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On the Water: Cold days of February gradually turn warmer

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Feb 3, 2021

A cool day on the water. Matlacha's own Leoma Lovegrove and her fishing gang scored with a nice catch of snapper and sheepsheads over a cool morning of fishing. They were fishing out of Tarpon Lodge with Captain Jason Ramer. PHOTO PROVIDED

Waters around southwest Florida affords us a choice of fishing opportunities as we move towards the close of winter with spring in sight. While some fish are completing their spawning duties, others are just beginning. February will bring us cold days followed with a warming trend. By the later part of the month, cold days should become less numerous followed with a gradual rise in water temperature. 

The winter run of sheepsheads peaks this month as the larger fish complete their spawning duties. Sheepshead school around structure with a good tidal flow inshore, around the beaches, and nearshore. They are the one fish that thrive in the cold with the best bite often coming over the coldest days. Sheepshead are one of Florida’s tastiest fish and get a good deal of attention from anglers fishing from boat and land. Many of the public docks, piers, and bridges offer excellent sheepshead fishing for shore bound anglers. Sheepshead catches are down this year by most reports, but numbers could increase through the month. 

As the month passes, warming waters and the return of schooling bait fish will mark the beginning to some of the largest sea trout of the year. Large trout are locally known as “gators” or “gator trout” and exceed well over twenty inches, often pushing thirty inches. They are moving onto the inshore grass flats, as well as oyster bars, and deeper holes. These larger fish are often egg laden as we approach their spawning season. Enjoy the battle, snap a quick picture while handling them with care and return them to the water.  There is a closed season on all sea trout currently in the waters around Pine Island, all fish must be released safely.  

The snook bite well fire off with the return of bait fish and warming waters. In my opinion, snook are our top inshore sportfish. I am often asked, “If you could only target one fish, what would it be?” Snook is always my answer. Large or small, they fight hard, are full of tenacity, and have the natural instinct to head to the nearest structure and break off. It’s very easy to get addicted and catch snook fever. Snook season is also closed, please take measures to assure a safe release. 

While redfish tolerate the cold, their numbers and appetite increase as winter nears its end. They range in size from little guys barely a foot long to over thirty inches. While snook have fast blazing runs, dramatic leaps from the water, and head for the nearest structure, redfish are in a different category. They fight like a bull, not fast but super strong and don’t know the word quit. They fight hard from start to finish.  Redfish are found in the areas previously mentioned for sheepshead, sea trout, and snook as well as under mangrove over hangs. Many anglers choose to sight fish reds when they are tailing and pushing wake as they hunt for prey over the shallow flats. Negative low tides offer great opportunities, particularly early morning, and late afternoon. Redfish season is closed, catch and release only.  

In the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, fish are on the move as they follow the water temperature. King and Spanish mackerel along with bonito or false albacore are off the coast and often in large schools, look for bait schools and feeding birds to locate the hungry fish. If you are lucky you may hook into a blackfin tuna. Cobia, a local favorite, that is often mistaken for a shark may show up at any time around your boat while fishing offshore or inshore. Bottom fishing around reefs could yield a variety including sheepsheads, various snapper, grouper, pompano, permit, and flounder to name a few. Also, keep an eye open for triple tail sunning on their side around floating objects. 

The transition from late winter into early spring can offer some of the best fishing the area offers. As days get longer and water temperatures rise, hungry fish of all sizes invade coastal waters. We touched on some of the most popular game fish for anglers, yet there are many more we didn’t mention. Make sure and keep up on current fishing regulations, you can go to www.myfwc.com for the latest information.  

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.