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On the Water: Sheepshead often the best bite going

By Staff | Dec 27, 2018

On a chilly Southwest Florida morning last week, Larry Rothenberg caught, took a quick photo of and released this big redfish. He caught it on a live shrimp rigged on a jig head while fishing in Pine Island Sound with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

Fishing was good, and weather cooperated the first half of the week, however as I am writing this column, a front is pushing through from the Gulf of Mexico bringing thunderstorms, rain and heavy winds ahead of the weekend.

As with the past several weeks, sheepshead were often the best bite going to keep rods bent. They were reported in south Matlacha Pass around deep oyster bars and creeks, under docks in St. James City, Tarpon Bay on Sanibel and Captiva’s Roosevelt Channel. The Bokeelia Fishing Pier, Matlacha Drawbridge and areas around the Blind Pass Bridge also yielded sheepshead. On slower tide days, better action was found over structure near Redfish, Captiva and Boca Grande passes. Fresh shrimp cut in half and threaded on a small sharp j-hook or circle hook with a small sliding egg sinker and a couple feet of 20 fluorocarbon leader is one of the most popular sheepsheads rigs. Unlike most of our fish, the colder it gets the better sheepshead like it; often they feed best on the coldest, nastiest days.

Anglers are reporting scattered redfish caught in both Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. Many of the fish are on the small side, known as “rat reds” averaging from 14 to 17 inches. While these juvenile fish are small in size, they still put on a great fight. In Matlacha Pass reds were caught under the mangroves in the washouts of some of the deeper creeks and around the perimeter of oyster bars. In the Sound, potholes, deep mangrove shorelines and creek mouths from Blind Pass down to Tarpon Bay on Sanibel held good numbers. For baits, a live shrimp fished under a popping cork or on bottom with a small split-shot sinker was hard to beat. Shrimp tipped eighth- or quarter-ounce jigs and Gulp Shrimp also got their attention.

For larger redfish, those measuring from 20 to 30 inches, the best reports came from anglers fishing the shallower flats in south Matlacha Pass, the eastern side of Charlotte Harbor and in Pine Island Sound between Pineland and Demere Key, and near Buck Key behind Captiva. Gold weedless spoons, handpicked shrimp, Gulp Shrimp and cut ladyfish or mullet produced bites on both tailing and waking reds.

Reports of seatrout were better this week than the previous few, at least early in the week before the weather disrupted fishing. Fish up to 18 inches were caught on DOA shrimp in a natural color with a rattle plus live shrimp in 3 to 5 feet of water in north Matlacha Pass, the best bite was during mid-day. In Pine Island Sound, trout were taken in potholes averaging about 4-foot in depth from Burgess Bay south to Rocky Channel. On the morning lower tides, anglers found the best action while casting live shrimp suspended under a popping cork, DOA CAL jigs in a shiner pattern and shrimp on a jig head. Several flounder and a few pompano were also caught from the potholes. A couple pompano were also reported around Redfish and Captiva passes in 6 to 12-foot depths over sand bottom just inside the passes.

For the larger grouper and big snapper, most boats are still starting at around 90 feet and fishing from there out to around 120-foot depths. Baits included live pinfish, grunts and cut Spanish sardines, cut mullet, or squid fished on a jig head. Porgies and grunts were also caught from the same depths on lighter tackle with live shrimp or cut sardines. A little shallower in the 60 to 80-foot range, there were a few reports of mangrove and lane snapper, plus grunts and undersize red grouper. There is hope with red tide levels down and cooling Gulf water temperatures that the near-shore fishing in Gulf waters will continue to improve.

I hope during the holiday week good weather allows everyone a chance to get on the water and enjoy or outdoors. Fishing or not, a day on the water is a great way to relax and close out another year.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-283-7960, via the Website www.fishpineisland.com or email gcl2fish@live.com. Holiday gift certificates are available!

Have a safe week and good fishin’.

As a native of Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his entire life fishing and learning the waters surrounding Pine Island and as a professional fishing guide for the past 18 years