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NAPLES — Although the calender says we have several weeks to go before it is officially summer, it seems as though the inshore fishing for snook and reds has hit the summer doldrums.
Bait has been anywhere from difficult to impossible, especially with the rollers we had coming onto the beach from the south. If you can get the bait, you will do OK on snook, but the reds are widely scattered.
With bait so difficult, many anglers are using shrimp on a jig or on a hook under a popping cork. Some trout, sheepshead, jacks, and even flounder are providing action for anglers trying these combinations.
Spanish mackerel are around in some good numbers, and at times can be close enough to the beach that you can hit them with a beach umbrella. These fish are gorging themselves on the pods of small (1- to 1 1/2-inch) baits that can be found near shore and even farther offshore. Besides the mackerel, jacks, ladyfish, sharks, and even tarpon can be found around these brown spots in the water.
Speaking of tarpon, an angler I know went out on Saturday, and after netting some large threads, he went looking for the large silver things. While he saw tarpon in and around a number of these bait pods, not one was willing to take his offering of a fresh threadfin herring. Oh so frustrating.
For the offshore anglers, the principal action continues to be the red grouper. If you are willing to run out about 25 to 30 miles, you will have a good chance of bringing "Red" home for dinner. The captains I spoke with said the trip out there takes longer than it does to get five or six limits of grouper onboard. After that is done, they have been turning their attention to snapper, and by that I mean yellowtails.
Drifting a small bait on light line back in the chum line is producing some nice fish, and the occasional mangrove snapper, too.
Other offshore attractions have been the king mackerel and the sharks. The kings have been running from five to 15 pounds and are great fun on light tackle. While fishing for the kings (and the grouper), quite a few small sharks and an occasional large one are being hooked.
Offshore: Capt. Tom Robinson had a full day on Saturday with David Nelson and his group. They headed west out of Gordon's Pass and didn't stop for 25 miles.
When they did drop lines, the baits were quickly gobbled up, and rods bent with some great red grouper action. With great water under them and sunny skies above, the group quickly put a limit of 12 nice reds in the box. The fish ranged up to 28 inches, and were all caught within a couple hundred yards of one another.
After that, Capt. Tom got the chum line going, and before long, the yellowtail were in the slick. Along with six nice yellowtail that were boated, there was one large mangrove snapper that joined the party. To end the trip, they got into some kings and boated five.
Onboard the "Capt. Marvel," Capt. Mike Avinion also said that the grouper fishing was really good.
His full-day trip on Saturday had him out about the same distance as Robinson, where Max Selig and his group had their limits of red grouper by 10:45 in the morning. They were actually able to be picky since they landed about 30 keeper-sized fish. The ones kept were in the 24- to 28-inch range.
Selig's group also got into kings, where the smallest was about five pounds, and the largest close to 20 pounds. For extra excitement, they tangled with some goliath grouper, and managed to get three to the boat for release. The fish were 30 pounds, 80 pounds, and a whopper of 150!
Naples/Estero: Capt. Jim Wheeler has been working the near shore recently. On one trip, he had Bill and Barbara Jarrell out for a half day of fishing, and they encountered a nice variety of critters.
Spanish mackerel in the 20- to 25-inch range provided a lot of action on light gear. On the bottom, a few mangrove snapper were willing to cooperate, and even two barracuda were hooked. The highlight of the trip was several blacktips, with the largest going about 40 inches.
In the Estero Bay area, Capt. Steve Nagy says the bait has disappeared. He has been getting some threads around the bridge and buying shrimp to use on his charters.
Using the threads around the docks on Tuesday, his anglers boated four nice gag grouper, with the largest hitting 24 inches. For those of you who have never tangled with a large, shallow water gag around structure, that is quite an accomplishment. Steve's anglers (Lloyd and friend) also put the shrimp to use, catching a variety of fish, including sheepshead and reds.
Ten Thousand Islands: Fishing out of Goodland, Capt. Stacy Mullendore says the fishing has been steady, but you have to work at it.
He is catching up to a half dozen snook each trip, and has been getting the occasional slot fish mixed in, with the average (three- to five-pound) fish. Small blacktips have been searching for food on the flats, and Stacy has been having anglers tangle with the mostly three-foot fish.
While doing this, they have been surprised at times when a tarpon grabs a bait and heads for the stars. His most recent was a nice, 80-pound fish. Some nice-sized trout have been eating baits, too, and when you find them, they are all in the 16- to 20-inch range. The water along the beaches is clear on the incoming tide, which makes for decent fishing.
Capt. Pat Gould also says that bait has been a challenge recently. On Tuesday, he was able to come up with about three dozen and his angler, a 9-year-old boy, did just fine with them and some shrimp, too.
A mixed bag of fish, including mackerel, snook, and a large flounder, ate the three dozen baits, and then they went to jigs and nailed the pompano. Pat says he hasn't seen much in the way of tarpon recently. Water quality is good.