Once the high winds died down and we were able to venture into the gulf, we encountered dirty water caused by the wave action and had to run at least 15 miles offshore to find fishable water. We were greeted by schools of kingfish, Spanish mackerel and bonita, along with their predators, sharks and barracudas. Trolling Nos. 1 and 2 planers with different-size spoons allowed us to find concentrations of fish that tend to stay on higher-profile structures such as artificial reefs, wrecks and the go-to spot, the west end of the shipping channel. At times, aggressive sharks would shred hard-fighting bonita as they were reeled in. Having ready a 4/0 reel and a 50-pound class rod with a large circle hook and a length of steel leader, and immediately deploying what is left of the bonita will often result in an immediate hookup for the shark that is looking for the rest of his meal that was taken from him. It is best to have the drag backed off in anticipation of a long run by the shark when he is first hooked, and it doesn't hurt to have a rod belt handy for the angler who will be in for a long battle. Schools of bonita have shown up from just outside the passes going into the gulf up to 20 miles offshore. Though bonita are not considered to be the best table fare, they provide great catch-and-release action. They are often finicky feeders and will ignore the usual trolling spread. When that occurs, they are usually feeding on Sargassum fish or glass minnows, both of which are very small. Switch to a 00 spoon, or even better, a small saltwater streamer fly.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.