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On the Water: Fall fishing begins across Southwest Florida

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Sep 23, 2020

On one off the few days favorable weather allowed an offshore trip, Joe Kazlauskas and crew scored with a good catch of grouper and snapper. They were fishing west of Captiva Pass with Capt. Sean McQuade. PHOTO PROVIDED

As we put summer behind us and roll into the first week of fall, anglers will find good fishing opportunities inshore and in gulf waters.

Large bait schools are hanging over grass flats throughout Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor. Fishing around these areas produced steady action with spotted and grey trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, snapper, ladyfish, jack crevalle and sharks. If live bait fishing, a couple handfuls of crippled minnows was often all that was needed to get the bite started. Once a few fish start feeding, more generally move in. Small silver spoons and small mylar jigs also produced well.

Snook were caught and released around Redfish and Captiva passes fishing live bait on the falling tide. Snook were reported at Blind Pass, while either drifting the channel or fishing docks. Live baiters hooked snook off the eastern and western walls of Charlotte Harbor and mid to north Pine Island Sound. From land, snook were hooked after dark from both the Matlacha Drawbridge and the Sanibel Pier while freelining live shrimp or casting white buck tail jigs. Snook, along with redfish, snapper, mackerel, sea trout and ladyfish, were hooked from the Bokeelia fishing pier.

Redfish were located along Charlotte Harbor’s eastern shore, north Matlacha Pass, mid-Pine Island Sound and structure near the passes. Many of the fish are averaging 28 inches or better. Smaller reds were hooked around oyster bars and potholes in mid and southern Pine Island Sound and around Islands between St. James City and Punta Rassa.

A couple schools of hard-fighting jack crevalle were reported on the bars off eastern Char-lotte Harbor and northern Matlacha Pass. They commonly travel the same path along bars and shorelines as redfish schools this time of year. Mullet are schooling up in good numbers and are candy to big jacks. If you see a push of water or feeding commotion, make a long cast with a top water lure and hold on!

Sharks from 3 to 6 feet cooperated throughout Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor. Cut mullet and ladyfish was the bait of choice, with bulls, blacktip, spinner and lemon sharks hooked, plus a few tarpon.

Anglers looking for dinner found mangrove snapper as the best option, with fish to 15 inches caught all around Pine Island and Sanibel, plus the passes. Small live or cut baits, including pilchards, herring, pinfish and shrimp is the best choice while fishing sand holes, oyster bars, shorelines or around structure and ledges. Over the past month snapper are about everywhere inshore. Anchor up and toss out a couple handfuls of cut up bait for chum and you will learn quick if you are on the right spot.

Much of the past week held enough wind that not many fishing reports came from offshore. One good report came from depths between 80 and 90 feet west of Captiva where limits of red grouper were boxed plus mangrove and lane snapper. Snapper and grouper are moving closer to shore, plus cooler weather to the north will send migrating or pelagic species off our coast as the water cools. We should start getting reports of tripletail and cobia hook-ups, plus many other species.

Fall is officially here, time for some of our best fishing and weather of the year. The next month or so gives us so much opportunity for not only good fishing, but beautiful weather to be outdoors. Get out there and enjoy it! 

Season remains closed for snook, spotted sea trout and redfish in waters of Southwest Florida from the Hernando/Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County. You can visit www.myfwc.com for all current regulations. 

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, contact Gulf Coast Guide Service at 239-410-8576 (call or text); on the web at www.fish pineisland.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.