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Spring action begins in Southwest Florida waters

March 21, 2012
By Capt. BILL RUSSELL - On the Water , Pine Island Eagle

The last week of winter closed out with a whimper as anglers found near picture perfect weather leading up to the arrival of spring. With blue skies and shirt-sleeve temperature fishing continues to get better each day. Large fish are moving inshore and near-shore as schooling tarpon were reported along with sharks and cobia.

Tarpon aren't in big schools just yet, that will be coming soon enough, but fish were reported in pods of a dozen or so. Tarpon were sighted rolling in the early mornings just off the beaches from Sanibel to Cayo Costa outside and also in Pine Island Sound at the western end of Rocky Channel. Sharks up to 7 feet were also hooked on cut ladyfish between Rocky Channel and Demere Key. Tarpon also were sighted around the C-span of the Sanibel Causeway along with a few cobia cruising just under the surface.

Light east winds allowed boats to get out into the offshore waters of the gulf for bottom fishing. Snapper, both mangrove and lane, were caught over marked public reefs in 60 to 80-foot depths. Anchoring up current and deploying a chum bag then dropping live shrimp into the chum was the key for the larger snapper. Lots of sharks and goliath grouper are patrolling the reefs and resulting in lots of frustration and lost fish. Large lane snapper and big grunts were reported west of Redfish Pass in depths from 50 to 60 feet over coral bottom while fishing live shrimp just off bottom while adrift. Large Spanish mackerel were reported closer to shore just off the Sanibel beach near the lighthouse and west of Captiva Pass. King mackerel from 4 to 10 pounds were caught while trolling in 30 to 45-foot depths west of Boca Grande Pass.

Article Photos

Photo provided

While on spring break from Minnesota, Steve Rivard, along with his father and brother spent an afternoon fishing in Pine Island Sound. Pictured is a 29-inch redfish caught along an oyster bar while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell

In shore, for fun, fast paced action it was hard to beat grass flats in 6 to 10-foot depths. Areas off Bokeelia and northern Pine Island Sound have given me and many other anglers pretty good action for the past week. Spanish mackerel kept the drags screaming each day, while trout, ladyfish, bluefish and sharks also joined in the fun. This is great action to get kids with little or no experience into fishing. We had a couple days with little guys under 10 who never fished saltwater before; needless to say, they now are hooked for life. Similar type action was also reported over the deeper grass flats near the channel in mid-Pine Island Sound, Red Light Shoals at the south end and off the gulf side of the Sanibel Causeway. Pay attention to the tide charts and fish over the strongest tides for the best action.

While the open water action as mentioned was good and catching large trout from potholes was also very good, we had to work on my boat to catch redfish or snook. Much of the week the tides went dormant in the afternoons slowing down the bite. We did catch redfish in size from 19 to 29 inches in Matlacha Pass on the afternoon high water along with snook to 27 inches, but the bite was not great by any means. Stronger tides this week should improve the bite.

Our annual run of big inshore sheeps-head should wind down as spring arrives. Sheepshead were reported by shore-bound anglers from the Sanibel pier, Blind Pass jetties and Bokeelia pier. A few whiting, pompano and flounder were also caught. By boat, sheepshead up to 5 pounds were taken from the old phosphate docks at Boca Grande, docks inside Captiva and Redfish passes and inside Tarpon Bay on Sanibel. Sheepshead were also reported from near shore artificial reefs.

If you haven't already done so, mark your calendars for Saturday March 31. That's the date for the 14th annual Bobby Holloway Memorial Fishing Tournament. It's the longest running tournament on Pine Island and all proceeds go to a great cause, to benefit our children right here on Pine Island and surrounding communities. You can still sign up to fish the tournament and maybe win some cash, or you can just come out for some good food, island atmosphere and take a chance at winning one of the great raffles and prizes.

You can find more information on the tournament at Registration forms are available at the website or for more Information call:

Ernestine (239) 281.8225

Ralph (239) 283.2918

Chris (239) 344.6159

The event is located at the end of Maria Drive west of Stringfellow Boulevard at the Lee County Fishermen's Co-op south of the center. I'll be there, will you?

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact Capt. Bill Russell by phone, 239-283-7960, via the web at or e-mail:

Have a safe week and good fishin'.



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