While Spring Break is peaking here in Southwest Florida, the spring bites are just beginning to materialize both shallow and deep. There will surely be more cool front passages to contend with over the next several weeks, which will throw us a curveball. However, anglers are now reveling in piscatorial diversity.
Great news from the inshore fishery is that snook have become more active with each passing day as they migrate coast-wise from their backcountry winter haunts. Eager to snap up a well-presented live bait, lure or fly, many reports of slot- and over-the-slot-sized fish being landed is music to the ears of light-tackle guides and anglers alike.
Adding to the inshore variety have been a host of action and tablefare species such as sheepshead, speckled trout and pompano. Jigs and shrimp have been best to fool these mainstay springtime species. Over the next few weeks, look for the sheepshead schools to complete their annual spawn and diminish in numbers, while the pompano action will increase exponentially.
Snapper, jumbo-sized porgies and red grouper have dominated the offshore landings. Full-day range, which is generally considered beyond the 20-mile mark, has yielded the best catches, although the half-day arena has been producing decent action for those willing to put forth an extra effort.
Mirroring the inshore fishery, traditional springtime species are also slowly beginning to filter into the offshore waters. Select artificial reefs and wrecks are now beginning to host a scattering of migratory cobia and the first wave of visiting permit. As the month of March progresses, expect both of these outstanding offshore targets to also increase in numbers.
Offshore: Aboard the Grand Slam, my anglers have enjoyed catching success on both half-day and full-day excursions Typical half-day trips have found us running out to the 14-mile range and full days beyond 22 miles.The bottom bite has been active, as we have been returning to port with vibrant fish boxes and weary arms.
Mixing up the action on the half days has included focusing on the early king mackerel and Spanish mackerel action over active nearshore natural substrate. Setting up and power drifting while casting ½-ounch white bucktail jigs and scaled sardines has kept the rods bent and the drags screaming. The latter part of half-day mornings have been spent working ledges and patch reef in 38 to 42 feet of water depth for a variety of snapper and red grouper.
On a recent full-day adventure with Kentucky anglers Ken Wicker and Larry Telle, the duo manage to reel in their limit of mangrove/lane snapper and grouper, while tangling with several large sharks as an added bonus. Live pinfish, shrimp, squid and herring were used for bait.
Naples/Estero Bay: Capt. Zeke Schryver, aboard the Port Of Naples Marina-based Solo Lobo II, has been treating his clientele to some solid springtime catching in the waters of Naples Bay, Rookery Bay and points north of Marco Island.
Schryver has been on top of the snook bite with area passes, residential docks and the middle bays being his top producing locations. Live scaled sardines and handpicked jumbo shrimp rigged on a 2/0 circle hook/40-pouind fluorocarbon leader combination has been his go-to presentation.
Schryver has also been landing solid numbers of pompano. Concentrating on both the incoming and outgoing tidal phases, Schryver has kept his anglers tight to limits of the tastiest member of the jack family, casting pink-and tan-colored tube jigs tipped with a fresh piece of shrimp.
For an added light-tackle bonus, Schryver has been venturing out to several nearshore areas of structure and tangling with good numbers of king mackerel. Free-lined scaled sardines and slow-trolled blue runners have been producing kings in the 10- to 30-pound class for the Solo Lobo II crew.
Ten Thousand Islands: “Strong tides and a bit of wind still has the water quality in most parts of the Ten Thousand Islands turbid,” Goodland-based fly and light-tackle specialist Capt. Paul Nocifora said. “Fishing has been (good) though when we have found clean-moving water with the presence of small baitfish.”
Working strategic parts of the larger rivers and outside creekmouths with top water lures and soft plastic jerkbaits has Nocifora’s anglers connecting with large jack crevalle and snook both early and late in the fish day. Responding to walk-the-dog style lures and natural-colored jerkbaits, jacks and snook in the 4- to 10-pound class have found their way into the landing net.
On fly trips, Nocifora has been working protected coves and oyster bar areas during the lower half of the tide phase. Small profile white/olive-colored baitfish patterns have been affording Nocifora and crew good shots at cruising redfish and staged-up snook.
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