• Capt. Sergio Atanes

By Capt. Sergio Atanes

The large school of baitfish made a dash to one side, barely avoiding the gleaming teeth of a large king mackerel. The fish turned, and this time hit his target with deadly precision.

My bait was the first to hit the water, Rolando was a second behind, and we both spotted the silver flash of an accelerating king mackerel. In a split second the water exploded, and the large predator rocketed into the sky with hapless bait clinched in its gleaming teeth. This is what fishing for kingfish is all about, the run the fight and the glory if you get the chance to land the big one.

The longer days of spring and warmer waters bring the schools of baitfish to the shallow Gulf waters. When water temperatures start to increase to 72-degrees, king mackerel start their northern migration, stopping to feed on the schools of sardines and cigar minnows along the coastline of Florida. Kings are caught each year from many Gulf piers and extend to twenty miles from shore, which puts them within range of the average angler.

Rolando prefers to use heavy tackle that insures more boated fish; 40-pound coffee colored wire, black swivel, long shank 3/0 hook tied to 40-pound 4-foot-long fluorocarbon leader with 45-pound braided line on a conventional reel, and a 7-foot medium heavy rod. My preference is a medium spinning outfit, including 20-pound braided line and a number 10-barrel black swivel tied to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader with a stinger rig. Although Rolando and I have our own preferences in the type of tackle to use, we both agree on two types of fishing methods that work well: drifting and anchoring.

Many anglers prefer trolling for kingfish I am one of those who love to watch the fish strike and make that long first run, especially early calm morning when the water look like a calm peaceful lake. Trolling allows you to cover more areas but I rather sit and chum, one side note I have caught many a permit while anchored waiting for the kingfish to arrive.

Many ledges and artificial reefs can be found on Florida’s west coast, especially between Tarpon Springs and Boca Grande. If you decide to drop anchor, make sure you are up current from any ledges or reefs to prevent getting snagged. Getting too close to these areas can cause you to lose not only your rigging, but also your fish. By cutting some bait into small pieces and allowing it to drift with the current, king mackerel will quickly pick up the scent and zero in on the bait. When drifting, first find a school of baitfish and start your drift up-tide from the school while free lining your bait on the outer edges of the school. Repeat the process when the school is out of casting range. Using live bait, whether drifting or anchoring, it will increase your chances of boating a king mackerel.

Live bait can be easily caught on the grass flats, along the edges of the channels, or around channel markers. A 10-foot bait net is best for the shallow waters and a 12-foot larger mesh net is recommended for deeper waters.

Baitwells are a necessity; sardines require a large volume of moving water and oxygen to stay healthy. I recommend adding an aeration system to insure lively baits. Several add-on systems are available for either bridge anglers or boats without baitwells.

King mackerel are fast swimmers that need a constant supply of oxygen to stay alive. Even a short period out of water can be fatal. It is important to be ready with gloves and pliers for a quick release. King mackerel have a 24” fork size minimum and a 3-bag limit per day in Gulf waters. Keep only what you can eat and release the rest for another day.

Tackle Conventional:

MK-C-701MH Okuma 7’ Rod

KDS-463P Okuma Komodos SS Reel

FINS 40G 45-pound braided line

Spinning Tackle:

SRT-Elite SRTE-S-761H 7’6” rod

Z-40S Okuma Azores reel

FINS Windtamer 20-pound braided line

  1. Capt. Sergio with a 30-pound king fish

  2. Capt. Sergio with a 60-pound kingfish

  3. Miss Susan with a nice keeper

  4. Stinger rig

  5. Cut bait for chumming

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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

By Capt. Sergio Atanes

Black Drum (Pogonias Cromis)

Black drum are like the redfish in shape but are distinguishable by their color and barbells or feeders on the underside of the lower jaw. Smaller drum in the 6 to 8-pound range are usually as tasty as redfish.

Black drum start to migrate towards the bridges of Tampa Bay and the many artificial reefs after their spawning ritual is completed. The big brutes are now ready to eat and populate our waters and show local anglers a great fishing time.

Black drum are known for their ability to produce a “croaking” or “drumming” sound. They also produce a high intensity sounds that are associate with spawning.

