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On the Water: Spring has arrived; it’s time to get out on the water

By Staff | Mar 20, 2019

Bill Valpie of Michigan caught and released this big redfish to complete his inshore slam, consisting of a snook, sea trout, and redfish. Bill was fishing Matlacha Pass with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

As typical for late winter in Southwest Florida, we are blessed with six or seven days of perfect fishing weather then set back for a day or two with bad weather. With the arrival of spring, we should slowly lose this weather pattern as cool fronts won’t pack as much punch and water temperatures stabilize.

Over the past week, tarpon made their appearance throughout the inshore waters and off the beaches. Several fish well over a hundred pounds were landed or jumped in Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor and just west of Captiva Island. Sharks and large stingrays were also hooked while soaking cut bait on bottom. As the water temperature continues to warm, tarpon numbers will increase daily.

If you spent any time on the water over the past week, you probably noticed the arrival of bait pods inshore and offshore. Schools of large and small Atlantic thread herring, pilchards and Spanish sardine schools appeared offshore. Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle were often harassing the inshore pods and offshore, Spanish and king mackerel (kingfish), bonito and even a few blackfin tuna were caught. Live bait or small silver spoons worked well inshore and offshore trolling with spoons and Billy Baits got the job done. Sharks of various species and size were reported around the bait pods.

Some days were slower than others, however boats often limited on red grouper, fishing depths from 100 to 120 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. Butterfly jigs, pinfish, sand perch and cut bonito were the top baits. Mangrove and lane snapper, plus porgy and few triggerfish were also boated. Barracuda, amberjack and goliath grouper, all hard fighters, were caught and released from artificial reefs between 80 and 120 feet.

Nearshore reefs from Sanibel north yielded a variety including sheepshead, snapper, grunts, undersize grouper, and Spanish mackerel. Most fish were caught on live or fresh shrimp, with cut squid and small pinfish working well on everything except sheepshead.

Spawning season for sheepshead is winding down, most of the larger fish remaining are concentrated in areas near the Gulf passes and offshore. Structure inside the passes and along the Gulf beaches is the best bet, along with reefs and hard bottom out to 50 feet.

Warming water temperature brought on good snook fishing throughout the week. Despite days with long periods of little to no water movement, snook action remained consistent. Snook were caught and released around the Gulf passes, throughout Pine Island Sound and north Matlacha Pass, and up the eastern shore of Charlotte Harbor. A good number of redfish were mixed with the snook, with many measuring over 30 inches. Both snook and redfish remained closed for harvest.

Also, jack crevalle up to 10 pounds, often in large schools, were hooked as they were cruising along bars and shorelines eating anything in their path. It’s a frantic time when three or four anglers hook up at same time with these hard-fighting brutes. They are a blast!

Although numbers are down from what we expect, there was noticeable increase in sea trout over the week, particularly the larger fish. It’s the beginning of the spring trout spawn when we catch our largest fish of the year. Although sea trout are believed to spawn many times through the year, this is their prime breeding time. Anglers report catching a good number of fish measuring over 20 inches with the largest at 27. The state recently closed harvest for any sea trout measuring over 20 inches. In the past, each angler could keep or possess one trout over 20 inches. The daily bag limit of four fish measuring between 15-20 inches remains. Trout numbers are down, this is the reason for the closure on larger fish. Most fish within legal size are full of eggs and potentially the future of our fishery, its best to release them all or just keep a couple smaller (legal size) ones for a fresh dinner and not to fill the freezer.

Finally, spring is here, my favorite time of year to spend as much time on the water as possible. Get out there and enjoy it!

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us at:

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.