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NAPLES — Temperatures are trending slightly lower, and the winds have been much lighter than a week or so ago when the surfers were out on the beach.
More schools of bait are showing up, and that brings the mackerel, bonita, sharks, and other species to our near-shore waters once again. The cooler water has also been good for the inshore species as they start the fall "feed-a-thon." Snook, reds, and trout are bending poles up and down the coast. Typically, the fall is when we get some of our biggest fish. And unlike in the spring when spawning is a priority, eating is the only priority at this time of year.
Some real nices catches of trout are being reported, with fish up to 28 inches making it into the boat. It looks like we may be able to keep trout year round if the current recommendations are made final before the normal November closure date. Along with the trout, we are still seeing more flounder this year than most longtime anglers can remember.
The tarpon are still chasing the schools of mullet that are ranging from right on the beach to maybe a half mile offshore. If you are lucky enough to have a few live mullet before the sun is up, make sure to poke around the passes. I spoke to one person who had repeated hookups over the weekend well before the sun started to rise.
Don't forget to come out to Calusa Marina in Goodland on Saturday to show support for the Wounded Warrior "Take a Soldier Fishing" day. About 40 captains will be taking about 80 Warriors out for a day of fishing. Weigh-in is at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Ten Thousand Islands: Capt. Shane Miller has been doing well on snook this past week. He is averaging about 12 snook per trip, and they are ranging up to 30 inches, with most of the fish in the 24- to 26-inch range.
Shane is using live bait for the snook, and he is catching some trout on the bait, too. His trout are eating shrimp on a jig, and the fish are running 17 to 22 inches. Lots of big jacks are on the move, and are providing some wrist-breaking action as they go after the live bait. Water temperatures have ranged from 83 to 86 degrees recently, and the water is fairly clean.
Reds -- and lots of them -- are making for happy anglers on Capt. Stacy Mullendore's trips. He is using small live bait or finger mullet most of the time, but a shrimp under a popping cork works, too.
Along with the reds, a number of flounder are being hauled in, as well as a few smaller snook. The reds are from two different year groups. Last year's little guys are now in the 22- to 23-inch range, and the new group is running around 15 inches. Stacy also has been doing well on trout. His fish have been in the 14- to 17-inch range, and there are plenty in the slot.
Naples/Estero Bay: In Estero Bay, Capt. Neil Eisner has been doing real well with both snook and reds. He has been favoring the outgoing tides for the better bites and has been hitting spots where the wind and tide are moving in the same direction.
He recently found a new spot in Hellpeckney Bay where on a recent trip they landed 15 slot reds up to a 29-inch monster, and a bunch of shorts, too. Big snook also are eating baits, and many of these are mid- to upper-slot fish. Snapper are all over the place and very aggressive.
Capt. Seth Hayes has been seeing a lot of fish on most of his trips. He has started off using topwater plugs for the first hour. On one morning, his angler was rewarded with a huge, 28-inch trout that inhaled a plug. Seth has been nailing trout in the 17- to 24-inch range on a regular basis using bait that he has chummed up on the grass flats. The water has cleared up a lot since the big winds of a week or so ago.
Offshore: Ken Strasson ran out 25 miles the other day looking for a keeper gag or two, but the water was a little to rough to proceed to his "spot," which was another 10 miles.
Fishing structure and hard bottom, Ken and crew managed to catch upward of 50 red grouper and one gag. However, none made legal size, and were all returned to the water.
Most of the released fish didn't make it back to the bottom. Several dolphin hounded the boat and ate virtually every released fish. For those of you who have experienced this, it is very frustrating. You are trying to properly release your fish so that it might grow to legal size, and these freeloaders just eat them. And you can't always just move and hope they will not follow. I have had them follow me for a mile or so in the past.
Running out of Naples, Capt. Tom Robinson fished three days recently, and did well on all.
On Friday, he took Mitch Mason and his group out for a full day of fishing. By 11 a.m., the group had limited out on big red grouper, and then went looking for other species. While trolling, they found some very willing bonita that provided some quick action. A few of the bonita were then used to coax bites from some three-and-a-half to four-foot long barracuda. The catch of the day was made after a big cobia wandered by, and was hooked and lost several times before he stayed on the line all the way in. It was a nice 45- pounder.
Saturday, Mike D'Armon and group also limited out on red grouper, and put two keeper gags in the boat as well. They also got into some nice yellowtail snapper and mangroves, too. Of course, they had to wrestle with a few goliaths in the 30- to 80-pound range before heading in.