Written by: Captain Jim Klopfer
Fall is a great time to be fishing Sarasota, Florida. The crowds are gone, the weather is pleasant, and the fish are biting! The changes are subtle, but fall does arrive in Florida. Shorter days and the change in the angle of the sun result in water temperatures dropping into the mid-’70s. This triggers an awesome fall run of pelagic species including false albacore, king and spanish mackerel, sharks, and cobia.
Weather and conditions are critical components to our great fall fishing. Normally, high-pressure systems sit off of Georgia and north Florida coastline. This results in days of northeast breezes. The result is calm, clear water along the Gulf Coast. This brings in massive schools of baitfish such as threadfin herring, scaled sardines, and glass minnows. This abundant forage is the key to the fishing action.
Fishing Sarasota, Florida: Sight Fishing Pelagics
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this style of fishing is that much of it is visual. Anglers cruise the beaches off of Sarasota and Siesta Key in search of signs of fish. As in all fishing, bird activity is always a good clue to feeding fish. Quite often, fish are seen feeding on the surface.
This is easy to see when the water is calm.
Once fish are found, the technique is fairly straightforward. Anglers position the boat upwind of the action. Once within casting range, lures or flies are cast into the breaking fish. Any lure or fly that resembles the bait that is being devoured will draw a strike.
Top lures include #8 Rapala X-Rap in white, ½ ounce silver spoons, and 3” shad tail baits on a ¼ ounce jig head.
Fly anglers will score using any white baitfish pattern. Live bait will certainly produce, but this situation is perfect for anglers casting artificial lures.
While fish are often very aggressive and will hit just about any flashy lure, this is not always the case. This is especially true when false albacore are feeding on tiny glass minnows. In this instance, anglers need to ‘match the hatch’ and use small lures and flies. Flies are perfect for this! Diamond jigs are an excellent choice for spin fishing anglers.
Patience is also required at times, especially when targeting albies. While Spanish mackerel will oftentimes stay up on the surface in one spot for quite a while, false albacore can move much more sporadically. They will pop up in one spot, then disappear, only to surface again a hundred yards away moments later. When this occurs, the best approach is to sit still and wait for a good opportunity.
Fishing Sarasota, Florida: Trolling and Fishing Artificial Reefs
While surface action is very exciting, there will be times when fish are not seen on the surface. There are two strategies that produce fish under these conditions; trolling and fishing artificial reefs.
Trolling is a great way for anglers to locate fish when they are not feeding on the surface. In fact, most king mackerel are landed by anglers trolling. Spoons are usually trolled behind #1 and #2 planers at 5 to 7 knots. This combination allows anglers to cover a lot of water and several depths in search of fish.
Mackerel, kings, false albacore, and cobia will all hit a trolled spoon. Diving plugs are also excellent lures to use when trolling.
There are several artificial reefs within a few miles from shore off of Sarasota. These are fish magnets! The submerged structure will hold bait which in turn attracts the game fish. Trolling works well as does anchoring and chumming with live or cut bait. Fish will often be seen feeding on the surface.
Sharks will also be found near the schools of bait and mackerel. They are the perfect size for light tackle sport, averaging 10 to 30-pounds. Blacktip and Bonnethead sharks are most common. The best way to catch one is to land a Spanish mackerel, fillet it, then float half a fillet out near schools of bait and mackerel. The predatory sharks will hover at the edge of these schools looking to pick off stragglers.
In conclusion, anglers seeking some great fishing will find it fishing Sarasota, Florida in the fall!