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Action ripe for the fishing

By NICK WALTER

nwalter@bradenton.com

The Grand Master Angler finally got his fix.

For the past month, Capt. Bill Miller of BrightHouse Sports Network’s “Hooked on Fishing”, either couldn’t go fishing, or, as he put it, the fishing was just “snotty.”

But spring is here, the orange blossoms are putting a sweet scent in the air, the turtle grass is growing again, giving game fish a place to hide, and bait fish are twinkling the water surface.

And the fishing? With Capt. T.J. Stewart of Cast Away Charters last week, it was, as expected, a refreshing burst of non-stop action that had us praising the arrival of spring.

We left the 59th Street (Warners Bayou) boat ramp at 6 a.m. and went to the Skyway for a shot at tarpon. A few had been around, but the silver kings were not yet ripe to target. After not getting a bite for 30 minutes in the dark, we moved to a flat that was about 10 minutes from the boat ramp on the west side of the Manatee River.

The outgoing tide was coming to an end, and a dead low tide had funneled snook and redfish from 6 to 12 inches of water on the flats to a deep trough that we faced. The water temperature was almost 70 degrees, and the fish were hungry.

The rest was enough action to make a Bright House Networks cameraman dizzy.

Using 10-pound braided line, a 25-pound fluorocarbon leader, 1/0 or 2/0 hooks, white bait from the Skyway and medium heavy spinning outfits, we cast up a full moon tide that sped parallel to our boat.

Normally, reading a tide based on the water surface can be misleading because any wind will ripple the surface. But in slick conditions, we could simply watch the debris of leaves cruise.

Stewart has his own way of checking the tide direction.

“Some customers say, ‘Why do you drive so close to markers?’” Stewart said. “I tell them I’m always checking the tide.”

That’s because an eddy will form on the side that the tide is moving.

Anglers cannot count on the tides we had this week, however, as the tide will be slower this upcoming week. But this day, the tide, once it turned to incoming, was fast enough to where we had to slowly crank line as our baits were coming across the hole.

In general, the snook were on the edges of the hole, and the redfish tended to stay in the middle. After a couple hours of fishing, we had caught countless redfish and snook, including two keeper snook to about 31 inches.

A return to catching fish non-stop made me feel like a rookie at an NFL training camp.

And hallelujah, the regular fishing season is about to begin.

“T.J.’s such a terrific fisherman,” Miller said, “he knew that in that particular spot and with the tide as low as it was, the fish really only could be one place, and that’s right on the trough that we were fishing.”

Miller, 57, was born and raised in Tampa and received the label “Grand Master Angler” when he caught and photographed 30 named species, fishing from the equator to north of British Columbia. Those species varied from blue marlin to northern pike and brown trout. This fishing lasted 2 1/2 years.

Miller is on his eighth renewal of his captain’s license, which he’s had for 36 years.

He has partook in almost every type of fishing, including netting mullet, commercial fishing for grouper and stone-crabbing.

But Miller’s favorite is tarpon fishing.

This morning, Miller was hardly disappointed that the tarpon weren’t biting.

“That was great,” he said just before we moved. “I was just glad to tarpon fish.”

Nick Walter, outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.

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