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On the Water: It’s looking like it’s time for holiday fishing

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Dec 28, 2020

Like father like sons! Captain Tony Price spent a day on the water with his two boys Trey and Zack and they teamed up on a couple big gag grouper. PHOTO PROVIDED

As we head into the holiday week, cool fronts continue to drop down. A day or two after a front moves past, the wind settles down allowing for offshore fishing.  Inshore anglers are less affected as anglers often seek protected areas to fish. That’s the routine in winter, a cold front with a couple windy and cools days, followed by several days with perfect weather, then repeat. 

Offshore, grouper were boated in depths from thirty to ninety feet. Gag grouper up to thirty-one inches came from depths between thirty and fifty feet. Undersize red grouper released from the shallower depths with the larger reds up to twenty-eight inches from deeper water. Lane and mangrove snapper, grunts and porgy also came over the same bottom as the red grouper. Gag grouper season closes at the end of the month, time is running out to invite one home for dinner.  

Closer to the coast, over depths from 25 to 45 feet, anglers report a mixed catch of sheepsheads, snapper, grunts, flounder, Spanish mackerel, blue runners, and the previously mentioned grouper. Some areas were good on a given day and others slow, often requiring boats to fish several areas to get on a bite. Reports of Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia, bonito, and sharks came from artificial reefs in these depths as well. 

Sheepshead fishing inshore is slowly getting better as water temperatures cool down.  Anglers found sheepsheads in south Matlacha Pass around deep oyster bars and creeks, under docks around St. James, Tarpon Bay on Sanibel, Captiva’s Roosevelt Channel, and around north Captiva and Cayo Costa State Park.  The Bokeelia Fishing Pier, Matlacha Draw Bridge, and areas around the Blind Pass Bridge also yielded sheepsheads for shore bound anglers. Fresh shrimp cut in half and threaded on a small sharp j-hook or circle hook with a small sliding egg sinker and a couple feet of 20 fluorocarbon leader is one of the most popular sheepsheads rigs.  Unlike most of our fish, the colder it gets the better sheepshead like it; often they feed best on the coldest, nastiest days. Sheepsheads are off to a little later start this year but should pick up in the upcoming days. 

Anglers are reporting scattered redfish in Matlacha Pass and Pine Island Sound. Many of the fish are on the small side known as “rat reds” averaging from fourteen to seventeen inches.  While these juvenile fish are small, they put op a great fight. In Matlacha Pass reds were caught under the mangroves in the washouts of some of the deeper creeks and around the perimeter of oyster bars. In the Sound, potholes, deep mangrove shorelines, and creek mouths from Blind Pass down to Tarpon Bay on Sanibel. For baits, a live shrimp fished under a popping cork, freelined, or on bottom with a small split-shot sinker was hard to beat. Shrimp tipped eighth or quarter ounce jigs and Gulp shrimp also got their attention.   

For action with a variety of fish, keep an eye out for feeding birds. Inshore it often indicates a school of ladyfish, a favorite if you just want action. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jack crevalle, sea trout, and possibly sharks are often with the ladies.  In gulf waters, birds could indicate Spanish and king mackerel, bonito, jack crevalle, sharks, and others. Over the past several weeks large blacktip and spinner sharks were common around feeding activity and artificial reefs.  

 With cooler temperatures, bonnethead sharks are common inshore. Most run under four feet, are lightning fast and a lot of fun to catch on light tackle. Bonnetheads prefer shrimp over fish type baits. Many people mistake them for a hammerhead as they look very similar. A whole shrimp under a popping cork with a long shank hook, or a short trace of light wire leader is a great rig for hooking and landing them. Like all sharks, they have a mouth full of small teeth so be careful when handling. 

 I hope during the holiday week good weather allows everyone a chance to get on the water and enjoy or outdoors. From my Family to yours, Merry Christmas.  

 Holiday gift certificates are available.

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 South-west Florida, and as a professional fishing guide for the past 23 years.