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On the Water: A slow start with a good ending to the week

By Capt. Bill Russell - | Mar 17, 2021

Ray Murphy and gang loaded up the fish box with a limit of red grouper, plus a bunch of snapper and other fish They were fishing gulf waters west of Captiva with Capt. Sean McQuade. PHOTO PROVIDED

A cold front blew through early last week dropping the thermometer, along with gusty north winds and extreme low tides. In typical Florida fashion, we rebounded quick, and boating conditions were perfect over the weekend. 

A drop in water temperature boosted the sheepshead bite. Fish up to 18 inches were reported around Sanibel, Captiva, Cayo Costa and Gasparilla Islands, plus from the Bokeelia and Sanibel fishing piers. After the winds settled, sheepshead were caught in Gulf waters in depths from 25 to 45 feet around hard bottom, ledges and artificial reefs.  

  Mangrove and lane snapper, grunts, Spanish mackerel, a ton of blue runners and undersize grouper were caught offshore over the same bottom as sheepshead. Further offshore came reports over the weekend of good catches of red grouper beginning in depths around 80 feet. Drifting or anchoring over hard bottom and dropping squid or strip bait on heavy jig heads and butterfly rigs, plus live pinfish worked for grouper up to 29 inches. Lane and mangrove snapper, plus porgies, grunts, and triggerfish were boated as well. 

Depths from 70 to 95 feet yielded a mix of snapper, including mangrove, lane, vermilion and yellowtail. Several boats found success while anchoring up current of ledges or structure and chumming heavy. Gulf waters are really getting clear with good visibility, so it was often necessary to fish with a long, light fluorocarbon leader with small hooks and weights to fool the larger snapper.     

Inshore, the snook bite picked back up as soon as the water temperature climbed in the late week. Fish to 34 inches were caught in southern Pine Island Sound near St. James City while working artificial lures late in the day. Fish over 30 inches were caught and released in Matlacha Pass on DOA shad tails and on live pinfish, pilchards and shrimp. Fish averaging 20 to 25 inches gave good action in Pine Island Sound around the passes and barrier islands. Artificial baits worked early and late in the day, with live baits best during mid-day. 

While hunting for sheepshead around the barrier islands, anglers also hooked into a good number of redfish up to 28 inches. Most were hooked around structure near the Gulf passes.    Redfish to 29 inches were caught and released along shorelines in north Matlacha Pass and in Pine Island Sound near Pineland.     

Schools of Spanish mackerel are moving up the coast and located offshore west of Blind Pass, around Helen’s Reef and the channel west of Boca Grande Pass. Mackerel were hooked on silver spoons outside Captiva and Boca Grande passes, and in Charlotte Harbor. Ladyfish, jack crevalle, seatrout, small shark, and a few pompano were hooked along with the mackerel around inshore waters. 

Season remains closed with catch-and-release fishing only for snook, spotted seatrout and redfish  in waters of Southwest Florida from the Hernando/Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County.  Go to  www.myfwc.com  for all current and updated regulations. 

As our waters warm, fish are on the move as well as bait fish. Resident fish such as snook are moving to areas less protected from winter cold fronts and mackerel are moving into our waters. Bait fish are becoming more plentiful both inshore on the grass flats and nearshore Gulf waters. Plus, the water may have the best visibility we will see all year, it’s a great time to explore. Get on the water and enjoy it! 

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.