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On the Water: May fishing in Southwest Florida waters

By Staff | Apr 29, 2020

Tony Price of Cape Coral with a hard-fighting amberjack he pulled up from 90-foot depths west of Captiva Pass. Amberjack season is open in state and federal waters for the month of May. Visit www.myfwc.com  for amberjack regulations. PHOTO PROVIDED

Weather wasn’t the best over the past week as we had our share of windy days, plus off and on rain and thunderstorms. Looking ahead, we move into a new month this week and one that should bring some great fishing.

The month of May is the best time to hook into a tarpon as they move into southwest Florida waters by the thousands. Look for them a short distance off the beaches, around the Gulf passes and bridges, plus throughout the inshore waters. Tarpon eat a wide variety of bait, however at times they will not eat anything you offer. Live baits including crabs, Atlantic thread herring, pinfish, and large shrimp are top choices while a variety of cut bait, including mullet, ladyfish and catfish tails, hook more than their share.

Sharks large and small are roaming the inshore waters, around the Gulf passes, and offshore around schooling baitfish and reefs. Large hammerhead and bull sharks follow tarpon schools awaiting their next meal. Spinner and blacktip sharks are almost identical in appearance and both offer an incredibly hard fight, often with a great aerial show. If you are fishing an area and hooking ladyfish or mackerel, you can be assured sharks are nearby. A chunk of ladyfish is sure to get attention, use a minimum of a foot or two of wire leader to prevent cut-offs.

Spanish mackerel is an underrated fish that gives an excellent fight as they are super fast and strong. When iced down as soon as they are caught and eaten fresh, they are very good on the table. Good numbers of schooling mackerel frequent areas just outside or inside the Gulf passes, around bridges and artificial reefs within sight of land. Either trolling or casting silver spoons with a fast retrieve is the top method for consistently hooking mackerel.

Mangrove snapper may be our tastiest fish and at times the most abundant. As our waters warm, snapper in the Gulf of Mexico move closer to shore, plus many relocate to our inshore waters. What snapper lack in size they make up for in tenacity and food value, plus they may be the easiest fish to target. Many anglers catch their fair share from land while targeting bridges, docks and piers. Live shrimp is the top bait. A small hook and light leader is a must to fool their keen eyesight.

This spring has given us good snook fishing and the bite will continue through the month of May. Many are on the move, as they head to areas in and near the passes for their upcoming summer spawn. Snook may range in size from little guys barely over a foot long to big girls over 40 inches. While snook will pounce on a variety of lures and baits, live oily baitfish, including scaled sardines or pilchards, Atlantic thread herring and grunts or pigfish are the top baits. Snook are out of season and catch-and-release only.

With good high tides this month, redfish are foraging under mangrove overhangs. If you hook one, odds are you will encounter more from the same location. Live and cut bait works great, along with spoons, flies, and jerk baits with some flash.

Snook, sea trout and redfish remains closed with catch-and-release only. Visit www.myfwc for all current fishing regulations.

For a variety of fish, nearshore artificial reefs are a great place to look. Here you may hook into about anything from smaller fish like snapper to huge goliath grouper and everything in between. An assortment of tackle from light to heavy, a variety of bait and an open mind is the key to taking advantage of what these areas offer on any given day. Reefs are a great place to experiment and try different things while keeping your eyes open for unexpected visitors. Permit should make their way to many of the reefs this month. While they will eat a live shrimp, they seldom pass on a small live crab.

May will give us consistent days of great weather with blue skies and light wind. Our summer afternoon thunderstorm pattern will kick in so always keep an eye on the sky to stay ahead of an approaching storm. Good weather and the potential for great fishing, a perfect combination. Hope to see you on the water.

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.