Tarpon have shown up big time. A good starting point is off the Wiggins 5 mils, Gh, Mays Reefs, the Twin Towers, and the bait mark off Ft. Myers Beach, all the way to Point Ybel, Knapp's Point and points north in 16–30 feet of water. That's all I've got to say about that!
Offshore: Conditions are stabilizing along the region, and crews are reporting good action from the close marks at 3–9 miles off and better big fish bites on the marks from 20-plus miles off. Grouper and snapper are plentiful limits the norm. Cobia are the big plus, so keep an eye out as you hop-scotch from mark to mark. Pins, threads, shiners, and bait-tipped jigs all scored on the ling. Grouper, goliaths, cobia, and sharks all ate bait soaked over the rubble piles. Kings and Spanish bashed the bait pods; keep a silver spoon handy.
Time to get out and get into the long awaited hot bite. Good weather, smooth sailing, lots of nice bait! Crew are smiling again as they reach out and touch some bully gamefish. “Grouper Grabbers” reported good action from 9 to 25 plus
miles out. Nobody in the know is giving up their GPS data, so you’re on your own and that’s the way it should be. With a little “sea gulling” and courtesy we’ll all be welcome to share in the movable feast.
There's good news, and about time, for diggers, draggers, and bait soakers with nice weather and less wind aiding in your trips to the deeper marks. Crews reported great grouper and snapper action all along the region with best action starting at the 60 ft.-plus marks from Sanibel north.
Kings are massing on the features with sharks and cobia for company. Pins, threads, bluerunners, and about any mouth-size snack say welcome to the hungry bruisers. Bait-tipped jigs and shallow running plugs were an option. There were cobia, Spanish, and kings on the close marks at 5 miles out, but not nearly as thick as on the marks from 9-plus miles off. The close-in reefs and wrecks were home to mobs of snapper, grunts, a few flounder, pomps, and grunts. Schools of black drum stirred up excitement—being mistaken for redfish, but still a fun target with shrimp, cut chunk baits, and Gulps. Bonito were reported with the masses of Spanish crashing the bait pods as close as the pass mouths and around the 3-mile marks.
You can always trust the weatherman or the high-end snowbirds. Condition down along the Southwest coast are not as affected by the freshwater influx from Lake Okeechobee. These outflows are cyclical and, if you're in the know, you can easily work around them. We planned our trips to concentrate north and south of the freshwater bloom. Pine Island Sound, Charlotte Harbor, and Estero Bay were little affected by the recent runoff. Conditions have stabilized, so when you plan your outings, call local independent guides and get the real down-low and what's happening and what your options are. The Caloosahatchee River is cleaner now than it was fifty years ago! On the rebound as usual!
We’ve been through a cold snap that is typical of strong El Niño cycles. You’ve gotta make adjustments to your targeted fish and engage winter tactics. These adjustments can put you in the cold-water fishing game; it's better than sitting around watching Oprah. Winter neap tides, although not as strong as spring tides, do tend to localize ganged-up fish in potholes, creeks, and around bridges and other structure adjacent to deeper tidal current-driven water. Winter is a lazy time for our subtropical warm water-oriented gamefish. Once the water gets into the low 60s the major gamefish become rather torpid.
Captain Rich Knox, a very successful and extremely knowledgeable fishing guide with Absolute Florida Flats Fishing, reports great year-round fishing is improving with Sheepshead, Spotted Sea Trout, Redfish, Ladyfish, Bluefish, Black Drum, and even Snook, just to name a few species. Thanks to the cold fronts that are now falling down into, and passing on through to the south of, our West Central Gulf Coast Florida area gives us an even balance of cool downs and warm ups. They are starting to become milder and more evenly spaced in their intervals, which the fish are used to, so the fish feel less leary to come out of their deep winter haunts; this causes them to bite even stronger as they feel more comfortable moving to "feeding stations" as they are more active with the milder water and air temperature fluctuations.
Get out your #6 circle hooks, split shot and 20lb. fluorocarbon leader material, and a thermos of hot tea to enjoy bundled up in your windbreaker. Sheepies dominated the cold water bite with scads of fatties reported filling the larders of stalwart cool weather anglers. Small morsels od shrimp, crabs, and sandworms were the top picks; also try wiggler worms in a jam. The best sheepie bite is just as the high tide begins to slack, about an hour before floodout, and just as it begins to run out.
The anglers needs to modify their approach, gear down, slow down, and dress up. I don't know about yo, but I worked outdoors most of my life, and a lot of the time up north—sweet home Cleveland, sadly pre-LeBron James Era. You can't win em all! So get out your rain gear, hoodie, jump pants, and beanie for "cool runnings" and saddle up so as not to miss the winterover bite.
Offshore: You still had to have a suitable vessel to venture off the beach but the bigger head boats reported nice catches of snapper, grouper, and kings. Other crews found those smoker kings from 3–9 miles out; just look for the birds and boils. Scads of Spanish hacked baits and softplastics pitched into the bait pods just off the pass mouths and off the close reefs at 3–5 miles. Polish up those old spoons and lace in a length of 60lb. mono; maybe you get your metal back outa the assault.
Other action was good on snapper, white grunts, and sharks on the close marks. Diggers hooked up some goliaths and short grouper on pins. Cobia are the stars if you sit out on top of the reefs at 3–5–9 miles; pins have been the top baits but don’t go throwing back those squirrel fish, bluerunners, and catfish, bigger maybe better at times; keep the faith. Red-and-white ½-oz. jigs tipped with mullet, white shad tails, and even a big shrimp are handy offerings for cruising ling and kings. Chumming is a pretty good idea.