The tide in Terra Ceia Bay had ebbed away, leaving a host of seagulls and pelicans on a long sand bar that stretched out in front of us. The tide was slack, the wind was calm and the fish seemed asleep.
Waiting for a tide to turn, and the prospects of water movement igniting a fishing feed, can be excruciating.
“I was ready to jump off the boat,” Capt. T.J. Stewart said.
Then a northwest wind kicked up, a signal that the tide would soon be moving. But instead of waiting for the full effects of incoming tide, Capt. Stewart, eager to get some fish in his 22-foot Aquasport complete with an 8-foot tower, sped off to The Bulkhead, an area of grass flats that stretch out and around the mouth of the Manatee River. There’s always trout to cure a fisherman’s itch.
That morning, Stewart, along with Capt. David Bouquin and I, left the 59th Street (Warner’s) Boat Ramp at 6 a.m., and raced through mangrove islands through a dense fog that cut through fishing gear. After getting hundreds of shiners at the Skyway, we caught a few snook, and then dealt with the slack tide. Water temperatures were about 64 degrees. The conditions weren’t quite yet right for game fish.
Welcome to late fall/early spring fishing.
We killed time waiting for the tide to pick up and the sun to come out by speeding to The Bulkhead, and we began fishing a grass flat peppered with patches of sand. It’s no exaggeration to say that trout came on every cast. Using medium-heavy spinning outfits with 10-pound braided line and 20-to 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders and 2/0 circle hook, we had the spotted sea trout in a frenzy. A couple small flounder at about 12 inches, not big enough for a decent fillet, also were boated with medium-sized shiners.
By 10 a.m. the tide was whipping in, and Stewart set up in various areas around The Bulkhead and in Perico Bayou. Stewart could have targeted some smaller snook off Emerson Point, almost always a reliable spot, but this trip was more about scouting out some new spots.
Because the tide was about mid-level, we set up just more than 100 yards from the mangrove shoreline. The tide was not yet high enough to fish closer to the mangroves, but the water temperature had increased to 68 degrees. After catching a dozen snook, I had a linesider that peeled line in a few directions. The snook sped under the motor, however, and the line snapped — but not on the motor. Snook are known to fray leaders, which is why fishermen should constantly be checking their leaders. This can be easy to forget with all the other factors fishermen are required to remember, but when dealing with game fish, every link in the chain must be solid, from leader quality and strength, to proper knots and appropriate drag.
We ended up catching 27 snook (to 26 inches), six redfish (one at 29 inches), a pair of flounder and countless trout.
Around noon, as the tide became higher, more snook were gathering closer to the shoreline. Stewart, who grew up on the Braden River, could have used his push pole to creep closer to the shoreline, but we’d had our fill.
We faced an array of conditions, from fog that turned Tampa Bay into a frigid and blinding steam room in the morning, to a frustrating slack tide.
But in the end, once the conditions aligned, we soaked up line-screaming success.
Nick Walter, outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.