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NAPLES — High winds plus low tides equal very little water left to fish in, and that has been the story for the past few days and is likely to continue through the weekend.
In fact, on Tuesday morning I was going to put my boat in the water at the Carl Johnson boat ramp in Estero Bay, but after seeing how little water was left in the bay, I decided to wait until Wednesday morning. With all the wind and rain, water temperatures have dropped significantly to the low 70s, and that is having an effect on the fishing, too. As waters cool, we enter that time of year when it is likely to run into quite a few different species of fish on a single outing.
While our snook and reds continue to provide good action, we are now seeing creatures like black drum and sheepshead gobbling up baits. Some of the drum are appearing in large schools just off the beaches, and some of these guys are in the 20-pound class. Most of the sheepshead caught so far are the smaller fish, but it won't be long before the filleting size are here in numbers.
Trout are making an appearance too, but numbers vary quite a bit from area to area. It seems that a more consistent bite is to be had well down in the Ten Thousand Islands, and a less reliable bite as you move north, but that will rapidly change as the fronts continue to pour down from the north, and water temperatures move steadily down.
Offshore, grouper, both gag and reds, are the hot item. With only a couple of weeks left of this year's gag season, it would be nice if the wind would give boaters a break, and make an offshore run possible. This could be your last chance at a keeper gag for a while because next year the proposed season for gags is when they are farthest offshore and out of reach of most anglers.
On a brighter offshore note, we are seeing the amberjack bite returning to local waters, and in no time at all we should be seeing some king mackerel busting baits in local waters. Right now, there are good numbers of Spanish mackerel ranging from just off the beach to well offshore, and some of the fish are ranging into the 3- to 5-pound range.
If you are going to be boating in the next few days, be careful because there are areas that would "float your boat" last week that will cause you to run aground, and that is a bad way to spend a few hours.
Offshore: Onboard the "Findictive," Capt. Mike Avion took out five anglers at the end of last week for a day on the water. They were after grouper and Capt. Mike did not disappoint.
The five anglers put 15 keeper grouper into the cooler, while releasing numerous other fish. There were nine reds and six gags ranging up to 12 pounds.
After the limits were in the box, Mike headed for some amberjack action, and not only were they willing to eat, they were big! Keeping three AJs to 40 pounds, the groups caught and released others up to 50 pounds. If you have ever tangled with one of these wrist breakers, you can imagine what a 50-pounder feels like. Capt. Mike says that he should start seeing king mackerel any day as the water cools and clears.
Capt. James Wheeler had three generations of the Weislog family onboard for a trip recently. Rob, Robert, and young Robbie (15) from the Milwaukee area were eager to catch some fish, and Capt. Jim complied.
Among the fish landed during their venture about eight miles offshore were; sharks, bonita, lane snapper, red grouper, and cobia. It was 15-year-old Robbie who had the catch of the day with a huge 48-inch cobia that was estimated at 32 pounds. Rob came through with the largest grouper, a nice 22-inch red that made his day. They used shrimp, squid, and live pins for bait.
Ten Thousand Islands: Fishing south of Everglades City, Capt. Pete Rapps was out on Monday with Kurt from Lake Worth. It didn't take long before Pete had them on the reds.
Fishing with a shrimp under a popping cork they hammered the reds with six of them in the slot. They kept two in the 24-inch range. Capt. Pete says he is also getting some smaller snook, which is a good sign that they are beginning to return to the Islands, but it will take a long time to replace what was lost in the freeze of 2010.
Some tarpon are in the rivers, and they are willing to eat a live mullet if you can keep the bull sharks away. They are very aggressive. Some slot trout and a few flounder are rounding out catches for Capt. Rapps.
Incoming or outgoing, the redfish have been cooperating for Capt. Andy Werner, who has been fishing south of Goodland recently. It has been tricky because of the exceptionally low tides recently, and you really have to watch were you are going and how long you can stay there, says Capt. Werner.
Despite water conditions, Andy has been hitting the reds pretty good. He has had his best luck using cut bait on them, but says one day it's cut ladyfish and the next day cut mullet that will coax a bite. The fish have been running in the mid-slot range of 22 to 25 inches, and only a few have fallen for a shrimp. Andy says that some larger snook are being caught using a fairly large finger mullet or small ladyfish that are worked in the deeper cuts. A few trout are being caught, even on the cut bait, but 12 to 20 reds is the norm for a half day of fishing.
Naples/Estero Bay: Capt. Jason Kaufman says that the reds seem to have spread out since the heavy rains and extreme tides in Estero Bay. He is using mostly white bait on his fish, and is consistently picking up reds in the 18- to 22-inch range.
On Friday, Jason took Mr. Collins from New Jersey out for a half day, and they did well on reds and caught snook in the 18- to 22-inch range. A few sizable jacks rounded out the catch.
On Saturday, Capt. Neil Eisner reported that the water temperature dropped to 71 or 72 degrees, but that didn't stop the bite. Fishing with Ben Newcomb from Estero, they landed reds, snook, black drum, and three gags. Most of the reds are in the slot and are hitting shrimp on a jig or shrimp under a popping cork. Water conditions have been less than ideal.