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Think big when fishing the month of May

May 9, 2012
By Capt. BILL RUSSELL - On the Water , Pine Island Eagle

Of the 12 months of the year, the month of May is at the top for best months for fishing the waters of Southwest Flori-da. Two good things happen, first local waters are far less crowded as most of our winter visitors take off for the north, and second, it's time for big fish. Tarpon, sharks, snook, redfish, you name it and this is great month to go after the big ones.

Of course the unofficial kick-off to tarpon season begins and if you want to catch a tarpon or two, this is the time to do it. Large schools will gather off the beaches from Fort Myers north to Gasparilla, as well as in Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. Tarpon will also be hanging around the Sanibel Causeway and the gulf passes with Boca Grande getting the most attention. It's common to see a hundred boats or better on any given day tarpon fishing Boca Grande Pass. If you are going to fish there do your homework first.

Where there are tarpon there will be sharks, and some big ones. For that matter, sharks will be about anywhere from the shallow inshore flats to offshore reefs. The tourist industry likes to keep it quiet, but we really do have a lot of sharks in our waters. Not to worry, sharks do not pose much of a threat to humans while swimming or engaged in water related activities. When you need to keep an eye open, is if you are wade fishing or spear fishing and dragging around a stringer of fish, they don't have any interest in you, but their natural instincts attract them to the stringer of fish in distress. Sharks are a very underrated gamefish. When caught on moderate tackle they are an absolute blast, especially high flying blacktip and spinners.

Article Photos

Photo provided
Jim Mersinger, a newcomer to Cape Coral, landed the snook of a lifetime on his first attempt. On a charter with Capt. Bill Russell to learn a little about how to fish the local waters, Jim hooked and after an intense battle landed this 40-inch snook in Charlotte Harbor. After a quick picture the big girl was safely released to fight another day.

This is the time when the big snook head for the gulf passes for their upcoming summer spawning session. Old-timers say, "When the royal poinciana trees are in bloom, it's time to fish the passes." Well, the trees in my neighborhood are blooming bright and red. Even before the emergency closure after the devastating freeze two years ago, snook season was closed for the month of May; it's been closed over the summer months for a long time to take the fishing pressure off the big breeders. Our snook population appears to be on the rebound, let's do our part and handle each fish with extra care for a safe release, and never hang a large fish from its lips or mouth; this has proven to do irreversible damage to the heavier fish, possibly leading to its death. It's best to not remove a big fish from the water at all, but if you want a picture to preserve the memory, get the camera ready, quickly remove the fish from the water, get a quick picture and get the big girl right back in the water. And if flipper is around, no matter how good the snook bite is, you might have to put the rods down and move on. Our bottlenose dolphin are beautiful animals and everybody loves them, but they are also a very intelligent, eating machine. They will eat every snook you release, big and small if they get a chance, please don't feed them.

Targeting redfish should get more consistent heading into the month. Calm mornings will give sight fishermen on the skinny flats some great opportunities at stalking tailers with many in excess of 30 inches. Look for good fishing under the shade of the mangroves on the mid-day high tides - again expect fish from sub -legal to in excess of 30 inches.

While catching the largest trout of the year peaked last month, there will still be big fish around, just not in the numbers. Look for the largest fish on the shallow flats in the early morning feeding with the redfish. Catching trout in the legal slot shouldn't be a problem on most days; they will continue to stack up in deeper potholes, over sand/grass bottom in 4 to 10-foot depths and also on the beaches from Sanibel north to Cayo Costa. Also look for continued good action with Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and a host of other fish over the deeper grass flats.

Mangrove snapper should be on the nearshore reefs and also moving into the passes as the month progresses. Permit, cobia, king mackerel and barracuda could also be hanging over offshore structure. A little farther offshore, large amberjacks will be waiting to do battle over deep water wrecks and huge goliath grouper are likely to be anywhere there is structure, shallow or deep.

This is a good month to be prepared for anything, you never know what you might run into. I like to always keep a large rig handy, just in case. If you are targeting tarpon or sharks, you will already have the heavy arsenal out, but if you are just having fun on the flats with trout you never know when that once in a lifetime cobia or school of tarpon might show up. Preparation and awareness is the key, have a rod that will handle the job rigged and ready and pay attention or that trophy fish might just swim right by without you even knowing it.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact Capt. Bill Russell at phone: 239-283-7960; Website:; Email:

Have a safe week and good fishin'.



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