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NAPLES — We are definitely in the transition to fall fishing in Southwest Florida as water temperatures get a little cooler, and fish are moving around to look for something to eat. And eat they will!
In the fall, there is no drive to spawn, just a desire to fatten up and at times it seems as if the fish just can't get enough. Lots of bait schools are moving around the bays, passes and offshore, and you can often see the predators crashing the party.
This is the time of year when schools of mackerel will be just off the beaches, and some of the fish will be upwards of five pounds. Along with the macks, there will be lots of ladyfish and jacks.
If you are looking for pure action, just find a bait school and start fishing. For the mackerel, use something flashy that you can move through the water quickly. At this time of year, ladyfish will hit a plain jighead with nothing on it. Let it settle to the bottom, and work it up and down somewhat fast.
Should you be interested in something a little bigger, try throwing a chunk of cut bait around those schools. Don't be surprised if something large tries to tow your boat around.
Inshore, this is my favorite time to fish. Snook are starting to make the move to the back, and the redfish are schooling up nicely.
This past week the reds seem to be everywhere, and most of the fish are in the slot. Reports have them eating everything from Gulp shrimp on a jig, to cut pinfish, to live threads or shrimp. These guys move around with the tide, and I seem to do better on the last half of incoming. Some of the skinny water boats are literally chasing fish that have their backs out of the water.
Trout continue to show up in better numbers, especially down in the Ten Thousand Islands. Last week, Capt. Ryan Clase reported a jumbo 12-pounder taken in Estero Bay. Generally look for them in three to five feet of water around the grass. A popping cork with a shrimp/jig underneath works well.
The fall can also provide some end-of-the-season tarpon fishing. I have been targeting small fish in the 7- to 20-pound range, but there are plenty of larger ones to be had, too. Moving water in an area that isn't constantly being run over by boats and jet skis could prove productive. Look around the inlets just around dawn and dusk if the tide is moving well.
Offshore: Capt. Michael Avinon ran a couple of full-day trips this week, and he says the red grouper are still producing well. In fact, his guys were limiting out on the reds, and later were releasing legal gags.
Mike has been making the haul out to about 80 feet of water before dropping anchor. His anglers have been using pinfish and cut threadfin herring as bait.
On a recent trip, they were able to coax a bite out of a 50-pound cobia, too. Capt. Avinon has also been involved in a tagging project involving goliath grouper, and on the last go-around they caught, tagged, and released 11 of the monsters up to a huge 300 pounds. Sore arms all around!
Naples/Estero Bay: Down in the Naples area, veteran guide Todd Geroy has been putting his anglers on to lots of snook. He reports great action in the last two days, with catches of up to 30 snook per trip.
On Tuesday, he had Chuck Marton and Chris Conure out, and they wore the snook out, catching fish after fish using live pilchards. The two best fish were 11 and 14 pounds! Before the end of the trip, they also were able to get into some nice reds, and boated four to 26 inches. Todd has been fishing Johnson Bay and the waterway between Naples and Marco.
Recently, I had John Barless from the Islandwalk Fishing Club and son Matt on board for a half day. Matt had never done this type of fishing, and it took a bit for him to not yank the bait away from the hungry fish.
We had a load of bait, and chummed the fish up pretty much everywhere we stopped. They landed lots of snook and five reds up to 22 inches. Jacks, ladyfish, and mangrove snapper added to the action. The fish of the day was a 15-pound tarpon that John brought to the net. It too ate a pilchard that was free-lined.
Ten Thousand Islands: Capt. Glen Puopolo, fishing out of Everglades City has been working over the trout and reds on trips this past week. The water has been reasonably good -- not muddy, but tannin stained -- and the fish have been eager to eat.
Glen has had his anglers using shrimp on a jig for the trout, which he is finding on the flats in three to five feet of water. Most of the fish have been in the 15- to 20-inch range. Reds have also been hitting the shrimp that are under a popping cork.
Capt. Puopolo has had anglers landing 20 to 30 reds per trip, and the fish have been running in the 18- to 27-inch range. Art Hicks from Fort Lauderdale pulled in about 25 nice reds on a trip this week. A few snook up to about 25 inches are also being caught.