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NAPLES — Our community can be proud of the warm welcome given to the soldiers and their families that participated in the second annual "Take A Soldier Fishing" weekend.
Seventy soldiers from McDill Air Force Base in Tampa (home to Central Command and Special Ops forces) and their families were taken care of, from soup to nuts, by generous contributions by many different organizations and individuals. Calusa Marina, Stock Development (Players Club at Lely), Dolphin Transportation, Quality Inn, Coastal Beverage, Tamiami Ford and the Collier County Sheriffs Office all played a part in this successful event.
Forty boats and 46 captains also volunteered to take this group out for a day of inshore fishing. Everyone who participated was a winner, but for the weigh-in, the rankings were: 1. Mike Wieczonek and James Stafford (Capt. Troy Pruitt), 2. Chad Cothron and James Stafford (Capt. Chris Turner and Tom Mahoney), 3. Leona McKoy and Mike McKoy (Capt. Robert Soto and Jesse Karen). A special thank you to Steve and Jamie Lloyd for their countless hours.
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Last year, at this time the big fishing story was the arrival of schools of small redfish. These fish were in the 15- to 16-inch range at the time, and it was not uncommon to land 20 or more in a single outing.
Well, they are back and starting to school up around the islands and bars, willing to eat pretty much anything you throw their way. Most of those fish are in the 18- to 23-inch range now, and the good news is that we have another year class mixed in with them. With a second year of smaller fish, our population of reds is better than anytime in recent history.
That the reds are here doesn't mean that the snook have taken a vacation. Snook are still very much a strong part of the inshore fishery, from way down in the Ten Thousands Islands up through Estero Bay.
Down in the Islands, the snook population is still recovering from the kill off in 2010, but the good news is that snook are being caught and released up and down the coast. Especially gratifying are the 12- to 14-inch little guys that are setting up home down in the upper Ten Thousand Islands.
Some really large trout are being picked off by anglers while fishing for other species. Also, some small schools are appearing, which is amazing considering the temperature of the water. Some good catches are around deeper water off points and near passes, as well as on outside grass flats. Picking up a flounder or two while trout fishing is quite common.
For those of you who like to hit the mackerel schools, they are here. Reports of Spanish mackerel running up to five pounds are not unusual. They will eat a live bait or attack a fast-moving artificial. For those of you new to mackerel fishing, watch out for the teeth!
Farther offshore, red grouper continue to fill ice chests of those anglers willing to venture out to a little deeper water. It seems that if you work some good bottom in wate 50 feet or better, your chances of a keeper are better. The gags are not appearing in large numbers, and most anglers feel that is because the water is still too warm. Gags used to be legal in the winter when they venture closer to shore.
Ten Thousand Islands: Capt. Pete Rapps says the fishing is awesome for reds and trout south of Everglades City. He has been doing real well on slot reds, trout up to 22 inches, and even a number of flounder.
Snook have been active on the outside edges, but as the water temperature starts to drop, they will begin the annual migration to the backcountry. On a recent trip with Rick Ladermann and his dad, Capt. Rapps put them on the reds and trout. At the end of the day, there was plenty of filets in the cooler.
Jim Davidson fished with Capt. Glen Puopolo for three days recently, and they worked over the reds pretty good. Fish ranged from 18 inches to a huge, 33-inch, 15-pound monster. They also caught and released snook in the 25-inch range. Glen says that the trout are showing up on the grass flats in good numbers. For bait, he is mostly using shrimp and finger mullet.
Naples/Estero Bay: On Monday, I had the pleasure of fishing with Dave Cassidy, his daughter Wylie, and John Preeg.
While the weather was miserable, the fishing was great. After chumming for bait and filling the well, we went in search of fish. Our first spot resulted in several nice reds, a 22-inch trout, and one snook. Several large fish broke off.
As we moved down the bank, we continued to get more reds and a jack crevalle. The fish were eating just about any bait we threw out. We used shrimp, pilchards, pinfish, and cut bait. By 1 p.m., we were run off the water again, and called it a day. After fishing only about three hours, we had boated over 30 reds up to about 25 inches, a half-dozen snook, and other assorted critters of the sea.
Capt. Steve Nagy had a great time with large Spanish mackerel and good-sized trout. He said the macks were running four to five pounds, while the trout were all over 15 inches. He was using live menhaden, and when he tossed a bait out, if it made it to the bottom, he caught a trout. If it didn't, he caught mackerel. Not a bad situation.
Offshore: Onboard the "Cuda," on Sunday, Capt. Mike Lucas took angler Mike and his family out for a three-quarter day offshore.
Running out to 56 feet of water, they caught a bunch of red grouper, including a limit of eight to 26 inches using cut bait. The water was at 85 degrees and nice. After the grouper, they targeted a school of mackerel and landed many up to three pounds.
Capt. Tom Robinson went out on Friday for a half day with Jason and friends from Savannah, Ga.
Running out about 10 miles, they hit some short gags and reds to start off, and then Capt. Tom got the guys something bigger to play with. First off was a 27-pound king mackerel that took a half pinfish on the bottom. Then it was goliath time, and three were hooked, caught and released at the same time. The three fish ranged from 30 to 80 pounds. Tom says the water was greenish, but that didn't seem to bother the fish.