What a week! Temperature in the mid 80s, light to no wind and bright blue skies, what more could you ask for the first week of December? Perfect conditions opened up all kinds of fishing possibilities offshore and inshore.
Gag grouper season closed Dec. 3 with catches of fish to 20 pounds reported 30-plus miles west of Captiva. Red grouper were also caught from the same area with both taking live pinfish and frozen sardines. A few gags from 23 to 27 inches were taken while trolling deep diving lures in 25 to 35-foot depths west of Redfish Pass, and a few more were taken over the rock ledges around Captiva and Boca Grande Passes.
From 22 to 30 miles west/northwest of Boca Grande, red grouper in the 7 to 14-pound range were caught mixed with mangrove snapper up to 20 inches. Also, good numbers of big amberjacks were found beginning at 30 miles. About the same distance southwest of the Sanibel Lighthouse, red grouper were located over hard coral bottom, plus lane snapper, porgies and grunts.
King and Spanish mackerel were consistently sighted or caught around schooling bait from a few miles off the beaches out 20-plus miles. A few big cobia were also sighted, but the only reports of landed fish were undersize.
Near shore artificial reefs are holding a good mix of fish including Spanish mackerel, snapper, flounder, mostly undersized grouper, a few trout and an increase in large sheepsheads. Live shrimp and shrimp tipped white jigs were the best baits to catch a variety of fish.
Land locked anglers found Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, pompano and a few catch-and-release snook from the Sanibel Pier. The Matlacha Drawbridge yielded mackerel, jack crevalle, trout, pompano and a couple flounder - all caught on live shrimp. Also look to the Bokeelia Fishing Pier for good fishing with a mixed variety of fish.
In Charlotte Harbor and other inshore waters, the Spanish mackerel were in large numbers offering great, fast pace action. Fish averaging 16 to 24 inches were thick over grass/sand marbled bottom eating everything in sight, including live shrimp, shiners, silver spoons and white nylon jigs. Look for the best action during the stage of the tide with good water movement.
Mackerel are great eating when fresh, but in my opinion not so much if frozen. I highly recommend catching enough for a fresh meal or two and releasing the rest. They also are great on the smoker and make fabulous smoked fish dip (great for the holidays).
Good trout reports came from multiple areas around Bokeelia and into Pine Island Sound south to Red Light Shoals. Most were found over grass/sand bottom in 3 to 6-foot depths near large sand bars or shorelines with a good number falling mid-way in the 15 to 20 inch slot. Most were taken on live shrimp and small pinfish under popping corks, free lined shiners, DOA shrimp and white Gulp Baits. No matter where you are fishing inshore, expect lots of ladyfish, they are running in large schools, no they have no food value but they put on a great fight, plus many anglers value them for cut bait.
Extra mid-morning low tides drained the shallow flats pushing redfish into surrounding deeper holes. Fish up to 30 inches were found around schooling mullet on the eastern side of Pine Island Sound. Baits varied from artificials, including fly to ladyfish steaks. Fish were most active over the first couple hours of the incoming tide including a few large trout and snook mixed with the reds.
Watching the cold, miserable weather to our north, it's a great time to be in Southwest Florida. Get out and enjoy the outdoors, whether you are catching fish or not, there are a lot of folks to our north that wish they were walking in our shoes. If interested, we have gift certificates available for the holiday season.
Have a safe week and good fishin'.