For fishing, two great things happen over the month of March. With warmer temperatures the bait fish migration begins as large bait schools move into our waters from the south. With the combination of warm water and a huge influx of food, look for predator or game fish to get very hungry as the month progresses.
Look for trout fishing to go from good to great as the month progresses. And not just in numbers, but also in size, we well note a big rise in large "gators" often 24 inches or larger. The fish are often schooled in similar size; if you are only catching small ones make a move, sometimes a slight move is all that's needed. Although live shrimp are catching plenty, the larger trout are often keying on oily baitfish.
On the calm mornings look for big fish prowling the shallows, (watch those mullet schools) where a properly worked top water plug or fly can be deadly. A swim or crank bait is a great choice in depths from 3 to 6 feet during mid-day, and, of course, if you can catch some live pilchards, thread herring or pinfish, you really tip the scale in your favor to land some big trout.
Sharks are moving in! Mack Fritz of Alberta, Canada, caught and released this hard-fighting shark on 15-pound spinning tackle while targeting trout and mackerel. It was caught in Charlotte Harbor while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell.
Spanish mackerel continue to get more abundant and larger as the water warms. Inshore, look for them over areas with a mixed grass bottom in four to 9-foot depths. Bluefish, trout, jack crevalle, big ladyfish, sharks and cobia are often feeding over the same bottom. If you have family down visiting over spring break, this type fishing can provide fast action and lots of smiles. Also, look for mackerel schooling near any of the gulf passes, inlets and a short distance off the beaches. Big blacktip sharks love eating mackerel - keep a heavier rod, rigged and ready if you have the desire to do battle with these impressive fighters.
Our first spring high tides of the year are a good time to hook into redfish under the mangrove shorelines and along oyster bars. Fish on average should be larger than the winter months, with most running in the 18 to 27-inch slot plus a few oversized reds. Look for reds tailing or pushing water over the shallow flats or in sand potholes on the morning low water and working their way around oyster bars and shorelines as the waters rise. While targeting these areas for reds, it's common to hook some of the largest trout of the season, plus snook.
Speaking of snook, the spring season is open for the first time in 4 years. After a devastating freeze in January 2010 wiped out much of the population, an emergency snook closure was issued. Snook are not back to the numbers prior to 2010, but they are out there and they will be hungry. Please make an effort to carefully handle all snook to be released; it's a great habit to do this with any fish to be released, no matter what the species. With the 28 to 33-inch slot, it's a crap shoot to catch a legal fish, but if you do, season is once again open. Make sure that along with a saltwater fishing license you have a snook stamp in your possession if you plan on keeping any.
Tarpon sightings and hook-ups were beginning to happen the last week of February and we'll continue to improve each day. Tarpon schools were found off the beaches and scattered fish were located in north Matlacha Pass, Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor. Expect more and more fish to move into the inshore waters each week. Also, keep an eye open for cobia, they are likely to show up anywhere at any time. Offshore, fishing has been good and should continue. March is notoriously a windy month but on the calm days look for good action on red grouper in depths from 65 to 120 feet. Larger mangrove snapper were reported from 60 to 100 feet over ledges. Large amberjacks are in good numbers over structure anywhere from 60 to 130 feet, plus lots of sharks, barracudas and possibly cobia. King mackerel are moving up the coast; look for them around bait school beginning at about 30-foot depths.
I know a lot of visitors are down from the north this month for spring break. If you have friends or family visiting and you have access to a boat, get them on the water.
This is a great month for fishing as the water just seems to come to life. Larger fish are moving in and hungry, you just don't know what you may hook into!
Have a safe week and good fishin'.