On the Hook: Awaited change of seasons arrives

Bill Walsh
Brett Williams with a nice Cobia on a top water plug fishing with Capt Christian Sommer.

Albeit a bit untimely to be writing about a non-issue in our lives here in Southwest Florida, as we all deal the advent of this catastrophic disease. But we all live by the strength of this country and its ability to sustain. The pleasure of sportfishing will still be there the day we conquer this intruder.

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We all can feel the warmth in our climate as the current early change of seasons here continues to persist. Winters here are a delight for natives and our winter visitors as those cold water loving sheepshead stream inshore. But the action on those black, white is one dimensional and tiring. After all, although we’re all thankful for any action on a 45 degree morning that frequent nine inch long dead weight is not exactly sportfishing.

That’s what our story is about this week, the thrill of the change of seasons on the water.

Our “performers” are a family from rural Georgia, parents and two teenage boys, who would fish all time if that were possible. Can’t do that too well in the mountains of Northern Georgia during the dead of winter. So, their annual routine, when the lakes freeze over back home they commence a program of week end visits here and go gaga over the sheepshead action for a while. But at least for the Carter’s, it’s catching fish.

The never lose their enthusiasm but begin to lose their fervor for the 9” bait thieves once they can hear the footsteps of season’s change. I must get a call every other week, “Anything showing yet, Captain?”

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They are patient with the delays except for last year. On a Sunday evening call after returning from a weekend where we ran two three-fourths trips for them. Mr. Carter lamented that the boys complained all the way home (9 hours) that they wanted a different action base species. Told the disappointed family that I’d check forecasts and tides and get back to them quickly.

Forecast for a coming weekend showed promise if we could fish nearshore on a Saturday and that would take a full day to run the extra distance. They jumped at the opportunity,

Our timing on that early April Saturday morning was right on. This was a mackerel fishing fest to say the least. Sure, in those transitional early weeks you could run into an occasional drum or even one whiting but the grand event was the return of the baitfish schools closely followed by ravenous hordes of Spanish mackerel and a smattering of small kings.

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You’ll know when they arrive, I explained to the boys, “The waters on the reef will literally light up with the mackerel right below slashing in a frenzy,”

We started our journey that April running from down the Marco beach about 3/4 miles offshore. We were looking for gull and pelican to surface which would signal “bait schools” beneath.

Both boys were stationed forward scanning the water surface as we ran along just over 10 knots. We marked bait schools on the fish finder but no birds or thrashing water. Where were the mackerel? All the Carters were getting fidgety, they had gotten up at 4AM for this adventure.

Was all ready to change plan and head back to the Five Mile reef corners for more “black and white” fun when one of the sighted a “boil” just off Cape Romano and we put the pedal to the medal and headed that way.

We had mackerel rigs already rigged three-eighths oz. flash jigs rigged on 20 wire leader and some cut blue runner strips. As we neared the site, so did two other charter boats.

It was a melee! The mackerel had surprised the bait school and was having their way with them. They were driving the bait to the surface who then were being attacked from above by scads of pelicans and gulls. The bait would be running away and hitting the hull of the boat followed closely by the mackerel doing the same thing.

The action that morning was so intense it really was a once in a lifetime event. The Carters were immersed in action that they never believed even existed and the bite there was sustained for 45 minutes; exhausting.

As a finishing touch, a small kingfish hit a severed mackerel fragment and took Mr. Carter’s rig and “waltzed” him around the cockpit and then cut his line to release.

We still had some charter time left and I asked the Carter’s what they’d like to go next and Mr. Carter summed it up quite nicely … ” we want to head for home; that was one unforgettable fishing event. We want to let it soak in, it will be unforgettable.

Special note: Timely info and safety instructions on sportfishing in this crisis available online at myfwc.com. 

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