Southwest Florida Fishing Report: Anglers moving from red group to gag grouper and snapper

Will Geraghty
Special to the Naples Daily News

Closer to shore and in the shallows, snook season is now open. The season opened Sept. 1 with amendments to the management plan in place since the devastating and well-documented red tide events of 2018. New rules give anglers the opportunity to harvest one snook per day per harvester south of Vanderbilt Beach Road or North Latitude 26 15.255.

Remember, snook is a slot-measure species. All snook harvested can be no less than 28 inches or measure more than 33 inches total. Arguably the best bait for keeper-sized snook is a large profile live or dead bait followed by a properly presented lure, jig, or baitfish fly imitation.

New state and federal red grouper regulations have offshore enthusiasts searching for alternative catches. As of Aug. 30, the Gulf red grouper fishery closed forcing those making the run to the horizon to switch up their game out deep.

Previously:Southwest Florida Fishing Report: Top offshore targets include gag grouper, snapper, shark

More:Southwest Florida Fishing Report: Deepwater trips have been yielding action for anglers

The closure, remaining in effect until Jan. 1, has anglers shifting their efforts towards wrecks and ledges where gag grouper and snappers generally are more prevalent than the traditional wide-open bottom where most red grouper are landed.

Strategically anchored up over and around the wrecks and ledges, heavy chumming tactics along with stealth bait presentations and some elbow grease will yield gags, mangrove/ yellowtail snapper along with the usual and ever-present goliath grouper and barracuda. 

For variety, anglers can always move over to traditional hard bottom areas and drop for lane snapper. However, in the spirit of good stewardship, this should take place in water depths less than 65-70 feet where release mortality due to barotrauma is less likely to occur as there will indeed be red grouper bycatch.


“We have been catching a mixed bag of reef fish and sharks on our half-day charters,” said Capt. Brandon Lawson. “Our half-day trips have been action-packed; full-day trips were better for red grouper before the closure.”

Lawson has been pointing the bow of his Port O Call Marina-based Solo Lobo toward natural bottom areas located in 45 to 55 feet of water depth on his half-day charters. Stopping and shopping while dropping squid and herring down to the substrate produced lane snapper, sliver grunts, and good numbers of brown sandbar sharks.

Full-day trips found Lawson and crew working water depths ranging from 85 to 100 feet. Using live herring/pinfish, chunks of squid, and metal jigs yielded routine limits of red grouper, mangrove/yellowtail snapper, and jumbo porgies. 

Despite the state and federal water red grouper closure, Lawson reports that there are plenty of fish coming over the rail for his customers.

Naples/Estero Bay

Aboard my Naples City Dock-based guide boat the Grand Slam, early departures have reigned supreme in order to capture the best conditions and bites.

Early in the fishing day, I kept my angling groups busy casting and slow trolling for Spanish mackerel. I have found these fast-moving mackerel in water depths ranging from 12 to 20 feet. White bucktail jigs and small 2-inch Clark spoons have worked well as the mackerel have been focused on small micro bait forage.

Middle bays also provided ample opportunities to catch snook, jack crevalle, and mangrove snapper. Scaled sardines rigged on a 2/0 circle hook was this week’s go-to method.

Ten Thousand Islands

The waters are very clear, and baitfish are still plentiful”, said Capt. Chris Turner. “Here in the upper Ten Thousand Islands fishing has been good both early and late.”

Turner and his casters have been cashing in on a great snook bite along select outside Gulf-facing shorelines, nights, and hard bottom coves. While casting large profile scaled sardines rigged on a kahle/fluorocarbon leader combination, double-digit snook catches have been standard for Turner.

Moving eastward into the middle bays, Tuner is finding small schools of redfish willing to eat a well-presented scaled sardine along deeper shorelines, over oyster bar areas, and around downed deadwood structures.

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