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On the Water: Ups and downs of winter fishing in Southwest Florida

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Jan 13, 2021

Dan Crain of Kentucky with a nice sheepshead he landed over the cool and windy weekend. He was fishing Matlacha Pass with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

This past week gave us winter fishing in Southwest Florida — a cold front followed by several sunny days, and another cold front for the weekend. And, of course, some north wind and extreme low tides. Reports of red tide came from our southern areas, including waters around St. James City and the beaches from Sanibel south. Most of the area to the north from mid-Pine Island Sound and up, plus Matlacha Pass and Charlotte Harbor, appeared to be free of red tide effects.  

There were several reports of good seatrout action in Pine Island Sound mid-week ahead of the cold front. Fish up to 21 inches were caught and released while fishing 3 to 6-foot grass flats or sand holes and trenches north of Demere Key and Redfish Pass. Fish were hooked on swim baits, 4-inch paddle tails on a jig head and live shrimp suspended under a cork. Spanish mackerel, jack crevalle and ladyfish were also caught.    Several anglers noted success came by locating birds working the water then drift fishing the area.

Redfish and snook were caught while casting a variety of lures, plus live shrimp, pilchards and cut mullet. Anglers found hungry fish around Blind, Redfish and Captiva passes, plus the bayside of north Captiva, Cayo Costa State Park and Bokeelia’s Burgess Bay and Jug Creek. The bite was consistent going into the weekend but stalled come Sunday with the drop in temperature. Shallow water anglers fishing from kayaks, report snook, redfish and seatrout to complete a slam, from north Matlacha Pass near the mouth of Pine Island Creek and Jug Creek.

Season remains closed for snook, spotted seatrout 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.

A few pompano and small permit were reported in Pine Island Sound between Cabbage Key and Captiva Pass along sandy bottom bar edges. They were hooked on shrimp under a cork or pompano jigs. Spanish mackerel, seatrout and ladyfish were hooked as well.

The sheepshead bite was not nearly what we expect for the first week of the year. Nice fish were caught, just not in good numbers.  Myself and several other boats took advantage of calm weather mid-week and landed sheepshead up to 4 pounds, plus snapper and grunts in gulf water fishing depths from 25 to 40 feet. Sheepshead were reported around oyster bars in south Matlacha Pass and all the usual locations around the gulf islands and passes. Many of the inshore areas also held redfish, a few black drum and way too many jack crevalle. A few of the jack crevalle were later used as bait to entice black tip and sand bar sharks around the gulf passes.

Further west in gulf waters, as weather allows, boats are boxing red grouper up to 30 inches, plus the usual mix of mangrove and lane snapper, grunts and porgy. A few king mackerel were landed on live baits on a flat line as well. Fish were reported in depths from 60 to 95 feet.

The recent cold fronts brought a drop in water temperature. While this may turn off many species, it might be just what we need to give a boost to sheepshead fishing over the upcoming weeks.     

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.