By NICK WALTER
It’s late March, and if one were to head up the Upper Manatee River, far east of the Fort Hamer Boat Ramp, and a bit past Rye Bridge, you might find gamefish galore.
Because of low rain levels and no recent opening of the Lake Manatee dam, the river has higher salinity levels than normal, enticing some unexpected strays. Tarpon have been seen rolling near Rye Bridge. Snook for the past month have been popping baits along the river’s shorelines, especially at night. Where there normally are bluegill and catfish, species such as tarpon and snook that frequent the Gulf have found comfort in these eastern, brackish waters.
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And they’re usually hungry.
Mark Stukey from Ray’s Canoe Hideaway said an angler reported releasing a 7-foot bull shark near Christian Retreat, just west of Ray’s Canoe.
Of all the sharks, bulls are the most unfriendly to humans, and often venture into freshwater areas.
But lately the bull sharks may be a bit perkier. About a year ago bull sharks from the Caloosahatchee River were found to have tested positive for the depression-treating pills Zoloft. Biologists at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota found trace amounts in nine of 10. I still wouldn’t want to belly-flop on one.
Tarpon fishing can be a canoe-towing tussle on the river, and anglers may find some silver kings to 50 pounds near the S.R. 64 bridge. Whitebait, pinfish, or any typical tarpon bait will do.
Anglers can put their boats in at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway, or rent a kayak and canoe and paddle east or west and find these line sizzlers. The Upper Manatee River normally is an excellent place to catfish, but a trio of anglers on Sunday headed out for catfish with worms, corn, and other possible catfish-pleasers, and came back with nothing.
One angler said he hadn’t gone far enough up the river to get into any catfish, but added that he’d never seen more tarpon and snook in his life.
Anglers may need to head about 5 miles up the river, just before the approach to the dam, for catfish. Better yet, Lake Manatee has been hot for catfish, but even more so for speckled perch. Some anglers on Lake Manatee have been drifting the lake with minnows, and anchoring on top of a school of specks and clean up for the fry.
The Upper Manatee River is a prime place to paddle. It’s wide, and with few obstructions allows for fly-fishing. Drought conditions have left some rivers such as the Little Manatee so low that canoers and kayakers are carrying their canoes instead of paddling in them. The Upper Manatee River doesn’t have that problem since it’s deep enough at high tide in the middle for straight paddling. Manatees, black rolling garfish, gators, ospreys and hawks all make their occasional appearances.
Finally, if you’re headed to Lake Evers where low water levels are congregating bluegill, keep the small ones.
You might need them as bait for fishing the Upper Manatee.