July 2016 Fishing Report – Merry Pier
The weather has been hot, but the fishing has been even hotter. July was a great month at Merry Pier. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
Without a doubt, mangrove (also known as Grey) snapper fishing has been a highlight in July. Easy to catch, abundant, great fighters and tasty – the mangrove snapper bite has been outstanding. Mangroves aren’t picky, so try live or frozen shrimp, whitebait, greenbacks, silver Jennys, small pinfish, and even frozen squid. The snapper are usually right on, or under the Pier, so you won’t need long casts to find them. They are often around the pilings. Use light tackle and small hooks for a better catch ratio. The tend to bite best when the current is moving, so you may want to keep an eye on the tide charts. Remember that the minimum legal size is 10 inches (you can pinch the tail to determine the overall measurement), and you may only keep 5 per licensed angler per day. Most of the fish in July are running 8”-12”, but there are some 16” and larger fish to be caught if you are persistent (and lucky). Snapper fishing is a great way to introduce youngsters to fishing, too. Snapper are easy to clean, and are excellent fried, blackened, sautéed or backed in a variety of recipes.
With plenty of bait hanging around the dock, the mackerel bite has been strong this month. They like a fast moving tide, and will make their presence known as the slash through the bait schools. Because of their razor sharp teeth, you’ll want to use a long shanked hook (available at the tackle store on the Pier) to avoid getting cut off. An alternative is using a wire leader, but this will drastically reduce the number of strikes. The best bait, without question, is a free-lined greenback. They will also hit live shrimp, silver Jennys, and small flashy lures (like a Got’cha, also available in the bait store). Don’t use any weight when targeting mackerel – even split shot is probably too much. Just cast the greenback past the bait school, and allow it to drift naturally with the current. Macks hit hard and fast, so make sure your drag is properly adjusted – fairly loose, so they can run without pulling the hook out. Mackerel is good smoked, grilled with some Teriyaki sauce brushed on, or in fish spread.
Snook season is currently closed, and will remain so until September 1st. But, the snook are here, and are a real challenge for catch-and-release fishing. Here’s a tip – when the water is clear, and there’s a strong outgoing tide, take a peek under the Pier, starting at the seawall. It’s not unusual to see a dozen or more snook lined up, facing the current, waiting for a meal to drift by. Try free-lining a jumbo shrimp to them – and hang on! Sturdy tackle is a must, as these fish are big, strong and smart. A 40 pound test fluorocarbon leader and 50 pound, or stronger, main line is about right. Set your drag tight – these fish will bolt for the nearest piling to cut you off. If you succeed in landing one, handle it with care. Take a quick photo, and gently return the snook to the water.
With the increased minimum size for gag grouper increased from 22” to 24”, less anglers are targeting them these days at Merry Pier. But summer grouper fishing can be a blast. Both red and gag grouper can be caught regularly by those targeting them. The tend to lurk under the Pier and on nearby structure. Ask a local on the Pier, and they’ll probably tell you the best spots to try. Big baits are a must, with live pinfish and pigfish, along with frozen sardines making up the best choices. Sturdy tackle is required to keep these large fish from bolting into cover and cutting you off. The minimum size for red grouper is currently 20”. If you are fortunate enough to catch a legal grouper, you’ll find they are one of the tastiest fish in the Gulf!
Summer is a fantastic time to catch a wide variety of species. Some common (and not so common) catches at Merry Pier include tarpon, cobia, sharks, flounder, hogfish, lane snapper, pompano, Key West grunts, black sea bass, Jack Crevalle, blue runners, sheepshead, black drum, redfish and more. Ask the folks behind the counter at the shop what’s biting – they’re happy to help. Tight lines!