SaltyShores Close-Up: Anna Maria Island, Florida
Jan S. Maizler
Like so many things in life, meeting good folks is a combination of persistent effort and favorable opportunity. In recent years I heard more and more about the exploits and angling successes of Captain Jason Stock in the Sarasota/Bradenton/Tampa area. The reports and pictures of his kayak and wade-caught snook, sea trout, and redfish were truly impressive. I also liked the unpretentious enthusiasm his fishing pictures conveyed: clearly, this was a guide that loved to catch fish and even more, loved the thrill of battle on his angler’s faces. His non-migratory game fish were taken on lures- which is my favorite kind of fishing. And I’d discovered that Jason had added a flats boat to his charter operation, a bonus that would certainly add to fishable waters. I would also learn that after our fishing together, Jason obtained a Hanson center console boat, which not only furthered his offshore ability but also provided a mothership for kayaks to fish longer and more remote waters. But our day-or, perhaps, two- would be out of his skiff.
I couldn’t hide the fact that Jason plied some of my favorite fishing waters. I contacted Jason last summer to fish a day or two with him in the Sarasota area. Fortunately, he had an open date or two for me in a few weeks and I committed to it. While I’d be staying down in Siesta Key, we agreed to meet at the boat ramp at the northern end of (and across the bridge from) Longboat Key. I was more than happy to take that wonderful drive up 41 through downtown, and then to Bird, St. Armands, and then, Longboat Key. What makes Sarasota so special is that the superb angling is matched by beaches, stores, restaurants, art galleries, and the kinds of attractions that all travelers are compelled to love. I am proud to say I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been to Sarasota. Three places I planned on dining at- and in fact, did- were the Café L‘Europe and Columbia on St. Armands Key and Ophelias on the Bay in Siesta Key.
Flats Fishing with Jason-
As dawn peeked over the horizon to the east, I arrived at the boat ramp and could see that Jason was waiting for me. As I climbed aboard, he fired up his engine and told me we’d be heading over to the flats in this early morning stillness to try for seatrout on topwater plugs and soft plastic swimbaits. It did not take long to reach for us to reach our spot. Jason pulled out two spinning outfits from the racks. They both featured stiff graphite rods and reels with braided line finished with a light fluorocarbon leader and a “Zara-style” topwater plug. I knew from past experience that with the tackle we were using, mere finessed sweeps of the rod were sufficient to get the plugs dancing.
All it took were a couple long casts for both Jason and I to get solid strikes and hookups on seatrout. As we reeled them in to the boat, they appeared to be around two to three pounds-nice respectable sized fish. After we got some photos, we released the spotted gamesters and resumed fishing. And, again, the hookups were almost immediate! It’s a rare pleasure to cast plugs into a flat-calm bay in soft light and have your lure exploded on…kind of like a firecracker in a library or sanctuary. No doubt, Jason had us on the trout, one after another. After I had the necessary photos, I was careful to limit all the hookups, lest I grow spoiled with all the action- or worse, forget that these frenzied moments were the exception, not the rule.
Battle in the Channel-
Still, we wanted a catch as many species as possible, so Jason cranked it up and pointed his skiff towards the northern end of Anna Maria Island. While we were underway, Jason explained that he’d be fishing the edge of Passage Key Inlet for gag groupers which lately had been stacked up and striking live baits.
When we arrived Jason got out his Sabiki rods so we could catch some live pinfish. After we had about a dozen lively baits in his ample livewell, Jason idled into the deeper section of the channel. He pulled out two of his heaviest tarpon rods and tightened down the drags on the reels. Jason warned me that the strikes would be fierce and drive like freight trains back down to the bottom.
I got my pinfish to the right depth and waited but I had no idea how strong the strike would be. After losing two good fish to cutoffs, I succeeded in “fast stroking” my third away from the bottom and marveled how a seven pound fish pull so fiercely. We took some photos and caught three more grouper, while losing the rest to cutoffs.
It was mid-morning and Jason felt we should turn our attention to tarpon. With the sun this high, visibility would be excellent for spotting cruising fish as well as the customary rolling fish. Jason only had to pilot his vessel around the corner of the northern tip of AnnaMariaIsland for our search to begin.
Not surprisingly, we were not alone in our quest. As we began to idle southward off the beach, Jason readied two tarpon rods with live crab baits which would be fished under corks. As we searched, the crabs were carefully (and non-tanglingly) stowed in his livewell in a “pitch bait” mode.
Over the next four hours, we spotted about six schools of silver kings that were running fast and clearly not “happy.” We finally spotted a school of “southbounders” that had not been harassed by other vessels and moving at a non-anxious pace. Jason fired up his outboard and ran his vessel a hundred yards forward so we could be on an intercept path with them. We could clearly see their approach and “lead” the fish with perfect casts.
I had a fish rush my crab and suck it in, so I reeled up the slack so my circle hook could do its’ work. But evidently, the tarpon had blown out the bait before that could happen.
Ending with a Spot-
By this time, it was mid-afternoon and our adventure had only an hour or two left. I was hankering for a more reliable species and let Jason know that. It was not surprising that he would suggest a return to the inside waters to round out our day with some redfish. Jason ran his skiff to PalmaSolaBay and slowly idled over some potholes. He cut his engine and said he was confident that the afternoon breeze would take the skiff over the right areas that we could cast to. Jason gave me a rod with a weedless spoon and told me to cast to either sighted fish or to the potholes. I was really impressed with the numbers of redfish that flushed from our skiff. Finally, I had a solid strike and reeled in a nice redfish of about seven pounds. After that we released a few more redfish. Then it was time to end our day.
As we headed back to the boat ramp, I reflected back on the wonderful action Jason put us on, yet also looked forward to Ophelias crab cakes down south on Siesta Key. Clearly, I’d have to fish with Jason again…and the sooner, the better.
Captain Jason Stock
Web Site- www.jmsnookykayakcharters.com