Good Catch: Cold front could bring more kingfish

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Every Friday morning, Captain Dylan Hubbard of Hubbard's Marina joins Good Day to fill viewers in on his fishing forecast as we head into the weekend. Here is his fishing report for September 20, 2019.

We have seen lots of hungry snook around the area this past week, especially just before sunrise on the outgoing tide. They have been stacked around the structures in the passes. I have caught a snook every morning I dropped a line this past week nearly as quickly as I started fishing.

Here's an example of the action with a live video we filmed Thursday morning.

This has been a common sight from Clearwater to south of Tampa Bay in the passes where the water is flowing and the bait is present. We are catching them using live pass crabs, shrimp, and greenbacks for live bait. Artificial baits that have been working well are the live target mullet, flair hawk style jigs and the heavier artificial shrimp.

The trick with the artificials is ensuring you are presenting your bait naturally with the current. You can't work your lure against the current because a bait fish couldn't naturally swim against the current like that. Also, make sure to get your lure in the strike zone of where the fish are feeding, so they can ambush your lure just like how they are feeding on the natural bait. 

Tarpon are still around the area as well. It maybe later in the summer or nearly the fall season, but we still have some tarpon in the area. Typically, around mid-September, but definitely by the end of September a majority, if not all, the tarpon vacate the area and head south for the cooler weather months until late spring or early summer, returning the following year.

However, this year, they seem to be hanging around and feeding very aggressively around the bridges of the passes where water is deeper and the bait is flowing. They love sitting on the light lines of the local bridges when the water is pouring out, flushing all the bait and crabs into their feeding frenzies.

We have had lots of local anglers fishing the jetties and bridge seawalls targeting these big fish using flair hawk style jigs. In John's Pass, the anglers have had lots of action this past week hooking and landing some nice tarpon nearly every day of the week -- with the largest a little over 6 feet long! There are fish so large they are spooling high end 6000 series reels with drags locked down!. 

Redfish are still biting well -- mostly in the bays this past week around the mangrove shore lines and oyster bars but were still finding a few in the passes as well. Live pinfish still seem to be the best live bait for those redfish, but keep in mind, they like to feed on the bottom so getting that pinfish to bottom when fishing deeper waters is super important to target these redfish. We have been seeing lots of good action on the redfish using artificial lures too, like the paddle tail soft plastic lures with small jig heads to keep them weighted to the bottom as you retrieve them slowly with brief pauses on the retrieve to let them return to bottom. 

We are still catching lots of the mangrove snapper around the area's structures just inside the bay and in the passes too. Around the Skyway and Howard Franklin bridges are great target areas for these fun-to-catch and great eating fish. Also, the mitigation sites around the bay hold lots of these mangrove snapper. They love rock piles, seawalls, bridges, and jetties to call home, and they can get frenzied up easily with just a little bit of chum.

However, they are very quick biting and smart to it helps to use lighter tackle with hardly any weight or no weight at all. This means targeting them on the start or end of the tide is important so that you can feel the bite and get a natural presentation easily. Around John's Pass, we catch them most often on the deeper south side of the pass where there's plenty of rocks -- like the west end of the gator's dock to under the bridge area, or around east end of that same seawall in that little municipal park area where the old bridge ruble is stacked up.

There are lots of mackerel on the beaches and at the mouth of the passes like Clearwater Pass, John's Pass, Pass-A-Grille and also around the Skyway Bridge to Egmont Key. They love fast-retrieved spoons or plugs. I love using a 7/8ths ounce gotcha plug or up to 1oz if I need more weight to stay under the water's surface.

Also, another great method is a casting spoon behind a 4oz lead so the lead will keep the light spoon under the surface of the water. Many expert pier anglers catch tons of mackerel by using a trolling lead or egg sinker with swivels on either side of it to keep the lure under the water. The recommended technique is tying on the lead and then keeping around 8 to 10 feet of line behind it to the spoon. If needed, you may want to add some 4 to 6 inches of lighter wire in front of the spoon to keep it from getting bitten off.

However, I always start with just 20 to 30-pound floro or mono. If they are biting well once, I lose the first spoon. I switch to the spoon with a bit of wire and if the bites stop and actions slows down I lose the wire and go back to straight mono. Just risk losing a few spoons to keep them chewing.

