Red Waters of Tarpon Key July 2019
By Capt. Sergio Atanes
July is great month for catching large redfish in Tampa Bay; although redfish are year long residents of the bay the large breeders prefer the mangrove shoreline. During the winter they move into the Gulf of Mexico and are often caught while grouper fishing.
My clients were ready to battle some big fish today, so I decided to go for the big reds hanging around Tarpon Key. We met around 6 a.m., stopped for our first cup of coffee at Panera’s for quick breakfast from there we headed to Port 32 Tampa (old Tampa Harbour Marina) where I call my home port. We told stories about the big ones we had lost in the past and the ones we were going to catch today.
A short trip to catch bait at my secret spot and from there it was off to Tarpon Key, one of my favorite spots for large redfish this time of year. Once we reached the no motor zone, I lowered the Great White trolling motor and with one touch 112-pounds of thrust came to life propelling my 25 ft. Pathfinder bay boat in the direction of Tarpon Key. Many islands and keys in Tampa Bay are protected areas and one must use either a trolling motor or a push pole.
We slowly worked our way to the southwest point of the key and here we anchored and waited for the school to appear. Patience is important since the school can appear in a moment’s notice.
We were prepared for action; 2 rods with live pinfish suspended just below the surface of the water using one of my favorite floats Cajun Thunder and 2-other rods with greenbacks free lined just beyond our floats. The sun’s rays were slowly breaking into the crystal-clear water and you could see movements of small pinfish darting in and out of the grass and mullet starting to jump. I could tell by client’s look he was ready for action, and so was I. Just beyond our reach we could see a small wake as if a small boat had buzzed by. We both looked at each other and without a word prepared for an attack. The reds were coming; my client drew first blood and within a split second mine was next. Three hook ups and no one around to see it. We had them all to ourselves for over 2 hours. We battled reds, winning some fights and losing others.
Large schools of reds will congregate around mangrove islands; some schools are so large they form a red wave as they push through the shallow waters of the flats. My two favorite baits for these large bruisers are 3-5-inch pinfish or dollar size pass crabs. Casting distance is a must and medium tackle works best. I prefer to use 15-pound test Fins Windtamer braided line, which gives great line capacity on a medium reel such as a Okuma Helios SX30 spinning reel and 7 foot Okuma Ricky Red medium action rod. The combination is a perfect match for catching large reds and snook on the flats and mangroves.