Habitat: Inshore fish common to bays, river mouths, oyster beds and bridge pilings.

The older and bigger fish prefer saltier water and tend to migrate into the Gulf of Mexico. Young tend to live inshore around structure.

Size: Reported up to 70 inches. Black drum mature at 4-years old and can live 40-years or more weight over 100-pounds in Gulf coast waters. Atlantic coast they can reach 60-years and weight close to 120-pounds.

Appearance: Juveniles have vertical bars on sides often mistaken for sheepshead. Large scales and powerful teeth used to crush oysters and shellfish.

Black drum make a great sport for kids and adults. Excellent table fare in the 14-to-24-inch range and considered some of the best seafood around.

March: Is the kickoff month for these brutes as they work their way into Tampa Bay for their spawning ritual. Weather plays an important rule some years they are in by mid-February on the average March seems to be my best time to land the big ones.


Early March I start fishing the sand bar in front of Pinellas Point this seems to be their stopping area to spawn before they work their way into upper Tampa Bay.

Late March, April, May, June are my peak times to fish under the bridges or oyster bars.

On a good day you can spot the fish on the sand bar and as you can see on the attached picture, they cover the bottom of the boat. The clear white sandy bottom makes them stand out and easy to find.

They will move into deeper water along the sand bar later in the month and you will need your depth finder or a tower boat to spot them.

April through September:

Under bridges or around oyster bars. Bridge fishing offers the best of both worlds, keeping you cool under the shade of the bridge during the day and nighttime dry when those late evening showers come by to wet things a little.

How To:

Sand Bar Fishing: First find the fish second use the correct rig. I like to use a jig head anywhere from 3/8 oz to ½ oz depending on the depth of the water. Live shrimp hook from the tail and work slowly through the school. Drifting with the motor turned off not to spook the school. Once hooked use the trolling motor if needed to hold you spot until the fish is landed.

Bridge Fishing:

Here you have two options. One live shrimp on a ½ oz banana jig dropping it along side of the pilings working it with a slow up and down movement no more than several feet from the bottom this will give you a chance both pompano and black drum.

Second choice a 3/0 circle hook with ½ oz knocker rig heavier if needed to keep the bait on the bottom. Fresh blue crab either in half or quarter according to the size of the crab.

Oyster Bars and Channel Fishing:

I find most of the wondering black drum in 2 to 4-foot of water after their spawn. I will use a 2/0 Circle hook with a medium to large live shrimp free lined. I cast ahead of the school and use a slow retrieve; these fish are normally feeding so put food in front of them does the trick. One thing I have found is the like clean water.

Key Things To Remember:

· Shrimp and Blue Crabs are top of their list for food.

· Use circler hooks let them hook themselves.

· The like structure and moving water.

· Primarily bottom feeders.


Sand bar and Channel fishing.

· 7’.6” Okuma SRTE-S-761H inshore spinning rod.

· ITX-4000 Okuma spinning reel.

· 30-Pound Fins Windtammer braided line.

Bridge fishing.

· 7’0 Okuma CJ-S-701M Cedros spinning rod.

· 6000H Okuma Azores spinning reel.

· 50-pound Fins Windtammer braided line.

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  • Capt. Sergio Atanes

Catching Fish in Changing Times February 2021

By Capt. Sergio Atanes

Depending on your home base, whether it’s one of the local boat ramps, or one of the marinas located inside Tampa Bay, plays an important part on where to fish.

In the last three years, I have noticed a change in our weather patterns. We have had more windy conditions, therefore, causing many cancelled trips and the need to adjust our fishing techniques to compensate. If the weather allows us to get across the open waters of Tampa Bay, the Apollo Beach Power Plant would be a good location to fish.

Power Plant Fishing Techniques:

I have two methods for fishing the power plants. The first method is where I work my way as far up as I can towards the hot water runoff and start a slow drift using a light jig head with live medium shrimp hooked from the tail. Slowly bounce the jig head along the bottom for flounder and sheepshead. The good thing about doing this, is that if you see a manatee, there is a good chance a cobia could be hanging around it. Please be careful not to cast too close to it. Let the cobia come to you and in most cases it will.