Near Shore
Near shore fishing was, again, really good this week with lots of lane snapper caught, plus a few mangroves, hogfish, and red grouper too. Plus, plentiful mackerel still abound near shore from the beach out to around 12 to 15 miles, and we caught our first schoolie kingfish of the fall run this past week on the HUB's 10-hr all-day fishing trip.

The hogfish bite continues to slowly improve more and more each week. The pace is slow, but we were getting a few more here and there each week. This past week, the best hogfish trips were the HUB private fishing charters landing 10 to 15 hogfish with around half of them or more being keeper-sized fish.

One hogfish this past week was in the 5 to 7-pound range which is a monster for the near shore waters. As the water continues to cool off, these guys will become more aggressive and easier to catch on hook-and-line. Plus, we typically find a more consistent keeper-sized fish the cooler the water gets to be. Our half-day fishing trips and the 10-hour all-day trips are catching some hogfish too.

The half day trip boated 15 hogfish and five of those were decent-sized keeper hogfish. The trick to the hogfish is definitely live shrimp, light tackle and the most natural presentation possible which means the lightest possible weight. You want to target hard bottom areas like small ledges, rock piles or flat hard bottom with sea fans. They love to hang around seafans, and they will feel more at home and aggressive in these areas.

When targeting the hogfish, the best depths are from 30 feet, up to around 70 feet to catch them consistently. We are finding them mostly, right now, around 30 to 50 feet of water. 

The lane snapper are biting well this week too around 60 to 90 feet of water. We are catching lane snapper on live shrimp or small pieces of squid. Like the hogfish, the best way to target lane snapper are with the lighter tackle like 4000-5000 series spinning reels with around 30-poud floro leader and 4ot hooks. They are much more aggressive compared to the hogfish and much easier to catch around the ledges and rock piles near shore. 

Tons of mackerel are still around the area and were catching lots of them on the trolling spoons behind the planners. We're catching quite a few larger ones on the flat lines while bottom fishing. Plus, we caught our first kingfish of the fall run this past week aboard the HUB 10-hour all-day using a flat-lined threadfin on a stinger rig.

We are expecting those mackerel to stay abundant and aggressive for a while, and more and more kingfish to slowly show up, especially on the backside of this weekend's cold front. Next week, should bring us some more kingfish.

Deeper water has brought us the best offshore action this past week for the grouper and amberjack.

Gag grouper, scamp grouper and amberjack are all more prolific and easier to catch the deeper you go. Up to around 280 to 300 feet of water, we are finding the jacks, gags and scamp biting well. Once you get closer to 150 feet of water, it gets much more difficult to find cooperative jacks, gags and scamp.

The red grouper on the other hand can be found as shallow as 90 to 100 feet, and we're finding them best around 120 to 160 feet of water. The red grouper are tough though, and we aren't catching them like we did 5 to 10 years ago, but you can find them if you stick and move around the potholes and ledges out around these depths with live pinfish, strips of cut squid or octopus for bait.

Mangrove snapper action is going well for us. This past weekend was one of the best mangrove snapper bites we have had in a long while. With the transitional period in full swing with the days getting shorter and things starting to cool down, the fish are showing some excitement and aggression unlike we have seen through the hot summer period.

Those gag grouper will be moving closer to shore slowly as the cold fronts start rolling through. They'll be getting more aggressive as they start moving inshore. Jacks will become more concentrated and more aggressive as well. We see mangrove snapper spread out a bit but the average size on those great eating fish seems to increase quite a bit with cooler temps too. All exciting things to come as we transition into those cooler months, and we're looking forward to a great fall fishery for a few weeks. 

Plus, we have been seeing some nice pelagic action offshore right now. We have caught some beautiful, and big, mahi mahi this past week out in deeper waters -- in at least 150 foot of water. They will swim up on us while we're bottom fishing for grouper and snapper.

You got to have a light tackle pitch rod ready with a bare hook and 30-pound test floro leader to bait up with a piece of threadfin or live shrimp. However, I like using a gotcha plug or a buck tail style jig to cast out to them and retrieve quickly past their strike zone.

Remember, once you hook one, keep it in the water. This will keep the school next to the boat while you are able to hook a second. Then, remove the first one and leave the second one in the water next to the boat until you hook a third. You can repeat this process for quite a while before they catch on or someone pulls the fish holding the school near the boat out of the water.

Besides the mahi we have been seeing quite a few nice kingfish on the trolling lures or the flat lines. Also, a few blackfin tuna have been caught from time to time mainly on the flat lines at nighttime during our 39 or 44-hour trips. 

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