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On the Water: Anything is possible in month of March

By Staff | Mar 4, 2020

When the weather turns cold, the sheepshead bite often heats up. While visiting his grandparents, Austin Hasfeld of Red Wing, Minnesota, had fun on a good sheepshead bite on a cool morning. Austin, along with his father and grandfather, were fishing with Capt. Bill Russell in Pine Island Sound. PHOTO PROVIDED

We closed out the month of February with tough fishing conditions that included cool weather and strong winds. With a new month we are in sight of a change of seasons and we can look forward to great fishing opportunities.

Spring fishing is looked upon as some of the best of the year with a wide variety of species willing to bend a rod. As days get longer and warmer, water temperature will rise, and with each day schooling bait fish will invade our inshore and nearshore waters. This combination rings the dinner bell for fish of all shapes and sizes.

For fast, rod-bending action, it’s hard to beat targeting areas with schooling Spanish mackerel, bluefish, seatrout, ladyfish and other “surprise” fish. It’s possible to anchor on one spot and hook a fish just about every cast. When fishing with young spring breakers from grade school through their college years, most have one thing in common, they want action. They aren’t as concerned about landing a trophy gamefish but would rather keep busy with a bent rod and screaming drags. Plus, the “surprise” fish we mentioned could include sharks of multiple species, tarpon, cobia and others, all with the possibility of being large, so you want to keep a heavier rig armed and ready if anyone is up to the challenge.

Spanish mackerel are a great target as they are ferocious feeders, lightning fast and offer a good fight. Plus, prepared fresh they offer excellent table fare that is often overlooked. To me they are the perfect fish when looking for fun and action with spring breakers. When mackerel are present, odds are good that sharks are nearby.

This month will kick off good snook fishing along our coastal waters. Water temperature is critical for snook, too cold and they are often dormant. As the water rises to 70 degrees or above and holds, we can look for snook to become very active, on the move,and hungry. Like many of our game fish, their primary diet will become the abundance of oily bait fish. Although snook season is closed, game fish most anglers don’t mind as they are such a great and challenging game fish and a very addictive fish to target after you hook into a few.

With the invasion of bait fish and warming water, big trout become common catches. Many of our largest seatrout of the year will be caught this month, with “gators” or “gator trout” often approaching 30 inches a possibility. Trout are in their first and largest spawn cycle of the year — look for the bigger fish to get very aggressive and hungry. Although sea rout season remains closed for our area of Southwest Florida, they are still a lot of fun to catch and release.

Following months of daytime low tides and often not much water to navigate, our first spring high tides will begin. Higher tides or water allows for good opportunities to target redfish along mangrove shorelines and over oyster bars. Early morning low tides will also allow for great shots at tailing redfish over the shallow flats. As with snook and seatrout, redfish season is closed as well on the waters around Southwest Florida. You can visit www.myfwc.com for up to date fish regulations.

Offshore, on days the weather allows, we will find good opportunities for a variety of fish including reef dwellers like snapper, grouper, grunts, porgy’s, and others. As the water warms, schools of fast-moving Spanish and king mackerel, plus false albacore or bonito and even some blackfin tuna, are making their way up the coast and busting up any schooling bait fish they encounter. Keep an eye out for tripletail around buoys or floating debris and don’t be surprised if a big cobia makes an appearance around your boat while bottom fishing. The first couple weeks of March, sheepshead should be a target over nearshore reefs as they complete their annual spawn. Early season tarpon will begin to show a few miles off the beaches, generally to the southern part of our region and making their way up the coast. Ahead of last week’s cold front, tarpon were reported in good numbers in Big San Carlos Pass near the Sanibel Causeway — look for their return as the water warms into the 70s.

March is a month where anything is possible, and you should always expect the unexpected. We generally have some windy days, but they will be offset with great weather as we break into the spring season. If you have company down from the North, it’s a great time to get them on the water. There’s nothing better than a day with nature, away from the congested roads and crowds to show them what a good time in Florida is all about.

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.

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.