The second method is to find a spot where the water tends to swirl and try to anchor. If you are lucky enough to own a trolling motor with a spot lock, use it to keep you stationary. I like to use a #4 split shot about six inches from the hook. A 2/0 circle hook works great. Bite or cut the tail off the shrimp and thread the hook from the bottom up through the back part of the tail. A note of caution. Make sure the shrimp are of medium size. There are some places that tend to have smaller size medium shrimp. In this case, I recommend moving up to a large shrimp.

Best Times to Fish: My experience for the best time to fish has been from sunrise to 10 am, depending on cloud cover. On cloudy days you can stretch it a couple of extra hours and on bright sunny days, maybe less. Once the sun’s rays start to warm the water, the fish tend to move towards the outer edges of the channel and even into deeper flats to feed and return at sunset.

Several things to take into consideration are water temperature and tides. The lower the water temperature, the better the bite. Combined with low tides you have the perfect ingredients for a successful fishing trip. The low winter tides, due to high pressure systems, force fish into deeper, warmer waters for self-preservation. This will then give the angler the advantage! Think of it as putting in a fishbowl for you to fish.

We have no control on the weather so we must make the best of it on our days off. Here are some tips on when, where and how to increase your chances of catching fish in windy conditions.

Areas to Explore:

Docks: They make the perfect spot to hide from the wind and catch fish. Here is what we have structure, depth, and warmer water. The docks take in the sun’s rays and act as a radiant heater. This increases the water temperature to as much as 3 to 4 degrees higher than the surrounding water.

Sea Walls: The concrete seawalls will act as a heater with the help of the sun. Ever notice how many fish you see swimming along many seawalls during the winter months? It is simple. The water temperature tends to be 2 to 4-degrees warmer, thanks to the rays from the sun heating the concrete and creating a highway of warn water for them to travel through.

Channels: Find the out of the way cuts or small channels used by boaters with grass or rocky edges. As the tide drips with winter negative tide, the fish need to find refuge and warmer water.

Dredge Holes/Bomb Holes: Look for any area that has one of these, whether man made or caused by natural water movement. Fort DeSoto still has many bomb holes from the early 50’s when the area was used as a bombing range. Weedon Island has several nice deep holes if you take the time to look for them.

Rivers/Creeks: Are all good source of warm water during the winter months. The decaying leaves and dark muddy bottom help to increase water temperatures.

Productive Areas During Winter Months:

North Part of Tampa Bay:

  • Double Branch.

  • Channel A.

  • Rocky Creek.

  • Allen’s Creek.

  • Big Island.

Gandy Bridge South:

  • Radio Tower north St. Pete side of Gandy Bridge.

  • Rocks on south side of St. Pete Side of Gandy Bridge.

  • Under Gandy Bridge look for ruble from the construction of the new bridge years ago.

  • Getaway Channel (water is always a several degrees warmer due to Power Plant out flow).

  • Riviera Bay.

  • Rocks off Albert Whitted Airport.

Downtown Tampa:

  • Mouth of Hillsborough River.

  • Docks and rocks along Harbor Island.

  • 22nd Street bridge McKay Bay.

South Shore:

  • Apollo Power Plant.

  • Little Manatee River.

  • Cockroach Bay.

  • Bishops Harbor

Artificial Reefs:

Believe it or not, some of the big Snook have been caught during the winter months while fishing for Sheepshead and Trout using live shrimp.Three best reefs are Port Tampa, St. Pete in front of the old Million Dollar Pier, Apollo Beach and Port Manatee reefs.


During spring and summer months, white bait, greenback, crickets whatever you prefer to call them are the best baits. In all my years of fishing Tampa Bay, I have found that live shrimp is the over-all best bait for late fall and winter fishing. I would say December through early March.

Fiddler crabs are second on my list. During the winter months, not only are they a favorite of sheepshead but redfish as well.

Some of the best winter fishing for me is trout, sheepshead and redfish which have no problem chumping down on a free lined live shrimp. Let us not forget nighttime fishing this month for big trout, redfish, and sheepshead under dock lights.

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