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NAPLES — It was Tuesday morning, and I was fishing the near offshore reefs off Bonita Beach with my fishing buddy Bill Hickman. Nearly calm seas, bright sunny skies, and beautiful clear water made for the best of settings.
In about three hours of fishing we landed (and released) five nice gag grouper, with the smallest being about 20 inches and the other four above 22, with the largest hitting the scales at over 10 pounds. If you have friends or relatives up north, please don't share this with them because they will become depressed.
I know that at some point we will have to endure a cold spell that lasts more than two days, but if we can hold out for a while more we might just transition into spring and start chasing snook and tarpon again! In the meantime, we can concentrate on catching the multitude of species that are available at this time of year. On a recent trip with a group from the Dunes Fishing Club, we counted 14 different species without counting catfish!
Offshore, the cooler water has pushed the red grouper farther offshore, but they are still very willing to eat a bait. The boats venturing out 30 miles or more have been consistently hooking fish ranging from 20 to 29 inches.
As the reds move farther out, the gags are heading in the other direction, as evidenced by the above mentioned catch. Along with the grouper, there are some concentrations of amberjack around certain wrecks, as well as an isolated cobia. Cut sardines, squid, and live pinfish are the baits of choice. Flat seas make the longer runs fairly pleasant.
Ten Thousand Islands: Capt. Rob Walczak was out on Monday with Dwight Walton, and they worked the outside points and cuts using shrimp or shrimp-tipped jigs to coax the bite.
The water was very low and somewhat dingy early in the day, but got somewhat better later as the tide came in. With water temperatures ranging from the low- to mid-60s, the fish were more than willing to take a bait. Reds to 24, and trout in the 13- to 18-inch range were making for tight lines for Dwight. Also in the mix were some silver trout and pompano.
Fishing out of Caxambas Pass on Saturday, I took Jerry Lewis (not that one) and his son out for a half day.
We quickly got into a mess of sheepshead, and ended up with six keepers to about two pounds. Our next target was sea trout, and while we found them willing to take a jig, their size was from 13 to just under 15 inches. A few silver trout came along for the ride, too. We caught trout in a number of spots, but they were all in the same size range. One other thing though, is that everywhere we went we ran into voracious "micro" jacks. You would hook one, and six others would follow their pal to the boat.
Naples/Estero Bay: Ken Strassen of Master Bait and Tackle says that the trout have been spotty in Estero Bay the past week. Extreme low tides and very slow moving water have made for challenging fishing.
Small reds are still being picked off here and there, but the sheepshead run is in full swing, with fish running up to five pounds. The sheeps are around pilings, oyster bars, and rock piles, and will quickly take a shrimp on a lightly weighted line. Ken says there are a few tripletail on the crab pots, but most are small. If you are running the traps, don't be fooled by the yellow-spotted file fish that will also lay behind the ropes leading to the traps.
Down in Naples, Capt. Todd Geroy has been enjoying excellent trout fishing. On a recent trip with Mike and Jill Dyer and friend Dine Angelico, they hooked up with countless trout and sheepshead using shrimp and shrimp tipped jigs. Most of the trout have been in the 15- to 23-inch range, and it was Jill that got the 23-inch beauty.
Early in the morning, the bite was slow, but as the temperature warmed up, so did the fishing. Todd says his anglers are also enjoying the variety of species we have at this time of year, and catches have included reds, sheepshead, black drum, snapper, and even gag grouper.
Offshore: Onboard the "Findictive," Capt. Mike Avinon recently took out a party from the Brooks Fishing Club. The group, headed by Bud Everett, went out about 30 miles, where the red grouper bite was still going on strong.
Along with the shorts, the group put 17 keeper grouper in the box. Then they hit one of Mikes secret amberjack spots and boated a couple of arm breakers, and the icing on the cake was a real nice, 50-pound cobia!
Capt. Ed Nichols took out the Steve Warner party of four for a full day, and they too headed out 30-plus miles to the deeper water that the reds are now holed up in. The reds were in an eating mood, and after all the smaller fish were released, there were four limits of fish, ranging from 26 to 29 inches. That is some haul! Ed says that they also caught mangrove snapper, porgies, and a few king mackerel that were released.