Hear mention of just about any coastal city in Florida, and if you have even the vaguest idea of what a rod and reel is, you think fishing. It’s that way with Sarasota, located south of Tampa on the state’s Gulf Coast. With a huge bay, an unusual number of nearby offshore islands, and the vast expanse of the Gulf just a short boat ride away, Sarasota is a fantastic place to go fishing.
The city of Sarasota has several nicknames, including “Circus City” as a nod to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circuses that used the city as their winter headquarters. Even though the circus is out of business, it is still one of the biggest attractions to the area because of the Ringling Brothers Circus Museum.
But back to fishing. Anglers here, whether fishing on their own or with an experienced charter boat captain, just don’t fool around. It’s serious business with serious results. Sarasota’s fishing starts with great inshore opportunities around the huge Sarasota Bay and the smaller Palma Sola Bay just to the north of the city.
A string of island keys completely wraps around the western border of the city, and offers fishing opportunities of many varieties. Those areas include Longboat Key, Lido Key, Siesta Key, Osprey, Casey Key and Manasota Key. If you are planning a trip here, they are names you are sure to hear.
The keys are a double bonus for fisheries. Not only are there inshore fishing opportunities between the islands and land, but they also serve as a beginning point to some of the best Gulf of Mexico deep sea fishing you can find. And while some trips can take you offshore 100 miles or more, many of the top species can be caught with a much closer boat ride.
If you can name it, you can probably claim it on a fishing trip near Sarasota. Fishing includes mackerel, snapper, amberjack, cobia, barracuda, cobia, shark and kingfish. If you want to go after the really big boys of the Gulf Coast, this is the place as well.
Although their proximity to shore may not classify them as a “deep sea” target, it’s tough to mention Sarasota fishing without mentioning Tarpon. Tarpon are called the “silver king” of sportfishing, aptly named for their shimmering silver color. They are known for hard fights marked by acrobatics, and put up some great shows when they leap out of the water like a big silver missile, adding to the thrill of catching one. They are one of the area’s top targets for serious anglers.
And then there are sailfish. If you want a fight with even more potential aerial acrobatics, hook into one of these and you’ve got it. They call the sailfish “Florida’s official state saltwater fish” and for a good reason. Catching one is on just about every serious deep sea angler’s bucket list.
Anglers fishing for table fare can throw grouper and snapper into this list, too. These are normally caught bottom fishing well offshore, but decent numbers can be found only a few miles out.
Sometimes saltwater anglers can scan the horizon near popular spots and see fish working the surface or birds diving into the water, which indicates fish are nearby. But when they aren’t as easily spotted, trolling can let anglers cover a lot of ground. Trolling refers to setting an arrangement of baits out while the captain drives the boat around the fishing grounds. The trolling speed would depend on the target species.
Trolling typically works better for the faster fish; king mackerel, wahoo, and sailfish, however this technique can be employed and adapted to a number of species. Spoons and other artificials are good for trolling. The best fishing is along the edges of ledges, artificial reefs or across hard bottoms. Florida’s extensive reef program makes them a prime target to fish. Many reefs are marked and maps are available that list all the major reefs by GPS location. Sometimes lures are more effective when using planer boards, which help get lures down deeper and keep the depth more consistent.
Natural structure along this area of the coast is supplemented by man-made fishing structure of several kinds. There are concrete, modular block, and rock reef structures as well as numerous shipwrecks that all hold fish. When fish aren’t roaming, they are typically holed up here. It’s a good spot to drop your bait to the bottom and get them to bite.
selAnglers must be attentive however, as many reef species, primarily grouper, will attempt to return right to their hole after taking your bait. Pulling the fish away from the structure early in the fight is critical. Heavy jigs are good baits, especially going after red snapper and amberjack. It’s a great way to catch grouper as well.
There’s no need to take on the task of finding fish, figuring out what they are biting and doing all the work. This area is loaded with experienced, friendly and talented charter captains. Check them out, and book a trip with one of the we partner with to have the time of your life... and to bring home some great fish for supper!