Southwest Florida Fishing Report: Look for fall bite to emerge with calming conditions

Will Geraghty
Naples Daily News Correspondent
Angela with a nice permit on her last day visiting from Ohio, with Capt. Christian Sommer.

The first significant cool front of the season truly packed a punch to the region’s coastal and offshore arenas.

A relentless westerly wind component churned the local waters, making them quite turbid, temporarily scattered baitfish, and slightly lowered the Gulf water temperature. However, with a benign forecast predicted for the upcoming week, anglers will find the conditions to be improving rapidly.

Prior to the cold front, inshore enthusiasts were enjoying a solid snook and redfish bite within area passes, and widespread throughout many middle and backcountry bay systems. Baitfish were plentiful and easy to procure, although an array of well-presented lures, jigs and flies were fooling their fair share of game fish as well.

Anglers venturing back out into the shallows after the conditions subside will notice cool and more turbid water, which should fuel the beginning of a more profound fall bite. Popular game fish will still be readily available yet scattered, while fall species, including sheepshead, pompano, speckled trout and a host of others, begin to make a greater showing.

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This time of transition now calls for more jigs, smaller-sized hooks, popping corks and pinch weights to be stocked in the inshore tackle trays. Heavier tackle will also need to be replaced with lighter gear, and the overall pace of technique will need to slow down as the cooler water temperatures do affect foraging patterns, fish metabolism and water depths being prospected.

Out on the offshore grounds, strong cold fronts can usher into the region sweeping changes as well.

Here in the region, the dipping Gulf temperatures will push a solid wave of king mackerel and bonito southward and into our near coastal and distant waters. Following ideal water temperatures in the 72- to 78-degree range, look for increased numbers of these silver speedsters over and around artificial reefs, natural bottom areas and within close proximity to larger limestone ledges.

Anglers will also begin to cross paths with increased numbers of hard-charging gag grouper during the month of November. Commonly found in aggregate around artificial reefs and under limestone ledges, live baits, big jigs, deep diving trolling lures, stout tackle and some elbow grease are required to land these tough and tasty groupers. 

When targeting gag grouper, the initial bite or hook-up is exciting, but not the most critical part of the fight. Once hooked, gag groupers are notorious for making their way to line-breaking structures. Therefore, to avoid repeated swing-and-miss opportunities, anglers need to be at the ready with lightning-fast cranks of the reel and strategic angles on the rod in order to successfully turn a hard-charging gag.

The Gulf of Mexico gag grouper season opened on June 1 and will close on Dec. 31. State and federal water regulations require a minimum length of 24 inches overall with a two-fish-per-harvester-per-day harvest limit. 

Offshore: “The recent front kept us from fishing for several days and also kept us closer to shore than I would like, but we are still catching,” Capt. Brandon Lawson said. “It has been tough to push out deep daily but thankfully the nearshore reefs are holding good action for my hardy crews.”

Lawson has been pointing the bow of his Port O Call Marina-based Solo Lobo toward select artificial reefs in the 2- to 5-mile range for comfort and fishable conditions.

Anchored up-current of the structure and within casting range, Lawson has been employing heavy chum tactics, along with a variety of bait presentations to keep his anglers hooked up. Live sardines/shrimp, jigs and spoons cast into and around his broadcast chum is yielding a few bonito, good numbers of Spanish mackerel and blacktip sharks.

A few weather windows have allowed Lawson to comfortably prospect waters in the 28-to 35-mile range. Lawson reports that snapper and catch-and-release red grouper were responding well to live sardines, pinfish and cut squid dropped to depth on traditional fish finder and light-tackle chicken rigs.

Naples/Estero Bay: “The recent front temporarily put the brakes on several great bites and a solid run of baitfish,” Naples Bay light tackle Capt. Pat Gould said. “While the winds did crank for several days, the cleanup should be fast.”

Ahead of the recent frontal passage, Gould and his casters were concentrating their efforts within area passes and several middle bays. Presenting live sardines rigged on 1/0-3/0 circle hooks, snook, redfish and jack crevalle all made their way into the landing net. Gould reported that both phases of the tide provide for steady action.

With the winds subsiding and the waters beginning to clear, Gould’s game plan will be to find cleaner sections of water in area back bays, within coves and deeper protected residential canals. While the baitfish will return for Gould, he will be sure to have plenty of live shrimp, lures and jigs on board as back up.

Ten Thousand Islands: “Finding a place out of the wind and cleaner water has been critical to catching here in the upper Ten Thousand Islands,” Capt. Paul Nocifora said. “The recent front threw us some crazy conditions, but things should clean up rapidly.” 

During low tide conditions, Nocifora’s casters are finding success casting black DT and unweighted white-colored Lightbulb patterns to cruising snook and redfish. Nocifora is finding these game fish in shallow coves and leeward back bay shorelines.

Nocifora recommends taking the time to hunt or scout around for the best water. Throughout his travels, Nocifora reports that even the slightest improvement from one area to another has made a difference in the catching department.

If you have a report to share email captwill@naplessportfishing.com.

Anglers, email your photos to news@naplesnews.com or post them at www.naplesnews.com/participate and we will compile your images into an online gallery that’s featured each Thursday morning at www.naplesnews.com. Do not submit photos of fish caught illegally.