and jacks.
Tarpon Trading Company, (727) 937-1488(727) 937-1488: Pete says anglers are finding good trout fishing on the grass flats around Howard Park, where they also have been connecting with Spanish mackerel. A father and son fishing between the north end of Anclote Key and the north sandbar found excellent action over four days of fishing. They reported taking mackerel, trout, flounder, pompano and several other species each day they were out. Offshore, there has been no word of kings just yet, but anglers are finding plenty of hogfish on rocky bottom. The key to catching them is small hooks and live shrimp.
One Stop Bait and Tackle, (727) 842-5610(727) 842-5610: Joe says the mackerel fishing has been good on the deeper grass flats, as well as offshore around the reefs and over the first hard bottom. Trout are on the grass flats up and down the coast between The Cotee River and Dunedin. Work 4 feet of water or better. Snook remain parked in the canals, creeks and other backwaters, though there was a report of some fish spotted behind Anclote Key. For the most, the fish have been slow to come out of their winter holdups.
Lots of gags are being taken offshore, but as the season is closed, they all must be released.
The Long Pier, (727) 391-9398(727) 391-9398: Gary says the kingfish are not showing off the end of the pier yet, but he suspects it has to happen any day now. Bait is showing up and anglers are champing at the bit for the run to get going.
Until then, they've been taking advantage of a decent trout bite, particularly at night under the lights. Some flounder are being landed, and the mackerel bite has been pretty good at times. A few black drum are being landed, along with the odd redfish.
Nick Stubbs is founder and webmaster of Bitetracker.com, an interactive fishing website.