A grab bag of fish available on South Shore

Captain Jason Prieto tangles with one of the tarpon that are already present and more are on their way.

Published: March 18, 2011
Updated: March 19, 2011 – 7:33 PM

Sometimes, it’s good just to go fishing, period. You’re not targeting tarpon or stalking snook, not rallying reds or trailing trout – you’re just out to get a pull on your line.

There’s no better spot, says captain Jason Prieto, than the Little Manatee River and the vast sprawl of flats that extend out on either side of this designated Outstanding Florida Water. The area is known as South Shore.

“Particularly when you get a lot of wind out of the northeast, which we have had a lot of this spring, it’s all a sheltered shore where you don’t have to deal with the waves, and there’s always something biting somewhere between the river and the Skyway,” says Prieto.

I joined Prieto and Jonathan Shute, owner of Pirate’s Pointe Resort in Ruskin, for a morning on the water recently. In less than three hours, we caught five species and saw some of the prettiest mangrove country Tampa Bay has to offer, all while within 20 minutes of the dock.

“In winter, sometimes you never have to leave the river mouth,” says Prieto. “You can catch snook, trout and reds anywhere from the outer bar all the way up to the I-75 bridge because the fish move in and settle in the deeper holes to keep warm.”

He said that as the water warms in spring, the fish gradually flow back out on the flats, to join thousands more coming in from the deeper water of Tampa Bay and the Gulf.

“When the glass minnows and sardines show up on the flats, that means it’s time to start fishing on down the shore,” says Prieto.

He said that right now there’s a hot mackerel bite around pretty much all of the marker buoys along the ship channel, where a chum bag will lure some whopper macks to live sardine baits.

“We’ve had a really good trout bite, too, on jigs and on topwaters,” Prieto said. The top location, he said, was directly across the bay from the mouth of the Little Manatee, on the Pinellas Point grass flats.

Other anglers, including kayakers, often do well fishing the runouts down the South Shore toward Port Manatee. Each mangrove island has a deeper pass on one side or the other, and on outgoing tides fish often stack up in these cuts. The sloughs through the outer sand bar, where the shallows meet the deeper water of Tampa Bay, can also be great spots on the bottom half of a falling tide – DOA shrimp, MirrOdines and jerkbaits all work well for the mix of trout, reds and snook you’ll find on these locations.

Near low tide, there are frequently tailing reds along this shoreline – wading is necessary to reach them, and a deft cast with a jerkbait catches them.

On rising water, fish push back into the mangrove shorelines. Full-moon highs mean redfish against the roots, where they’re best caught on cut ladyfish or live shrimp.

Two bonus fish are tarpon – which show up in late April and stay until October – and black drum, averaging 40 pounds and more, that often school on the deeper bars through March.

Captain Jason Prieto can be reached at steadyactionfishingcharters.com