Mild days and bright blue skies returned to Southwest Florida. The holiday weekend was crowded on the water with a large number of boats and fishermen enjoying sunny warm days and just great weather.
The sheepshead bite was good inshore and offshore as they are at the peak of their spawning season. Often they are on the move – you might get on a good bite in an area for a day or two then they are gone. If you hook into a big girl, there should be more as they are seldom alone and often running in schools. Fish were reported around oyster bars in south Matlacha Pass, creeks up the east side of Charlotte Harbor, Boca Grande and Captiva passes, plus nearshore reefs in 20 to 45-foot depths.
We are beginning to see signs that spring time is near as large sea trout are beginning to make their presence. Anglers fishing northern Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass hooked into trout up to 26 inches, with improved numbers of fish running from 16 to 20 inches reported. Best baits included live shrimp or Gulp shrimp under popping corks, and Skitter walks retrieved across the flats early and late in the day. We should begin to see our largest number of big sea trout of the year in upcoming weeks as we move closer to spring.
Joe Pierce and family took advantage of the great weather to bring home a mix of sheepshead, snapper and grunts. They were fishing in 40-foot depths west of Captiva Pass with Capt. Bill Russell.
Also, with the warmer water, snook and larger redfish than in previous weeks are showing up along mangrove shorelines. Over the weekend, incoming tides and south winds gave us higher tides than we have seen in a while that opened a lot of shorelines for fishing. A few areas that yielded fish included Buzzard Bay off north Matlacha Pass, the east and west walls of Charlotte Harbor, plus islands and keys in upper Pine Island Sound. Both were hooked on a variety of baits that included artificial or lures, live shrimp or pinfish and cut ladyfish. As we mention weekly, snook and redfish are both closed season for harvest. You can still have fun with them with catch and release, just make sure to handle them gently and return them to water quickly, or if you aren’t taking a quick photo, do not remove them from the water at all.
A few tarpon were sighted in Pine Island Sound over the week, another good sign that we are transitioning seasons. A variety of sharks from 3 to 6 feet were hooked in Pine Island Sound, around Bokeelia and Matlacha Pass. Most were hooked by accident while targeting other species with cut ladyfish and live shrimp.
Spanish mackerel also are beginning to make their presence as fish up to 22 inches were caught from Charlotte Harbor and in Pine Island Sound near Captiva Island. For shore-bound anglers, Spanish mackerel were hooked from the Bokeelia Fishing Pier along with other species. Good numbers of big ladyfish and an occasional pompano were also caught from these areas. For the macks and ladyfish, live shrimp under popping corks and small silver spoons with a quick retrieve did the trick. Pompano were hooked on live shrimp under a cork and jig/ shrimp combos.
Offshore, as mentioned, sheepshead were running large over reefs and ledges where they were often mixed with mangrove snapper, grunts, plus undersized red grouper and out of season gag grouper. Tripletail were reported hanging under trap floats on the sunny days west of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Many or most are running under size with a few larger fish up to 10 pounds caught.
Further offshore in depths from 85 to 120 feet gave up limits of red grouper, plus a good mix of snapper, grunts and porgy. Also, around deep-water wrecks, barracuda, amberjack, sharks, bonito, and the giant goliath grouper were waiting to play tug of war.
With a stretch of warm weather in the forecast, the transition out of winter and into spring like fishing conditions will continue. With each sunny day the water temperature is climbing, give it a week or two in the mid-70s and our fishing should really heat up. Let’s hope this great weather continues.
Have a safe week and good fishin’.
As a native of Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years.