What a difference a week of warm weather can make for fishing around Southwest Florida. With water temperatures finally hitting the 70 degree mark, fishing reports were getting better and better each day.
Inshore, reports were good for redfish, large trout and at times the snook bite was heating up. Plus, Spanish mackerel throughout the area, sheeps-head, an increase in sharks, and flounder are beginning to move in.
The best red fishing reports came from Pine Island Sound. Fish from 24 to 33 inches were caught in sand potholes or waking across the turtle grass on the lower water, and along the mangrove shorelines on the afternoon high water. Fly anglers scored with a few on the morning lows, however most fish were taken on cut bait including ladyfish, pinfish and shrimp over the incoming water.
Visiting Pine Island from Okotoks, Alberta, Canada, 9-year-old Jessie Fritz landed this big flounder only a few minutes into her first time fishing around Pine Island. She was fishing near Bokeelia with Capt. Bill Russell.
We are beginning to see more and more large spring trout. Fish over 20 inches were common and there were several reports of "gators" hitting 24 inches. Trout were caught throughout the sound in 3 to 6-foot depths, with sand potholes adjacent to shorelines or oyster bars producing the biggest fish. Several fish over 20 inches were also reported from Matlacha Pass.
Once the water temperature hit 70 degrees snook became active and hungry. Sunny afternoons with a strong rising tide resulted in hungry snook in northern Pine Island Sound, the eastern shore of Charlotte Harbor and southern Matlacha Pass near St. James City. A few were hooked on lures but most of the action came on live shrimp, shiners and pinfish. Snook season will reopen on March 1 and is catch-and-release only until then.
The better sheepshead reports came from the barrier Islands, from boat, fish to 4 pounds were caught from docks at Blind and Redfish passes on Captiva, and the old phosphate dock pilings on the north side of Boca Grande Pass. From shore, fish were hooked from the Sanibel Pier and the gulf side rock jetties at Blind Pass.
Spanish mackerel were found pretty much everywhere inshore, the passes and near shore waters. Large schools were reported just outside Redfish and Captiva passes, and also in Charlotte Harbor. Fish were taken while trolling or casting silver spoons or fishing live shrimp under bobbers. Look for birds and mackerel breaking the surface to locate the schools.
Some large sand and blacktip sharks are hanging around the mackerel schools in and around the gulf passes. Sharks to 8 feet were caught and released around Captiva Pass and shark reports were on the rise in the sound and harbor.
As the week progressed, flounder reports were on the rise. Not in large numbers, but boating a couple a day was a possibility and the fish are getting larger. This trend should continue over the next month or so.
Offshore, snapper fishing was decent day or night. Mangrove snapper to 3 pounds were caught from 45 to 55 feet. Anchoring and chumming was the key to good action while dropping jigs with squid or shrimp back into the chum line. Grunts and porgies were also caught during the day.
Reports of decent size red grouper begun at about 60 feet, with larger fish out deeper. A few cobia, mostly undersized, were hooked, plus amberjack, goliath grouper and sharks.
With the warming trend, our waters are beginning to come alive. Bait fish are moving in and game fish are getting hungry. The bite wasn't always good, there were times over the week with really poor tide movement. But, when everything was right, we got our first taste of great spring fishing, and it should only get better as we leave the cold months behind.
Have a safe week and good fishin'.