While the fishing has been great, perhaps the biggest story is the recent winds that have really taken hold of the Southwest Florida area.
Typical for March, the winds were high from the east, but so were the Gulf water temperatures. The combination has been great for locating clean water and baitfish while doing some rather difficult accurate casting from both shallow and deep.
Inshore anglers reveled in the spring conditions with catches of snook and redfish as well as a healthy mix of seasonal species. Coastal water temperatures fluctuated between 69 and 74 degrees. Anglers can expect this up and down trend to persist for a few more weeks due to pesky little frontal boundary crossings.
The best inshore baits of the week included live scaled sardines, live shrimp and a variety of jigs with fresh shrimp. Anglers venturing into the local coastal arena should have this trio of presentations on board to maximize the amount of species snagged and hopefully landed.
Along the beaches and up to the eight mile mark, the water is clear and the amount of baitfish increases with each passing day. The early departures helped locate surface bustle and diving seabirds that are both beacons and indicators of predatory bottom feeding. Below the surface and feasting, anglers encountered Spanish/king mackerel, a scattering of skipjack and acrobatic spinner sharks.
Trolling spoons, bucktail casting jigs, and wire-rigged live bait have been good at keeping you hooked on the action. Typical gear used for this fishing is of the light tackle variety in the 10 to 20 pound class.
Beyond the horizon, wind and high tides created lumpy conditions. However, once safely on the scene in water depths greater than 85 feet, anglers report several species keeping lines taut and rods bent to the rail.
Hard bottom areas produce red grouper catches, while ledges provide anglers with chances to refloat mangrove/yellowtail snapper. Adding to the excitement of the hard bottom, increased numbers of king mackerel are heading north. While trolling plane/spoon combinations will catch kings, a slow trolling or floating live blue runner is really hard to beat for a thrilling surface strike and howling run.
In the same range, some wrecks and artificial reefs are home to the ubiquitous goliath grouper, greater amberjack, barracuda and cobia. Live bait, chunky bait, top water lures and big flashy jigs will get the job done on this range of mars wreck dwellers.
More wind is expected so select your fishing days and locations wisely, check conditions carefully before departure and always listen to your captain.
Offshore: “This period of weather has been nice but a bit windy,” captain Brandon Lawson said. “We had to deal with the wind. Luckily he came out from the east and the fish are biting.
Lawson pointed the bow of his Port O Call Marina-based charter boat, the Solo Lobo, to select areas of natural hard bottom and artificial reefs between 85 and 100 feet of water depth. Grounded, Lawson used heavy buddy tactics along with a variety of light bait presentations to keep his groups hooked and happy.
Fresh live cut shrimp deployed deep on the hard bottom fooled mangrove, yellowtail and vermilion snapper, while live pinfish, pigfish and herring were effective in landing red grouper.
Lawson also nibbled at several tight schools of king mackerel. Trolling plane/spoon combinations, slow trolling live blue runners, and free line live herring were his methods of choice.
Naples/Estero Bay: Aboard my Port O Call Marina-based guide boat, the Grand Slam, I selected areas along the beaches, inside the passes and in the middle bay systems south of Naples towards the Marco Island. Casting a variety of presentations kept the action fun, active, and interesting for my angling groups.
Shrimp filled pour tube jigs along the beaches in 8-13ft water depth have speckled/silver trout, jack crevalle and whiting coming in large numbers on the rail. In these same areas we cast scale sardines and trolling wire-rigged Clark spoons and white bucktail jigs, resulting in catches of Spanish mackerel and occasional landings of skipjack.
In the intervening bays, inlets, points and deeper shores with current were excellent locations during both phases of the tide. Free-ranging lined-scaled sardines are taken by snook, crevalle jack and mangrove snapper while shrimp-tipped tube jigs trick pompano, ladybird and speckled trout.
Ten Thousand Islands: “The brisk wind is pushing us to look for areas of protection here in the upper reaches of Ten Thousand Island,” said Goodland-based Captain Paul Nocifora. “High wind days don’t allow us to prospect traditional territory, but my pitchers get their opportunities.”
Nocifora’s prowess as a guide took him to work on the shores of the middle of the bay and in the small protected coves loaded with oyster bass early in the fishing day. Casting the Lightbulb pattern fly in a dark and white color scheme, Nocifora’s Casters connect with snook, rockfish, mutton and large red speckled trout.
As the possibility of another windy pattern develops, Nocifora hopes the winds will stay from a more favorable easterly direction allowing the waters to retain their excellent clarity.
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