A Tampa Bay Tale
By Steven Markovich
Photos By Jan S. Maizler
Last Spring I received a call from CyberAngler Travel Editor Jan Maizler. He mentioned that he’d familiarized himself with my fishing charters in the Tampa- St. Pete waters through my fishing reports on CyberAngler’s web site. He was gracious in mentioning that my thorough reporting compelled him to pay this area a visit.
I told Jan I’d be more than happy to take him into the expanses of this vast estuary and hopefully give him a sample of all the exciting species that this bountiful area has to offer. I asked him if he could get here as quickly as possible, since the early spring time had all the shallow water species in “strike mode” in the unfolding warmth. This included redfish and sheepshead around the docks, seatrout and flounder on the grassflats, and mackerel and pompano along the deeper flats and channel drop-offs.
It was fortunate he was able to make the trip for the following Friday. I was glad it was a weekday so that might mean less boat traffic. In any case we could find some spots any day, since Tampa Bay area is Florida’s largest estuary and its’ vast waters can accommodate many more boats than other areas in the Sunshine State. When Jan told me he was staying at the Bayview Plaza Waterfront Resort, I told him I could pick him up right at the facilities’ dock in the back. And, the next Friday, that’s exactly what I was doing at 9 a.m., armed with some netted whitebait as well as lots of live shrimp. I saw Jan waving at me from the distance and I idled right alongside the Plaza’s dock.
As we were underway back towards the open bay, Jan and I discussed the dynamics of my vessel having a tower installed over the center console. The “tower boat approach” to inshore waters is so different than the traditional poled flats boat. Firstly, center console tower boats were never meant to fish the skinny waters that bonefish and permit (to the south) and tailing redfish (locally) are feeding in. Jan mentioned that it was unfortunate, but that he had observed tower boats in Charlotte Harbor running the shallower flats at high speed to find schools of redfish and/or snook and then turning around to fish these gamesters when they calm down from the “drive-by.”
I told Jan that my tower comes into perfect spotting service (in conjunction with the idle-speeding quiet four-stroke) when I’m looking for rolling tarpon, diving birds around kingfish, mackerel and albies, and large black drum pushing water and finning well away from my vessel. Cutting the engine and coasting into casting range completes the finishing touches for me. If the fish appear “stationary”, I’ll drop the Power Pole as well to ensure optimized position. We both agreed that increased height means increased spotting whether it’s on my tee-top tower or on the poling platform of a flats boat.
After leaving the canal where Jan was staying at the Bayview Plaza Resort, I began a long run to a curved rocky channel that gave way to a sizeable row of “well-cured” residential docks. The beauty of this spot is that the curved channel pushed current that “fed” shrimp and small critters like glass minnows to the dock pilings. This was a perfect garnish to the feeding station status of the docks that already had crabs and mollusks that would draw in sheepshead and redfish.
I rigged two rods with one-eighth ounce jig heads and medium sized live shrimp. I told Jan to cast right into the shadows of the dock(s) and I did the same. It wasn’t long before
Both of us had released some modest-but-respectably-sized sheepshead and redfish. That meant “two species down and four to go.” I told Jan to reel his shrimp in as we had other grounds to fish in.
The next area I ran to was the rim of a huge grass flat where I’d been catching loads of seatrout- plus a smattering of flounder. I idled around until I found a bend in the flats’ edge that had loads of sandy holes distributed inside the lush sea grass carpet. Once in position, I lowered the Power Pole. The water color over this expansive flat seemed just right- nice clear shades of green with a bit of “smoke” to it suggested the fish would be receptive to our presentations.
In this case, I switched our offerings to Berkley Gulp shrimp in the molting coloration. In areas where there’s lots of “casting water” loaded with pests like pinfish, I favor artificial lures over live bait. Jan’s first cast straight to a pothole made it clear he was well aware of where the trout and other fish were holding on ambush “points.” Within two sweeps of his rod, he was hooked up to a healthy trout that would push the two-pound mark.
After a quick photo of the fish, we released it back into the bay. My first cast resulted in another trout hookup as did Jan’s second cast. This spot provided for us like a dream, with trout on almost every cast.
My next goal was catching a flounder and I told Jan to slow down his retrieve considerably to see if we could bag one of these wonderful fish. Now that Jans’ artificial was on the bottom sediment rather than the water column, we had a much better chance at a flattie. Added “soak time” on the bottom is always an axiom for flounder since that’s where they live as well as feed. Since this species was far less frequent than trout, I was not surprised that a considerable number of his presentations went unanswered. Finally his rod bent over and the dead weight of the fish seemed to carry the promise that we’d caught our flounder, which we did. We took a photo of this spotted prize and released it. Jan and I concluded that we easily released twenty or more trout.
Now it was time to make a move for the mackerel. I’d known from my charters earlier in the week that some large schools of big Spanish mackerel were packed up in an area so well traveled that no one was noticing them or fishing for them. Since most of the fish were not spotted skyrocketing or chasing glass minnows to the surface, I only knew their presence for my last few stints.
All I found that I needed was an outgoing tide, some chum- and presto, they’d appear upward from the water column of fifteen feet. The action was particularly on the edge of a large sandbar where the ebb tide trapped bait against the structure as it flowed towards the open Gulf of Mexico.
The tide was going out nicely and I dropped the chum bag overboard. We started out with live shrimp under floats and we caught some nice fish. Jan noticed that the mackerel were striking upwards. He removed the float and fished his shrimp “free” on a long shank hook. After Jan caught three macks in a row, I quickly followed suit. The fishing was hot and heavy. While I knew there were a few pompano cruising the sandbar edge, I thought it unlikely to mention this prize fish as a probable target. Nonetheless, I told Jan to work the sandbar with his shrimp- and we were quite fortunate that we did in fact, hook and release a nice pompano of four pounds.
By midday, we were exhausted from the action. As we made our way back, I felt pride in being able to offer Jan and countless other anglers such a wonderful fishery that surely made smiles and memories.
Recap About Myself
My rig is a 22-foot Pathfinder with a tower and t-top. It is rigged with a quiet 150 H.P. Yamaha four-stroke and Power Pole. My general fishery is the Tampa- St. Pete estuary where I specialize in near shore and backcountry fishing. While I am based at O’ Neill’s Marina in St. Pete beach, I do trailer to the daily action as well as do prudent pickups of clients.
Captain Steven Markovich
On The Mark Charters
2333 Feather Sound Dr., C 207
Clearwater, FL 33762
Web Site: www.onthemarkcharters.com
Bayview Plaza Waterfront Resort
4321 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete, Florida 33706
Web Site: www.plazaresorts.com