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On the Water: Fishing is good inshore and offshore

By Staff | Jan 16, 2019

George Rice, Bill Zaring and Rick Millhollin (not pictured) hooked and landed several big redfish, including this one measuring 31 inches while targeting sheepshead. The redfish were caught and released from the west side of Pine Island Sound. PHOTO PROVIDED

For boats running offshore, the past week held several perfect days with calm seas mixed with days of bumpy water. Fishing was good every day, some days were just more comfortable than others. The snapper bite was great over depths 60 feet and deeper, with boats limiting out on above average size fish. Mangrove snapper to 27 inches, yellowtail to 26, along with an occasional mutton, plus lots of lane and vermilion kept rods bent. Most were caught over wrecks and ledges. Knocker and chicken rigs, plus tipped jig heads were the preferred rigs for many anglers. These rigs were baited with shrimp, squid, sardines and fish strips (mullet, bonito).

Hard fighting bonito were common around the wrecks where a freelined live shrimp or fast-moving spoon often got their attention. Lots of big barracuda are also on the wrecks – generally a bonito is shredded before making it to the boat, but there is still plenty left for stripped bait. Large amberjack are out there in good numbers, just drop a small live fish or butterfly jig down if you want a tough battle. Season is closed on the AJs, so they must be released quickly.

If you get on the snapper hole, more than likely the tax man (goliath grouper) are there to take their share and they always seem to want the largest ones. If you want to play tug of war with a fish that may double your weight, you will need really heavy tackle to get the job done. Drop a big bait to the bottom, drag as tight as you can get it, and hold on. This is generally a task for two to three anglers if you want to keep your tackle and stay in the boat. Goliath grouper are also protected, and must remain in the water and quickly released.

For grouper diggers, reds were boated in depths from 60 to 120 feet. Most were caught over hard, live, swiss cheese or coral bottom. Many fish are running under size, but a good number were reported between 20 and 29 inches. Heavy jigs and knocker rigs with whole squid, sardines and live pinfish worked well.

Inshore, sheepshead are getting most of the attention. They are in full winter spawn mode with fish to 6 pounds caught throughout the area. For shore-bound anglers, the Sanibel and Bokeelia fishing piers, the Matlacha Drawbridge and Blind Pass connecting Sanibel and Captiva are favorite locations. From a boat, look for moving water around oyster bars, deeper creeks, docks, piers and bridges. Also, the Gulf passes and along the beaches are good areas to target, as well as any submerged structure in nearshore Gulf water. While shrimp are the most common baits, sheepshead were also hooked on fiddler and mud crabs, plus on shucked oysters.

Reports of good numbers of small redfish continue to roll in. Often referred to as “rat reds,” fish running in size from 12 to 20 inches were caught in many of the same areas as sheepshead. Hard bottom or oyster creeks and oyster bars around San Carlos Bay, Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass and “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge were targeted areas. Kayak anglers reported good numbers of redfish, along with small snook, black drum and snapper while targeting creeks in “Ding” Darling and Matlacha Pass. Several large redfish over 30 inches were also caught and released while targeting sheepshead.

Trout reports were slightly better this week. Most are undersized, but numbers were improving from north and south Matlacha Pass and northern Pine Island Sound. Berkley Gulp Shrimp and live shrimp under rattling floats worked best while drifting 3 to 5-foot depths with a grassy bottom. A few large trout up to 21 inches were caught in deeper sand holes on the low water while targeting redfish on the eastern side of Pine Island Sound. Bonnethead sharks up to 3 feet were also hooked while targeting trout.

We had some great weather over the past week. If you get a chance to get out on one of our sunny mild days, go for it. If you catch fish, it is just a bonus. This is a great time to be on the water and just enjoy our outdoors.

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.

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.