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On the Water: Fishing Southwest Florida waters in July

By Staff | Jul 8, 2020

You can catch Spanish mackerel through the summer by looking for and fishing around schooling bait. Lauren Fleck of Georgia hooked into this mackerel while fishing with Capt. Bill Russell around schools of Atlantic thread herring in north Matlacha Pass. PHOTO PROVIDED

As travel plans have changed over the past several months, many of us are staying close to home and enjoying what is available in our back yard. Lucky for us, we are a travel and vacation destination for folks around the world. We have plenty of outdoor activities to keep us busy without traveling.

Summer snapper fishing heats up this month, as fish move inshore in good numbers and just off the coast. If a fish dinner is your target, snapper is your best bet. They are as tasty as a fish can get and have keen eyesight, making it necessary to lighten up the tackle to fool them. Fluorocarbon leader from 10 to 20-pound test is a must. Small hooks and baits deliver better hook-ups, I generally go with a 1 to 1/0 circle hook, or a small jig head. Shrimp, small pilchards and pinfish are top baits. Small pieces of cut bait is a good choice; it’s often necessary to allow the bait to lay on bottom or drift with the current in a natural manner. This is accomplished by allowing slack in the line. Many times, we keep the bail open on the reel until a fish picks up and starts running line.

From the shallow flats inshore to reefs offshore, snapper respond well to chumming. A store-bought box of chum tied off to the boat in a chum bag is the most popular. If you are cast netting your own bait, it’s possible to load up with plenty of extras. Cutting the baits up and creating a continuous flow with the current is a good tactic as well. No doubt, a box of chum is the simplest and easiest. I would recommend more than one box. It’s frustrating to finally get fish fired up then run out of chum.

Catch-and-release snook fishing is at its peak through the summer. Large females are up and down the coast surrounded by smaller males as they complete their mating rituals. Possibly the best fishing happens in the surf along the gulf beaches. Snook will swim parallel to the beach, often just a few feet from shore in search of their next meal. This offers great sight fishing possibilities. Baits vary, but artificials that mimic a small oily baitfish are best. Over the summer, breeding snook feed heavy on oily baitfish. Pilchards, thread herring, pinfish, pigfish or small mullet are top baits.

Leader is important as snook have good eyesight as well. Fishing an open area without structure, 20 to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader is a good choice. Around structure such as snags, docks, rocks and so on, then we need to bump up and fish from 30 to 50-pound leader. Circle hooks are the way to go live bait fishing, generally 1/0 to 3/0 is a good range. With circles, most fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth allowing a quick and safe release. Snook season is closed, have fun catching them but safely return them to water as quick as possible.

A fun family day on the water may include catching a mess of snapper for dinner then heading to the nearest beach. While the family is shelling, swimming or soaking up the sun, we get the opportunity to cool off in the surf while taking a chance at hooking into some snook. Our local waters have a lot to offer over the summer, I hope you 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.

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.