Every year, on the great holiday that is my birthday, I try to go out on a trip with a local Captain from the South Shore area. Even though today was not my birthday, I took the day off and went out a day early. I was invited to go out and scout with Sean Rice and Sean Hagen from Shamrock Charters, a local operation that fishes the South Shore from Apollo Beach to the Skyway, and pretty much the entire area. The vessel was a twenty two foot Ranger. Of course I jumped at the opportunity, especially since it was so close to my birthday, and hey, who can pass up the chance to learn new areas, tips and techniques, along with the normal joking around and camaraderie.
So off we went, myself, a good friend Tom from Tech Branch, Sean Rice and Sean Hagen from Shamrock Charters. Honestly, my expectations were not very high. The forecast called for 20 knot winds out of the west and a small craft advisory. I figured these guys would cancel and I would be sitting at home doing yard work. Also, churning in my head was the fact that with the conditions, it would be tough to get bait, and the main objective…fish. I was pleasantly surprised that the trip was still on, and plans were made to meet up at Cockroach Bay boat ramp at seven. Ok, no problem on my end. These guys must be hardcore to be going out in that mess, but we all fish when we can, right?
Captain Sean got the boat on plane and headed south out of the CRB channel. Far south. I wondered what the plan was, but never asked. So we pass the Port of Manatee, Joe’s Island, Bishops Harbor and end up at the Skyway bridge. The bay really was not too bad on the way out there. Sure, we got a little wet but overall it was an ordinary ride for me. Rough conditions seem to be the norm for weekend anglers and every day taken off of work seems to be the same.
Figuring we would be looking for whitebait, I waited for Captain Sean to start chumming up for the prized possessions. To my surprise the plan was tossing the net for threadfins. Ok, what for was my question. What was told to me was a shocker. Tarpon. Well, everyone already knows how the silver king has affected me, so I was game, but figured grouper would be the only catch. Reports have been out that the silver kings were showing themselves, but mainly further south, not actually in Tampa Bay.
After a quick throw of the net we had a few wells of threads and headed to our destination. After free lining threadfins for a few minutes we proceeded to catch grouper. Some big, and some little. All of us were having a good time fishing and the weather was pretty nice. Both Sean’s, me and Tom were all pulling up grouper; no monsters today, but at least a few for the dinner table. Then it happened.
Drag starts peeling off Sean’s spool, and I see the braided line rise. I called it out, “watch for the jump!” Up came the tarpon. The king of the bay, the reason many of us dedicate all summer long to chase was seen, and in my opinion, a little early. Finally, there was that adrenaline rush I have been waiting for all winter. There it was, the chaos of throwing the anchor over, clearing the deck of the boat and trying to motor the vessel out of the pilings of the bridge before a break off. Running to the bow and going to battle, hoping the fish would stay buttoned up, and remembering to “bow to the king”. It finally happened.
After I did my share of help to get Sean in position to do battle, my spot was on the tower. Some good photos of the king with my new Nikon were on my agenda, and that is what I got. After about a 20 minute battle with the normal tarpon fishing dramatics, an eighty pound class tarpon was boat side; I got some great pictures, and Sean Rice got his first tarpon.
After we got settled again and calmed down, the boat was positioned back in place for more battles with these massive beasts, but we only came up with grouper and it was getting tough to keep bait down with the mackerel being thick. Time to head north.
Next stop, the South Shore flats. Still, I sat there puzzled. A good bit of our threads had died and we had no whitebait. Why were we leaving the bridge without bait? I figured I had better just trust the good captain and go on with the plan. The bait of choice would be cut threadfin for snook and reds. Cut bait is something I rarely use but if you’ve read my previous reports, live shrimp with the tails cut off had been catching me redfish, so I figured it may work. Heck, I had been chumming up fish the previous weekend, and knew there were fish in those areas but had gotten no reaction, not even a pop on the water; cut bait couldn’t be any worse.
A deep trough surrounded by mangrove lines was where the power pole was laid down next. Snook were the target. They were there, running up and down the groves, which was a great sight, as I had not seen a snook in months. After about an hour of using said cut bait and a few lost snook, the crew kept on rolling to the next spot, while at the same time, scouting other areas. Getting a snook to the boat was just not going to happen with the timeframe we had.
Our final destination was very skinny water loaded with oyster bars. This was an area I had luck with before, and today the mullet were present. Again using the cut bait we staked out the area and went to work. The reason I am not a big fan of using cut bait, is that patience is the key, and there was not enough beer to keep me very patient. Persistence paid off though, and reds were landed by us all, some of decent size. The wind picked up pretty hard and after the frustration of numerous wind knots and tangles we decided to call it a day. Everyone was beat up, but content.
I had a great time with the guys from Shamrock Charters, and with three out of the four of us being of Irish descent, including myself, we may have had a little luck on our side, and, of course skill. A big thanks goes out to Tom from Tech Branch and Shamrock charters.
Now if I could only get all these threadfin scales off of me…