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NAPLES — I don't know what happened to fall, but it seems as though we went from summer fishing to winter fishing in the space of a couple of weeks.
The cold fronts are streaming down from the north with regularity, bringing the big winds that have become the norm for the past 10 days or so. When you have two-foot seas in the bays in October, something is seriously wrong, and if that isn't enough, we now have the minor threat of a late season hurricane later this weekend. Give us a break!
Fishing this past week has been affected, too. Not just the fact that a number of anglers just decided to stay home, but with strong north/northeast winds, the morning low tides have increased Florida real estate dramatically. Just how low was it? I saw someone plowing for corn this morning. You could hit bottom in any number of channels.
The bite for reds is still the best bet for inshore anglers, with the fish running in the 17- to 24-inch range, for the most part. When they are eating, they will pretty much eat anything you put in front of them, from artificials to a shrimp or cut bait. When they turn off the bite, I don't think even dynamite would work.
Snook have had their ups and down the last week, with some really good days and catches reported, and then there are the "other" days.
Some of the year's biggest fish are being caught around and in the passes, and some of these "big girls" are hitting the 20-pound mark. Big baits for big fish is the rule for these fish. Try a big pinfish or a very large pilchard, and weight it down in the current. In the bays and around the islands, there are plenty of smaller fish (at least in the Naples to Estero area) and they are eating shrimp, live pilchard or pins, as well as jigs and plugs.
The tarpon action that was going on in the early mornings seems to have been blown away (pun intended) in the last week. Maybe if we get a break, it will pick back up, but that is not likely, as the water temperatures are cooling fast.
Offshore anglers had to have strong stomachs and a big desire in order to brave the wild seas this past week. With winds upward of 20 knots on some days, the Gulf was a tad choppy.
Of the two captains I spoke with that did get out, the results were surprisingly good. Dramamine helped, but you wanted to make sure that you were not downwind of someone with a green complexion. The big question is, what will the track of the storm take, and how will it affect Southwest Florida, and not just the fishing.
Naples/Estero Bay: Friday morning, I had the pleasure of going out with Rudy Zikesch (86 years old) and his younger cousin Paul Rathke (only 79).
Bait was tough to come by in the morning, so we were using mostly shrimp on a jig. Rudy was hot. Once he got started, he was hard to stop. He would pitch his jig into his sweet spot, and a lot of the time the rod was instantly bent.
Cousin Paul was a little slow to start; he was after quality not quantity. He landed the big snook of the day, about 27 inches and six pounds. Between the two senior citizens, they landed 21 reds and 18 snook in four hours of fishing. A few jacks, sheepshead, and ladyfish joined in the fray, and all in all a great time for all involved, especially me.
Capt. Steve Nagy says that the fall migration of the near-shore species such as mackerel, kings, and bonita should be under way, if and when the seas settle down.
When he was able to get off the beach, he would look for the birds diving on bait to find fish, and use bucktails, spoons, or a live bait to coax a bite. Some of the mackerel are running in the three- to five-pound range, and even a few bluefish are making their appearance.
Snook are starting their move to winter haunts, and can be found on the inner islands and even back to the creeks. On a recent trip with Larry Culp and son Andrew, a good number of snook were boated and released, including a jumbo 38-inch fish caught by Andrew, followed 30 minutes later with a 33-incher caught by Dad.
Ten Thousand Islands: Recent winds have churned up the water pretty badly, which has slowed the bite somewhat, but Capt. Jeff Lugutki has been out there throwing flys and plugs with some success.
Blind casting to likely points and shoreline, Jeff has had anglers on both reds and snook. Most of the snook are running smaller, with the upper-sized ones in the 25- to 26-inch range, and the reds are in the 17- to 24-inch group.
With a lot of very small baits coming in with the tide, Capt. Lugutki has been "matching the hatch," using a small sparse white fly to coax the bite. The tarpon that had been active on the early morning outgoing seem to have left, at least for now. Recently Jeff had onboard Dr. Max Kamermann, and he did a good job on reds up to 26 inches, as well as a number of aggressive jack crevalle in the four- to seven-pound range.
Capt. Steve Hatcher has been running south into the park to find better water conditions recently. Bait availability is zip, so Steve has been loading up on shrimp to use on jigs.
The best bite has been with the reds running in the 17- to 24-inch range, and when located will eagerly eat the offered shrimp. Some smaller snook are taking the jigs as well, but the better story is the improving bite with trout. Fish ranging in the 15- to 18-inch range are being hooked in the same areas where Steve is finding reds. James Moore nailed reds to 24 inches on a recent trip, as well as getting into jacks and ladyfish.
Offshore: Capt. Bob Fisher of the "Sea Spirit" had a couple of groups that just had to get out fishing, and he made it happen.
On Saturday, he had Don Jorgensen, along with two sons and three grandkids, onboard. Worried about heavy seas, they only ventured out about eight miles in three- to four-foot waves. The trip was worth it, and the kids were kept busy with bent rods. Among the catch were numbers of short grouper, nice lane snapper, mangrove snapper, bluefish, and three blacktip sharks that were about three feet long. Everyone had a great time, and the fillets were cooked up as soon as the boat docked. Monday's trip resulted in similar results, along with some four-pound Spanish mackerel.
Winds Tuesday were up to 20 knots, but Capt. Tom Robinson had a group of hearty souls that just had to go.
After a slow and wild ride out about 20 miles, three out of four of Ed Fulmer's group were adding their own chum to the seas, but it was worth it. Not only did they end up with five keeper gag grouper to 31 inches (and 17 pounds), a beastly 42-inch cobia inhaled a bait, and after quite a battle was brought on board. It weighed out at 35 pounds! One keeper red at 24 inches as well as lots of shorts made the day. Oh, and to top that off, they fought and landed a seven-foot nurse shark.