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On the Water: Warm days spark good fishing in the area

By Staff | Feb 19, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day! What a better way to spend Valentine's Day than on the water fishing. Joe Aurand of Pine Island treated his wife and family to a morning of fishing and a great fish dinner as a result. They boxed a good mess of sheepshead plus a few other scraps while fishing nearshore waters west of Cayo Costa State Park with Capt. Bill Russell PHOTO PROVIDED

Good weather with blue skies and plenty of sunshine made for a great week on the water around Southwest Florida. With water temperatures inshore climbing into the low to mid 70s, anglers found fishy conditions. Our only setback was poor tides for a few days, but that was small trade off to work around.

Baitfish, including pilchards, herring and pinfish, are showing up over grass flats in good numbers and as we would expect with each warming day, gamefish are getting hungry. Snook, our most finicky gamefish during the cold months, were active and chewing. Fish up to 36 inches were caught and released in Bokeelia’s Jug Creek, Matlacha Pass, north and south of the bridge, and on the back side of Sanibel from the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge up to Blind Pass. Along with live bait fish, live shrimp, and a variety of lures also got their attention.

Many anglers hooked into redfish while catching snook in the mentioned areas. Reds were also caught around docks along the coastal islands plus sand potholes on the eastern side of Pine Island Sound on the lower stages of the tide. Live baitfish, shrimp, cut ladyfish and soft plastics were the baits of choice. The reds went from 16 to 27 inches in length.

We are beginning to see our first sign of spring with seatrout. They are getting larger by the day, as a lot of over 20 inches were caught and a few up to 25 inches. This trend will continue over the next couple months as we have the opportunity to hook our biggest seatrout of the year. Look for them to readily hit any type of live bait as well as a wide variety of artificial and flies. On calm mornings, work a top water lure over the shallow grass flats for an explosive strike. Trout were reported near Fisherman’s Key east of St. James, just outside Sanibel’s Tarpon Bay, in Pine Island Sound near Buck and Demere keys, and in the upper Sound near Cabbage Key. Seatrout are beginning their spawn cycle and are often egg laden, especially the larger fish. Handle them as little as possible and return them to the water quickly.

Season remains closed on snook, redfish and seatrout on local waters around Southwest Florida. Have fun with them but release all quickly and unharmed and it will help our stocks for the future. Visit www.myfwc.com for current regulations.

Anglers often found schools of bait fish inshore getting harassed by Spanish mackerel and jack crevalle. If you see an area with lots of bird activity, it’s worth checking out. We came across an active area near Bokeelia and found a huge school of large jack crevalle in a feeding frenzy eating anything in their path. You can also expect sharks nearby.

Sheepshead fishing was decent to good inshore and a few miles offshore. When the tide or water was moving the bite was good with fish up to 5 pounds. Most fish reported inshore were caught near the barrier islands around structure and deep shorelines with a hard bottom. Offshore, the bite came from depths between 25 and 40 feet. Schooling fish were also targeted along the beach or surf on Captiva and Cayo Costa islands. With the water temperature climbing, the sheepshead number will peak and start declining soon. If you haven’t taken the time to go after them, I recommend you do it soon.

Offshore boats are often returning with their limit of red grouper while drifting live or swiss cheese bottom in 70 to 90-foot depths. Mangrove snapper limits with fish up to 6 pounds were boxed over the same depths while targeting ledges and reefs. Lane snapper, porgy and a few good yellowtail snapper were also boxed. Artificial reefs in depths from 40 feet out to 90 feet held plenty of tackle-busting fish, including barracuda, amberjack, sharks and goliath grouper. Offshore waters are very clear on most days presently allowing for sight fishing for many of these fish after a little chumming to bring them in. Spanish mackerel are abundant offshore along with a few king mackerel and bonito.

You could really feel and see the change of seasons on the water over the week. No doubt we will have a few more cool fronts drop down, but the transition to spring is in motion. Everything with nature was more active, from dolphin and manatees, to birds, bait and, of course, game fish. If this trend continues it is a great time to be on the water. Hope you can get out there and enjoy it.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-410-8576 (call or text); on the web at www.fishpineisland.com; or via email at gcl2fish@live.com. Holiday gift certificates are available.

Have a safe week and good fishin’.

As a lifetime resident of Matlacha and Pine Island, Capt. Bill Russell has spent his life fishing and learning the waters around Pine Island and southwest Florida, and as a professional fishing guide for the past 23 years.