Captain Joel’s Fishin’ Holes July 12, 2018

Published on: July 11, 2018

Summer lovin’


Most saltwater fish spawn in the summer, unlike most freshwater fish that spawn in spring. Freshwater fish, like bass, bream, catfish and crappie, make beds near the banks in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers. 

Saltwater fish like snook, cobia, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish, jacks, sea trout, sharks, tarpon, Jack crevalle, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, stingray and many other species are feeding and breeding in Tampa Bay. They can be found in tight schools. Summer is the time of the year when you can target a species and limit out quickly, by finding the school and keeping them in place. Below are some species that we like to target during the summer and how we catch them:

I’ll start out with my favorite gamefish — snook. Snook is not in season during the summer, but I love to catch them this time of year. You can find them in large schools and catch some big ’uns, too. Snook spawn in the summer on white, sandy bottoms. We like to sight cast them in clear water locations. We like to chum them with crippled threadfins and greenbacks using a bait bat, which is a cut-off husky hitter plastic bat that holds a couple dozen baits. Once you throw your bait on top of the schooling snook you’ll see the snook flash and swirl on the crippled bait fish, immediately cast your hooked bait on top of the swirl and hold on. The snook that just missed the crippled chum bait instinctively will make a u-turn to look for the bait it just missed and mistake your hooked bait for the chum. The reason snook is my favorite gamefish is — in my opinion — no other gamefish, pound-for-pound, strikes a bait with more aggression than a “line sider.”  

Another schooling gamefish that feeds and breeds during summer is mangrove snapper. We hesitate targeting them with clients on charters because most tourists we charter are from northern states who come here expecting to catch a big fish. Mangrove snapper are smaller gamefish on average. It must be 12 inches to keep, and you can harvest 10 of them per day, per person. We get excited about a 15- or 20-inch fish and the tourists sometimes say, “Is there a bigger fish we can go after?” 

Once we find a large school of mangrove snapper on a reef, wreck or structure we anchor with the tide flowing from the boat to the school. We like to chum by having our first mate cutting a threadfin or Spanish sardine in eight pieces. We like to use an 8-pound test mono leader with a small “J” hook. We hide the “J” hook in one of the eight pieces of cut bait and freeline it down in the chum line. It’s very important to pay out enough slack to make your hooked piece of baitfish flow down in the chum line at the same exact rate as the chummed pieces. If there’s even a slight tick in resistance on your hooked bait during its descent, the mangrove snapper will pass on it. It’s hard to fool their instincts and snapper are very picky — but if you go with the flow you can trick ’em.

Cobia is also one of our favorite schooling gamefish to target during the summer. We find them a lot in pairs (male/female) and sometimes find up to a dozen together at a time. We target cobia in Tampa Bay around structures such as, towers, cans, markers, buoys, anchored ships, docks, bridges, and also under animals like sea turtles, sharks, stingrays and manatees. Cobia stick to these structures like a bass on a bed.  We tell our clients we are going on a cobia hunt. What that means is checking dozens of stuctures and burning a lot of gas. We average one cobia sighting for every 10 structures. Sometimes we find several at the first structure, and sometimes we run 50 structures a day and don’t see one cobia for three days in a row. 

Some years we have a hot cobia bite for only three weeks and some years three months or more. Every year is different, and we have yet to determine why, but cobia are predictably unpredictable. 

Once we sight a cobia we are immediately looking for two things: How big is it (keeper or undersized)? And are there other cobia with it? Once we know what we are dealing with, we can approach the cobia in a particular manner. For example, if we feel the cobia is a keeper, we set up with the tide and sun in our faces and the wind at our backs. Facing the tide keeps our boat drifting away from the cobia during the approach rather than getting pushed toward the cobia. The sun in our faces assures our shadows won’t spook the cobia during the approach. The wind at our backs makes for a long accurate cast. You must make the first cast count, and lead the cobia like a quarterback leads a receiver on a pass. 

For cobia bait we use greenbacks, pinfish, threadfins, Spanish sardines, baby stingrays, baby catfish, Spanish mackerel heads, ladyfish heads and plastic 10-inch black eels.

For a charter with Captain Joel Brandenburg, or information on Ana Banana Kids Fishing Camp, visit, or call 813-267-4401. Find him in person at Little Harbor Resort in Village Marina at 606 Sea Grape Dr. in Ruskin.