Southwest Florida Fishing Report: Anglers moving from pompano, speckled trout to snook, redfish
Epic conditions for mid-December have been fueling excellent catches for anglers prospecting the waters both shallow and deep. Truly a welcomed stretch of weather more than beats the alternative, as the region rapidly approaches the official first day of winter.
Donning summer style wear complemented by a light jacket for the commute to the grounds, and possibly flip flops in lieu of deck boots, while pursuing a full array of targeted species has been a pure December pleasure. Nearly every species swimming Southwest Florida has been making their way into the landing net.
Inshore enthusiasts have had their choice of prospecting for temperate water game fish or seasonal food value species. Timing the tide rather than the clock has allowed for many to double dip, bailing pompano and speckled trout, then focusing on hooking snook, redfish and a scattering of December tarpon.
The dominant easterly wind component and accompanying benign sea has made the Gulf waters quite clear, especially during the mid- to upper end of the incoming tide phase. Anglers casting their baits in the shallows have found that scaling down hook size, jig size and leader class to 20-pound fluorocarbon material has made a profound difference.
Out on the offshore grounds, anglers are counting down the days to several anticipated New Year’ Day openers. Since October 2021, lane snapper and red grouper have been closed to harvest within federal waters, which begin at 9 miles off our coastline. The closure has indeed altered game plans and has shifted effort toward alternative species and locations.
Both closed species are bread-and-butter targets for most venturing out into the Gulf and are traditionally caught when prospecting vast areas of natural limestone bottom. However, during the closure, effort has been shifted to limestone ledges and artificial reefs where open-for-harvest species, including gag grouper and a bevy of colorful snapper species are more likely to be encountered.
It will be fantastic to ring in the New Year with red grouper and lane snapper back on the catch menu.
Offshore: “Despite several mornings of battling heavy fog, the Gulf has been smooth, clear and active,” Capt. Brandon Lawson said. “With red grouper still closed, we have been working the wrecks and select ledges for our catches.”
Docked at Port O Call Marina, Capt. Lawson has been pointing the bow of his Solo Lobo charter boat toward small ledges and artificial reefs in the 12- to 16-mile range on his half-day outings. Once at anchor, Lawson’s anglers have enjoyed catching success with mangrove snapper, white grunts, barracuda and a scattering of gag grouper dominating the action.
Full-day charters have found Lawson venturing out beyond 30 nautical miles and hitting pay dirt over and around small ledges and rock piles. Deploying to depth and throughout the entire water column, small live sardines, live shrimp and strips of squid fooled mangrove, yellowtail, vermillion and mutton snapper, while small grunts, blue runners and pinfish were snapped up by gag grouper and the ever-present and aggressive goliath grouper.
Throughout his travels, Lawson reports crossing paths with schools of king mackerel and bonito feeding over natural hard bottom areas. Casting 2-ounce white bucktail jigs and trolling a No. 2 planer/spoon combination kept the rods bent to the rail and the drags sizzling.
Naples/Estero Bay: “It has been a great week of fishing the waters of Naples and Marco Island,” Naples Bay Capt. Pat Gould said. “My trips have been full of action and variety.”
Prospecting the middle and back bay systems with live shrimp and sardines have kept the rods bent for Gould’s crews. Presented on a small circle hook and either freelined or used in conjunction with a popping cork, snook, redfish, sheepshead and jack crevalle have all made their way into Gould’s landing net.
Pass areas, channel edges and deeper flats possessing moving water have been great locations for Gould to drift fish with jigs. Small pink tube jigs and dark-colored soft plastics rigged on a white jighead have been effective on speckled trout, pompano and a scattering of scrappy bluefish.
Ten Thousand Islands: “Fishing is very good in Ten Thousand Islands,” Goodland-based Capt. Paul Nocifora said. “If the conditions are correct, the action has been solid for throwing the fly.”
Nocifora has been concentrating his guiding efforts on the low tide phase within areas of clear water. Presenting a small white-colored DT or Lightbulb pattern, Nocifora’s casters have been hooking up to snook and redfish with consistency.
For best results in the cool clear water, Nocifora recommends employing a longer length of leader in combination with slow strip retrieval. If the local waters continue to warm, Nocifora will stick with the longer leader and increase the movement of the fly and pace of retrieval within the strike zone.
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