For years, flats fishing charter captains would fill their coolers with gamefish that were legal size and in season. Redfish, trout and snook would find an icy grave as captains informed anglers about the quality of their catch.
As human populations have grown, more pressure and more anglers have hit the shallows. Fish slot sizes shrunk, bag limits were reduced and more seasonal closures came into effect. Now anglers are restricted with no redfish, trout or snook, and charter captains need to change gameplans when dinner is desired. Luckily for those like Capt. James Beers, it’s almost preferable to get off the flats in the hot, windless late summer months.
“I don’t want to be on the flats for four to six hours in the summer; I usually only want to be there for an hour or two at the best times,” Beers said. “It works out perfectly where I go fish the slack tides for snapper and the moving tides for snook and redfish.”
This is how Beers, and many other captains, have been able to keep clients happy. Snapper and grouper fishing Tampa Bay’s rocky channel edge allows them to get delicious meat while also targeting the popular flats species for fun when the current is moving best and fish are feeding.
“Not as many people want meat as you’d expect,” Beers said. “As a guide I thought a lot of people would want something to take home for the day. Some don’t and some do, and even the ones that do aren’t picky. Most calls I get are people who just want to fish and then I ask if they want to get snapper to keep. If they do, we go catch them since it’s definitely good right now.”
Beers found that snapper fishing, while typically best in summer, was still good through the winter last year. By adjusting where he fishes throughout the year, he’s able to keep finding keeper-sized snapper.
“Last winter there were plenty of legal fish around the bridge; that seemed pretty unusual,” Beers said. “Usually we start fishing for them in May or June near the bridge and as the summer goes on we target them further up the bay.
“I fish for them on the edge of the shipping channel, right where it drops off. I like rocky spots where the depth finder bounces around a lot from 25 to 35 feet. For tackle it’s very light spinners with no weight or a small split shot on 20- to 25-pound leader and a Mustad circle hook.”
For bait, Beers loads up on smaller fry bait. When he’s snapper fishing he fills up a five-gallon bucket that he chums with. He will throw out a handful every few minutes and presents hook baits as natural as possible with the chum.
“Every two weeks the fish seem to move with the moon phases and I try to find them,” Beers said. “The same size fish tend to stick together. Usually the first three fish you get off a spot will tell you what it’ll be like. If they aren’t big I’ll tend to move along until I find them.”
And if you can’t get out soon, don’t worry. Beers says the bay snapper fishing will be great until at least October. And if it’s like last year, it will be good year round. Capt. James Beers can be reached at 813-625-2067.