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On the Water: Fish will be on the move in October

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Oct 7, 2020

Who needs a fishing pole! Adam Rogowski and Jake Snyder with a large mangrove snapper and huge black or carbo grouper they speared off our coast last week. They were spear fishing in 130 feet of water with Capt. Sean McQuade. PHOTO PROVIDED

October is a refreshing month for anglers in Southwest Florida. After a long, hot summer, we finally get relief with cooler days and lower humidity. That combination can get your blood pumping and energy up for some good fishing. And good fishing we come to expect this month as fish are active, hungry and on the move.

You can’t talk inshore fishing without putting redfish at the top of the list. October is the month when large schools of big redfish devour anything in their path across our inshore waters. Fishing will peak for the big bull reds this month as they will begin their migration offshore once the first real cold fronts begin to drop in. Exactly when that will be only time will tell — if the weather remains mild the big fish can entertain us throughout the entire month.

Look for schools of reds pushing water along bar edges throughout the inshore flats and inside the gulf passes.

It’s also a great month to target snook throughout the inshore waters. Snook of all sizes are on the move as they transition from their summer homes around the gulf beaches and make way towards their winter haunts throughout the inshore waters. Snook are often ganged up at feeding stations, or an area they can ambush their next meal. Target island points, creek mouths, oyster bars and structure with a good tide flow. It’s possible to hook several dozen or more from one ambush point.

Snook, sea trout and redfish remain catch-and-release only from the Pasco-Hernando county line up around Tampa, south to Gordan Pass in Collier County, basically blanketing our area of Southwest Florida. This closure is due to the devastating fish kills we experienced a few summers ago.    No harvest will allow the stocks to rebuild quicker. You can still enjoy some great catch and release fishing of all three species, they just need to be released as quickly as possible. 

Gag grouper is another fish that is on the move as they begin to make their way inshore and nearshore. Catching gag grouper over a shallow water inshore wreck or reef is some of the most challenging fishing you will find. They hit like a freight train and run straight to the safety of the structure, unlike offshore where you fish them vertical or from straight above, inshore you are away from the structure and make a long cast, just like snook fishing. They have the advantage, you break off more big ones than you land, but it’s exciting, and if you get a big one to the boat, season is open. Many anglers successfully target grouper in 30 to 40-foot depths in gulf waters while trolling large, lipped diving lures over the next couple months.

Over the past few week’s pompano catches were on the rise and this should continue. Most of the action came from areas around bar drop-offs inside the gulf passes. For bait, shrimp and a host of small nylon and pompano jigs are what most anglers prefer. Pompano primarily feed off the bottom, so keep the bait down whether doing a slow bouncing retrieve or fishing live shrimp.

As the month progresses, we can expect to hear reports of cobia, king mackerel, tripletail and other fish moving south of our coast. Fishing over nearshore reefs will provide action with snapper, grouper, Spanish mackerel and possibly our first push of sheepshead as the water cools.  

October is a month that you can either target certain species of fish or be less specific and just get in the mix of a feeding frenzy and see what’s there. Often a host of different species are ganged up on the same bait pod, it’s common to catch a half dozen or more different species from one area. Local waters, both inshore and off, are loaded with bait schools of all sizes right now. As always, birds and feeding activity is the best way to find the action.

Don’t be surprised if there are some larger fish lurking — keep a heavy rod rigged and ready for that cobia, tarpon, shark or whatever else might make a presence.    While targeting a specific species can become challenging and at times frustrating, looking for action with whatever might be feeding around bait schools will give you plenty of action and fun. Plus, that elusive fish that you were targeting might just show up when least expected.

Most anglers that have fished our waters for any length of time agree that October is one of the best months of the year to fish. It has it all, great weather, hungry fish, and the winter crowds have not yet returned. What more could you ask for in one month! 

 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.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.