Fishingcast: Conditions for Southwest Florida, March 15-21

Bill Walsh
John Budnick with a 5.5 foot blacktip shark caught, tagged and released off Marco Island, using Ladyfish for bait.

March weather is right in character. We start this week nice and peaceful and but then comes along a serious discord late week. Nice and flat and warm early and the a “screamer” midweek where the gusts and predicted to 40 mph early through midweek. All out of the north and northwest which will impact both the fish and the fishery with dirty water and disruptive conditions. So, the weather message for the week is “go early.” If predictions are accurate you should be in good fishing conditions through late Monday. The rough conditions also emanate out of the north and northwest which will sour the water clarity and quality rather quickly. Additionally, the creature comfort numbers (air temperature) will dip into the 50s on a couple of consecutive mornings. Not good for you or the fish. Would think that this minor upheaval will have some effect on water temperature and would look for low 70-degree range by week end. The tides are rolling towards a full moon and will strengthen considerably during the week, with both tides – morning incoming and afternoon ebb both sporting a three-plus foot range by week end. But remember the adage, March, in like and lion and out like a lamb. Let’s wait and see.           


Marco Island: Amazingly, despite the unseasonal warm temperatures through these past couple months, the sheepshead spawners are still active. They are huddled in high “food” locations and most that are caught show evidence of completing the spawn. The fish loose girth after the spawn but are still quite active. Good spots are along deep-water structure and where bottom structure is generous. Seeing pompano on either tide in Hurricane Pass of small tipped jigs. Spanish mackerel on the first of incoming tides in all the passes on tipped jigs or spoons on a slow troll.

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Naples: First time, some comment, that snook didn’t take winter break. Mid-season active all along clean water current points, incoming best with pilchards exclusively; 1/0 circle hooks. Release all carefully. Small redfish all along the ICW nooks and crannies from Port Royal Junction to R58 working live shrimp tight to mangrove overhangs with the latter part of the morning incoming in play. Trout on grass patches inside Rookery Bay flats working shrimp on 4’ leader on drift. Outgoing tide action Keewaydin on nice size whiting off end of beach late afternoon this week.

Bonita Springs: Many reports of water staying clean and viable. Good action continues snook first light morning incoming circa Carlos Pass exclusively on pilchards worked on current points. Inside sheepshead still feeding Big Hickory Channel and taking tads of shrimp, cut fiddlers on soft lift technique. Small redfish numerous along east edges of Estero Bay and feeding last half mid-morning incoming tight to mangrove overhangs on live shrimp on popper rig. Matlacha domain, 4/5 spots just off bridge producing good to excellent results on small to medium reds. Good action / all still release please.


Marco Island: Retreating sheepshead still feeding enroute offshore. Check reef spots Capri Pass to Walton Reef. Shrimp or cut crab on vertical drop and soft lift technique. No chum. Spanish mackerel chance in Capri Pass sunken barge domain with serious chum effort followed by fast working tipped jigs tight to surface. Stay up near surface to avoid blue runners. Five Mile Reef SE corner for both lane and mangrove snapper to 12-13” on weighted jigs in chummed water. Two reports of early show of barracuda on surface same venue. Best vinyl eel on fast troll on medium to heavy tackle.

Naples: Circa Gordon Pass jetty early incoming turn for pompano 10-15’ depth on first water movement with tipped white jigs worked to bottom. South end Keewaydin reef for mangrove, lane snapper action working weighted jigs into good chum effort. Large cut bait to bottom, same venue, some sharks (black tips). Offshore spots 15-20 miles beginning to see kings, cobia, etc., on spring migration. Live bait tethered at 15’ in heavy chum effort in good tidal flow with strong morning tide best. Keep off bottom to deter unwanted Goliath action.

Bonita Springs: Strong action retreating sheepshead on east edges MAY reef complex on vertical drop technique. Good chance mega fish. Mid-range wrecks and reefs that show bait presence on finder for yellowtail snapper. Chum heavy. Work freelined tads of chum into slick with bail open. After short count post-strike – close bail set strike. Great action. Deep for possible kings on migration edge. Set a live runner under a float adjacent wreck, reef with good chum effort on major tackle. Best on strong water morning incoming.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to