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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

Every May and June, sportsmen from all over the world travel to Boca Grande in pursuit of the silver king. Corporations gather their top accounts, and for many, their one and only chance in a lifetime to catch a tarpon.


We had decided it would be best to fish mid-week to avoid the traffic jam caused by trying to fit 100 boats in a pass made to handle no more than 30. We were wrong in thinking we had beaten the rush. Here we were starting our first drift watching a beautiful sunrise when we noticed we were joined by at least 70 other captains and their crew with the same thought in mind of hooking into a tarpon.


Every year tarpon makes a grand entrance into Boca Grande Pass. No one really knows for sure why they come, but some say it’s for the bountiful supply of baitfish the pass holds, while others believe it’s their starting point for the mating season. One thing is for sure; they are here and in great quantities.


We had teamed up with Capt. Scott Roe, a good friend and guide for the area who fishes for tarpon during the tarpon season and guides the backwaters of Charlotte Harbor the rest of the year. Capt. Scott had been keeping an eye for the best time for us to come down to tape one of our TV shows and we were ready to battle the silver king, a nickname for tarpon.


A typical tarpon trip is 6 hours, and you are basically fishing either an incoming or outgoing tide. The idea is to start your drift through the pass without interfering with other anglers and keeping your bait or jig just off the bottom. The pass has 2 major drops, and it’s the captain’s responsibility to give the command on when to raise or lower you baits, or you can kiss your tackle goodbye on the jagged wall and rocky bottom of the pass.


In the old days, the fishing lines were marked with red or blue colored yarn, each color representing a certain depth and the captain would yell, “lower your lines!” New reels on the market have a built-in digital line counter, and other after-market attachments are available for making life easier.


Making the best choice in the bait to use is like tossing a coin. Some captains like small silver dollar size pass crabs, while others like large shrimp or shad. Our choice is the jig, which is preferred by most captains for its effectiveness. Many of the local tournaments have even banned jig fishing due to its great success in catching fish. That’s a new one, when jigs are banned instead of live bait.


We could see several schools of tarpon rolling on the surface, while the ones down under were the ones feeding. After several drifts we finally had one on, and the battle began. Remember, you are in the middle of 70 or more boats with a leaping fish while trying to make your way to the outside of the pass trying to get away from the group.


Our fish proved to be a worthy opponent as he managed to tangle the line around the prop of another boat. Thanks to some quick thinking, the other captain was able to spin the prop while I released the line to keep it from cutting itself around the prop. The fight continued as now the fish made its way into the open gulf away from the maddening crowd. The next challenge was a bull shark, and this time Capt. Scott put the boat into tight turns around the tarpon hoping to spook the shark. It worked.


I prayed in a long time for this battle to be over soon, and my prayers were finally answered. After a 45-minute fight, a 165-pound silver king came along side. We took some quick pictures and released it to do battle another day. Capt. Scott Roe had done his job well. We had our fish and a great show to boot.

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Deep jigging or vertical jigging is a fishing method that has been practiced around the world, but is just now getting acceptance from the saltwater anglers on the east coast. California, Mexico and Cuba have been yoyo jigging for years and have been very productive.

The introduction of the Butterfly Jigging system several years ago opened the door for other manufactures producing new versions of jigging products.

Basic

Find a location with moderate current and look for rocky areas, wrecks or other structure. A good bottom sounder is important in order to read not only the bottom, but the fish. Position the boat directly over the structure or fish, and drop a jig. The weight of the jig is determined by the current and depth of water, so I recommend having a good selection of jigs before starting on you jigging trip.



Technique Grouper

This simple technique allows you to drop the jig to the bottom, always staying in touch. By this I mean you must always feel the jig, as this will help in hook setting and also keeping the jig from twisting around your leader or line.

There are several methods of deep jigging. One is positioning the boat directly over the fish or drifting over the bottom across the rocks, ledges, or wreck. Always drift parallel to the rocks or wreck. Once the fish are located, it’s time to decide which lures will work best, metal jigs or soft plastic bait. Please note that your lure should be heavy enough to always touch bottom at all times.

When you drift beyond the ledge, rocks or wreck area, crank up and start another up current drift. Drop down to the bottom, crank one turn on the reel and start the drift again. Once a fish is hooked, drop a marker over the side, as this will give you a reference point for your next drift or to do a stationary drop.

When drifting for your best position in the boat, a good point to remember is that when “the wind is in your face you are in the right place.”

Anchoring is another choice if there is a strong current or strong wind. Position the boat over the structure and start jigging, allowing the jig to hit bottom every time.


