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On the Water: May brings great weather and great fishing

By Capt. Bill Russell - | May 5, 2021

The Fultons hooked, landed, got a quick photo and safely released three big redfish at the same time recently. They were fishing near Captiva Island with Capt. Tony Price. PHOTO PROVIDED

The month of May kicks off our slow season as neighbors and visitors head north for the summer. While tourist season may be slowing down with less boats on the water, fishing may be at its peak.

This is the height of tarpon season and likely the best time to hook into a “Silver King.” They move up the coast and into Southwest Florida waters by the thousands. Look for them a short distance off the beaches, around the Gulf passes and bridges, plus throughout the inshore waters, including Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor and San Carlos Bay. Tarpon eat a wide variety of bait, however at times they will not eat anything you offer. Live baits including crabs, Atlantic thread herring, pinfish and large shrimp are top choices while a variety of cut bait, including mullet, ladyfish and catfish tails, hook more than their share. Large numbers of anglers and tarpon concentrate in Boca Grande Pass for high adrenaline bumper boat fishing. The best time for the pass is afternoon falling or hill tides as small crabs flush through the inlet by the thousands.

Sharks large and small are roaming the inshore waters, around the Gulf passes, and offshore around schooling baitfish and reefs. Large hammerhead and bull sharks follow tarpon schools awaiting their next meal. Spinner and blacktip sharks are almost identical in appearance and both offer an incredibly hard fight, often with a great aerial show. If you are fishing an area and hooking ladyfish or mackerel, you can be assured sharks are nearby. A chunk of ladyfish is sure to get attention — use a minimum of a foot or two of wire leader to prevent cut offs.

Spanish mackerel is an underrated fish that gives an excellent fight as they are super-fast and strong. When iced down as soon as they are caught and eaten fresh, they are very good on the table. Good numbers of schooling mackerel frequent areas just outside or inside the Gulf passes, around bridges, and artificial reefs within sight of land. Either trolling or casting silver spoons with a fast retrieve is the top method for consistently hooking mackerel.

Mangrove snapper may be our tastiest fish and at times the most abundant. As our waters warm, snapper in the Gulf of Mexico move closer to shore, plus many relocate to our inshore waters. What snapper lack in size they make up for in tenacity and food value, plus they may be the easiest fish to target. Many anglers catch their fair share from land while targeting bridges, docks and piers. Live shrimp is the top bait, a small hook and light leader is a must to fool their keen eyesight.

This spring has given us good snook fishing and the bite will continue through the month of May. Many are on the move, as they head to areas in and near the passes for their upcoming summer spawn. Snook may range in size from little guys barely over a foot long to big girls over 40 inches. While snook will pounce on a variety of lures and baits, live oily baitfish, including scaled sardines or pilchards, Atlantic thread herring,and grunts or pigfish are the top baits. Expect to catch redfish and large sea trout mixed with the snook.

Season remains closed for trout, snook and redfish in  waters of Southwest Florida from the Hernando/Pasco county line south through Gordon Pass in Collier County.  Visit www.myfwc,com for all current fishing regulations and to give your input and suggestions on snook, trout and redfish closures.

For a variety of fish, nearshore artificial reefs are a great place to look. Here you may hook into about anything from smaller fish like snapper to huge goliath grouper and everything in between. An assortment of tackle from light to heavy, a variety of bait and an open mind is the key to taking advantage of what these areas offer on any given day. Reefs are a great place to experiment and try different things while keeping your eyes open for unexpected visitors. Permit should make their way to many of the reefs this month. While they will eat a live shrimp, they seldom pass on a small live crab.

May, with luck, should give us consistent days of great weather with blue skies and light wind. Our summer afternoon thunderstorm pattern will kick in so always keep an eye on the sky to stay ahead of an approaching storm. Good weather, fewer anglers and the potential for great fishing, what’s not to like about the 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.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.