Technique Grunts, Seabass

Some great table fair overlooked by many anglers are the grunts and seabass they are tasty in some cases preferred over other species. Your find these fish in the same area as the grouper the only exception is to use small jigs and best worked an piece of FISHBITE CHUNKS in either shrimp or squid flavor it’s a killer and let you catch an average of 5 to 8 grunts on one piece.


Tackle Grouper

With metal jigs in fast currents or deep water, I prefer conventional reels with a fast retrieve medium action rod with 40-pound test braided line and a 36-inch 40-pound test clear mono leader. I find that a good grade of clear monofilament line works well and has a thinner diameter than fluorocarbon.

In shallow waters of 15 to 30-feet I prefer soft baits on spinning tackle, medium action rod spooled with 30-pound test braided line and a 36-inch fluorocarbon leader of 30-pound test.

A tight drag is recommended since you are fishing over structure, and these fish will head for the nearest hole or structure when they strike.

Under normal conditions I would use a conventional reel for grouper fishing, but I find spinning tackle to be less straining and easier to maintain the proper motion for longer periods of time.

Most popular deep jigs on the market.

Good fishing and tight lines.

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Tampa Bay offers a smorgasbord of species to fish for, including redfish, snook, trout, and cobia, just to mention a few. As a charter captain, the most requested inshore species is snook with redfish a close second. One species often overlooked is Paralichthy lethostigma, or in layman’s term Southern Flounder.


Southern Flounder are frequently called “doormats”. These fish can easily camouflage themselves and can be found around sandy or muddy bottoms along the edge of grass beds and channels. These doormats average in size from 2-4 pounds with many tipping the scales at 8 pounds. A strong fighter on light tackle and rated as one of the best in food value, most Southern Flounder are caught by accident while drifting the flats or cuts for redfish and trout.


Although Southern Flounder can be caught all year long, I find the cooling fall season as prime time for catching doormats. November and December are my favorite months to catch them, when other fish are slow to strike the flounder are always ready for an easy meal. Flounders are bottom feeders, and in order to increase your chances at the big ones I recommend several techniques that have worked for me over the years.




Dead or Live Bait Fishing: Drift along the outer edges of grass beds or along side of channels with structure or rubble. A ¼-ounce jig head this method works best in 2-6 feet of water. Hook a small piece of shrimp or Fishbites Shrimp scent on the jig or if you prefer a medium live shrimp. Bounce the jig along the bottom and the drift of the boat will do the rest of the work. In deeper water (6-10 foot), I recommend a 3/8 ounce jig head.


Artificial: A 3/8-ounce jig head with a 3-inch tail works during cold fronts. The last several years with the introduction of artificial baits with fish attractant built in or the use of products like The Fish Bomb (shrimp cocktail) can make a big difference in the amount of fish caught. Anchor on the outer edges of grass beds or deep water channel casting up current or tide. The secret is to bounce the jig along the bottom with a slow retrieve. Flounder will only travel short distances for food, so the presentation must be close. The more casts the better chances

of catching fish. We must not forget the old standby Fishbites Scented shrimp.


Dock Fishing: Is another good way to catch the big ones, while the heat generated around the concrete piling on cold windy days is a natural attractant ¼-ounce sinker setup as a Texas rig with a glow bead between the hook and the sinker for the big ones. It’s my belief that the glow bead just draws attention in the dark bottom and turns the flounder on to strike quicker. Seawalls that have a quick drop into sandy bottom with grass patches are also key spots.


Bridges: Flounder tend to sit and wait for their bait so try fishing the bind side of the bridge where the tide is moving bringing food to them. Here I use 3/8-ounce sinker setup with the glow bead all the time, casting along the edges of the shoreline and working the shrimp towards the drop.


Tackle-My favorite rod is a 7.5 ft. Okuma medium light action rod in the 10 to 17-pound test range, medium size spinning reel like the Okuma Halios 30. Fall months usually means windy days so I prefer using Fins Windtamer 15-pound test braided line. It’s one of the best lines I have found in helping keeping wind knot down to a minimum. Most of my big founder fishing is done around docks and braided line seems to be the most proficient.

Locations

Old Tampa Bay

Big Island cut west end of Howard Frankland Bridge.

4th street bridge on incoming tide.

St. Pete side of Gandy bridge just outside the rocks.

South end of Picnic Island the rock piles.

Tampa Bay

Edges of the rocks along the St. Pete Airport.

Sandy areas on the outside of the artificial reefs east of the Vinoy Resort.

Terra Ceia Bay

Bird Key

Flounder Pass

Southern Flounder will offer a change of pace and taste, so don’t overlook the doormats of Tampa Bay. Please e-mail any questions concerning fishing or tackle and I will be glad to respond.

Caught fishing with Capt. Sergio

Good fishing and tight lines.

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